A different kind of selfy

What is “writing”? Is it limited to letters and numbers–or can it include more? Tell me what you think of this.



Pencil (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Notes are about remembering. Sure, “just jot it down”; and “The lightest pencil beats the strongest memory”; and… you get the idea.

But notes are so, well, personal. Some like them in pen or pencil; some like them typed. Some like to draw as well as write; others like to include pictures, screencaps, videos, audio files.

There is no “right way to do notes,” I think (let me know if you disagree). But there are lots of good ways that I don’t know about.

Here is a link to a Lifehacker piece that is marvelously specific about the use, creation, and maintenance of notes. And here is a link to a piece about spatial hypertext, a grand attempt to create a language for talking about “spatial hypertext,” collections of notes that are arranged in different ways for different reasons.Image

Lifehacker–a fantastic blog, by the way, full of useful and intelligently written advice–covers the basics of note-taking, especially in terms of meeting and lecture notes. It suggests different tools and practices, in a helpful and unpresumptuous tone.

Another wonderful feature of Lifehacker is “Related Items” inserted in the text, that connect you to, uh, related items–a powerful manifestation of hypertext, and its use in note taking and note management.

Of course, there are other uses for notes than for recalling meetings and lectures. You get thoughts, ideas, assignments; you develop plans of all kinds; you remember something you want to do or buy, but can’t do it right now. Still, notes are notes, and all the ideas in the Lifehacker piece have some relevance for all note-takers.

Mark Bernstein’s paper on spatial hypertext is more academic in tone, but it tackles a profound and generally unexplored area of notes in a readable, well-illustrated, and ambitious way. If you are interested in notes, creativity, information curating, and related topics, you should find some interest in this paper. It’s all abut the different ways you can lay out notes spatially, and the different uses of the different layouts.

What else are notes for? For me, they are often a kind of reflection, a way to externalize stuff that is in my head. By putting it outside of my head, I initiate a kind of dialectic: A thesis in my head; antithesis in the notes; then a synthesis, when I look at the notes and think about them.

What do you think about notes? What note apps or devices do you use?

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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Learn about creating your author platform from Anne Hill

My friend Anne is holding a workshop on Sunday, September 22, 2013 from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM (PDT) in San Francisco. I cannot think of a better person to learn from. If you are writing a book or have written a book, you should be thinking about creating your “author platform.”

Anne Hill

Anne Hill

Anne is an author and coach and wonderful person whom you’ll enjoy. Go to the workshop!

Doug Engelbart, 88

Yes, he did invent the mouse. But that is such a tiny artifact in the magnificent edifice that was Doug’s vision (see Wikipedia):

Douglas Engelbart and I

Douglas Engelbart and a fan (Photo credit: ekai)

Engelbart’s career was inspired in 1951 when he was engaged to be married and realized he had no career goals beyond getting a good education and a decent job.[citation needed] Over several months he reasoned that:

  • he would focus his career on making the world a better place;
  • any serious effort to make the world better requires some kind of organized effort;
  • harnessing the collective human intellect of all the people contributing to effective solutions was the key;
  • if you could dramatically improve how we do that, you’d be boosting every effort on the planet to solve important problems—the sooner the better; and
  • computers could be the vehicle for dramatically improving this capability.

In 1945, Engelbart had read with interest Vannevar Bush’s article “As We May Think,” a call to action for making knowledge widely available as a national peacetime grand challenge. He had also read something about the recent phenomenon of computers, and from his experience as a radar technician, he knew that information could be analyzed and displayed on a screen. He envisioned intellectual workers sitting at display “working stations”, flying through information space, harnessing their collective intellectual capacity to solve important problems together in much more powerful ways. Harnessing collective intellect, facilitated by interactive computers, became his life’s mission at a time when computers were viewed as number crunching tools.

He enrolled in graduate school in electrical engineering at University of California, Berkeley, graduating with an Master of Science degree in 1953, and a Ph.D. in 1955.[14] As a graduate student at Berkeley he assisted in the construction of the California Digital Computer project CALDIC. His graduate work led to several patents.[17] After completing his PhD, Engelbart stayed on at Berkeley as an assistant professor to teach for a year, and left when it was clear he could not pursue his vision there. Engelbart then formed a startup company, Digital Techniques, to commercialize some of his doctorate research on storage devices, but after a year decided instead to pursue the research he had been dreaming of since 1951.

For a greater hint of Doug’s contributions, watch this video of what Steven Levy called, “The mother of all demos.”

Doug seemed to have a special talent for having his most forward-thinking and empowering visions ignored. He profited almost not at all from his inventions and innovations. Yet among those whose lives he touched, his memory will be deeply appreciated, and his absence strongly felt.

Thank you, dear friend!

PS More good stuff on Doug’s vision

Why can’t I see you?

Could it be because you are simply not showing up? I think it was Woody Allen who said, “80% of success is in showing up.” Whether concretely or metaphorically, your presence is required in your writing.

Other people can research and record the same facts. Other people might even share many of your opinions. But when I am drawn to a source of writing, it is usually because I am drawn to the writer. How are they like me? How are they different? What are their characteristic ways of expressing themselves?

