Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life – by Anne Lamott
Date read: 6/2/19. Recommendation: 8/10.

Hilarious, insightful resource for writers. Lamott discusses everything from intuition and finding your voice, to the writing process and its rewards. Along the way, she weaves in personal experience and reveals the harsh realities of writing and publication–all in good humor. It’s a call to begin writing, find meaning in the process, and trust your voice. Bird by Bird is a tribute to good writing and dedicated readers.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

The Gifts of Writing:

  • Gives you an excuse to do new things, see new places, explore. Also, motivates you to carefully observe life.

  • “Writing can give you what having a baby can give you: it can get you to start paying attention, can help you soften, can wake you up.” AL

  • “Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious. When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader.” AL

Quake Books/Writers:

  • Feeling you get when you come across a kindred soul who seems to speak for you. 

  • “For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave.” AL

  • “You wouldn’t be a writer if reading hadn’t enriched your soul more than other pursuits.” AL

The Work Is its Own Reward:

  • The act of writing gives more and teaches more than publication. It is its own reward.

  • “It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.” AL

  • “You are going to have to give and give and give, or there’s no reason for you to be writing. You have to give from the deepest part of yourself, and you are going to have to go on giving, and the giving is going to have to be its own reward.” AL

Good Writing:

  • “Good writing is about telling the truth” AL

  • “An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention, and this is a great gift. My gratitude for good writing is unbounded; I’m grateful for it the way I’m grateful for the ocean.” AL

The Process:

  • Start by writing really shitty first drafts. That’s the only way to get started. 

  • Writing a book in a single flash of brilliance is a fantasy of the uninitiated. 

  • First draft = down draft. Just get it down. Look for sentences or paragraphs where you’re on to something.

  • Second draft = up draft. Fix it up. Figure out how to better communicate what you’re trying to say. Strip away busyness. 

  • Third draft = dental draft. Check every tooth. 

Plot vs. Characters:

  • “Plot grows out of character.” Not the other way around. 

  • Determine what each character cares about most in the world – that’s what’s at stake. 

  • ABCDE (action, background, development, climax, ending)


  • Confidence and intuition come from trusting yourself. This is how you reach the art of relaxed concentration. 

  • Make space for intuition. Rely on it. Let it guide the way. Get your rational mind out of the way.

Writer’s Block:

  • Start by accepting it. Give yourself permission to be stuck. Accept that you’re not in a productive creative period. Once you do that, you free yourself to fill back up. 

Finding Your Voice:

  • What you bring: “Life is like a recycling center, where all the concerns and dramas of humankind get recycled back and forth across the universe. But what you have to offer is your own sensibility, maybe your own sense of humor or insider pathos or meaning.” AL

  • “You cannot write out of someone else’s big dark place; you can only write out of your own.” AL

  • Bring out what’s inside of you and you will be able to sustain that indefinitely. Try to bring out something else, it will destroy you.

Steal Like an Artist – Austin Kleon

Steal Like an Artist – by Austin Kleon
Date read: 5/27/19. Recommendation: 7/10.

Short read on creativity and the importance of your influences. It reminded me of Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. Kleon discusses the creative struggle, where to find inspiration, and how to leverage influences. Anyone can imitate style on a surface level and copy what’s been done. But the most talented artists take it one step further. They steal the thinking behind the style–the mindset of their influences–to emulate and create something of their own. Great reference for smart creatives who want to hone their craft and build the endurance to play the long game.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Your Influences Matter:

  • “The only art I’ll ever study is stuff that I can steal from.” David Bowie

  • “We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.” Goethe

  • Start with a single thinker you love. Find and study three people that influenced them. Begin to build branches of your own.

  • “It’s not the book you start with, it’s the book that book leads you to.” AK

Ignore Style, Look Deeper:

  • “Don’t just steal the style, steal the thinking behind the style. You don’t want to look like your heroes, your want to see like your heroes.”

  • Similar to quote from Marcus Aurelius: "Take a good hard look at people's ruling principle, especially of the wise, what they run away from and what they seek out."


  • Imitation = copying. Emulation = one step further, creating something that is your own.

  • “It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique.” Conan O’Brien

  • “Our failure to copy our heroes is where we discover where our own thing lives. That is how we evolve.” AK

Inspiration to Create:

  • Step 1) Wonder at something. Step 2) Invite others to wonder with you.

