As soon as my first book was published, I became a purveyor of writing advice. At least that’s what everyone else thought. Because from that moment on I’ve been asked countless questions about book writing. The most common:
“Was it hard to finish writing your first book?”
My generic answer: not as hard as it was to edit it.
Why? The big reason is because my first book was blogged-to-book – at least for the most part.
So by the time I was getting book deal offers to publish it, I had already written almost all of the chapters that would eventually comprise the finished text.
Most of the remaining work was organizing what I had written, editing things down to what was essential (and I’m not a natural editor, so this part was really tough for me), and expanding in other areas where an idea needed more support (oooeee I loved this part!).
Another question I get when I set up my book writing advice booth (i.e., I’m alive near someone who is thinking about writing a book and they find out I’m an author): “What advice do you have for someone who wants to write a book?”
My answer to that is a whole-hearted “BLOG YOUR BOOK!”
I’m guessing what I mean is pretty obvious, but here’s a short explanation of what I’m saying when I tell people “blog your book”:
- Write chapters (or sections of chapters) periodically and regularly
- Publish each one online after you’ve written it
- Share them with people to read (friends and strangers, the public at large)
- Yes, I mean share it publicly as you’re working on it and have other people read it before it’s done.
- Yes, I’m sure.
I could go into a lot of detail about the particular Hows of this proposition. And I’m tempted (bad editor here 👋).
But I’m going to resist for now, and instead go full Simon Sinek groupie and start with why.
The first reason I think you should publish chapters of your book as you write them is probably reason enough for most people:
1. Blogging your book is a silver bullet for writer’s block.
I’ll share a secret with you: I’ve never really experienced writer’s block. I attribute most of this to the truth that I simply don’t give myself time for writer’s block.
Book writing is notoriously time-consuming. Some people “work on” books for years, and never actually write a full page. And it’s easy to keep pushing writing until tomorrow when you know you have a year’s worth of work ahead of you.
But if you’re blogging your book, especially if you’re blogging on a schedule (which I’d recommend), you don’t give yourself as much time for writer’s block. Sorry Writer’s Block, I gotta get something published Wednesday.
2. It’s impossible to publish a perfect chapter every week.
If you’re working on a manuscript that you’re going to hand to an editor in 6 months, or try to sell to a publisher next year, it’s reasonable to think you can get everything just right.
And that urge will prevent you from getting anything just written. Perfection is a wonderful cure for productivity.
Blogging your book is incompatible with perfectionism – and that’s a good thing.
As you blog your book, you’ll constantly hear a voice in your head that says “I know this isn’t perfect, but…”
I’m not sure where this is going, or if I want to go there, but it’s the best thought I have on it right now.
I really wanted this one to be longer, but life happened this week.
There are so many typos in this it’s like I wrote it on my phone while driving, but it’s words!
Don’t let perfectionism kill your book. Bludgeon perfectionism to death with a steady, plodding, typo-laced and not-super-well-baked blog post series – and your book will live!
3. It’s alive!
Let’s rank some terrible feelings. I’m not sure what’s worse:
- Having the best idea you’ve had about the subject of your book after it’s been published.
- Hearing from someone who read your book that a particular passage didn’t make sense to them.
- When the best idea you’ve had is a magic solution for a published passage that people found confusing.
I wish I could say that list was hypothetical. I can say this: they all feel pretty goddamn bad.
Once a book is published, it’s such a thing. It’s done. It’s printed. On paper! With ink! And whatever mishaps made it through the editorial process are in [hopefully] thousands of people’s hands, on their shelves, forever [until nuclear holocaust turns all books into ash – phew!].
Now, unlike the other reasons above, I can’t say that blogging your book is the cure for this issue. Sometimes it just takes getting the thing in print to see how horrible that paragraph you wrote is, and how stupid and bad about myself I should feel for writing it.
But if you blog your book, it gets to exist as a living thing for some time before it gets written in history. And during that period, the more eyes that see it, and the more people that you hear from, the more likely it is you notice gaps in your reasoning, hard to grock examples, and just plain ol’ bad ideas.
