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What’s YOUR Agent Pitch?

Happy Monday! Hope everyone had a great, productive weekend. I must admit that mine wasn’t spent writing. It was in fact, a “handyman” type of weekend. I installed a new kitchen faucet, worked on my truck and well yeah, I did admittedly have fun as well. I suppose I was ashamed to admit that I didn’t get any writing done but hey, the things I DID accomplish can give some great writing ideas. Right?

 

So I have found a workshop that appears to look pretty good. It’s with Writers Digest. I do have to admit that I have personally never taken any of their workshops but have heard from others that they are pretty good.

 

This one is taking place this Thursday, so I wanted to get word out there. Here’s what you’ll learn:

•How to make the perfect pitch

•How to deliver the flavor your book to whet the reader’s appetite for more

•How to keep the momentum going through the All-Important-Page-One

•How to start in a logical place—yet from a compelling perch

•How to identify the most exciting elements that illustrate your work

•How to encapsulate (in clear core points) when proposing a book

•The five key takeaways you need to entice an agent/editor

•How to amplify your chances for being selected

•What to do—and what not to do—when summarizing your book in 200-250 words. You want the neurons in the agent’s mind to decide, “Yes, keep reading!”

If you want to see more and/or register, click http://www.writersdigestshop.com/from-pitch-to-page-one-webinar.

 

Have a great, Happy Monday! (Evin – http://www.saplingpublishing.com)

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Why Do Famous Authors Write?

Why Do Famous Authors Write?

We all know the feelings of envy…envy of those authors who get paid not only to write full-time, but get paid an extremely large salary while doing it.

I’ve often imagined how it would feel to wake up every morning, grab my cup of coffee, sit outside on a large porch of a cabin, the mountains or a peaceful lake as my scenery…sitting down in front of my computer, ready to roll. I’m fairly certain that most famous authors would tell you that this is fairy tale thinking however I’m betting that a majority of writers have had similar thoughts at one time or the other.

So if this is fairy tale thinking, why do famous authors write? What inspires them? Here’s a link that you must click on. You won’t be sorry (just patiently sit through the ad at the beginning. It will be well worth the wait):

http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/why-these-famous-authors-write—and-why-you-should/2013/03/15/8cb5df44-8b61-11e2-9f54-f3fdd70acad2_gallery.html#photo=1

 

Write, write, write! (Evin – http://www.saplingpublishing.com)

 

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Where Do Writers Find Inspiration?

I definitely struggle with this from time to time. I’m certain that most writers do. So what the heck do you do? Where do you go to find inspiration when it seems to be missing?

 

To add, I know that I have began to write down my dreams when they seem really cool or interesting. I have been finding sections where I can enter them into my first novel.

 

Here are 31 really cool ways by Leo Babauta (http://writetodone.com/2008/03/03/31-ways-to-find-inspiration-for-your-writing/):

 

1.    Blogs. This is one of my favorites, of course. Aside from this blog, there are dozens of great blogs on writing and every topic under the sun. I like to read about what works for others — it inspires me to action!

 

2.    Books. Maybe my favorite overall. I read writers I love (read about my current loves) and then I steal from them, analyze their writing, get inspired by their greatness. Fiction is my favorite, but I’ll devour anything. If you normally read just a couple of your favorite authors, try branching out into something different. You just might find new inspiration.

 

3.    Overheard dialog. If I’m anywhere public, whether it be at a park or a mall or my workplace, sometimes I’ll eavesdrop on people. Not in a gross way or anything, but I’ll just keep quiet, and listen. I love hearing other people have conversations. Sometimes it doesn’t happen on purpose — you can’t help but overhear people sometimes. If you happen to overhear a snippet of interesting dialog, jot it down in your writing journal as soon as possible. It can serve as a model or inspiration for later writing.

 

4.    Magazines. Good magazines aren’t always filled with great writing, but you can usually find one good piece of either fiction or non-fiction. Good for its writing style, its voice, its rhythm and ability to pull you along to the end. These pieces inspire me. And bad magazines, while perhaps not the best models for writing, can still be inspirations for ideas for good blog posts. These magazines, as they don’t draw readers with great writing, find interesting story angles to attract an audience.

 

5.    Movies. Sometimes, while watching a movie, a character will say something so interesting that I’ll say, “That would make a great blog post!” or “I have to write that in my writing journal!” Sometimes screenwriters can write beautiful dialog. Other times I get inspired by the incredible camera work, the way that a face is framed by the camera, the beauty of the landscape captured on film.

 

6.    Forums. When people write on forums, they rarely do so for style or beauty (there are exceptions, of course, but they’re rare). Forumers are writing to convey information and ideas. Still, those ideas can be beautiful and inspiring in and of themselves. They can inspire more ideas in you. I’m not saying you have to read a wide array of forums every day, but if you’re looking for information, trawling some good forums isn’t a bad idea.

 

7.    Art. For the writer aspiring to greater heights, there is no better inspiration that great art, in my experience. While it doesn’t compare to the experience of seeing the art in person, I like to find inspiring works of art and put it on my computer desktop for contemplation (Michelangelo’s Pieta is there right now). It doesn’t have to be classical works, though — I’ve found inspiration in Japanese anime, in stuff I’ve found on deviantart.com, in local artists in my area.