  • “Complain about the way other people make software by making software.” Andre Torres

Power of routine and systems: 

  • “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” Gustave Flaubert

  • Mark art your main relaxing activity (Derek Sivers). A day job gives you financial freedom, human connection, and routine. Use it to your advantage. 

Creativity is subtraction:

  • Limitless possibilities can be paralyzing, place constraints on yourself. 

  • “What we respond to in any work of art is the artist’s struggle against his or her limitations.” Saul Steinberg

  • “It’s often what an artists choose to leave out that makes the art interesting.” AK

Everybody Writes – Ann Handley

Everybody Writes – by Ann Handley
Date read: 9/3/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

Handley’s background in marketing differentiates this from other ‘how to write’ books. She remains focused on how to write better and the rules of writing, but there’s an emphasis on measurable results. It’s a solid resource for any writer or content creator. It’s a great reminder (and guide) to cut the unnecessary, be more direct, and improve readability. All of which are important because they help you not only capture initial attention, but also preserve/build that momentum between sentences and paragraphs. The end goal is creating something that resonates with your audience and enriches their lives.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Writing is a habit, not an art.

"If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot." -Stephen King

Many brilliant writers emphasized routines and schedules for writing: Maya Angelou, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens, Oliver Sacks, Benjamin Franklin. All kept regular hours to cultivate creative rhythms.

"Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life." -Gretchen Rubin

Place the most important words and ideas at the beginning of a sentence.
-Good first impression, builds momentum, encourages the reader to continue.
-Avoid starting sentences with: "According to," "There is a," "It is important/critical/advised," "In my opinion," "The purpose of," "In 2018," "I think..."

Use a customer-centric POV:
-Replace I or we with you to shift focus
-Company-centric: "We offer accelerated application development." "A better way to learn how to cook."
-Customer-centric: "Deploy an app to the cloud at lunch hour. And still have time to eat." "Become a cook in 30 days."

Misplaced modifiers:
Wrong: Only publish good content
Right: Publish only good content.

Use familiar, yet surprising analogies:
-Instead of: "The leaves of the giant pumpkin plant are huge."
-Try: "The pumpkin leaves are the size of trash-can lids, covering pumpkins the size of beer kegs."

-White space makes your work readable (readers won't get through massive blocks of text).
-Shorter paragraphs (no more than three sentences or six lines).
-No more than 25 words/sentence.

Use real words:
-Avoid buzzwords and jargon at all costs (e.g. revolutionary, value-added, impactful, cutting-edge, leverage, incentivize, synergize)
-Be real, in all communication. Not: "You're my top resource." But: "I don't know what I'd do without you."
-Use natural sounding language

Active vs. Passive:
-Usual indicator of passive = "was" and "is"
-Passive: "The video was edited by a guy named Joe." Active: "A guy named Joe edited the video."
-Passive: "Duduk theme music is rarely featured on podcasts." "Podcasts rarely feature duduk theme music."

Rules to break:
-You can start sentences with and, but, or because.

Limit moralizing and prescriptive phrases at the beginning of sentences:
-Don't forget...Never...Avoid...Don't...Remember to...

Focus on how your product/service touches peoples lives.

"Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there'll always be better writers than you and there'll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that–but you are the only you." Neil Gaiman

"Your unique voice comes from knowing who you are, and who you are not." Ahava Leibtag

Seek out primary, not secondary sources.

Proper lengths:
Blog post - 1500 words
Email subject lines - 50 characters or less or 6-10 words
Line of text - 12 words
Paragraph - 4 lines or less
Headline - 70 characters or less

Shift mindset from 'always be closing' to 'always be helping.'
-"Focus relentlessly on how you can help your audience by enriching their lives.."

Headlines (less than 70 characters):
-What would make your reader turn and say, "Listen to this..."
-Spend as much time on the headline as you do on the writing itself.
-Use lively words (ultimate, brilliant, awesome, intense)
-Keep it benefit driven.
-"Create successful social media campaigns" headline on landing page, 26% better than "Join today and get access to SmartTools: Social Media Marketing."

Rules to live by:
-Try it again with fewer words
-Trust your own voice
-Use humor, whenever possible

On Writing Well – William Zinsser

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction – by William Zinsser
Date read: 8/14/17. Recommendation: 8/10.

An essential for nonfiction writers. This is the only book I keep within reach as I'm writing. Zinsser advocates a lean, direct writing style. He outlines strategies for crafting a more effective story that resonates with readers. This includes how to cut down first drafts, rewrite, organize the flow of an article, develop your own voice, address your audience, handle humor, and avoid the danger of clichés. There's also a practical style guide for reference that addresses everything from the use of qualifiers (rather, quite, very) to specific punctuation marks (dash, colon, exclamation point). Every writer will be better for picking this up. 

