Five Books For Writers to Read (and read again) in 2015

Four years ago – after an email conversation with my friend and mentor Sean D’Souza –  I started a ‘new years’ habit.  That habit was to re-read a book that I’ve read several times – and that book was The War Of Art by Steven Pressfield.

Now The War Of Art is one of those books where the investment of time in multiple readings pays off because there are nuances and depths that you only pick up on subsequent readings.

Two years ago after I’d re- read the Art Of War again I was randomly putting it back in my bookshelf, and the book I’d shelved it next to nearly fell out.  And this is a book that I’ll introduce you to in a moment….but at the time I thought to myself: this is a great book and was highly influential in many areas of my business life.  Maybe I should re-read this too….

So I did.

And when I’d read that I scoured through my book shelves more carefully to see if there were any other books that might pay off by re-reading.  And I found three more.

So at the turn of each year I now re-read all 5 of these books.  And it’s been such an eye opening experience that I thought I’d post and share those 5 books with you.  So let’s check them out:

1.  The War Of Art by Steven Pressfield

If you’re a writer of any stripe then you need to know about resistance.  And how to beat it.  And that the battle against resistance is a battle that must be fought over and over and over again.  Steve’s book – although relatively short – identifies how resistance manifests itself in the lives of creative people.  And gives guidelines on how to beat it, even if only for today.

2. Talent Is Overrated by Geoff Colvin

This book was the book that first opened my eyes to the concept of Deliberate Practice and how it can be harnessed to make constant and consistent improvement in learning specific disciplines.  But it’s much, much more than that.  For writers, the chapter on Ben Franklin is worth the price of admission alone.

3.  The Hero With A 1000 Faces by Joseph Campbell

The Hero With A 1000 Faces might seem like an odd choice for non-fiction writers.  But it’s not.  Understanding how Campbell’s monomyth connects to story and connects to the human experience is vital for anyone wanting to build an audience and sell to that audience.  One of the books I want to write here at One Spoon in 2015 is about the business applications of the Hero’s Journey.

There’s also a version of Campbell’s monomyth that has been adapted for screenplays and novels by Chris Vogler – called ‘The Writer’s Journey’ – that makes a somewhat simpler introduction to Campbell’s work.

4.  Make Every Word Count by Gary Provost

Gary Provost was both a fiction writer and a non-fiction writer.  This short and simple book is out of print and can be had for chump change on Amazon’s marketplace – you can get it for a cent plus shipping on Amazon.com, and £0.50 plus shipping on Amazon UK.  If you aspire to write better this timeless book would be a steal at 50 bucks.  So a cent plus shipping should make it a no-brainer.

5.  Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner

Theoretically this isn’t a Writers book – it’s a book for jazz musicians who want to improve their improvising.  But as a musician myself I can tell you that there is an eerie similarity between writing in flow and playing jazz music.  Effortless Mastery is about how musicians can let go from playing consciously and play from within – it’s both surprising and inspiring to read about this from a top jazz pianist’s perspective and contrast it to my own writing experiences.

Summary

So there you have 5 books that IMO every writer should read – and read multiple times.

You’ll likely have your own ideas of what books should be in this list….please feel free to share in the comments what books YOU like, and why!

Goal Setting For Writers – The Difference Between A Goal And A Target

Before we talk about goal setting for writers, it’s crucial that we demystify something. Most people confuse goals and targets when they’re goal setting – and it’s crucial to the successful pursuit of a goal to understand the fundamental difference between the two.

So What Is The Difference Between A Goal And A Target?

A goal is something that you want to achieve – and can be achieved by your efforts alone. You are 100% in control of whether you achieve the goal.

As opposed to a target – which is ALSO something that you want to achieve. But to complete a target you need events to line up that you have no control over.

Let me give you an example of this that should clarify those two paragraphs involving my fiction writing persona.

So currently I’m writing Episode 2 – or Book 2 – of my supernatural fiction series. Let’s say one of my readers has pleaded with me to get Episode 2 published ASAP. And to placate her I could say that it will be published on April 20th.

So as I self publish, I can now set myself a goal of hitting the ‘Publish’ button on Episode 2 on 18th April (it often takes 48 hours to get approved).

Whether Episode 2 gets published on the 20th April is 100% down to me. I know what needs doing – the 1st draft finishing and then a comprehensive edit before compiling to MOBI format.  And all of those events are 100% within my control.

But now let’s say I want to sell 10,000 copies of Episode 2 on Amazon. That’s not a goal, it’s a target…because to achieve those sales 10,000 different people have to be persuaded that they should part with their $2.99. And that is totally outside of my control.

For sure I can affect it with things like writing the best book I possibly can, commissioning a funky cover, running a marketing campaign to raise my fiction author profile and so on.

But ultimately whether or not I sell 10,000 copies ISN’T down to me. So it’s a target. Not a goal.

Why Knowing The Difference Between A Goal And A Target Is Important

Knowing the difference between a goal and a target is important because when you set a goal you can subdivide that goal into the tasks needed to complete it – and no more – and then work out a plan to actually get those tasks done.

But with a target although you can come up with a plan of items you can do towards meeting the target, that’s ALL you can do. You may hit your target – in which case you can crack the bubbly! – or you may not.

Not completing a target is never a failure – and never something to get down about. That’s the crucial reason it’s important to know the difference between a goal and a target.

If you don’t meet a target – and understand the difference between a goal and a target – not meeting the target is merely a sign that something is not working and your plan(s) need tweaking and/or reworking.

