Not Even Wrong – How to write a book 7

May 2014
Rio de Janeiro, Pestana Rio Atlantica

Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.
― Sylvia Plath

How does one go about writing a book? There’s no obvious answer to that question. But for me it makes sense to follow the same basic process that I subscribe to for teams involved in product development.

I’ll kick off my process with a discovery phase. This means I’ll spend some time just playing around with the subject. This is what some people like to call no-goal directed exploration. Cognitive pressure tends to kill creativity, and we want none of that at this delicate part of our journey. This is a phase where everything I do is driven by joy, creativity and curiosity. There are no rules in this phase. I’ll allow myself to follow any train of thought, explore every strange angle – no matter how weird – and I go as deep and as shallow as I choose.

I’ll also allow myself the luxury of long periods of free flow writing, which is basically when I hush up my inner censor, throw all judgement out the window and force myself into a state of flow as I write. The words I end up with after such sessions are basically weird brain dumps. Staying the course of our simile to product development, this can be likened to rapid prototyping, and as that particular practice suggest, I have no problems with throwing away most of the output. The outcome though, is learning.

Since discovery is fun, tickles the mind, and is free of pressure to actually deliver anything, this phase can go on for time eternal. This is why I’ll make sure to time box discovery. Otherwise I might end up with nothing but notebook after notebook filled with ideas. That’s not bad per se. But it doesn’t make for a coherent story, and most certainly not the book I hope to write.

After the discovery period I expect a backlog will emerge, a backlog of questions that I’d like to answer, tightly coupled with my reasons why I think these questions deserve my attention and to what extent answering them will lead to my wanted outcome.

This is how I will define value – value is finding good questions and answering them. This list of questions also leads to a crude definition of done for the entire project. When I have answered all questions to the best of my ability (which will be the definition of quality), I will consider myself done.

I have every reason to anticipate that new interesting questions will pop up as my understanding of the subject matter increases over time. These new questions will be placed in my backlog and I will negotiate the scope with myself from time to time. I chose to work this way because I cannot possibly know in advance if providing answers to the new questions that emerge will have more, or less impact towards my wanted outcome than the questions I defined early on. We might call this continuous discovery, just-in-time decision making and steering towards outcome.

A final critical aspect of the process is my intent to collect feedback from my peers at regular intervalls. This is the information I need to improve on quality and make sure I move successfully towards my desired outcome.

If all this sounds like a boring and rather technical approach to writing in comparison to the more romantic bohemian drinking-cheap-red-wine-in-any-European-metropolis-attic-approach that you might favor, I fully understand. But you know, I tried that once. Many strange and wondrous things came out of that whole experience.

A book was most certainly not one of them.

Earlier posts on “Not Even Wrong”