Okay, let’s get straight to the point. You are done with your project, or are thinking of starting one. Projects abound and for different purposes. Every project is with a defined goal and time frame. Whatever the purpose, save for a few classified exceptions, the lessons of every project should not stay with the individual or group who undertook the gig. Out there, there are folks who will find the lessons useful, and the story should get to them. Someone’s whole life could be turned around with a single line of counsel from your project. So let’s share the juice.
Personally, I love projects for their ‘seasonal’ nature — you start them, create something out of it (value), and then sit back and consider what the next one will be. That opportunity it provides to finish and take a breather is crucial, and I value it greatly. Why? Even God himself rested a bit after His work, and also designed days to have nights when we all turn in for a rest and wake to a new day.
Projects are like days — we finish them, rest up, and wake up to a new or related one, with renewed energy, focus, and with time taken to collect the lessons of the past one and apply them to the upcoming one. I like this breather, this time to pause, I am not one for the forever project — the one without an end, draining you of all creativity, and leaving no room for reflection.
So in this guide, I share the lessons I came away with as I sat to package the contents of my personal project, a 21-day local interview project of small business owners in my local community of Austin, Texas.
Towards the end of last year, I was in the middle of a difficult time, working a gig I didn’t like. It took a toll on me and made me think long and hard about how to create a change. I sat down and collected my thoughts on what I liked, loved, and could do, and put it all together. Out of this gathering, I created a 21-Day project of venturing out there to see how I could be useful to others in my local community, small business owners, to be precise.
After a few considerations, I decided to simply have conversations with them. To simply sit and hear their stories and share them with others, while learning myself, too, in the process.
This led to a number of interviews with some of the finest small businesses in the city of Austin, Texas. Also, I came away with and gained greater insight into some essential skills in personal project design, blogging, writing, communication skills, and dealing with people in general.
After the project, I realized what a useful project it is to challenge myself and step into the unknown while using my skills at the same time. In that spirit, I decided to share it with others in a book.
Why? This happened in my local community, and realizing there are local communities everywhere, the opportunity for others to do something similar is all over. I decided to package it all into an actionable guide/book that shares my story and teaches at the same time.
The original book for which I wrote the guide is the book in the the photo below. Some first readers have asked what my original project was about.
But if you already have an idea, let’s get on with the guide below.
This is when I started packaging my project into a book, or turned it into a book. And having gone through the process, I know projects abound, with each having its unique lessons. But for lack of packaging or an inability to turn them into a single source product, their lessons vanish or end up staying with only those who were involved in the project or the single individual who did it. There’s a way to overcome that.
First thing to think about is this: The earth is full of value, or things that are useful. Whatever good thing that you set out to do, it always leads you to take on challenges, and in taking on challenges, you figure out how to do something that probably has never been done before,has been done by a few people, or has never been done the way you did it, or intend to do it. That’s value.
So how you see something, and how you do it, how it helps you solve a problem, and how well you solve it are all unique forms of value. Value in the end is perspective.
How Do You Eat An Elephant?
I know, I know, the value conversion process is not always easy. Questions like “Where do I start?”, “What do I say?”, “How do I know I have lessons?”, “How do I arrange it all?”, “How I do I know it’s even useful to someone else?”, and others can stop you entirely from even attempting. But take heart, even an elephant can be eaten, entirely, and that’s what book-writing can be sometimes, a giant amorphous task.
But like all things, they are never as bad as they first appear. With thought, planning, and a one thing at a time approach, you’ll see it all coming together. Do the first thing, the second, the third, and then the fourth, and on and on, and you’ll see your courage growing to match the task. And with a rise in courage, an elephant could soon become a fly. But you have to start first.
For example, let’s say you are done with your project, and want to package it all, and you sit down to start. You could start with the end in mind: The book. Okay, with that let’s start with the first thing you did to work on your project. Write that down. How did you end it, or what did you achieve? Write it down. What was your goal, what happened during the project to get you there, and what did you learn? Write those down, too.
With those 3 you have the basic pieces of any journey: A beginning, what happened along the journey, and how you got to your destination. Same way with a book — An introduction, a body, and a conclusion. These are the same 3 things in life itself — birth, life’s work, and value created, or the impact you had. The great 3.
Now, with this start, the elephant is now laid out on a table, the butchers table, and ready to be sliced into various pieces. These very pieces are what we are going to eat one bite at a time to finish this ‘elephant’ and give birth to the book. Now, we have perspective, right? Good.
As the saying goes, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” — Marie Curie.
Now, what’s a book, really? Okay, a book is a written material that contains chapters that express thoughts on different things or recounts an experience, fiction or non-fiction. Now, what are chapters? You probably know chapters are most simply one, two, or three short essays that breakdown an idea. So they are short essays, right? Okay, what, then, are essays if not short 3, 4, 5, or 6 paragraphs that make a point or flesh out an idea? And on and on, till you realize that it all starts with a single letter, an a, b, c…
This is what writing is, at heart. A few letters become a word; words are strung together to make a single statement. A group of sentences are put together to become a paragraph, expressing more on an idea. Like this one you are reading. And then paragraphs become essays, and then chapters. And the book is on the way.