 

8.    Music. Along the same lines, it can be inspiring to download and play great music, from Mozart to Beethoven to the Beatles to Radiohead. Play it in the background as you write, and allow it to lift you up and move you.

 

9.    Friends. Conversations with my friends, in real life, on the phone or via IM, have inspired some of my best posts. They stir up my ideas, contribute ideas of their own, and they fuse into something even more brilliant than either of us could have created.

 

10.    Writing groups. Whether online or in your community, writing groups are great ways to get energy and motivation for your writing. My best short stories were done in a writing group in my local college (a great place to look for such groups, btw), as we read out our work to the group, critiqued them and made suggestions. The work of the other writers inspired me to do better.

 

11.    The Pocket Muse . A book full of writing inspirations. Can’t beat that!

 

12.    Quotes. I don’t know why it’s so, but great quotes help inspire me. I like to go to various quote sites to find ideas to spark my writing, turns of phrase that show what can be done with the language, motivation for self-improvement. Try these for a start: Writing Quotes and Quotes for Writers.

 

13.    Nature. Stuck for ideas? Go for a walk or a jog. Get away from sidewalks and into grass and trees and fields and hills. Appreciate the beauty around you, and let the inspiration flow through you. Sunsets and sunrises, of course, are two of my favorite uplifting scenes of nature, and anything involving water is also awesome (oceans, rivers, lakes, rain, rivulets, even puddles).

 

14.    History. It can be unexpected, but great people in history can inspire you to greatness. My favorites include Benjamin Franklin, Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Helen Keller, Leonardo da Vinci, and other greats.

 

15.    Travel. Whether it be halfway around the world, or a day trip to the next town or national park, getting out of your usual area and discovering new places and people and customs can be one of the best inspirations for writing. Use these new places to open up new ways of seeing.

 

16.    Children. I have six kids, and they are my favorite people in the world (my wife and siblings and parents being right up there too). I love to spend quiet time with them, taking walks or reading. I love to have fun with them, playing board games or having pillow fights. And during these times I spend with them, I’m often reflective, about life, about humanity, about love. I suggest that children, with their fresh outlook on the world, can change the way you view things.

 

17.    Exercise. I get my best ideas most often while running. There’s something about the quietness, combined with the increased flow of blood through your brain, combined with being out in the fresh air with nature, that really stimulates the mind.

 

18.    Religion. Many of you aren’t religious (and many are) but it doesn’t matter much — the great religions in the world have ideas in them that are beautiful and inspiring. I’ve studied some of the writings of not only Christianity and Judaism but Islam, Bahai’i, Buddhism, Taoism, and many cultures with multiple nature gods. I can’t say I’m an expert at any of these religions, but I can say that any time I’ve spent reading the ideas of religion have paid off for me in inspiration.

 

19.    Newspapers. I used to be a newspaper reporter and editor, and I’ve become jaded to newspapers. The news seems like an endless cycle of the same thing, happening over and over again. However, if you know how to look, you can find human-interest stories that are inspiring. Stories about people who have triumphed over adversity. (Edit: I had “diversity” instead of “adversity” here and have now corrected … thanks for the catch, Bill!)

 

20.    Dreams. I’m not very good at this, but at times in my life I’ve tried keeping a dream journal by my bedside and writing down what I can remember when I wake up. Not because I think it’ll tell me something about myself or my future or past, but because dreams are so interesting in their complete disregard for the rules of reality, for their otherworldness and plot twists.

 

21.    Writing journal. I highly recommend this for any writer. It doesn’t have to be fancy, or something you write in every day. Just a plain notebook will do, although a nice journal can be motivating. Write down thoughts and inspirations and quotes and snippets of good writing you find and pieces of dialog and plot ideas and new characters. Then go back to this journal when you need ideas or inspiration.

 

22.    Del.icio.us. This popular bookmarking site is a treasure trove of great articles and blog posts and resources. I don’t do this much, but sometimes I’ll browse through these links to find examples of great writing by others. While you shouldn’t steal these ideas, you can often adapt them to your particular blog topic, or use the ideas to spark new ones of your own.

 

23.    Poetry. How can poetry inspire prose? Through its beauty and flow and style and use of rhythm and play on words. Through its use of language and music.

 

24.    Shakespeare. He’s not the only playwright, of course, but he’s undoubtedly the greatest, and the greatest master of the English language as well. While his writing can be difficult for those not used to the language of his time, a study of even one of his plays pays off immensely. The Bard wrote beautifully, used the largest vocabulary of any English writer, invented his own words, made up interesting phrases that are used to this day, had more puns and twists of words than any writer I know. There is no writer more deserving of our study and more inspirational to other writers.

 

25.    Google. Stuck for ideas? The old standby, Google, has often helped me out. I’ll just search for the topic I’m writing about and find tons of great resources. (Evin adds…just remember plagarism. Quote your sources!)

 

26.    Freewriting. One of the best ways to get unstuck if you’re uninspired. Just start writing. Anything. It doesn’t matter. Don’t edit, don’t pause, don’t think. Just write and let it flow. You’ll end up with a lot of garbage, probably, but it’ll help you get out of your rut and you might just write some really good stuff among all that garbage.

 

27.    Brainstorms. Similar to freewriting, but instead of writing prose you’re writing ideas. Just let them flow. Speed and quantity is more important than quality. Within this brainstorm of ideas, you’ll most likely find a few nuggets of greatness. One of my favorite ways to get ideas.