Because if the internet is anything, it’s vocal. And critical.
4. The Internet is a Bastard
The facilitation book that I co-authored with Meg Bolger has been in print since January 28, 2016. That’s almost four years ago. 1,433 days, give or take a few hours. And my dad just told me that “there is a duplicate paragraph on page 76.”
“Did you know that, bud?” I did not.
Tens of thousands of people have read that book. It’s been used in curricula, lesson plans, etc. There are lots of reviews, and I’ve gotten more emails than I’ve been able to read in response to it. But this is the first I’m hearing about a f*cking duplicate paragraph on page 76. I was mortified.
“Was it at least a good paragraph?” I joked back.
My dad, deadpan on the phone: “Here, I can read it to you.”
And then he read the whole thing. Twice. Because that’s how many times it appeared in this printed, actual thing, permanently-on-the-shelves-until-we’re-thankfully-obliterated-by-nuclear-holocaust book.
The moral of this story: book readers are nice. Too nice. Duplicate paragraphs don’t deserve five stars, Reginald.
You know who would never allow you to get away with a duplicate paragraph? The Internet.
If you make even a tiny mistake in a blog post, you’re going to hear about it. A lot. Even if you don’t make a mistake, people will correct you.
“Did you know that in most of the world ‘color’ is spelled ‘colour’ I just thought you should consider that.” (👈 actual email I’ve received)
Because The Internet is a bastard.
Is that ideal all the time? It is not.
But can we use it to prevent publishing books with garish errors because two humans (you and your editor) aren’t a foolproof system? We sure can.
Thanks, Internet. (No thanks to you, Reginald!)
5. You can be a bastard too, when you’re not exhausted.
Let’s say your book is a fairly standard non-fiction length of about 250 - 300 pages. And let’s say you didn’t blog it first, but wrote the manuscript in its entirety. Throughout the writing process you’ll get periodic editorial feedback, and you’ll eventually get to a place where you’re provided with a copy-edited document for you to thumbs up before printing.
Want to guess the last thing in the world you’ll want to read at that moment? Your book.
You’ll be so sick of that book you’d rather read the Terms of Service as you update Microsoft Word because of course my copy editor doesn’t use Google Docs speaking of which when was the last time I checked my spam folder?
You might also notice – as you’re going through and mindlessly clicking little green checkmarks next to all the mistakes you made – that you’ve never actually read your own book.
I mean, you wrote it, so you read all the words in theory.
And you’ve gotten lots of feedback on particular passages, so you’ve read parts of it several times – so many times that as you’re reviewing copyedits in those passages you notice a dull sense of months-passed indignation. You’d be mad, but you’re so tired of looking at those words in that order that you can’t muster the energy.
But you’ve never sat down and read it cover-to-cover. You know, how everyone who buys it will read it. How it’s meant to be read.
Then you might think, “Huh. I should probably do that.” But you won’t. Because you’re so. damn. sick. of. your. book.
On the other hand, let’s say you blogged your book.
By the time you get to the stage where you’re approving copyedits, you’ll likely have gone months (or years) without having read most of the actual content of your book.
Because you blogged it so long ago, and most of the ideas were vetted and fleshed out then before you reworked it into a manuscript, you might notice a quasi-voyeuristic sensation when you read each chapter. You’ll turn through the pages with genuine curiosity. I wrote this?
Sometimes that will be a positive, “I wrote this!” And that’s a great feeling, which ties into my next reason.
Other times a self-loathing “I wrote this?!” And in these moments you get to be a bastard too.
You can, with fresh eyes and the malevolent energy of an Internet Troll, take that chapter apart piece by piece, eviscerating Past You, and pointing out all the better ways you could have said that.
And your book will be that much better for it.
6. You’ll actually believe your book doesn’t suck.
Whenever I’m talking with a friend right after they’ve published a new book, I’ll ask them how they’re feeling, and they’ll say they’re excited.
But if they hadn’t blogged it first, or based it on some other public-facing work they’ve done, there is almost two layers two this excitement.
- They’re relieved the book is done, and sincerely excited its out of their hands.
