How I wrote this book: the big picture stuff

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by Tsh

Tsh is the founder of this blog and lives in Bend, Oregon with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

Book manuscript with bloody mary

Phew… I’m done. With my book, I mean. Or, at least the first draft. I emailed it to my editor a little over a week ago, and I’m still catching up on sleep.

I definitely went through that phase I hear is all too common with other authors, where you just want the thing done, for heaven’s sake, and you kinda feel guilty for having such unloving feelings for a book. But in all honesty, I love the thing, and I’m so happy with how it turned out. So very happy. I can’t wait to share it with you.

Now, a few of you have asked how I wrote the book, and I’m assuming you mean beyond the What-program-did-you-type-it-in? sort of stuff. So I thought I’d write a post with a few of the things that helped me write a 55,000 word book while not losing my head.

First things first—I had serious help on the home front.

Our babysitter cleared out her schedule for January, and we used her services a lot. Normally she’s here a few times a week. For all of January (and a good bit of December, too), she helped out Tuesday through Friday.

Kyle also organized his work calendar so that he didn’t have major projects on his docket for January. He’s not self-employed but he can work from anywhere and set his own schedule, so his flexibility was enormously helpful. He manned the homefront and cooked most of the dinners, and he generally rocked.

And while I did write about a third of it here and there when I had time last year, the bulk of the manuscript was written this past December and January, with a deadline of February 1. Not everyone works well this way, but I find it’s my best way of writing a book—slamming it out almost all at once. Which leads me to…

I cleared my brain (and my calendar).

Book writing is a different beast than writing blog posts. Not only is the writing style different (paragraphs are longer, word choice tends to be slightly different), but their different purposes and formatting beg for different work habits. At least for me.

Tsh's book

The reason I prefer writing a book in one large concentrated time is because I’m a mom of little kids, and in real life, my brain doesn’t have the luxury of hours to think uninterrupted. If I set aside three hours to write the book every Thursday, let’s say, I’d spend the first 30 minutes rereading what I wrote last week, the next 30 editing it, and then two hours to write as much as I could, with much of that possibly being research.

So, I cleared my calendar and wrote nothing but the book in January. And as you know, I wasn’t on the blog much in January, but I also cleared my personal calendar as well—I saw friends maybe twice the entire month. I also wrote on the weekends, which I almost never do in normal life.

I kept my eye on the prize.

The hard thing about writing a book is that it’s a massive undertaking, and it requires so much of your concentration. The good thing about writing a book is that there’s an end in sight (unlike publishing a blog).

I had a word count to meet and a deadline on the calendar, so I had a very specific goal. This helped me so much—I don’t think I could write as well if I didn’t have the book already sold and on a publisher’s calendar, which pushed me artistically and professionally.

And I could keep writing when I didn’t feel like it because there was a light at the end of the tunnel. No way could I live full-time the way I did in January, but I knew it wasn’t forever, so I kept going. (I remember feeling this way when I wrote my first book, so it helped that I expected this.)

I also wrote a chapter-by-chapter outline ages ago, for my book’s proposal, and that helped enormously: I mostly stuck to it. The manuscript evolved on its own and now looks a bit different than my original plan, and that’s a good thing. But it certainly helped when my head was swimming and I just didn’t know what to say anymore—I’d look at my outline, and say, “Oh—I should just say that.”

book draft

I’m fiercely proud of this book, more than almost anything I’ve written, and it’s also very different than anything I’ve published so far. Much more personal. More storytelling. A different voice. I’m really so eager to share it with you all when it’s time. These traditional books with paper and glue still take awhile to make, oddly enough, so it won’t be out for awhile.

But even if you don’t love it, and even if the majority of Amazon one day says, “Why did she bother writing this?” I’ll tell you why: I needed to write this. Writing changes you, both in your skills in the craft, but also in your inner gut. This book asked me to go back and relive stories in my life. I cried after writing some chapters, especially the ones where I take you to the different places around the world I’ve lived. In some ways, this book has further healed me, and I’m excited to start 2013 with the book under my belt and with newer thoughts in my head (I’ve pretty much thought of February as the first of my new year, because of my deadline).

So regardless what happens with the book, it’s changed me. And I’m really happy about that.

UPDATE: Here’s part two of this post.

This one post has become two, so in a few days I’ll share I’ve shared more of the practical side of my book-writing—what tools I like to use, where and how I write, my favorite tips. So do you have any questions you’d like me to answer? I’m not an expert, but I’m certainly willing to tell you what I’ve learned.

