2018 Textbook award-winning insight (Part 2): Boosting writing confidence, scheduling writing time, software
We recently reached out to winners of the 2018 TAA Textbook Awards and asked them to answer some questions about their textbook writing. We will be sharing their answers in a series of posts over the next few weeks. The first installment focused on why they decided to write their textbook and how they got started.
This second installment in the four-part series focuses on how they boost their confidence as a writer, how they fit writing time into their schedule, and what software they use.
Q: What strategies do you use to fit writing time into your schedule? How much time do you spend writing each day?
Courtland L. Bovee, co-author of the 2018 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Excellence in Business Communication, 12e: “The time I spend each day varies widely. It can range from a couple of hours to all day.”
Joseph Feher, author of the 2018 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Quantitative Human Physiology: An Introduction, 2e: “For a text like mine, research and writing go hand in hand. I had to read a lot first to make sure that what I was writing was up-to-date. Basically, any time I wasn’t busy with something else, I was writing or re-writing. Most parts of the text were written 4 times. While teaching, I would spend maybe 2 hours a day writing. When not teaching, it was full time, 10 hours a day or more. Every night in front of the computer.”
Heidi Neck, co-author of the 2018 Most Promising New Textbook Award winner, Entrepreneurship: The Practice and Mindset, 1e: “Our author team developed a system. We each had our roles and these did not overlap. If one of us dropped the ball the project would fall behind, and that type of accountability forced us to complete the book on schedule.”
Cheryl Poth, co-author of the 2018 McGuffey Longevity Award winner, Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches, 4e: “Creating time for writing remains a constant struggle but I am getting better at making writing a daily priority. I wrote much of the book during a sabbatical which meant I could write 30 hours a week in comparison in a normal week I currently vary between 5-15 hours with an average 7 which means a little over an hour a day of what I consider uninterrupted writing.
My approach is to put notes in my calendar where time is ‘held’ for writing over several chunks of time in a week. Then if I schedule anything during this time at least I am making a conscious decision to ‘give up’ a writing slot. I should say that repurposing a slot often happens (and more often at particular times of year that coincide when I am teaching and need to meet with students or grade papers) but when I start with several dedicated slots a week then it has become more likely I will end up with 2-3 slots a week than before I started this practice.
I tend to update my calendar to reflect the time that I have allocated to writing so I can look back at the end of the month and know what ended up happening. That way I can make informed decisions about the next month – that I was satisfied with the amount of time I allocated to writing or I needed to be more mindful of giving up those writing slots depending on what my goals (and pressing deadlines!) are for the coming month.”
Pawan Lingras: co-author of the 2018 Most Promising New Textbook Award winner, Building Cross-Platform Mobile and Web Apps for Engineers and Scientists: An Active Learning Approach, 1e: “We spent several months designing the chapters, sections, and illustrations. The illustrations consisted of computer programs and screenshots. They were created using the solutions to project statements. The projects were built progressively using a series of assignments. Once we solved the problems and created the illustrations, a detailed skeleton was in place. It was much easier to write about the technologies and topics that were necessary to get to those illustrations.”
Marielle Hoefnagels, author of the 2018 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Biology: Concepts and Investigations, 4e: “The answer to this question depends on the time of year and the stage of the revision cycle. During the summer, I can spend most of the day writing. During the school year, I have many other demands on my time. If we are at a slow point in the revision cycle, I might not spend more than 8-10 hours a month on book-related work. If we are at the hair-on-fire production stage, I can spend more than 80 hours a month, and I have to squeeze in small tasks whenever I can find a few spare minutes during weekdays and on weekends.”
Kathleen Miranda, co-author of the 2018 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Calculus for the AP Course, 2e: “Several hours a day. I block out chunks of time. If, on a given day, I am not productive, I stop and I do something else.”
Donald Truxillo, co-author of the 2018 Most Promising New Textbook Award winner, Psychology and Work, 1e: “The best way to make sure the writing gets done is to have a schedule, and to have coauthors to help keep you honest and on that schedule. We broke the larger goal into smaller ones to make good progress.”
Patrick Hester, co-author of the 2018 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Systemic Decision Making: Fundamentals for Addressing Problems and Messes, 2e: “I’m a chunk writer. That is, I can’t do thirty minutes at a time of writing. It’s just not the way my brain works. So, I need at least a few hours to let my thoughts percolate. I tend to block off Fridays as best as possible to write. It’s not always easy, but if I block off every Friday and get to write on 3 out of 4, it’s a win.”
Braja Das, co-author of the 2018 McGuffey Longevity Award winner, Principles of Geotechnical Engineering, 9e: “For the past 35 years I get up every day at 4:00 AM and spend about three hours writing of textbook(s) and/or doing research for technical papers. This was the case even when I was a full-time academic administrator [department head (5 years), dean of college (12 ½ years), associate vice president for academic affairs (2 years)].”
