As I mentioned in a few previous posts, my new book, Everything Bad Is Good For You, is off to the printers, and I've now officially entered the strange chrysalis-like transformation from a solo writer working alone with his word processor to a small cog in a much larger publishing and marketing machine, with the fate of my little book now in the hands of dozens, if not hundreds, of people. (That's not a complaint, by the way -- I like the sudden teamwork that erupts right before a pub date.) But some of you will no doubt notice that I've said very little about this book on the blog over the past year or so as I've been writing it. Long-term sbj.com readers will remember that I followed a similar pattern with Mind Wide Open, my previous book. Now, I'm not what you what call the most prolific blogger in the history of this new genre -- in fact, I wish there were a different term to describe the longer-format, less link-driven riffs that I do here, more like micro-essayist than traditional blogger. But I do post about pretty much everything in my life: new software, articles, half-baked ideas, family life, travel. But I don't post about my books while they're in progress. And I thought it was probably appropriate to explain why.
Other authors seem to be much more interested in the collaborative possibilities of merging blogging and book-writing. Dan Gilmore wrote the excellent We The Media open-source fashion on his web site; Larry Lessig is in the middle of a collectively-authored upgrade to his classic book Code; Chris Anderson is publicly working through the argument of his soon-to-be classic The Long Tail. So obviously other authors' mileage will vary. And certainly I've used this blog to toss out some early ideas and themes that eventually make their way into the final books. But I deliberately try to keep the writing and the blogging separate.
Here's why: for me, at least 50% of the challenge -- and the fun -- of writing a book is dealing with the unique relationship that the author has to his or her reader. If they're truly reading your book and not skimming it, you have several things happening: you have their undivided attention; you have hours and hours of that attention devoted to you; and you have that attention organized along a linear path, reading the book from start to finish. It is a remarkably intimate, private kind of exchange, and its power lies precisely in the commitment of time and focus that the book demands. The problem for an author is that books are not written the way they are read. They usually take years to write, from original proposal to final proofs; they are rarely composed in sequence; and by the time you submit a final manuscript, you've invariably read every page dozens of times, mostly out context.
So for me at least, the trick of writing a book is somehow shedding all the layered, time-shifted contortions of writing, and somehow recreating what it would feel like to sit down as a newcomer to the book and start reading. Anyone who has ever written a book will probably recognize the challenge here: you write a new section at the end of a chapter, and as you're writing it, it seems like you're producing some great material. And then you sit down and read through the whole chapter a few weeks later, and the new section reads like it's been pasted in from someone else's book. Or you think you've constructed a perfect opening argument for the introduction, and then you sit down to read it and realize that you've neglected to mention the most important -- though also, to you, the most obvious -- point of all.
Most of the time, you can only catch these things if you've tricked your brain into approaching the book as though you yourself were a new reader, entering into that private, linear, slow exchange that is book reading. And private, linear, slow is exactly the opposite of the experience of blogging. What's great here is the remixing, the group mind, the hypertextuality, the fact-checks, the trial balloons. It's an amazing environment, but to me it's directly antagonistic to the mental state you need to make a book work as a reading experience, and not just a collection of facts and ideas. It's like trying to compose a new melody in your head while standing in the middle of a full-throated choral group. And so when I'm immersed in writing a book, I try to keep these worlds separate, even if it feels like I'm betraying the blog somewhat with my silence.
But the good news is that the book is done, so now I can blab about it here all I want. Stay tuned -- I'm sure by the time summer rolls around you'll be begging me to shut up about it.