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Writing a book in public (200wordsaday.com)
138 points by basilesamel on Dec 12, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 65 comments

I wrote a book[1] - well - i wrote the same book 4 times again and again, writing, learning, throwing away, writing, iterrating, editing, rearranging, throwing away, starting new, iterrating, ... . Some learnings:

I) just write

first attemp i made a super fancy setup - google chrome book with custom linux installed that automatically transformed markdown via pandoc into a custom styled PDF everytime i saved. was fun to create this setup, but i wasted time not writting the actual book.

II) don't wittgenstein

i wanted to be absolutely correct, so i started with defining word, what do i mean with website, domain, webproperty, webpage, page, link, external duplicate content, internal duplicate content, ... or any other technical term. wittgensteining is yak shaving for authors. don't do it. just write.

III) a manuscript is not a book

after you are finished, the real work start. a manuscript does not have the same feeling, read-feeling, read flow as a real book. get a professional editor, work with him/her. fire him/her if not the right match, find the right match, start again. the right editor is as much a factor for the success of the book as the author.

IV) live with the law of strawberry jam

the further you spread knowledge/jam the thinner it gets. yes, in a 1:1 talk, in a 1:12 people workshop you can communicate more knowledge than you can with a book. talk, interaction, any form of communication with exchange, has direct feedback - something unbelievable important for information communication. a book is a one way street with - if at all - delayed feedback. you can always continue writting, pack in more knowledge, more details, more clarificaiton, more scenarios, but then the book will never finish. at one point you have to stop.

V) cut away

go through your book again, and question every word, every sentence, every paragraph, every chapter. if the word, the sentence doesn't ad substential value, get rid of it. your book will be better. it's not about quantitiy of words, it's about what you want to say.

VI) let go

& publish, just do it.

[1] "Understanding SEO - A Systematic Approach to Search Engine Optimization" https://www.fullstackoptimization.com/b/understanding-seo ISBN: 978-3-200-05426-4

Another part of this that plays well with both your advice and the 200 words a day advice is "start smaller."

Unless you're already a badass, sitting down in front of 400 blank pages is too hard.

A lot of people would like to write a novel. Novels are hard. Short stories (that might later became chapters) might be a better starting point.

Nonfiction is a little easier, with less of a step change between short and long form. But, smaller chunks can still be a preferable starting point.

Thanks for your advice, I'm currently starting down the path of writing (what I hope will become) a book. I'm at your piece of advice I). I'm working on a framework which links LaTeX and Python notebooks in a dynamic compilation setup [1], so reading your first point of advice makes me think I might have started on the wrong path.

Did your setup ultimately prove useful in writing your book? Or did you give up part way through and that helped you get to the task of actually writing?

[1] https://github.com/poulter7/ipynb-tex

I have written three scholarly history books [0] where custom Python code was used to generate TeX files (not LaTeX) that were then typeset into PDF.

Python's main purpose was to enable thousands of cross-references across the books, and to transform a large, every-changing text database into a pleasing output, where different parts of the database had different output formats.

Perhaps a TeX wizard could have done it all in pure TeX, but I never could have. Besides, who wants to learn all the intricacies of TeX/LaTeX when the task in Python is so straightforward? To this day, I can't imagine a different approach.

Joining the Python and TeX pieces together into simple scripts was trivial. The Python code evolved as I got into the books, so I would recommend a rapid-iteration model of code development, rather than building a perfect edifice before starting.

[0] http://www.physical-lincoln.com

whenever i hid a rough patch during writing i started enhancing, debugging my setup. it was beautiful. it was a beautiful distraction. a beautiful, interresting timesink. my linux skills improved - a lot, but otherwise no, it did not prove usefull. i could have written a book about pandoc in the end, but that was not the goal.

in the end it was sublime (the software) and focus (not a software).

after the manuscript phase it went to google docs (one doc for each chapter) for structure and work together with the editor. then indesign for the triumvirate of me, the designer and the editor.

update: just looked at your https://github.com/poulter7/ipynb-tex, damn that looks familiar... I stand with my I) recommendation

Great advice. And it's true for a lot of other things apart from writing too, i.e. coding, website design, your MVP.

This is awesome! Love those advices. I will consider them carefully while I'm doing this. Thank you so much!

also i always recommend my idol jerry weinberg https://www.amazon.com/Weinberg-Writing-Fieldstone-Gerald-M/... it's not his best book, but yes, he was one of us (nerds, geeks, technical people, hacker, ...) and he had writting figured out.

This description fascinates me because of the iterative development analogy. Way up in my reading list, thanks again!

Just wanted to say that I really appreciated point II: I've been struggling with this ever since I left college (in which my final semester included a class on Later Wittgenstein).

Do you have any other tips and suggestions on how to "stop Wittgensteining"?

When you write, imagine a charitable, intelligent reader who is interested in what you say and not looking to nit-pick every word.

that's a hard one: acceptance - accepting that human communication is and always will be imprecise - there is always the context and inner state of the sender and the context and inner state of the reciever. those will never 100% line up, the further away (culturally, on experience, ...) they are from each other, the more they diverge.

obsessing over every word, over every meaning of every word might make the communication 0,5% more accurate, but weakens (to seriously hurts to kills) the overall message. accept that you will be misunderstood, but try not to.

