Category Archives: Writing

Writing a business book – the 80:20 rule

12 days ago, I wrote Writing a Business Book in 30 days and I’m now 15k words through. I’m probably a couple of days behind, but I’m at peace with that given my travel schedule has picked up. It seems preferable to prioritize phoning home, to adding to the book.

What’s more it’s clear that I’m now in the final stretch of the first draft. I’ve got only 2-3 sections left to write, and they are the ones I’m struggling with most. Probably by the end of today, I’ll have finished the first draft, and it will be time for an extensive re-write.

In particular, it’s interesting that the advice from my friends and colleagues has shaped this to be far better than I ever imagined. Here’s a few things I picked up along the way

Write the draft in MS Word

Jeff Word gave this advice and I think it’s definitely the way to go. It enables much easier editing, moving sections around, and is easily legible by colleagues. You do have to be careful to keep formatting simple, but more on that later when I write a blog about workflow.

I was tempted at one stage to use a dedicated eBook publishing software like Scrivener, but in the end, I found this was a real workflow killer, because you can’t easily get in-line edits from friends and colleagues.

Find a place and time to write

I’ve tried to find my place and time to write. When I’m at home, it’s the first hours of the morning, on the balcony with coffee (this will only work for a few more weeks before it gets too cold, so I’d better hurry up and finish!) and when I’m traveling, it’s usually on a plane, which definitely makes writing harder, since I’m flying 4 days a week. That can’t be helped, it’s my day job!

Having that time which is mine, and my book’s is an important thing. I also added to this to write 1000 words a day, which has been a nice target to get me to breaking the back of the book.

Separate Writing and Publishing workflows

In comments from Dennis Howlett and John Studdart, I had take-aways that writing and publishing workflows should be separate.

This is significant for me and has really relaxed me, because I’ve just spent an hour finding a publishing workflow that works (more on this later, when I’ve actually used it in anger), and reliably gets me from a MS Word document to the two major eBook formats (MOBI and EPUB). Phew.

Before that, I was definitely a little stressed because I was concerned that I’d have to totally rewrite all the formatting in my book – something that as it grows, is getting incrementally harder. That worry has totally gone away now, and I can focus on writing.

Get an early view from your customers

This is a book where I seek to reach out to two particular demographics – consultants, and salespeople in consulting. My book has to resonate with them, and I feel it’s been incredibly important to get their feedback.

Thanks, for example, to DJ Adams, who pointed out that the introduction didn’t connect to him as a consultant, which would have made him reluctant to finish reading, if he hadn’t agreed to review it. This enabled me to be a lot more customer-focussed in what I did, which is essential to the success of this project.

The 80:20 rule applies

There is a rule of thumb in IT projects that the first 80% of the work takes up 80% of the time, and the last 20% takes up the other 80% of the time. That definitely seems to be applying here, because I hit a wall at around 15k words. It’s partially because I have said most of what I want to say, and partially because the parts that need writing are the parts that I put off because they are hard, or needed research.

I know I have to live with that, but also push to get the first draft. I know this is important… because once the first draft is complete, the book is probably only 30-40% complete.

Everything is a priority

Everything we do in life is a matter of priorities, or choices, and that’s never more clear than committing to a project like this. People ask how I make time for it, with work and home and everything else, and that’s the simple fact.

I can’t take time out from the working day to work on this because there’s plenty going on there (and my employer isn’t paying me to write a book, though they should benefit from it). Nor do I choose to take time out from my personal life, because, well, that’s a priority.

And so this writing this book (and this blog) fits into the cracks between them, which is probably why enjoying the leaves falling from the balcony is such a workable time.

Writing a Business Book – Workflow Woes

For the first seven days, I cranked out a happy thousand words a day – I was on vacation for the first four, and didn’t travel for two more, so that was easy.

But then the week got tough, and I ended up stuck away from home in a storm, flying into Washington DC and driving hundreds of miles in a storm. All in all, I’ve been traveling for nearly 20 hours this week, mostly by car, and you can’t write a book whilst driving.

As an aside, a friend of mine used to put on cruise control in the USA, and drive for hundreds of miles on the Interstates, whilst reading books. He tried to do this in the UK and was immediately arrested, so I definitely don’t recommend this!

So it’s 9am on Saturday morning, 11 days in, and I’m at just 7.5k words and feel like I’ve let myself down. Thankfully it’s a quiet morning and with a few cups of coffee, I’ve managed to get past the 11k mark and am back on track. Yay!

Jeff Word described my style as the “vomit draft” in my last blog post, and he followed up with a kind email with some guidelines on writing which have served him well. He doesn’t recommend the vomit draft – instead suggests creating more outline structure first, but 11 days in, I’m feeling reasonably good about what I’ve written thus far. The structure isn’t quite perfect, but it’s not a million miles off.

