Tag: My Books

A Few Steps Further Down the Road

Deep blue sea. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

I work slowly but steadily on my book—word by word, pebble by pebble. In fact, I’m not writing that much at the moment, mostly research notes, as I’m working my way through the research books; and morning pages, of course. 

I read, I take notes, I read some more. Days blend into each other. My hand hurts. My head hurts even more.

Will I ever get there? The end product, the book, seems so far away. I try not to think about it; it’s so overwhelming at times. I feel I’ll never get there. It’s just so … much. Too much to think about, too much to read, too much to write. Like rowing a small boat across a vast ocean with only a flimsy map and an old compass to aid.

At times you may see something on the horizon. Maybe the coast, or maybe the gathering storm clouds. Hard to tell. You keep rowing, blistering hands on the oars and eyes on the horizon. The vision at the end of the ocean is the only thing that pumps your muscles and keeps you going long after you’re all spent.

Sometimes you see a sailboat, swiftly gliding away in the sunset, ahead of you. Tanned people with big smiles waving happily at you as you toil alone and exhausted in your rickety boat. You envy them, their seemingly effortless travel and happy faces.

Grudgingly, eyes off the happy vision, you grab your oars firmly once again and keep going. That’s the only thing you can do. Keep working, keep trusting the vision in your head. Work and have faith. Do your best and hope you’ll cross the ocean unscathed and find the treasure at the end of the rainbow.

There is a certain satisfaction in having done your best. Maybe your best is not good enough; you’re not always the best judge of that. Even so, you know that you’ve done the best you could at that moment. Right now, right here. You can try again, do better—step by step, day by day.

Happiness is this moment now, the sense of quiet accomplishment at the end of the day, the string of tiny moments, a task well done.

I put my books and papers away. Another day, another page, a few steps further down the road. Closer to the rainbow.

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You’ll Always Have More Ideas Than Time

Coffee mug and notebook near a fireplace.
Photo by Rafael Leão on Unsplash

While I am working diligently on my research, I’m fighting this sudden urge to abandon the book I’m toiling on and write another book. A very compelling idea came my way. It feels so right that I’m ready to jettison the current material and just start again.

It’s a huge temptation. But is this the right thing to do?

I know it’s not. How do I know? I’ve learned it the hard way. *

A bright new idea makes current work seems dreary compared to whatever I’m working on. Naïve me abandons said dreary work to jump on board another project, so full of promises and hopes that it’s only right to do it. I enthusiastically start, work for a while, and realize that it’s become, well, dreary as time goes by. Then, I have an idea. Again. I feel stupid, but I’m not willing to cut my losses. Yet. I’ve invested in the first project, discarded all that work, started again, put in more time and effort – should I abandon this as well?

It’s a vicious circle. You’ll always have more ideas than time to execute them. It takes a lot of discipline to resist the pull of sparkling new ideas; the brain loves shiny bright objects, the rascal (this is the novelty bias at play).

I cannot afford to be seduced by new promises. It feels good in the beginning, then reality sets in, and I’ll be back to square one in no time.

Reluctantly, I write down the new idea in my Future Projects-list and go back to work.

* Remember when I said that I’d write a short story instead of the SF novel I was working on? Guess what? I didn’t finish it. Nor did I continue with the novel. Instead, I got a new idea! A non-fiction book! It’ll be great! Leave the dull stuff behind; let’s do this new, cool stuff instead!

This is why I started documenting the process of writing my book here on the blog. This serves a dual purpose: first, I’ll be less prone to chase new ideas, and second, I’ll have to finish it. Don’t underestimate the power of social accountability to keep your promises.

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Nothing Is So Intimate as Writing a Book

An open notebook
Photo by Kiwihug on Unsplash

I know I’ve been secretive about the book I’m working on, but I can’t help it. It’s too fragile a thing to be exposed to the world. A small plant, a tiny greenhouse flower that still needs nutrients, and water, and a lot of tender care and protection before it’s ready to be planted in the garden to stand on its own.

Maybe I doubt it’s a good idea after all, and I don’t want my bubble to be burst yet.

Maybe I’ll change my mind and go into a different direction.

Or maybe I’m not ready to bare my soul yet. Nothing is so intimate as writing a book, pouring your soul on the page, and sending it out in the world, alone and vulnerable. 

