Writing my first book, Becoming a Software Company, was hard work and humbling.
I started writing it in November 2021, with a publisher deadline to finish by September 2022. I completed it only in July 2023. Time constraint was something I expected. Because writing was a third job for me, so to speak, after work and parenting. I was backing myself to stay disciplined with a plan to complete. I thought my experience as a consultant will hold me steady. I needed to write in the ballpark of 40000 words. I thought I should be alright if I could get done with 1000–1500 a week.
But what I had yet to learn at that time were the challenges of a long-term creative project. And I ran into quite a few, which laid my consultant’s plan completely and thoroughly bare. While they made completing the project demanding, they taught me some valuable lessons about the creative process and even about my approach towards life.
Cadence is Your Friend
When my initial deadline came around (September 2022), I had only written a chapter and a half. My neat arithmetical plan of words and days was dead in the water. I toyed with the idea of abandoning the project. Thankfully, I didn’t and instead tried to look for answers to my predicament.
The answer came from Seth Godin. It was making a mental shift — committing to writing daily instead of worrying about an arbitrary deadline. I recommitted to the process of writing on a cadence — show up to write my book 30–45 minutes every day and move it a little forward every day. It will happen when it has to happen. I will find someone else if my publishers ditch me (thankfully, they didn’t). But I will not let meeting a premeditated plan come in the way of not making progress daily for the best book I can write. I was astonished by my pace of progress after committing to writing on a cadence-based process. Some days, I wrote very little. Some days, a lot, but I made progress every day.
One of the principles I outline in the book is The Flow Principle. The principle posits that enterprises should worry less about software project or product management and more about making the business value flow from the software development. A big part of maintaining the flow is delivering things on a cadence. Not only does that work for software, it works for writing and, for that matter, for every other creative endeavor.
Writing is Rewriting
Ernest Hemingway once said, “The only kind of writing is rewriting.” I had that quote saved in my archive, but had to learn the phenomenal aspect of it through lived experience. I was shocked by the amount of writing and rewriting required to develop an original argument.
With each attempt at rewriting, it became apparent that what I often wanted to say was discovered in the writing process itself. I would have the outline of an argument in my head. But to commit it to paper such that I am comfortable with it becoming a published work, I had to embrace the redoing part. The urge to redo a line or paragraph comes from pure intuition. Something doesn’t feel quite right, so you revise it. I learned that I shouldn’t resent this rewriting process because it is really my intuition asserting itself repeatedly.
After this book writing experience, Hemingway’s truth became my truth. For every chapter of the book, I ended up creating something different from what I originally intended. I love the overall outcome, but it is worth noting that the final picture emerged through iterative discovery and refinement.
Writing this book became a good metaphor for the principles I am outlining in this book for building and managing software for new and differentiated enterprise business value. Becoming a Software Company is about making enterprise software development and management more creative through adopting iterative development in practical ways.
Inspiration is Real
I tried to write every day, but every day wasn’t the same. Some days, the words came pouring out. Some days, the pen barely budged. The same chapter that had evolved into a sprawl of loose ideas over many sittings would suddenly become a connected whole in a single sitting. The sudden bursts of inspiration are a highlight of the ebb and flow of the creative process.
You don’t control the timing of when inspiration strikes. But when it does, it is a beautiful thing to experience. I often got up from the writing desk that day feeling triumphant and fully energized. After completing this book, I genuinely understand why all accomplished writers swear by the practice of daily writing. It’s because you don’t control when your creative inspiration appears. But you want to be ready with a pen in hand when it does.
You may start writing a book for various reasons. However, you can’t finish one without this belief in the power of inspiration.
Creative Work Requires Self- Discovery
In his book, The War of Art, Steven Pressfield talks about the creative muse as an embodiment of artistic consciousness. You must let your creative muse talk freely to tap into your internal artist. But that is no simple matter. To achieve that, you have to understand what you care about. You have to discover yourself to become an artist.
Discovery of self is knowing what you stand for in this world. What are the things you deeply care about? Or, as the great comedian Jerry Seinfeld says in that regard, you have to know, “what am I really sick of?”.
Becoming a Software Company started with an overarching question: How can an enterprise company become a software company? It was a question raised by a client. It is unclear why I became so interested in the question. Maybe it was “what I am really sick of” playing out for me. I had seen so much waste in the large software implementations without commensurate value that I somehow deeply cared to find the answer.
The way the book came together, each chapter is also centered around a question. What is the real source of business value? How do you manage development complexity so as not to destroy value? What is the foundation, source, and mechanism for creating business agility from software agility? How do you let your human talent become more creative?
Asking these questions for the subject-matter of the book shaped the identity of my professional self as much as trying to answer them helped me write the book. They made me into an observer of my environment, trying to learn about the questions and answers I cared about. That, in turn, made me better at my craft as a software development and management professional.
When I struggled to complete my book, a few people suggested hiring a ghostwriter. I was tempted, to say the least. But I am glad that I didn’t take that route. Because I can better appreciate the insights from book writing by going through the whole experience myself.
In hindsight, I don’t even know what I would have told the ghostwriter to draft. The process of writing is the process of creation. Yes, one can always get better at communicating one’s ideas. But you don’t do that by outsourcing your writing. You do that by putting your work out into the world and listening to feedback.
Writing one book the hard way gives me the confidence to write more. The experience has prepared me better for the next one.
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