Writing about learning

I run a publishing company called Constructing Modern Knowledge Press. At this time, we have twelve books published, most of them written by educators. These books represent a wide array of content, but all are about creating modern, creative learning opportunities.

Educators often ask me about writing their own books, and I highly encourage it. I’m not just looking for new authors, even though I’m happy to talk about joining the CMK Press team. I believe that there are multiple benefits to writing about education, both for the world and the writer.

  1. The world needs to see real models of learning. I hear all the time about how all schools are boring test-prep factories and that will never change. Yet I talk to educators daily who are breaking the mold and doing amazing, creative, wonderful things with students. People don’t believe it because they can’t see it. You can fix this.
  2. Nobody else can do this. The New York Times or Oprah is not coming to tell the story about how wonderful your classroom is. We can’t wait.
  3. It will be eye-opening for you. There is nothing like trying to write down what you do every day to make you think deeply about your own process.

What’s stopping you?

  1. I don’t like bragging. Teachers especially worry that talking about what they do looks like self-promotion. Get over it, it is self-promotion. But that’s different than bragging.
  2. What I do isn’t special. I talk to teachers EVERY DAY who start by saying, “Well, this isn’t that great but…” and then proceed to tell me a fantastic story.
  3. It’s hard. Yes it is. So are most things worth doing.

Getting started

If writing a book seems impossible, do it a step at a time. You know the saying, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. No one sits down and writes a book all at once!

Blogging – Blogs are perfect platforms for compiling a book. A typical book is about 50,000 words. Most blog posts are about 1,000 words. That’s 50 blog posts. If you write once a week, you will have enough for a book in a year. You do not have to attract a following or be “popular.” It does not matter if no one ever comments on your blog. You are the audience.

Podcasting – Similar to blogs, podcasting is a way to start small and work your way into more content. If you want to turn your podcasts into a book, there are amazingly inexpensive transcription services that can take your audio files and send you a document in no time at all. Most people speak at about 150 words per minute, so if you make a 20 minute podcast episode, that’s about 3,000 words. Let’s say 2,000 because there is always extra stuff in podcasts, so that 50,000 word book is only 25 podcast episodes.

Find your way – Both blogs and podcasts have an advantage of spacing out your thoughts and letting you find new ways to express yourself. You may find that as time goes on, you start to focus in on different aspects of your topic, or find a new topic that consistently comes up. Be flexible. Don’t restrict yourself to only what you think you “should” write.

Presenting – If you have ever spoken at a conference or event, one great exercise is to take each of your slides and try to write 1,000 words about each one. Since you have already gone to the trouble of making slides and thinking about what you want to say, this is a jumpstart into writing.

Play with genre – There are LOTS of different ways to write a book. Not every book about education is the same, there are plenty of ways to capture your topic. Think about the variety of books that influenced you at various points in your own journey as an educator. Or you may want to try to write a how-to book about a particular method, tool, or model you use.

Be the expert + share your passion – These may seem like two different things, but they are a matched pair. You won’t get far if you aren’t passionate about your work, and the reader won’t find it compelling if you don’t present the tale, or share the content with a confident voice.

Getting over your fears – One of the hardest parts about writing is that it exposes everything you worry about yourself. I’m not interesting, I’m not good at writing, I never have the right words, I can’t spell, my grammar is terrible, there are thousands of people better than me to say this, what I want to say has been said before… the voices in your head will pound you into the ground. The only way to get over your fears is to write anyway.

Outlines – I’m honestly not a fan of outlines as ground zero for starting a book, I think it’s unrealistic and a bit of a straitjacket, making you feel unnecessarily guilty if you have to deviate from the path you thought you had perfected. It often takes time to figure out what it is you want to focus on, and getting started with the writing is the best way to work it out. For my own work, I tend to write some, and then “chunk” it into sections, sorting what I’ve got into 5-7 piles and seeing what those piles turn out to be.

Just do it – Don’t worry about having the perfect idea, the right software, or a fully fleshed out plan. The only way to get started is to get started.

Aren’t books over?

You might think that in this digital era, books are not the best way to get your message out. But, actually, books are exploding. Books give people a way to dive into a subject, to read, think, jump around, and really dig in. Around the world, book sales continue to climb, while e-book sales have plateaued. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t offer an e-book version of your book, in fact, many people tell me that they have purchased Invent to Learn in both paper and e-book versions, and use them both for different reasons.

However, there has been little take up in interactive books like Apple’s i-book platform which was supposed to “revolutionize” book reading, and then “revolutionize” textbooks… and then didn’t.

Will it make a lot of money?

No.

Do I need a publisher?

No, in fact, I think it’s a better idea to start with your own ideas and start the writing process yourself. Now, if a publisher has approached you and asked you to write a book, that’s a different story!

There are multiple options for publishing a book, and only one of them is with a traditional publisher. It used to be that a publisher was the only way to get your book into stores where people could buy it. Now, there are many options for publishing, because there are more options for buying. I’ll share some of these options in a future post.

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