Geetanjali Mukherjee

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Allocating Time and Choosing Projects

I am working on revising a book I published in 2014. It is taking far longer than I would have liked, and at least every couple of days I ask myself if its worth it. It is common to issue revised editions of books from traditionally published authors, at least for non-fiction, which is the genre my book is in as well. But as a self-published author, it may not really make a lot of commercial sense to spend time writing something that I have already published, especially when there is often a lot of pressure to publish new books consistently and often.

The book in question is based on my Master’s thesis, and has already been revised once - when I was converting it to a book. At the time the book was published initially, I was new to being an author, and had a lot to learn. Although I am proud of the research I did and my conclusions, the book itself needed work. As I read more non-fiction, as well as books on craft, I realized that if I wanted to reach a wider audience, I would need to revise the book and make it more accessible. In particular, I found Scott Norton’s book on developmental editing invaluable.

Sometime last year I took a closer look at the book and revised the structure to make it flow better, and to combine ideas that were spread around the book in some instances, and break up others that were clumped together. It was a difficult process because this was so new to me and I was grappling with such new skills, but when the pieces finally clicked into place, I was reminded why exactly I love writing - for the feeling of solving a difficult jigsaw puzzle.

Unfortunately, its since taken me months to get going on the revision - mostly because there were other important projects in the way, and generally life. It was hard to justify the time spent on an old book when new ones, some half-written, beckoned. Also because, again as an independent author, spending time on commercial projects or focusing on marketing and sales seems more pragmatic than reworking something that may not lead to any justifiable commercial or concrete gains. This sort of thinking is inevitable for a working creative who has multiple demands on their time, but to be honest I hated thinking of my work in that way. I think of myself as an artist, and surely spending the time to improve my art would be worth my time? Or if I wanted to think in a more pragmatic mind-set, surely learning how to improve one book would teach me how to write the next one better, and that of course would be worth it.

Why am I writing all this down? Why would this be of interest to anyone else? Well partly I hope that this blog gives a real insight into the life of a working writer or creative professional. Unfortunately, in order to come across with any sense of authority, sometimes it is hard to admit to doubts, or mis-steps or creative failures publicly. It is easier to claim that each project was perfect from the start, that each phase was effortless and that one’s creative success was an inevitable consequence of one’s creative genius. That is certainly not the case for me, and I like to think that isn’t the case for many others as well.

In the world of software, iteration is a common concept. You start with something, and you keep working on it, adding, tinkering, till it gets much better. Sometimes, quite often, you put it out as a product or a feature, and keep improving it and working on it. As an indie author, I think that should be closer to our style of working - do the best you can the first time, but keep working on improving your skills and if you think something needs re-working, don’t be afraid to scrap what you had and start over. I know many authors periodically refresh their covers and book descriptions, but I think we shouldn’t be afraid to do more than that if warranted.

Back to my book - I am now making the revision of this book a priority. It took a while to get back into the rhythm and thought process for the book, as its a technical topic and I had spent so much time away from it that some of the mental circuits had gotten rusty. But now finally the revision is humming along, albeit with a few hiccups. I remembered how much I enjoyed researching and writing this book, and sometimes the challenge is to stop myself from wanting to get lost again in that research, instead of doing only what is absolutely needed to get it done quickly, while still rewriting the material to make it a better book.

Solo entrepreneurs and indie authors share in common a specific struggle - knowing what to prioritize. Having a boss can be annoying, but the upside is that someone decides for you what to work on, and what not to bother with. I don’t have that problem (or benefit) and need to decide for myself what is and isn’t worth my time, and given that time is always the one thing all of us struggle with needing more of, its tough to know sometimes how to allocate it. The important thing I have found, is that I don’t regret spending time on projects that take my skill and craft forward, and help me to become a better writer.

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