Geetanjali Mukherjee

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Book Review: Eat That Frog!

I am back after an unintended hiatus – my computer stopped working, and I got backlogged with work while I tried to figure it out, and dropped off my (ir)regular posting schedule. Now I am writing this on a loaner.

Today’s book review is on a book that although I loved, I also thought many times before recommending – because while I think it can be great for those who need a little nudge (ok a shove off the couch to get productive), it might be a little too ‘tough love’ for those who need to start small and easy. Thus, this book may not be for everyone, but I still think its message is important enough to share on this blog. 

General Comments:  The main premise of the book is that the best way to be productive and successful is to tackle the most difficult and important task that you have to get done, and make it a life philosophy to always tackle these tasks – frogs as Tracy calls them. Thus, the focus of the book is how to get these tasks done / eat these frogs.

3 Insights from the Book:

1.   Tackle the most important first - all of us are guilty of putting off something that is big and difficult because it is big and difficult. We wait till the last minute, spending our time handling email or doing other trivial things and avoiding writing the report, or calling the client, or whatever the most important task for the day is. Tracy’s main message is by handling the most important tasks (frogs) first, you get into the habit of always doing this, and as a result, become successful by dint of always ensuring your top priorities are taken care of. He suggests that you should make a list of your priorities, and don’t tackle less important tasks until the more important ones are taken care of. Important lesson, although not always easy to carry out.

2.   Focus on the highest value tasks – everyone has far more to do than they can find time for, so Tracy suggests that in order to keep on top of your work, spend your time and energy on the tasks that create the highest value for your employer, and represent the most important functions of your job. This may seem pretty obvious, but it is very easy to get caught up in the urgent and day-to-day onslaught, and lose track of less urgent aspects of the job, that done well, ultimately lead to promotions and career success.

3.   Break tasks down – while it is clear that completing the toughest tasks will give us the most bang for our work hours, the reason we procrastinate on them is because they are, well, tough. Tracy’s suggestion – every task can be broken down into smaller and smaller sections – and tackle one at a time. Each section you complete will give you increased momentum to tackle the next one. When nothing else works – give yourself time quotas (i.e. I will work for the next 5 minutes on this project). All progress is progress, and remember, its doubly effective because this is progress on your most important task. 

Recommend For: Anyone who finds themselves procrastinating on important tasks and projects, or who is stuck on a project and unable to move forward. Can also be very useful for those who seem to be spending a lot of time ‘working’ but are frustrated at not getting good enough results or moving forward sufficiently.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

How I Write: Authors on Their Writing Process - David Clarkson

Today, instead of the usual Friday book review, I have something much more exciting. As readers of my blog may know, I have been working on improving my writing a lot this year, and have been interested in how other writers, especially indies (independently published authors) are navigating the challenges of writing, marketing, building a platform, as well as what tools and technology they find most convenient. Writing hacks as it were.
I was fortunate enough to get an interview with indie author David Clarkson, author of three novels, with a fourth on the way. He talks about his writing process, how he tackles writer's block and his take on the various aspects of self-publishing.

David Clarkson
David Clarkson's profile photo

Location: Portsmouth, United Kingdom
Last Book Published: Diamond Sky
Traditional, Indie or Both: Indie
Current Project: Editing Book 2 of the Diamond Sky Trilogy
1.     What is your writing process like? How much do you make use of technology?
I prefer to keep the writing process pure, so I do not use any writer specific programs/tools. I use pen and paper for my (very loose) story plans and then type it up on my laptop.

2.     What apps / software do you use for writing / creating?
I use Microsoft Word for writing. I do not think that anything other than the bare basics are required for the creative side. As for cover design, I also try to keep it as simple as possible. The reason so many self made covers turn out bad is because the designers are in over their heads with the technology. The more advanced the program is, the more damage a novice can do with it. I use free internet photo editing programs like Ribbet. I select the right picture to use as a base and will then amend the colour and add simple text only. Anything more should really only be handled by somebody with training in graphic design. It took a few mistakes to get there, but I like all of the covers I have made for my novels.