How do you build a skyscraper, if not a brick at a time?
(Note: This is not to belittle the art of writing, but I write it with the understanding that anyone who has finished a worthwhile project or thinking of starting one has a decent writing ability, or a fair understanding of what makes up a book.)
Nothing To The Grave
Yet, some may to me, “No, Kingston, I can’t write. I don’t even like it. It’s too difficult.” Or, “I don’t think I have the patience nor the time.” Or, “I cant sit and comb my mind to bring up value or lessons, nor document my journey while my project is ongoing.” Yet others may say, “I am just a verbal guy, I am good with saying it, or just speaking.” Okay, okay. What I say to you is this: Does that mean the value of your project dies with you, or your lessons go to the grave?
No, no. As a minimum, have you seen those books that are written by the author and someone else? No, not the one that both authors wrote together, like co-writers. But the one that says, ‘By Mary Beth with John Grisham’ — meaning Mary Beth worked with or hired John Grisham to put the whole thing into written words. Yeah, that one, meaning that even if you can’t write, someone else can help you do it.
There you go: There’s almost a way around the mountain, and the value of your project should live on.
Okay, before we go on, let’s put the carrot ahead of us. Let’s flesh out why it’s even beneficial to turn your project into a book. What’s the benefit of writing a book?
For The Store
One, a book is your own personal way of storing your story. You did something worthwhile, that you enjoyed, and challenged you. That must be saved. If for nothing at all, for review and a way to measure your progress. Review? Yeah, how can you build on something that’s not clear? It’s difficult to do that if the only place the story is stored is in your mind, foggily. A book makes things clear and puts it in a ‘safe’ for later.
Also, for personal reasons, it’s good for that nostalgic feeling we all have when we look through our personal journal or diaries after a few years and realize how far we have come or have grown. That look-back often leaves most people with tears, and surely that good smile and head shake that says how thankful we are for what we did, went through, what we overcame, or what we learned.
Sure, a book is not a diary, but the day may come when you may sit and pick up your own book a few years later and see what you wrote.
Listen to President Barack Obama, many years after the publication of his first book, Dreams From My Father. (His political leanings do not a matter here, just his humanity and the point of what he says.)
“For the first time in many years, I’ve pulled out a copy and read a few chapters to see how much my voice has changed over time. I confess to wincing every so often at a poorly chosen word, a mangled sentence, an expression of emotion…”
We all have those look-backs from time to time, and instead of a foggy mind to do it with, a book is a clear and sure way to see what has changed or how far we have come.
Also, if your book is published and distributed, there’s no way it will be lost — even if a storm comes through your town, pulls up trees, washes away homes, takes people’s belongings with it, and damages your one and only personal manuscript, your book will still be in existence.
Give To Others
It’s usually $3.97, $5.99, or $12.00, the price of a book. But when you pick up a good book, more often than not, the value you get out of the book far outweighs what you pay for it. That’s if you see the value and can apply it in some way in your own life.
Critically looking at the trade-off, you are actually giving to readers, if you write a good book. What may have taken you more time and money to make go through and learn, you give away at a fraction of the cost, if you strive to write it well and load with value so it’s a blessing to your reader.
Price is what you pay. Value is what you get — Warren Buffet.
So if your book’s value exceeds the price by giving more than the cost of the book, it’s a giveaway. And as we all know, it’s far better to give than to receive.
Your Book Will Go & Speak For You Where You Cannot
Okay, let’s talk a little bit about who we are as human beings and our situation. We all have have limited resources and ability. We cannot be everywhere at the same time, and do not have unlimited powers.
Yet, we all have something to say, but have limited hours in a day, and can only speak for so long. This is where a book comes in — it can speak and go where you cannot, it takes over and carries your message long after you are no longer able.
Let’s take Warren Buffet’s case, for example. In his twenties, Warren Buffet picked up a book — The Intelligent Investor — on value investing written by Benjamin Graham. Warren loved the book so much, in his decision to go to grad school he chose Columbia University after finding out that Ben Graham, the author, was a professor there. Through a series of conversations, Warren later ended up working for Ben Graham on Wall Street, and that led to one of Warren’s Buffet’s most treasured relationships in business and life.
The principles of value investing in that book is largely responsible for the making of one of the smartest investors on earth. But for sure, when Ben Graham sat to write his book, he wasn’t thinking about Warren Buffett, nor did he even know he existed. But the book went all the way to Omaha, Nebraska to Warren.
Remember readers are learners, and learners who apply what they learn are leaders. Putting a book out there gives you a chance to connect with some of the finest people out there, and could even lead to key partnerships, even friendships like we see in Warren Buffett’s case.
How can two walk together unless they agree? Show who you are in your book and the right people will connect to you.