This is very similar to NaNoWriMo[1], which originally stood for "National Novel Writing Month" (I say "originally" because the "National" bit no longer applies), whereby you sign up to try to write 50,000 words of a novel in November. It has similar word tracking features and a community of other users whom you can interact with (IIRC; the last time I signed up was 2012). The only real difference is that the words/day is more explicit here (200 vs. an implied average of over 8x that) and that you're not constrained by time. While it is pretty hard to maintain the level required to achieve the goal set by NaNoWriMo -- 200 words/day is trivial, in comparison -- the time constraint certainly helped focus.

[1] https://nanowrimo.org/

This is intriguing. It reminds me of 750words.com as well. I think what I really want to show with the 200 words objective is that it is reachable by anyone. 1600 words per day is way too much for a regular worker who just started writing.

>1600 words per day is way too much for a regular worker who just started writing.

I write a lot for work that's interspersed with a fair number of other activities as well. However, even on days when I'm more or less full-time writing with maybe a bit of add-on research and color for a topic I'm already familiar with, 1600 words is a lot. And I say that as someone who has written books. Personally, I'm more in the 800 words or so per full "production" day average. I can probably hit 1600 but that's assuming I already know what I'm writing about and even have some existing material I can adapt and fold in--and I've really cleared the decks.

200 words/day should be pretty achievable for many although that's not enough for a typical post and you may find breaking things up like that (rather than, say, spending one day per week writing 1000 words) isn't very efficient. It partially depends how much control you have over carving up your time and whether you need to really get in the flow of writing vs. banging off a few paragraphs here and there.

200 is still so hard for many people. I talked to users who tried the website and couldn't do more than a 1-day streak, they all say the same: I can't get into the habit / too much work / didn't plan it blablabla And I think this is the case for 80% people on earth. And I'm talking about english native speakers, non-native are even less likely to reach 200 words per day.

Anywasy, thanks for sharing your experience! I appreciate it.

Oh. I don't disagree and the habit thing is definitely part of it. When I'm traveling I find it very easy to get out of the habit of getting something/anything down on paper quickly even with the expectation that I would need to knock it into publishable shape when I have more time.

Personally, I'm also guilty with a number of things of the mindset that it's not worth chipping away at, it's too much to contemplate, etc. Writing can definitely be similar.

200 words is a handful of paragraphs. If they can't do that, it's not about the quantity of words, it's about getting started at all.

You'd have to take editing into account. By any reasonable account, I saw a page that discussed it once, to have 100 readable words, you'd need to write 500-1000 words. Which means the time required goes to 5-10x. On the other hand, 200 words per day is pretty low, you could easily get up to 500-1000 words per day once you really get going.

I think the idea behind the 200 words is that it is achieveable, once you hit the 200 you're already in the zone, the ball is rolling, you can easily continue. But getting there is the hard part.

Thank you! Exactly what I'm describing in the article: 200 words give you momentum. I end up with double this word count in average.

200 words is great for people doing it on the side of a full-time job so I think it really depends on your situation.

Thanks for the insight!

This is a full-time job, but it did not prevent me from writing at least 200 words daily for over a month now.

The author would be surprised to note that many people do that already via forum comments.

I practice my english this way and made it a part of my daily routine years ago.

Yeah. Do they publish comment books though?

To me this looks way more like a series of blog posts than a book.

You are 100% right. The website is 3 weeks old and the "book editing" feature is not released yet.

Almost two years ago I started writing my short posts on a similar premise on my blog https://arcticloon.fi. In fact, as of today, I'm four days short of writing every day for two whole years.

And all this time I have been writing alone, mostly for myself. I do have a few loyal followers and I see some random readers every now and then.

I think a community of other writers would be a great next step for me, so maybe I'll join in. But I'm not sure if I'd like to switch my writing and publishing platform just yet. Hope it's ok for me to keep writing on my own site and copy the texts over. Who knows, maybe in time I'll switch over. Or even better start writing on both places every day, doubling my output.

This is not a problem at all! Your writings belong to you. Always.

I'm currently 203,027 words into planning out my next technical video course. I like to write things out before I say them because it helps organize my thoughts.

It's similar to writing a book suppose.

But if you're interested in writing any type of book, just remember your goals will be different depending on what you're writing. Writing a fiction novel is a lot different than a book on some technical topic. You're on a strict time deadline with technical books because the content can get outdated.

On days where I don't have freelance work or other activities planned, getting down 3,000 "production ready" words is very possible in about 6-8 hours. That includes writing, rewriting, iterating, proof reading it multiple times, maybe doing research if needed, etc..

I like this idea and plan to give it a go, although I think you could be doing more to entice people to read each person's contributions besides just saying 'they wrote x words today, and it's called this, and it has these tags".

At the very least I think a super short blurb could be included, like a line or two (can be as short as a tweet or even shorter, you can take it from the beginning probably, just let the writer's own words attract people). Like it's either just the first sentence, or even the first half of a sentence, just something that has an opportunity to attract the end user.

