My most recent book, Tranquility by Tuesday, came out in October. It often takes 18+ months for a book to go from contract to publication. So even if I was working on another non-fiction book right now, that would put me at 2 years or more between books.
As noted yesterday, I am working on a novel. But I write both fiction and non-fiction, and non-fiction is more my main business. And in that category, I’m not working on anything now! Instead, I have put “think about book ideas” as an entry on many recent weekly priority lists.
Yes, I know that sounds vague, but what this tends to mean for me is that I will sit for an hour at my computer, ideally twice during that week, and just type various thoughts. I’m not guaranteeing anything will come to me, but by devoting mental space to idea generation, I’ll at least think about what might be appealing to write. And if I devote two hours a week of mental space to this question, often I will think about this question at other times too. That’s when random ideas pop into my head that might lead to something.
But anyway, “come up with a book idea” is kind of a tall order. What’s an interesting idea that I could write 70,000 words on and stay interested in for two years? What’s an idea I haven’t written before that I could enthusiastically ask my readers to spend their precious time reading?
I am trying to be patient, because I have written a lot of books and I know that something will come to me. There really isn’t a rush. If I keep thinking about this for six months and at the end of six months I have something worth writing, then that would have been a good use of time.
But boy does it sometimes feel like spinning the wheels. Time to go do other things, like play the piano, pack for spring break… Sometimes being productive, in the long run, doesn’t look so productive in the moment….
17 thoughts on “Book musings”
“Sometimes being productive, in the long run, doesn’t look so productive in the moment….”
Oh man, I need this printed on the cover of a notebook! So true and so hard to learn….
I don’t know if you’d be interested in this at all but I wonder whether you might consider doing a dive into time management for medical residents as a book project. I read your work first while I was in residency and while it was immensely helpful, I was reading it during a time when I truly was working 60 hour weeks for months at a time. Some residents work 70-80 hour weeks almost all year, depending on the specialty. This is different than people who woke a long 55-60 hour week during busy season but then get a bit of a break. And resident hours are actually tracked by the ACGME so we truly know how many hours we work each week – we’re not just saying that we work long hours. Anyway, I think it could be interesting and really beneficial to that specific population that often struggles with burnout and fitting in any hobbies or joy.
Would you ever consider writing about your yearly big book challenges? Or how to tackle big challenges in small chunks of time? I love that content from you!
@Monica – this is one of my favorite topics too. A great many big projects are actually not that intimidating when broken into smaller chunks and with the proper level of consistency. You just have to be patient and stretch out the timeline, and choose small steps that don’t inspire resistance…
I would love content on how to break things down into smaller chunks. Honestly, there are probably books about that, but they usually focus on more traditionally “work” topics. How do I break a family/parenting project down? This seems especially complicated since usually several of the steps depend on getting buy-in from small children, which is notoriously fickle.
A book that looked at different types of projects and how to break them down, and what kinds of dependencies work for different situations would be wonderful!
Oof… I need to start actually blocking off book time…. a job got posted this week that if I had a book out, I might have a chance at. Which was definitely a wake-up call.
2 more weeks of teaching after Easter and then I can get writing done that isn’t the immediate stuff (proofs, R&Rs) but something new.
I would be interested to read a Best of Both Worlds type of book. Even though I listen to the podcast every week, and have from the beginning—when I didn’t have kids yet—and I often feel like I agave a very different perspective than many of the parents around me. I attribute a lot of that to having your and Sarah’s voices in my head on a regular basis. I had smooth transitions back to work after my maternity leaves, I regularly push back against the assumption that I would rather be at home with my kids, and I rarely feel “mom guilt.” I don’t feel like I’ve many people talking about how it is okay to love your job and your kids, especially not in both the philosophical and logistical aspects the way you and Sarah do. There is also a lot of chatter around the internet about minimizing the pain of parenting but not always in finding joy with your kids, like with the Mommy days. I know some of your other books touch on these issues but I certainly think there is a separate book’s worth of discussion there.
Putting out in the universe that my dream book is parenting time management skills to learn from larger families, authored by YOU!
@Molly – another of my favorite topics!
I loved this thread and it was a good reminder to focus on long and short term goals! All too often the immediate takes over and the dream goals don’t get addressed!
I love all your books, but my favourite one is ‘I know how she does it’. As a Mum of three with a career I loved the perspective of mothers achieving great things in their career whilst still spending quality time with their family. I always set my goals in career, family and self every week and would love another book on making careers/family work in a post pandemic era:)
I really like your last thought about what productivity looks like. I have a research writing group I meet with and I was explaining that the lessons I’m working on for a stats textbook may start in one direction but then go in another direction. One of the members suggested keeping the objective written at the top to help me focus, but I actually think that it is ok to go down the digger rabbit holes and see which product I like best. I am trying to stop myself from thinking that it is wasted energy because that takes away from the creativity and joy.
I would love to read another money book! There are so many seasons of life with money and discussing the trade-offs in each season (with case studies!) would be interesting.
Don’t ideas also come to you while you’re playing the piano, going on a run, etc.? Seems you could have a notepad right by you for those occasions when ideas pop up.
This might be a niche interest, but I’ve been fascinated by the discussion in recent time management books (including possibly yours?) about how the industrial revolution and capitalism changed our perception of time. This has included discussions of how clocks standardize time, and how in the ancient world people saw time as circular, not linear. I’d love to know more about these concepts because I feel like our understanding of time as linear and segmented is so fundamental to how we think about life.
I’d love to find a book about the time management of professionals who have unique or “non-traditional” jobs and work cycles. Military personnel, first responders, transportation workers (sailors, truck drivers, pilots), farmers, explorers/field scientists, etc. As a professional with a non-typical work cycle myself, time management was one of the things I struggled with the most when I began working and it would be fascinating to see what other people do to make their time work for them.
I’m intrigued by the idea of a rhyming dictionary! I will have to check this out. Your email updates is the one I most look forward to each Saturday!
@Sandra- thank you for reading my newsletters! I’m glad you like them.