Sean McCabe set an ambitious (some might say unrealistic) goal in early 2016; he decided to write three books during the month of July.
He ended up consolidating the three books into one, writing 80,000 words over the course of two weeks, while simultaneously blogging and streaming videos about the experience.
The resulting book is called Overlap: The Ultimate Guide to Turning Your Side Passion Into a Successful Business. It’s is a step-by-step, practical guide to taking the thing you’re passionate about (your side hustle) and getting to the place where you’re actually making money from it.
I recently sat down with Sean to ask him some questions about the experience, now that a little time has passed and the book has been edited and sent off to the printers.
Here’s the conversation we had, lightly edited for your reading pleasure.
— Aaron Dowd
Q: What is this book about?
Sean: Overlap is a practical guide to finding what you’re passionate about, getting your family on board with your goals, getting out of scarcity mindset, creating an abundant life, and sustainably making money doing work you enjoy.
As the sub-title says, it’s the ultimate guide to turning your side passion into a successful business.
Q: Tell me about the writing process. Where did the idea come from, and when did you decide to write it?
Sean: In 2013, when we started the seanwes podcast, the very first episode was about what I called The Overlap Technique. I wanted to share what I’d learned about creating a good life doing work I loved. In 2014, I decided to write a book called The Overlap Technique (I later simplified it to just Overlap).
I got about 20,000 words into the first draft, but I wasn’t feeling it. It was decent, but it wasn’t great. I had a lot of other things going on, so I put the draft on the back burner. Eventually, I ended up scrapping the 20,000 words I’d written.
At the end of 2015, we were planning out 2016. I said, “I need to finish writing this Overlap book. This is my manifesto, my thesis, everything we’re about at seanwes condensed into a single, concise, practical, step-by-step guide.”
I knew I had to write this book, but I also knew that the only way I was going get it done was if I dedicated time to work on it.
So I said, “In July of 2016, I’m going to do nothing else but write. Nothing but writing for the entire month.”
Q: What was the preparation for that month like?
Sean: The month of July was my writing month. That was when I did the writing, when I came up with the first draft. I didn’t have anything written before that.
Like I said, I scrapped the first 20,000 words I’d written previously. I didn’t even want to look at them. The first 20,000 words were good, but I wasn’t reading minds. I like to read minds.
If you want people to listen to what you have to say, you have to understand where they’re coming from.
You have to tell them what they want to hear. I had a good message several years prior, but I didn’t know where people were coming from.
That’s why it was a good thing that I stepped away from the book for a couple of years. I got to know people. I went to meetups, and had conversations with people who listened to the podcast and with the members inside the Community.
I got to know the person I was writing this book for, the person who wants something more but feels overwhelmed. The person who feels like they don’t have enough time or they don’t know what to do next. The person who wants a practical guide.
Once I got to know the person I was writing this book for, I started developing the outline in my head. In the months leading up to July 2016, I was mentally creating an outline of what the book would be.
Q: You set a goal to write 8,000 words a day for a full month, a pretty lofty goal even for full-time writers. Was it hard to focus and get all those words out?
Sean: I’ll go ahead and say this: Writing a book is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Of everything I’ve ever done, writing a book was the hardest thing, because it takes prolonged focus, extended periods of focus.
I have a whole chapter on focus because it’s so hard. Staying in focus for hours and hours and hours is extremely hard. Your brain is screaming, your subconscious is screaming for distractions. “Give me something. Give me anything. A YouTube video. A tweet. Reddit. Give me something. I want to browse Pinterest or Instagram, check Facebook,” whatever you do. Your brain will be screaming for those distractions, but you can’t give in.
You have to set yourself up for success. If you go in saying, “I’ll fight the distractions when they come,” you’ve already lost.
I scheduled Do Not Disturb modes on my phone so I didn’t wake up to notifications. I made sure I was waking up at 4:30am and I went on a run for a lot of the days. Some days I didn’t go for a run, but I had better performance when I ran (I found exercise helped me concentrate).
Another way I set myself up for success was I made myself publicly accountable. I told everyone (my wife, my team, my audience, everyone) that I was taking off a whole month to write the book. Not only did I write an average of 5,000 or 6,000 words a day, but I wrote another 1,000 to 2,000 words for daily blog posts, journaled every day of the process, and live streamed a recap every single evening.
Then there was my environment—everyone in the house knew what I was doing, everyone on the team knew what I was doing, and I wasn’t opening a bunch of apps. I stayed focused.
I used Scrivener to write the book, and the night before, I would open up the next thing I needed to write. I would put the app on my one screen. At the time, I think I had two screens, and I didn’t use the secondary monitor. I only used one monitor. I would open the window I needed to write on next, and that is what I set up on my screen before I went to bed. The next morning, when I came in, Gmail wasn’t open, there were no Messages or the Community. It was just the writing app.
Focus starts the night before—it doesn’t happen in the moment.
Q: Sounds like an exhausting month. Were you doing anything else?
Sean: Nothing else. When I was writing the book, that was my life. I would write from 6am until dinner time. I don’t think I did anything other than relax or read in the evenings, and I went to bed super early, like 9pm or 10pm because I had to get up at 4am. It was my life. But it wasn’t like I flipped a switch that month, I’d been preparing for that lifestyle for a couple of months before, waking up early and practicing having long periods of focus time.
Q: Were there any interruptions while you were writing, and if so, how did you deal with them?
Sean: I’ve gotten to the point where, if I set myself up for it, I’m very good at focus. I understand that there are two parts of focus: preventing the possibility of interruptions and fighting distractions when they happen. If you do the first one successfully, you don’t have to deal with the second one.
Structure your environment so distractions don’t happen to you. You are responsible for every distraction that happens to you.
That includes someone knocking on your door, a notification, a phone call, or a distracting app. You have to take responsibility for those things and prevent them from happening in the first place.
I’m pretty good at getting rid of the distractions as they happen, I use what I call the whiteboard trick—writing something on the whiteboard when it comes to your mind to get it out. If it comes back to you, say, “Nope, it’s on the whiteboard, so that’s a thing I’m not going to do.”
Preventing distractions mostly came down to communication with people in my life, like my wife. I said, “This is what I’m going to be doing when I’m doing it.” You should also schedule Do Not Disturb mode, turn off notifications, close apps. That’s all preventative stuff.
Focusing was a little easier for me because I know I had to get it done. At heart, I’m a procrastinator. I will wait until the last possible minute to get something done. I still want to do a good job, but I’ll procrastinate.
But when I get my back against the wall, that’s when I perform. That’s what I’ve learned. To maximize your output, set yourself up to where your back is against the wall. I do this more frequently than I think a lot of people are comfortable with, but it really works.
Check out the book: Overlap