Tag Archives: writing life

How to Get 10 Percent More Productive

It’s summer and you’d rather be at the beach than looking out the window. daydream

Here’s help from Robert W. Bly, an author you maybe familiar with. Bly has written over 75 books, and is known as “America’s top copywriter.” He share some of his productivity tricks in “Make Every Second Count: Time Management Tips and Techniques for More Success with Less Stress.

Are you ready to move beyond to-do lists, and banish your bad habits?

Here are a few of the suggestions in Bly’s book that can help almost any writer. They stem from his ten percent solution …

1. Add 10% more productive hours to your day. Find your time wasters and put those non-essential tasks aside. Work another half-hour instead.

2. Get 10% more energy. This won’t work every day, but sometimes all we need is a walk around the block, or a few invigorating exercises to keep going another hour at the task at hand.

3. Think 10% faster. I like this one, because I’m often a lazy-brain when I get overwhelmed with researching an article or editing a manuscript. Bly says we can get something solved faster with sharper thinking. Here is a paraphrased example: Identify the problem, assemble pertinent facts, gather general knowledge, look for combinations, use checklists, get feedback, team up with others, etc.  In other words, don’t stay stuck. Get moving on the problem and spark a solution.

4. Make your brain think 10% faster. Did you know that “brain decay” begins around age 35 and accelerates dramatically when you reach age 50? The solution involves steps you can do daily: focus on good nutrition, physical and mental exercise to keep the wheels turning and keep your brain sharp.

5. Speed up your reading by 10% or more. Writers read all day long, and we can get bogged down reading online, clicking from one thing to another in today’s information explosion. Bly suggests you figure out what matters to you now; focus on that, and make notes to refer back to other ideas. For things that matter less, such as magazine articles, try to read faster. A 10% improvement today, says Bly, will multiply the value in your life many times over.

BIO: Helen Gallagher shares her advice and ideas on small business and technology at Freelance-Zone.com. Her books and blogs are accessible through www.releaseyourwriting.com. She is a member of ASJA, Small Publishers Artists & Writers Network, and several great Chicago-area writing groups.

Write… no excuses

With only 26 letters in the English alphabet, why are there days when we just can’t get the words out?

The poet, Mary Oliver, says: “The voice is working in us all the time. You have to be there when you have promised.”

The work of a writer requires true dedication to the art and craft of what we do. That sense of commitment is what sustains us when we are battling deadlines or slogging through long manuscripts. We’re in this for the long haul and it can get tiresome.

What to do?
1. First, honor your commitment. One way or another you’ve got to get the words out, meet the deadline, and turn in good work.

2. Change your focus. When I recently felt I could not edit a manuscript for one more minute, I switched to indexing which felt like play-time. It was so easy to handle a clerical task just for a while. And the sense of accomplishment made it easier to drag myself back to page 183, knowing I was at least half-way done with the editing.

3. Trick yourself. Use a timer, break your task into small manageable goals, or raid the candy jar. Just break the cycle for a minute or two and get back to work.

4. Exercise. WebMD notes that exercise is the best remedy for fatigue.
“It’s now been shown in many studies that once you actually start moving around — even just getting up off the couch and walking around the room — the more you will want to move, and, ultimately, the more energy you will feel,” says Robert E. Thayer, PhD, a psychology professor at California State University, Long Beach, and author of the book Calm Energy: How People Regulate Mood With Food.

bikeIn a study published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics in 2008, University of Georgia researchers found that inactive folks who normally complained of fatigue could increase energy by 20% while decreasing fatigue by as much as 65% by simply participating in regular, low-intensity exercise.

Thayer says that many Americans, particularly “achievement-oriented Type A people” have “tense energy” — an effective state that allows you to get lots of work done, but that can quickly move into tense-tiredness, a negative state often associated with depression.

On the other hand, what he calls “calm energy” is a combination of a high physical and mental energy level, paired with low physical tension. It is this state, he says, that offers more long-lasting energy. And, he says, it can be achieved with the right kind of exercise.

“What summarizes the relationship best is moderate exercise — like a 10- or 15-minute walk — has the primary effect of increased energy, while very intense exercise — like working out at the gym, 45 minutes of treadmill — has the primary effect of at least temporarily reducing energy, because you come away tired,” he says.

