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18 Comments

The one where writing books is not really a good idea

  1. 10

    The ratio of ideas-I-remember to words-I-read in books is abysmally low. For example, last summer I read the Warren Buffett biography The Snowball. It was 832 pages and 321,610 words long. But I probably couldn't talk to you for more than a minute or two about what I learned from that book.

    By comparison, Paul Graham's essay Keep Your Identity Small is only 690 words long. And it presents a crucial idea that I've find myself referencing year after year for the past decade.

    The upshot is, if you want to really want to have an impact on readers, the essay, not the book, seems to be the most effective form.

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      but we don't always read with the intent to be able to remember or reflect it back to anyone... often times i read to forget, to disappear from this world... to find another one.

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        Yeah this really only applies to non-fiction reading and writing.

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          although, i read "shoe dog" by phil knight and i'm not sure i could tell you many of the finer details... but, i really enjoyed getting lost in the nike world.

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      This article is mostly talking about fiction. I know I can remember darn near every plot plot point from all seven Harry Potter books. Fiction can stick in a memory pretty strongly.

    3. 1

      This is exactly the problem we're trying to fix at www.writeusefulbooks.com / @usefulbooks.

      We believe that a non-fiction book should be treated like a product. A strong promise, a clear audience in mind (who is it for and who isn't it for?), liberal iterating with beta-readers, and delivering on that promise.

      By doing that, we believe that you can avoid the current situation (your book is a stillborn / your book has massive success for 2 weeks and then dies down quickly).

      And that you can create a book that is essentially an asset; with each passing year it does better. (Because it gets recommended and grows through word of mouth.)

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        The use of the word "stillborn" here is pretty jarring and would probably offend quite a lot of people!

        1. 1

          It's interesting that that's what you took from that comment.

          Also, stillborn, by definition, means: "Failing to develop or realize a plan or proposal."

          It's important to be mindful of people's feelings and not intentionally insult them, however, there's a minority that's actively on the prowl for things to get offended by.

          I think it's both unethical and dangerous to pander to that loud minority who's trying to hijack perfectly normal language.

          I don't want to get sucked into a political or moral theory debate, so I'll leave it at this.

    4. 1

      I have a very unpopular opinion about books - I blatantly refuse to read them.

      Call it ignorance, or definitely stubbornness, but I don't believe in their value proposition as a product.

      I think reading is absolutely essential, especially if you're learning how to write. I read 2-3 hours a day - articles, research papers, long-form social posts - but I'll never touch a book.

      When a book is written, it's relevant for the time in which it's published.

      Traditionally, a book might have relevance for years, but with the speed in which constructs change nowadays, they can quickly become obsolete.

      Most research papers I read are irrelevant after just a few months, but fortunately, the publishers can easily update this content with relevant insights.

      To avoid this, the books I've read in the past often focussed on broader concepts instead of sharing specific strategies or advice. While this can help maintain their shelf-life, it significantly impacts the quality of actionable value you can extract from it.

      In saying this, I'm just one Gen Z with an opinion, so I'd be interested to hear anyone else's take.

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        +1 on the literature argument.

        (Although, I do have to say, many books are so good they get references too. E.g. Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow. So there are, imo, good books by academics.)

    5. 1

      There's the creator economy in the nutshell: how do you charge US$29 for a 690-word essay?

      For what it's worth, both Creativity Inc (Pixar) and No Rules Rules (Netflix) are excellent for their entire length, and I feel like I more or less remember the key points. That doesn't excuse the - erm, scholarly comprehensiveness - of the Snowball though.

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        "how do you charge US$29 for a 690-word essay"

        People have been making a fortune selling much smaller "essays" for more then that for years on clickbank and similar platforms. Its all about the right audience and marketing

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          Can you explain this in a little more detail? I had a look at Clickbank - are creators there selling the writing, or using the writing to sell an affiliate product? (I'm asking because I'm completely unfamiliar with CB.)

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    I'm a strong believer in the non-fiction writing process of Rob Fitzpatrick (who many of you will know from his The Mom Test). He often speaks of trimming things down to their absolute essentials, and avoiding writing lengthy books.

    His upcoming book on the topic is great (I was lucky enough to be a beta-reader).

    http://writeusefulbooks.com/

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      Hey Neil,

      I work at UB. Glad to hear our work is resonating.

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        Hey! I haven't engaged in the Slack group for a while (I've lost my writing mojo in the latest lockdown), but I recognise your name. Have followed on Twitter.

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          Awesome!

          I see, I did a behavior design class for writers a while back for UB members.

          If you're stuck, try to scale back the behavior.

          What's the first step in your behavior sequence? Sitting down on an office chair? Opening a particular word processor?

          Then anchor that behavior to an existing habit. Maybe a cup of coffee you drink in the morning, maybe the moment you walk through the door after coming home from work, etc.

          Then just execute that small behavior, nothing else. And try and feel good while you're doing that.

          Don't feel obligated to try more. Just observe and watch. You're trying to see if your behavior design is naturally escalating.

          If it does, sweet! If it doesn't, try a new behavior recipe.

          Good luck!

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            Hey! Sorry for the slow reply @RjYoungling.

            This is all very useful advice, thanks. My triggers and behaviours have been fairly well established for a while, and have served me well. I just seem to have lost them.

            I've been doing a solid hour with WritersHour.com every morning for months. But for much of this year I've just really struggled with a lack of motivation and desire, rather than triggers. I think I have pandemic brain fog and fatigue!

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