I learned that I shouldn’t try to force the book’s content, my ideas, or my writing into a mold – that I should only do that which is authentic to myself.
So much has changed in the last 8 years since I wrote my first book The CSS Detective Guide, but some things haven’t. As to be expected, the writing process itself was not without it’s ups and downs. Some of the downs were the exact same ones as my first book. Some of them were completely new and relevant to this one. All proved to be valuable lessons.
1) Make a Reasonable Writing Schedule
The initial writing schedule I made for myself was, as they say, cray-cray. You’d think I would have learned my lesson from my first book, but old habits die hard. For Banish Your Inner Critic, I projected to write the book in 5 months, from April to August. My goal was to produce one chapter every 1.5 weeks – and this was with allegedly taking into account travel to conferences in Minneapolis, Lisbon, and Oslo.
Suffice to say, this plan was (again) overly-ambitious. I didn’t make my goal of finishing my manuscript by mid-August. Nor did I finish it by the first extended deadline of 28 October. And even with the final extended drop-dead deadline of 18 January, I was still 30 days late, delivering the final full manuscript on 20 February. But I did finish the manuscript at all and got it into my publisher, which is more than a lot of writers do (yes, even popular ones).
2) Be Self-Referrential
Despite knowing that I was doing it, I still compared my writing experience to that of other people (no, the irony is not lost on me). One of my buddies had a book that came out last September, and I watched her progress with utter awe. She wrote her book in 6 months while traveling internationally. And here I was, comfortably at home at my desk in Miami taking 1.5 months to write 2 chapters.
But I’m built differently. I know that I need to fully immerse myself in the content and to be almost consumed by my research in order to be able to “think” the new information and connect with previous thoughts and ideas. However, while I recognized that I need complete dedicated time to create the mental space to write well (much in the vein of Cal Newport’s Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World), I still wasn’t comfortable with this fact. It seemed much sexier to be like other writers I know who have the superpower of being able to write while waiting at the airport or on a flight to the next engagement; or in a hotel room, on a commuter train, or in an Uber on route to a meeting with clients.
Thankfully, my dear friend Jessie guided me to a major piece of insight: I write the way I write. If I need to not be traveling and at home to write well, that’s okay. If it takes me a full month to fully research and write one chapter, that’s okay. She helped me to stop judging my own process and to accept it. This adjusted perspective was a godsend – it helped me to relax into my writing process instead of being self-critical about it. And, despite the constant low-level fear that I was “writing too slowly,” looking back I saw that it had actually taken me only 7 months to write the book, including drafting and editing! Ha! To put this into perspective, The CSS Detective Guide took me 8 full months to write, and a good one third of the book (or more) was code, not reading content. When I realized how much I had done in a relatively short period of time, I moved from feeling like a slacker to feeling “amazing!”.
3) Be Open to Evolution
I didn’t count on the concept of the book to evolve, but it totally did. Back in 2015, my initial plan was to write the book and then self-publish it. The book was to be short – about 125-150 pages – with quick hits of content and immediately applicable exercises. The content was to focus on only 26 items/topics, with each having a full-color four-page spread that featured a illustrative image. The first working subtitle was “26 Practices to Transform Fears into Productive Creativity.”
But the book had other plans: clearly, it wanted to be way more than 26 quick tips. Much to my editor’s frustration, with each new chapter I submitted I dove deeper into the content and wrote more words than the previous. The final manuscript turned out to be a whopping 80,000 words. Whoa! Over the course of 2 years, my book evolved from a cute little 125 pager to a 350 page tome. And get this: I didn’t even cover all of the content that I’d planned to – I had to shuttle off a third of what I had planned into the next follow-up book.
4) Be Authentically Me
Finally, I learned that I shouldn’t try to force the book’s content, my ideas, or my writing into a mold – that I should only do that which is authentic to myself.
It’s so seductive: we get taught so early on to look outside of ourselves for answers; to look outside of ourselves for what to do and how to be. At the beginning of writing, I was still trying to find my voice, and I ended up patching together the voices of all of the people whose writings I was referencing. But it wasn’t me talking: it was me relying on the knowledge and the authority of a bunch of (white) men. But there were moments when my voice would break past my own self-doubt and shine through. It was then that I realized what what came from me authentically was far better and more applicable the message I wanted to share than any quotes that I could pull from someone else’s writings.
I saw then how I had been limiting the book by thinking it “should” be a certain way. Thankfully, I tuned in to the fact that a wise creator understands that we can’t force our creations into a mold. That creating means embracing the process of discovery. That, in essence, we co-create with what we bring into being, and that the process is best when we embrace the dance and see what our creations need and then be delighted in what it reveals. It took me awhile to get to that place this book, but once I did, I was in a constant state of awe at what was coming through me into the world.
These are just the first set of the lessons I learned while writing. I will share more in upcoming blog posts!