Why is it Horribly Hard to Write a Book?

Writing anything is never easy; especially inking exactly what you wish to communicate through a book is one of the hardest things to do. Then why is it that we see so many of us writing about writing? Or, why is it that so many of us are interested in reading about writing? Each day, writers like you and I wake up to a new challenge of pouring thoughts onto our drafts. Each day we spend hours with pens and papers or in front of our computer screens pursuing stories in the void of nothingness. Only a few can consistently get to write. Fewer still get their works published.

With these thoughts, one such day passed for me recently. And, when I pondered on this question of why is it horribly hard for anyone to write a book, out came this post! Here’s why I think only a handful of us make it through to the readers:

You don’t read everyday things rightly.

This is the commonest. Sometimes we just cannot see beyond one plot. So, even if we decide to write about it and move on, all we can do is pen down the fragments of our imagination. If you are one of those who fails to connect the dots, then you are either in a wrong profession or haven’t trained yourself under the right inspiration. Good writing is all about good reading. No, don’t get me wrong on this one; I don’t mean reading good stuff. I mean reading the everyday things around you; looking closely to understand the perspective of the people around you. That inspires you more than anything else. Read people’s emotions; look at how different people behave differently in the same situations amongst the same sets of challenges. Learn to read between the lines; that’s where most stories lie. If you can read those stories correctly, you can write about them, too.

You don’t have a schedule. If you do, you don’t stick to it.

Those who do have a schedule, follow it. So, if you don’t have a schedule, make one and follow it. Most of us fail to make a schedule for their writing. They lose most of their energies in either thinking or planning. What they don’t realize is that too much of either leads them away from their writing goals.

Take a note of the time of the day at which you are the most productive. Reserve that for your writing effort. Break that period into four equal intervals. In the first interval, read through what you wrote yesterday. In the second interval, think of what you wish to cover. Don’t write anything just yet; create a flow of thought. In the third interval, write as much as you can to cover the entire sequence you’ve decided to cover. In the fourth interval, rewrite what you’ve written while what you’ve initially thought of is still fresh in your mind.

You can set a target for you. If you are a fiction writer, for example, set a realistic goal to write 500 words every day. If you wish to come up with a work of nonfiction, setting organized targets will keep your book on track. Make sure you accomplish your daily goals. Once you make a schedule, stick to it. Be regular with your efforts. Follow the plan without a break. Think every day. Write every day. Rethink every day. Rewrite every day.

You don’t get the plot.

As we age, we continue to define and redefine things. We continue to learn something new – I hope that that’s, at least, the case with me. One of the biggest learnings of our lives is that not learning anything at all is still a learning. This applies to writing as well. Mostly writing fiction is about seeing the hero (or protagonist) move from point A to B or from one plot to another or from one challenge to another or even from one story to another. Similarly, most of the nonfiction is also about taking the understanding from one level of quotient to another. But, sometimes the plot lies not in the change but in its observation. The plot, I see, is both about the journey and the destination; about both the content and its accomplishment; about the details and the totality; and sometimes both the character and their story. The better we understand the plot, the better we can write about it.

You are possessive.

I am yet to find a writer who is not possessive about their works. All of us are awestruck with our first drafts. We love them so much that we can’t see anyone finding faults with them – even we ourselves can’t edit them. But, the first drafts hardly contain the quality that our readers deserve to read. And, that’s why getting the work edited is so important. Today when I look at the initial draft of my book, I see a positive impact of the edit iterations.

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This post is an attempt to answer the countless requests and questions I received when I recently released The Write Stride: A Conversation with Your Writing Self. I could see that there are a lot of us who have a lot to share but can’t get the right words. I hope that this post helps them organize their thoughts into a book.

Five Things I Must Do as a Writer

There are a lot of write-ups that I prepare but rewrite numerous times before sharing. Then, there are times when I write but I don’t share. Whatever I do, as a writer I do these five things, which this post is all about. I’ve shared the post on Medium. If you too have a list of your own, please share it with me.

