Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The ONE Thing You Can Do To Improve Your Productivity

What's Your One Thing?

This post is, in part, a book review and a personal story about why I write.  Take it for what it is, and disregard the rest as you see fit.

There's a book by Gary Keller called The One Thing.

The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

 It discusses productivity, management tips and self-improvement.

It preposes we tend to distract ourselves with too many things, too many tasks to do, too many demands on our time and energy.  Wasting too much of our time not only distracts us from the task at hand, but it also acts to form limitations to what we can ultimately achieve.

In simple terms, it breaks down that we should only focus on the ONE thing that we actually care about, and what we can excel. Or as the author states, "extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus."

There are some current myths discussed in the book and exposed as lies.

Multi-tasking? Not a real thing.

Willpower on call?  Not true, it's a finite resource, like any other energy/endurance capacity you may have.

Who is Gary Keller?  He built Keller/Williams Realty into the largest Realty firm in the world.  That's right, #1 position for a Real Estate company in the world.

My One Thing: How I Got Started

When I was a kid, I would spend hours in my tiny bedroom reading.

That is if I wasn't busy running around the street playing games and trying to get the neighborhood kids to compete with me.

Now, keep in mind I wasn't a superb athlete, so I made sure I'd work on my technique longer and more precise than any other kid I played. Beat me, I would work my ass off to make sure I could outlast you next time.

It was just the right mix of hyper-competitiveness, obsessiveness, and spite.

As a teen, I'd close my door to shut out the world and assay through pages of sci-fi, fantasy, thrillers, mystery, the "classics" from Thoreau, Whitman, Thomas, Poe.

Somewhere along the way, I discovered existential philosophy from thinkers such as Nietzsche and Kierkegaard.  For "culture," I read the Bible in multiple translations, the Thesaurus, Encyclopedia Brittanica and poured through the dictionary religiously.

Needless to say, that type of shit can really mess you up, especially in your impressionable early teen years.

Surrounded by my imagination, I'd enhance the mood by playing music on a tiny two-speaker boombox.

I'd play cassettes with songs from the Cure, the Smiths, Depeche Mode, rewind them until the tape wore down and drift off into a dreamworld of starships, foreign lands, and superheroes.

While I'd lose myself in the songs, I'd read as if my life depended on it.

And, I felt it did.

See, I didn't have a great home life.

My parents were divorced, my father didn't want anything to do with me and my 3 siblings while my mother remarried to a man who was overworked, drank too much and seemed overwhelmed by taking care of a pack of ungrateful kids.

So I read countless books, stories, and magazines to escape from what I felt in an unjust world.

But mainly I read as much as I did to learn the craft of storytelling and how to get a point across. I discovered that there is something universal about being human.

Part of the uniquely human experience is the desire to share our thoughts and ideas with others.

We're social creatures.

It's part of why we developed language and in turn, societies, cities, states and governments.

It's why we live with other human beings, even when they're screaming at you, or staring at you from out of the corner of their eye, not speaking with you at all.

Long before I had my "reckoning" about life and the human experience, my first victims of all this study and information were my younger brothers and sister.

They're all much brighter than me.

Like I'm a bag of wet cement compared to the genius of my siblings.

Probably in part of my competitiveness, but possibly from spite, I had to prove my greatness to them.

I was the oldest brother, meaning I had to be better.

So, I'd write them stories. This was in the beginning before they were old enough to read, and I barely old enough to write.

My early manuscripts would comprise of two, three or maybe four sentences with some poorly drawn pictures, but the point was to help them learn what I had.

I'm not sure they enjoyed the stories as much as I did in creating them.  Most of the time they were sci-fi epics that included spaceships flying around in a sky full of asterisk-drawn stars, shooting lasers and rockets at each other, while the story usually was text that complimented the pictures.

The point is, from the early beginnings, I knew there was something that I needed to share with others.  I coached for a long time to teach what I had already learned.  I wanted to share ways to think, to act, and to learn.

That's my ONE thing.  To communicate what I learn along this path that I'm walking, about life, about writing.

Well I guess that's two things.  That just goes to show you there's always more to learn.

If you're interested in reading about how you can become laser focused, pick up a copy of The One Thing from Amazon by clicking this link:  The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

(It IS an affiliate link, meaning if you purchase it I'll get a small share of the sale from Amazon)

Monday, January 11, 2016

My Kindle Publishing Lesson: Beg, Borrow and Steal Your Way To Becoming A Better Writer

Finding Your Ideal Reader And Developing A More Confident Voice In Your Writing

If you're like me, doing something you love can be the greatest thing in the world.

When I started my Kindle Publishing Journey, I didn't know what I didn't know.  I've learned a ton over the 6 months I've been writing and self-publishing.

But one thing I do know and have learned along the way is that passion alone, while great, won't suffice. It's like eating a chocolate only diet.  It may sound delicious and you may salivate just thinking about it, but all it will do is constipate you until your clogged arteries make your heart explode.

But doing something you love is also incredibly rewarding.

It could be surfing that really stokes you.

Or perhaps running in the early morning hours is what you find the greatest of thrills.

For some who are more like myself, getting lost in writing is exhilarating.  I can lose track of hours without even knowing that the sun has set for the night.

Like stumbling through a dark, misty forest unsure of what lies in the dense woods is what it's like in the monolog in my head.

Seeing my words on the page is like finding a clearing in the bramble and brush, my vision is more clear, the story is more focused.

It's these moments of clarity that I see why all the images in my head scream that they needed to be written and thoughts to be shared with someone else.

All without having to say a word.

As Stephen King wrote in his "On Writing," being able to write truly is a form of ESP.  It's telepathy with the reader, a way to worm around in their heads, their thoughts, and their dreams.

But writing can also be absolutely horrible.

