a new kind of publishing

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Publishing is changing. Fast. Followers of my tweets and readers of my blog know how I feel about this. Many of you are publishers yourself, or writers, editors, proofreaders and indexers. Learn about how you can be in the middle of the changes to come by clicking here and then here .

The time is now and the who is you.

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do you want to have a great idea?

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Books about business leadership, blogs on creativity, writing workshops. They all talk about brainstorming and methods of forcing the good ideas out of us.  Sometimes I think that that point of view might be counterproductive.

Because have you ever noticed that it’s when you are not trying to come up with a good idea, when you are not striving to produce some innovative method of doing something that it is then when an idea comes to mind?  It happens in a very casual way. It comes at us sideways, out of the corner or our eye.  And if we let it, it floats  right by. That is probably why we don’t always notice it. Because it is just appears to be out there (not within us at all) passing by like mist.  And so we think, ‘well that was odd but it’s nothing more than that; a stream-of-consciousness moment without any real meaning. But maybe it was a lot more than that.  Maybe it truly was something extraordinary.

It’s the type of thing that comes to mind and we get ready to say it to someone else, maybe starting with the words “What if..” or “Have you ever thought” or “You know, I wonder about…” and we stop and don’t say it because it seems so silly. And it probably is. It is probably outright ridiculous. But one of those ideas won’t be. One of those passing, mist-like things is (or was) a life-altering, ingenious revelation that just needs to be grabbed and wrestled to the ground so that it won’t float away.

And it probably won’t come during brainstorming sessions.  It’ll come when you are staring blankly at a puddle, feeling like you are thinking about nothing. Or it will come when you mind goes off, distracted from the shot in the move taken from the backseat of the 60’s car with the parents in the front.  Or it will come while you are playing around with what is left of the Saltine in your mouth.

You can’t force it. It will come. You just have to see it and grab it.

And then you have to write about it.

why we write

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Everyone has different motives for writing.

For some it is just a way to make money. These writers analyze the market and try to figure out what will topics will sell the most books. Then they fill their writing with thoughts that people want to hear, thoughts that are not really their own, and maybe even thoughts that they don’t necessarily even agree with. But they want to sell, so they sell out.

Others write for personal fulfillment. Steven Pressfield (author of The Legend of Badger Vance and The War of Art) said recently in an interview by fear.less magazine that “part of the exercise of writing for me is that I discover in the act of it who I am and what I think.” This is definitely, in my view, a worthwhile reason to write. It does seem that we think we know who we are but in some ways we are actually like many different people in one, changing our minds from one minute to the next, feeling so sure about something and doubting it later– a confusing mix of thoughts. We do not come to conclusions on many things. Our unfinished thoughts just hang there in the air. But when we take out a sheet of paper and a pencil, or we start typing away on a keyboard, then our ideas form into convictions and beliefs.  Our muddled minds start to make sense. So writing is about discovery.

Then there are those who write for another, perhaps grander reason.  Although writing on the topic of publishing, what Jason Epstein wrote in Book Business pinpoints that reason.  He said “when I became a publisher it was my undergraduate encounter with books that I wanted to share with the world. I believed and still do that the democratic ideal is a permanent and inconclusive Socratic seminar in which we all learn from one another. The publisher’s job is to supply the necessary readings.”

For publishers to supply such readings, writers must first supply the “necessary” writings.  When we write either for self-discovery or for sharing with others (or even better, for both) and not just for money, then our writing takes on a depth and meaning that can only come from a higher purpose.

babbling vs. concise writing

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Ghandi wrote this in his autobiography:

“My hesitancy in speech, which was once an annoyance, is now a pleasure.  Its greatest benefit has been that it has taught me the economy of words.  I have naturally formed the habit of restraining my thoughts.  And I can now give myself the certificate that a thoughtless words hardly ever escapes my tongue or pen.  I do not recollect ever having had to regret anything in my speech or writing.  I have thus spared many a mishap and waste of time.A man of few words will rarely be thoughtless in his speech; he will measure every word.”

This agrees with Zinsser’s On Writing Well where he said:

“Clutter is the disease of American writing.  We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.”

I think most writers feel this is good advice.  However, there is a lot to be said about the technique discussed in Mark Levy’s Accidental Genius, in which he encourages what he calls “freewriting”.  Freewriting is basically writing as fast as you can, using a timer to encourage speed, and just pouring out your thoughts without stopping or even going back to correct errors.  The purpose of is to write for yourself, with the goal of solving problems, brainstorming and encouraging creativity (although he does mention that later the ideas you generate could be edited and used for blogs and books).

