Fabulous You

Based on my extensive research and understanding of your particular interests and personality type, I have a clear idea of who you are. Here are my findings: You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself. Although disciplined and self-controlled on the outside, you can sometimes be worried and insecure on the inside. There are times when you have doubts as to whether you made the right decision or did the right thing. You like a decent amount of variety in your life and you don’t like to be hemmed in by restrictions or limitations. You’re an independent thinker and rarely accept other’s statements without proof. You can be extroverted and sociable, but what others don’t realize is that you are also introverted and can be reserved at times.

Does this sound like you? Amazing, right? Not really. This pretty much describes everyone. The “insights” above came from a 1948 experiment by Bertram R. Forer and the description was compiled from snippets of horoscopes. So, why did you bite? For just a moment you succumbed to the “Forer Effect”, which is part of a larger phenomenon psychologists call subjective validation, a fancy way to say we are much more vulnerable to suggestion when the fascinating subject is ourselves. This is why people are taken in by pseudoscience like biorhythms, iridology or even the Psychic Friends Network. If a statement seems specific but is ambiguous and you’re convinced it addresses you directly, you’ll ignore the ambiguity and find ways to match up the “details” so that they are compatible with your traits and view of yourself. If you want to believe that the psychic is the real deal or the I Ching can divine your future, you will look for patterns in the moment that reaffirm that belief and employ confirmation bias afterward when you tell your friend how the crystal gazer “told me things about myself that were uncanny.”

Psychologist Ray Hyman has spent years studying the art of deception. He even worked as a magician, then moved on to mentalism when he realized he could make a lot more money reading palms than doing card tricks. Hyman, like other mentalists, was using a technique called “cold reading”, starting with a series of generalities and watching the other person for cues (a nod, a faint smile, a furrowed brow) to constrict his focus to include just those statements that made it appear that he was peering into their soul. In fact, the people who came to Hyman for readings were so impressed he began to think that he might have a real gift. No one is immune to subjective validation, it seems. Fortunately for him, another mentalist, the great Stanley Jaks, took a shine to the young Hyman and decided to save him from delusion. He asked Hyman to try telling his patrons the opposite of what he really believed their palms were telling him. Guess what? His patrons were just as amazed and dumbfounded by his incredible insights. Hyman realized that, as powerful as a good cold reading was, what he said didn’t really matter all that much as long as his presentation was compelling. He had the Forer Effect working for him either way, and the real magic in play was his genuine warmth and charisma.

So read all the horoscopes not just your month, and pick the one you like best, since they’re all pretty much the same. And when someone claims they can peer into your psyche, enjoy the deception, um, attention, and remember that we’re all fabulous, and as human beings, much more alike than different.

Excerpted from You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney 

The Write Reasons

So, you have a burning desire to write a book? Great. But before you leap into the fray, ask yourself: Why am I writing this book? I asked this of several professional speakers recently and the answers were eerily similar: “To promote my business”. “To gain more credibility with my audience.” “To have product for back of room sales after my talk.”  “Because I’ve always wanted to call myself an author.” Let’s be clear – those are all great potential benefits of writing and publishing a book, but none of them are REASONS to write a book. The number one reason you should write a book is because the book addresses a NEED of a specific audience and in some way makes their lives better.
If you’re a fiction writer or a poet, the book’s main benefit could be to provide insight, entertainment, or a welcome escape from the mundane realities of life. If you’re writing a scientific treatise or a how-to book, it’s your expertise and guidance that is valuable to your readership. To my mind, the reader is the raison d’etere for writing anything. Period. I had no intention of writing a book for high school and college students on how to get the most out of college until my former students ASKED me to. This was in 2001, before social media and blogging. I had left my position as chair of the graphic design department at Bowling Green State University and was in the process of building a speaking career. My targeted audience was college kids. I spoke with dozens of former students about what I might talk about and they all told me that in four years of schooling they had kept one notebook, which they still referred to. It was from my senior seminar course, which I informally renamed “Reality 101″. I was stunned. It turns out that the simplest advice on writing a resume, learning how to interview, picking out a business wardrobe and managing their savings were the lessons students valued most. Not at the time, of course, but in retrospect. More importantly, they were willing, even insistent, on providing testimonials for a book I hadn’t even written yet! With their guidance and my fat course notebook as grist, I wrote and self-published Smarten Up! For College in just three months. It has sold briskly on amazon.com ever since. The funny thing is, I rarely speak to high school or college students. My focus changed and I currently enjoy speaking to organizations and companies on the importance of opening their minds to change and recreating themselves at home and in the workplace. I will be asking this audience what they NEED from me and that will be the foundation of my next book. Not exactly rocket science, is it? So, if you have a desire to write a book, channel that energy by first finding your audience, asking them for guidance, and solving THEIR problems and meeting THEIR needs. You’ll not only have a built-in readership, you’ll be creating something of value that’s bigger than yourself and has lasting power. That’s a book worth writing.

