Writing My First Book, Part Two: The Writing Journey
Parallels of the five phases of the RNT Transformation Journey can be drawn across all areas of your life: your relationships, business, career and even writing this book.
Writing a book about the five phases means telling the story of the writing journey can only be done one way: through the five phases!
You can listen to the solo podcast where I describe the journey here below, or by searching for episode 134 on RNT Fitness Radio on any podcast platform.
Laying The Foundations
When starting this project back in September, I had put the initial groundwork in just like any transformation. In order to continue through the highs and lows of writing a book, I needed to lay a strong foundation.
My Why, And Why Behind My Why:
Read part one here to read about the three levels of my why for writing this book.
Short- And Long-Term Goals:
My short-term goal was to reach my first checkpoint of finishing the first draft by Christmas. The long-term goal was twofold. The first was to publish the book by 24th May 2020, our three-year anniversary at RNT. The second was for the published book to serve as a continuous guide for years to come with those on their own transformation journey.
To maximise accountability, you need to have all three levels: self, peer and a team of experts. Writing this book was no different. My self-accountability came from the personal goal of publishing a book, my greater why and the challenge I’d set myself. To create peer level accountability, I told everyone I knew I was writing a book and that it was being released on May 24th. And for expert accountability, it was with my publishing team at Rethink Press. After telling them my goals, they broke it down into bitesize chunks with hard deadlines to reach at each phase. Their expertise and years in the publishing game meant all I needed to do was create. No worrying about formatting, typesetting, printing, etc, they took care of all of that. The magic rule was so long as I did my bit and met the deadlines, the blueprint would be easy to follow.
Phase One – Cleaning The Palate (CTP): Planning The Book
Looking back, my CTP phase lasted about three months. It began in August 2019, when I first became obsessed with the idea of writing a book. I had a notes folder open called ‘BOOK’ that I’d brain dump into on a daily basis. Combined with lots of journaling, I used the time from August to October 2019 to detail what I wanted to talk about. The problem was, I began to overthink. I was struck by paralysis by analysis – I had too many ideas.
When I signed with my publishing team in September 2019, I decided to do a book planning day. This was a game changer. It was one of the most intense days I can remember, but I distinctly remember being in a flow state for its entirety. A creator’s heaven.
The goal of the day was simple: to leave the room with a skeleton of the book, a table of contents, and a plan on how to take it from the first word right through to submitting a manuscript for professional edit.
Along with my mentor, Shiobhan, we began to download ten years of coaching onto small colourful post it notes. Chapter by chapter, section by section, the book began to form. All the jumbled thoughts in my head organised into a clear structure. I nailed the first of my 3 S’s, structure.With a structure in place, it was now time to look at my strategy and systems to execute. How was I going to achieve the mammoth task of writing a book? What if life got in the way? What if business drained all of my time? What if I was too busy?
The answers lied in my CTP accelerators. The first step was to make a non-negotiable commitment to write every day. I needed to become a writer. This meant showing up no matter what. The goal was 1000 words a day. The commitment was to open up Microsoft Word every day. In my head, I told myself to start with 200 crappy words a day and see what happens. Let 200 crappy words turn into 1000, and let the power of the accountability, a big deadline, and my why carry me across the line in time.
The second was to limit decision fatigue. That’s where spending time crystallising the action plan generated with Shiobhan was important, as well as setting up my environment for success. The same clothes, same music, same writing seat, same time slot of writing. I kept all variables the same so I didn’t have to ask, should I write on the armchair or the sofa? Should I play classical or trance music? Should I write at 6 am or 9am? No, everything was the same.
To fulfil my non-negotiable commitment, I chose to write first thing every morning. This is my most creative time in the day and it’s where I can get a lot of productive work done. To make this as seamless as possible, I set up precursors in my days and weeks. Here’s how:
Start of the week:
Note down key content to be written
The night before:
Open up on Word with what I plan to write with a few notes
Wake up and go through morning routine:
Put on gym T-shirt, hoody and tracksuit bottoms
Walk downstairs and drink a mix of lemon and sea salt with water
Walk to the corner sofa with my laptop bag
Open up bag and pull out journal
Journal for five to twenty minutes
Open up laptop, and open up iTunes to play Chopin’s Nocturnes, Op. 9: No.1 in B Flat Minor on repeat (my ultimate writing song; as soon as I press play, I get immediate tunnel vision to focus)
These routines and habits stacked on top of each other made execution simple. It primed me for the next phase, writing the first draft.