3.     Other than those, what other apps / tools are daily essentials?
The only tool a writer needs is his or her imagination and a bit of knowledge to reinforce it. Good reference books are all a writer needs. Stephen King’s On Writing is a must, as is the Strunk & White Elements of Style. How Not To Write A Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman is another good one.

4.     What books are on your (virtual or otherwise) bookshelf currently?
I am ashamed to admit that my reading has really dropped off this year, but I am currently halfway through Inferno by Dan Brown. It was recommended to me by a colleague after we shared conversation regarding the approaching global population disaster. I said that somewhere down the line, a culling of the human population will be on the agenda of an unscrupulous government. It is not quite the same plot, but close enough so I thought I would check it out.

5.     Do you listen to music while you write? What kind of music?
It varies a lot. If I have no clear idea of what I am writing and just free styling it, I prefer the music to be in the background. I have a lot of recordings of contemporary pop/rock music played in a classical instrumental style. This works well for that. If I know where I am going, I like to crank it up a notch - especially with action scenes. In Diamond Sky, Guns N’ Roses actually made it into the story and I listened to them a lot whilst writing it. One of the characters is struggling to get over the loss of a loved one and he spends a lot of time in an alcohol induced funk listening to Axl Rose and co.

6.     What is your writing routine like?
I only form a routine when I am nearing the end of a novel and have built up a lot momentum. When this happens, I will start writing as soon as I get home from work (5pm) and work through to 9 or 10 with a brief break for dinner. I put in serious hours when editing too, otherwise it is really just when I am feeling in the mood. Writing should be enjoyed and once you start forcing it, the fun will go really quickly.

7.     Do you have daily / weekly goals such as word quotas?
I think word count goals work best over the long term. Setting a goal of 1,000 words a day will just lead to failure and once you desensitize yourself to failure it comes much easier after that. I prefer to aim for a timescale for the overall project. Six months for a first draft and then another six for editing, although I will usually have at least 2 projects running simultaneously.

8.     How do you combat writer's block? 
As above – work on two different projects simultaneously. If you hit a wall with one, switch to the other. Then when you hit a wall with that one, you will hopefully be looking at the original work with a fresher perspective and be able to overcome the original block.

9.     What's your best productivity trick?
If I am struggling to write, I go back and edit earlier chapters. That way, I am always doing something productive. I think it is vital to edit whilst you go. For the sake of consistency, a writer must have a clear view of everything that went before in the story as they continue it. Otherwise it is too easy to forget the small details and these soon turn into major plot holes. The only way to do this is to keep rereading over what you have written.

10.  How do you create balance between work and life? 
When you are a writer, there is no separation. I am always observing and thinking. Except on holidays. My wife is very strict about that. No writing on holiday.

11.  How much of the publishing process do you do yourself? What books / websites / software have helped you most?
I rely a lot on friends for help with editing, proof reading etc, but everything else I do myself. A lot of people argue against using a friend’s opinion, but if you have friends who are well-read, hold an English degree or do a lot of creative writing themselves, this really becomes a moot point. To be a good writer, one needs above average intelligence, an inquisitive mindset and exceptional judgement (this may sound arrogant, but writing is an academic pursuit). If you possess these qualities, you will know whose opinion you can trust and whose you cannot.

12.  How much marketing do you do? Which platforms are you most active on? 
After a year, I am trying to cut down my time on social media. I just do not think that it works. Maybe a few years ago when the number of self published titles was measured in the thousands, but now it is in the millions it is virtually impossible to stand out other than through an act of sheer luck. Having said that, I try to keep my presence on FaceBook, Twitter and G+ current. When I started out, I wrote two blog posts a week. Now it is just on an as and when basis.

13.  What's the most fun aspect of marketing to you? 
Random interactions through twitter, which due to the sheer volume of the newsfeeds, the only conversations that happen are the spontaneous ones that happen in the moment. Compiling answers to interview questions can be fun too.

14.  What's the most challenging?
Finding the time. In the early stages of promoting a book the marketing feels just as productive as the writing, but after a while, writer’s guilt starts to sit in. Anytime not spent writing is time wasted.

15.  Anything else you would like to add?
I have enjoyed answering these questions and I hope people can take something from my responses.

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