Patricia Goodson, author of the 2018 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Becoming an Academic Writer: 50 Exercises for Paced, Productive, and Powerful Writing, 2e: “I try to practice what I teach in the book, so I don’t ‘fit’ writing time into my schedule. Writing IS part of my daily schedule. It is the first thing I do when I begin my work day (after a few minutes of planning/goal setting). How much time I spend depends on the projects I have at hand. I spend at least 30 minutes a day on at least one project; when I have multiple projects, I’ll spend at least 15 – 30 minutes with each one. Totals per day are between 30 mins and 2-3 hours (with several breaks in between, of course – why? Read the book!). But I never spend more than 70 minutes on a single writing task without taking a break (over time, I learned that 70 minutes is the magic number for me: after that, I begin to get uncomfortable, unable to focus as well, and need to move away from my standing desk – oh, yeah: I stand up to write).
These questions I’m answering here, for instance, I planned on tackling them with 30 minutes of writing every day for a couple of days.”
Alan Rothwell, author of 2018 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Optimization Methods in Structural Design, 1e: “Much of the content was developed out of lectures given over a period of many years. The book was completed after I had largely retired, when it became a near full-time task for two or more years. However, a major part of this time was spent in developing the computer programs that accompany the book, so I would estimate that the actual writing time was equivalent to two or three hours a day.”
Joan Saslow, co-author of 2018 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Summit: English for Today’s World (Levels 1 and 2), 3e: “Personally, when I am writing or revising a course this is my full-time occupation. In years when I’m not engaged in writing, I try to teach with our titles to gain first-hand experience with them and see how they can be improved. When I am writing, I spend all day, from early morning until the time I stop to make dinner and eat with my family.”
Sara Baase, co-author of 2018 Textbook Excellence Award winner, A Gift of Fire: Social, Legal, and Ethical Issues for Computing Technology, 5e: “It was difficult to find enough time to write textbooks while I was teaching fulltime. I wrote during summers; I took leaves of absence from the university; and I wrote (several editions of A Gift of Fire) after I retired from teaching.”
Maria Dove and Andrea Honigsfeld, co-authors of 2018 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Co-Teaching for English Learners, 1e: “We try to write or at least reread and edit/revise our writing every day. As coauthors, we collaborate in multiple ways. We always codevelop the book conceptually. We draft the proposal together but once we have a contract, we tend to divide up the workload and decide who is taking the lead on which chapter. We put regularly scheduled meeting times on the calendar and set internal deadlines of ourselves. While it seems very structured, in reality, we have learned to be very flexible with each other and ourselves. The schedule seems to be revisited and adjusted multiple times during the process of writing a book together.”
Q: What have you done to boost your confidence as a writer?
Bovee: “I’ve tried my best to write successful books. The sales provide me with ample confidence.”
Feher: “I tried having people critique what I wrote. That did not work well. People would take a chapter but never produce constructive criticism – or destructive criticism. Some students were helpful. I figured if it made sense to me it would make sense to other people, and that has largely worked out. I found that putting a chapter aside for at least a month would allow me to come back to it with fresh eyes and see stupid mistakes or clumsy approaches. And then the re-writes made more sense.”
Poth: “I like to read books about writing – I learn new strategies as well as have some of my current strategies confirmed as good practices. That and writing with and learning from more established scholars. My most recent purchase was How To Write A lot by Paul Silvia and I enjoyed his accessible style.”
Lingras: “My previous experience in writing research papers was quite helpful. However, writing a textbook was a major undertaking. My first book was with an already published author. His experience gave me a lot of comfort and help.”
Hoefnagels: “People come to me for writing and editing advice a lot, and my books have been very well-received in the market. Those external signals have really helped me to trust my intuition when it comes to solving writing dilemmas.”
Miranda: “Just keep writing. Heed all criticism – good and bad. Use reviews and suggestion to continually improve the work. Remember that although you are selling the book to educators, you are writing for students who do not know the subject. So, keep the writing style simple and consistent.”
Truxillo: “Textbook writing is a bit different. But we have found that the more we write, the easier it becomes. In short, writing in itself builds your confidence over time.”
Hester: “Practice, practice, practice.”
Frank Carrano, co-author of the 2018 McGuffey Longevity Award winner, Data Abstraction & Problem Solving with C++: Walls and Mirrors, 7e: “I have insisted on working with the same copy editor. Our back-and-forth conversations about grammar and clarity have improved my writing and given me the confidence in what I write.”
