Music to focus by

The Brain Club is a monthly meeting in San Francisco founded by my friend Phil Dixon. Their presentations are video-streamed. Here is yesterday’s, by Will Henshall, on the subject of focus. More precisely, on the types of music that actually help you focus on the task at hand—say, the book you are writing—and the types that do not. Will, a musician and scientist, has founded a science-based company that lets you play the “right kinds” of music via your web-connected devices. Check out his site here.

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The best thing to happen to my writing

A backspace key in its natural habitat, having...

Susie Brown wrote this guest post:

There I was, in the middle of writing a very important article, and the craziest thing happened. My laptop’s keyboard, which I had always been so trusting of, failed me. At first, the “backspace “ button just started looking a little bit out of place. But then the right side actually started sticking right up in the air above all the other keys. Saying that it “stuck out like a sore thumb” sounds just too cliché, but it is so fitting. The right side of the backspace button seemed to protrude just a little bit higher each time I pressed it. Until finally the unthinkable happened, and my “backspace” button fell off.

The truth is, I have had buttons pop off my trusty laptop keyboard before, and I knew what to do from previous experience. I applied enough pressure to that backspace button to flatten a penny, which seemed to help. I continued to write.

Then, the button fell off again. I put it back, and it continued to jump right off of the keyboard. It turned out that a minuscule piece of plastic that holds the button in place had worn off–the button was ruined.

I was crushed.

It turns out that you can order computer buttons online for about $5 each, plus shipping. It would take days for the new button to arrive. I live on my keyboard. “What will I do in the mean time?” I wondered.

Whether out of habit, or mere stubbornness, I continued writing. “I’m not going to let losing a cheap piece of plastic cramp my writing style,” I thought.

If you have never lost a keyboard button, there is something that you should understand about the construction of a keyboard. Even if the plastic top of a key falls off, there is still a small rubbery doohickey underneath, that you can press to get the same result as you would from pressing the key. The problem with the rubber doohickey is that most times that you aim to hit it, you miss, so it’s arguably not even worth bothering with. How frustrating it was when I began writing without a backspace button! But after a while, I began to enjoy it.

And then it set me free.

All of a sudden I began writing free-flow. Whenever I made a mistake, which was often, I wouldn’t bother attempting to hit the rubbery protruding doohickey that was once my backspace button. Instead, I just wrote without correcting, and my fingers started to write whatever my heart wanted to express. My writing had been imbued with a new spirit. I wasn’t just putting words on a page anymore, I was plucking my own heartstrings as my fingers created a free flow of ideas, thoughts, and feelings. Looking back, it was the best thing that has ever happened to my writing.

I recommend trying the experience sometime. You don’t need to break any keys off of your precious keyboard; rather, just avoid hitting the backspace key while you write your rough draft. Then, watch as your thoughts develop naturally. Without the pressure of trying to write perfectly, your mind will become free to think about what you actually want to say. No more shackles of second-guessing yourself mid-sentence, no more frustration from stopping for a few minutes in order to ponder which word would fit just right. Just write.

When you read what you put on the page you will probably be surprised at what you have written. Writing this way takes a lot less time than interrupting the flow in order to click the backspace button every few words. Of course, editing takes a bit more time too.

Author Bio: Susie Brown is a FastUpFront Blog contributor and business author. FastUpFront offers a fast business loan alternative based on business cash flow.

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Get rid of “writer’s block” once and for all!

“Writer’s block” refers to a “stuck” state, in which the writer just can’t think of anything to write. Is it real? Is it a mental affliction requiring professional treatment? Depends who you ask.

overcoming writer's block - crumpled paper on ...If you think you are experiencing writer’s block, you are. Whether the condition is “real” or not, whatever that means, is irrelevant: you want to write, and you can’t. Here are some ways for you to get past the block; the writing is up to you.

  1. Copy. Pick a piece of any kind, whether or not it relates to what you are trying to write, and copy it. Keyboard, pen, or pencil, it doesn’t matter. By the time you are less than a page into it, you will have things to say.
  2. Freewrite. The classical creative writing exercise. Pick a word or a topic, and write for a prescribed period of time–say, 10 minutes. If you have nothing to say, say, “I have nothing to say!” Write gibberish. But do not stop until the 10 minutes have elapsed. If that didn’t break you through, drink a glass of water, and do another 10 minutes.
  3. As if. Get into a relaxed state, and ask yourself: “What would I write if I were not blocked?” Then write that. Or: “What would I say if I didn’t care?” Or: “What would I write if nobody knew it was me?”
  4. Force a template. In “Writing with Power,” Peter Elbow suggests picking any framework–say, a barnyard; a battlefield; your body; a factory; a meal–and assigning roles to the parts of what you’re trying to write: “Let’s say the cow is my main protagonist. The cow wants to get milked. What’s the role of the chicken? The goat? The tractor?” And so on. Assign roles, then write with the roles in mind.
  5. Model a writer you admire. Or one that you hate. How would Charles Dickens write what I’m trying to write? Jane Austen? Arianna Huffington? Rush Limbaugh?
  6. Read and take notes. This one is more of a tip for warding off writer’s block than for dealing with an attack, but it can work for either. Give yourself some time to read, and take notes about what you read. Keep the notes brief. When you go back to them, they will have the “juice” of your interest.
  7. Outline. “If I were able to write, what would come first? What would be my conclusion? How would I bring the reader from here to there?” Then outline each heading: “If this is the introduction, what should I say first? What’s the end of the introduction” Two levels should get you to where you can fill in the blanks.
Your thoughts? Please comment.

