Journal

Stephen King on Writing Everyday, Writing in Longhand, and Rewriting Drafts

INTERVIEWER
How important are your surroundings when you write?

KING
It’s nice to have a desk, a comfortable chair so you’re not shifting around all the time, and enough light. Wherever you write is supposed to be a little bit of a refuge, a place where you can get away from the world. The more closed in you are, the more you’re forced back on your own imagination. I mean, if I were near a window, I’d be OK for a while, but then I’d be checking out the girls on the street and who’s getting in and out of the cars and, you know, just the little street-side stories that are going on all the time: what’s this one up to, what’s that one selling? My study is basically just a room where I work.

INTERVIEWER
You mentioned wanting your study to feel like a refuge, but don’t you also like to listen to loud music when you work?

KING
Not anymore. When I sit down to write, my job is to move the story. If there is such a thing as pace in writing, and if people read me because they’re getting a story that’s paced a certain way, it’s because they sense I want to get to where I’m going. I don’t want to dawdle around and look at the scenery. To achieve that pace I used to listen to music. But I was younger then, and frankly my brains used to work better than they do now. Now I’ll only listen to music at the end of a day’s work, when I roll back to the beginning of what I did that day and go over it on the screen. But even more than place, I think it’s important to try to work every day that you possibly can.

INTERVIEWER
You use a computer?

KING
Yes, but I’ve occasionally gone back to longhand because I wanted to see what would happen. It changed some things. Most of all, it made me slow down because it takes a long time. Every time I started to write something, some guy up here, some lazybones is saying, Aw, do we have to do that? I’ve still got a little bit of that scholar’s bump on my finger from doing all that longhand. But it made the rewriting process a lot more felicitous. It seemed to me that my first draft was more polished, just because it wasn’t possible to go so fast. You can only drive your hand along at a certain speed. It felt like the difference between, say, rolling along in a powered scooter and actually hiking the countryside.

INTERVIEWER
Do you ever do extensive rewrites?

KING
One of the ways the computer has changed the way I work is that I have a much greater tendency to edit “in the camera”—to make changes on the screen. With Cell that’s what I did. I read it over, I had editorial corrections, I was able to make my own corrections, and to me that’s like ice skating. It’s an OK way to do the work, but it isn’t optimal. With Lisey I had the copy beside the computer and I created blank documents and retyped the whole thing. To me that’s like swimming, and that’s preferable. It’s like you’re writing the book over again. It is literally a rewriting.

Every book is different each time you revise it. Because when you finish the book, you say to yourself, This isn’t what I meant to write at all. At some point, when you’re actually writing the book, you realize that. But if you try to steer it, you’re like a pitcher trying to steer a fastball, and you screw everything up. As the science-fiction writer Alfred Bester used to say, The book is the boss. You’ve got to let the book go where it wants to go, and you just follow along. If it doesn’t do that, it’s a bad book.

Stephen King, in an interview with Paris Review

Three Surprising Creative Habits of Original Thinkers by Adam Grant

Adam Grant shares three surprising creative habits of original thinkers from his book ‘The Originals‘ in this TED talk:

  1. Originals procrastinate; they start early, but finish late, after exploring and testing all possibilities.
  2. Originals have doubts; but instead of doubting themselves, they doubt their ideas, and look for better options.
  3. Originals have fears; but they are more afraid of failing to try than trying and failing.

Jeff Walker in Launch: The four steps in Product Launch Formula (PLF)

1. Pre-Prelaunch: This is where you begin. You use it to start building anticipation among your most loyal fans. The pre-prelaunch is also used to judge how receptive the market will be to your offer and to figure out what some of the primary objections people will have. And, surprisingly enough, the pre-prelaunch can even be used to tweak your final offer.

2. Prelaunch: This is the heart and soul of your sequencing, where you gradually romance your market with three pieces of high-value, Prelaunch Content. You use your prelaunch to activate mental triggers such as authority, social proof, community, anticipation, and reciprocity. And you do all that while you answer the objections of your market. Typically, you release your Prelaunch Content over a period of 5 to 12 days. The format for that content can vary widely, from video to audio to written PDF reports to blog posts to teleseminars to software (and I’m sure we’ll invent a few more formats as the years go by).

3. Launch: This is the big day you’ve been building up to, the day you actually send your product or service out into the world and start taking orders (in PLF jargon we call this “Open Cart,” as in “you open the shopping cart”). Your launch is actually a sequence as well, and a very powerful one at that. It starts with the email that basically says, “We’re open, you can finally buy now,” and continues for a finite amount of time, usually anywhere from 24 hours to seven days, when you finally shut it down.

4. Post-Launch: This is the clean-up sequence, where you follow up with both your new clients as well as the prospects who didn’t buy from you. The post-launch isn’t as exciting as the other sequences, but it’s important because that’s where you deliver value and build your brand. And if you do it right, the post-launch starts to set up your next launch.

Jeff Walker in ‘Launch‘ on Product Launch Formula (PLF)

Ryan Holiday in Perennial Seller: The best way to become an author is to write more books

Not everyone who publishes a book is an author. He or she is just someone who has published a book. The best way to become an author is to write more books.