Happy writing!

What’s the Difference Between Book Blurb and Synopsis?

As I ready my book for its release, there are a few things that everyone tells me to do. Two of which are to write the book blurb and synopsis. This post is for those who confuse between the two, much like I once did.

For those who are rushing, here is the gist: Both project the book to different sets of readers. So, the simple difference is that a book blurb SHOULD NOT contain the conclusion because it is your book’s sales pitch, while a synopsis is a 200-word version of the book itself. Think about suspense, drama, and questions when you are writing a blurb for your book. But, give one-sentence answers to those questions in your synopsis.

Here’s the elaborate version:

What is a Book Blurb?

A book blurb is your way of selling your book. Like the book cover is one of the biggest selling points for any book, a book blurb helps sell the idea of the book to those who are in search of reading something either new or out of their usually picked genres.

There is one big difference though between a book blurb and a synopsis. A book blurb does not include the ending. Your fans, readers, and prospects wish to read your book. You can make it more exciting by raising some questions without giving away hints about the answers. Through the book’s blurb, you can give an idea about the plot and about why is the suspense/flow of events bothersome/intriguing, but do not let the ending spill out to the prospective readers. This drama is enough for them to make the purchases. But what do you do if you are writing a nonfiction because you can’t use drama, for sure? In such cases, you can use questions; questions that intrigue the readers; questions that make them think; questions they had, but could never answer.

What is a Synopsis?

Your publishers get hundreds of manuscripts every day. So, if they would read each one of those, they would take a lot of time to finish the publication process. Your synopsis makes the job easy for them. In simple words, a synopsis is telling “what’s your story”.

Like we discussed, the book blurb does not contain the ending. But, the synopsis should contain not only the gist of your story but also how things conclude. If it is a work of fiction, tell the publisher how the protagonist brings the bad forces to justice. If it is a work of nonfiction, tell the publisher how you as a protagonist bring off things, or so to say.

Tell the publisher who the protagonist is; about what challenges the protagonist is confronting; about why it is the time for the protagonist to prepare for and face the battle of their life; and, passively, about how facing challenges makes living worth it.

There is one important point for you to consider. Follow the tone of your work. If it is a work of fiction, follow the tone of your novel. Be romantic if your novel is about love, romance, and togetherness. Be funny if your novel is full of humorous incidents.

Why does understanding this difference matter to me?

I want to sell my book. I want everyone to appreciate what I’ve written; not because I have written it, but because their reading it will make a difference to their lives. I want the readers to acknowledge my addressing some of the questions they have had. And, because understanding this will help me create content that addresses the right audiences rightly. Words matter. And, so does the impact they create.

Happy writing.

Are Technical Writing and Instructional Designing the Same?

This post originates from a couple of related question that I answered on Quora, which you can find here and here. For those who are rushing, here is the gist of the post: Although I don’t regard technical writing and instructional designing different, I do acknowledge that the tools and methodologies both use are quite different.

For the elaborate explanation, I resort to breaking the big question in parts:

How are technical writing and instructional designing different?

Howsoever thin, there is a line that separates technical writing and instructional designing. Yes, I agree that though the end-result is still similar, the routes taken are different. And, here is the first difference. Technical writers focus more on collecting, collating, and presenting information, while instructional designers focus on streamlining the correlated tasks into stepped instructions and courses. Another difference I see is in the approach. I always say that technical writers are backstage players. No one knows they are there, but they are. And, unlike instructional designers, technical writers can never become the front-stage players.

As a technical writer, I deal with creating and maintaining user guides, help files, and release notes, but if the time and scope permits I also get to write white papers, knowledge base articles, full-scope or abridged customer-driven metadata, and blogs. The goal, however, across all cases of documentation and complexities is empowerment. Instructional designing deals with information that’s both specific and generic. It does include offline or online learning, self-paced or instructor-led learning, and activity-based learning from simulation or gamification. The goal, however, across all cases and complexities is still on learning. But then my exploration limits my knowledge.