As Vita Sackville-West said, “The book the one is writing at the moment is really the most intimate part of one, and the part about which one preserves the strictest secrecy. What is love or sex, compared with the intensity of the life one leads in one’s book? A trifle; a thing to be shouted from the hill-tops.”  (in a letter to Virginia Woolf on July 24th, 1929, from the book The Letters of Vita Sackville -West and Virginia Woolf, edited by Louise DeSalvo and Mitchell Leaska).

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How to Create a Project Plan for Writing a Non-Fiction Book

A pile of books, an open book, and a cup of coffee on a table.
Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

I should probably have started my book writing log with this post, but hey, better late than never!  This post is about creating a project plan for writing a non-fiction book.

At Microsoft, I used to manage large global projects, and I always used a project plan. So, when I wanted to write my first non-fiction book, my first step was to figure out what I needed to do by when. 

I spent quite some time on this. Managing large projects has taught me that careful planning is essential. It’s well-invested time. Later on, when you have a lot to do, and life starts whirling around you at lightspeed (as it will do), you’ll be thankful that you don’t have to think about what’s next. You’ve done all thinking in the planning phase, so you can just have a look at your plan and go do the next tasks. Easy.

How to Create a Project Plan for Writing a Non-Fiction Book

I used these two books: Robin Colucci, How to Write a Book That Sells You and Tucker Max & Zach Obront, The Book In A Box Method; they complement each other well. 

Robin Colucci offers a checklist on her website, and I used that as my foundation. It didn’t include the research part, even though she talks about gathering your research etc., in the book. I’ve read a lot of books on writing non-fiction, and not one mentioned research at all. 

I searched online, and Cal Newport’s article on how to build a research database was best in its simplicity. Read my earlier post about my research database; you can download my database template if you’re interested.

Anyway, I built on Colucci’s template, added the research part, more on editing, and created new sales and marketing sections. Her book didn’t look into that at all since she assumed you’d want a publisher. I’m not sure which way I’ll go, so I’ve added those sections but didn’t go into great details. At this point, I’m focused on writing the book, not dreaming about sales. There’ll be time for time once I start editing.

I’m still wrestling with the research part. I feel it should come before outlining the book because, although I’m clear on what I want to include in the book, changes may be needed once I’ve read the research books. I’ll update the template once I’ve been through the process and learn more.

Here’s my template. With a column for Comments, of course. Feel free to use it. And do let me know if you have any questions or feedback!

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How to Build a Research Database for a Non-Fiction Book

Library Index Cards Drawer to illustrate a research database. The State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
The State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. Of course I visit libraries while on vacation! You don’t?

As mentioned in my earlier post, I’ve started building the research database for my non-fiction book. 

I had looked around on the world wide web earlier and found several good articles on how to do that, all more or less complicated. I’m a gal of simple tastes, so I was looking for something not too complicated or relying too much on technology. I wanted a simple solution, sustainable in the long run. I’m planning on writing more books.

Cal Newport had a great article on building a research database, and I followed that process and kept it simple with an Excel file. Newport’s article focuses on writing an academic paper, but I found it useful for a non-fiction book too.

There are more advanced ways, but I feel an Excel file meets my needs. I don’t want to over-complicate things. Apps come and go; Excel remains. Simplicity is the essence of happiness, as Cedric Bledsoe said.

The only thing that I’ve added is an extra column for Comments. Everyone with whom I worked on a project at Microsoft would recognize it. No project plan of mine would ever miss this column, ha, ha! I simply find it so useful for recording bits of information that you may need, for instance, a link to a relevant site. Once a process improver, always the process improver, I guess.

Here’s the file if you’re interested. Feel free to download it, and let me know if you have any feedback or questions.

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Progress Report. Or Lack Thereof

So much for building my research database. I didn’t make as much progress as I thought with it. I did get started as planned, but it’s slow-moving.

Oh, there are reasons. Of course. There are always reasons.

We had to pick up the artworks we left for framing and pick frames for the next ones. Because of the pandemic, there’s no drop-in, you have to make an appointment, and we cannot always control the timing. It seems everyone is framing pictures on Lidingö these days; the place is bustling.

A framed picture of three drawings by Keith Harrington.
Exhibit no. 1: one of the framed pictures I had to pick up.
It consists of three large Keith Haring postcards from the Haring exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne 2019.