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews. 


My Notes:

Good writing has an aliveness that keeps the reader reading from one paragraph to the next, and it's not a question of gimmicks to "personalize" the author. It's a question of using the English language in a way that will achieve the greatest clarity and strength.

Clear thinking becomes clear writing; one cannot exist without the other.

Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it's because it is hard.

Clutter is the laborious phrase that has pushed out the short word that means the same thing.

Beware, then, of the long word that's no better than the short word: "assistance" (help), "numerous" (many), "facilitate" (ease), "individual" (man or woman), "remainder" (rest), "initial" (first), etc.

Don't inflate what needs no inflating: "with the possible exception of" (except), "due to the fact that" (because), "he totally lacked the ability to" (he couldn't).

Eliminate adverbs that carry same meaning as the verb: "smile happily" or "tall skyscraper."

Most first drafts can be cut by 50 percent without losing any information or losing the author's voice.

Can any thought be expressed with more economy? Is anything pompous or pretentious or faddish? Are you hanging on to something useless just because you think it's beautiful?

Few people realize how badly they write. Nobody has shown them how much excess or murkiness has crept into their style and how it obstructs what they are trying to say.

Readers want the person who is talking to them to sound genuine. Therefore a fundamental rule is: be yourself.

Writing is an intimate transaction between two people...Therefore I urge people to write in the first person: to use "I" and "me" and "we" and "us."

Sell yourself, and your subject will exert its own appeal. Believe in your own identity and your own opinions. Writing is an act of ego, and you might as well admit it. Use its energy to keep yourself going.

"Who am I writing for?" You are writing for yourself. Don't try to visualize the great mass audience. There is no such audience–every reader is a different person.

You are writing primarily to please yourself, and if you go about it with enjoyment you will also entertain the readers who are worth writing for. If you lose the dullards back in the dust, you don't want them anyway.

Craft vs. attitude. Craft is a question of mastering a precise skill. The second is a question of how you use that skill to express your personality...First, work hard to master the tools. Simplify, prune and strive for order. Think of this as a mechanical act, and soon your sentences will become cleaner. Think of attitude as a creative act: the expressing of who you are. Relax and say what you want to say.

Never say anything in writing that you wouldn't comfortably say in conversation. If you're not a person who says "indeed" or "moreover" or who calls someone an individual, please don't write it.

Writing is learned by imitation.

See if you can gain variety by reversing the order of a sentence, or by substituting a word that has freshness or oddity, or by altering the length of your sentences.

An occasional short sentence can carry a tremendous punch. It stays with the readers ear.

Aim for beautiful precision. Incorrect usage will lose you the readers you would most like to win.

That's where all careful writers ought to be–looking at every new piece of floatsam that washes up and asking "Do we need it?"

You learn to write by writing.

Unity is the anchor of good writing.
- Unity of pronoun: Are you going to write in the first person, as a participant, or in the third person or as an observer?
- Unity of tense
- Unity of mood

Consider how much you want to cover and what one point you want to make. There is no last word.

Therefore think small. Decide what corner of your subject you're going to bit off, and be content to cover it well and stop.

So decide what single point you want to leave in the reader's mind. It will not only give you a better idea of what route you should follow and what destination you hope to reach; it will affect your decision about tone and attitude.

Take special care with the last sentence of each paragraph–it's the crucial springboard to the next paragraph. Try to give that sentence an extra twist of humor or surprise...Make the reader smile and you've got him for at least one more paragraph.

Narrative is the oldest and most compelling method of holding someone's attention; everybody wants to be told a story. Always look for ways to convey your information in narrative form.

A good last sentence–or last paragraph–is a joy in itself. It gives the reader a lift, and it lingers when the article is over.

The perfect ending should take your readers slightly by surprise and yet seem exactly right.

Often it takes just a few sentences to wrap things up. Ideally they should encapsulate the idea of the piece and conclude with a sentence that jolts us with its fitness or unexpectedness.

Something I often do in my writing is to bring the story full circle–to strike at the end of an echo of a note that was sounded at the beginning. It gratifies my sense of symmetry, and it also pleases the reader, completing with its resonance the journey we set out of together.

