Five years ago today, Why New Systems Fail (my first book) was released. Since that time, I could call myself a professional writer. (A little over a year later, Cengage published a revised edition of that book.)
It seems like a propitious time for personal reflection. In no particular order, here are nine things I've learned over the past five years:
- Writing a book of substance is hard work. Sure, it's not difficult to turn a blog into a book. Ditto for writing 70-page texts. Writing what you think is a quality book of any reasonable length, however, takes a great deal of time and effort. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
- But it gets easier. I can't speak intelligently about fiction. I am a nonfiction guy. Since 2009, I have improved my ability to assess what pages, sections, and chapters of my books are working, what needs tweaking, and what needs to be junked. On a different note, the Internet has made research easier-not easy. Finding out who runs any company is only a few clicks away, and contacting any expert, author, executive, or reporter isn't terribly difficult either.
- Writing is extremely rewarding. It's hard to describe the feeling I get that when first box of books arrives in the mail. A tremendous amount of work finally comes to fruition in a tangible way. Beyond the initial thrill, there's the satisfaction of knowing that I put something out there. No book is universally acclaimed, and mine are no exceptions to that rule. Still, a genuinely compliment in the form of an e-mail or comment never gets old.
- Writing is addicting. Since the publication of the first, I have penned five more and edited a sixth all while blogging extensively on my site and others. Because of the previous two points, I can understand why so many authors get the writing bug.
- Writing is cathartic. Arrogance and idiocy have always annoyed me. Writing has provided a much-needed way for me to express myself. Even if a book or post doesn't receive a great deal of attention, merely writing it down just plain feels good.
- Writing books adds boatloads to your credibility. This one goes without saying. In fact, these days it's a bit surprising when I meet a prominent thought leader who hasn't written or co-written one.
- Writing opens doors; you just can't predict know which ones. I have had many discussions with prospective writers about the ROI of a book, and frequently I've walked away shaking my head. The whole notion of a definitive and precise ROI is misplaced. Too many writers only look at the costs (money, time) and not the significant potential advantages, especially the long-term ones. Not every benefit can be quantified, and there's a still the great unknown.
- Writing raises the bar on the books you read. When you know how the sausage is made, it makes you a more informed reader. I for one pay greater attention to a book's content and its design elements than I did ten years ago. This isn't about the logo on the spine of the book. It just means that glorified pamphlets and stream-of-conscious "manifestos" don't resonate with me as much as those by writers who took the time to develop and present cogent theses, arguments, and examples.
- The book business is a fickle one. There are no guarantees for success. Writing only increases the chances that good things happen. As Wayne Gretzky once said, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."