Blogger: Mary Keeley
Recently, I read a Harvard Business Review online article by Jeff Rodman, a corporate co-founder. The title, “How I Built a $2 Billion Company by Thinking Small,” is what first caught my eye. This type of topic always intrigues me because, as we know, writing is a business and most writers start out small. Plus, let’s face it, blending life and work is demanding and complicated. Maybe he would offer simplification tactics writers can apply to their craft as well. I kept reading, hoping to find some gold nuggets to share.
We agents at Books & Such try to set aside time each week for what we call “deep-thought.” We use it in several ways: to stay up to date with what is new in the industry or to research ways we can serve our clients better or to grow professionally. My time pondering this article was well spent. I saw interesting parallels for writers that extended beyond the business side to craft issues as well. Applying a simplification mindset to areas of your work and writing might pay off in a big way. I’ll offer two examples here, and then let’s talk.
Your Writing Craft
Which number connects with your brain quicker from a reading perspective: 104.99999 or 105? Of course 105 is simple and clearer, right? Now let’s apply this to your writing. The newer you are to the craft, the more you’ll hear about tightening your work by eliminating every word that isn’t absolutely necessary. This is true and good advice. But many writers seek to accomplish this by using too many exotic, descriptive, unfamiliar, eloquent sounding adjectives after every noun and how-when-where-why-adverb. So many descriptors that the reader has to stop reading and take time to process the meaning.
It’s easy to fall prey to this approach. I’m guilty of doing it myself. But this interrupts the flow and, at best, irritates readers. At worst, they put the book down because they have to work too hard when the reading is supposed to be a pleasurable pastime. Instead, by applying the simplification mindset, a well-crafted sentence or two may illuminate the passage without interruption and also re-enforce the tone in the process.
Your Business as an Authorpreneur
The author of the article talks about “doing more with less” and how small innovations lead to big breakthroughs. Practically speaking, small innovations for writers might be to:
- Clean out your filing system, electronic and hard copy.
- Write and schedule social media and blog posts weeks ahead.
- Clear your work area of clutter. An orderly space lends itself to an orderly mind.
- Keep up with the industry and what publishers are publishing.
When your work environment functions efficiently, your mind is clear to dream. To plan reachable goals one step at a time, which prepare you for a big breakthrough.
I encourage you to set aside your own deep-thought time and read the entire article. It isn’t long. You might want to select one or two of the author’s catchy phrases to post on your computer monitor (giving him due credit). Take notes on insights you glean for how and where you can employ the simplification mindset.
Now let’s share insights. In what areas of your writing space, schedule, craft, and WIP can you envision simplifying for better results?
Writers, adapt the simplification mindset for better results in your craft and your business. Click to Tweet.
An innovative approach to business has applications for writers too. Here are two examples. Click to Tweet.
What would Jesus do?
*He lived simply. Possessions didn’t clutter his life. And he saw people as opportunities, not interruptions. He lived in the moment, neither hung up on the past nor overwhelmed by the future.
*This old hymn came to mind as I read your words, Mary: “Peace, perfect peace, by thronging duties pressed? To do the will of Jesus, this is rest.”
*Easier to write than to live.
I love that hymn, Shirlee. Such wisdom and direction in so few words.
Great wisdom here, Mary, and thank you for the link to the article!
* The best writing advice I ever got came from my mentor, Marvin Mudrick – “Talk like you think, and write like you talk.” It’s actually a synergistic approach; when you clarify your writing you clarify your thought, and vice versa. One of the very few instances where lifting yourself by tugging on your hair actually works.
* But that said, I really do use words like ‘meet’ and ‘fell’ in their archaic meaning in conversation (or did, before talking became too hard). I don’t make allowances for a modern audience. They’ve got to keep up. Or back, since I’m obsolete? Whatever.
* I do disagree with the call for an orderly workspace; it’s really a matter of personality. I’ve known some expert craftsmen whose shops were bear-gardens of nameless tools and formless scraps, yet they could lay a hand on exactly that which was needed and perform wonders withal. My theory is that the clutter created the equivalent of a dramatic tension which they needed to perform at their best.
* I can’t recall if Sun-Tzu said this…or perhaps it was Clausewitz? – “The simpler the plan, the more training is required for its execution.” In other words, effective simplicity carries subsumed complexity within itself.
Andrew, I expected someone to take issue with the orderly workspace issue. My dearly beloved husband is able to concentrate amid a pile of papers, charts, and diagrams on his desk. I can’t understand it, but I agree some people are able to master “focus” to a high-functioning level.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
Saying ‘no’ has become much easier for me.
I’m a pleaser by nature (that shocked you, didn’t it?) and have learned to value and guard my time much more than I used to. Thus, my time is mine and good luck guilt tripping me to help with stuff that I don’t feel called to do.