It's not the fear of the blank page.

No way.  I can ramble with the best of them.

For me, a blank page is like a canvas that I get to paint on.  If it's any good, I'll share it with others.

If it sucks, it's practice in colors, paint strokes and textures for the painting that I will eventually share.

It's part of the exhilaration for me.

Those are some of the important things I've learned through my Kindle Publishing experiences.

Another one?

Writing is both exhilarating and terrifying.

Especially when I re-read the words on the page and they aren't as beautifully erudite as when I heard first them in my head.

The flow of language, the momentum of the story and the way I "heard" it all in my head doesn't have the same appeal once I see it upon the page. I think of it like middle school, when I'd recite a short couple lines that I'd rehearse to say to one of the many girls I had on crush on.  Only, the next day I'd stumble and stutter those lines, more concerned with the new zit on my nose and whether they're focused on it than what I wrote the night before and was now reciting.

When my writing is bad, it's terrifying.

When I think about the readers, I wonder how much they want to choke me out, laugh at me and deride my thoughts.

 That is, if there are any.

I also worry they will see through me, and discover what I fraud I am. It's terrifying that they may find my voice stilted, unimaginative and most terrifying of all, boring.

Everyone who's ever tried their hand at writing knows these feelings.  From school to letters and creatively, it's a challenge not to feel like you're overexposed, naked in front of the cameras, standing pants-less in front of a crowd of people that are our friends.

But how do you overcome the fear of being exposed?  Of being unimportant? Of being seen as a  fraud?

The ABC's Of Developing Your Writing Skills And Finding Your Voice

  •  A) First, choose one person who you write for. They could be someone you know, someone you wish to know, or someone you create out of your imagination.  In other industries, it's called an "ideal reader."

Just like in life, you're not going to be liked by everyone equally.  Some will really like and care for you, and that's a lucky thing to have.  Others aren't going to give two shits about you.  Others still may despise you without you even knowing about it.

So creating an ideal reader is important for you to know what to say, how you should say it, and how you hope they'll receive it.  It's a lot easier to talk with a friend, one who knows you intimately and you know them than with any stranger you may try to meet and get to know.

Writing, in simple terms, is sharing ideas with an intimate friend without speaking.

  •  B) Second, gain confidence through minor accomplishments.  

Building positive habits is about micro-accomplishments.

In time, those micro-accomplishments allow you to build a foundation that you can then go on and make newer micro-accomplishments.

Think of it as running a marathon.

You have to train for it, but you want to take those strides in micro-phases.  That is, you run aspects of the marathon, building your endurance and stamina over time.  But you also focus on the little things, like your step, making sure you run heel-to-toe.  You work on lengthening your stride, especially when tired. But every step is one more in building a better way to run a marathon for you.

Taken together, your strategy, training and technique, you will form a number of micro-accomplishments that, in time, prepares you to run a full marathon.

Not that I've ever attempted to run a marathon.

It sounds like a horrible experience to me, but then again, I can't run.

Not because of any particular disability, just when I run I look like a gazelle jumping on hooves while their legs recoil underneath their body in a circular, disjointed motion.

If anyone was running next to me, it'd look to an unsuspecting observer that I was trying to kick the person next to me on every jump I took.

  •  C) Finally, Beg, Borrow and Steal

Like most innovators, there are three main ways to gain confidence and mastery. The best way to overcome the fear of writing is easily broken into three techniques that I call Beg, Borrow, and Steal.

It's a popular notion that artists - as all writers are - are tapped into some greater universal connection.

That their ideas are floating around in their heads like a swirling, boiling cauldron of ideas. False! Another wrongful trope is that artists are inspired by a muse that only they can hear and they catch bolts of lightning.

What every artist does is looks for ideas that they can incorporate into what they're trying to say.

Andy Warhol famously borrowed from popular culture and popular advertising to make his iconic paintings.

Pablo Picasso is credited with the saying; "Good artists borrow, great artists steal."

Even famous tinkerers in history like Thomas Edison knew this truth - his inventions took gleefully from the thoughts, research, and design of a man named Nikola Tesla.

  1. Beg An Expert: If writing is scary for you, think about ways you can get information from another source, preferably someone in that genre that you respect. It could be a friend who's already doing what you want to accomplish, or someone that is so far ahead of the game it's a dream interview. Ask them until they acquiesce - Twitter is a great, easy gateway to find experts you want to connect with. Ask to the point of bothering them.  Beg them for an interview about how they wrote their piece, their story, their book.  For most of them, they were once in your shoes as well.  It will offer some helpful insight and motivation to keep you on track.
  2. Borrow From The Chef: Borrow from a well-thought idea.  Develop the thought as your own and write it down.  Like watching a cooking show and trying to recreate the menu, borrow what you like, but embellish it with your own spices. What was it that impressed you, and how would you explain it to your ideal reader?
  3. Steal From The Master: Steal from the experts. Don't get me wrong here.  I am not advocating stealing someone else's words; that's plagiarism, and it can get you in a world of trouble, from legal and otherwise.  But steal the idea then develop it in a way that only you could, and in a way that makes sense to your ideal reader.

Remember, there's nothing new under the sun.

There have been billions of people who have lived on this Earth,  all with dissimilar backgrounds from you but with similar thoughts, fears, hopes, and dreams.  That means that there's nothing new that can be written, rather, just how you write that is unique to you.

So go ahead, steal the plot line from your favorite movie or book.  Develop the story telling and characters in your way and you'll have a unique story to share and call your own.  In my own Kindle Publishing adventure, I've stumbled upon all of these areas.

So if you struggle with your writing, or confidence in doing anything new, just beg for the knowledge from an expert, borrow an idea or whole-heartedly steal the idea and make it your own.

Just change the names to protect the innocent and guilty.