 

28.    Flickr. If fine paintings and sculpture inspire you to greater heights, photography of some of the most talented people in the world can show what everyday humans can do if they try. I like Flickr.com, a real wealthy of amazing photography. Just browse through to find some wonderful inspiration.

 

29.    Breaking your routines. Get out of your rut to see things from a new perspective. If you usually take one route to work, try a couple others. If you usually get up, get ready for work, and leave, try exercising in the morning or watching the sunrise. If you usually watch TV at the end of the day, try reading or writing instead. Shake things up.

 

30.    Success stories. Another of my favorites. When I was training for my first marathon, for example, I read all kinds of success stories of people who had run their first marathon. It inspired me to keep going. There are success stories for writing, or anything else you’d like to do, that will inspire your brains out.

 

31.    People watching. This is an interesting activity for any writer. Go to a busy public place and just sit and watch people. They’ll amuse you, inspire you, and fascinate you. There’s nothing more inspiring than humanity.

 

What are you waiting for???? (Evin – http://www.mrgurupublishing.com)

 

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Interview with Dean Koontz

Happy Monday! Regarding the title of today’s post…how many of you thought that I actually interviewed Dean Koontz? Let’s see a raise of hands. Just kidding but, I do wish I had been the one to conduct the interview however I’m not quite that famous or well known in the industry. Not yet. So in the meantime, I have found an interview for you to enjoy. I think we can learn a lot from famous authors and how they got their starts. Taken straight from http://www.deankoontz.com/writing-qa/:

You had an agent in your early years tell you that you’d never be a best-selling writer. Did that discourage you or make you more determined to succeed?

 

I have more self-doubt than any writer I’ve ever known. That is one reason I revise every page to the point of absurdity! The positive aspect of self-doubt – if you can channel it into useful activity instead of being paralyzed by it – is that by the time you reach the end of a novel, you know precisely why you made every decision in the narrative, the multiple purposes of every metaphor and image. Having been your own hardest critic you still have dreams but not illusions. Consequently, thoughtless criticism or advice can’t long derail you. You become disappointed in an agent, in an editor, in a publisher, but never discouraged. If anyone in your publishing life were to argue against a particular book or a career aspiration for reasons you had not already pondered and rejected after careful analysis, if they dazzled you with brilliant new considerations, then you’d have to back off and revisit your decisions. But what I was told never dazzled me. For example, I was often advised, by different people, that my work would never gain a big audience because my vocabulary was too large.

 

It’s been said that writers reveal their own struggles, fears, dreams, etc. through their work. Which of your novels reveals the most about you?

 

Everything I believe about life and death, culture and society, relationships and the self, God and nature–everything winds up in the books, not in one more than another, but equally, title after title. A body of work, therefore, reveals the intellectual and emotional progress of the writer, and is a map of his soul. It’s both terrifying and liberating to consider this aspect of being a novelist.

 

I’ve read that you will rewrite a page until it’s right before moving on, sometimes redoing a draft thirty or forty times. This must make for a slow process. Approximately how long does it take you to write one novel?

 

I work 10- and 11-hour days because in long sessions I fall away more completely into story and characters than I would in, say, a six-hour day. On good days, I might wind up with five or six pages of finished work; on bad days, a third of a page. Even five or six is not a high rate of production for a 10- or 11-hour day, but there are more good days than bad. And the secret is doing it day after day, committing to it and avoiding distractions. A month–perhaps 22 to 25 work days–goes by and, as a slow drip of water can fill a huge cauldron in a month, so you discover that you have 75 polished pages. The process is slow, but that’s a good thing. Because I don’t do a quick first draft and then revise it, I have plenty of time to let the subconscious work; therefore, I am led to surprise after surprise that enriches story and deepens character. I have a low boredom threshold, and in part I suspect I fell into this method of working in order to keep myself mystified about the direction of the piece–and therefore entertained. A very long novel, like FROM THE CORNER OF HIS EYE can take a year. A book like THE GOOD GUY, six months.

 

You are one of the most prolific fiction writers of our time. What keeps you going?

 

In addition to the enchantment with language and storytelling, there is the fact that I wouldn’t know what the hell to do if I were not doing this. Some leisure is fine, but not an unrelieved diet of downtime. I’m also writing to ensure that our foundation–which focuses largely on organizations for the severely disabled, critically ill children, and dogs–will be deeply funded and able to support those organizations long after Gerda and I are gone.

 

You are known as perhaps the hardest working novelist of our time. To what do you attribute your work ethic?

 

Two things. First, I am enchanted by the English language, by its beauty and flexibility, also by the power of storytelling to expand the mind and lift the heart. Language and story offer possibilities –intriguing challenges–that I couldn’t exhaust in many lifetimes. The work is joy when it’s going well, even when it isn’t. Second, I believe that talent is a gift and that it comes with the sacred obligation to polish and grow it.

