How Nathaniel Philbrick Writes

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National Book Award-winner and Pulitzer Prize-finalist Nathaniel Philbrick details to The Paris Review his writing process. Philbrick writes historical non-fiction, so he often has to dive head first into topics and develop a mastery while maintaining a sense of wonder. As a result he has a pretty regimented process to assure things come out right. Some choice gems:

On taking notes:

Moleskine. It’s almost a reading journal. Day by day. Early on I’m getting a sense of the book. I find that when I’m new to a topic, that’s when I’m catching the best details. It’s all new to me; it’s what the reader will respond to. Because, you can so easily over-know a topic, and you lose the magic. It becomes interesting to you, but you’ve lost the connection to the reader. You’re too far down the rabbit hole. So for me, it’s having a record of those initial reactions to the material is really important. It’s the roadmap I go back to. You forgot how interesting the material was when you first learned it, after you’ve learned a lot about a topic.

On getting feedback:

So, after I finish a draft, I hit print. I used to do a lot more revising on the page. I used to print at the end of every day, and then the next morning revise. I’ve since gotten to the point where I just do the revising on the screen. I print out the whole chapter, edit it, spend a day looking it over, then reprint it, and take upstairs and read it aloud to my wife after dinner.

[Paris Review:] Out loud?

That is the most critical point. She has a notepad where she’s writing comments. It’s so funny—you can look at things on the screen, and it looks great. Then you read it, and you go, oh my God. The rhythm of the prose is something I’m really trying to work on. So when I’m reading it aloud, I’ll hear the prose and go, that sucks. Like for all of us, I’m always searching for a word. It’s a lot of the sounds I’m going for—not that I’m creating anything anyone notices.

On the importance of the preface:

What I should mention is that, what applied to Away Off Shore and all my books since, is that, for me, it’s the preface that matters. That’s where I develop the voice; that’s where figure out what I’m going to say. Well into the Moleskine approach, I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to begin with. What scene will introduce what I’m trying to do. That’s really hard for me. I’ll have forty drafts of how I’m going to start the book. Forty different ways in. How about trying this way, how about that? And that’s really the hard part. I’m deconstructing myself, second guessing myself. Where am I coming from? What is this about? What’s the voice? The tone? My manila folder for the preface is always really fat.

Read the entire interview (a must for any writer) here.

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Top Weekend Reads: The New Skills Required to Nab Top Jobs

Designed by Yazmin Alanis for the Noun Project

Designed by Yazmin Alanis for the Noun Project

As we do every Friday, we’ve collected our most-shared Twitter links for your weekend reading pleasure.

From around the web:

From 99U:

For more, make sure to follow us on Twitter.

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Fight Productivity Paralysis With the 2-Minute Rule

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Hour Glass designed by Bohdan Burmich from the Noun Project

 

The feeling that you get from crossing things off your to-do list can be addicting. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of adding absolutely everything to your system, including things that can be done in two minutes or less. With enough small and insignificant tasks, you can clog your system and lose considerable time and focus. And if you overwhelm your system enough, you might even paralyze your productivity completely.

Management consultant and author of Getting Things Done, David Allen, has a two-minute rule that can not only make your projects move forward incessantly, but it can also prevent many small things from overloading your system in the first place:

If you determine an action can be done in two minutes, you actually should do it right then because it’ll take longer to organize it and review it than it would be to actually finish it the first time you notice it.

Thinking of your time in two-minute increments will allow you to get a lot of things done.  When you simply do something, you eliminate all of the prioritizing, scheduling and picking of tasks. As Allen put it in a recent interview with Success magazine, the rule “is actually tricking you into making an executive decision about what is the next thing that needs to happen and that’s really the training people need.”  The two-minute rule is in essence, a mind-trick. 

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Are You in Motion or Are You Taking Action?

Motion designed by Nick Abrams from the Noun Project.

Motion designed by Nick Abrams from the Noun Project.

When dealing with clients and working with teams, it’s not uncommon to hear the phrase “get the ball rolling” when describing project progress. But are the phone calls, emails and scheduling of meetings actually considered work? A costly mistake for many is confusing the idea of being in motion with simply taking action. Our real job, the action, should be to produce the actual deliverable. While motion and action might sound similar, they’re not the same. In a recent blog post, entrepreneur and travel photographer James Clear distinguished the two as follows:

Motion is when you’re busy doing something, but that task will never produce an outcome by itself. Action, on the other hand, is the type of behavior that will get you a result.