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Comments

  1. Ah so exciting! Can’t wait to read the next post (and your book)!!!!

  2. Congratulations! And looking forward to seeing it published. and reading it :)

  3. Wow – congratulations Tsh! That first draft is a huge milestone, for sure. I look forward to reading the finished product one day. I’ve got two questions for you about this book…
    1 – How strong was your sense of audience for this book? Stronger, because it’s not your first and you’re more established now, or a bit more vague because this is so infused with your personal story?
    2 – What are your tricks for finding inspiration to stick to that outline you mentioned? I’m currently the “write for 2 hours on Thursday” person (um, literally – haha!). I try to make notes and outline ideas in between school runs and life’s busyness, but then when I sit down with the time to flesh them out, the spark is often gone. Know what I mean?

    • Wow, interesting questions, Anna!

      1. A little vaguer, but broader, if that makes any sense. It’s about a big picture felt need, even though it’s my personal story, so the hope is that there are lots of people who feel the same itch to slow down and savor the little things as they raise kids.

      2. Whenever I’m lacking inspiration, I write anyway, and usually, the inspiration comes. It’s like working out—the hardest part is getting out the door. Keeping a schedule helps a lot because as a mom, I have no wiggle room—I can’t just write later today, or tomorrow, or whenever—I have to write now, or I don’t write at all. Does this help? Basically, I suck it up and do it. :) That doesn’t mean I don’t still cave in to my flesh or that my writing isn’t exactly the best. I’ll touch a bit more on Wednesday about a few things I do when I don’t feel like writing.

      • Great answers! “I suck it up and do it” – I imagine that’s what most people who do worthwhile things could say! Thanks.

  4. Yay! I’m so glad you’re done and it was so good to see you and catch up the other day. I am excited to read it and I totally get what you mean about writing because YOU needed to write it! Amen to that. I hope you are doing ok and your ACL is not torn and you will make a miraculous comeback. I saw your instagram and thought, I wish I was on the mountain. But then I saw your snow patrol and ER pics and thought… hmmm maybe not. Looks like our plans to run together will have to be postponed. Oh wait, I don’t run. Never mind. Feel better.

  5. Congratulations on the progress with your book. I really liked how you touched on making space for your work by leveraging your resources and the support of family. Good luck on the final draft!

  6. I once read that “writers have one less layer of skin”.
    For most written things to be good they have to. And so they write, and if they give the time and love to a piece that just had to come from their inner selves onto daylight all the better for us.
    It sounds like your up-and-coming book is of that kind.
    I’m truly looking forward to it.

  7. Congratulations. I can’t wait to see it in print and on the shelves of book stores.

  8. Can’t wait to read it! Thanks for all the inspiration.

  9. What is it called and how did you arrive at a title?

    • It’s called “Intention: Notes on the Quest to Savor Life, Enjoy the Kids, and Say No to Living Fast.”Subtitle still a work in progress. My agent helped me come up with “Intention,” actually, because it was first titled “Slow Family” (after the Slow Food movement), but that just didn’t have the right ring to it. That one word, intention, encapsulated everything I was basically saying in the book, so it made sense, plus it’s broad enough to not reach only one narrow market.

  10. Love this, Tsh!! And SO excited to read. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Congratulations on finishing! Looking forward to hearing more about it and more tips. Practical question: what system do you like to use for keeping track of writing ideas as they come to you?

  12. Wow! Congratulations, what a tremendous accomplishment.

  13. Love this! And I can’t wait to read anything you’re “fiercely proud” of. :)

  14. Love this Tsh, and this? Yes this has been my experience too, ““Why did she bother writing this?” I’ll tell you why: I needed to write this. Writing changes you, both in your skills in the craft, but also in your inner gut. This book asked me to go back and relive stories in my life. I cried after writing some chapters”

  15. Congratulations! I applaud your ability to focus so intensely. I wonder how the idea for the book came about and how you found the right way to start it off…I always find that coupled with the excitement of a blank page is the TERROR of that first blank page! I also wonder how you go about finding a publisher, particularly for a first book and whether you have the same publisher this time around. Looking forward to seeing the finished product!

    • I actually have a new publisher this time (Thomas Nelson). That was my agent’s doing. The idea came one evening soon after we moved back to the U.S.—from Kyle. Yep… this book idea was Kyle’s. :)

    • I feel the same way about a blank page. I’ve been known to skip the first page or two of a new journal because I can’t think of anything momentous or profound to start with :) Ha!