 

As a young writer, did you encounter rejection?–Allison, Pennsylvania

 

I sold the first short story I wrote. Then I received over 75 rejections before making another sale. My first four novels were never published. Later, after I’d been selling genre fiction routinely, I wrote a mainstream novel, ALL OTHER MEN. Editors sent me enthusiastic letters about it, said they loved it, but turned it down because they felt it was too disturbing and too avant garde to be commercial. But let me get to the heart of your question: young writer. There seems to be an implication here that I’m no longer young. I am as young now, Allison, as I have ever been, and not because of any form of dementia. I am young because my work keeps me young and the daily wrestling with our beautiful and supple language keeps me limber and youthful, as well. You may think that is bullshit, and it is, but it’s a sincere kind of bullshit.

 

How important were college creative-writing courses to your success?—Alberto, Washington

 

I’m sure that the right teacher, in a well-designed course, can be a great help to beginning writers who are trying to find their way, but I have no personal experience of that. I found my own way by doing two things. First, I read 150 books a year, sometimes more, (very little TV, later no blogging, no e-mail, that’s how), fiction in all genres, contemporary novels but also the classics, poetry, and a variety of nonfiction. Second, I revise every page of a novel twenty or thirty times, whatever it takes, before moving on to the next page. This line-by-line immersion focuses me intently on language, character, and theme. I began this ceaseless polishing out of self-doubt, as a way of preventing self-doubt from turning into writer’s block: by doing something with the unsatisfactory page, I wasn’t just sitting there brooding about it. I have more self-doubt than any writer I know, which seems healthy to me, and now this method of working, this line-by-line immersion, no longer seems arduous; instead, it delights me. While my conscious mind is on the micro world of a single page, my unconscious is always working on the macro world of the entire novel.

 

When did you decide you were destined to be a writer? At what point in your life? —Marcy, New Jersey

 

After a devastating ankle injury forever ended my ice-dancing career. Actually, nothing is destined. Everything depends on the unstinting exercise of free will, and hard work.

Have a good one. (Evin – http://www.mrgurupublishing.com)

 

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Dog Eat Dog

For lack of a better term…yesterday I was flamed on a popular social networking site. Suffice it to say, I was flamed for offering advice to an author. I mentioned pricing in the comment and was not aware at that time that mentioning pricing in the group was not allowed. I do not use that as an excuse however because I should have made myself aware of the group rules.

Another group member decided to flame me, letting the group know that due to the low cost I was charging a client, that my editing was horrible and I was only ripping the client off because his/her book would need an additional edit due to the horrible edit I was going to give him/her.

I emailed this individual privately to take it off the board because I ashamedly let myself get into a flaming war in the group, for everyone to read. The response from this person was calling me foul names using language that I won’t even attempt to use here.

I let this get to me because for one, this person knows nothing about the quality of work I do. Secondly, I’m wondering to myself as to how an adult could act this way. At first, I wanted to hang up the towel and leave this business. See, Sapling is a part-time job for me at the moment. Writing, publishing and anything to do with books has always been a passion of mine. I began writing creative stories as early as grade school. I always excelled and received very good grades in my creative writing and English classes.

I’ve always wanted to me a writer, but never took any advanced classes because like many, I grew up hearing, “You’ll starve. Only a very few make any real money in it.” As a result, I set off in a completely different direction and have worked in many different positions. Currently I work full-time as a technical writer, which is now a position I’ve worked in for over 10 years. It’s writing, but maybe not the type that most people think about when they think of a writer. I have a graduate degree in education, primarily adult education. Now at the age of 40, I am working on my first novel and wondering if I should actually take some of those advanced writing courses. I do write and sell articles and have written numerous short stories but have yet to have any of my actual stories published.

I’ve gotten off track here. I wanted to throw in the towel yesterday and leave the world of publishing. Why? Because sometimes it’s dog eat dog. I wondered further last night however as to what would happen if a majority of people in this business decided to throw in the towel, simply because of the derogatory comments of one person (or even more for that matter). Heck, this could be said for anything and anyone’s dream really. Very few come without sweat, blood and tears from time to time. Most people fall flat on their backs before truly succeeding in something. Although not really verified, I’ve always heard how Stephen King has decorated one wall of his office with rejection letters by various publishers. Just imagine if he had let those drive him away from his dream.

So I want to tell all of you…yes, there will be times you will want to give up. There might be flaming and hateful words. There might be someone out there telling you that you are not good enough, or that you need to find a “real job.” Don’t listen. If this is what you want to do, don’t listen because at the end of the day, YOU are the one that has to look at yourself in the mirror and YOU are the one that knows what you dream truly is.

Go forth and conquer, my friends. (Evin – http://www.mrgurupublishing.com)

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Cover Design

Hello and a beautiful Tuesday morning to you all. Today’s topic is none other than cover design which I personally feel is a topic I probably haven’t covered enough, if ever.

I will begin by saying this….I always feel you should have your cover professional designed unless you are a graphic artist or know someone who is. Why? Your cover is the first thing potential buyers will see. Chances are that it will go right back up on the shelf if it doesn’t look professionally done. I’m not just talking about the actual artwork itself, I’m talking about the decision as to what should go on the cover and so forth. The professionals are trained with this knowledge, so I say to let them do their job!

On the flip side however I know that cover design can be expensive and well, not all of us have enough to drop on a professional cover right off the bat. So…keeping that in mind I have found an article that will hopefully help.

This article is titled, “Judging a Book by Its Cover.” Unfortunately I am unable to find the author of this article however if you’d like to view it, please click http://www.completelynovel.com/self-publishing/writers-toolbox-cover-design. You will also be able to view a video. Enjoy:

 

“The cover of your book is very important so it’s definitely worth spending some time on. It is probably one of the key areas that self-published writers fall down on. If what you have produced doesn’t look great on the outside then people are going to be much less likely to take a peek inside.

