I often hear the comment “I don’t know how you write books and do the day job“. And well, I usually agree and stumble over some comments about being very tired, but enjoying it anyway. I thought it may be of interest to explore the process more methodically. Perhaps you might even have your own book plans in future.

Once I considered how I’d bumbled into something like an ordered routine, I was intrigued how other edu-writers went about the process too. I went about asking a some highly respected writers and – unsurprisingly – their responses were expertly written proved fascinating.

First, here is the irrepressibly insightful Mary Myatt – author of ‘High Challenge, Low Threat‘ and ‘Hopeful Schools‘, on how she writes:

‘How I write’ by Mary Myatt

It’s not very interesting, but it works for me:

  1. Make a cup of tea. Drink tea.

  2. Whether I am writing a book or not, I always start the day with morning pages. These are 3 pages of A4 which are hand written, quickly. The idea is to write about anything, the good the bad and the ugly, just to clear the mind and get the hands moving. Came across it through Oliver Burkman’s article recommended by Geoff Barton. I find it really helpful for clearing the mental decks. I also have another A4 sheet with the day’s list on it as I find that stuff comes up which I realize I need to get on with that day.

  3. I go to a desk where I write. I do most of my emails and other work on my lap on a sofa which is comfortable and informal. I find it helpful to shift from the comfort and go to a space which is associated with writing. It means I am less likely to be distracted.

  4. I open Pages on my laptop and start writing. I already have the working title ready to go from the list I have created of the material I want to cover plus random thoughts. I make sure that Pages is full screen so that I can’t see any emails or notifications coming in. I don’t stop until 1000 words have been done and I don’t worry about whether they are any good or not. The main ideas are down. I don’t edit or check any references at this stage as I don’t want to stop the flow.

  5. I find it helpful to imagine I am having a conversation with someone across the room and I just type what I would say to them. Sometimes this is gibberish, but at least it’s on the page and I can edit later.

  6. Once the 1000 words are done, I save and shut the application down. Then get on with the rest of the day.

  7. Make another cup of tea.


Second, the guardian of ‘The Learning Rainforest‘ (and ‘Teach Now! Science’) and general pillar of school leadership wisdom, Tom Sherrington, explains his approach:

Perhaps typical of all writing, approaching writing the Learning Rainforest I had to think about two main elements: structure and style. I knew I wanted two parts; one covering the range of ideas and influences that have shaped my thinking and one focusing on how the ideas look in practice. For part one, I wrote out some headings that I wanted to cover: my own experience, research, curriculum, assessment, the prog-trad debate…. so they became chapters. For part two  I’d previously developed a three-part metaphor based on trees in a rainforest (establishing conditions, building knowledge and exploring possibilities) so I jotted down a list of specific ideas for each one.  When I looked at the lists, there were around 20 in each and I couldn’t resist the rather artificial but neat idea of making it exactly 20.  (This seemed to annoy the School’s Week reviewer!)
So, the structure was in place before I did any writing. This was important because knowing what order to put my jumble of ideas in is often the hardest bit for me.  The content of Part Two is about 80% new material and about 20% directly lifted from my blogs.  Writing the 60 short sections flowed really easily because i just had to focus on a tight set of ideas and tell a simple story one bit at a time. I wrote about 10,000 words in one day towards the end.  
The Part One chapters required the greatest amount of thought.  I did a lot of reading, and made a lot of notes but, based on past mistakes, I was quite diligent about saving references and links.  A close friend, Tom AP, wrote notes in the google docs margin for the whole book as I went along. The odd ‘hmmmm not sure’ or ‘Yes, love this!’ helped hugely.  It also helped having to give Oliver Caviglioli chapter summaries for his illustrations. The need to summarise helped to clarify my thinking.   
I had some good advice from Peter Hyman and Tom AP both of whom read some early chapters.  They said they preferred it when I was bolder, more assertive in giving my view and more expressive with it. Instead of a neutral factual book exploring great teaching, it became more distinctively a book about my own view of great teaching.  That emphasis felt significant for style and content: my book, my voice. It all flowed nicely from there. 
In Part Two, I will share my own idiosyncratic method for edu-book writing which shares some of the daily habits of Mary and the planning methods of Tom.
I’d love to hear from other writers – books and blogs – about their writing methods and eccentricities.