The thin line that differentiates technical writing and instructional designing becomes thinner at the object level. For example, when you create a knowledge base write-up, you focus both on empowerment and learning. You wish that when a user reads through your document, they will know what next to do and why. I can also see some rules that apply to both technical writing and instructional designing.

In today’s mobility-friendly world, people want everything on the go, including information. And, depending on what you seek or what you have (a smartphone, tablet, watch, or eyewear), the information complexity, language, and medium changes. This means that both information and instructions must be easy to understand and easy to use. In one way, this means fewer words and more visual content. But, we’ll discuss this some other time. Let us look at the second part of the big question.

Do technical writing and instructional designing require different skills and tools?

Quite rightly, the thin line of difference in the professions extends into the skill set and tool set as well. While it is true that both the skills and tools mostly are common, the percentage of a skill’s or tool’s relevance certainly changes based on the profession. I feel that technical writing involves more researching than instructional design. But, like I said, my exploration limits my knowledge. Instructional design involves more of storyboarding. So, it is good to assume that it will also involve more of action-driven, task-based sentences.

Both involve writing instructions, but technical writing restricts such instructions to stepped procedures in user guides and troubleshooting guides, while the entire storyboarding in instructional designing is task-based and action driven. Instructional designing is more of learning management. Consequently, you should have a better understanding of what users do with your products.

Let us take a small example. Consider that you have a job at a place where even a small error might result in huge losses for the company. Now, we will agree that the software or hardware products that you will get to use in such places will come with manuals. But, will it still not make sense for you to undergo a formal training before you get involved in your daily duties? I hope you can now see the difference. You limit your information goals based on your work processes and sequences of actions; on how a tool is designed to work and how it may fail; and, one how you wish to keep yourself and your peers safe and the work processes smooth.

In the context of the differences in technical writing and instructional designing, given the information goals you seek, it would be right to consider instructor-led training first followed by a regular check into the user guides wherever required. That should lend you insights into the only possible difference in the professions. Let us now address the last part of the big question.

As a technical writer, can I switch profession into instructional designing?

Either way, switching shouldn’t sound challenging; it wouldn’t be easy, for sure. But decide what you wish to do or help the users in accomplishing.

Conclusion

Before I conclude, let me take a moment to help you look at how I’ve understood this indifference. First I determine what the user wishes to accomplish. Then, I determine how they wish to accomplish their learning objective. Then, I look for the resources I could use to help them accomplish their learning objectives. Then, I break that learning objective into logical, sequential parts. Now, I see if I could create content that ushers them through those logical, sequential parts. The point is that I register the impact of each of those logical, sequential parts. I register the growth of user’s learning as they move from one goal to another and, eventually, one objective to another.

You see that the already thin line of difference between technical writing and instructional design further begins to blur.

Let’s just introduce a new word into our discussion: training. The word adds a lot of clarity in our understanding and helps us define the scope of both technical writing and instructional designing. Based on what we’ve discussed so far, can we say we are talking about technical training instead of instructional designing? If yes, can we say that technical training helps graduate a user’s understanding from one logical sequence to another or from one learning goal to another? And if that’s also true, aren’t we negating the difference between technical writing and instructional designing?

This is exactly why I don’t regard technical writing and instructional designing different. They may be two sides of the same coin, and I am OK if they are that way. But, that still doesn’t change the end-result for the users. Despite what users wish to peruse, they seek insights and accomplishment. And, as someone who enables them to achieve both these, I continue to remain a problem solver for the users. And, I don’t care what you name me as.

How Technical Writing Makes Me a Better Fiction Writer

I just published this post on Medium. This post brings a new train of thoughts. Thoughts that lead me to think more for and about those who use what I write for. Hopefully, I will learn to write better. Hopefully, I will have something new for you, too.

Let me know how you found this post. Until next time, then! Happy writing.