Rereading this right after finishing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was surreal . . . I heard Douglas Spaulding’s story in Chief’s voice on almost every page. A lovingly told, nostalgic and poetic chronicle of a magical summer and its cure. This year I’m only reading novels I’ve already read before — no new fiction unless it’s for work — and One Flew led me to Dandelion Wine, which is leading me to Little House on the Prairie. Back and back and back to see how limitations lead to innovations, whether the context is an asylum, a pre-modern childhood, or a lonely, physical frontier.
Reading this book cover to cover is like reading a chapter a week of Lord of the Flies or To Kill a Mockingbird in high school English class with a teacher who grades your reading journal and breaks down every paragraph out loud so everyone can really learn to Appreciate Literature. I do not recommend approaching it that way if you want to maintain momentum.
I DO, however, recommend using this book as a diagnostic and prescriptive tool. Its table of contents makes it an accessible handbook for improving your fiction once you’ve identified your weak spots.
The examinations and analyses throughout the book are thorough and specific and excellent for the writer who wants an intensive course in Getting It Right. This is a solid resource; I’d shelve it in Reference with the other hefty tomes kept safe within sight of the librarian’s desk.
(sent in early January & posted here for posterity)
I firmly believe that January is for writers. It’s bright and clean and full of hope, and it’s often so blessedly forbidding outside that I have no qualms about feathering my nest and making another cup of tea to fuel a long morning, and then a long afternoon, and maybe even a long night after that, of uninterrupted dreaming on paper.
Earlier this month, I read an excellent book that changed my life: Deep Work by Cal Newport. The author’s premise is that the ability to do focused, uninterrupted, meaningful work is rare and valuable. This resonates deeply with me. I’ve long had a habit of hibernating: several days spent diving deep into an editing project or a business idea and trusting that everything else (email, dishes, mail, phone calls) will work itself out when I can get to it. The most important thing is the work.
Deep Work validates that conviction and has inspired me to define my periods of deep work and shallow work better. It also brought to me, in a flash, a framework for the mentor service I’ve been offering to a few select clients over the past year. That clarity was a welcome gift that I’m looking forward to sharing with more writers over the coming months.
The most interesting element of this book’s influence on me, though, has been the steady desire and ability to write nearly every day. Maybe it’s because I ordered a box of my favorite pens and switched to a respectable notebook for my daily notes and to-do lists; maybe it’s because I love a new year and January is my favorite month. Maybe it’s because the work habits and routines I’ve forced upon myself over the last nine years of sole proprietorship are making it easy to follow the advice in this book. Probably all of that and much more.
In any case, in the event that you too are giving extra energy and attention to your writing practice this month, I thought I’d share my top three books about work habits and productivity. They’re listed in the order that I read them, and I cannot recommend any of them highly enough. Each one is a life changer!
- Getting Things Done – David Allen
- ReWork – Jason Fried & David Heinemeier
- Deep Work – Cal Newport
Have you read any of these? What are your favorites? I would love to know.
I hope your year is off to a happy start, writer. Let’s stay in touch.