The new desks for the home office were finally delivered, too, and I had to vacate the office to have them assembled, then re-decorate the room.

The cat had her final X-rays for her broken paw, and we had to go to the vet one more time.

We had a lot of home deliveries too.

The deer knocked off the bird feeders.

The dog ate my homework.

Life happens. There’s always something, and if I have to wait until everything is in order to write, the right planets and stars aligned, I will get nothing done.

I have to work through all this. Despite all this.

I’m also plodding, like competing-with-a-tortoise. Once I pick up speed, and I’ve got going, it’s smooth sailing, but I have a long start sequence. Too long.

The smallest disturbance or interruption derails me, and the re-start is slow. I need to work on my attention and my focus. I was spoiled by working at home alone for over ten years, comfortable in my routines, and free to work and take breaks as I pleased.

With my husband working from home too now and sharing an (albeit large) room, I find the smallest interruption disruptive. I need to shift my mindset to allow that I’m no longer working alone instead of trying to recreate those ideal conditions that no longer apply. I realize now that I was set in my ways, trying to force this new life into the mold of my old one.

The last couple of weeks have been better, in fact. I try to compartmentalize things and think, “oh, new compartment,” when there’s an interruption. Then I get back to work by switching to the “work compartment.” It does take a few minutes to shift my focus back to whatever I was doing, but it’s better than the muttered resentment and the longer focus loss. It’s still work in progress, and I think I like the progress, if you’ll forgive the pun.

Anyway. I’ve started building my research database. Yawn. Before I started, I was looking forward to work on the reading list, because, you know, books! But once I started, the boring emerged, and I started to fantasize about reading the books, not merely write a list. Why is the promise of future work more appealing than the work you’re currently doing?

Close up of a vintage-style typewriter with the words "Just do it" typed on the page.

Mindset. It’s all about the mindset. I need to work on the list so that I can read the books. As simple as that. Just do it.

By the way, do you know where that Nike slogan comes from? It’s a pretty morbid story. Facing execution for murdering two people, Gary Gilmore’s last words were, “Let’s do it.” That was 1977. A decade later, Dan Wieden, an advertising executive, pitched the slogan “Just do it” to Nike and, eventually, succeeded. The slogan, inspired by Gilmore’s words, aired in 1988 and, at the time, struggling Nike became the sport and fashion giant we know today.

And here’s another example of me going off on a tangent instead of working on my list. I admit it was far more rewarding checking the internet for a murderer’s last words than working on my Excel file. Now I understand why people kill their internet and delete all the apps on their phones. I’m not sure I could go that far, but I’d better go back to work.

Do you know what happens if you type “go back to work” on Google? You’d see all these Covid-19 related regulations about returning to work after a lockdown.

Results of a Google search

Right, I’ll go back to work. For sure. Right away. Just give me a sec. Any time now.

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How to Do Research for a Non-Fiction Book

Stack of old books.
Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

When we moved from Switzerland to Sweden in late 2019 I decided to do a Kondo review of our possessions. I didn’t want to bring old stuff into our new home and new life in Sweden. It was a signal of new beginnings, with a clean slate.

Old stuff in the huge garage or the bomb shelter … OK, that sounds crazy. Let me explain. Yes, we had a bomb shelter room, with a heavy, thick steel door like a bank vault, complete with six field beds, a chemical toilet, and an air filtering system. It’s a requirement when building a house in Switzerland. If it made me feel safer? I don’t know, but it was perfect for additional storage with 25 square meters.

This brings me back to the move. The extra storage area meant that even more stuff found its’ way there. Some things were easier to throw out than others. Books and my archive papers were hard. 

I had the idea of my non-fiction book for a few years and had started collecting material, even though I wasn’t sure how I could write it when I was working more than full-time and was utterly exhausted during the weekends. But I kept at it because I knew the day would come.

So here I was with boxes of papers, ready to start my new life as a writer, at last. I couldn’t leave all that behind now, could I? What I did, in the end, was a quick scanning, removing duplicates or outdated papers. There were still too many boxes, but I did what I could.

Now to the “how” part. 

How to Do Research for a Non-Fiction Book

1) Preparation

To lose a passport was the least of one’s worries: to lose a notebook was a catastrophe,” travel writer Bruce Chatwin said. All research starts with a notebook. A kernel of an idea, an overheard conversation, something the neighbor said, a book I’ve read. I write it all down in my little Moleskine notebook that I always carry with me. Nowadays I use the iPhone’s Notes app as well.