What has come to bother me (rightly or wrongly) is how I will in future turn the manuscript into a book. In my last book, the Bluefin marketing department kindly took this on and turned the book into a visual masterpiece. That said, it did take a long time and it was really tough for them to turn the printed book into an eBook.

So I spent a little time looking into tooling. A lot of people recommend writing the manuscript in Word, and then using HTML coding manually. That looks like a lot of hard work, but apparently it makes for a guaranteed working eBook structure.

And then there are tools like Scrivener, which claim to allow a much better workflow. I did try to use Scrivener and I didn’t find it easy to use at all, or to visualize the whole book – you have to compile the book, there’s no easy preview.

When I wrote my University thesis, I used the wonderful text markup language TeX, which allows unparalleled writing styles. It’s a little technical to use, but you get beautiful and consistent page structures. Unfortunately I don’t think that TeX easily translates to eBooks.

For now, I’m ploughing along and using Microsoft Word to write my manuscript, which as Jeff correctly pointed out to me is ubiquitous and allows for excellent version management and editing capabilities. Plus, he says, you can publish directly to Kindle from Word, though that doesn’t help me, because I don’t expect to publish this book publicly.

I’m still feeling though that there must be a better way. After all, most books have a title, table of contents, sections, subsections, and some basic formatting. Why is there not an excellent workflow available for the writing and editing process? Am I missing something?

Writing a Business Book in 30 Days

I’ve recently had a few days off work, which have been much needed. I can always tell when I haven’t had a vacation recently enough, because I stop writing. It’s a nice early warning sign, and my last blog on this site was in April.

I was also lucky enough to get my first book published this year, Building the Business Case for SAP HANA. It was a fascinating learning experience, and the most interesting part was how hard it was to get from a part-finished manuscript to a published book.

Part of it was getting part the inertia of filling in the gaps, part was getting a good executive summary and introduction, then hassling people, and getting the design process done for the initial print run, and then the conversion to e-book. But I’m so glad it was done, and thanks to those who helped – co-author and editor Jon Reed, Steve Lucas from SAP and Geoff Scott from ASUG. Not to mention James Appleby from Bluefin and our marketing team, who turned the manuscript into a book.

All of this has given me the energy and desire to continue to write something which sucks a little less than my last book. I’ve got pretensions of writing a novel, but I don’t have even the inkling of a storyline yet. That will come one day. I’d also like to write a sequel to Building the Business Case for SAP HANA, focussed on the age of SAP S/4HANA, but I don’t think that story is ready to be written yet.

And so I settled on an internal business book, something which will be available exclusively and for free to the 15,000 combined Bluefin and Mindtree employees. I’ll share more details on the title and what it contains later, but I’m not ready to let that out yet!

From a personal perspective, I specifically wanted to understand how to get over the hurdle of getting out of writing and into editing, fast. And so I have set myself a goal of writing a business book in 30 days. My specific goal is to write 1000 words each day, in around an hour in the morning after I wake up and whilst I enjoy a coffee or two. I have to continue this until I’m done writing content and have a first manuscript to share with colleagues.

What I’ve found myself doing is filling in the gaps from the previous day, and then adding the structure for the next day. Sometimes I add a few extra things that pop into my head as the day progresses.

So far, I’m 6 days, and 6000 words in. 6158 if you want to split hairs. This flies in the face of a lot of writing theory, which says you should create all the structure first and then fill it in, and so maybe my experiment won’t work.

I don’t have a word-count in mind, but now I’m 6 days in, I feel like I may be nearly half way through the story I want to tell. It needs to be readable in an hour or two, because that’s the maximum amount of time I want to ask my colleagues to spend. Since the average reading speed is around 250wpm, that puts my desired word count at around 15-30k words.

One early question I got was whether it would be 1000 quality words, or just 1000 words per day. My sense on this is that there’s some duplication, some reordering, and some rewriting to be done, but the 6000 words aren’t just drivel. I’ve shared the first few chapters with some colleagues and got some interesting feedback on the idea which have helped shape the content. Thanks to Robert, Chris, Nathan for your feedback thus far.

I’ve also found myself reading more than usual – I’ve already read 3 books that serve as background on the area that I’m writing. Part of the goal on writing about this topic was to solidify my understanding so I could be a better practitioner, and part was to help teach others. I definitely feel like a better practitioner, for trying to write a book on the subject.

I’m interested to see whether the experiment works, or whether I end up with a monologue, or a series of incoherent essays, and what my colleagues think about it. Whether they think it will help them, even.

I’d be fascinated by the experience and opinions of those of you who have tried to write a book, or have successfully completed such an endeavor, and what you learnt. And indeed the comments from those who would like to, but haven’t yet.

In the meantime I’d better get on and write the next 1000 words!