-Verbs are the most important of all your tools. They push the sentence forward and give it momentum. Active verbs push hard; passive verbs tug fitfully.
-Use precise verbs (don't say he stepped down, say he was fired/retired/etc.)

-Most adverbs are unnecessary.
-Don't tell us that the radio blared loudly, that someone clenched their teeth tightly.
-Again and again in careless writing, strong verbs are weakened by redundant adverbs. So are adjectives and other parts of the speech.

-Most adjectives are also unnecessary.
-Like adverbs, they are sprinkled into sentences by writers who don't stop to think that the concept is already in the noun.
-The adjectives that exists solely as decoration is a self-indulgence for the writer and a burden for the reader.
-Make your adjectives do work that needs to be done...They will have their proper power because you have learned to use adjectives sparsely.

Little Qualifiers:
-Prune out the small words that qualify how you feel and how you think and what you saw: "a bit," "a little," "sort of," "kind of," "rather," "quite," "very," "too," "pretty much," "in a sense..." They dilute your style and your persuasiveness.
-Don't say you were a bit confused...Be confused.
-Good writing is lean and confident.
-"Very" is a useful word to achieve emphasis, but far more often it's clutter. There's no need to call someone very methodical. Either he is methodical or he isn't.
-Every little qualifier whittles away some fraction of the reader's trust. Readers want a writer who believes in himself and in what he is saying. Don't diminish that belief. Don't be kind of bold. Be bold.

The Exclamation Point:
-Resist using it to notify the reader that you are making a joke or being ironic. "It never occurred to me that the water pistol might be loaded!" Readers are annoyed by your reminder that this was a comical moment. They are also robbed of the pleasure of finding it funny on their own. Humor is best achieved by understatement.

The Dash:
-The dash is used in two ways:
-One is to amplify or justify in the second part of the sentence a thought you stated in the first part. "We decided to keep going–it was only 100 miles more and we could get there in time for dinner."
-The other use involved two dashes, which set apart a parenthetical thought within a longer sentence. "She told me to get in the car–she had been after me all summer to have a haircut–and we drove silently into town."

Mood Changers:
-Learn to alert the reader as soon as possible to any change in mood from the previous sentence.
-Many of us were taught that no sentence should begin with "but." If that's what you learned, unlearn it–there's no stronger word at the start. It announces total contrast with what has gone before, and the reader is thereby primed for the change.

-Your style will be warmer and truer to your personality if you use contractions like "I'll" and "won't" and "can't."
-Only suggest avoiding one form–"I'd," "he'd," "we'd," etc.–because "I'd" can mean both "I had" and "I would" and readers can get well into a sentence before learning which meaning it is.

That and Which:
-Always use "that" unless it makes your meaning ambiguous.

-In most situations, "that" is what you would naturally say and therefore what you should write.
-If your sentence needs a comma to achieve its precise meaning, it probably needs "which."
-A) "Take the shoes that are in the closet." This means take the shoes that are in the closet, not under the bed.
-B) "Take the shoes, which are in the closet." Only one pair of shoes is under discussion; the "which" usage tells you where they are.

Creeping Nounism:
-Don't string together two or three nouns where one noun–or better yet, one verb–will do.
-Nobody goes broke now, we have "money problem areas." It no longer rains, "we have precipitation activity.

-Keep your paragraphs short. Writing is visual–it catches the eye before it has a chance to catch the brain.
-Short paragraphs put air around what you write and make it look inviting, whereas a long chunk of type can discourage a reader from even starting to read.

-Rewriting is the essence of writing well: it's where the game is either won or lost.
-Most rewriting consists of reshaping and tightening and refining the raw material you wrote on your first try.

Trust Your Material:
-The reader plays a major role in the act of writing and must be given room to play it. Don't annoy readers by over-explaining–by telling them something they already know or can figure out.
-Try not to use words like "surprisingly," "predictably," and "of course," which put a value on a fact before the reader encounters the fact. Trust your material.

Writing About Yourself:
When students say they have to write what the teacher wants, what they often mean is that they don't have anything to say–so meager is their after-school existence, bounded largely by television and the mall, two artificial versions of reality. Still, at any age, the physical act of writing is a powerful search mechanism.

Memoir isn't the summary of a life; it's a window into a life, very much like a photograph in its selective composition.

Thoreau wrote seven different drafts of Walden in eight years; no American memoir was more painstakingly pieced together. To write a good memoir you must become the editor of your own life, imposing on an untidy sprawl of half-remembered events a narrative shape and an organizing idea.