The cover of your book is the first thing people will see – so you want to make sure that it looks professional. Bear in mind the people that it will appeal to: what kind of image would draw in the right readers? Whilst we would always encourage you to be creative and original, you should be mindful of your customers and remember that if someone is looking, for example, for a crime/thriller, there is a certain type of cover that will attract their attention. Emma Barnes, the co-founder of the award-winning Snow Books offers some excellent advice on this theme on the Snowblog. She stresses the importance of a cover positioning a book in its genre:

“Take a copy of your book cover into the store, go to the relevant shelf and see if it fits. Does it stand out? If it does, it’s probably wrong. The blurb and the cover and the writing is unique, but the only way the reader will discover it is if the packaging explains, at a subconscious level, what the words are about. You wouldn’t expect to open a cornflakes pack and find pasta, would you? Same deal.”

Scott Pack, the head of the innovative publisher The Friday Project and a former book buyer at Waterstones also has some great tips on cover design in this short video.

Diy cover design

You don’t have to be a graphic designer to create some great results if you have the time and the tools to do so. Perhaps the most important and striking part of a cover is its main image. Take your time to select a good photo and your job will be half done. For even more professional results, programs such as Adobe Illustrator are great for creating graphics. Adobe Photoshop or its free alternative Gimp are excellent for manipulating photos to make them look great.
Although Gimp has a useful online users’ guide, it and the Adobe programs are quite complicated and will require quite a lot of time to learn to use them properly. If you are after a quicker solution it might be worth using a program you are more used to such as a word processor or a simple graphics application. With a bit of time and effort you can produce good results yourself.

Titles – big and bold!

The best book covers, particularly those that are going to be seen as thumbnails on a computer screen as well as across the floor of a bookshop in hard copy, should have a large, easy-to-read title and author name on them. This makes it much easier for the reader to identify the book.
Emma Barnes (of
Snow Books) has some excellent advice on titles: she warns against covers where the title looks “plonked” over the background image. The font and the text spacing and position should be integrated with the image. She also has some helpful rules of thumb to make sure your cover typography observes the conventions of the genre.

Finding Images for your book cover

Perhaps you have a great photo that you think would be perfect for the cover? You can use programmes such as Adobe Photoshop, widely used by professional designers. If you are looking for a cheaper option, there are a few web-based photo editors that you might like to try:

Image Resources

If you don’t have exactly the right photo, remember that the internet has some great archive images that are a great resource. Some you will need to pay for, others are free. If you do use someone else’s image, just check that you have permission to do so! Make sure you get an image that is 300dpi as this is the standard resolution used by printers. To get a decent sized hi-res version of an image on these websites you might only need to pay £5 or less, so it’s definitely worth investigating.

How CompletelyNovel can help

If you publish your book yourself on CompletelyNovel, you can use the CN cover creator for free. If you don’t have your own complete design, you can either choose from a selection of stock images or you can upload your own picture and then add the text.”

 

Get to it! (Evin – http://www.mrgurupublishing.com)

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Should You Risk It All?

I’m certain this is a question we’ve all had at some point in our lives. Whether it’s over a romance, a career or merely selecting what to have for dinner, we’ve all encountered it. If not, we most likely will.

I think of writers when I think of this however it really applies to anything. This is a long article written by Paul Graham but worth the read if you can get through to the end (http://paulgraham.com/love.html):

“How to Do What You Love –

To do something well you have to like it. That idea is not exactly novel. We’ve got it down to four words: “Do what you love.” But it’s not enough just to tell people that. Doing what you love is complicated.

The very idea is foreign to what most of us learn as kids. When I was a kid, it seemed as if work and fun were opposites by definition. Life had two states: some of the time adults were making you do things, and that was called work; the rest of the time you could do what you wanted, and that was called playing. Occasionally the things adults made you do were fun, just as, occasionally, playing wasn’t—for example, if you fell and hurt yourself. But except for these few anomalous cases, work was pretty much defined as not-fun.

And it did not seem to be an accident. School, it was implied, was tedious because it was preparation for grownup work.

The world then was divided into two groups, grownups and kids. Grownups, like some kind of cursed race, had to work. Kids didn’t, but they did have to go to school, which was a dilute version of work meant to prepare us for the real thing. Much as we disliked school, the grownups all agreed that grownup work was worse, and that we had it easy.

Teachers in particular all seemed to believe implicitly that work was not fun. Which is not surprising: work wasn’t fun for most of them. Why did we have to memorize state capitals instead of playing dodgeball? For the same reason they had to watch over a bunch of kids instead of lying on a beach. You couldn’t just do what you wanted.

I’m not saying we should let little kids do whatever they want. They may have to be made to work on certain things. But if we make kids work on dull stuff, it might be wise to tell them that tediousness is not the defining quality of work, and indeed that the reason they have to work on dull stuff now is so they can work on more interesting stuff later. [1]

Once, when I was about 9 or 10, my father told me I could be whatever I wanted when I grew up, so long as I enjoyed it. I remember that precisely because it seemed so anomalous. It was like being told to use dry water. Whatever I thought he meant, I didn’t think he meant work could literally be fun—fun like playing. It took me years to grasp that.

