Okay. Let’s recap.

Buy the domain name tomwritesabook.com. Check.

Build (another) new blog. Check.

Publicly announce that I plan to write a book. Check.

Write the book. Uh oh. 

(Time to put my money where my mouth is.)

What is a sprint?

As I mentioned in my introductory post, I am project manager by trade, so kicking off and executing projects is a passion of mine. For this project, I’m going to be taking queues from the Agile project management philosophy, though I don’t think I’ll be very agile at all.

Let me explain. At its core, originating in software development, Agile is meant to deliver value to customers quickly and iteratively. The product itself is very much shaped by the needs and feedback from the customer. You can spend two weeks pushing something out, only to find out that it’s not what they really wanted. You can then pivot and change course over the next two weeks. This way, you don’t spend six months, twelve months, maybe even twenty-four months, building something people don’t want/need.

This book that I’m writing won’t be produced that way – I very much plan to toil over it for the next 6-8 months, then edit, design and publish it. It’s an old-school model, I know. I do plan on stealing some Agile artifacts to provide a framework for getting things done, specifically the concept of sprints and retrospectives.

A sprint is a repeatable period of time in which a team commits to a certain set of goals, or tasks (or stories, but I’ll just confuse you if I get into that here.) In my case, I’ll be running two-week sprints, and will be very transparent what I plan to accomplish every two-weeks.

At the end of each sprint, I’ll take a look at what I completed, and plan for the next one. Before planning, I’ll perform a quick retrospective. This is an exercise where I’ll ask, what did I do really well (continue that,) what didn’t I do so well (stop that,) and what am I not doing at all (start that?) This is all in place so I am constantly improving my process, and output.

You’ll see more of this unfold over time.

How to write like a sushi chef

I love sushi. My wife does too, but she’s pregnant right now, and we’ve been going through sushi withdrawal. I’m just fascinated with the art of making sushi. If you’ve watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a documentary that gained some steam on Netflix, you’ll see that you can make sushi your entire life (literally) and still find ways to improve. You never truly master the craft.

Isn’t writing the same way? Does one ever truly master writing, or is it a continuous journey?

A fellow team member (he’s a software engineer) told me a fact about itamae, a fancy word for sushi chefs, that I never heard before. They meticulously clean their workspaces before and after crafting their sushi. I wanted to learn more, so I stumbled upon this article by Leonard Chu. In it, Leonard lists the qualifications of a great sushi chef (and I’m paraphrasing here:)

  1. The sushi must be good and ingredients must be fresh. (Likewise, our writing must be good, and the contents fresh.)
  2. The itamae is accountable for the full dining experience. (I believe a writer is accountable for the whole package, as well. The layout and design, the packaging, the blog, the emails, etc. Basically, your brand.)
  3. Direct quote from Leonard hereThe counter and food prepa­ra­tion area must be scrupu­lously clean. A good ita­mae knows that clean­li­ness and orga­ni­za­tion are key not only to food safety but also to cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion and his (or her) own pro­duc­tiv­ity. A messy sushi chef is not a good sushi chef. A good ita­mae will be nearly (or actu­ally) obses­sive about his equip­ment and his area. It should all be spot­less and in 100% condition. (See below.)
  4. The itamae should be interacting with all of his/her customers. (Ditto.)
  5. The itamae should be able to handle pressure. (A writer has to be able to handle pressure, as well. Deadlines, writer’s block, bad reviews, the works…)

One can make similar arguments for writers, especially supporting #3. This is why I plan to take two weeks to “prep my area.” The first sprint I plan to execute is “Sprint 0.” It’s the sprint before the sprint.

Cleaning the cutting board

The first few things I plan to do are related to cleaning the cutting board. Some of these things may sound very silly, but there is a purpose. To physically and mentally be present and committed to this book project, I know that I need to take care of a few things first. Until then, I feel like my time will be split unevenly. I also plan to give up certain hobbies to focus on writing – this includes watching new TV series and playing any new video games that may come out. To do this, I need to wrap a few things I have in flight.

If you are about to start a big project – I recommend cleaning up loose ends, and finishing up any lingering tasks/projects before getting started. I always have more focus when I kick off new projects on a clean slate.

Here are some to-do’s that I have for myself this sprint:

  • Clean up/organize pesky paperwork laying around (mostly bills.)
  • Repair the leaky toilet that has been turned off for the past 4 months.
  • Get a plumber to look at the leaky pipe in the basement (I swear these are real issues.)
  • Set up PC in my “home office.”
  • Finish Daredevil and House of Cards.
  • Finally beat Majora’s Mask 3D, a video game I’ve been chipping at for a few months.
  • Finish a few business books that have been on the nightstand for a while.

Again, some silly stuff here, but vital to starting out fresh.

Prepping the knives

Here’s where I plan to start digging into some research.

I do not have a formal process for writing (even for the other blogs I write for, my process is very informal and scattered.) I don’t have an idea for what my book will be about – I’m fairly certain it’ll be fiction, but I haven’t ruled anything out yet. I also want to make sure I’m using decent tools and that the act of writing generally feels good and inspiring. My workplace should feel good, too.

Below are the sprint items related to that:

  • Research text editors and writing programs.
  • Research highly recommended books on writing.
  • Research content for picking an idea and setting goals.
  • Clean up “home office,” and set an office hours schedule.
  • Reach out to fellow writers who have published and set up some interviews.
  • Blog cleanup (ex. add Subscribe via RSS links and page.)

I think that’s it for now. I want to get as much done in the next two weeks so I can really hit the ground running.

Have you written a book before, or are you currently working on one? If so, what am I missing? Even if you haven’t – any first steps in your planning process that you can recommend? I’m all ears.

P.S. – Here’s another plug to sign up for my email list 🙂

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