Memoir is the art of inventing the truth.

Science and Technology:
Imagine science writing as an upside-down pyramid. Start at the bottom with the one fact a reader must know before he can learn any more.

Business Writing:
Countless careers rise or fall on the ability or the inability of employees to state a set of facts, summarize a meeting or present an idea coherently.

Be natural. How we write and how we talk is how we define ourselves.

Humor is the secret weapon of the nonfiction writer. It's secret because so few writers realize that humor is often their best tool.

Trust the sophistication of readers who do know what you're doing, and don't worry about the rest.

You will touch more chords by finding what's funny in what you know to be true.

Don't strain for laughs; humor is built on surprise, and you can surprise the reader only so often.

The Sound of Your Voice:
Don't alter your voice to fit your subject. Develop one voice that readers will recognize when they hear it on the page, a voice that's enjoyable not only in its musical line but in its avoidance of sounds that would cheapen its tone: breeziness and condescension and cliches.

Much can be gained by knowing what to omit. Cliches, for instance, are the kiss of death. Writers who use them lack an instinct for what gives language its freshness.

Cliches are one of the things you should keep listening for when you rewrite and read your successive drafts aloud....Make an effort to replace them with fresh phrases of your own. Cliches are the enemy of taste.

Freshness is crucial. Taste chooses words that have surprise, strength and precision.

Never hesitate to imitate another writer. Imitation is part of the creative process for anyone learning an art or a craft.

Enjoyment, Fear and Confidence:
Writing is such lonely work that I try to keep myself cheered up. If something strikes me as funny in the act of writing, I throw it in just to amuse myself. If I think it's funny I assume a few other people will find it funny, and that seems to me to be a good day's work.

"The reader has to feel that the writer is feeling good...Even if he isn't." -S.J. Perelman

Writers have to jump-start themselves at the moment of performance.

Writers who write interestingly tend to be men and women who keep themselves interested. That's almost the whole point of becoming a writer. I've used writing to give myself an interesting life and a continuing education.

Any time you feel under-qualified and you're entering new territory, remember that sincerity and interest is what matters most. Your best credential is yourself.

Any time you can tell a story in the form of a quest or a pilgrimage you'll be ahead of the game.

A Writer's Decision:
Learning how to organize a long article is just as important as learning how to write a clear and pleasing sentence...Writing is linear and sequential, that logic is the glue that holds it together, that tension must be maintained from one sentence to the next, and from one paragraph to the next and from one section to the next, and that narrative is what should pull your readers along.

Much of the trouble that writers get into comes from trying to make one sentence do too much work. Never be afraid to break a long sentence into two shorts ones, or even three.

Be yourself and your readers will follow you anywhere. Try to commit an act of writing and your readers will jump overboard to get away. Your product is you.

Writing well means believing in your writing and believing in yourself, taking risks, daring to be different, pushing yourself to excel. You will write only as well as you make yourself write.

Perennial Seller – Ryan Holiday

Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts – by Ryan Holiday.
Date read: 8/6/17. Recommendation: 9/10.

You can't go wrong with any of Holiday's work. His latest is a great read for anyone who considers themselves a creative, and particularly insightful for writers and entrepreneurs. If you're thinking of writing a book or bringing an idea to life, start here and save yourself a few headaches. He outlines best practices for the creative process, along with the importance of positioning, marketing, and building a platform. The most important advice can be summed up as playing the long game. If you want to create something of lasting value, there are no shortcuts or paths to immediate gratification. Put in the work.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.


My Notes:

People claim to want to do something that matters, yet they measure themselves against things that don't, and they track their progress not in years but in microseconds. They want to make something timeless, but they focus instead on immediate payoffs and instant gratification.

Part I: The Creative Process
The better your product is, the better your marketing will be.

"People who are thinking about things other than making the best product never make the best product." -Phil Libin [Evernote]

"The best way to increase a startup's growth rate is to make the product so good people recommend it to their friends." -Paul Graham [Y Combinator]

"Lots of people want to be the noun without doing the verb." -Austin Kleon

The hard part is not the dream or the ideas; it's the doing. It is the driving need that determines one's chances. You must have a reason–a purpose–for why you want the outcome and why you're willing to do the work to get it.

To create something is a daring, beautiful act. The architect, the author, the artist–are all building something where nothing was before.

Creating something that lives requires not just a reverence for the craft and a respect for the medium, but a real patience for the process itself.