7 qualities of an engaging book title

Your book’s title is important to its impact. If the title is not a grabber, the prospective reader will not open the book.

So–how to name your book? As I’ve mentioned, a lot of the advice that applies to copy writing applies to book titles. Here are 7 characteristics of a successful title; make sure your book’s title has at least one of them:

  1. Make it the answer to a question. Questions are memorable. And they are “open loops’; the reader’s brain seeks an answer, a place to find closure. A good title addresses a question that is plaguing the reader. “But Is It Art?” by Nina Felshin includes the question in the title. “Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates of the San Francisco Bay Region” by East Bay Municipal Utility District Conservation Staff answers a very specific question.
  2. Cover of Make it targeted. You need to know exactly who you are addressing with your book. And your book’s title must promise to address a major pain that they are experiencing, like “Flat Belly Diet!” by Liz Vaccariello; or “The Official SAT Study Guide,” by the College Board. These speak to people lacking a flat belly and to those studying for the SAT.
    The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
  3. Make it address primal issues. Life and death, health, love, children–these are emotion-fraught topics. Even if your book is technical, your title will draw more attention if it mentions mortality, sex, or body functions, even if these are used only metaphorically. “The Age of Virtual Reproduction,” by Spring Ulmer. “I Miss You: A First Look at Death,” by Pat Thomas and Leslie Harker.
  4. Make it a promise of a benefit. “Beyond Anger–A Guide for Men: How to Free Yourself from the Grip of Anger and Get More Out of Life,” by Thomas J. Harbin.  “Think and Grow Rich,” by Napoleon Hill.
  5. Make it a “how to.” When looking for a book, people are often trying to find out how to do something. Good titles: “How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less,” by Nicholas Boothman; “Mushrooms: How to Grow Them,” by William Falconer.
  6. Make it a command. How about “Wreck this Journal,” by Keri Smith? “Do the Work,” by Steven Pressfield? “Cook Like a Rock Star,” by Anne Burrell and Suzanne Lenzer?
  7. Make it almost familiar. “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” William Shirer, harked back to “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.”  “An Inconvenient Book,” by Glenn Beck and Kevin Balfe, played off of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.”
What are your thoughts about successful titles? About how to create them? Comment below!
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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.


Paper vs. ebook

It’s not really a dichotomy; you can, and probably should, have both. Thanks to print-on-demand machinery, you can get your book out there for very little money (consider if you can handle terrible customer support; otherwise my favorite is And you can simultaneously publish your work as an ebook, getting it formatted for the different readers, as well as offering it for computer reading.

A paper book can be a “big business card,” as Dona Kozik puts it; it’s a physical presence in your prospect’s hands, and then in their home or office, that constantly reminds them of you. It’s authoritative, and establishes you as an author–hence, an authority.

An ebook has very low production costs and is almost free to distribute. If you sell it, it’s almost pure profit; if you employ it as a bonus or giveaway, your marginal cost per copy is essentially zero.

One poorly exploited aspect of ebooks: Media richness. Your ebook can contain color, audio, video, and links–all of which are expensive, impossible, or cumbersome to put in a paper book. Yet they are easy and inexpensive to have in an ebook.

But why invest the additional work? Here are some reasons:

  • Reach readers with different learning styles
  • Rich more media-jaded younger readers
  • Enable a reader to reach you with a single click
  • Build a broader-bandwidth relationship with your reader
Why not?
  • Good media can be expensive or difficult to produce
  • The results may not be worth the investment
  • Your audience doesn’t respond well to media
Writing a book is something you need to do, to establish yourself as an expert. But having a media-rich ebook is something that may or may not enhance your business. Don’t decide by default; think about it and do what makes sense.

Autocrit: Almost-free editing site

A Google ad suggested I go look at Autocrit, an on-line editing wizard. I was blown away by its power! In seconds, it identified a bunch of subtle problems with the block of text I dropped into the free version.

Running into the limitations of the free version, I signed up for the $47/year account so that I could put in multiple blocks of text–blog posts, articles, pieces of fiction, whatever. (Knowing that I have a 60-day money-back period gave me confidence too.)

Autocrit is transparent; it explains what is wrong with the writing, covering things like:

  • Overused words
  • Slow pacing
  • Appropriate dialog tags
  • Clichés & redundancies

You can try it for free.

I liked it so much I signed on as an affiliate. The links in this post are affiliate links; I’ll get 25% if you decide to buy a subscription.

A blog worth reading: A Newbie’s Guide To Self-Publishing

I was going to quote and link to one particular article on Joe Konrath’s blog, but the more I read, the more I realized you should read it all. So click on that link and head over there. Joe shares powerful lessons for people wondering whether self-publishing is viable vs. finding a publisher.

2010: The Year Self-Publishing Became Respectable

A powerful piece on the PBS site; worth reading.

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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