Phase Two – Process: The Sprint To The 1st Draft
With my 3 S’s in place, it was time to press forward in the journey. The first bit as always was the hardest. Looking back, I should’ve written my introduction at the end. It took me a while to write it and I was struggling to nail it with no knowledge of the inner details (or at least, how it was going to look) of what was to come. Funnily enough, after submitting my manuscript at the end of January, the first piece of feedback within hours was to rewrite the introduction. I’ll discuss that later on, but for now, the focus was on 200 crappy words a day.
Despite having a goal to write my first draft by the start of December, I wound up writing 42,000 words in 21 days, which was the end of October. I wrote daily for about two hours at a time and just cranked through it all. I built momentum fast and carried it all the way through to my first checkpoint.
Phase Three – Consolidation: A Break, The 1st Review And Improvement
The timing worked out perfectly. I had a trip to Kenya booked early November, where I was delivering a seminar all about the five phases. Having vomited 42,000 words all about the five phases in detail I’d never written about before, I was more prepped to present than ever before.At Rethink, their process to writing your first manuscript is called W.R.I.T.E.R.
It stands for: Write, Review, Improve, Test, Edit, Repeat. A flawless blueprint. It dawned on me after writing the first 42,000 words that I was only at stage one. The hard work had yet to start.
I used Kenya to take time off writing and packed my first draft with me to review while out in the safari park for a few days after the seminar. That’s when it hit me how burnt out from the writing I was. I couldn’t look at the manuscript, nor face the idea of reviewing it well. So I decided to consolidate my thoughts and wait a few weeks. Luckily I was ahead of schedule, so the time off the book was welcomed.
In the middle of November, I decided to go again. I first went through the book as a reader with no editing allowed. I made some notes at the end of the chapter, but the main goal here was to check for flow, sense and structure. The next step was to start improving the draft. This was harder than writing it. On the way to my first checkpoint, all I did was write. To avoid halting my creativity, I avoided any review, checking or editing. I saved it for this stage, and I’m glad I did – because there was a lot of work to do.
Missing case studies, repetition, gaps and poor chapter structure. In my head, it was a mess. Time to go back to the drawing board. This was when I made unplugged walks a daily habit. I discovered why so many of the great writers, philosophers and thinkers would make long stretches of walking non-negotiable in their day. I used this time to mull over my thoughts, solve structural problems of the book, and decide on specific improvements that needed to be made. My unplugged walks would take me to the gym, and I remember during many of my training sessions spawning some of my best ideas for the book.
By the time I’d reviewed and improved my first draft, I was at near 50,000 words, but with a first draft that was ready to be read by others.
Phase Four – Investment: The Brutality Of Editing
Sending over the first draft to my initial group of test readers was daunting. Would they like any of it? Was it still a mess? Did it make any sense? All the doubts were swimming around. At the same time, I was excited. What if this book had the potential to be good?
On December 9th, I sent out the email, with a hard deadline of December 26th to turn it around by. This gave me between Christmas and New Year’s to review the feedback and begin editing.
The feedback was positive and constructive. Lots of great points raised, many of which I’d not thought of, but all of which made total sense. I gathered everything into a Google Doc and began to work through it all, point by point. My rule was that if two people mentioned something, it needed to change.The key areas of improvement centred around the structure of each chapter, and threading one chapter into the rest of the book, instead of giving it a standalone. There was work to be done.
I kicked off the 2020s by diving straight into it, with the big structural problems to be tackled first. Reorganising each chapter was difficult, but so worth it. It added a level of professionalism to the book that was sorely missing, and it was now clear what format each chapter should be delivered in. I asked myself why I wasn’t able to do this after the book planning day. What I didn’t appreciate was how once you start writing, the ideas begin to flow like crazy. You begin to think of new ideas, dig out old concepts you’d not thought of for years, and start adding bits to the plan that requires an adapted new structure. I printed out my initial table of contents plan again and audited it closely.
I asked myself these questions:
What is absolute success for each chapter?
What do the reader need to know?
What case studies are necessary for each section?
Where is the bloat, repetition and excess?
What needs more clarity?
Does the chapter flow within itself and to the next?
I spent the first two weeks of the new decade solving these problems before putting together another test group of readers. I also included a few from round one – the ones who’s feedback fundamentally changed the structure of the book. This time I had less doubt. The manuscript was transformed. I was excited to hear back. There was a ten day turnaround which left me with two weeks to put the finishing touches on.
