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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The joy of marketing

Your marketing is killing your business.

Let me rephrase: Unless your marketing is bringing you more business than you can handle, it’s pulling you down the drain. There is no middle ground in marketing.

So which is it? If you are like 90+% of authors and solopreneurs, you don’t have all the clients you want, all the business you need. And it’s probably because you treat marketing like cleaning the toilet: You know it needs to be done; you know it’s your responsibility; but since you haven’t learned to enjoy it, you put it off until things are well nigh intolerable.

Just to clarify: Marketing, in my view, is about identifying your customer, satisfying your customer, and keeping your customer. Selling is a narrower concept; so is branding. To be a good marketer, you have to know who your customer is; what it will take to satisfy them; and what it will take to keep them coming back to you for more. That is what your marketing plan should express.

Your marketing plan is the heart of your business plan. Of course your niche is important; your competition is significant; your infrastructure is critical to bringing it all together–but unless you marketing plan states clearly who your customer is, what they want, and how you will keep them, none of the other stuff matters. Social media? Sure, but marketing first. Business development? Yes, but only after you address those first three points: Identifying, satisfying, and keeping your customer.

Marketing planning and execution are ongoing activities, not periodic acts like replacing the batteries in the smoke alarms. Your comprehension of your customer’s identity and their desires must be daily refined. If you can’t learn to love marketing, you should get a job–or find people who love marketing on your behalf.

Think of it like this: You love the outcomes of successful marketing; you enjoy knowing exactly who and where the hungry crowd is, and precisely what they’re hungry for. You love delivering it to them. Planning and doing the marketing are prerequisites. You may enjoy cooking, but unless you shop for ingredients, there won’t be a meal.

So begin to challenge yourself by examining the marketing process and identifying the parts you don’t like to do. What can you do about them? Can you outsource them? Can you learn to love them? Make this a top priority. It’s the key to a successful business!

What’s the question?

Your audience–the people you want to reach with your book–has a question. Yes, I know they have more than one. But for many of them, there is one big question they share. It occupies them. It represents a pain, a hole in their lives, that is demanding comfort, that must have an answer.

Do you know what your audience’s question is?

If you do, great. The title of your book should address that question. And the answer found in your book should be powerful. Actionable.

If you don’t know what the audience’s burning question is–find out. Ask. Call. Interview. Read market research reports. In fact, if you don’t know, don’t publish a book until you do–that is, if you want anyone to read your book.


You can “just start writing,” but you won’t wind up with a book

You want a house. You have a lot. You’ve got a general idea of what the house should look like. So you think, “Time to act! I’ll just jump in.” You head off for the lumber yard. “Let’s see, I’ll probably need some 2×4’s. Oh yeah, and some cement. Some nails–I’ll get 50 pounds, and come back if I need more”…

A house? You think this track leads to your dream house? No way.


[Model T 18 #C G 26   At a Lumber Yard. R.E. B...
Image by New York Public Library via Flickr

Very simply, because you have no idea what goes first, and what goes next. Never mind permitting and all the stuff that has to happen before construction. How about a foundation?

You get the idea.

Your book is the same.

Just start writing, and you’ll have… a bunch of writing. But it won’t be a book.

A book has structure. Create the structure first. Then write. That’s the quickest way to produce a book.

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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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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.

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

Just my type

Fiddling with type is not a fruitful pursuit for most authors. Unless your expertise is page design or typography, this domain—full of subtlety, nuance, and beauty—will distract you from your writing.

I think it’s a left-brain/right-brain issue. If you are drawn to the niceties of fonts, it’s because your right brain has itches that need scratching. By all means, honor them—but not during writing time. Treat your attraction to typefaces as a hobby, a passion to be pursued in time you’ve allotted for it.

I’ve spent hours on type and typefaces with the feeling that it’s the stuff of books. And it really is—but for designers, not authors.

Having issued that dire warning, let me now share a couple of resources I ran across this morning. First, Typetester, a site that makes it really easy to compare fonts:

Next, the current issue of the Big Brand System biweekly newsletter has fascinating information, including why you should avoid Verdana on your website. (Sign up for this free missive here.)

Writing collaboratively

I’ve heard more than one account of friends who set out to write a book together–and lose their friendship. This won’t happen to you if:

  • You write alone, or
  • You have clear boundaries in the collaboration, and
  • You observe the boundaries assiduously.

Whether you have read my book, heard me speak on my method, or just been a reader of this blog, you know the essence of “The Simple Secret To Writing A Non-Fiction Book In 30 Days, At 1 Hour A Day!”: Structure first, then content.

Sounds simple, I know. But it is not something most people are used to doing, and they don’t know why it might be important when undertaking to write a book. The metaphor I usually use is the building of a house: You don’t start with a trip to the lumberyard. If you do that, you will wind up with a yard full of stuff, and no idea as to how to assemble it into a house.

You start a house with a trip to an architect, who creates a plan. The plan makes its way into the hands of a builder, who uses it to create a list of materials. Then, after the materials have been acquired, a foundation is prepared and a frame built. That becomes the skeleton of the house.

It’s the same with a book. If you create your “framework”–your outline–first, it’s easy to write your book. If you don’t–well, good luck. You’ll need it if you hope to get a book done.

Creating the framework has an additional benefit: It makes the delicate process of collaborative writing practical. It does so by creating boundaries.

You see, once your framework is complete, all the book’s pieces–its chapters and subchapters–are defined and named. So if two people are to work collaboratively on a book, they should:

  • Structure the book together, at least at the table-of-contents level.
  • Then they can split the chapters between them, and each create the list of subchapters for his or her own chapters,
  • Or structure the whole thing together, and split the subchapters up.

The place where many collaborations bog down is at the level of paragraphs. By dividing up subchapters and chapters, that opportunity for failure is avoided.

You and your partner may choose to identify yourselves as the respective authors of different parts of book. Or you may choose to have an editor “Homogenize” your distinct writing styles into a consistent “voice.” Either can work.

Structure makes collaboration possible.

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