The “Moose” on Writing, part-2

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The “Moose” on Writing, part-2

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Continuing on with my guidance for prospective writers…

When I wrote the first edition of my Scrum Product Ownership book, my target audience was the beginning Product Owner. Someone who had literally no experience in the role.

Consider this my persona for the book.

I defined this focus very early, even before outlining the book. And it gave me a clear vision for flow, topic coverage, and literally every word I wrote.

In fact, I continuously asked myself – how is this section going to help the novice Product Owner? And – am I missing anything they need to know?

I can’t tell you how useful creating a primary persona (identifying your audience) is when writing. It helps keep you focused an on-point with your writing. It also helps keep the book lean, because as you edit, you always connect back to your persona. And if the content doesn’t align, then cut it.

I started public speaking in the late 1990’s. As I said in the introduction, I’m an introvert and I started doing it to improve. One of the early mistakes I made was copying another speakers style for my own. I’m embarrassed to say that I mimicked Johanna Rothman initially. And it didn’t go well.

Early feedback was that my speaking seemed strained, contrived, and awkward. And it was.

Thank goodness I discovered the problem quickly. I was trying to be someone else. And that never works out well. I quickly pivoted and started focusing on being myself and finding my own style. One that worked best for me.

And that worked out much better.

I think this same advice applies to your writing. You’ll need to write a lot in the beginning just to find yourself—your style and your voice. Early on, you’ll probably hear all sorts of feedback about your writing style. Much of it will be contradictory. Consider it, but stay the course and stay true to finding your style and your voice.

Remember, it’s your style. And it’s you that potential readers are looking to learn from.

Note

In the third part of this series I’ll share my editorial experience. One of the most important parts to engaging an editor is finding someone who understands, appreciates, and supports your style and voice.

Point being—they need to maintain it while they’re editing. Many editors struggle with this or ignore it completely and you’ll want to stay away from them. You need to “see yourself” in your writing after it’s been edited.

I’ve discovered the power of storytelling in both my speaking and writing. And it’s one of the most effective ways to communicate. 

Given that, I suggest you start all of your writing thinking about the story you’re going to tell. Or stories for that matter.

And when you think of stories, not all need to be wonderful stories of your successes. I believe failure stories (what not to do) are even more effective in explaining your points.

But the trick is finding them. We don’t always think about our experiences as stories. We actually have to consciously look for them, or like I often refer to it, we need to mine for stories in our everyday experiences and journey. This is a place where keeping a journal and writing down your story ideas can be incredibly helpful. And as you do more of it, you’ll find that your story repository will increase exponentially.

Remember Gerry Weiberg’s fieldstone method from the first post? One of the fieldstones themes is capturing stories to tell. Big stories, small stories, and even smaller stories. All for later use in your prose.

Note

Please don’t fall into the trap that your stories have to be in the class of Moby Dick or other classic novels. Sometimes the most impactful story is something small or seemingly insignificant. But it makes a laser focused point that you’re trying to make.

So, small and focused stories are probably best.

When I turned in my first book, Software Endgames to the publisher, it had about 400 pages. I can vividly recall their reaction. They said—you need more content, about 200 more pages to make it viable to market and sell (drive sufficient revenue). 

My reaction was horror as I’d invested every last word I had in writing the book. I was empty, spent! And while it took some time, we finally agreed that it was good enough as-is.

Fast forward to today, and more words does not equate to more value. In fact, it’s just the opposite. You need to be as terse as possible in all of your prose. Less is more. And this lesson is something I still struggle with in my writing.

As you’re developing your persona, outline, and chapter-by-chapter plan, think about the investments you’ll be making in words. Try to stay cognizant of chapter word count and overall word count.

Make sure that everything you write has an intent and a value. And related to this, don’t be shy about trimming content away. Adding is always easy. But removing something that isn’t truly necessary will always make your writing better. 

Note

Here are a few examples of short books that I consider quite good:

  1. Creating Great Teams, by Sandy Mamoli and David Mole, ~80 pages of content

  2. Real-World Kanban, by Mattias Skarin, ~110 pages of content

  3. Liftoff, by Diana Larsen and Ainsley Nies, ~120 pages of content

And all are examples of a “less is more” philosophy.

I’ve probably given this advice to a hundred or more people who asked me about writing a book. I told them to start by writing a blog. Something small, about 500 words per entry. Posting it regularly, perhaps one entry a week.

The key was to get into the habit of writing in “chunks” and making regular deliveries. And just write—flowing the words.

When I wrote my first book, things like blogs weren’t really available. You had to sit down and write the entire book.

But now, I think you can write blog posts AND write a book by connecting each of those posts.

The other great thing about blogging is that you’ll get interim, iterative feedback (comments) on your writing. So, you can adjust your focus and flow as you write.

This is how I wrote my Agile Reflections book. It started out as a series of blog posts. One morning I looked at my blog history and content and I said—I can make a book out of this. I reordered the posts and wrote a few new ones to fill in the gaps. Then I re-edited everything and formatted it into the book. 

It was a wonderful discovery of how to leverage blogging for iterative delivery and for larger projects.

I’ve run out of word count for this post. Look for additional guidance for your writing in Part-3 of this series. Until then…

Stay agile my friends,

Bob.

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