The structure of 100 Days, 100 Grand was inspired by a very special book – that had nothing to do with freelancing. Here’s a new LinkedIn article on how the book got its start from the fitness industry.
Companies like Adobe, and other creative types like games designers, build a feature called “snap to grid” into their products. It’s useful when you’re moving an element around an area – like a line of text on a page layout, or a flooring tile in Fallout 4. When it gets close to a related element, it “snaps into place”. Relieving you of having to place it pixel-perfect.
This month, the 100 Days, 100 Grand manuscript seems to be “snapping to grid”.
Without going into details, 2016 so far has been one long slog of making ideas, tasks, actions, and other bits of knowledge consistent with the overall flow of the 220,000-word text. In one session I deleted a 12,000-word section because it just didn’t fit properly. (If I didn’t do this, I’d end up with a book a bit like the car in Johnny Cash’s One Piece at a Time“. An end result that ought to work, but uses so many pieces from different sources it’s a pile of junk.)
Who’d be a textbook author?
This has caused me huge problems. Because 100 Days is so cross-connected, full of evolving actions and information dependencies, it’s more like designing a building than writing paragraphs. If I hadn’t realised last year that that its core message – celebrating individual self-actualisation – has become my life’s purpose, I’d even wonder whether to carry on.
(Naturally, testing the methods at Chris does Content has won me new business … income that pays my bills. Any income I might get from writing a 1200-page textbook is deferred for years. If 100 Days was just for fun, rather than a mission, it’d be much harder to schedule into my working week.)
Much of Spring was a logjam of trying to make Part 2 – where you define your offer to the market – work properly as a week of actionable instructions. It’s still far from complete. So this month, I switched to editing some Part 9 chapters, on turning your first billable projects into regular customers. And guess what? It snapped to grid.
Editing Day 85, I realised its content relied on some descriptors the reader creates earlier in Part 5. (Descriptors are information tags that describe a name on your marketing list, so you can personalise it more deeply with your sales letter. Personalisation is a huge part of how you win customers in 100 Days, 100 Grand.) Wahey! Text junked, text rewritten. The same thing’s happening today with Day 86 – and, looking ahead, with Day 87.
I was deeply unhappy with the text of over half the book’s pages, but now everything’s snapping to grid, it’s much clearer what’s out of shape. And the irony is that all this snapping is further defining what needs to happen way back in troublesome Part 2.
I didn’t need to spend a quarter of a year agonising over the seven chapters of Part 2. I just needed to write Part 9 first, to see what it needed to say.
But that’s textbook writing for you.
The latest update on 100 Days, 100 Grand has just gone out to its now hundreds-strong mailing list. Some explanation of what’s happening with the release date, in addition to some self-indulgent musings about typography…
It’s not news if that’s how you found this site, but an article I wrote for LinkedIn’s Pulse is among the most-viewed articles on the business networking site this week, with over 25,000 views in its first 48 hours…
I’m just back from my honeymoon, where apart from the obvious* I did a lot of reading. Literary stuff: Nobel Laureates, classic suspense, top journalism. And it set me wondering what the definition of literature really is.
No textbook (or textbook author) has ever won a Nobel or a Booker. But a few great ones – like Alberts and his Molecular Biology of the Cell – would deserve consideration if they were in the running. And the literary world is starting to understand non-traditional literary forms as valid literature: look at Spiegelman’s Maus or Moore’s multi-layered Watchmen, both graphic novels.
So a teaching text is literature, according to my definition of it. (That’s wonderful ideas, beautifully communicated.) Not literary in the flowery Faulkner or artful Wolfe sense (although I’m not dissing those uber-dudes) but literary in the Hemingway or headline sense: brilliantly precise and to-the-point sentences, arranged into exactly the right order to bring complex concepts into concrete existence in the reader’s mind.
100 Days, 100 Grand started as a pocket tract: I’d guessed 40,000 words you could finish in a weekend that’d give you some tips for maximising your income as a freelancer. Something akin to Strunk and White. Now it’s looking like an A4-sized 750-page textbook, and I’d like it to be a great one. And a great textbook – the kind people annotate, scribble in margins, put fluorescent tabs in – perhaps means treating it as literature. Wonderful ideas, beautifully communicated.
If this grand project of mine turns out to be something people leave their jobs and remortgage their homes for, the least I owe them is to give them a damn good read.
So as I near the editing phase of the work (a great chunk of the actual facts and figures stuff is reasonably complete and in sequence) I’m going to be looking even more critically at my use of language. Whether each sentence uses the smallest number of the shortest words needed to convey meaning. Whether each bullet is constructed in parallel; whether each checklist item uses active verbs and the active voice. That I’m using second person invisible everywhere except the author’s bio. Check, revise, and check again. Make it really worth the reading.
That’s the goal, anyway…
* Shooting handguns, driving 4WDs, and exploring coral reefs 12m beneath the waves. What did you think?
Days 36 and 37 of the 100 Days plan are among the most didactic but most fun: they instruct readers in how to structure and create a good sales letter. Rather than isolating the methods of sales copy as standalone techniques, I’ve included a short writing course that reminds and instructs readers in the core principles of written English.
Sources? Of course the usual suspects were on my desk at the time–Stephen King’s “On Writing” and William Zinnsser’s “On Writing Well“–so the methods aren’t anything most people will argue with. What’s interesting is just how often the very best sales letters (I studied over 1,000 for this book) agree with what makes readable prose, too.
There’s good copywriting, and there’s good writing. And the two aren’t that different.
November’s been a good month for 100 Days. (Not least because it’s been a slow month for my other work.) Huge improvements, but the big news is the main text is now hitting 100,000 words… which means I’ve found the edges of the jigsaw.
Why that matters:
In any large project – from a thriller novel to a house build – a big part of progress is “finding the edges”. Recognising where the parameters of the job stop and start. And for most of the last four months I was trying to define them.
The basic ten-part, fourteen-week structure of the book’s been clear since I started writing in July. But the fine detail within it – what the reader does each day, and how those actions slot together in sequence to deliver the broader objective of a £100,000 income – was much harder. Now, after many sleepless nights of blood, sweat, and toil, I believe my jumbled mass of actions and outcomes (over 400 pages of scribbled ideas) is starting to become an orderly series of information and instructions a non-marketer will find useful. And completed chapters are starting to fly out.
Originally I thought 100 Days would be a tract of 40-60,000 words. (After all, it started as just a blog post and Buzzfeed listicle outlining the idea!) As it turns out, there are two sub-audiences: the techie who knows the tools, and the freelancer who’s expert in his own field but not necessarily at marketing himself. The best way to cater for both is to separate informational (concepts) and instructional (methods and tasks) content. So each chapter now starts with a set of information and ends with a list of tasks that put them to use, coming together in a “Do you understand/have you completed” checklist. (Savvy marketers only need the methods; other experts will do the daily Tasks.)
This means an increase in wordcount, and the total’s now likely to break 200,000 words and 1,000 pages. A side effect is that I’ve changed the publishing format: the paperback edition will be US Letter-sized, 21.59 x 27.94 cm, so people have plenty of room to scribble their notes in the margins.
(The ebook editions, as a happy byproduct, now look a lot better! With full-width tables and diagrams and better formatted text and lists. I’m testing the e-version on both an ancient Kindle Keyboard and a swoopy new Voyage and it looks great.)
The mailing list is growing, although there aren’t any updates yet; I’ll be sending out sneak peeks at chapters and diagrams as they harden. Head down again – see you next month!