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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Your book is you

I just got the latest issue of Writer’s Digest; it’s one of the few magazines I still receive in the mail, and only because it was a package deal with their websites. And I must admit that the kinesthetics of a physical magazine still offer me something pleasant, despite the inconvenience of not having it electronically.

A hot issue: Truth in memoirs. After several scandals (look up authors James Frey and Frank McCourt and throw in “Oprah,” and you’ll get the gist), the subject of “embellishment” of stories that are ostensibly true has gotten a lot of attention.

But let’s cut to the chase: ALL writing is false, in some sense, no matter how journalistic or scientific. It is false in that it perforce tells only part of the story. There’s going to be a range of “truthfulness”; if you invent people or events claim truthfulness, don’t be surprised if you get called on it.

Yet whose memory is perfect? Even with notes or recordings? And what “facts” are significant? Is it better to write, “The color of our family car was blue, or maybe grey; actually, it may have been dark green. I’m not sure…” or “Dad pulled the blue Buick into the driveway, and threw his suitcase into the back seat”? Well, what do you mean by, “better”? The latter moves the action along; the former may be more truthful; but what are you trying to accomplish?

Most of my clients are writing books to establish their professional credibility. I encourage them to include some autobiography, so that readers can get to know them–and perhaps like and trust them. To that end, I suggest judicious storytelling–not to mislead, but not to draw attention to imperfections.

Ultimately, your book represents you. Your integrity, or lack thereof, will be examined, largely by the evidence you provide–and how well it matches what people may find on the Internet. Think about that when you plan what to write.

Your mind is a vat of viscous fluid

It has all kinds of stuff floating in it, at different depths. The stuff that is near or on the surface is consciously accessible to you; stuff that is a little deeper show up after a second or two of reflection.

Web 3
Image by MHBaker via Flickr

Deeper things–memories, knowledge–are associatively linked. They only show up when triggered by associations, experiences, feelings. It’s all the stuff you know, but you don’t know that you know. You can’t list it.

The process of clustering that I teach as part of my approach to writing books lets you get at this stuff. It empowers you to list what you know, but didn’t know that you know. It thus makes it possible to quickly identify the things you’re going to have to research, so that you don’t waste a lot of time wandering around Wikipedia or libraries.

Of course, the lists you can then make are useful for lots more than just writing your book. You can create other products: Courses; articles; ebooks; presentations; and more. There are limitless ways in which you can package your knowledge for presentation and sale, and my process lets you get at them with little effort.

To find out more about it, click here.

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4 things you can do today to get your book going

  1. Stop writing. If you’ve been filling pages, online or off, just stop. Don’t throw it out; it may fit in your book. But that’s not on the critical path to getting your book done.
  2. Identify your audience and their pain. If you don’t know to whom you are writing, you are unlikely to have a successful or even passable book. You have something to say to someone. It should address a specific point of pain, an ache your reader is desperate to get rid of. Who is that audience? Who is, in fact, your ideal reader? Write out a clear description. Test it! Find someone like that, and interview him or her.
  3. Name your book. The title and subtitle of your book articulate a promise to the reader. The promise is that they will be relieved of the pain alluded to in your title and subtitle. That’s what will get them to pick the thing up.
  4. Create your “diamond” structure (read about it here). Know the question and answer for the book, for each chapter, and for each subchapter. When that’s nailed down, you are ready to write.

For more details, read my free book.

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