  16. Excited for you! And I’m eager to hear your “practical side” of the writing of the book. Writing a book is probably the largest goal I have in this decade of my life, so I’ll be a most attentive reader.

  17. I know in my heart I want, no NEED, to write a book. Seeing your process and hearing your thoughts is extremely helpful.

    Thanks for sharing the process. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s post!

  18. It is such a huge undertaking. Good thing you had such help and support.

  19. Can’t wait to read it! Well done on finishing the race!

  20. I notice you have the book printed out in a binder. When you edited, did you do so on the paper in the binder, and then go back and re-type? How much of the book did you compose by hand as opposed to the screen, and did you find a difference when using either method?
    Congratulations on finishing the book, btw!

    • I’m talking about this a lot more in the next post, but I wrote the whole thing on my laptop, edited with a pen, then made the changes back on the docs on my laptop. My assistant read the book and added digital edits, which I usually approved (making her changes automatic). Read the post on Wednesday and let me know if you have more questions!

  21. Congrats! I was just sitting in my car today, on the way back from the gym, arguing with myself (or more like arguing with God!) about whether to even finish the book that I started writing 5 years ago (or even continue blogging). I am NOT by nature a writer (i always HATED English class, grammar and editing!). My first love was helping women deliver their babies (former L&D and mother-baby nurse, chilbirth educator and doula)till I felt called to be a full-time SAHM (though I am tempted to go back to being a labor and delivery nurse again). However, I have felt the burning in my heart to write but I get easily discouraged snd frustrsted by the process (I am like you Tsh. I have always worked better with a deadline and to do it all at once rather than little bit over time. In high school I would stay up all night the night before a term paper was due and write it, with my bottle of Dr. Pepper and bag of pretzels at my side! I always got an A on my papers when I wrote it that way. Your thoughts can just flow easier. Once I tried to follow the teachers suggestion and write a little bit at a time and I got a terrible grade on that paper.)
    I realized a couple things recently though – that I think I am more of a book writer than blog writer as I tend to have more that I want to say or explain thsn can fit in a post(I can’t do short posts!) and I realized I like to “share” more than I like to “write” (focusing on the technical stuff and the art or craft of writing). I am looking forward to hearing more about your book and what goes into writing and finishing a book.

  22. Always love hearing how you NF people knock a book out! ;) Thanks for sharing your process.

  23. I was hoping you would write a post like this one! And I’m also eager to read part 2 with all the practical bits.
    Congratulations on finishing!! I am really looking forward to reading it.
    How did the idea come about? Was it yours or a publishers? Your books have all been written at different seasons of life and I get that, but I’m curious if you had a favourite book? And what style you gravitate towards?

    Thanks!!

    • Ooh, good questions that probably require an entire post. But the short answers are that I (we, really—the book was Kyle’s idea) came up with the idea, and my agent helped seal the deal with the publisher, and the one I just wrote last month is my favorite, by far. It’s very, very different than anything I’ve written so far. It’s a storytelling, first-person narrative-style of writing, poetic at times but also punched with humor—and it’s definitely the style I gravitate towards.

  24. congratulations!
    as I read about what you’re book topic is I’m excited. it seems to be a def. resounding voice right now – intention, slow down, savor, less … good for you! I’ll look forward to reading it.

  25. Congrats Tsh! This was so fun to read because I just went through the same process. My husband basically took care of meals, we used our aftercare program at my daughter’s school– a lot, and I just wrote. I totally agree as a parent three hours of writing just doesn’t cut it. Reread what you wrote, edit, research is usually what happens for me too. Thank you for making me not feel like I’m crazy in the writing process. We just completed our first eBook: http://simplegreensmoothies.com/30-day-challenge-guide

    I can’t wait to read you follow-up post!

  26. Congratulations, on getting your first draft written! I loved this post and can’t wait to read part two.

  27. Thanks for this post…so real and encouraging. It’s nice to hear that not everyone gets up at 4 am and writes for hours everyday, year round!

  28. Wow! I can’t wait to read the book. Also looking forward to your next post. :-)

  29. Welcome back for more regular posting on your blog! I’ve missed seeing “Tsh” at the top of the posts. And, is that your green corduroy jacket I see across from the table, wrapped around a chair, in the first picture above? I think I’ve seen it before.