I'd even consider a different emphasis. The title and the words are more important and should be more prominent than the author. The "@piotr wrote Strzelnica" makes it sound like they wrote a full piece, even though I think you should consider it to be more like a serial (i.e. 200 words in an ongoing work), and includes a redundant word "wrote" for each entry that's the assumed activity on your site.

I'd probably do something more like "Strzelnica 10" (10 being the number in the series), in larger and in bold, then the next few lines "Lorem ipsum...." the brief excerpt of text. Then at the bottom of that text, real small, the author's name, number of likes/feedbacks (one or the other), maybe a single tag, maybe the word count. But keep most of the other information on the entry itself. Maybe not even include the profile image.

If you really want the other information I recommend hiding it, because right now it all blends together and I don't get anything too interesting when I scan down the list of entries.

Anyway, my main concern is it looks too much like an engineer decided to include as much information as possible on these things, stuff that they would find interesting but most readers aren't really going to care about when scrolling through this and scanning for something to catch their eye, and I think more than anything the author's own words should catch the eye, not the 'info'.

But I'll still give it a try and hopefully it does well.

Thank you for taking the time to write this! I need more time to consider your points. One thing I am sure of though, is that this is a writing community, not a list of publications like the ones you can find on Medium. Empowering the writers matters more to me. The content is important obviously, but what I really want is for them to just write. Anything. And be seen/heard.

Well this was over 200 words, so congrats! One day down.

Wow ! I absolutely love the concept and the website is straightforward to use, no fuss or unnecessary feature, just write and save. Brilliant. It's funny because I'm struggling with my writing skills and I wanted a way to practice, this is the perfect solution for me. Hope you continue working on it.

Unrelated question: what technologies is it built with ? I'm just curious to know !

This is becoming my life work :D I work full-time on it!

I'm using Symfony 4 (PHP) and some basic JQuery. Nothing fancy but it allows me to ship faster as I'm starting to know it well. Here is an article I wrote detailing my stack: https://medium.com/@basilesamel/how-i-am-building-my-minimum...

I have built an app that helps people to write every day and track their progress:


I think you might find it useful (it's still in active development, I'm currently working on completing v1).

I really hope your project takes off, there's never enough writing tools and communities!

I already have my home made app and it's called https://200wordsaday.com :P

Isn't there a "Forgot my password" option? I had one account created but unable to recall the password used.

Nice interface. It's also a plus to see that I don't have to create an account to use the service. Good job.

Wow... I really like the streak concept and private stuff with streak public. I will give it a try.

This is a very interesting idea. I started with something more humble "Just 50 Words" a day and the objective was to write articles instead of a book.

I also created a simple writing tool https://just50words.com to help me focus and write.

This is nice Gunjan. Post your words in our community, we love to read those! Originally 200wordsaday is still about writing short articles daily. Writing a book is a personal goal of mine. The members have many different goals: just get better at writing, releasing their ideas for the world to read etc.

Just wrote my first 200 words. I really like two major things about this site:

1. It's really simple UI/UX so you go straight to the point. 2. The Github like counter for your post.

I will definitely use the site more and more.

Thank you! Don't hesitate to reach out to me if you have any suggestion or improvement point to share. I would love to hear them!

Nice idea. Is there a way to see the list of books currently being written?

Some people PMed me about it. I think we are going to tag our posts with #publicbook and those will be drafts that will probably be integrated into our books.

Nice job on the app! I'm reminded of https://750words.com/ that I discovered years ago.

750words is amazing

The hardest part is organization. it means that the stuff written on day 40 has to some how be connected with or relevant to the stuff on day 7.

Yes you are right. But isn't it nice as well to digress a bit sometimes :)? Still, a goal feature would be nice.

I also came up with something like this: https://streaking.app

Am I the only one turned off by the very poor grammar on a post about writing a book? Are you writing the book in English?

In the post, the author notes English is not their first language.

Writing the book is the easy part. Getting more than a handful of people to read it is hard. Good luck!

I'm 24 and this would be my first book. Let me learn my lessons. Thanks for the warning though!

Write the book to yourself. You will always have a reader that cares. Someone might sit down on the bench next to you anyway to read it with you.


> Getting more than a handful of people to read it is hard.

1. advertise book (HN)

2. develope following (Social media)

3. write book

4. Profit? :-)

Love the platform, how long have you been working on this?

3 weeks today lol MVP in two days, MLP in one week

I like the website, its simple and fast. Also love the idea.

Thank you! I'm trying to improve it daily so if you have any suggestion I would love to hear it.

Thanks for the work, I enjoyed trying it and loved the fact that indeed, 200 words is really achievable. I even did it twice ;) Do you have any plan for the possibility to publish "privately"? I'd like to write, but I don't want/feel the need to be read. I guess we could consider the drafts are private, but they seem like second-class citizens regarding streaks and so on.

Yes the private posts will be a thing very soon: https://trello.com/c/s0Hho8LS/30-later-an-user-should-be-abl...

do you have data on the hashtags? Wonder how useful it is.

Search feature coming up this week hopefully!

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