I love to read the Dear Sugar column at TheRumpus.net. (Warning: Language is often strong.)  Sugar writes anonymously for now, and has reflected several times on this anonymity. Is she “showing up”? Oh, yes–often virtually naked in her openness and vulnerability.  Even though I don’t know her name, I feel I have a profound sense of who she is.

Journalists are taught to write without injecting their personality into their reporting. Some are more successful than others, but by and large, I don’t read news articles because of the byline. If I do read  them, it’s for the facts I hope they contain. Does this suit your writing purpose? If so, you can get lots of free education and tips at Poynter. You may want to start with Roy Peter Clarke’s 50 Writing Tools (the link is to a summary version; the whole list is well-worth reading and re-reading).

Malcolm Gladwell is another favorite of mine. In one sense, he is a consummate reporter, sharing his  research and insights  uncolored by the language of emotion. Yet in his choices oof what to research, what to report, which experts to interview, and how to report their stories, he shows up so clearly I have the sense I can identify his pieces without seeing who wrote them.

How can you show up?

  • Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.
  • Be consistent; think about integrity, “being of one piece,” and hold yourself to it
  • Be reliable. If you are blogging, and commit to one post a week, don’t let your readers down. If you are writing a book, and promise a result in its title, make sure that a way to achieve the result is given to the reader by the last chapter.
  • Avoid “cute.”
  • Write English (or whatever language you are writing), not SMS/text-speak. (LOL!)
  • Care about your reader, and let it show.

Your thoughts? Please comment.

Can this new publishing model work?

Unglue.it is not even in beta yet, but it is raising a lot of eyebrows: Can you use a pledge campaign to raise money to induce a copyright owner to put their publication into the public domain? The owner gives up future royalties in exchange for a one-time payment, raised from a crowd of interested people in small amounts. (Compare Kickstarter.com)  It’s an intriguing thought, and I will be very interested to see if it flies. Here’s a brief video in which Unglue.it founder Eric Hellman is interviewed by my friend David Weinberger.

Flavorwire: Advice from 10 prolific writers

JoelTrainsAuthors is mostly about non-fiction. But this advice (which came via Copyblogger, whom I thank) is useful to all writers.

Robert Louis Stevenson: Build a web

He wrote Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in six days, but he wasn’t in too big a hurry to mind the web of “sound patterns” essential to the delicate art of constructing sentences, which he elucidates in the first chapter of his 1919 essay collection, The Art of Writing:

Music and literature, the two temporal arts, contrive their pattern of sounds in time; or, in other words, of sounds and pauses. Communication may be made in broken words, the business of life be carried on with substantives alone; but that is not what we call literature; and the true business of the literary artist is to plait or weave his meaning, involving it around itself; so that each sentence, by successive phrases, shall first come into a kind of knot, and then, after a moment of suspended meaning, solve and clear itself. In every properly constructed sentence there should be observed this knot or hitch; so that (however delicately) we are led to foresee, to expect, and then to welcome the successive phrases. The pleasure may be heightened by an element of surprise, as, very grossly, in the common figure of the antithesis, or, with much greater subtlety, where an antithesis is first suggested and then deftly evaded. Each phrase, besides, is to be comely in itself; and between the implication and the evolution of the sentence there should be a satisfying equipoise of sound; for nothing more often disappoints the ear than a sentence solemnly and sonorously prepared, and hastily and weakly finished. Nor should the balance be too striking and exact, for the one rule is to be infinitely various; to interest, to disappoint, to surprise, and yet still to gratify; to be ever changing, as it were, the stitch, and yet still to give the effect of an ingenious neatness.



Back in the saddle again

I took off the period from the Memorial of Trumpets (what most Jews call Rosh HaShana) through Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, at least in terms of blogging. I didn’t stop working entirely, but I did focus on just a couple of things, and on taking full advantage of joining with my people in reflection on the past year and the coming year, and on making things right with fellow humans.

In the Yom Kippur prayerbook, it says that in observing the day we can find forgiveness for offenses against God, but that for offenses between people, we must go to them. That’s a very practical and loving point of view, and I appreciate it.

blowing the shofar (by Alphonse Lévy)
Image via Wikipedia

And that goes for both asking and giving forgiveness.

Hmm…what if I cast a broader net here? OK. If I have offended you, my reader, in any way, I ask your forgiveness. And I invite you to write or call me and tell me about it, so that I can also seek not only forgiveness, but a place of reconciliation. I mean it. My cell number is 650-336-3937.

I’ve grown more and more aware of the significance of emotions in my life and in my communications. When I was a math grad student, good writing was elegant, and elegance meant succinctness. Expressing a thought in the fewest possible words and symbols was the peak of elegance. Unfortunately, I carried that over into my writing. My greatest challenge is to being juicy, and not just concise.

It’s odd, because I’m a very emotional person. I just didn’t accord emotions–mine or those of others–the weight they deserve in human discourse. Now I can say that I feel bad about that. Sorry, even. And determined to do better. (See? Feelings! :-))

Feelings enter naturally into fiction and memoirs. But less naturally into the books being written by my typical clients, who are typically trying to explain their “special sauce” to prospective clients. And that fact makes them all the more important. Emotions are what engage the reader, not facts. Facts are important, but feelings communicate.

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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?

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