Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Pros: If you’re struggling with creating a organized routine for writing, and you haven’t heard these ideas before, there are a couple of good thoughts here.
Cons: The book is about as informational as a collection of motivational posters, full of corporate speak (talking about talking instead of imparting facts), and four page essays which only loosely support a single idea. Could have been reduced to a bullet list of ideas – which the book does include, at the end of each chapter – and would have been just as helpful but a lot faster to read.
I make it a point to only review books that I’m recommending, and in this case, I really am recommending it, but only to a small group of people. If you’re having a hard time balancing your writing, your dayjob, your family commitments, and the pressure to be brilliant at all of it, and you haven’t already read a bunch of these books – or you’re the sort of person who needs a lot of outside reinforcement to make changes in your life – this book might be what you need. The highlights:
- Get plenty of sleep. If you can’t decide whether to go to bed or keep working, go to bed. Start going to bed a half hour earlier than you think you need to – if you need the sleep, you’ve got the time, and if you don’t, you’ll naturally wake up earlier and you can use that time for getting things done instead.
- Get something done for yourself before replying to emails in the morning.
- Make a master to do list that you don’t see every minute of the day, and instead write your daily to do list on a post it note. Nothing bigger than that – if you can’t fit it on a post it, you probably can’t get it done in one day. If you do all of those things, you can always make another list partway through the day, so don’t worry that you’re limiting yourself. You’re really freeing yourself to focus on just the things you really need to do first.
- There will always be negative distractions. It’s impossible to get rid of them all (though certainly, if you can cut down on some of them without losing anything good, you should do that) but what you can and should do is bring in positive distractions to balance out the bad. Hold on to the bright, loving, happy, sexy, funny, relaxing, refreshing, and inspiring things/people in your life, and schedule little blocks of time to enjoy them. You’ll go back to your writing with more focus and more enthusiasm for your work.
The full review:
Intro: from the first page, this book sounds like it was written by corporate motivational speakers. More “talking about talking” than actually imparting advice. Hopefully that’s just the preface.
“Laying the Groundwork” – this chapter has a couple of good ideas: doing your own work before replying to emails/messages (which I’ve been doing lately), making small to-do lists and NOT adding to them (a bad habit of mine), log all of your commitments so you know them, just not on your to-do list for one day (another thing I’ve been doing lately).
“Frequency” – mostly useless. Says to work every day, no matter how much you produce or what quality it is, which is good advice – and then spends an entire chapter repeating this. Fluff, not content.
Interview with Seth Godin – reminder that you have to sell what you create to make money as an artist. Also says that if you are stalled in your progress you must be self-sabotaging, which is not always true. Doesn’t take into account continuing education/improving skills.
“Building Renewal” – I think if I wrote the 1 or 2 sentence takeaway of each chapter as a list, we could fit this whole book onto one page. This is another chapter that really only says one thing: if you get more sleep and take a break during the day, you’ll be more productive. This is true and very important! but didn’t need 8 pages to say it. There isn’t infinite energy; you need to build up something to spend.
“Solitude” – Spend a little time alone each day, or as often as you can. Not huge chunks of time, just a little chance to focus on work, clear your head, recharge, or let new ideas come to you.
“Key Takeaways” – Chapter One ends with a bullet point list of the highlights.
“Scheduling in Time” – suggests you schedule uninterrupted time like you would any other appointment: mark it off on your calendar, let people know that’s your time, turn off your devices, and focus on your task.
“Multitasking” – one of the better written/supported bits. Argues that true multitasking doesn’t exist, and (like previous sections) says you need to disconnect from the Internet and your devices to get any real work done.
Q&A with Dan Ariely – once again, says to stop checking your email and that we can only spend so much time/energy, so what do we want to spend it on? At the end, though, he suggests finding a way to mark your progress on big projects so you can think of it as “being accomplished” like how you check off smaller tasks – easier to focus on the goal. I do this and it helps a lot.
