Last week I was thinking about the themes that ran through my list of the 9 Books That Will Make You a Better Writer, and I realized that one of the things that attracted me to those particular books was the way many of the authors dealt with the issue of writing and mental fortitude. The two are so intertwined and so crucial to success. As Betsey Lerner writes in The Forest for the Trees, “There is no stage of the writing process that doesn’t challenge every aspect of a writer’s personality. How well writers deal with those challenges can be critical to their survival.”
As I wrote about here, procrastination is one of the biggest mental roadblocks that holds writers back from creating books and building audiences. It’s a lesson we have to learn again and again–how to step away from all the noise and create space for productivity. I love that Leo Babuata of Zen Habits is so honest and helpful about this–he calls himself a distraction addict, and I think it’s safe to say that most of us are just as hooked on pop-up windows and scrolling news streams as he is. As he writes:
Distractions, of course, are often about the fear of missing out. We can’t possibly take part in every cool thing that everyone else is doing, but we also don’t want to miss out on any of it. So we look online for what’s going on, what other people are doing and saying, what’s hot. None of that actually matters. What matters is being content, doing things that make people’s lives better, learning, being compassionate, helping. So let’s let go of what we’re missing out on, and focus on the difference we want to make in the world.
Leo Babuata of ZenHabits, one of my favorite sites on creativity and living, is finally launching his new book. Watching this launch has been incredible–it’s funny how sometimes we can learn so much more from people who are outside of the publishing industry.
He traditionally published a few books several years ago, and he’s self-published a few ebooks since then, but this is his first self-published print book to be sold direct to his fans (he has over a million readers on his blog). And he decided to approach writing a book the way a coder would approach writing new software. As he explains:
The traditional way of writing a book is like the old Microsoft model of developing software: you write it in isolation for a year or two, and then put it out as a fully-formed product.
The problem with that method is that it’s never been tested in the real world. You don’t know if readers (or users) will want it, you don’t know where you’ve made huge mistakes, you don’t know how it will work in the wild.
That “Microsoft” model of making programs has been replaced in the last decade or so by iterative programming, where you make a Minimum Viable Product as soon as possible, and let a small group of people (alpha or beta testers) use it and give you feedback and report bugs. Then a new version is made, more testing and feedback, and so on, making the product better and better each iteration. I love this model, because it leads to a better product over the long run.
One of my all-time favorite blogs is Zen Habits by Leo Babauta. It’s amazing because it’s different–just look at the main page, and you’re instantly struck by how it looks nothing like anything else on the internet. No ads, no images, no lists of posts, very few links, and no social media icons. It’s just one post on a blank page, with a few links that lead you to years and years of archived posts. It’s quiet in a noisy world. As much as I always tell my authors about the importance of design, this is the perfect example that website design doesn’t have to be cookie cutter–it just has to be impactful.
Lucky for us, the writing on Zen Habits is just as impactful. Leo’s such a master of condensing so much knowledge and inspiration into just a few short sentences. Makes my long-winded self jealous! And I also think his approach to writing as a profession, particularly writing on the internet, is incredible. He went the traditional route for a while, running a blog with ads and writing a book with a traditional publisher, then decided the whole thing just wasn’t jibing with his minimalist values. So he uncopyrighted his blog posts (more on this here), pulled all his ads, and refocused on helping his readers in a more direct way. He moved his business model to one of building value with his readers, so that now they directly support his business by signing up for his great e-courses and buying his ebooks, instead of having third parties, like advertisers, support the business. It’s both a radical idea and a simple idea–not too different from a business model like that of NPR, where the emphasis is on serving the public, and then inspiring the public to support you back.