Levy’s method makes a lot of sense.  I tried it today, and the effect is exhilarating.  If you are a writer, you know how hard it can be to get sentences on the page if you are thinking too much about how to construct them while you write.  Worrying about grammar, being concise and avoiding redundancy can restrict the flow of thoughts. Freewriting can be used to ‘dump eighteen pounds of words onto paper,’ as Levy puts it, and then edit away later.

Even then, too much editing could hide the real “you” and I think the reader can sense it somehow.  I mean, in “real life” I tend to babble.  I’m not Ghandi (and certainly no Zinsser).   Bloggers like Penelope Trunk babble like crazy, but people love her.  Maybe because most people tend to babble, too.

What do you think?

contradictions

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Everyone has thoughts that seem to contradict each other.   It could be that one day you feel one way about something and another day you feel completely the opposite.  At times we are just a blend of conflicting feelings.  But that’s not always the reason for it.  Sometimes ideas might seem to contradict each other because we’re only looking on the surface of things.

Take, for example, the previous two posts on this blog.  One post mentions how important people are — more important than anything else possibly could be in life– and then the other post is about a boss complaining about his employees bothering him too much.  Well, if people are important, than shouldn’t he listen to them and put everything else aside and realize that nothing else really matters, because they after all are human beings?  Yes and no.  There’s a balance there; a point at which constant interruptions over petty things robs from everyone.  They rob the obvious first- time from the boss that he wants to dedicate to other activities (or maybe even to other people), but also they rob from the employees.  By the boss solving problems for others she (often unwittingly) gives them, not so much a shoulder to cry on, as a crutch to lean on.  The employee really can walk on his own and needs to do so, otherwise he’ll always be leaning… needing to be told what to do before he moves.  So the kindest thing that a boss can do is to teach the employee not to lean, to encourage him to figure out the problem himself, the best he can, even if the solution is not perfect.  The best gift that she can give to him at that moment is that of leaving him to ponder the problem alone.

So, yeah there can be some apparent duplicity in our actions or in what we say.  But dig deeper.

are you this irritating employee?

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If you are not attentive to it, you could find yourself being the employee (or contractor) who fits this complaint:

“I’m more and more amazed by the inability to think for oneself, particularly my employees.  They will badger and badger me with emails, calls, or text messages about things that they really and truly can figure out for themselves.

And it’s not as though I require authorization for every little decision that has to be made.  In fact, nine times out of ten, if I don’t respond the employee solves the problem just fine.  But then again, if they don’t solve it they wait on me.  And then they don’t do anything.  And that is worse because it makes me feel that I need to answer (and fast) which creates tension because I want to continue on what I am currently working on.  I want to be doing entrepreneurial work, not troubleshooting technical matters or making decisions for them.  So what to do?

Maybe a course on decision-making?  Can you really teach someone how to think for herself?  Does one really need a course on that kind of thing?  I’ve tried explaining this directly to them, but that does not seem like enough.  They still ring, send, ASK.

Perhaps, as Seth Godin says in Linchpin, we’ve hired on some drones and so there is really no other option other than to assign drone-like tasks to the drones and figure out who (if any) among the current employees are actually linchpins and who will never be.  Then try to find and hire on a few.  We’d compensate them well if they could only think on the “edges” of the box, at least.”

If you are the subject of this frustrated boss, what can you do to be different?

there are people around you (really)

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I noticed that when I’m stressed out, I tend to isolate myself.  Even if I’m around people, I’m not really there.  Not fully.  I think that others do this, too.  So the question is: how many of us can be in a room at the same time and yet not really BE there for each other?  You and I would probably both say that people are more important than anything else, but maybe we don’t always believe it enough to live it.

So how about we stop?  Stop as soon as someone else walks in the room and just turn around and really look at them.  It might freak them out at first (maybe turn down the intensity of that stare).  But, yeah, just look at them and think “hey, you’re a human being and no paperwork/presentation/mental preoccupation/game on the tube/Internet site/podcast/or whatever else…is as important as you.”

And it doesn’t matter that the person in front of you might seem silly or even downright stupid.  He didn’t live your life, so how can you expect him to be like you (if that’s even really the best way to be).

 

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