Kyle Willey

An Update on Herding Your Cats

Normally I update this blog three times a week, but because I took the last couple weeks of December off with no explanation, I want to talk about what’s going on.

When I first started writing Herding Your Cats, I pictured taking a half-dozen books on writing and productivity and condensing them down to a book that was very short and sweet.

My goal was to finish it in December 2020. That did not happen.

That’s half of the reason for my vacation, both because it was rather stressful to have to decide to delay and rewrite large portions of the book. Also, I just needed the time off to center myself and get everything going again.

Critical Mission Failure

When I look over the manuscript what I’m finding is that there’s a lot of overlap between the content of different chapters, and that’s not really acceptable for such a short book.

Basically, I’m going to be going to a re-development process for the whole book. There are a couple chapters I like and which I will probably keep, perhaps with some significant modifications.

But the core of the issue is this:

I’m going to have to rewrite 90% of the book from scratch. There’s too much overlap. In a book that’s intended to be short and sweet, overlap equals a lot of one-star reviews.

I’m not sure where that leaves me in terms of timeline. The research and outline of the book still seem solid to me. The execution is lacking.

Once I realign the chapters so there’s no overlap, I might draw from the work I’d already done to prepare, or I might need new resources.

If all goes well, I could probably finish the draft by the end of January.

In the worst case, who knows? Timelines are fickle things.

Recipe for Success

One thing that helped me find the issues I was looking at were the chapter openers that I was writing.

Each chapter in Herding Your Cats starts with an overall statement of purpose, and each section says why I’ve included that section and some very general points for best practices.

It was once I really forced myself to look over those that I saw that the four sections (Motivation, Craft, Writer Skills, and Follow-Through) had a lot of the same objectives without clear definitions.

So, here’s an overview of the goals for each section:

Motivation: Get into the writing process frequently enough to produce viable work.

Craft: Write in a way that works for your audience and gets the attention it deserves.

Writer Skills: Pair your writing with the skills and best practices to succeed in the business.

Follow-Through: Keep writing when things get tough and make your dreams real.

Putting it Together

One of the major issues that I had originally was trying to balance each of these sections somewhat evenly. It’s clear in hindsight that follow-through is going to be a small section, half motivational speech and half habit formation.

When I started working on the book, I got the habit formation through repetition thing down a little too well and said basically the same things in motivation and follow-through sections.

I’m not giving specific advice on how to write any style of book in particular (not in ~12k words, at least), so the craft focus is more on skill acquisition and discerning useful sources for inspiration and learning.

One thing that I’d avoided are exercises, but I’ve found that most of the helpful writing books I’ve seen have them, so I will suggest a few exercises in the craft section, especially those that work across all disciplines of writing.

This isn’t just a popularity cop-out, either. I think there’s more benefit to including practical activities that can build skills than merely talking about the metacognitive side of learning.

What I’ve noticed as I’ve been reading books for research and classes is that while you might not use every exercise, they’re incredibly useful. My favorite book as far as “this helped me grow as a writer” is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King, and the precise value of it is how it walks you through things.

Since a lot of my focus in the craft section is getting practice, it makes sense to say how.

The “I” Question

I originally tied each chapter to a cat analogy, but that wasn’t workable given the length of the text. And it sucked. There was some room to improve, but it wasn’t the proper route for investing effort and time.

That got dropped fairly early on, and the only place I mention the metaphor is in the foreword.

I always worry about including myself in my books. I’m not a New York Times Bestselling Author, and I ramble when I don’t catch myself.

Then there’s the point that could that I probably invest a lot more effort to return than other people, and while I make it work I’m probably not the best person to ask for certain things.

Until I started my Master’s program, my definition of marketing was straight out of Field of Dreams.

“If you build it, then they’ll come.”

That won’t work for most people. It’s gotten me some good gigs over the years, but years is a long time if you’re not writing for writing’s sake.

One thing I set out to do in Herding Your Cats is the no-dogma approach to writing.

Different things work for different people.

But in the draft I was working on, there were obvious issues with me lapsing into “I’ll say what works for me” and breaking my no-dogma promise.

That’s half the reason for creating exercises, since they are a place to put those “I” things.

For instance, one of the Motivation exercises will focus on finding incentives.

I’ll give mine as examples for the exercise, but leave them out of the rest of the text.

Wrapping Up

This is a “brainstorm on a page” thing. I’m not sure anyone’s really waiting for my book with bated breath, except maybe my mother.

However, maybe it’ll be interesting to someone as a process insight.

I often talk about planning and how I don’t put a lot of stock in the need for planning.

That’s how I went wrong here. When you’re working on a non-fiction book, even an outline you think is solid will not carry the day when you get down in the trenches and forget where you are.

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