During the pandemic I seem to have figured out a few things. Like how to actually write a book manuscript. The method is simple really, just hard to sustain. But know that most everyone has a book or two in them already.
Last year, I mentioned I was renewing my effort to do some longer form writing on what I’ve learned over the last 20 years. It’s turned out to be a busy year for my work in drug development even with travel curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve found myself working from home for most of the year, but with a pretty packed day of calls and need to get out work product. How was I going to push the writing project forward.
Fortunately, about this time last year I found Tucker Max’s website1. His company provides services to authors like you and me who have books in them but perhaps no real ambition for a career in writing. Books can boost careers, publicize businesses and influence public discourse. I don’t have any these motives really. I’m just interested in sharing what I’ve learned from what I think is a unique perspective as a neuroscientist working in business environments.
Tucker provides a lot of free content on the site besides selling courses and services to writers. I extracted three key insights :
- Use the tools at hand to get words into the computer. Word, Google Docs, Notes- anything. I know I have way too many tools. So I picked Ulysses because it’s plain text, semistructured and syncs across Mac and iOS.
- Writers write. A book of 100 to 200 pages is 20 to 40 thousand words. Write 250 words a day, every day for at least 30 minutes a day. 60 minutes a day is reasonable and 120 is optimal. Since my schedule is different every day given project meetings, fitness schedule and work product due dates, I simply decided that my first 30 minutes free at my desk would be dedicated to getting at least 250 words out. Sometimes I’ve gotten 500 or more if I had an hour, but I just put fingers on keyboard and got the ideas down.
- The first draft is a marathon to get the words out. A lousy first draft. A vomit draft. At 250 words a day, 100 days of work equals a short book. What I have is nothing I’d want to share with anyone, but I think that after the first editing round I could serialize the chapters on the website here. Ulysses telsls me I’ve gotten 30,348 words down and I’m about halfway through the outline. So half of a 200 page book done.
I found that Tucker will actually answer questions, just as he promises on his website. One of my biggest obstacles was how much material I already had at hand. 20 years of blog posting and at least 2 previous attempts at turning the material into a book. I wanted to edit it into a book to save the time writing.
So I asked Tucker how to deal with the mass of material I’ve collected over all this time. Several manuscripts in volume really. He suggested I use it as reference, but start with a fresh outline and start writing anew.
Starting over turned out to be exactly the right approach. His assertion that people like me have a book in our heads already is absolutely right. And I’ve done this many times before as it turns out. I’ve often written research papers, review articles and book chapters by referring to. references, but then doing the careful citation and fact checking during editing once the ideas and flow were down on the page. The principle is that that the author has the book inside already, it just needs to get out of their head and into that linear computer file called a book manuscript.
As I’ve been writing, I’ve gotten a clearer idea where this is all going, so I spend some other time diving into some of the newest insights into brain mechanisms for decision making as well as my guidepost books on self improvement and making better decisions.
I hope to share the effort at some point, but given that I have no ambition to an author, the whole exercise has been a personal project to clarify some of the ideas I’ve had over the years about the relationhsip between decision making, brain function and the philosophy of ethics.