BIO: Helen Gallagher blogs at Freelance-Zone.com to share her thoughts on small business and technology. She writes and speaks on publishing. Her blogs and books are accessible through www.releaseyourwriting.com. Helen is a member of ASJA, Small Publishers Artists & Writers Network, and several great Chicago-area writing groups.

A Writer’s Booklist

Today’s blog post comes courtesy of John Rember, author of MFA in a Box and a long-time professor of creative writing

Over my years of teaching writing, I’ve consistently recommended that MFA students read books that, to me, live at the heart of writing. Not all of my students have liked my recommendations at the time, but I’ve gotten a number of letters from former students saying, in effect, “You know that book I told you I hated?  I read it again, and it’s a great book.”

I have always written back, saying that some books are an acquired taste, being gracious and kind in victory, and asking them if they might now consider reading some other stuff I’ve written.

Here’s a brief annotated booklist that includes none of my books, not even MFA in a Box although you might as well order it as a companion volume to the others. That’s what it was designed to be.

  1. Denial of DeathDenial of Death, by Ernest Becker.  Written with “man” meaning “human,” and using masculine pronouns throughout, this book might appear unreservedly patriarchal and oppressive even if it wasn’t a discussion of the inevitability of death.  But for writers, it’s a useful exploration of the existential dilemma and it offers an essential justification for going through life as an artist.  It’s not easy reading, and it shouldn’t be read all at once, especially in seasons when the days are getting shorter.  Still, I read through it every three years or so, just to see how much I’ve changed, and to see if I can find yet one more passage that will help me be a better and happier writer.  Hint: the happy chapters are at the end.
  2. Borderliners, by Peter Hoeg.  This scary autobiographical novel exposes the truth that much of what we call education is violence by adults against children.  It also contains a profound discussion on the nature of time that will help you when you decide that you’re going to kick your addictions to backstory and flashbacks.
  3. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig.  A book that looks at the troubled relationship between psyche of the individual and the consensus reality of culture. Given the weight of the ideas it discusses, it’s a surprisingly easy read. It’s also a clear demonstration of how ideas that are deadly dull on the pages of philosophy books can be deeply exciting and liberating in a novel.
  4. Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood.  Like her predecessor, H.G. Wells, Atwood disguises the present as science fiction.  She gives us a picture of our world as a place where the pharmaceutical-industrial complex has changed things forever, and not for the better.  Read this book as an antidote, if your writing seems to be stuck back in the 1990s, when all we really had to worry about was pulling equity out of our appreciating houses and whether or not Hilary knew about Monica and whether or not she cared.
  5. Breakfast of ChampionsBreakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut.  Don’t discount the simplicity of Vonnegut’s prose.  It’s far from simple-minded.  Together with Slaughterhouse Five, BOC shows humanity to be a great and tragic phenomenon, one capable of the sublime, even as it acts on its own worst impulses.  Tragedy doesn’t have to be sad, Vonnegut demonstrates, at least not when it’s this funny.

These five books might not seem like a lot, but if you were to pack them in your bag and read them with a writer’s eyes during a two week beach vacation, you’d bring some serious writing skills back with your sunburn.  You might be staggering a bit under the weight of the ideas they contain, but the blank screen will never look the same to you.

Finding Meaning and Fulfillment — as a Writer, and as a Human Being

commencement_bannerby Mike O’Mary

This week, I want to share a commencement address. This is one of those things that should be passed around on the Internet until EVERYBODY has read it. Or at least until every writer has read it. It’s intended as advice for young people who are just graduating from school, but it’s full of wisdom for people of all ages. And it contains especially good advice for writers. Here’s a sample:

“It’s not the privilege of anyone, writer or not, to peak out or burn out or drop out before he or she has given back to this world.  So I’ll say right now that you will not fulfill your life until you find out what it is you have to give to the people around you, and have given it, and they’ve accepted it in some way. It may take years to find out what you have to give, and more years to turn it into something acceptable, but if you’re making the lives of the people around you better and happier, you’re going in the right direction.  If you’re making their lives worse and more miserable, stop and turn around.”

