Writing a book invariably entails long hours in front of a computer screen and it requires huge amounts of organisation. The aim of this post is to explain some of the technology I use to organise my research and keep myself generally motivated when writing.
The textbook I co-authored,Online Journalism: The Essential Guide, weighs in at around 120,000 words. As a journalist I am used to thinking about word counts in terms of feature article lengths. Most features are in the region of 3,000 words which is manageable to research, draft, re-draft, edit and proof. Book writing feels like a much tougher gig which demands project planning and significant amounts of motivation to get you through.
The types of issues we faced:
- Flow – textbooks are usually designed to be dipped into (read non-sequentially) and not cover-to-cover. However, in an ideal world you want to ensure key terms are defined fully at first mention. The textbook should also progress to address increasingly more complex issues. This means that moving blocks of text around causes problems, thankfully some of software beneath can help with this.
- Style guide – When you write a Dummies guide, you are provided with a style guide almost the size of one of their, very fat, yellow books. When we wrote Online Journalism we had to define the style guide ourselves and this raised consistency issues.
- When dealing with 120,000 words everything takes ages – Basic editing of a chapter would takes days. Printing costs money. Moving files around can be slow when dealing with so many hi-res images. Getting permissions sorted seemed to take weeks.
- Deadlines – you need to set these yourself. Without deadlines a book can easily drift. I should say that I used Google Spreadsheets to ensure I was meeting my monthly word count target. It never happened!
- Permissions – When we couldn’t get permission to use images (or the copyright holders wanted to charge ridiculous fees) they needed re-numbering within the body text. Incidentally, we found local newspapers , websites, and tech companies were usually very generous with what they allowed us to use for free. Some of them couldn’t be more helpful and really wanted to be in the book. National newspapers often demanded high fees for just basic screen shots taken from their sites. Okay, we know times are tough in Fleet Street, but these are media organisations that often rely on the generosity of their readers to generate content. Very odd.
- A moving target – tell people you are writing a book on online journalism and the first question they ask is how do you cope with all the changes. It’s impossible to future-proof a book, but you look for trends in the industry. I will talk more about this in another post.
Most academic journal articles tend to come in PDF format. Reading, highlighting and annotating PDFs is easy in this cheap (not free) iPad app.