The last month has taught me that anything can happen, and while I didn’t exactly have a tonne to do, other than edit, when the ability to concentrate on a task is taken away, it becomes painfully obvious that I won’t get that time back. I’m finally at the point now, with the kids back in school, that I have hours each day to work.
And I have the physical and mental ability to stare at a screen, AND I can concentrate!!
So, my time is even more precious!
Thus, I won’t be knitting anything for anyone, Or crocheting, either.
Jennifer, you bring up a good point. We have to know what we’re called to, and be intentional about using the time God gives us each day for our priorities. Saying no can be a beautiful thing. 🙂
Yes, yes, yes. It’s too easy to clutter up our day doing the things other people think we should be doing. Saying no can be hard and not everyone will understand. The best way to simplify in this area I’ve found is to give my time and attention first to the Father and ask Him what He wants me to be doing, or not doing, on any given day–and in a broader sense the activity I choose to engage in regularly. There’s freedom in knowing Whom we’re truly accountable to.
Freedom … that’s it.
Good point, Jennifer. Saying no is necessary sometimes, even when the activity is something you really want to participate in. Case in point. Note I suggested “let’s talk” twice in the post and looked forward to the comments and conversation. However, I am a day late to respond because I needed to put the lesson from the article into practice right away and address urgent items of business for several clients. Funny, the timing of it, right?
This post has me thinking, Mary. I enjoyed the article too. The idea of subtracting in order to add quality (or some other positive)to the experience . . . I hadn’t thought about that earlier. 🙂 It seems easier to add features, rather than to subtract something in a way that makes a product (or, in our case, a book) better. Your thought of watching our words makes sense.
*I’ve tried to stay with this by using stronger nouns and verbs to eliminate (mostly) the need for adjectives and adverbs.
*As for my habits, I need to re-establish the simple habit of adding my writing time as an appointment onto my calendar each week. I got out of this habit this year, and my writing time has suffered as a result. This is the one small habit I’m going to work on.
Jeanne, you’re already aware of and are addressing areas of simplification for yourself. You are inspiring the rest of us. Enjoy your appointed writing time.
Mary, thank you for the link. I liked Mr. Rodman’s points: taking away to make things better, reducing complexity and design is what the customer experiences.
*When applying those suggestions to my WIP, they fall in line with simple editing, a partial rewrite or total slash and burn for better structure.
Lara, I’m glad you found direction in the article that you can apply to your WIP.
One of the great things about life is the opportunity to draw on our past experiences and the lessons found within them. In simplifying my steps, I can lift these out, dust them off, and repurpose their content. What happened long ago can become fresh and new. I will read an old journal entry and, boom, there it is, something I can use and grow for a current writing (which I did this week). In God’s economy nothing is wasted. It need not be complicated.
Enjoyed the post.
Norma, this is a great example of a practical option that can bring peace to an otherwise complicated and packed schedule.
Terrific post! My best tip: Know your MIP – Most Important Project – and work on it first thing in the morning. If the rest of my day gets attacked by crows, I’ve still accomplished something mighty. (Hat tip: Dr. Eric Maisel)
And my fave line from Rodman’s article: “It’s the small habits that count.” That applies equally to good habits and bad.
Kathy, pneumonia’s made my mind a blur (well, more than usual), but you reminded me of the story about why the Mother Superior took her nuns shopping at Neiman-Marcus. She didn’t want them to get into bad habits.
Who was it said a pun is the odor of a rotting mind? I thought it was Twain, but I can’t find the quote.
Carol, it was either Twain or Huxley…but Johnson said that a man who would coin a pun would as easily pick a pocket. And I am well-trained ($$$) in doing stuff like that! 😀
Great advice, Kathy. And that line in the article stood out to me too. I look forward to applying it.
A simple trick I use aims for portability. I use a 10” laptop and move around the house to different locations when I write. I also have many (several dozen) books I’m using as sources for my history-based author site. I put the ones I’m using as I write on a particular topic in a backpack that I can haul to whichever location I feel like writing in that day.
Ah, the blessing of a laptop. The 10″ size is the goal for my next laptop purchase. Technology a blessing for simplicity.
Speaking of a clean desk, I recently started using “Neat Desk” which is a receipt scanner (and document scanner and it also works for photos). It is a quick zippy little box that quickly scans receipts and it has enough artificial intelligence to read the receipt, record what store it came from and the totals. It then gives you a drop down menu to pick the IRS business expense category in which to place it.
Then it throws it all into spreadsheets or reports or exports or whatever. Every receipt is super easy to put your hands on and can be reprinted or emailed etc.
Nice. So far everybody who has seen it wants one – I recommend eBay cause they are expensive.
Sheila, thanks for the great tip. I’m going to look into that!
Thank you! I can add for consideration that clutter of all sorts–in home, heart and self-centered thinking–leaves little energy for writing that pours out of authenticity and is crafted with close attention.