Thoughts Are Turkeys

It’s snowing. I look out the window and see nothing but a white blankness, the indistinct motion of flurries, and the stark, hazy outlines of branches and thickets. It reminds me of something, but what? Hazy outlines … indistinct motion … white blankness. Oh, right: my mind. At the moment, I’m somewhere in the middle of seven different book projects. The routine goes like this: I pick one up and work on it for several days, long enough to sink into it and make some progress — and then put it down and take up another. Not an ideal way to work, but given circumstance and timetables, necessary. It also means that at least every few days, I feel like I’m starting from scratch, which always entails turning inward, looking inside my mind to hunt for ideas — and encountering a landscape that looks a good deal like that winter-bleak blankness out there. “When we read, we start at the beginning and continue until we reach the end. When we write, we start in the middle and fight our way out.” — Vicky Karp I can’t see them, but I know there are thoughts in here. It’s like the wild turkeys. Looking outside, I can’t imagine anything surviving that New England winter. Every year, I’m convinced that the wild turkeys who live out there in the meadows behind our home must have frozen to death. And yet every year, they show up. The photo above is proof, from last August. I can see those turkeys. I know they’re out there, somewhere. I can feel those thoughts. I know they’re in...

Put Your Good Stuff Up Front

I was on the phone today with an author. We’re writing a book together. His original outline was structured in two parts: Part I taught a set of laws, and was called “Principles.” Part II was called “Practices.” Aha, there was the problem right there: thinking that people would actually read Part II. They won’t. By and large, people do not actually read books. This simple fact — grasping it, understanding it, accepting it — is a huge key to writing books that can change people’s lives. Pop quiz: Have you ever read Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People? I mean, really read it, all of it, cover to cover? And (as the reporters say) a follow-up if I may: Do you know anyone who has? I confess: I have not. I bought a copy when it came out, and read some of it. But I doubt I ever logged more than 100 of its 358 pages. I’ve been asking this question for years, and have never, not once, had anyone tell me that in all candor, yes, they had indeed read the whole book. Granted, a lot of people bought it. Millions, in fact. But I don’t think anyone read it. And yet that book changed the world. It got us all using the word (and concept) “proactive.” It got us recognizing the difference between leadership and management (think forest vs. trees). It taught us to “seek first to understand, then to be understood,” and to think “first things first.” It got us sharpening the saw. It put paradigm shift in our heads, with that touching...