“Chaos” – One of the better ones. Points out the world is chaotic and distracting, can’t avoid it, but what helps is balancing negative distractions with positive ones to keep your brain active and happy. Also, alternate mindful tasks with mindless ones (cleaning, laundry, etc) to recharge and give you sustained energy and motivation over a longer period of time.
“Tuning In” – Another “turn off your devices” entry. Suggests that unless you do, you’ll miss out on getting to know yourself and others. “Whatever the future of technology, the greatest leaders will be those most capable of tuning into themselves and harnessing the full power of their own minds.” Okay, grandpa. We’ll get off your lawn.
“Key Takeaways” – Chapter Two ends with a bullet point list of the highlights.
“Making Email Matter” – Inbox 0 isn’t a useful goal, though it’s tempting to see it as an accomplishment. Instead, get the most out of your email by knowing your end goals in a conversation, see emails in context of that larger picture, and learn to decline: say no to projects you don’t have time for.
“Using Social Media Mindfully” – know what your message is before you log on, don’t overshare, stay on message.
Q&A with Tiffany Shlain – recommends disconnecting from the internet for a day a week to reset “your brain-and your soul”. Also, don’t bring tech into the bedroom, and the Internet is both a blessing and a curse.
“Awakening to Concious Computing” – another piece that makes me think this book is written for people older and less tech-savvy than me. Except, I’m 40, so who is it written for? Suggests we’re too “young and inexperienced” in our “digital lives” to know how to filter the good from the bad. Portrays email users as unable to know when to quit, fight-or-flight junkies who hold their breath when reading email. Exciting!
“Reclaiming our self respect” – Email is bad because we have no will power, self-respect, or etiquette, and “with every new email, we become like leaves in the wind, reacting to any breeze willy-nilly”. Equates getting disconnected to “shouldering this task of personal responsibility or of being a good example for their children.” Just. Wow.
“Key Takeaways” – Chapter three ends with a bullet list of highlights.
“Creating for You” – Expecting your day job to allow you to fully express your creativity makes for the most frustration. You need to have work-creation and creativity-creation as two separate things (why I hated what freelancing was doing to my writing and why having a dayjob to pay bills is better). Create because you have a voice and a vision, not to pursue a paycheck (which comes with a boss/rules).
“Training” – another piece recommending plenty of sleep, and taking a break from your project to walk, meditate, or otherwise disconnect. I find that when I do these things (esp. get enough sleep) I am hugely more productive, but learning to go to bed instead of “powering through one more hour” is difficult to do. The faux productivity is alluring, but ultimately not as good/much as real rested productivity.
Bonus points to the book for using a quote by William S. Burroughs as one of its “inspirations”:
“Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer.”
Of course, Burroughs meant “while high as a fucking kite and preferably while on the receiving end of oral sex from a hot blue collar worker” but, you know. Close enough.
Q&A with Stefan Sagmeister – If you really want to do something, you put it in your calendar and set aside time for it, let other people know that’s time for X thing, and stick to it. Don’t keep it a secret.
“Perfectionism” – The definition of perfectionism “highlight the two primary mental patterns, idealism and judgment, that lead to the two central emotional states, fear and pride.” Perfectionism stands in the way of progress – be a pragmatist instead.To a perfectionist this feels like settling which is worse than failing, but you’ll produce much more and then you can (if you’re a writer) edit it closer to perfect.
“Getting Unstuck” – explores six types of “creative block” because if you know why you’re blocked, you can plan a solution. Not all lack of creative work is the same. Sometimes it’s necessary to pause and get more research, perspective, etc, and other times you’re stuck because you’re poor and can’t afford the time/energy/cost of creating. You might stop yourself from starting what you think you can’t finish.
“Key Takeaways” – Chapter four ends with a bullet list of highlights.
Coda – asks if you’re ready to be a professional and if you even know what that entails. Like much of the book, it’s questions and corporate motivational speech – talking without saying – that doesn’t provide many useful answers.
* On Goodreads? You can follow the rest of my reviews and reading notes – including books I didn’t like enough to recommend – here.