Focus


Manton Reece recently left his job of fourteen and a half years to start a new life as an independent developer. I interviewed him for a podcast and he explained that he's been writing his own software in his spare time for years and wanted to make it his primary focus.

Actually focus is a great word.

Manton told me that one of his rules for himself is he only works on software that he plans to ship.

He's not saying that he ships every line of code he writes. He refactors and changes his mind about stuff all the time. But when he commits to sitting down to write code, it's for a product he intends to sell at some point.

That's focus in the large. Manton also speaks to focus in the small. He's very self-observant. He watches to see if he's in a productive mode. If he is, then he tackles the tough problems that require his attention. He works on those problems that he needs to immerse himself in to get anywhere with. When he's not in that flow, he reaches for the parts of his job that need to be done but are more routine.

What about you?

When you sit down to write, are you working on a project that you think you can sell?

If you're writing a book for a traditional publisher, often you sell it before you start to write it.

I had a colleague who wrote an entire intro to programming book for college students. At that point I had a few books published and I asked him if he had a publisher. He didn't. He'd get one when the time came. After he finished his book he went to publisher after publisher and no one wanted his book. Had he gone to them first they may have been able to help steer his book to one they wanted. He would have spent those two years on a project that would sell.

I'd like to tell you there's a happy ending to that story. He could have published it himself but those were the days before eBooks, Kindles, and iPads. He would have had to print copies and distribute it. He could have. He didn't.

Instead, he spent the next two years writing volume two of his textbook. A book without a publisher. A book that never sold.

There is value in writing for yourself if that's what you want. Writing, for me, is a great way to figure out what I'm thinking about a certain issue. As I wrestle with words and phrasing and write and rewrite I often discover something quite special and different from what I anticipate.

I don't want you to get caught up right now in finding a publisher. First you have to figure out your audience and figure out what you're writing. A publisher will want to see some progress but they may want to look at it with the eyes of the market and make some suggestions to you.

Tomorrow I'll tell you about the book I'm going to start writing on Monday. I'm happy to share with you my thoughts while planning and writing the book over the next few weeks. This is a book I plan to start selling in October.

For now, think of a book or article you want to publish. Focus on that.