Writing a textbook that is coherent takes discipline, endurance, and determination. Depending on the length and subject matter of your book, you will need to carve out an extended schedule to think and write. The detailed outline and project timeline created at the beginning of a self-publishing endeavour will help guide your writing efforts. (See Textbook Outline and Project Charter and Timeline.)
We have worked with many faculty authors and watched as they attempted to write an open textbook off the side of their desks (and in the evenings and on the weekends). While possible, this approach is not ideal and certainly not fun. We tell authors-to-be that writing a book will be more time consuming and challenging than they can image. To help them prepare, we suggest they:
- Clear their personal and professional schedule as much as possible.
- Obtain release time, apply for a sabbatical, use vacation time, or take paid (or unpaid) leave that can be devoted to writing their textbook.
- Ask for help.
Secrets of a Writer
I was a published author for fifteen years and practised my craft in a home office surrounded by two young children and household chores begging to be done. To survive and succeed as a writer, I developed the following routine.
- Get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet, exercise, and take breaks throughout the working day. Writing is tiring and it’s difficult to write when you’re not feeling well.
- Figure out the times of day when you write efficiently and do your best work. Take advantage of these times to get writing done.
- Restrict writing time to a specific time of the day. This will force efficiency and prevent endless writing on and off throughout the day, which can be exhausting.
- Find a quiet place to work.
- When you write, just write. Don’t give into distractions such as answering the phone, texting, emailing, or doing laundry.
- Don’t worry about perfecting or revising your work, particularly during the first draft. Allow the words to flow. Editing will come later.
- Allow a realistic amount of time to write the book, a chapter, or a section assigned that day, week, or month. Don’t underestimate how long it takes to write a textbook.
- Don’t give into writer’s block. When creativity is evasive, work on something mechanical such as:
- pasting blocks of research into the book (with citations and attributions)
- writing image captions
- adding resources such as suggested reading lists, exercises, and key takeaways
Writing a book will never feel finished. There is always something that can be changed, improved, or added. At some point you will need to stop and tell yourself, “good enough.”
Because writing is a creative process, it can feel incessant, occupying your thoughts night and day. Calm your frenzied mind by enlisting these practices.
- Record stray ideas that come to mind when not writing to come back to later.
- Keep a notebook by your bedside for middle-of-the-night thoughts that wake you up.
- Brainstorm by recording as many ideas as possible on a specific topic or problem.
- Begin each writing session with ten minutes of unedited scribbling to clear your mind and jump-start creativity.
- Experiment with paper and pen. Some find this method assists with processing ideas.
- Allow ideas to sit for a day before reviewing them for value.