10,000 Words has joined the ranks of blogs like PostSecret, The Julie/Julia Project, and I Can Has Cheezburger? that have been successfully transformed into a book. The Digital Journalist’s Handbook, like this blog, is a guide to the technology journalists must know to thrive in today’s modern newsrooms.
I always wanted to write a book, but because technology is always changing, I thought that writing for such a permanent medium was a fool’s errand. I had mostly given up on the idea until @RandomtoReason asked via Twitter why I had not written a book. Instead of dismissing the notion, I brainstormed how I could write a book about technology that wouldn’t be outdated months down the line.
I came up with what I knew was the perfect formula: write about established technologies journalists were currently using that wouldn’t be obsolete in a few months time, avoid writing about anything new or untested and use a companion website to direct readers to online examples and more detailed tutorials.
I started writing the book in July 2009, several months after I was laid off from my journalism job. I was hungry and flat broke, but the book gave me something else to focus on and channel my energy into. During this time I wrote most of the book at the New York Public Library on 42nd and 5th in the Rose Reading Room, a beautiful, inspiring, and — best of all — free workspace.
Once I identified the structure for the book, I went through every blog post I had ever written (about 350 at the time) and selected the topics and information that I wanted to include in the book. I also noted subjects that I had never written about extensively like podcasting and social networks. Once I had a tentative structure and table of contents, I said to myself “Now write.” This was a huge and mostly misguided approach.
I quickly realized that there many, many, many holes that needed to be filled and the bulk of the writing time was actually spent researching, filling in the gaps of information that my blog had not covered. I read tons of other blog posts and books, identifying the information that I wanted to include in The Handbook and verifying that what I had written was correct. I went through several Sharpies and stacks of paper and I wasn’t even really writing, just adding, deleting, and rearranging the structure of the book.
In late August, I was hired by the Center for Investigative Reporting as a multimedia producer which meant I had significantly less time to write. However, I was determined to complete the book because I felt it was the guide that many journalists wanted and needed. Many days I would go to work from 9 to 5, leave, head straight home and start writing until I went to bed or until my brain shut down completely. Most weekends were spent tapping away at a computer, writing and shaping the book. I was fueled by the passion I had for the project…that and lots of Red Bull and coffee.
I wrote the book in intentionally simple language, which required me to consult Thesaurus.com several times a day to rein in my extensive and often times unnecessarily elaborate vocabulary. I also knew that, like the blog, I was writing the book for international audiences for whom English may not be the first language so I ran several words and phrases through Google Translate to make sure I wasn’t using idioms only Americans would understand.
I initially wanted to hire an editor to oversee the project and my writing, but I knew exactly what I wanted the book to look like and include and if it was my ship I was going down with it. I wrote the entire book in Google Docs, which allowed me to share what I was working on with friends and trusted colleagues who could provide feedback on my work.
After seven months of writing, I sent the more than 75,000 word-book over to a copy editor to have it edited. While the book was being edited, I began work on the *production side of the book*, including laying it out and creating illustrations.
When I began writing the book, I thought it would be easy to just take my blog and magically transform it into a book, but I can tell you that there is so much work that goes into creating a project of this magnitude. Blogging gives a writer freedom to write in whatever style they want, with little connection from one post to the other. A book, however, must have a flow and each paragraph, section, and chapter must connect to the next.
Writing and researching took much longer than I anticipated and there were moments where I wanted to give up because I told myself “nobody’s going to read the damn thing anyway.” But people do read the damn thing and being able to look at my book on a bookshelf was worth all the effort of writing it.
Like 10,000 Words, The Handbook fills a need that wasn’t really being filled with any other product on the market, which in this case was a comprehensive guide to the fundamentals of digital journalism that both beginners and seasoned pros could follow.
If you’re on the fence about whether or not to write a book, I absolutely encourage you to identify your project and your passion and share it with the world.
Also on 10,000 Words: