Tag Archives: habits

Write This Way: Top Writing and Editing Links for July 21, 2009

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Photo courtesy SXC.

Novelist Pens First Book on Smart Phone; Succeeds In Making Us Look Like Slackers

A fun and inspiring story from Laptop.com’s blog. Peter V. Brett, a fiction writer with a day job and a long commute used his travel time, spent mostly on the subway, to type in writing drafts on his “smart phone” (it had a tiny keyboard!). The manuscript became his first published novel, “The Warded Man.”

While I don’t agree with the sub-title of the article, the interview reveals an inventive way to keep up one’s creative output under challenging (time/space/equipment) circumstances! Brett has continued his phone-writing habit now that the day job is history—he’s working on a new book, and the presence of a new baby in the household has made it easier for him to sit at a nearby park and thumb-type away than to try to keep the keyboard-based racket down when he’s at home!

Information Literacy and Habits of Mind

From Michele Martin’s Bamboo Project Blog. Martin, a workplace learning and career consultant, provides interesting commentary on a study reporting that most people filter information to mostly confirm their pre-existing biases. Martin notes that even the habits we cultivate to be good info-processing creatures may set us up for biased thinking.

“In light of our tendencies toward homophily and pre-conceived ideas, it would seem there are deeper issues at work that we need to consider … when we are scanning, how do we combat our natural tendency to only “see” information that fits with our preconceived notions of the world? … In developing our filtering skills, how do we ensure that we are not filtering out information that doesn’t fit with our existing concepts and frames?

“I suspect that many, if not most of us, are likely to apply our filters in a way that shields us from data we may not want to consider. But this is not effective filtering behavior, particularly if we end up filtering out key data that would change our decisions or ideas about how things work.”

I think the study Martin is discussing has real impact when one considers the sharp rise in recent years in the number of people getting their news from Internet-based sources; depending on how the news is gathered and distributed (and by whom), reading updates from new citizen-journalism sites or politically oriented blogs may encourage even more bias-confirmation than ever.

Martin links to an earlier post she did on the challenge of Web-enabled homophily and while it is oriented primarily toward learning professionals and career-seeker clients, communications professionals (including journalists and bloggers) can gain a lot from reading both posts.

What to Do When You Don’t Have Deadlines
Linda Formichelli offers four solid tips for making self-imposed deadlines stick on her blog, The Renegade Writer.

I especially enjoyed the commentary on her suggestion to “tweet” one’s deadline goals on Twitter. One correspondent, Jacqueline Church, nixed that idea, asserting,

“I would strongly caution against tweeting deadline goals. It’s not something I want public to any and all editors and publishers. I have never missed a deadline but if they’re new to me, and see me procrastinating or struggling what kind of first impression is that?”

Church suggested instead broadcasting one’s self-imposed deadlines to a narrower audience, say in a forum at Inked In or another smaller online writing community.

The post by Formichelli is brief but good. Read it when you need a positive kick in the pants to get moving on your “enterprise” projects.

Bonus Links!

5 Evergreen Editing Tips
By Maria Schneider on her Editor Unleashed blog. Five classic blunders and the editing fix for each.

50 Free Resources That Will Improve Your Writing Skills
From the Developer’s Toolbox section of Smashing Magazine. Great compilation of writing-related resources.

50 Useful Google Apps for Writers
From the somewhat embarrassingly named Learn-gasm blog. A comprehensive roundup of Google apps that could smooth your online writing experience.

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Book Review: Leo Babauta’s “The Power of Less”

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Writing is an easy thing to make complicated. Non-fiction writers, in particular, have to juggle ideas, approaches, pitches to competing publications, research leads, interview notes … and that’s just the actual work. Add in para-work activities such as checking e-mail, incessant Googling (how did we do research before Google?), and chatting with writer pals about your assignments on Facebook, and suddenly, it seems like there’s hardly any time left to write.

Author and blogger Leo Babauta offers a common-sense alternative to clutter, both cyber and real-world, with his new book “The Power of Less.” Babauta, who runs the wildly popular Zen Habits blog, offers easy-to-follow advice for getting control of one’s priorities, time and habits, and helps readers achieve more with less effort.

Babauta’s theme throughout the book is very basic: discover what is truly important to you, and let go of the rest. Some of the most important keys from “The Power of Less” for writers are:

Learn how to single-task. Babauta is not a fan of trying to do more than one thing at a time. His approach is do what you’re doing, when you’re doing it, and then go on to the next task. Back in the old days, this was called focus. Whatever you want to call it today, breaking your writing day into a series of things that you work on until they are done can be far more satisfying and efficient than trying to do work on 3 stories simultaneously and getting next to nothing accomplished on all of them.

Learn to multi-project. Staying on-task doesn’t mean you are manacled to one project at a time — which is a good thing, for many freelancers would starve if this were true. Babauta recommends selecting up to three projects to focus on at any one time; that way, if you are single-tasking your way through a project and hit a delay (e.g., a source needs to call you back, you’re waiting to hear if your editor wants revisions), you can go to the next project on your list and hit the most important tasks on that one.

One goal, many actions. This suggestion is a variation of the task vs. project distinction noted above. Babauta recommends having only one major goal at a time, and that it be a fairly ambitious one—one that could take as long as a year to achieve. However, to make it manageable, your “one goal” should be broken down into sub-goals. For example, if you want to be published this year, your first sub-goal might be to research books in the same market as yours and come up with a focus that differentiates your idea. Drilling down even further, Babauta says it’s important to break each sub-goal into daily tasks, so that you are constantly doing something to move toward completing your goal.

Establish a daily routine. I’m a big fan of establishing positive creative habits and it appears Babauta is too. He walks readers through some simple, healthful ways to structure their days. Finding habits and routines that work for you is the first step to building a creative “grid” that grounds you, and allows you to continue writing, even when outside life events create upheaval and drama.

Fans of the 80/20 principle will find some familiar arguments here, but the book is more than just a restatement of that theory. Babauta deals at length with the difficulties of utilizing technology while not being distracted by it and the challenges of making long-term changes and habits “stick.” His book is especially laudable for its simplicity and for not attempting to be a “system” that you have to go to a workshop and buy special equipment to “manage.”

The most useful piece of advice I have taken from “The Power of Less” is continually asking myself as I move through my day “do I want to do X, or do I want to achieve my goals?” The question cuts through all manner of distraction and competing priorities and has helped me, after only a week spent reading Babauta’s book, accomplish several writing tasks in about one-third the amount of time they had taken in the past.

Whether you’re wanting to increase your writing productivity, tackle an intimidating goals such as writing a book, or make some changes to your habits to make your life happier overall, I heartily recommend “The Power of Less.” It’s a quick read that will influence your thinking long after you have set it down.

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