Planning out a book

One reason I am so excited for the launch of Tranquility by Tuesday next week (though I am starting to get tired of hearing myself talking about it…) is that this book has been a long time in the making. My team and I did the pilot version of the TBT study from October of 2020 to January of 2021 (roughly), and then did the main phase from February to May of 2021. I began writing the book in June of 2021. I turned in one draft in October 2021, and then the main round of revisions in January of 2022.

So it’s basically two years from the start of the research to the launch. And that’s after I’d already solidified the canonical nine rules. This was a longer project than, say, meeting my husband, getting engaged, and getting married (that one ran from February 2003 to September 2004…).

I’ve learned or rediscovered a few things about logistics and planning along the way.

Practice is good. The Tranquility by Tuesday project involved collecting data on people’s time satisfaction and time use, then teaching them nine time management rules over nine weeks. Each week, people would learn a rule, answer questions about how they planned to implement it, then answer questions a week later about how it went. We used Mailchimp lists to send the emails to people and then SurveyMonkey to collect the data.

Doing this entire process twice (first with a smaller group, then a much bigger group) added time to the project, but doing a pilot phase first was incredibly helpful. First, I saw that we would get results with the way we were structuring the study. Second, I could see what questions were clear, and what people were clearly confused by. This made the larger project run far more smoothly.

Much of writing is the raw material. Lots of raw material means that themes emerge and the stories are already there. I undertook the TBT project in the hopes of getting quantitative results, but the sheer volume of qualitative answers people filled out on the survey forms was just amazing. When I went to start writing, I already had a novel’s worth of observations on what is difficult when it comes to time, and what people have tried, and how the rules fit into life and what challenges they faced (and often overcame).

This made writing the first draft feel almost too easy! There was a lot of editing afterwards, but to me, creating a first draft is always the hardest part. In this case it felt more like creating a quilt out of lots of existing colorful blocks than trying to create something out of nothing.

Pace requires space. I already knew each rule would be a chapter, and presumably there would be an introduction and a conclusion. So that was 11 units of writing to be done. I gave myself a time line that generally required writing one chapter each week.

Within each week, the rough schedule was to write the draft on Monday and Tuesday, and then edit it on Wednesday and Thursday. Friday was open because (per Rule #5) it is my back-up slot, in case something pulled me away from the writing/editing earlier in the week.

I left my vacation weeks open during the summer and, during a longer stretch, built in an open week as well. This allowed me to get caught up on stuff that writing had displaced and also not to feel too rushed.

My first draft was due at the end of October, but this schedule allowed me to be done by the end of September. I then could edit the whole manuscript during October.

You can do a lot in bits of time. But deep work is good too. During my first draft writing stages, I tried to leave my mornings as open as possible. This allowed me to focus on the book first before I dealt with everything else.

Life often intervenes, however, especially when one has five kids and is managing a major home renovation. So once I had a full draft, in October, I took an editing retreat to Cape May so I could focus on the book as a whole. I rented a hotel room with a kitchen overlooking the beach (cheap, in the off season!) and spent that time working without figuring out when other people were coming or going.

It was good. I don’t need that often — I am incredibly not-precious when it comes to writing and “the writing life” (whatever that is). But I do need it sometimes.

Hopefully it paid off in a book that works. We shall see what people think!

7 thoughts on “Planning out a book

  1. I need to get my dissertation to book project done (ahem… child and dissertation arrived the same month, child now in school) and this was helpful to think through the process. Baby steps… my goal this month is to spend 8 pomodoros brainstorming, which doesn’t feel like much but is more than I’ve done this calendar year. I’m hoping I can get some momentum but it’s harder without an externally imposed deadline.
    I find writing retreats really helpful generally but I’m not even at the writing point yet…

    1. I wrote my dissertation right after baby, too! I proposed a week before my c section. If you can get your school to pay for it – or if you are already a member – I highly recommend the national center for faculty advancement and diversity. Their bootcamp legit changed my life. They have a dissertation program too dissertation program.

  2. This is so interesting! In some ways, I find writing biography easier than critical books because once you’ve read all the diaries and letters, the stories are there and it feels exactly like piecing together a quilt.

    I hope it’s okay to post–I wrote a piece challenging Virginia Woolf’s idea that mothers can’t be writers and thought of your work I was writing it–there have been a lot of women with large families and large literary outputs in history!

  3. I am just curious- did you have an assistant to help you with all this data management etc? It sounds a bit overwhelming to be getting all these answers from people. I am really looking forward to your book- have pre-ordered the Kindle version.

    1. @Sarah K – absolutely! I worked with a wonderful researcher who has a PhD in survey design – she helped me build out the survey and compile the results. There is no way I could have managed all this without her.

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