Friday, July 31, 2009

Need motivation to finish those edits? Publish your book.

Writing a novel is hard. First, a writer must complete a first draft - hundreds of pages of creative output that more often than not results in a steaming pile of crap. In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott refers to this as a "shitty first draft." Once the first draft is complete, the writer is faced with the daunting task of editing their work.

For many writers, the process stops here. It takes an enormous amount of effort and dedication to finish the first draft, and many writers cannot gather up enough motivation to take the necessary next step of editing.

I've found something that helps me when I'm in this position, and I'm sharing it in the hopes that it will help others to rekindle their motivation. When faced with the long, often tedious road of editing, I publish my book.

You heard me right. Let me explain.

When I say publish, I don't mean publish to the public. Publishing a first draft to the public would be a horrible mistake. No one gets it right the first time - I don't care how long you've been writing. I'm talking about publishing a very limited edition private print run - of 1.

I suggest that you use Lulu, CreateSpace or some other print-on-demand publisher to print out a single copy of your first-draft manuscript in book format. If you've got some cover art in mind, use it, but cover art isn't essential at this point. Just make sure that the title (or working title) of your book and your name appear prominently on the cover and spine.

These publishers should have a setting that allows your book to remain completely private and unavailable to the general public. Make sure you set up your book this way. Upload your book and cover, and order yourself a single copy. It shouldn't cost you more than $20.

The process of preparing your book for print can be motivating in itself. Maybe you'll find or create some really cool cover art that provides inspiration. Maybe just thinking about your book in printed form gets you fired up. If so, run with it and dive into those edits!

However, the real flood of inspiration will arrive when your printed book arrives. When you see your name on the cover and spine, and you hold the manifestation of countless hours of hard work in your hands, it's truly motivating.

It works for me, at least. There's just something about actually seeing my manuscript in printed form that fills me with enough motivation to tackle the editing process. Every time I feel my motivation start to ebb, I look at my "published" book sitting on my bookshelf.

Then I get back to work.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Three reasons why lowering the barrier to publication is a good thing.

Today's writer has so many publishing options available, the barrier to publication is lower than ever before. Like Gutenberg's moveable type printing press enabled writers in the 1400s to reach new audiences, the Internet today allows writers to expose their work to a global audience with surprisingly little effort.

From blogging to online periodicals to publishing on demand and eBooks, today's writer has many avenues to publication that have opened up in only the last few years.

Some people consider this a bad thing, saying that a lower barrier to publication means a proliferation of bad writing. Print-on-demand writers have had a certain stigma attached to them by the self-anointed literati.

I take the opposite view. I believe that allowing more writers to publish more books more easily is a boon to both writers and readers. There are a lot of reasons why I believe this, but for now I will give you three:

1. The needs of niche markets can finally be met.
With a traditional publishing house, there's a finite number of books that can be published each year. This number is dictated by a company's limited resources - budget and staff - and has traditionally been relatively small.

Because the number is small, a publisher can't afford to deviate very far from the mainstream. They prefer to travel down well-beaten paths, with established markets of predictable size. This means that niche markets are underserved or ignored completely.

Sure, there isn't a huge market for books about a mystery-solving tree surgeon, but there could be a small market whose readers turn out to be utterly devoted. Perhaps such a market isn't big enough to allow a large publishing house with its overheads to be profitable, but it may provide a nice little revenue stream for an independent author.

A writer who self-publishes today can do so with little or no overhead, enabling them to target previously untapped niche markets without much financial risk. Internet pundits have dubbed such niches as "The Long Tail", and an independent author that meets the needs of grateful niche readers might find that The Long Tail can be profitable indeed.

2. Easy publication allows writers to hone their skills while enjoying the satisfaction of sharing their work with others.

Let's just say it - there are a lot of badly-written books that have been self-published. So what? I would argue that those poorly-written books are actually a good thing. No, I'm not barking mad. I simply choose to see each of those bad books as a stepping stone to a better one.

Writing a book is not easy. Every book was written by an aspiring author who had a story to share or information to relate, and had the dedication and perseverance to see that book through to completion. Why not allow them the satisfaction of seeing their work in print? Why not allow them to share this work with others?

If these writers pursued traditional publication, they may instead be exposed to waiting, more waiting, and rejection. The traditional process crushes motivation, causing many promising writers to abandon their dreams.

Seeing one's own work in print is very motivating, and some writers will be inspired to continue improving their craft, with the goal being to have their next book be even better. Each book becomes a stepping stone to an even better next book.

3. Self-publishing allows writers to maintain complete control of their work, and reap all the financial rewards.

When writers publish with a traditional publishing house, they give up a large amount of control over their work. It is the publisher who decides what the final product will look like, from the typeset to the cover art to the title of the book itself. Sure, writers can offer their suggestions, but the publisher has the final say.

With self-publishing, the writer can have complete artistic control of the finished work. The writer gets to decide exactly how their book will end up looking.

On the financial side of things, writers who self-publish are again in control. The writer can decide how much or how little to charge for their book, and self-publishing royalties are well-above those offered by traditional publishers. Publishing houses have a lot of overhead to support, and it's the writer that pays the price for this. Why should this continue to be the case?

For the first time in history, the writer can be in control. It's an exciting time to be a writer.

Eating My Own Dogfood

As I've stated on the My Writing Nook homepage, I created this application to scratch a personal itch. I wanted a single writing environment that I could access from home, work, and whereever I might find myself. I wanted my workspace to be uncluttered and easy to use. I couldn't find anything on the web like it, so I built a tool to meet my own needs. I figured that if I liked it, others might as well, and so I've made it generally available to anyone who might want to use it.

Because I built the application for myself, I am the target user. I'm also currently the most active user of the application. The phrase "eat your own dogfood" means that a producer should use their own products, to get a sense of how well they're meeting a customer's needs. In the case of My Writing Nook, I'm definitely eating my own dogfood. I use the app every single day.

As a result, all the other users of the application benefit from this, because I have a low tolerance for crappy software. The application must perform to my high standards, and since it's in my own best interests that it does, you can bet that I'll ensure that it does. If I find something that doesn't work quite right, I fix it as soon as possible. If some task seems a bit clunky, I do my best to streamline things.

I want things to work 100% of the time, and I want the app to be as simple as possible but no simpler.

These goals are selfish, but they also happen to benefit every other user of My Writing Nook. It's a win-win situation.

New Release Last Night

I released a new version of My Writing Nook last night. Nothing Earth-shattering - mainly just a bit of code cleanup and adding some defenses that will prevent you, dear user, from wandering off into dangerous territory.

Previously, if you attempted to email or download a document that hadn't been saved yet, you would get an unhelpful error message. Now you get a helpful message that asks you to save your document before performing one of those actions.

I also cleaned up the Javascript code a little bit, to make it more maintainable.

I also added some links to the homepage - a Twitter link that will allow you to share the application with your followers on Twitter, and a link to this here blog.

I'm intentionally adding only "essential" features to the app, so that things remain uncluttered and you can focus on your writing. However, if there's an essential feature that you feel I've missed, please feel free to send me a feature suggestion.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Welcome to the blog. My name is Peter, and I am the developer of the My Writing Nook web writing environment.

This blog will be a companion to the web app, so it will contain updates on the latest developments and features, but I'm also hoping that it will be a useful source of information about writing and technology.

I hope that you'll allow me to earn a place among your web favorites.