There are many strategies for taking action, but two that have worked for Clear are:

1. Set a schedule for your actions.
2. Pick a date to shift you from motion to action.

Being in motion is not only an inevitable part of getting things done, it’s integral. But we can’t get lost in it. Clear offers a simple way to refocus by asking: “Are you doing something? Or are you just preparing to do it? Are you in motion? Or are you taking action?” Don’t get caught up measuring progress by steps you’ve completed. In the words of ten-time NCAA National Championship winning coach John Wooden, “Never mistake activity for achievement.” Instead, be relentlessly focused on the end-goal. Motion will never produce a final result. Action will. Read the rest of Clear’s blog on motion vs. action here.

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The Difference Between Projects and Processes

Designed by Kevin Laity for the Noun Project

Designed by Kevin Laity for the Noun Project

Starting a new project is an exciting experience that often requires new ways of thinking. However, when faced with multiple competing deadlines, we can be quick to treat a project like a process for the sake of efficiency. This could prove to be detrimental not only to the new project, but to existing processes and worse – to the overall growth of an enterprise. In Startup Leadership, author and professor Derek Lidow shares the dangers of confusing projects with processes:

Confusion between projects and process stifles growth and destroys value, causing a great frustration among many entrepreneurs…Whether their mission is to make money or to create social good, everything an enterprise creates is the largely the result of its projects and processes. 

Lidow summarizes the major differences between projects and processes and some important ways that they relate to one another: 

Projects

Processes

Have never done this before.

Do the same thing repeatively.

Goals are about creating something new or about implementing a change.

Goal is to create value by repeatively performing a task.

Project objectives and plans can be changed by whoever gives the project team its mandate and resources, provided the team also agrees.

Processes can be successfully changed only with significant planning and investment (a project is required to change a process).

Significant leadership is required to plan and execute a successful project.

Processes are managed, not led, unless they are to be changed.

Projects create change.

Processes resist change.

Projects and processes are completely different and Derek Lidow stresses that understanding their differences – and how they interrelate – is crucial to growth. In order to grow an enterprise properly, projects and processes must be used in balance.

Learn why Derek Lidow thinks real innovation comes from projects, in his Wall Street Journal article.

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How to Turn Creativity Into a Habit

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Lightning designed by Adam Whitcroft from the Noun Project

Creativity seems like a bolt of lightning that strikes almost completely at random. However, psychologist Robert Sternberg believes that’s not entirely true. On Fast Company, Sternberg explains that creativity can be made into a habit:

There are three basic factors that help turn creative thinking into a habit: opportunities to engage in it, encouragement to go after such opportunities, and rewards for doing so.

At a pragmatic level, this might mean finding a community of people who support and encourage your creative work….There is more, of course, to cultivating a habit of creativity than finding a community….Look for ways to see problems that other people don’t. Take risks that other people are afraid to take. Have the courage to defy the crowd and to stand up. Seek to overcome obstacles and challenges.

All it takes is a willingness to pursue creativity and, of course, the right environment to let it thrive. It’s all about persistence for many of us, he says. Read the full write-up on how to make creativity your new habit on Fast Company.

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When to Quit Your Job

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When’s the right time to quit a job if it leaves you feeling hopeless, exhausted, or like you’re wasting your time? How do you separate a day-to-day struggle from a larger problem? According to Chris Coleman, there are three clear stages for when it’s a good time to quit. Coleman tells us not only the stages, but also provides questions to ask yourself to see which stage you’re in, over on the CreativeMornings blog:

The turnover rate in creative jobs is much higher than the national average. A lot of this has to do with the “I want it now” mentality. “I deserve it.” “All my friends work at Google.” The moral of the story? Don’t leave until you have done the job. Ask yourself:

[Ask yourself the] question: Is there anyone here who will tell me the truth when I ask for feedback?

  • Most bosses hate to give feedback. If you want to know how you’re doing, ask.
  • Don’t settle for mamby-pamby answers. You’re looking for specificity and a neutral, open conversation.
  • If there’s no one who will tell you the truth, go.

Knowing when it’s time to go and when it’s time to suck it up (because you likely still have a lot left to learn) can be hard. Coleman’s three stages — from competence to judgement and finally to influence — provide us with some nice stepping stones. Best of all: her numerous example questions can help you identify which stage you’re at (and whether you really should call it quits).

Get all of the stages and valuable questions to ask yourself on the CreativeMornings blog.

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