Riding The Red Line
These two weeks were sheer brutality. I’ve spoken about riding the red line of burnout multiple times, but coming off it by taking some rest and extra sleep. This time there was no time for a break. I had to wobble my way through these two weeks to meet my deadline while also being in the most productive yet exhaustive state I’ve ever been. For seven days straight, I had sweaty palms, achy legs and felt dehydrated throughout the day. All my usual symptoms of my body telling me to stop. But I pushed through it because the next checkpoint of submission was in sight.
Armed with the latest feedback, I got to work. This time the feedback was much shorter. The hard work of the first edit paid off, and the structure was now spot on. It just needed fine tuning. My drive for perfection, and the desire to hand my publishers the best possible first manuscript meant I decided to leave no stone unturned. After amending all suggested feedback, I started a line by line edit of the manuscript.I kept a checklist by my side to review as I went through it (compiled from different articles with self-editing tips):
Watch out for adverbs – any word ending ‘ly’
Split long sentences in two, in most cases
Replace negative ‘not’ sentences with positive
Don’t say the same thing twice in two words
Never say ‘in order to’
Watch out for ‘start to’
Delete very or really
Stronger verbs (ditch adverbs)
Active voice vs passive voice – RNT had published the blog vs blog post was published by RNT
Get rid of ‘there are’ or ‘there is’ or ‘this is’ at start
Watch out for ‘ing’
‘That’ doesn’t take a comma, ‘which’ does
Over vs more than
Give reader credit
‘Slightly’ ‘rather’ ‘a bit’
This process took a few days. The other piece of advice I kept hearing when reading these editing articles was: read your manuscript out loud. Game changer.I felt like I was back at school again. Brilliant advice. This was all about making sure the grammar and flow was on point. I read everything out loud, probably twice. With much of it spoken out loud to my dad. Another game changer, as speaking it out loud to someone makes being clear even more important. I coupled this with some use of the Hemingway Editor, to allow me to see glaring weaknesses and overuse of the passive voice or adverbs – two nightmares for editors. Reading the book out loud and editing it simultaneously took time. After a few days my throat was gone and I was sick of it. My eyes were constantly twitching, I had bags, I was exhausted, and I needed to sleep. But all I could hear in my head were the following questions:
What point am I making?
Is it necessary?
Is it clear?
Is it as simple as possible?
Is it as short as possible?
Did I leave anything necessary out?
Deadline day. After submitting to Rethink, I couldn’t wait for an early night and a well-deserved weekend off. Then the email came back a few hours later. I had to rewrite my introduction. My heart sank. The weekend off I had planned was cancelled. I needed to nail this introduction. So I set off on a long walk to think about the feedback and how to fix it. I journaled some ideas, walked more, trained, wrote notes on my phone, slept a bit, then it came. Monday morning, I sat down and cranked it out. I decided to get some test reader feedback on it. First response? ‘Do it again’. Tuesday morning, I tried again. Second response? ‘You can do better’. Wednesday morning arrived. Third response? ‘Send it to Rethink!’ I was relieved. Time to sleep.
While writing this, I looked back on my journal entries from this seven day stretch. They’re deep and dark like in the midst of the #VaghelaGrind. At the end of each month I spend some time journaling a few wins. On Saturday 1st February, I wrote the following about submitting the manuscript, and the final bits of editing:
I can’t say it was always enjoyable but I had a sense of suffering and liberation from it that I’ve not experienced since going through the Grind. Lots of similarities between them in how you feel. The essentialist in me is coming out in full effect”.
Title And Front Cover
As I waited for the professional edit, it was time to land on a title. I knew it had to convey the journey, but I struggled. I had a Trello board open throughout the writing process to jot down title ideas. When I gave the copy to test readers, I went through a few iterations:
The Physical is the Vehicle
RNT Transformation Manual
Five Phase Solution
The Transformation Journey
None of them were sticking though. I had a call with the publishing team to discuss it and it all came together in an hour.
While throwing out different name combinations with the word ‘transform’, we landed on Transform Your Body Transform Your Life. Soon as it ringed out, I knew we’d found the one. Turning it into a beautiful front cover was then easy, as Joe reeled off a few variations:I loved all of them. At first I was drawn to the interspersed layout, but ultimately, it became a battle between having ‘for life’ in bold blue or white underlined. I sent it to my friends, family and team, and it was a tough divide. I ended up tallying the answers up and going with the winner. Close call.
