Building a Book with Agile

Earlier this year I embarked on a journey to write and publish my first book, Strong Words and Simple Truths. After eight years of writing this blog, I knew I had enough content (102 Posts with over 50,000 words). The trick was figuring out how to knit together so many seemingly disparate topics into a cohesive and interesting story.

I had a mountain of ideas and knew I had to focus, organize and categorize.

The first thing I did was put on my Scrum Master hat and break out the pink and yellow sticky notes! For a definition of what a Scrum Master is click here.

With an Agile mindset, I set about the task of visualizing every blog post.  I did this by writing the title of every blog with a black marker on square sticky notes.   The pink notes covered the majority of the wall in my home office.  For more information on Agile click here.

The next step involved organizing and grouping the blog titles into themes or categories.  I ended up with eight themes that I wrote on larger, rectangular sticky notes.  I moved the smaller titles around on the wall so they were under the appropriate theme.  I let this display sit on my wall for many weeks and I spent hours staring at them to see how they looked together.  I moved some titles around and I removed over 20 blogs entirely.  This editing process was difficult but very important to the integrity and flow of the book.

The beginning stage of my blog grouping wall

The eight themes became the chapters of the book which are:  Communication, Toastmasters, Creativity, Veterans, the 1980s, Gratitude, Science and Health, and Agile.

I built a storyboard of the eight chapters to help visualize the order and flow of the themes.  I evolved and iterated on this multiple times and landed on this display which includes the custom drawn illustrations by Alex Delit Garcia.

The Final Story board

The creation of the Table of Contents was quite simple as I ordered the blog titles chronologically under each chapter/theme.

To tie all of the chapters together, I chose a fun and symbolic circus theme.  Each chapter was represented by a character or element from the circus and I spun a tale about a curious girl named Elizabeth and her hedgehog friend, Ernie.  The story took us on a “run away and join the circus” journey and wove together all of the chapters’ topics with the Ringleader kicking things off.

The use of a creative and symbolic fiction story to tie together 80 non-fiction articles was a fun and effective way to compile and build a book in a short amount of time.  From the start of my sticky note wall display to the publication of the book was five months (including the creation of the chapter illustrations and the editing/formatting).

I often call my book a patchwork quilt of lifelong learnings, dreams and ideas and I hope you enjoyed my sharing of the stitching process!

For more information on Strong Words and Simple Truths: The Courage to Communicate, click here.

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