But responsibility for not completing a goal is almost certainly down to you. (There are sometimes exceptions where you have to drop everything for a period of time or can’t work – health issues for you or members of your family for example – when this happens you have to retool your goal plan). And if you’ve set a goal and not met it, you need to have a long hard look in the mirror to understand why.

Summary

A goal is different than a target – and when you’re goal setting it’s important that you are setting goals, and not targets. Goals are something that can be achieved by you. Targets are something that rely on other people. If you don’t hit a target it’s a sign that you need to work more on some aspect of your target plan rather than a failure. But not achieving a goal requires you to do some soul searching to find out why.

Paul’s Note: I used to have monthly income goals with my bass website. And if I didn’t hit them I used to get down about it. This was in the days when I didn’t know the difference.

Now whilst I have income targets (and other business targets like number of new subscribers and so on) if I don’t meet them I don’t get down about them, and instead use it as a sign that I need to refine my marketing processes.

 

EbookEriMo Tip #3 – What To Do When Shit Happens

ebookwrimo 3 001.001Paul’s Note: yesterday for various reasons I didn’t get to do any writing – here’s a post I wrote a while back that was originally written for my bass guitar students and then adapted for running an online business.  It applies just as well to the task of writing a book in 30 days.

 

 

How To Maintain Your Business Routine When Shit Happens

In the 1994 movie ‘Forrest Gump’ there’s a scene where Forrest is running and steps in dog crap. Someone asks him if he knows that he’s stepped in dog crap and Forrest replies: ‘It happens.’ The guy says: ‘What, shit’ and the movie makers cleverly cross cut to a truck with a bumper sticker that says ‘Shit Happens’ that’s just about to get blindsided at an intersection by another vehicle.

What’s That Got To Do With Online Business?

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EbookWriMo Tip #2 – Schedule A Time For Your Main Writing Block

ebookwrimo 2This might seem obvious – but make sure you get a block of time allocated in your day’s schedule for your main writing period. (I say main writing period, because you can ‘top up’ with strategies like the Furious 500 and the Nifty 350 as mentioned in yesterday’s post.)

As well as making sure you’ve got a block of time allocated, try and make sure that block is located in the writing periods of the day that work for you.

I like to schedule my main writing to start once the kids have gone to school. So at about 9.15 AM Monday to Friday I sit down at my writing computer, fire up Scrivener, turn off the internet, cue up my writing music in iTunes and start writing.

As well as making sure you’ve got a block of writing time scheduled, I’d advise making your main writing block as early in the day as possible.

I can tell you from experience that if you schedule it for night time it’s much, much easier to get derailed by unexpected events or fatigue.

There’s Another Benefit Too…

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EbookWriMo Tip #1 – Don’t Start Without A Solid Outline

ebookwrimo 1In the fiction world – and the world of NaNoWriMo – writers tend to divide themselves into two categories: pantsers and planners.

Planners are writers who plan their stories ahead of time. And pantsers are writers who fly by the seat of their pants.

For non-fiction writing though we should all be planners. And if you’re trying to write an eBook in a short period of time then you need to start before Day 1 of your writing challenge, and make sure you have a solid outline prepared.

Why An Outline Is Necessary

These EbookWriMo tips are short posts so I won’t go into chapter and verse about this, but solid outlines help your writing in these ways:

  1. Reduce writer’s block. A lot of writer’s block is caused by the blank page and not knowing what to write. Your outline should tell you.
  2. Eliminate structural editing. Structural editing is taking a completed draft and reworking the order to make the parts you’ve written flow better or fit better. Structural Editing is done at outlining stage.
  3. Organizes your material. You know not only where you start but also where you’re going to finish. And most of the steps along the way. Finishing your book is simply a matter of writing all those steps.
  4. Reduces writer’s block (2) Because your outline organizes your material there’s no need to write in the finished order of the book. Is there a section you’re really keen on writing? Then write that first.
  5. Allows You To Write In Chunks A great productivity tip I got from the fiction world and NaNoWriMo came from author James Scott Bell. He calls these ideas the furious 500 and the nifty 350. You’ll find more about them here: http://www.right-writing.com/disciplines.html But an outline allows you to tailor your writing to the chunks of available writing time that you have.
  6. It Makes Your Writing More Focused…because you’ve done the work of exploring exactly what your book is about in the outline stage, in the writing stage you can focus on writing only the words that are necessary at each point in your book.
  7. …which gives the reader a more coherent read. Your outline gives your writing focus – that focus grounds your reader and gives them a sense they are in the hands of an author who: (i) knows where they are going; (ii) and won’t take any unnecessary detours getting there

There Are Other Jobs A Solid Outline Does Too…

Because you know what you are going to write in your book you can start the ball rolling on all the other tasks that need doing prior to publication – e.g. preselling, cover design, marketing, interviews, etc etc. This post is solely about the writing stage, so these other tasks aren’t relevant to this post.

So Tip #1 Is: Don’t Start Without A Solid Outline

I started work on my outline at least 10 days ago. And I was thinking about this book before then. So having my outline solidly in place has allowed me to select a day as Day 1 (which was yesterday) and just start writing.

EbookWriMo Word Tally – Day 2

Today is the 4th of November and the fourth day of NaNoWriMo, it’s the second day of my personal EBook Challenge.

On Day 1 (yesterday) I wrote 763 words.

Today (Day 2) I wrote 1202 words.

So my current total is 1965 words.