December 24th, 2019 | How To Write a Book?
To write a book, three conditions need to come together. Firstly, you need to have some interest in writing and enjoy the process. Secondly, you need to have a lot of time to be able to focus on this task. Thirdly, you need to have a topic for a book, where you can contribute some new, valuable content.
Recently, I felt that all the stars aligned – so I decided to write a book.
So, How To Write a Book?
Recently, I completed my first book entitled “What Is out There For Me? The Landscape of Post-PhD Career Tracks.” It is now available as a Kindle ebook, paperback, and PDF.
So, how did this happen? Was it hard to write a book?
To start with, deep inside, I always desired to write books. Writing is what makes me happy. Whenever I write, time flies. I feel that I have an aptitude for writing as well (well, maybe there is some causal connection here)
I used to think that if I ever get lucky enough to acquire enough passive income, then one day, I would live in a small village (or, in the woods!) and write books. And in the end, I asked myself: why not now? Especially given that I have some message I’d like to share.
Now the process has come to the end, it seems to me that three conditions need to come together to successfully write a book. Firstly, you obviously need to have some genuine interest in writing and enjoy the process. If you don’t enjoy the process of writing, it will backfire and clearly come out from the text.
Secondly, you need to find lots of time to focus on this task. Books are not written overnight—even if writing the main text can be done within a few weeks, the process of collecting materials, and editing the text, will take months or even years. In fact, the netto time of writing the content and shaping the initial manuscript takes 10-25% of the time necessary to complete the book.
Thirdly, you need to find some areas where you can contribute new, valuable content. An original message that is not repetitive and wasn’t published before. In my case, I felt that all these conditions were met. I had lots of materials dedicated to post-PhD career tracks that I could put together in the form of a book. And for me, the topic is important and worth the time and sacrifice.
How To Get Started?
I need to say that no one ever told me how to write a book (or, how not to write it!) I have never gone through professional courses on writing non-fiction. And, I use to “read” more audiobooks than books in a written form.
Yet, since early childhood, I used to write a lot of texts of all kinds. Between 14 and 25 years old I was journaling (averaging around 200-300 pages per year). Since I turned 20, I was blogging as well (which amounts to 13 years at this moment! Such a large part of my life)
Plus, I wrote three 80-120-page long Master theses, a 260-page long PhD thesis, and more than 20 different research papers, other scientific texts, and essays. Altogether, since high school, I wrote ~5,000-10,000 pages of texts of all sorts.
Writing is a natural activity for me. It is my favorite way of relaxing. Thus, I decided to start writing my book without taking specialized courses or reaching out to professional teachers and editors.
I was also positive about the content. For the past two years, I had been dropping ideas, single paragraphs, and loose thoughts into one folder on my laptop. At some point, I estimated that after organizing these points into chapters and unfolding bullet points into full paragraphs, I would likely obtain a full-length book manuscript. So, I planned a logic structure for the book, I chopped my materials into nine chapters grouped into three sections, and I started writing.
Choosing The Style and Layout.
In terms of style, I decided to stay on the casual side. Namely, I felt that the target group for this book—PhD candidates and graduates—are so burdened with textbooks and research articles that there is no point in writing yet another dry encyclopedic material. I aimed for an easy read, where knowledge intertwines with anecdotes summarizing the content in an approachable way.
I also felt that the layout should be simple. I looked into a few recent, popular (and also, very useful and informative!) books such as “How To Be Everything” by Emily Wapnick, or “Start With Why” by Simon Sinek. I felt that the simpler the layout, the better for the reader’s comfort.
From the very beginning, I also had a vision for the cover. I wanted to picture a scared girl walking through dark woods in an unknown directions and monsters hiding in the bush. I made a simple sketch and showed it to a graphic designer whom I found online, Roger Tung from Taiwan. I must say that he perfectly grasped my intentions and made a truly beautiful artwork for my book!
So, What Is The Book About?
I wrote this book on the basis of what I learned within two years time, working as a Career Development and Mentoring Manager in the student board of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping, a Director of Stichting Solaris Onderzoek en Ontwikkeling, and then as a PhD candidate actively looking for jobs in industry.
In the process, I noticed and characterized various working cultures in other words, tribes in the job market. The point is: to be happy at work, you need to find and join your tribe. If you, for instance, have programming skills and are interested in Data Science, your quality of life will much differ depending on whether you choose to work in a corporation, join a consultancy company, or set your own business.