Jobs

By high school, the prospect of an actual job was on the horizon. Adults would sometimes come to speak to us about their work, or we would go to see them at work. It was always understood that they enjoyed what they did. In retrospect I think one may have: the private jet pilot. But I don’t think the bank manager really did.

The main reason they all acted as if they enjoyed their work was presumably the upper-middle class convention that you’re supposed to. It would not merely be bad for your career to say that you despised your job, but a social faux-pas.

Why is it conventional to pretend to like what you do? The first sentence of this essay explains that. If you have to like something to do it well, then the most successful people will all like what they do. That’s where the upper-middle class tradition comes from. Just as houses all over America are full of chairs that are, without the owners even knowing it, nth-degree imitations of chairs designed 250 years ago for French kings, conventional attitudes about work are, without the owners even knowing it, nth-degree imitations of the attitudes of people who’ve done great things.

What a recipe for alienation. By the time they reach an age to think about what they’d like to do, most kids have been thoroughly misled about the idea of loving one’s work. School has trained them to regard work as an unpleasant duty. Having a job is said to be even more onerous than schoolwork. And yet all the adults claim to like what they do. You can’t blame kids for thinking “I am not like these people; I am not suited to this world.”

Actually they’ve been told three lies: the stuff they’ve been taught to regard as work in school is not real work; grownup work is not (necessarily) worse than schoolwork; and many of the adults around them are lying when they say they like what they do.

The most dangerous liars can be the kids’ own parents. If you take a boring job to give your family a high standard of living, as so many people do, you risk infecting your kids with the idea that work is boring. [2] Maybe it would be better for kids in this one case if parents were not so unselfish. A parent who set an example of loving their work might help their kids more than an expensive house. [3]

It was not till I was in college that the idea of work finally broke free from the idea of making a living. Then the important question became not how to make money, but what to work on. Ideally these coincided, but some spectacular boundary cases (like Einstein in the patent office) proved they weren’t identical.

The definition of work was now to make some original contribution to the world, and in the process not to starve. But after the habit of so many years my idea of work still included a large component of pain. Work still seemed to require discipline, because only hard problems yielded grand results, and hard problems couldn’t literally be fun. Surely one had to force oneself to work on them.

If you think something’s supposed to hurt, you’re less likely to notice if you’re doing it wrong. That about sums up my experience of graduate school.

Bounds

How much are you supposed to like what you do? Unless you know that, you don’t know when to stop searching. And if, like most people, you underestimate it, you’ll tend to stop searching too early. You’ll end up doing something chosen for you by your parents, or the desire to make money, or prestige—or sheer inertia.

Here’s an upper bound: Do what you love doesn’t mean, do what you would like to do most this second. Even Einstein probably had moments when he wanted to have a cup of coffee, but told himself he ought to finish what he was working on first.

It used to perplex me when I read about people who liked what they did so much that there was nothing they’d rather do. There didn’t seem to be any sort of work I liked that much. If I had a choice of (a) spending the next hour working on something or (b) be teleported to Rome and spend the next hour wandering about, was there any sort of work I’d prefer? Honestly, no.

But the fact is, almost anyone would rather, at any given moment, float about in the Carribbean, or have sex, or eat some delicious food, than work on hard problems. The rule about doing what you love assumes a certain length of time. It doesn’t mean, do what will make you happiest this second, but what will make you happiest over some longer period, like a week or a month.

Unproductive pleasures pall eventually. After a while you get tired of lying on the beach. If you want to stay happy, you have to do something.

As a lower bound, you have to like your work more than any unproductive pleasure. You have to like what you do enough that the concept of “spare time” seems mistaken. Which is not to say you have to spend all your time working. You can only work so much before you get tired and start to screw up. Then you want to do something else—even something mindless. But you don’t regard this time as the prize and the time you spend working as the pain you endure to earn it.

I put the lower bound there for practical reasons. If your work is not your favorite thing to do, you’ll have terrible problems with procrastination. You’ll have to force yourself to work, and when you resort to that the results are distinctly inferior.

To be happy I think you have to be doing something you not only enjoy, but admire. You have to be able to say, at the end, wow, that’s pretty cool. This doesn’t mean you have to make something. If you learn how to hang glide, or to speak a foreign language fluently, that will be enough to make you say, for a while at least, wow, that’s pretty cool. What there has to be is a test.

So one thing that falls just short of the standard, I think, is reading books. Except for some books in math and the hard sciences, there’s no test of how well you’ve read a book, and that’s why merely reading books doesn’t quite feel like work. You have to do something with what you’ve read to feel productive.

I think the best test is one Gino Lee taught me: to try to do things that would make your friends say wow. But it probably wouldn’t start to work properly till about age 22, because most people haven’t had a big enough sample to pick friends from before then.

Sirens

What you should not do, I think, is worry about the opinion of anyone beyond your friends. You shouldn’t worry about prestige. Prestige is the opinion of the rest of the world. When you can ask the opinions of people whose judgement you respect, what does it add to consider the opinions of people you don’t even know? [4]

This is easy advice to give. It’s hard to follow, especially when you’re young. [5] Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.