Your Book Is Ready To Be Born

As corny as it sounds, I’ve always believed we each have at least one book inside of us, aching to be shared with the world. Sure, it’s easy to cite lack of time, inexperience with writing, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the big F, FEAR, as compelling reasons why that book-to-be is shivering in a corner, slowly dying from neglect. Is it really THAT tough to write a book? Nope. I wrote my first book, a modest 35 page screed, in three days. It was self-published a week later. Yep, a book written and produced, ready for sale, in two weeks. My second book, Smarten Up For College, 220 pages, took roughly three months to write and produce. More than ten years later it still sells on amazon, on our zustco.com website, and in person, following my speaking gigs. Here’s the thing: if you’ve always wanted to write a book, then stop whining and start writing. The biggest step is the first one, so make it super easy. Start by reading what others have written on the topic. That’s it. You’ll be inspired by everything out there or amazed at how little has been written. Either way, that’s motivation to jump into the fray. As far as I’m concerned, the rest is details. Here are tips to writing a book in 28 days. That doesn’t mean you HAVE to write it in 28 days, but why not get started? Thanks go to author Ali Luke for his blog article, which I am reproducing here in edited form.
Here’s how to get started:

Yes, you can write a 20,000 word ebook in a month. Here’s how…

Pick your topic (Days 1–2)

Maybe you’ve got an idea in mind already: a book you’d really love to write. Go ahead and write that idea down, and then store it in a safe place. Leave it there for the next 30 days.

Yep, seriously. You’d probably have a great time writing it … but chances are, it’s not what your audience is looking for, so it’s not going to sell. A great ebook idea needs to be:

  • Specific. Don’t try to write the definitive guide to your topic: it’s overwhelming for your readers, and it doesn’t leave you much room for your next eBook.
  • Useful. If you do consulting or coaching, what problems come up again and again? Do your blog readers always ask for posts dealing with a particular issue?

Ask your audience what they want, and give them a few possibilities to choose from.You’ve only got two days here, so you won’t have time for a full-blown survey — but you can tweet out a question, or put up a thread on your Facebook page.

Be prepared to be surprised! Once you’ve got a solid idea, you can …

Create an outline (Days 3–4)

Your outline is your roadmap. It lays out the territory ahead, and lets you spot any tricky patches before you’re half-way through the first draft. There’s no one “right” way to outline, but one or more of these might work well for you:

#1: Draw a mindmap. Put your topic or ebook title in the centre and start adding ideas to it as they occur to you. Use lines or arrows to create connections. At this stage, put everything down, however big or small — you can tidy the entire thing up later.

#2: Write a list. If you’re already extremely familiar with your topic, you’ve probably got an outline in your head. Start writing a list: what chapters or major sections will your ebook need? Once you’ve got the big pieces in place, write a list of 3–5 key points for each chapter/section.

#3: Examine other eBooks and books. Look through several chapter lists to see what topics appear in almost every book. Is there anything that you’re missing from your outline?

At this stage, it’s worth considering whether each chapter (or each section) could have a consistent structure. This will make the writing process much easier and faster: you’ll have fewer decisions to make. For instance, your chapters could follow a simple pattern like this:

  • Quotation at the start
  • An example mid-way through
  • Practical exercise at the end

Once you have a clear outline and, if possible, a structure in place, it’s time to …

Start writing (Days 5–25)

This is where the bulk of your time will be spent: 20 of your 30 days. If you’re aiming for a 20,000 word ebook (around 80-100 pages, assuming you’re including a few images) then that breaks down to writing 1,000 words a day.

