What writers should read

BrainPickings.org“Maria Popova” sounds like a pseudonym, but it isn’t. It is the name of a buzz curator, a zeitgeist surfer, with an astonishing breadth and depth of interest. No matter what you are writing about, you should sign up for the BrainPickings.org newsletter, and at least scan the headlines once a week. Why? Well, we live in a bitstorm, and the stuff is coming at us so fast and thick that there is no way to absorb it unfiltered. And where is a trustworthy filter? I don’t think it’s my Facebook stream, my Twitter feed, or even LinkedIn. G+ is way too cluttered. Where to turn? There is good stuff coming over the interwebs, but it is not clearly labeled. On BrainPickings.org, you can find a lot–more than I can handle, still–and it is clearly labeled. In a book review, Popova explains a bit:

“The present education system is the trampling of the herd,” legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright lamented in 1956. Half a century later, I started Brain Pickings in large part out of frustration and disappointment with my trampling experience of our culturally fetishized “Ivy League education.” I found myself intellectually and creatively unstimulated by the industrialized model of the large lecture hall, the PowerPoint presentations, the standardized tests assessing my rote memorization of facts rather than my ability to transmute that factual knowledge into a pattern-recognition mechanism that connects different disciplines to cultivate wisdom about how the world works and a moral lens on how it shouldwork. So Brain Pickings became the record of my alternative learning, of that cross-disciplinary curiosity that took me from art to psychology to history to science, by way of the myriad pieces of knowledge I discovered — and connected — on my own. I didn’t live up to the entrepreneurial ideal of the college drop-out and begrudgingly graduated “with honors,” but refused to go to my own graduation and decided never to go back to school. Years later, I’ve learned more in the course of writing and researching the thousands of articles to date than in all the years of my formal education combined.

So, in 2012, when I found out that writer Kio Stark was crowdfunding a book that would serve as a manifesto for learning outside formal education, I eagerly chipped in. Now, Don’t Go Back to School: A Handbook for Learning Anything is out and is everything I could’ve wished for when I was in college, an essential piece of cultural literacy, at once tantalizing and practically grounded assurance that success doesn’t lie at the end of a single highway but is sprinkled along a thousand alternative paths.

Go subscribe. Reading Brain Pickings will improve your writing. Enjoy!

Gabriele Rico, inventor of clustering

Cover of "Writing the Natural Way"

I’m writing an ebook about clustering; it will be out soon, and I’ll post it here. So I thought I’d check on Gabriele Rico, whose “Writing the Natural Way” was my introduction to clustering. I still recommend the book to anyone thinking about writing; it is marvelous. Clustering changed my life–it’s a powerful practice.

Googling her name, I was surprised to find the first entry was an obituary. She passed away in March, after battling cancer for some time. She was 75.

Not only is this book of hers worth reading and keeping for rereading, her blog is full of gentle and joyful writing wisdom. I know you will enjoy it.

I am sad. When I moved here, to Mountain View, CA, in 2006, one of the things I thought was, “Gabriele Rico lives near here, in Cupertino. Perhaps I can meet her.” But I never did.

If there is something you’ve been putting off, maybe it’s time to do it.

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Tom Clancy, 66

Tom Clancy

Tom Clancy

Tom Clancy was 66 when he passed away a couple of days ago. I am 66. I had spent time with him some years ago, when we were both on the board of directors of a software company in North Carolina called Virtus. That company spun out Red Storm Entertainment, named for “Red Storm Rising,” a Clancy best-seller. It published games based on Tom’s books–and later, books by Michael Creighton.

After Tom bought a stake in the Orioles, the board met in his Baltimore place, then went to Camden Yards to watch a game from the owner’s box. I don’t even recall who they were playing, so dazzled I was.

I remember Tom as quiet, thoughtful, a bit withdrawn. Perhaps that was the result of his fame by then.

Good to have known you, Tom. May your family find comfort.

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Social media: How Guy K keeps up

Guy says on LinkedIn: Many people ask me how I manage my social media accounts (and others make stuff up rather than figure out what I do). Here are the gory, inside-story details. Perhaps you may find some of my methods useful to help you get the most out of social media, too. I wrote this article for my friends at Hubspot in May, this is the June 2013 update.


Try out a new note-taking system

My friend Kevin Dietz has created a note-taking system: LotsOfJots.com. “Jots” are notes of any length. They live on “Pages.” There are “Topic Pages” and “Journal Pages.” It is a simple and wonderful way to keep track of anything at all.

The pre-release version is ready to be tried out. It’s bare-bones, in a sense, but already supports text notes and drawing notes, as well as attachments. Soon will come bit-map graphics, audio, and video.

English: Wooden File Cabinet with drawer open....

English: Wooden File Cabinet with drawer open. Taken by me. (Photo credit: Wikipedia 

Here’s an intro and an invitation code:

What Is LotsOfJots?

LotsOfJots is a cloud-based information organizing, note-taking, and journaling system created by Kevin Dietz.

Signing Up For LotsOfJots

LotsOfJots is currently in private beta.  To register, visit:


Invitation Code: dietz-8465-jun2012

IMPORTANT: Please be sure to write down and remember your user id and password.

