3 Lessons I Learned From Writing a Data Science Book – ‘Guerrilla Analytics – a practical approach to working with data’

Writing

One of the biggest challenges with writing a significant piece like a book chapter or entire book is to estimate how long it will take and plan accordingly. My best reference was my PhD which was still significantly shorter than the book’s target 90,000 words. This blog post is about the book writing process as I experienced it. I hope it helps other authors setting out on such an endeavour.

Since ‘Guerrilla Analytics: A Practical Approach to Working with Data‘ is about operational aspects of agile data science, I recorded some data on the book writing process itself. Specifically, every time I finished a writing session, I recorded the number of words I’d written on that date.

My 3 Lessons

  • Progress tapers off. You’ll get more work done in the first half of your project. Don’t expect this rate of progress to be sustained all the way to your deadline.
  • Be realistic about how much you can write in a session. I found it difficult to write more than 1,500 words. Anything more was the exception for me. Track your progress and re-plan accordingly.
  • Weekends are better than weekdays. Obvious maybe! Expect to set aside your free time on weekends to get your project over the line. It is difficult to get significant amounts of work done on weekdays.

Progress tapers off

  • Here is my progress towards my goal of 90,000 words over an 8 month period. The plot shows the words written per session and the total word count.writing_log_progress

    I began writing in late September and finished in June the following year. The line shows my total words written and the bars show the number of words written in individual writing sessions. Two things stand out:

  • Progress is faster in the first half of the project. This was because it is easier to get all your ideas ‘onto paper’ early in the writing. Once you have about 3 quarters of your manuscript complete, you need to be more careful about consistency of language and flow of content. This slows you down.
  • Time off work is really productive. There are two clear bursts of productivity as shown by the dense groups of grey bars where a large number of words was written in many successive sessions. The two periods are Halloween (when I took a week off work) and Christmas when I worked for a week from my family home.

How much did I write in a typical session?

Here’s how much I wrote in each writing session.

Words per session

I typically wrote about 1,000 words with the odd session where I wrote over 3,000 words. This is important when you plan your project. If you’re anything like me, writing more than 1,000 words will be an exception. If you only write on weekends then you’re looking at only 2,000 words per week. That’s well under 100,000 words in a year allowing for holidays and other disruptions.

Are you thinking about writing something and have questions? Feel free to get in touch and best of luck!