Archives for August 2010

A book-writing tip from Clippy

Well, it’s not really from Clippy, the hated Microsoft “helper” that came with Office and was finally buried in 2007. Clippy is mentioned in this fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal by Stanford professor Clifford Nass:

[W3 illo]Alex Nabaum


When BMW introduced one of the most sophisticated navigation and telematics systems into its 5 Series car in Germany a decade ago, it represented the pinnacle of German engineering excellence, with great advances in accuracy and functionality. Yet BMW was forced to recall the product—because the system had a female voice. The service desk had received numerous calls from agitated German men who had the same basic complaint. They couldn’t trust a woman to give them directions. More

Go ahead, read the article. Then come back here.

What speaks to me in this piece is the significance of rapport, and the ease with which it can be created and broken–even with semi-animate objects. It makes me think: What about my book is generating rapport with my reader? What’s breaking rapport?

I’m using “rapport” in the sense that it is used in NLP–neurolingistic programming. Here’s one definition:

Rapport is the quality of harmony, recognition and mutual acceptance that exists between people when they are at ease with one another and where communication is occurring easily.

Why use this?

In general, we gravitate towards people that we consider similar to us, because people like people who are like themselves – like likes like. In rapport the common ground or similarities are emphasised and the differences are minimised.

Rapport is an essential basis for successful communication – if there is no rapport there is no (real) communication!

I’ve not seen writing teachers address rapport categorically. Maybe it’s time we do. What do you think?

If this is what happens to your brain when you think about a book, get a coach

To write a book, adopt GTD

David Allen’s Getting Things Done approach to time and task management is simply unequaled. It is simple, understandable, and do-able. If you are trying to fit your book-writing into your schedule, you owe it to yourself to check him out. Lots of free resources, too. Here’s a piece from his latest email:

Getting Things Done
Image via Wikipedia


Probably the most universal how-to question for GTD neophytes is this: How do I keep track of all the things that you’re recommending I keep out of my head? What’s the best tool? The answer is pretty simple: however you most effectively can create and review lists.

You will need a good filing system, an inbox and a ubiquitous capture tool, a box for stuff to read, and maybe a tickler file; but for the most part, all you need are lists. But you’ll need several. And they need to be complete. And you’ll need a place to keep them.

For many newbies, the multiple lists they may see in any of our systems can overwhelm them at first glance. More

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Useful interviewing tools

Non-fiction authors often need to interview people. Of course you should record the interview, and electronic recorders are so inexpensive that they are commodities. Besides, most smart phones will record full interviews and let them be downloaded to your computer, where you can play them back.

Microsoft Office OneNote Icon
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What used to frustrate me was finding my way around long recordings. An hour or two of talking takes a long time to skim.

One of the few applications I regretted giving up in my last PC-to-Mac transition, about four years ago, was Microsoft OneNote. And my very favorite thing about OneNote was this: You can tell it to record audio while you take notes. Then, the audio is indexed by your notes.

So you can go back to your notes and click anywhere, and OneNote will play the portion of the audio that was being spoken at the moment you made that note. Very, very, very powerful.

Circus Ponies’ Notebook on the Mac did this, but it also crashed, lost stuff, and corrupted several months worth of notes irretrievable. I don’t trust that product, even though that miserable experience was three years ago.

I just discovered Pear Note from Useful Fruit software, a wonderful audio- and video-note taking app that focuses on this issue. It is beautifully designed and works. I haven’t been using it long enough to remark on its robustness, but it feels very good to me.

Another useful tool–at least for shorter interviews–is the LiveScribe Echo. It’s a pen with a built-in recorder. You take notes on special paper. The pen records (excellent quality) what’s being said, and also captures your writing or drawing. Dock the pen with your PC or Mac, and both the audio and the writing/drawing are now accessible.

Touch the pen to your writing, and it plays back what was being said at the time of that particular piece of writing. That also works on the computer, without the pen.

Image representing Livescribe  as depicted in ...

Image via CrunchBase

The recording is optionally binaural. When you record binaurally in a noisy environment, you can pull every softly spoke word out of the background with ease (when you also listen binaurally, of course).

My only complain about the pen: Battery life. I never get more than just over two hours. I’d carry a second pen for long meetings, but the syncing scheme makes that complicated.

EDIT: Just learned that Word 2004 and 2008 on the Mac, in “Notebook” mode, also do this!

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Turn card over

My father was born in Ostrolenko, Poland. That fact authorizes me to tell Polish jokes.

How do you keep a Polack busy? (“Polack” means simply “Polish man.” There is nothing derogatory about the word.)

Give him a card that has printed, on both sides, “Turn card over.”

I am that Polack.

My geekishness is often expressed as a fascination with things that are of absolutely no interest to most of the population–especially things that exhibit a measure of complexity. I am attracted to complexity, per se. I love its richness; I have a feeling that, just around the corner, I will find the answer to some important question.

Usually I don’t.

But that doesn’t deter me; complexity continues to fascinate me.

Here’s one way it manifests: I love to explore programs that claim to manage your information and show it to you in different ways. Here are a few examples:

  • Personal Brain, from I actually use this as my diary, journal, and general repository of knowledge.
  • Evernote, from I use this, too; it syncs with my iPhone, and lets me capture and store a huge variety of text, graphics, and more. And it attempts to read any text in the graphics; so if I snap a picture of a business card with my iPhone, Evernote will OCR (optical character recognition) the text, so that I can find the name of the person using its powerful search facility.
  • Voodoopad. A wiki on your (Mac) desktop. Amazingly powerful and simple. I haven’t integrated it into my workflow, but hope springs eternal.
  • Tinderbox. The ultimate time sink. (Mac only.) Incredibly robust and powerful outliner, graphical mapper, database, and so much more.