The main message of the book is that, 80% of the effort is to get to know yourself very well—including your values, habits, strengths, and weaknesses—and find a group of people who think alike. Finding a fulfilling job will only be the remaining 20% of the work. After all, learning how to draft a decent resume, construct a cover letter, and prepare for the job interviews, is almost algorithmic once you know which door to knock at.
Therefore, in the main part of the book, I highlighted eight tribes which PhD graduates typically choose to join, together which the perks and downsides of each one of them. I also included a number of self-discovery exercises that will help the readers to better discover where they mentally fit. I have never seen this approach in the literature before. However, I felt this systematic look at the job market is novel and provides useful heuristics.
The Writing Process and the Bottlenecks.
My writing process was no different from many professional authors. Once I had a long list of points to cover in the text, I wrote down the plan for the writing process day by day. Namely, I planned which bullet points I would unfold every day.
Even though I swapped the chunks of work on multiple occasions, and I didn’t stick to the plan 100%, I kept my internal deadline. And, I finished on the very day I planned to. (By the way, in the process I also discovered that I am a faster writer than Stephan King; he writes six pages a day while I can do seven). Sculpting the text took me another few days—I had to go through the text with grammar correction tools, carefully read through it one more time, and make edits.
The Collateral Stress.
To me, the hardest part of the whole process was collateral stress. Namely, at some point, more or less halfway, I reflected on the fact that a book could expose me (as a person) to a wider audience than ever before. I did not necessarily see that as a positive aspect. If you consider buying a book, you usually google the name of the author, right?
I perceived being recognized as a cost associated with conveying my message rather than a reward in itself. I was never after fame and popularity. The possibility that people who do not know me in person, could send me emails and knock at my door was simply stressful—and at some point, I froze for a while. However, I quickly put myself together and decided to finish writing as fast as possible, before the doubts started to kick in again.
I also experienced a new form of stress. As a scientist, you are used to critical comments concerning your work. The critics is usually all about abstract mathematical models or clinical experiments. However, if you write a book, you include many of your own opinions and conclusions in the text. This content is much closer to you as a person. Thus, critical comments might feel much more personal as well. Whenever your hobby becomes your job, it might become stressful this way, and the joy might just fade away.
Overall, I loved the process. For me, writing is a type of energizing activity. After eight hours of writing, I feel more rested and energetic than before. And, I couldn’t believe that eight hours have just passed. I also enjoyed that writing is energy-efficient – I can state my points only once and reach out to many people with the message.
Since I set up the Stichting Solaris foundation, I was getting the same job-related questions from PhD candidates over and over again. Now I could just write down all the answers in one document and submit it to the global hive mind. How convenient!
Writing for a living also has many features of an ideal job for me. As a writer, you live in a sort of a cycle: you go to meetings and events, talk to people, and experience little events that make you think. And when you get back home, you digest what you experienced in silence, and write down your conclusions. In a sense, you have intensive contact with other people, but also a lot of time for yourself.
I enjoy both the periods of hassle and the periods of calm. Furthermore, as mentioned before, I love the process of writing—to me, it’s the most relaxing activity ever. Plus, there is no boss and you can organize your time all by yourself. I also enjoy the fact that similarly as in academic research, you put your name on our work. In that sense, it’s quite an individualistic activity; you can be proud of your work. Plus, unlike in academia, your earnings are directly proportional to the number of people who benefit from your work.
A Remark On “Normality”.
I was raised just like any regular Polish kid. I was always being taught that I shouldn’t think of myself too high. To become a decent person, get myself a “normal job,” and develop a “normal family.” “Normal” meaning “just like everybody else” or “common.” So, imagine that one day, you discover that maybe, you won’t have a typical office job but rather, you will develop some rare profession instead. It is a weird feeling at first.
And, I’m not sure how the adventure is going to unfold! This is my first book, and I’ve put a lot of heart into it. I hope that the message will reach many PhDs who need this information. Yet, whether or not writing is going to become my way of living in the future, will depend on many—both internal and external—factors. The time will tell!
Please cite as:
Bielczyk, N. (2019, December 24th). How To Write a Book? Retrieved from https://nataliabielczyk.com/how-to-write-a-book/
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