Yes, you are writing your book to share your knowledge and discoveries with the world. But you know what? The book being out there is actually a living and breathing resume, or portfolio, for you. Problems are opportunities, and many people out there are always looking for problem solvers. But to find a problem solver, there’s a “get to know” process, a time to find the right person. This is what we all know as the interview process.
Yet the interview is a way of dealing with or getting rid of uncertainty, a wat to find out more about the ones we want to hire. But then again, what’s fear, doubt, or uncertainty’s great nemesis? Knowledge.
While an interview may be a good way to present your abilities, it’s too strict and formal a process that may not reveal much about who you really are. Neither can a written resume, which has space for only a few things, and is often only one page or two.
Also, folks looking to hire are, above all, interested in your thinking process, how you approach problems, how you present things, and your communication skills. And writing a book on your project shows all that without you having to say a word. It’s all there in the book as a living resume.
A good example is the story of the author of the App Design Handbook, Nathan Barry. Listen to Nathan himself:
When I still did consulting work I was on a call with two people from a company that was deciding whether or not to hire me to design their new iPhone app. This was just after my book, The App Design Handbook, had been released and the junior person on the call had read my book and loved it.
The manager wasn’t so sure about hiring me. If my design was so good, why wasn’t I working in the Bay Area?
I listened to the two of them go back and forth for a minute before the manager relented and said, “Actually, of course he’s good enough, he wrote the book on the topic.”
How would you feel if you could say you “wrote the book on the topic”? Do you think that would help your career?” — Nathan Barry
There you have it. There’s a reason why the word ‘author’ is closely related to ‘authority.’
It’s Your Way of Collecting Your By-Product.
Why should it go to waste? When I say that, I mean the lessons of your project. Plus, it could possibly be another stream of income.
One of the finest lines I have read about the process of creating is out of the book ‘Rework’ by the founders of the company Basecamp, formerly 37 Signals, Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson:
“When you make something, you always make something else. You can’t just make one thing. Everything has a by-product.” — Rework, the book
In that book, the section on by-products shares the story of how two of their books came into being: Here it is, in quote:
Our last book, Getting Real, was a by-product. We wrote that book without even knowing it. The experience that came from building a company and building software was the waste from actually doing the work. We swept up that knowledge first into blog posts, then into a workshop series, then into a .pdf, and then into a paperback.
That by-product has made 37 Signals ( the former name of their company; the company is now Basecamp) more than $1 million directly and probably more than another $1 million indirectly. The book you are reading right now (that’s Rework) is a by-product too.” Rework, page 90.
There, is the power of turning your experience into a book. You may say to me, “Kingston, I see what you mean, but I don’t have a company, neither have I built software.” Well, you’re right, but did you just complete a personal project that could be useful to someone else, to a person who is just starting out?
In principle, your project and building software are the same. You may not have a grand app, but at your level, which may be lower, you still created something of value through your project. Why not teach others through a book?
Or you may be thinking of starting a project that could help other people. Why not save the lessons in a book for others? And this is why I stress the importance of blogging your project the entire time when you are at it? It’s easier that way to collect the experience later for packaging, even if for your own personal report, or review.
Even in the great book, the Bible, it says a similar thing about how we should roast what we took in hunting. A project is a hunt, not unlike the ancient hunting we all read about. In principle, it’s the same. It’s a dare, a reaching out, an outgoing to gain what we don’t currently have. (The word ‘project’ itself is made up of two words — ‘pro’ meaning ‘for’ and ‘ject’ mean ‘to reach out, or go out’, as we see in the word ‘eject’. )
With that comes a by-product. It’s wise, then, to ‘roast’ that by-product by turning it into something valuable. Here’s the verse:
The slothful doth not roast what he took in hunting. But the substance of the diligent is precious — Proverbs 12: 27
Whatever we do has a by-product. Let’s save it.
End Of Sample
The rest of the guide goes into the details the pointers of actually taking your content and building a book out of it. Here’s the table of contents to give you an idea. And the guide has it’s own workbook to help you gather the contents of your project (if you happen to work on an interview project) to make the writing process easier.
Table Of Contents
My Story & Recognizing Value
2. The Process
How Do You Eat An Elephant?
Nothing To The Grave
3. What Do I Get? The Benefits Of Converting Your Project
For The Store
Give To Others
Speak For You & Connect
Collect Your By Product
2 Ways Of Gathering Project Content
Begin With The End In Mind
Start Pouring Down
Create An Outline
Fill Outline With Basic Content
Breakdown The Steps
Talk Of Tools & Checklists
5. Intangible Pointers
Start With Your Story
Construct Chapters Based On Themes
Think Of Product, and Then Tracks
Talks Of Time-frames
End To End Understanding
Add Objective Personal Take On Things
Requisite Mindset: See Value Everywhere
Clarity Is Value
Other Ways Of Finding Content
Connect Similar Examples To Firm Up Your Points
The Mindset & Goad
Next? Get To Work On The Workbook.