How writing this book has already changed me


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I have spent the last three weeks pondering if I can change my keyboard from English (UK) to English (US).


I know I can change it. It is just a few clicks.


But the emotional burden of making this change was overwhelming me.


Seemingly trivial changes can completely throw you for a loop.



 

In 2021, I got on a Zoom call with Professor Eric Koester at Georgetown University about joining the Creator Institute program for professionals who wanted to write and publish a book.


During that conversation Prof. Eric said that writing this book would take about a year. I thought to myself, that I would be one of those people who could do it in two months.


Nine months in, and I'm only a third through the second revision of the manuscript.


I had pre-written pieces that I thought would easily slot into the book. These were a collection of private notes, a blog series on breaking into product management, and a half dozen blog posts on product management thought leadership.


I imagined this would give me a leg up, and help me write this book much faster.


Not so fast!


There's a lot of things that go in writing a book:

  • First party research - scheduling and interviewing people you know

  • Second party research - finding information online about people you don't know

  • Third party research - using journals and research studies to support your material

  • Writing templates - crafting and fine-tuning the goal, audience and outcomes of the book

  • The first draft - getting as many words down, hopefully around 30k+ down to see if you actually have compelling enough content for this

  • Marketing - raising over $6,000 to detect if your book resonates with your audience, and if there's anything you need to do to adjust it

  • Naming - finding the right match between your version of the book and what the audience resonates with

  • Design - collaborating with a design on the book cover and interior images

  • ... and other things I have yet to experience.

There's absolutely no way I could have completed all of these tasks in two months.


What learnings can I take from the book experience into my everyday life as a senior leader?


Adding my personal take

I was extremely proud of the first draft of my manuscript.


I felt it had very compelling advice for experienced product managers to break into senior leadership.


And I had put it together in under six weeks, in an attempt to publish my book "faster."


"This book is great, but... don't take this the wrong way, but it has nothing about you..." said my development editor, Dave G.


At first I didn't understand what he meant by that. These here are my recommendations, that I came up. I certainly didn't copy it from a Forbes article "Top 10 things to do to..."


"Then tell me about those stories, the learnings that led you to these conclusions." said Dave.


"Do I need to? This isn't a novel, it is a professional book." I responded.


I remember pacing back and forth in a mall in Saint Petersburg, Russia as Dave and I debated this. The connection quality wasn't clear. It was hard for us to hear each other. But I definitely heard his next sentence clearly.


"Do you plan to publish a textbook?" asked Dave.


I had never thought about it that way. In an attempt to protect my own privacy, I had created a rather dull manuscript. It needed my stories to make it uniquely my voice.


I did the work to bring life to the book through my own stories, and I suddenly could understand the formula of the great books by Simon Sinek, Adam Grant and so on.


That level of authenticity is impossible to generate in six weeks.


How I will take it forward

Before I open my mouth and say something, I also need to consider why it matters. I need to better understand the motivation of my customers, vendors, team members before articulating my expectations.


Now that doesn't mean creating drama or putting in the effort equivalent to a scene production in a play.


Here are the things I will consider when I communicate with my team:

  • Am I telling the team what to do, or am I focusing on why it matters?

  • Will I take the step to share my opinion?

  • How will I ensure that I articulate the goals with enough freedom, so that the team has the autonomy to come up with their own solutions?

  • and so on...


I will put in the effort.


Writing with the reader in mind

One of my friends in the book program said that he has a statue of a person on his desk. When he writes, he writes to that person.


This person has a name, a persona, and an identity. It really helps him craft the message appropriately.


During the first revision I found that the book has about three readers in mind - someone new to product, an experienced product manager, and a newly minted senior product leader.


I had written the stories independently, and then merged them into chapters. These chapters were assembled to form the book.


So naturally, the transitions were jarring in the first draft.


Because I spent so much time deep into the book, I didn't see it. It was helpful to review the early feedback where beta readers had called this out as an issue that I could target and fix.


And after a solid four weeks of revisions, I was able to significantly improve the quality of the book.


