For years there were things that I thought were unattainable for me in the industry. Things like speaking at conferences, mentoring people, or writing a book always seemed like the kinds of activities reserved for the truly great and capable. I've done all of these things now, and most recently I've finished the first draft of my book.
I've learned over the past few years that all of these things that my role-models do are things anyone can start doing, even if they're intimidating. The main lesson that I had to learn before I got started was to get help. For conferences, I reached out to people who spoke at them. For mentoring, I sought classes. That is also what I did for writing.
I took a writing class by someone I respect very highly and through that class the activity of writing was dismantled into its mechanics. I was taught to write within a time-box which is sometimes called a sprint.
I focused on the act of writing instead of the content of the writing. I started looking more at word count instead of how clever my sentences appeared.
While this seems backwards, what it allowed was for me to develop a habit around writing and my own sense of style and tone. Divorcing the act of writing from the concern of who would read it freed me to write without inhibitions. In time I noticed that I was able to write more and more. The feedback I received from my instructor was always firm but consistent in saying that I need to keep writing. Never stop.
Throughout my class, I was writing for 15 minutes every single day. That may not seem like a lot, but it was one blog article every day. Somewhere between 500 to 800 words. Believe me, if it seems intimidating to write that much it comes quickly. I learned to take quick notes throughout my day of things I could write about. I'd write down interesting things people would say.
I'd come home most days with at least 3 more things to write about and I'd choose one from the ever-growing list.
Meanwhile, I was wrapping up mentoring someone from dev.to on getting their first job in software.
Then I saw that NaNoWriMo was starting in April.
If you aren't exactly sure what NaNoWriMo is it is online writing experience. It is short-hand for National Novel Writer's Month. The idea is that you write 50,000 words in a month.
Bolstered by the completion of the class, and my experiences mentoring individuals on getting software jobs I took a leap off a cliff and signed up to write 50,000 words in the month of April.
Word counts didn't make sense to me before I started my class, but here are some numbers that help act as rulers. Most blog articles sit between 600-1200 words. A page of a book is roughly 250 words. So some simple math shows that 50,000 words work out to approximately 200 pages.
My cadence was roughly 500-800 words every 15 minutes, so that meant I'd be writing somewhere between 30-45 minutes every day to keep an average pace of 1667 words needed to complete the book.
I found that it was relatively easy to get started, and with a little extra structure I could keep track of what I was doing. One of the first things I needed to figure out was how do I take an idea and figure out if it is a book.
So I wrote a list of questions.
Each question I wrote was one that I thought a job-hunter would want an answer to.
Those questions formed the basic chapters of the book. When I'd start into a chapter I'd take around 5 mintues and write the questions I'd want answered about this topic. That formed the guardrails that I'd write to.
From then on I'd write and write and write. When I didn't have any more to write down I'd see if I had answered the questions.
While that worked well for me, a few things didn't. Editing and pace wound up being paired forces in my destruction.
I got the flu, went on a trip, and some days I just couldn't find the time to write. So every day I missed added 30-45 minutes of catch up to the next day. When I got sick I missed 2 days, which meant I was writing 2 hours a day for the next few days. I went on a long weekend trip. That put me close to 9000 words behind.
When faced with that amount of catch up, what I didn't feel like doing was editing. I felt like getting more words written. My normal way of working was to write for 15 minutes, then go back and edit what I had produced.
That cycle works really well for me, but when I felt the pressure to get words out I skipped it. That meant I was accumulating tons of editing and getting nowhere with it.
The last week or two of writing I did no editing and the most writing. There were 5 chapters that I hadn't edited at all by the end.
I suspect that for a lot of people reading this, there may be no interest in writing a book, and that is great. I bet there is something that you aspire to do that feels unapproachable though. My hope is that writing this is a little nudge for everyone to reach out to people who do those crazy things and try it. We all start somewhere.
I'm not done editing my book, getting a cover photo, and a host of details, but I'm committed to completing final details of my book, "Land the Job: Six Months to Start Your Software Career." Download the sample, sign up, stay up to date, and let me know what you think!
Cover photo - "Novel" by naonagung is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0