Who Uses LotsOfJots?

LotsOfJots is designed for organizing any kind of knowledge work.  The types of users we have in mind are managers, engineers, small business owners, researchers, students, teachers, and consumers.  You can use it as a diary / journaling system, a note-taking system, an online bookmarking system, a to-do list manager, a paperless, electronic filing cabinet for documents, a place for taking notes on any projects you are working on, a home and auto maintenance filing system, and a place to store and organize just about anything you need to remember related to your life, your work, or your family.

Basic Design Philosophy

The system stores information in two types of “pages” – topic pages and journal pages.

Topic pages are shown in the left-hand pane.  By default, you have one topic page, the “Root” topic page.  You can add topic pages as needed, and topic pages can be nested inside of other topic pages.  They can also be cross-referenced, so the same topic page can be contained in any number of other topic pages (multi-parented).

The other type of page is the journal page.  The system automatically creates a journal page for each date as you navigate to them.  The idea is you always have a chronological record of what you were working on.  Entries to topic pages are automatically cross-referenced into the journal.  Switch back and forth between the current topic page and the current journal page using “Show Topic Page” and “Show Journal” in the menu at the top.  Navigate forwards and backwards through your journal using “Previous” and “Next”.

Content is placed onto these pages in the form of posts, which we call “jots.”  As a general guideline, jots should be kept short, about 1 paragraph or so per jot  Generally it’s not a good idea to write many long paragraphs in a single jot.  The more granular the better.  Jots can then be rearranged by dragging and dropping them, as can topic pages.

More Information

Here is a video that briefly describes some of the differences between LotsOfJots and two other note taking systems.


For more information, contact Kevin Dietz at Kevin@timpanisoftware.com


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Jon Morrow offers some great advice for enlivening your writing

How to Fix Your Writing When It’s Lifeless, Tedious, or Even Downright Stupid


FEB 05, 13How to Fix Your Writing When It’s Lifeless, Tedious, or Even Downright Stupid

Happens to the best of us, you know.

We’ve all been told to let the words flow loose and easy and free, but instead, we stiffen up like a British banker before his annual rectal exam.

It feels horrible too. Instead of enjoying writing like we’re supposed to, we end up gritting our teeth through the entire experience, knowing something just ain’t right but feeling so uncomfortable that we can’t help sounding like a robot.

The good news is that deliverance is at hand. Like any good friend, I hereby pronounce myself ready to pry said stick out of your posterior, curing you of robotitus once and for all.

Let us begin. Click here.

Come to my half-day workshop!

It’s Sunday, January 27, at 9 am, at my house.

You will learn how to write and publish your book.

Any questions? Click here now!

Hope to see you there!

Check out Bill Belew’s membership site for authors

As an author–or as an aspiring author–you already know that success in today’s democratized publishing world is all about marketing. You probably also know Bill Belewthat the least expensive, highest-return marketing you can undertake is a blog.

But–how will people find your blog and learn about your book and your other services? Somehow, you have to let them know. How do you do that? And can you do it without spending a ton of money on advertising?
The answers to these and other questions you might have are available on Bill Belew’s Pro Blogger Membership site. Members can take advantage of many benefits. Where can you go to get…
  1. A website evaluation from an SEO, traffic and business blogging expert. Read what people pay Bill for website evaluations. (The earlier you get in the higher the likelihood of getting an evaluation!)
  2. Forum access to other serious minded business bloggers, real back links from real people in your niche and access to other bloggers who can/will guest blog for you and let you do the same for them? (Read more about the business blogger forum … )
  3. A place to get those real backlinks from real people from real quality sites. Read how much it costs to get  a real backlink from a high quality site.
And bunches of other benefits you can read about by clicking here.
Why am I endorsing Bill’s site? Because I believe I’m doing you a favor by telling you about it. Bill is a blogger who pays his Palo Alto mortgage and supports his family comfortably from his blogging income. His network of sites has registered over 88 MILLION page views. He has attracted as many as 100,000 visitors in ONE HOUR. He knows how to do this.
And he is passionate about teaching others how to achieve this kind of blogging success.
The site is new, so its information is all very fresh. And because you’ll be one of early members, you will be able to get the direct attention of Bill and his fellow wizards easily and quickly, besides having access to all the information on the site.
Check it out by clicking here. You will be glad you did.

Help my brave friend Randy!

Randy Peyser

Randy Peyser

My fellow book coach and friend Randy Peyser has been coping with fast-moving breast cancer–without health insurance. She is fighting hard. Friends have put together a benefit concert and silent auction for her on January 6 at the Corralitos Cultural Center, 127 Hames Road in Watsonville, www.corralitoscultural.org.

For info or reservations: Call 831-588-9354 or email michael@michaelgaither.comIf you can’t attend, you can make a donation by either contacting Randy at (831) 726-3153 or mailing your donation to P.O. Box 151, Aromas, CA 95004

PS Happy holidays!

John Kremer’s Book Infographics

My favorite book marketer, John Kremer, has been creating infographics for books that capture their essence in interesting ways. The one he just created for my John Kremerbook can be seen here. If you want to see your book achieve the kind of success you always wanted, a conversation with John would be in order.


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