How I will take it forward

After I write an email, I will run it through these "unit tests":

  • Is the right person in the the TO: field? Does anyone else need to be on this email?

  • Will the intended recipient understand what am I saying?

  • Where is the hook? How far down the email is it? Can I move it to the top?

  • Do they know what exactly they need to do next?

  • ... and so on.


Cutting the fluff

When I look back at my old blog posts, the sentences are long and blocked together in large paragraphs.


It is actually quite hard to read. I'm surprised anyone understood what I was going on about, let alone read it.


While revising my book, I've been breaking up the sentences and reordering them to emphasize the point I'm trying to get across.


As I broke the paragraphs into separate lines, they can be compared to each other.


The fluff really stands out, and can be cut. <-- like this one.


The sentences get shorter, in an attempt to focus attention to the learning.


How I will take it forward

When I am posting on social media, such as Twitter or LinkedIn, I ask these basic questions:

  • Can I cut half of the words and say the same thing?

  • Do I want the reader to read? React? Comment? Click on a link? Then I need to set the message up for that.

  • Is the writing and associated content (video/image) compelling?

  • ...

Resilience

It is clear to me now that everyone who has successfully published a book is a member of an unofficial club.


The club of grit.


We writers know this.


The superhuman persistence it takes to pour your heart into this work, put it up for criticism, and then get back into revising it on very tight deadlines - isn't for the faint hearted.


While there is a team of experts on the publishing team to support and guide you, it is without a doubt an individual sport.


You have to write the words. You have to transform them into compelling stories. And you have to assemble them together.


Others can inspire and motivate you, but you have to meet the call.


How I will take it forward

Writing a book has really tested my ability to persevere.


So far, I have said to my wife Alla FOUR time with all seriousness that "I cannot do this".


And I'm still here.


I will have to be very careful of telling myself that again now that I'm come so far through the publishing process.


Consistency

I've changed tremendously over the last nine months.


Despite always saying that senior product leaders are the "CEO of the product", I can tell you now from first hand experience that running a business is completely different.


When I was VP of Product, I was leading a highly productive team of product managers whom I could effectively delegate to.


The scope of my responsibility was very clear. I was responsible for the product strategy and execution.


As CEO of Nimi, each day could be hijacked by a new activity that I have to learn while doing. One day I might be speaking with a lawyer figuring out how to structure a contract.


And the next day, I will be calling and negotiating with vendors to provide access to an employee for proprietary software to complete their work.


And in between it all, I have to approve time off requests, and cook dinner for my family.


Since Nimi is still a startup, I'm the one responsible for operating the business. There's nobody to hand off these tasks to, yet.


Depending on the moment someone reaches out to me, I might be wearing the "HR" hat, or the "Product Manager" hat or one of my other many hats.


I was writing my book during these temporal changes, and I can see it in my book.


When I read the manuscript out aloud, it does feel like it was written by me, but me at different "versions" of my personal journey.


It is authentic, very much so, but it can be a jarring and inconsistent experience for the reader.


They lose track of the timeline.


It distracts and confuses them.


And they miss the learning. <-- we don't want this.


How I will take it forward

Even the small minute inconsistencies can throw your audience off.


In some parts of the book I have used the word "colour". In another part I said "color".


Despite being in the United States for over twenty years, I have stubbornly held on to my "Sri Lankan roots" of using British English.


Undoubtedly, that sounds seriously silly when I write that down. And it is.


That stubbornness is manifested in all the products I use. My laptop, phone and software apps are all configured to English (UK).


So I've kept it going for quite sometime.


Everyone does this until they hit an impassable force.


That force for me was Quip, the tool all the authors publishing through New Degree Press use to write their manuscript.


Quip only accepts US English.


This has put me in a loop. I've started writing with US English spelling to have it corrected to UK English by my Grammarly app, and then corrected back to UK English by Quip.


Sometimes it is the other way around.


So today February 8, 2022, I made the change to officially switch to US English.


These small steps of consistency, matter.







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