What I learned from writing a book during the pandemic that will help you tackle big projects in 2021

When the pandemic first started, some of us drew inspiration from how Shakespeare wrote during the plague , or how Isaac Newton invented calculus while in isolation. The idea was aspirational—perhaps we, too, could make great things during the pandemic.

It was a relief. While I didn’t aim to be Shakespeare, I did need to write a book. I’ve long dreamed of debuting my first book on the charts, buying real estate with my advance payment, and such. It was all in my head. After a sudden realization borne of desperation, I decided to simplify: put words on a page, release it, and repeat. There’s nothing more to writing.

I found dialing back on my perfectionism really helpful. That didn’t mean I set lower standards, but I made sure I set out criteria and defined what acceptable means to me. This is the mindset and actions I changed to write a book after years of not doing it. You may find some ways you can make your creative work happen too. Scope down to make the process easier

Athough I had edited The World According to Kanye a few years back , I hadn’t written a book before, so I wasn’t even sure I could do it. To lower my expectations, I even avoided calling it “my first book.” It was just “a book.”

I took all my inspirations from relatively short books. Ryan Holiday’s first edition of Growth Hacker Marketing was my gateway into this ( 15,000 words ), and I started seeing them everywhere—Seth Godin’s Poke the Box , Oliver Sacks’s Gratitude , Julien Smith’s The Flinch , Gordon MacKenzie’s Orbiting the Giant Hairball , Kio Stark’s When Strangers Talk , and even Richard Lanham’s Revising Business Prose . I genuinely liked and respected these authors and their books, so I didn’t feel like I was settling by aiming for a lower word count.

This understanding and scoping down made the process easier for me—I’ve written professionally online for years, so I could easily write 13 1,000 word essays, and an introduction and conclusion.

I also had a topic on my mind already. My inspiration for the book came from a blog post I wrote in 2013, which nearly 200,000 people have read. Throughout the years I had done a lot of research on the topic of how to be more creative , so I knew where I wanted to take this. Organize research

My Google Docs is a graveyard of potential books. Each time I started, I found myself going through the same loop. I’d compile my research into a point-form outline, which would expand aggressively through days and weeks. I would inevitably lose track of structure, as well as specific notes and docs. Ambition and disorganization are a fatal combination.

Fortunately, this year, I started organizing my research with a note-taking system. I used Niklas Luhmann’s Zettelkasten, which I read in How to Take Smart Notes . I go into detail on this system here. I’ve since imported my notes into […]