As my intentions became clearer, I wrote a few points that would later go into the book outline. Nothing detailed yet, just high level, to provide directions.

Once I had a pretty good idea about what kind of book I wanted to write, I bought a few folders in clear pretty pastel colors and organized the papers I already had. This helped me better understand where I was going with the book.

2) Online Research

Then on to do some online research, starting with Google Scholar, and expanding from there. I did a quick check on what others have written on the subject, and their sources, as they’ve already done their research.

I follow a few writers in my areas of interest; many of the experts in their field would have a homepage or a blog, and often, they would list recommended books. A pre-validated list, that’s gold.

3) The Library 

Libraries are magical. Imagine all that knowledge, free for anyone to grab! Non-fiction books are organized by topics, so this step is relatively easy. I just went to the relevant shelves and browsed. I’m pretty good at scanning books quickly, and my list grew pretty fast.

The advantage of “real” books is that you can browse through whole books fairly quickly; with e-books, it’s much harder.

4) Analyze Sources

I like to think I’m pretty good at evaluating sources, but a formal test is always good. I use CRAAP (an acronym for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose). I also prioritize primary sources (first-person accounts) before secondary sources whenever possible.

5) Organize the Material

Now, the tricky part is keeping track of everything you’ve found. Enter the research database. I’ll write a separate post on this.

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How to Write a Book

How to Write a Book

I admit that “How to Write a Book” sounds like clickbait, but it’ll come to that – eventually. I’m planning on documenting the process of writing my first non-fiction book here, so you’ll see how to do it, post by post.

Or, to be more exact, how I do it. There’s, of course, no silver bullet, no handy manual on how to actually write a book. If anybody claims that, they’re lying. Or delusional. Sure, you can learn some of the technicalities: show, don’t tell; kill your darlings*; beware of adjectives and adverbs. And so on. But there are no shortcuts or miracle solutions; you learn how to write by writing and reading a lot. There’s no way around it.

I’ll document what I do here, on the blog, and I hope you’ll find it inspirational, if not instructive.

My Winding Path to Writing a Book

So (gulp) writing my first non-fiction book. It’s the book I needed to read myself, a (not always so) gentle push to live my creativity, let go of the fear and just do it. Write the book. Create the collage. Take the photo. Just do it!

I always thought that I didn’t have enough time or energy to be creative, to do the things I wanted to do while I was climbing the corporate ladder. Given enough time, I’d dazzle the world with my art.

And, lo and behold! November 2019 came and I resigned my fancy job at Microsoft. “Now I’ll show them!” Or not.

2020 was NOT the year my books would be written, or stunning photos exhibited. True, Covid-19 made everyone’s lives a misery, but even so, I thought I’d do more with my freedom. Instead, I agonized about every word, every photo; nothing I did was good enough, and the fear paralyzed me.

It took most the 2020 to figure it out. I dragged myself out of the hole I had dig myself in, found new routines and created a plan. Hence, the non-fiction book.

Close up of a vintage-style typewriter with the words "Just do it" typed on the page.

Getting Started

To start with, I need to do some research. I’m sorry I cannot say more about it. I don’t like being secretive, and I’m not afraid of somebody stealing my idea. Ideas are dozen a dime; it’s the execution that counts. No, what I’m afraid of is jinxing it. (It seems I haven’t conquered all my fears, after all.) I may share more later if I start feeling more comfortable.

Before diving into that pile of books (and it’s a symbolic pile since almost all my books nowadays are electronic), I do need to have a proper reading list. I’m sure my future me will thank me.

Cal Newport has a great article on building a research database, and I think I’ll keep it simple with an Excel file. There are more advanced ways, but I feel an Excel file meets my needs. I don’t want to over-complicate things; I like to keep things simple.

That’s it for now. I’ll cover the research phase and building the research database in the next posts.

* About killing your darlings. The saying has been attributed to many authors, from Oscar Wilde, Eudora Welty and William Faulkner to G.K. Chesterton, Chekhov and Stephen King.

King leads this attribution game nowadays, very likely due to this sentence from his excellent book On Writing: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.

Most scholars point to British writer Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch.“If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: ‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.’”, he wrote in his book On the Art of Writing.

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