  30. The drink in the photo gave me a good laugh. I’m writing a book right now too and I’ve used a lot of your advice over the years to help me get the job done. Thank you for posts like this. They are very encouraging and I’m looking forward to the next installment. Now back to writing…. :)

  31. Congratulations! I can’t wait to see the new book!
    Kate

  32. I cannot wait to read it!! Your words are always so inspirational. I’m not much for following a bunch of blogs, but I follow all the Simple Living ones and Tiny Twig. Ya’ll are awesome.

  33. Inspirational! Thanks for being clear on the sacrifices it took (working on weekends, etc…) and how the writing is its own reward. Beautiful!

  34. Congrats on completing the draft – cant wait to see the book on the shelf.

  35. Congratulations on finishing it. You must be relieved and feel a little lighter perhaps. I look forward to this new book. I always enjoy your writing immensely and find you very inspirational. You’ve got quite a gift. I admire you and wish you continued success, however you may define that for yourself. :)

  36. Many congratulations to you! Looking forward to the book!

  37. thanks for letting us in on your process. i have thought many times of writing a book, but the practicals of time and family are intimidating.

    p.s. i have the same jacket. :)

  38. Congrats, Tsh. I’m so happy for you and proud of you. Can’t wait to pick up a copy when the book debuts.

  39. Congrats! You are very very talented and I cannot wait for your book release. :)

  40. Hola from your biggest fan in Madrid! (unless anyone cares to prove otherwise ;)
    Thanks for revealing your techniques for knocking out a book so productively! I am super impressed and inspired. As a fellow mother, writing a book from home, I am going to take on your very focused approach and I really look forward to Wednesdays post. (And you book too, of course.) I too am a complete Evernote fan and don’t know how I’d compile my research with Evernote Clipper! As I am co-writng, we find Google Drive invaluable for collaboration. Having a dedicated Gmail acct to the book project is another tool I highly recommend for keeping it all separate from personal email. I only allow myself to log into personal email once the writing session is over for the day!
    ok, lunch break over – back to writing. :)

  41. Tsh,
    Congratulations! And thanks for all you’ve already done to share this perspective through SLM. As a relative newlywed (4 years in May) and even newer mom (a 2 yr old daughter, and one more with an ETA of July!) who is also a full time PhD student in the midst of dissertation writing, I’ve found a lot of encouragement and inspiration on your blog already to make the choices that are best for myself and my family — and not just do the ‘expected’ thing or be passive about what happens in life. *Intention* sounds great, and I look forward to reading it.

    I’m also very curious about your practical suggestions for handling this kind of massive project while keeping one’s sanity AND some semblance of “normal” family life. As a student, I obviously don’t have the option of taking 2 months to write the dissertation in one fell swoop (at least, I don’t *think* I can make that work) so I’d really love it if you worked in some ‘transferability’ suggestions for those of us writing long projects over long(er) time periods as well.

    Specifically, I’d like to hear about your thoughts on citations managers (if any) vs. keeping track of things the old fashioned way — I have access to a variety of citation programs through my university, but can’t quite shake my need to have greater control of … well, everything, but in this case, my “data.”

    I’d also love to hear more about your proposal and how you used it beyond just the occasional “I should say that” (if at all), as I have a 30 page dissertation proposal and am trying to figure out how to make it practically useful, and not just a dead file.

    Thanks again!

  42. Can’t wait to see the real deal! I’m actually just reading through Organized Simplicity…that must feel like a lifetime ago for you!

  43. I am someone whose writing can be paralyzed by perfectionism, so I would love to hear the nitty gritty on your process from head to paper. For example, do your sentences all come out fully formed, or are they brain drain? Do you have the “here is what I want to say blah get it out of my head,” and then edit, or does it marinate first?

  44. This is such an insightful post! I really want to write a book myself, and hearing your stories and processes really encourages me. It’s funny to be that you mention how there is no end in sight with a blog. I was just thinking about this yesterday! I started to wonder if I would be writing on my blog in ten years, and what it would look like. So fascinating!

  45. It is very exciting to watch your success and we all appreciate you sharing your tips with us. Thanks for all the guest bloggers too and sharing with your audience!

  46. I only allow myself to log into personal email once the writing session is over for the day!

  47. Perfect photo. ;)
    Thanks for sharing about your process . I love reading about how other writers work, and every so often I pick up a tip that works well for me, too.

  48. Well done!

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