Many of us at Wordsmithie also have avocations that keep us busy. As a copywriter and editorial director, I naturally write. Years ago, I left a newspaper job to go abroad and write the Great American Novel. Amazingly, it got published. Later, while working in various copywriting and communications positions, I branched into nonfiction, writing and editing several books on military history. These days, I’m combining history and sports. My latest book is Nine Innings for the King (McFarland & Co.), about a baseball game between US Army and US Navy teams, played in London on the Fourth of July, 1918, during World War I.
What does writing a book set a century ago have to do with being a ’smithie?
Malcolm Gladwell, in his wonderful book Outliers, writes that it takes 10,000 hours to become really proficient at whatever you do. That’s about how many hours I had when I went off to write that first book. Like everyone, I’ve steadily increased my total ever since. In no small way, that’s thanks to writing or editing various manuscripts … a few of which have never seen the outside of a file drawer (and rightly so). How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.
Why writing is writing
As odd as it might sound, writing an 80,000-word book isn’t that different from writing an 800-word case study. It just takes longer (a hundred times longer, at least). The writer is telling a story, either way. The rules and techniques are largely the same. The structure needed for sharing a good story remains the same. The telling detail and the illuminating quote are just as important in a case study or white paper as they are in a book—you just need more of them when you’re writing at great length.
Writers also need to find and use the right voice and tone in their books … just as they must do when working with clients. The difference is that the client determines that voice for a corporate project, while the writer defines it for his or her own book. Consistency is vital in each. And passion for the work and the topic helps, too. The more you care, the better you write. (Let’s ignore those two dreaded words writer’s block. They can be a result of passion, too.)
One huge difference from client work, of course, is that as an author, you get to see your name emblazoned on the cover of your book. Plus, friends and family finally understand what you’ve been working on all this time. And we’re hardly ever asked to sign a new copy of a case study.