Five Days, Five Reads
All the hard work editing the manuscript as much as I could before a professional eye was worth it. The feedback was solid and I was happy that no structural changes were needed at all. It was only a case of accepting grammar changes, creating consistency across the board, and tightening the word count and flow. I’d planned for 14 days of editing brutality again, so this was a welcomed surprise. But in typical fashion, I became obsessed. I read my book five times in five days. In fact, just when I thought I was done on the third read, my laptop crashed. The document was fine, but I couldn’t take any chances – two more reads to double check! What’s funny is each time I read it, the worse I thought it was. I was blinded by the book’s contents in the end.
Phase Five – Reward: Publish
My entry to the Reward phase awaits. 24th May 2020. RNT turns three years old, and I achieve a ten year pipe dream. I have one final proof read to do. In the meantime, the team at Rethink are working hard to typeset, format and prepare the book for publishing.
When I saw a sneak peak of one of the pages in typesetting format, I couldn’t believe it. It’s all coming together.What will a good entry to the Reward phase look like for me?
If our clients can use this as a second guide along the journey, it’s a job well done. If they can take the teachings to amplify everything we're saying as a team, I’ll be happy. Ultimately, I wrote this book for three reasons. If all three can be accomplished, I’ll know it’s mission accomplished.
What worked well?
In our transformation scorecard, we talk about three keys to success: commitment, consistency and coachability. If I reflect on the past six months, those three keys have been my strengths. Committing to making this book my number one priority has been a key driver in the speed of the process. Going from using my morning magic time on business development to book writing for many weeks at a time has been a big commitment. A scary one at times, but one I believe was needed.
Following on from this, being ruthlessly consistent with showing up every day to move the needle forward in some respect was key. 200 crappy words a day. A few paragraphs to edit. A couple more ideas to mull over. Ruthless consistency, always.
The third is coachability. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without the coaching at every stage of the journey. Right from the book planning, to the test reader group feedback, to the editors. Learning to embrace feedback, good and bad, has been a skill I’ve honed even further in the past six months. I’ve had sections of the book completely torn apart. I’ve had to ‘kill my babies’. Keeping a growth oriented, coachable mindset, while checking my ego at the door, has allowed me to stay neutral in receiving feedback, acknowledge it, and action accordingly.
Other points worth noting that worked well:
The book planning day. I’d recommend anyone who wants to write a book to do one. Even if you do it alone, lock yourself in a room with no electronics and download everything in your head onto pieces of paper. You’ll be surprised of the clarity you experience. If you can have someone who guides you through this process, and picks at your brain, even better.
Having deadlines of each milestone and checkpoint from the beginning.
Tying in self, peer and expert accountability in the methods explained earlier on.
Not worrying about editing in the initial word splurge sprint.
Getting the first draft done as quickly as possible to begin the real hard work of editing. I completely underestimated the bandwidth and brain power required for editing. In terms of mental energy unit value, editing ranks high on the scale. I wasn’t prepared to feel like I’d done an entire day’s work in two to three hours. Humbling.
How Would I Do It Differently?
In no particular order:
Write the introduction last. Instead of racking my brains on how to start the book, save it to the end when I already know what to introduce.
Flesh out each chapter in more detail. While I had a strong skeleton to write from, what I didn’t plan for was the specific case studies, the examples, and some of the nitty gritty which could have saved time and energy when it came to those sections.
More breaks in the process. I was good at this until the first group of test readers, but stretching out my editing timeline would have helped stay a bit more sane at the end.
Look at creating a consistent chapter structure from the beginning. This would have saved a lot of work after the first test reader group. Once this was put in place, the book came to life. That said, I’d also link this to potentially veering off track from the initial table of contents created. It’s why I had to go back to audit it after the first feedback round.
Writing a book has been no easy task. Would I do again? Absolutely. This has been the best thing I’ve ever done to download my brain, formalise my learnings and flesh out the RNT blueprint into one place. The five phases are now more organised, structured and detailed than ever before, and I have no doubt it’s going to accelerate our clients’ journeys to a new level.
Looking ahead, I’ve already opened up a Google Doc with a sketch of the next book. I won’t give it away right now, but the aim of the book will be to transform the way the world thinks about coaching. But before I recycle this journey again with a new challenge, I plan to soak this one up as much as possible.
Transform Your Body Transform Your Life is out May 24th 2020 on Amazon and Kindle. Stay tuned!