Das: “In my field of expertise (geotechnical engineering) which is still growing, technical research and publication are very important to understand the subject and then to present in the classroom to students as and when applicable. One has to keep in mind that the First International Conference on Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering was held in 1936 in Harvard University. So it is a more recent sub-area of study in Civil Engineering. I am still heavily involved in research and have published more than 300 technical papers in journals and conference proceedings. I am the present Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Geotechnical Engineering published by Taylor & Francis (U.K.). As a result, I have been invited as a keynote speaker to several student assemblies and technical conferences worldwide. This process has taken me to Australia, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, India, Korea, Bolivia, Venezuela, Turkey, Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, United Arab Emirates, Tunisia and the United Kingdom. I was also named the first Eulalio Juárez Badillo Lectured by the Mexican Society of Geotechnical Engineers in November 2016. The Soil-Structure Interaction Group of Egypt has now established an honor lecture series in my name that takes place yearly in Egypt. The first lecture was delivered during the Geo-Middle East Conference in July 2017, and the second lecture is scheduled for November 2018 in Cairo.
In 2007, during the Pan American Conference on Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering held in Margarita, Venezuela, the organizers added a special one-hour session to the program entitled Meet Professor Das.
In any case, my wife (Janice) is the primary source of my confidence.”
Goodson: “Practiced, practiced, practiced. The epigraph of my book is a quote from C.S. Lewis. He says, ‘What you want is practice, practice, practice. It doesn’t matter what we write…so long as we write continually as well as we can. I feel that every time I write a page either of prose or of verse, with real effort, even if it’s thrown into the fire the next minute, I am so much further on.’
If it’s good enough for C.S. Lewis, it’s good enough for me!”
Rothwell: “Confidence is indeed something of a problem, not so much in writing good text but in spending a great deal of time producing a book that may never be published. I did experience some ‘down-time’ in this respect. However, the thought of throwing away what was already done does in the end provide the encouragement to continue! I started writing the text before approaching a publisher simply to have some confidence in how long it was going to take!”
Saslow: “For me, one of the most confidence-building activities is working with teachers using my material. When I approach this with humility and as much objectivity as I can muster, it teaches me about both the weaknesses and the strengths of my work. It is this observation / training / cycle that informs me and helps the quality of my writing grow. Another related activity that has been very helpful to me is speaking to students in courses of all levels who use my material. Another very important activity for me is speaking on academic topics at conferences and meetings and viewing the reactions of teachers to ideas I propose.”
Dove and Honigsfeld: “For us, the most important boost comes from our collaboration.”
Q: What software do you use to organize your research and other files? If you don’t use software, or use other methods besides software, please describe them.
Bovee: “I use Access to store and organize my research.”
Feher: “I have used Reference Manager, but no longer do so. I make paper copies of all useful research papers and file them by chapter. I have file cabinets full of them. Since the text is not fully referenced, I do not need to keep track of them for citation purposes, but credit sources that I use extensively. For the software used to write the book, originally I used Word Perfect, which I find to be much more user-friendly than Microsoft Word. However, the publisher originally said that Word Perfect was fine but didn’t really mean it. This created a lot of problems. The main issue was with equations, and the equation editor with Word Perfect beat Microsoft Word until I discovered MathType. I wish I had discovered it earlier, and would have done everything in MS Word with MathType. The other software was Adobe Illustrator, which I used to produce nearly all of the figures in the text.”
Poth: “I am beginning to use NVivo in different ways – I have long been a computer assisted qualitative researcher but now I also use it to complement by use of Endnotes to keep my literature organized and easily accessible.”
Lingras: “We took directions from the publisher. For this textbook, Microsoft word seemed to be the easiest choice.”
Hoefnagels: “In the distant past, when I had an idea, I would put it on a sticky note in a book that I set aside for that purpose. Then I transitioned to a big spreadsheet organized by the relevant chapter and page number. Now that we have PDFs, I just annotate the chapters with ideas and deal with them as I do the revision work.”
Miranda: “I use Scientific Workplace to write and use Windows to keep chapters and versions organized. We use pdf files to revise and edit.”
Hester: “EndNote is our saving grace. Without it, I’d be lost.”
Das: “This textbook was originally hand written between May 1976 and August 1977. It was all done manually, and my wife helped me. Of course, now we use Microsoft Word.”
Goodson: “For very complex projects I sometimes use Scrivener – a software that allows me to collate everything into a single space (different file formats, for instance).
When not using Scrivener I use Word, Coggle for mind-mapping, and Excel to log my writing time (date, start and finish times plus total minutes). Nothing fancy. Each project has its own folder containing multiple sub-folders.”
Rothwell: “Reference material was mainly obtained from the university library, and from books and other materials already in my possession. Google also played a significant role in finding information.”
Saslow: “I use standard Microsoft Word for manuscript and adapt it to the templates provided by my publishers.”
Dove and Honigsfeld: “We have all our files in Dropbox! It is a great cloud-based file sharing system that allows to have access to and work on the same files remotely.”
Read the first installment in this series: 2018 Textbook award-winning insight (Part 1): Deciding to write and getting the interest of a publisher
Read the third installment in this series: 2018 Textbook award-winning insight (Part 3): Pedagogy and marketing involvement
Read the fourth installment in this series: 2018 Textbook award-winning insight (Part 4): What they wish they had known before they started, writing advice