That’s what leads people to try to write novels, for example. They like reading novels. They notice that people who write them win Nobel prizes. What could be more wonderful, they think, than to be a novelist? But liking the idea of being a novelist is not enough; you have to like the actual work of novel-writing if you’re going to be good at it; you have to like making up elaborate lies.

Prestige is just fossilized inspiration. If you do anything well enough, you’ll make it prestigious. Plenty of things we now consider prestigious were anything but at first. Jazz comes to mind—though almost any established art form would do. So just do what you like, and let prestige take care of itself.

Prestige is especially dangerous to the ambitious. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige. That’s the recipe for getting people to give talks, write forewords, serve on committees, be department heads, and so on. It might be a good rule simply to avoid any prestigious task. If it didn’t suck, they wouldn’t have had to make it prestigious.

Similarly, if you admire two kinds of work equally, but one is more prestigious, you should probably choose the other. Your opinions about what’s admirable are always going to be slightly influenced by prestige, so if the two seem equal to you, you probably have more genuine admiration for the less prestigious one.

The other big force leading people astray is money. Money by itself is not that dangerous. When something pays well but is regarded with contempt, like telemarketing, or prostitution, or personal injury litigation, ambitious people aren’t tempted by it. That kind of work ends up being done by people who are “just trying to make a living.” (Tip: avoid any field whose practitioners say this.) The danger is when money is combined with prestige, as in, say, corporate law, or medicine. A comparatively safe and prosperous career with some automatic baseline prestige is dangerously tempting to someone young, who hasn’t thought much about what they really like.

The test of whether people love what they do is whether they’d do it even if they weren’t paid for it—even if they had to work at another job to make a living. How many corporate lawyers would do their current work if they had to do it for free, in their spare time, and take day jobs as waiters to support themselves?

This test is especially helpful in deciding between different kinds of academic work, because fields vary greatly in this respect. Most good mathematicians would work on math even if there were no jobs as math professors, whereas in the departments at the other end of the spectrum, the availability of teaching jobs is the driver: people would rather be English professors than work in ad agencies, and publishing papers is the way you compete for such jobs. Math would happen without math departments, but it is the existence of English majors, and therefore jobs teaching them, that calls into being all those thousands of dreary papers about gender and identity in the novels of Conrad. No one does that kind of thing for fun.

The advice of parents will tend to err on the side of money. It seems safe to say there are more undergrads who want to be novelists and whose parents want them to be doctors than who want to be doctors and whose parents want them to be novelists. The kids think their parents are “materialistic.” Not necessarily. All parents tend to be more conservative for their kids than they would for themselves, simply because, as parents, they share risks more than rewards. If your eight year old son decides to climb a tall tree, or your teenage daughter decides to date the local bad boy, you won’t get a share in the excitement, but if your son falls, or your daughter gets pregnant, you’ll have to deal with the consequences.

Discipline

With such powerful forces leading us astray, it’s not surprising we find it so hard to discover what we like to work on. Most people are doomed in childhood by accepting the axiom that work = pain. Those who escape this are nearly all lured onto the rocks by prestige or money. How many even discover something they love to work on? A few hundred thousand, perhaps, out of billions.

It’s hard to find work you love; it must be, if so few do. So don’t underestimate this task. And don’t feel bad if you haven’t succeeded yet. In fact, if you admit to yourself that you’re discontented, you’re a step ahead of most people, who are still in denial. If you’re surrounded by colleagues who claim to enjoy work that you find contemptible, odds are they’re lying to themselves. Not necessarily, but probably.

Although doing great work takes less discipline than people think—because the way to do great work is to find something you like so much that you don’t have to force yourself to do it—finding work you love does usually require discipline. Some people are lucky enough to know what they want to do when they’re 12, and just glide along as if they were on railroad tracks. But this seems the exception. More often people who do great things have careers with the trajectory of a ping-pong ball. They go to school to study A, drop out and get a job doing B, and then become famous for C after taking it up on the side.

Sometimes jumping from one sort of work to another is a sign of energy, and sometimes it’s a sign of laziness. Are you dropping out, or boldly carving a new path? You often can’t tell yourself. Plenty of people who will later do great things seem to be disappointments early on, when they’re trying to find their niche.

Is there some test you can use to keep yourself honest? One is to try to do a good job at whatever you’re doing, even if you don’t like it. Then at least you’ll know you’re not using dissatisfaction as an excuse for being lazy. Perhaps more importantly, you’ll get into the habit of doing things well.

Another test you can use is: always produce. For example, if you have a day job you don’t take seriously because you plan to be a novelist, are you producing? Are you writing pages of fiction, however bad? As long as you’re producing, you’ll know you’re not merely using the hazy vision of the grand novel you plan to write one day as an opiate. The view of it will be obstructed by the all too palpably flawed one you’re actually writing.

“Always produce” is also a heuristic for finding the work you love. If you subject yourself to that constraint, it will automatically push you away from things you think you’re supposed to work on, toward things you actually like. “Always produce” will discover your life’s work the way water, with the aid of gravity, finds the hole in your roof.

