In February of 2012, I embarked on a bizarre experiment: to write what would ultimately be a 78,000-word, nonfiction book in 14 days. It was a cool accomplishment—a first for me—but not one I’d attempt again unless I worked smarter.
I do a lot of ghostwriting, and this particular book was for one of my clients. He was extremely pleased with the results, and the book went on to get great reviews and help solidify his brand.
That said, let me say up front that while it’s possible to write a book this quickly, this is NOT the ideal way to handle such a project. Please don’t think I’m bragging about it. I was delighted to know that I could write a book this fast, but I don’t ever want to write a book that way ever again.
It’s the equivalent of pulling an all-nighter to write a college term paper you should have been writing over the course of the semester. I learned my lesson, and have since managed to work smarter on subsequent projects.
I wrote about the project on my old blog, so what I’ll do this week is share my old posts on the topic, followed by my 2019 commentary on the project. Here’s what I said back then:
This isn’t some wishful thinking project. The book has been contracted, and due to a publisher (one of the Big Five) ridiculously soon. I have to get it done quickly, ergo the experiment. Since it’s a ghost project, I can’t discuss the topic but I can tell you that it’s a nonfiction business memoir—not a how-to, not a diet or exercise book—but dense nonfiction for a sports celebrity client, which adds to its complexity.
Specifically, I’m finding I can’t write a sentence without either first checking facts or checking them after, which lowers my daily word count. Unlike fiction, I don’t have the luxury of making it up, then going back to smooth out implausibilities.
How am I doing? Fine, considering. The output’s been an average of 5,700 words a day, some days more, some days less.
But I am concerned how tired it’s making me. I’ve been getting up early at 5 or 6 a.m. and working till after midnight, using the time in the evening hours to plan or research what I’m going to do the next day.
At the end of the first week, I stopped writing when I hit 40,000 words to carefully proof what I’d written. That took a day and a morning. Then I sent the first half in PDF form to the “author” so he could read it on his iPad while on the road. Now I’ll restart the clock and finish the rest of this sucker.
Looking back, I realize that this post didn’t really give a lot of context. I’m going to try to add that back now. In the year I wrote this book, my wife and I wrote four different books. I was co-authoring a nonfiction science title that became Blind Spot. Denise was writing and researching The Girls of Atomic City.
On top of these two, we were offered contracts to write two memoirs—one for an actor, another for the sports business dude whose book I discuss here. At the end of January 2012, Denise had finished and submitted her manuscript for The Girls of Atomic City to her editor. And I had finished the secondary round of edits to Blind Spot.
We had cleared our respective decks. We decided that Denise would write the actor’s book, and I’d take the lead on the business memoir. On February 5, she flew to Los Angeles to begin five weeks of interviews with the actor. The next day, I starting writing the business memoir. Seven days later, I had the 40,000 words I mentioned here.
Here’s what I didn’t mention in the old blog post: We sold the biz memoir about a year earlier in February or March 2011. And over the course of the next ten months, my wife and I did hour-long, once-a-week phone interviews with the author. We missed some weeks here and there if he was traveling. But the one “hard” date that never wavered was our deadline. The first draft was due to the editor on March 1, 2012.
So by the time I sat down to write in February 2012, I had a ton of interview notes, and about 20 to 25 hours of audio interviews. The trouble was, I had never taken the time to transcribe or re-listen to that audio. Not smart. I have no excuse other than that fact that I was busy writing other books.
So in February 2012, that’s what I was doing most nights after sucking down a hasty dinner. I’d sit on the couch with a notebook, listen to the audio, and make cheat sheets to help me through the next day’s writing sessions. I’d note the topic we were discussing in a particular piece of audio, and the timestamp so I could find the discussion easily. That’s how I managed to get through each day’s writing, hammering out a chunk of text from memory, and then going back to the audio to confirm that what I’d written was correct. At the same time, when I got a chance, I’d research small factoids online.
You can follow my progress in these follow-up posts:
Please note: This post first appeared on my old blog in slightly different form on Feb. 15, 2012. (I waited until the book was nearly done to start posting my notes on the process.)
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