Yep, that’s a sizeable commitment –- but, the trade-off is, you’re going to get your ebook done within a month, instead of having it drag on for a year or more. Here’s a few tips to speed up your writing and get to 1000 words a day:

  • Work on your ebook at the right time of day. If you’re focused and motivated in the mornings, write in the morning. If you’re at your best at 10pm, do your writing then.
  • Turn off distractions when you’re writing. You might want to switch off your internet connection entirely, or use a program that blocks it for a certain period of time.
  • Use a timer. Set a timer for 30 minutes, then write until the time is up. Having the minutes ticking away is a real help when you need to stay on-task.
  • Don’t stop writing. If you need to check a quick fact, look up a link or add a screenshot, mark the place with yellow highlighter or something else highly visible — and come back to it later.
  • Don’t edit while you write. Maybe you just can’t get the first paragraph right: it doesn’t matter. Leave it and move on. You can come back to it at the editing stage (and you may find that it works fine after all).

Aim to write every day for these 20 days — even if you only manage a couple of hundred words on some days.The more you make writing a habit, the easier it becomes. But you’re not done yet. You still need to …

Redraft your eBook (Days 26–28)

Ideally, you’d put your eBook aside for a while before revising it — but you’ve only got a few days left. So, to see your eBook with fresh eyes, print it out — or transfer it onto your e-reader. Read through the whole thing in one go, and make a note of:

  • Any material that you’ve covered in more than one place
  • Any missing information that you left out during the writing
  • Chapters that would flow better in a different order

At this stage, don’t agonize over every word. Obviously, fix any glaring typos or mistakes that you spot, but avoid getting too bogged down.

Spend these three days focusing on cuts, re-ordering and additions.

This might mean cutting out unnecessary tangents, juggling sections or paragraphs around, and adding in any hyperlinks and quotes that you didn’t have time to look up earlier. At this point, your ebook might look finished. But there are two days left, and you’ve still got time to …

Make final changes (Days 29–30) These two final days can turn your eBook into a professionally finished piece.

Print out the ebook again, or view it as a PDF. Read through slowly, checking every sentence and word. Particularly, look out for:

  • Clumsy or confusing sentences
  • Misspellings (especially commonly confused words like “its” and “it’s”)
  • Missing words — surprisingly common, and often hard to spot when you’re reading at a normal pace

Yay! You’re the proud author of a finished eBook! Which means it’s time to get out your calendar and write “EBOOK” onto every page of every day for the next month. Yes, writing an ebook takes time, effort and energy. Yes, the next month looks incredibly busy already: but every month looks incredibly busy, right? If you write a small, free eBook, you’ll have a great piece of promotional content.Or, if you write an eBook to sell, you’ll be able to make money for months, even years, from just one month of work. Time to get started!

About the Author: Ali Luke is author of Publishing E-Books For Dummies (Wiley, Sept 2012), a step-by-step guide to help you finish, publish, and market your ebook. 

Siri is a lousy listener

It’s not just Siri. It’s all the voice activated “auto attendants” I confront on a weekly basis. Am I not speaking clearly enough? Is it my monotonous midwest accent that is unintelligible to a sophisticated machine? Or do synthetic voice programmers take perverse pleasure in wasting my time? Here’s an idea: as one of the keypad options, why not offer “leave an email for a real person and we’ll get back to you”. The response could be a text, email or (heaven forbid) a live phone call. In any event, I could receive a cogent answer in a reasonable (read: 24 hour) timeframe without spending 30 minutes shouting into my cell phone. Am I just ranting or could I be on to something? Customer service experts, take note…

No arms, no legs, no problem

So, I’m stewing in self-pity Sunday morning and I reluctantly switch on the TV. Waiting for me on CBS Sunday Morning is Nick Vujicic, a radiant, handsome 30 year old who may be the most amazing person I’ve ever met. And, against all odds, Nick may also be the luckiest, because he is grounded in joy and appreciation. Me? I’m over myself. Check out the video at http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50138905n

Better late than never

“Better late than never” is what my Dad liked to say. As a kid, those words were cryptic, impenetrable. Of course, my Dad was an enigma to most people. Today, I get it. Just because you’re late to the party (blogging, embracing your other-ness), doesn’t mean that you won’t be welcomed with warm smiles and a cold beer when you finally arrive. So, today I begin the blogging journey.
My only expectation is to connect with others, like-minded and otherwise, delve into the mysteries of the mind and explore what it is to be human.
To paraphrase a hollywood diva from yesteryear: “Tighten your safety belt, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”