I have run four full marathons in my life, and I have found that producing a book feels pretty similar in at least one regard: no matter how much progress you make, the finish line seems a million miles away. You know you'll get there on schedule, but the closer you get the more you realize that there is still so far to go. Right now I am at about the 20 mile mark in the book writing/designing marathon process. If you have ever run a marathon you know that this last bit—"only a 10K"—is the toughest part. The text is about 90% ready (still in Word) and I have put a lot of work in on the design of the pages (in InDesign). You can see some of the pages from Chapter 1 on the desk below (pic snapped tonight). On screen is the first page of Chapter 3 on "preparing analog."
A good editor is worth her weight in gold
I wrote the ten chapters (may go to eleven or twelve) in Word and then sent them to my editor at Peachpit in the USA. She sent them back with all the typos and errors fixed and with red lines through the parts she recommended to cut. All her recommendations to cut were excellent. Sometimes I repeated myself, saying the same thing but in a different way. Other times the point was made, but I still went on and on giving more examples, etc. I thought I was being brief and cut loads myself, but she really took the knife to the copy I sent in. I know my writing is not that tight, so I greatly appreciated her advice. A lot of text was cut from each chapter, but more may still be cut after I put it into InDesign. The book can be no more than 240 pages and it features hundreds of sample slides (in full color) and photos and other images that support the narrative and the presentation of the book. A healthy amount of white space is necessary too so the balancing of text, images,and white space is a real challenge.
Good writing, like good design, is about elimination
Good writing, like good designing, is more about subtraction than addition. And that's where a good editor—or another set of skilled eyes—comes in. I just could not see the nonessentials in the same way an objective editor could. I have accepted all of her suggestions on what to cut and what to keep; her recommendations have been all spot on. Below are three quotes related to the art of tight writing (the first in a Keynote slide).
"Inside every fat book is a thin book trying to get out."
"Writing is 1 percent inspiration, and 99 percent elimination."
— Louise Brooks
With a little help from my friends
In order to get a better feel for the flow of the pages, I sometimes print a chapter from InDesign and then spread it out on the floor to see the big picture. The photos below demonstrate what happens if I forget to shut my office door when I go to the kitchen for another cup of coffee. Here you can see Luke and Kona enjoying Chapter 1 in a way I had not thought of (good thing the pages were numbered).
Above: A couple of cool cats have fun with draft copies of Presentation Zen.