The End of the Beginning

Jerry and I have been working on our book proposal for A Way of Life. The publisher we'd like to work with requests multiple sample chapters, including the final chapters.

Final chapters? How do you know the end before you get there? Well, I've been zero-drafting my concluding chapter, and the best phrase I've come up with so far to describe where I am in my growth process is, "The end of the beginning."

Once I came up with that phrase, it seemed an apt description for this trip as well. This trip will be a punctuation mark for the process and the growth I've undergone to this point. It will be a place to explore who I am when taken out of all the environments that delineate my normal patterns. What will I see? What will I learn?

When the trip is done, it'll be time to start the next phase. Hopefully what that phase is will come into some clarity over the weeks of the trip.

Technique Fail?

Perhaps the problem isn't in the process, but in the techniques as I've developed them. Perhaps at this point I have developed my zero drafting technique so that it works perfectly when I focus on writing and publishing short pieces on my website, but it doesn't work for something more substantial. Maybe I draft too quickly now, without enough focus on quality? Maybe I need more space for iteration? I really don't know. The way I've drafted has worked for Free Refills, and I have said again and again that I need to trust the zero drafts, but right now I am definitely lacking in self-trust.

Process Fail?

Something I can't tell right now: Is the process I'm using to write the book (which has forked, as I said yesterday, into four books) failing, or is it working?

On the plus side, I am having little trouble with the volume of writing. The zero drafts fall out of my fingers with little trouble whenever I show up to work.

On the other hand, I have been feeling pretty terrible about what I've been writing and publishing since I came back from sabbatical. The quality feels like about a minus-four on a one-to-ten.

But we're talking about a writer talking about his writing here. Can we draw any conclusions about the quality of the writing just because the writer thinks it sucks? I mean, for a writer, isn't that pretty much de rigueur?

How to Write a Book: Actually, How to Write Four Books, Maybe More

So much for focus: as I'm working through my zero drafts, it's become clear that I have at least four books in process. This wasn't my intent at all, but when I'm called to write something, I write it. And when I've examined my recent writing after the fact, I clearly see four different projects.

The first project is the book I'm working on with Jerry about his training techniques, in which my role is to share my experiences with those techniques. Going into the zero-drafting process for the project, it seemed that it would be simple to keep my focus narrow. However, I've practiced Jerry's techniques for long enough now and seen such substantial changes in my life as a result that it's challenging to not write about it all from my current perspective, now three-and-a-half years into the process. I still recall the exciting unfolding-into-the-unknown that were my initial experiences, but they're far enough away now that they're not easy to tap into.

I say it's challenging, but I also see that there's no need to fight too hard against that challenge. The deeper-into-the-process writing--the kind of stuff about meeting potential that we explored on Training Tiger Woods--points to an obvious follow-up to the first book. This material is far too valuable to throw away, but including too much of it in the first book only muddies the waters.

The third book is a little too personal to speak of publicly right now, other than acknowledging it for the sake of this piece. (Ooooh, intriguing!)

The fourth book has the working title of How to Write a Book, and I'm working on it right now as I write this, as well as every future time that I write about the process of writing these books. My operating assumption here is that I'm learning enough through this process that I am immediately discovering things of sufficient value that I can teach others. Writing about it as I learn can only amplify the teaching potential. Declaring that there's a book in this material adds in the power of intentionality. (That said declaration may also interest people and draw attention to the writing is a side benefit not to be ignored.)

As I progress with the work, it'll be interesting to see if the zero drafts ultimately come into a sharper focus without much energy from me, if I need to discipline myself into creating that focus, or if I can simply continue to allow the zero drafts to progress as they progress. The process of discovery has me fascinated, if perhaps feeling a bit trepidatious. I vow to keep on plugging, regardless.

How to Write a Book: An Obvious Side Benefit

I think 750 published pieces in the last three years, backed by however-many consecutive weeks of hitting my writing quota suggests that my bona-fides as a writing coach are pretty solid. I assert I know some stuff about overcoming blocks.

(Of course, it isn't exactly for me to say, is it?)

But how much does my authority expand once I've actually written a book? I mean, let's face it, even in the age of the Internet, writing a book is most writers' real goal. Right now I can demonstrate that I know how to deal with blocks. In the very near future, I'll be able to demonstrate that I know how to see a major project through.

This process portends good things.

How to Write a Book

Let's discuss my qualifications. I have four or five novels in process, but none of them are especially close to done. That puts me in pretty good company among aspiring writers, but doesn't speak particularly well of my chances to meet my goal with respect to the book Jerry and I are working on, for which we hope to have a finished first draft by the end of April.

The last time I worked on a novel in earnest was early 2013. I have three years of the Free Refills project under my belt but no experience, none whatsoever, with writing a non-fiction book.

Nevertheless, I'm confident Jerry and I are going to pull this off. Because of the past three years, I trust my ability to zero draft and to cut through perfectionism. I trust our topic and I believe in our motivation to see the work get done.

Because I don't know what I'm doing, but nevertheless still believe that we're going to meet our goal, I'm betting the process is going to be pretty interesting. As it unfolds, I'll share what I learn. Watch this space.