- They’re dreading other people reading it, and filled with anxiety about how bad it must be. Something they didn’t notice until just now.
Now, just like how the blog-to-book being a living project doesn’t guarantee you won’t publish something you regret, blogging your book doesn’t fully innoculate you against #2.
It’s just this weird thing that lots of us experience: the certainty that the thing we just spent a year+ writing, pouring our hearts into, researching and reworking and improving, is a pile of hot garbage that no human would ever willingly subject themselves to.
All those poor bastards who preordered this thing are in for a treat.
But if you blog your book, and you hear from people who are reading along, this really beautiful thing happens. Something that doesn’t otherwise might not hit you until months after your book has been out. You realize that other people actually dig it.
It’s useful to them! They hadn’t thought of that that way! They loved that anecdote in the beginning! That one bit reminded them of that thing their dead grandmother told them and they forgot and now their life is complete!
These are things that, assuming your book isn’t objectively a dumpster fire, you’d hear eventually. You’d hear them from people at signings, or via reviews, or email. You’ll just have heard many of them too late for it to really matter.
You’ll have already written all the press stuff, done the podcast interviews, readings, etc. where you were supposed to be hyping up your book. And you were saying you were excited, but you were actually more uncertain or nervous or anxious or full of life-rattling dread.
The more people who read the chapters you blogged, and the more you heard from those people, and the more you’ll actually believe the thing you published doesn’t suck. You’ll get to be really excited to say all those things. Truly excited!
You’ll might even get to unironically say that the people who preordered it are “in for a treat.” And how often does anyone get to do that?
Why do you care about the people who preordered it, anyhow?
7. You’ll know who is reading it before they read it.
We, as humans, naturally care more about identifiable people than abstract concepts of people. There are all those depressing studies about how we’re more empathically motivated by one starving kid than a 1,000.
When you’re writing a book, its easy to fall into the trap of writing it for a vague demographic or marketing-speak concept of a group of people.
A general bit of writing advice that combats this is to “write for yourself.” An audience of one. I think this is a great start! It’s also not where I’d ever end the list.
If you blog your book, and hear back from people as they’re reading things you’re publishing, it’s impossible not to attach ideas to individual, named humans. “Cecily, the social worker in Idaho” thought this idea needed more explanation to be implementable.
And all of a sudden your audience has expanded to two: You, and Cecily, the social worker in Idaho.
This has several downstream benefits.
One, as you’re writing other chapters, you can have all those real people in mind as you’re explaining things, or connecting dots. “I bet Cecily would want me to elaborate on this.”
Two, as more people write in, you start to better understand whom this book is for. You may have thought you knew who you were writing it for, or had a target audience in mind, but blogging it might surprise you on both fronts. Sometimes this is a “Yes, and…!” surprise, where you didn’t expect a whole group of people to love your book who end up loving it.
Finally, the people who read your blog become a natural community you can celebrate with you when it’s published. They’ve helped shape it into what it became and have a vested interest in its success. They’ll love a format to share what they’ve loved reading on your site with friends, or to be able to read more, or something more polished and organized.
They can also just be there for virtual group hugs and high fives, two things you really can’t have enough of.
To recap, blog your book. Seriously.
If you blog it, writer’s block and perfectionism won’t be a problem. You’ll chip away at it, bit-by-bit, and get words written. That’s huge! It’s a thing that separates the 99% of people who say they’ll “write a book someday” and the published authors.
And it will be a living project, so the ideas will evolve over time, as more people are exposed to them, and improve, get tested, with no stone making it to the printshop unturned.
Because the Internet is a Bastard, and you’ll have the energy to be a bastard yourself, you’ll know that anything that makes it into the final manuscript is worthy of ink (even if that means you have to dodge some stones thrown at you along the way).
All of that will result in you being sincerely excited about it being published, not just because you’re done with it. You’ll know (and believe) that people will benefit from reading it.
You’ll even know some of their names. And if you send me a link to your RSS feed, you can add one more name to that list: Sam.
Blog your book. I’d love to follow along.