Of course, figuring out what you like to work on doesn’t mean you get to work on it. That’s a separate question. And if you’re ambitious you have to keep them separate: you have to make a conscious effort to keep your ideas about what you want from being contaminated by what seems possible. [6]

It’s painful to keep them apart, because it’s painful to observe the gap between them. So most people pre-emptively lower their expectations. For example, if you asked random people on the street if they’d like to be able to draw like Leonardo, you’d find most would say something like “Oh, I can’t draw.” This is more a statement of intention than fact; it means, I’m not going to try. Because the fact is, if you took a random person off the street and somehow got them to work as hard as they possibly could at drawing for the next twenty years, they’d get surprisingly far. But it would require a great moral effort; it would mean staring failure in the eye every day for years. And so to protect themselves people say “I can’t.”

Another related line you often hear is that not everyone can do work they love—that someone has to do the unpleasant jobs. Really? How do you make them? In the US the only mechanism for forcing people to do unpleasant jobs is the draft, and that hasn’t been invoked for over 30 years. All we can do is encourage people to do unpleasant work, with money and prestige.

If there’s something people still won’t do, it seems as if society just has to make do without. That’s what happened with domestic servants. For millennia that was the canonical example of a job “someone had to do.” And yet in the mid twentieth century servants practically disappeared in rich countries, and the rich have just had to do without.

So while there may be some things someone has to do, there’s a good chance anyone saying that about any particular job is mistaken. Most unpleasant jobs would either get automated or go undone if no one were willing to do them.

Two Routes

There’s another sense of “not everyone can do work they love” that’s all too true, however. One has to make a living, and it’s hard to get paid for doing work you love. There are two routes to that destination:

The organic route: as you become more eminent, gradually to increase the parts of your job that you like at the expense of those you don’t.

The two-job route: to work at things you don’t like to get money to work on things you do.

The organic route is more common. It happens naturally to anyone who does good work. A young architect has to take whatever work he can get, but if he does well he’ll gradually be in a position to pick and choose among projects. The disadvantage of this route is that it’s slow and uncertain. Even tenure is not real freedom.

The two-job route has several variants depending on how long you work for money at a time. At one extreme is the “day job,” where you work regular hours at one job to make money, and work on what you love in your spare time. At the other extreme you work at something till you make enough not to have to work for money again.

The two-job route is less common than the organic route, because it requires a deliberate choice. It’s also more dangerous. Life tends to get more expensive as you get older, so it’s easy to get sucked into working longer than you expected at the money job. Worse still, anything you work on changes you. If you work too long on tedious stuff, it will rot your brain. And the best paying jobs are most dangerous, because they require your full attention.

The advantage of the two-job route is that it lets you jump over obstacles. The landscape of possible jobs isn’t flat; there are walls of varying heights between different kinds of work. [7] The trick of maximizing the parts of your job that you like can get you from architecture to product design, but not, probably, to music. If you make money doing one thing and then work on another, you have more freedom of choice.

Which route should you take? That depends on how sure you are of what you want to do, how good you are at taking orders, how much risk you can stand, and the odds that anyone will pay (in your lifetime) for what you want to do. If you’re sure of the general area you want to work in and it’s something people are likely to pay you for, then you should probably take the organic route. But if you don’t know what you want to work on, or don’t like to take orders, you may want to take the two-job route, if you can stand the risk.

Don’t decide too soon. Kids who know early what they want to do seem impressive, as if they got the answer to some math question before the other kids. They have an answer, certainly, but odds are it’s wrong.

A friend of mine who is a quite successful doctor complains constantly about her job. When people applying to medical school ask her for advice, she wants to shake them and yell “Don’t do it!” (But she never does.) How did she get into this fix? In high school she already wanted to be a doctor. And she is so ambitious and determined that she overcame every obstacle along the way—including, unfortunately, not liking it.

Now she has a life chosen for her by a high-school kid.

When you’re young, you’re given the impression that you’ll get enough information to make each choice before you need to make it. But this is certainly not so with work. When you’re deciding what to do, you have to operate on ridiculously incomplete information. Even in college you get little idea what various types of work are like. At best you may have a couple internships, but not all jobs offer internships, and those that do don’t teach you much more about the work than being a batboy teaches you about playing baseball.

In the design of lives, as in the design of most other things, you get better results if you use flexible media. So unless you’re fairly sure what you want to do, your best bet may be to choose a type of work that could turn into either an organic or two-job career. That was probably part of the reason I chose computers. You can be a professor, or make a lot of money, or morph it into any number of other kinds of work.

It’s also wise, early on, to seek jobs that let you do many different things, so you can learn faster what various kinds of work are like. Conversely, the extreme version of the two-job route is dangerous because it teaches you so little about what you like. If you work hard at being a bond trader for ten years, thinking that you’ll quit and write novels when you have enough money, what happens when you quit and then discover that you don’t actually like writing novels?

Most people would say, I’d take that problem. Give me a million dollars and I’ll figure out what to do. But it’s harder than it looks. Constraints give your life shape. Remove them and most people have no idea what to do: look at what happens to those who win lotteries or inherit money. Much as everyone thinks they want financial security, the happiest people are not those who have it, but those who like what they do. So a plan that promises freedom at the expense of knowing what to do with it may not be as good as it seems.

Whichever route you take, expect a struggle. Finding work you love is very difficult. Most people fail. Even if you succeed, it’s rare to be free to work on what you want till your thirties or forties. But if you have the destination in sight you’ll be more likely to arrive at it. If you know you can love work, you’re in the home stretch, and if you know what work you love, you’re practically there.”

 

Get out there and get ’em! (Evin – http://www.mrgurupublishing.com)

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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