That’s a quote from a graduation speech that my friend, John Rember, delivered last year — and it’s just a sampling of the wisdom you’ll find in his commencement address. It’s one of the best pieces of writing I’ve read in recent years.

To read the whole speech, click HERE. After you read it, pass it on to a young person. Or to an old person. Or to anybody who is striving to live a meaningful life. They’ll thank you for it.

Mike O’Mary is founder of Dream of Things, a book publisher and online book store, and of the Note Project, a campaign to make the world a million times better by inspiring 1 million people to write notes of appreciation. (Photo courtesy of Knox College)

Anatomy of a Launch

by Mike O’Mary

NoteProject 72 dpi 200x93For much of the past year, I’ve been laying the groundwork for something called the Note Project. It officially “launches” on April 18, but for all practical purposes, it’s up and running now. If you haven’t already visited the Note Project website at http://NoteProject.com, please take a minute to do so. There are a couple of good reasons for you to take a look if you are a writer.

The first reason is that the Note Project involves writing. In this case, it’s about writing notes of appreciation. It’s a project that was inspired by a note I received from my youngest sister, thanking me for something I did years ago. My goal is to encourage and inspire other people to share notes of appreciation. There’s no cost to participate, so if you want to help the cause (and make someone in your life feel appreciated), please take a moment to pledge to send a note. Your pledge will count toward our goal of 1 million notes, which we believe will “make the world a million times better.” And if you really like the idea of the Note Project, you can support us by purchasing an optional “Note Project Starter eKit” for $1. You’ll get a lot of helpful tips and inspiration for your dollar, and a share of the proceeds will be donated to support literacy projects around the world. You can also donate directly to the literacy projects if you’re not interested in an eKit.

The second reason I recommend that writers check out the Note Project is that this project has much in common with a book launch. In fact, the person who is managing the launch of the Note Project specializes in campaigns aimed at getting new books onto Amazon bestseller lists. Continue reading

What’s Your Favorite Writing Instrument?

IBM_5150_PCby Mike O’Mary

Joe Wallace’s FZ post on January 4 (and the Dave Allen post it linked to) offered some good, common sense advice about early adoption of new technology. The consensus was to wait for later versions of new devices like the iPad.

I’m doing my best to wait, but I get a little antsy when I see other people typing on cool little touchscreens while I’m still lugging around my 30-pound Kaypro portable sewing machine computer. (I keep thinking it was a portable sewing machine because that’s how big the case was.)

Actually, the Kaypro is long gone. (Remember the Simpsons episode where Marge recounts how they got their Kaypro after someone threw it off an expressway overpass? That was me up on the overpass.) But I do have a two-year-old laptop that by today’s standards is already considered clunky. I’ll wait to replace it though. In the meantime, I’ve taken to picking up a legal pad and a smooth-flowing pen more often. It brings back fond memories of the times I would sit up late into the night with paper and pen, writing things out in long hand before moving to the typewriter to type them up. Later, I bought one of the first IBM PCs. No hard drive…just two 5.25″ floppy drives. One to run Wordstar, the other to save my files. And one of those lovely green-on-black monochrome monitors. For a whopping $2,500! And that was in 1985 dollars. I used that thing for almost 10 years before finally moving to something with a hard drive. (If nothing else, the original IBM PCs were durable. I still use it to crush rocks.)

Twenty-six years and countless PCs and laptops down the line from that first PC, I now sit here with my wireless keyboard and trackball mouse, creating literary masterpieces (and the occasional blog post) while trying to maintain proper wrist position so I can ward off carpel tunnel syndrome. I also try to look away from my giant color monitor periodically so I can retain just enough eyesight to still see more than a blurry image of myself in the mirror in the morning. More reasons to stick to pen and paper.

So here’s my suggestion for today: Put aside your laptops and iPads for a little while. Try a non-electronic writing instrument for a change of pace. Personally, I’m digging the very economical Signo pen from Uniball and Second Nature recycled legal pads from Tops. Stop by sometime and I’ll give you a preview of next week’s blog post. In long hand.

Mike O’Mary is founder Dream of Things and of the Note Project, a campaign to make the world a million times better by inspiring participants to write 1 million notes of appreciation. Coming March 20, 2011.