I am forever searching for the system that will allow me to store anything, link anything to anything else, extract email addresses for mailing, keep track of people and events, web clippings, etc. You get the idea.

Each tool excels at some things, and sucks (I hate the word, but cannot resist it any longer) at others.

And when I downloaded the latest version of VoodooPad today, I realized: Turn card over. I’m doing it again.

I haven’t found a 12-step program for people who are determined to find The One System yet, but if it doesn’t show up soon, I’ll have to start one.

Ask me how this relates to writing books.


Big writing using GPS logger

This is not my message, although I found a lot to love about Ayn Rand. It’s the message of Nick Newcomen, who believes we’d all be better off if we adopted Rand’s philosophy. (Read about how he did this here.)

I was trying out Google Reader’s new “Play” facility, which seems to pick a bunch of random stuff that may be of interest to you–and I have no idea by what criteria–and show it to you in a really friendly interface that lets you “star” things you like to look at later, or put a smiley face on some things to share with friends. This page showed up.

It made me think of the phrase, “writ large,” which, according to, is slightly formal, and means “expressed in a bigger or more obvious way. She believed that cultures are just personalities writ largeThe genius of the story is that it’s about ordinary life writ large.

Mr. Newcomen went a long way, literally, to send this suggestion to the world. I’m not sure how much of an effect it’s having, but there are several aspects of it that should give other message-bearers, such as aspiring authors, something to think about:

  • The message is brief and unambiguous. It wouldn’t have worked as well for “Fyodor Dostoyevsky.”
  • It’s an unambiguous command; there is no mistaking its meaning.
  • It is dramatic, without damaging the environment.
  • Whatever you may think of Ayn Rand, there is no doubt that Mr. Newcomen is well-intentioned.

Now, Mr. Newcomen may make a few bucks if people buy Ayn Rand books through the links on the page. I hope he does. It will take lots of book sales at Amzon’s commission rates to cover the expenses of his trip. But it’s a safe bet that this was not planned as a commercial venture.

I am left impressed with the man’s earnestness, gentleness, and intelligence. If he also offered me a newsletter or other way to stay in touch with him, and sign up for it.

These are good outcomes to which a non-fiction book writer, wanting to promote her or his services, might aspire as well.

Randy Ingermanson on the future of publishing

I love Randy’s writing. He is my favorite writing teacher for fiction. He invented something he called, “The Snowflake MethodRandy Ingermanson,” and even has software to back it up. It matches my structured approach to non-fiction.

I found his recent thoughts on the future of publishing on his blog. I agree with all of them, and many pertain to non-fiction as well as to fiction. Here’s a teaser and a link:

The Future of Publishing

The world of publishing is currently going through massive turmoil. Some people believe that the rise of e-books is going to be the biggest single change in publishing since Gutenberg’s invention of movable type.

I’m not a prophet nor a seer nor clairvoyant. But I do have my eyes open, and in this column, I give you my best predictions for the coming years. They may be right. They may be wrong. Either way, one thing seems certain: Huge changes are coming.

I offer these predictions to suggest ways you might plan for your future. I’m using them to plan for mine.

Prediction #1: E-books Will Surpass P-books Soon

I define a “p-book” to be a book printed on paper. Click here for more

Take a break

Some things to get your mind out of focus:

The baseball is the most fundamental piece of ...
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1. Two hats were hanging on a hat rack in the hallway. One hat said to the other: ‘You stay here; I’ll go on a head.’

2. I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then it hit me.
3. A sign on the lawn at a drug rehab center said: ‘Keep off the Grass.’

Thanks, Glen!

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Presented at SF Coach meeting last night

I spoke to the San Francisco Coach Federation monthly meeting last night, at the beautiful Handlery Hotel on Geary in San Francisco. It was a well-organized meeting, and well-attended–I think there were more than 25 in the room. I shared how I came up with my BookProgram method for writing good books quickly.

SF Coach

SF Coach meeting at Handlery in SF

There were lots of excellent questions. People seemed to “get” the idea that structure must precede content, and that content is actually the easy part of writing a book. I spoke about “the diamond is your friend,” mangling a baseball metaphor, but to good effect.

Several people said they’d like to talk about their book with me, so I sent them–and I send you–to to make an appointment with me for a free strategy call. (By the way, if you’re tired of having to exchange 4 emails in order to set a phone appointment, I recommend checking out. It publishes your calendar, sync’d from Outlook, Gmail, or whatever, showing just blocked periods for your appointments. People can choose from your available slots; you get an email and a text message, and can approve or deny the appointment.)

If you’d like to hear what I said, just click here, fill in the form, and I’ll give you immediate access to the recording. (Click on “continue shopping” after the cart thanks you, and you’ll go directly to the page with the recording.)

Would you like me to speak to your group? Click here to make an appointment to discuss it with me.

Our first Meetup

I just got back from our first Meetup meeting. Nine people showed up.

I explained why people need to write a book, and how easy and fast it can be when you choose to structure before writing. We talked about why “the diamond is your friend,” and what that means to the process of writing a book.

Each attendee had a different and fascinating story of why they want to write a book, and what they felt is holding them back.

If you’d like to find out more about it, click on the link above. The next meeting will be in 2 weeks, in Mountain View, CA.

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