The best way to become a true comedian, filmmaker, designer, or entrepreneur is to never stop, to keep going. Obviously there are exceptions to this—there are plenty of brilliant creators who have made only one thing.

It’s not enough to make one great work. You should try to make a lot of it. Very few of us can afford to abandon our gift after our first attempt, convinced that our legacy is secured. Nor should we. We should prove to the world and to ourselves that we can do it again…and again.

Ryan Holiday in Perennial Seller via Observer.

How to Learn the Fundamentals of Sketching and Sketchnoting

I am developing a daily sketching practice and reading a number of books on sketching, doodling and visual thinking. Mike Rohde‘s ‘Sketchnote Handbook‘ and ‘Sketchnote Workbook‘ have been two of my favorites so far.

In the first book ‘Sketchnote Handbook‘, Mike outlines the foundations skills of sketchnoting, or taking notes via sketches, with a focus on live sketchnoting during conference talks. In the second book ‘Sketchnote Workbook‘, Mike applies the same foundational skills to a number of other areas, for work and pleasure.

Here is my own six-page sketchnote book summary of ‘Sketchnote Handbook‘ and ‘Sketchnote Workbook‘:

I enjoyed doing the sketchnote book summary, but I wanted to go beyond and share seven lessons on sketching and seven ideas for sketchnoting from ‘Sketchnote Handbook‘ and ‘Sketchnote Workbook‘.

Here are seven lessons on becoming better at sketching:

  1. Focus on ideas: Choosing the right ideas, creating connections between them and finding patterns in them are more important than how well you sketch. Use sketching as an aid to create, organize and share ideas with an aim to engage both the left and the right sides of the brain.
  2. Create a structure: Choose the right structure for your sketchnote, depending upon the relationship between your ideas. A linear flow runs left to right and top to bottom and is best for free-flowing list-based ideas. A radial flow organizes ideas into spokes around a central hub. A grid flow slots ideas into a pre-decided grid-based structure.
  3. Learn sketching foundations: Learn the foundational elements of sketching like typography, icons, bullets, dividers, containers, arrows, and speech bubbles. You can combine these elements into more complex figures like diagrams, flow charts and mind maps.
  4. Learn typography variations: Learn how to create variations in the typography by practicing letters in single line, double line, triple line, block, script, serif, sans serif, and 3D, in both uppercase and lowercase. You can use typography to add emphasis, convey a mood, or differentiate between parts of a sketchnote.
  5. Create an icon library: Learn to create icons for everyday objects, ideas and activities, including objects and activities in your home and office, and objects and ideas related to your field. You can use icons to succinctly convey complex ideas without using a large number of words.
  6. Use visual metaphors: Create a library of visual metaphors by “drawing the metaphor literally”. For instance, to depict the “jumping the gun” metaphor, draw a man literally jumping over a gun. You can use visual metaphors to add surprise and humor to your sketchnotes.
  7. Experiment with media: Sketch with a pencil first or directly with a pen, sketch only in black or use multiple colors, paste a photo on your sketchbook and sketch around it, sketch on a notebook or a tablet, or sketch on a notebook and edit on a tablet – the variations are endless. Experiment with multiple styles, mediums and workflows until you find your preferred ones.

Here are seven ideas for how to use sketchnotes:

  1. Create a visual task list: Create a task list using action icons (tasks, events, appointments) and add significance to the tasks using status icons (uncertain, important, urgent). Add important details to your task list by adding diagrams to create a visual Bullet Journal. Creating a visual task list will motivate you to use it more regularly.
  2. Plan with index cards or post-it notes: Brainstorm ideas by drawing them on index cards or post-it notes. Organize them into clusters of related ideas, then prioritize them based on importance and difficulty. Finally, plot them on a flow chart and draw interdependencies. Use this to plan work projects, workshops and book outlines. Drawing out your ideas will help you engage both your visual and verbal brains in planning.
  3. Summarize ideas from books, talks or meetings: Focus on the big ideas, cluster them (perhaps, into groups of three), draw connections between them and find patterns across them. Focus on the ideas that resonate with you personally. Summarizing key ideas visually will help you focus on the most important ideas and the connections between them.
  4. Recap films, TV shows or novels: Draw a cast of characters, capture the key twist and turns in the plot, and note down your most important takeaways. Drawing a story summary will help you see the story arc in new ways.
  5. Capture food or travel experiences: Take photos or notes to capture details for reference, emphasize the highlights of the experience and add personal context and observations. Drawing your experiences will help you personalize them and savor them longer.
  6. Create a visualization board: Draw an image of yourself five years from now in the center and your ideal situation in terms of work, money, health and family (or similar themes) around it. Put it up above your desk and use it for your morning visualization exercise. Drawing your ideal life will help you imagine it more viscerally and motivate you to work towards it.
  7. Learn a language with flash cards: Draw an object or idea on both sides of a flash card and add the English word on one side and, let’s say, the Mandarin word for it on the opposite side. Drawing out the words from a new language will help you remember them more easily.

If you are inspired to start sketchnoting, or to use sketchnotes for these use cases, check out Mike’s website ‘Sketchnote Army‘, which showcases the best sketchnotes submitted by community members.

If you are also developing a daily sketching practice, do share your experiences in the comments below, or give me a shoutout at @gauravonomics on Twitter or Instagram.