The risk for any creator is over-accounting for what's happening right in front of them...must think bigger and more long term than that.

"If you listen to the greatest music ever made, that would be a better way to find your own voice to matter today than listening to what's on the radio and thinking: 'I want to compete with this.'" -Rick Rubin

How within seemingly ordinary people there can exist depths of wisdom, beauty, and insight–and that if they put in the work to plumb those depths, they might reap incredible rewards.

To wrestle with all these conflicting, difficult ideas that go into creating, you often need real silence. Meditative isolation, where you sit and wrestle with your project.

The brilliant military strategist John Boyd utilized what he called "drawdown periods." After a one a.m. breakthrough, he'd spend weeks just looking at an idea, testing whether others had already come up with it, identifying possible problems with it. Only after this period ended would he begin the real work on the project.

For one of my books I gave myself a January 1 start date for the writing. Two months before, in November, I entered by drawdown period. No more reading or rereading. Just thinking. Long walks. Resting. Preparing.

A book should be an article before it's a book, and a dinner conversation before it's an article.

Successfully finding and "scratching" a niche requires asking and answering a question that very few creators seem to do: Who is this thing for? Instead many creators want to be for everyone...and as a result end up being for no one.

Picking a lane isn't limiting. It's the first act of empowerment.

"Having no specific user in mind" one of the eighteen major mistakes that kills startups. -Paul Graham

Stephen King believes that "every novelist has a single ideal reader" so that at various points in the process he can ask, "What will ____ think about this?"

Just as we should ask "Who is this for?" we must also ask "What does this do?" A critical test of any product: Does it have purpose? Does it add value to the world? How will it improve the lives of the people who buy it?

Yet far too many people set out to produce something that, if they were really honest with themselves, is only marginally better or different from what already exists. Instead of being bold, brash, or brave, they are derivative, complementary, imitative, banal, or trivial. The problem with this is not only that it's boring, but that it subjects them to endless amounts of competition.

"People want things that are really passionate. Often the best version is not for everybody. The best art divides the audience. If you put out a record and half the people who hear it absolutely love it and half the people who hear it absolutely hate it, you've done well. Because it is pushing that boundary." -Rick Rubin
*Think of the technology that is subject to protests and legislation (Airbnb, Uber)

"The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death." -Steven Pressfield

Part II: Positioning
So much in the history of art and culture hinges on moments like this. Faced with soul-crushing feedback or rejection, how does the creator respond? With petulance and anger? With open-mindedness and interest? With obsequiousness and desperation? Or careful consideration that parses the signal from noise?

As infuriating as it may be, we must be rational and fair about our own work. This is difficult considering our conflict of interest–which is to say, the ultimate conflict of interest. We made it.

"When people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong." -Neil Gaiman

Do I feel like overriding this feedback because it's wrong, I ask myself, or is it because I don't want to hit pause and do more work?

The fact is, most people are so terrified of what an outside voice might say that they forgo opportunities to improve what they are making. Remember: Getting feedback requires humility. It demands that you subordinate your thoughts about your project and your love for it and entertain the idea that someone else might have a valuable thing or two to add.

You must be able to explicitly say who you are building your thing for. You must know what you are aiming for–you'll miss otherwise. You need to know this so you can make the decisions that go into properly positioning the project for them...Marketing then becomes a matter of finding where those people are and figuring out the best way to reach them.

For creators, it's typically easier to reach the smaller, better-defined group. If you reach the smaller group and wow them, there will be many opportunities to spread outward and upward.

Who is buying the first one thousand copies of this thing? Who is coming in on the first day? Who is going to claim our first block of available dates? Who is buying our first production run?

The same article with a slightly different headline can have a tenfold spread in readership. One stands out; the other doesn't.

Creators will often spend years making something but then rush through their descriptive copy in an hour.

A great package on a great product is what creates an explosive reaction.

Imagine if your product were for one group–say, successful adults with disposable income–but your branding violated what they expected in terms of style and appearance? Wealthfront changed its name from KaChing.

My "book about Stoic philosophy," for example, had to become "a book that uses the ancient formula of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius to teach people how to not only overcome obstacles but thrive because of them."

There are many different missions. Whatever yours is, it must be defined and articulated. Once that has occurred, there is one last thing you must do. You must deliberately forsake all other missions.

If you've committed to doing something incredibly difficult that countless others have failed at before, you probably also shouldn't be juggling five other projects at the same time. You'll need to put 100 percent of your resources toward this one.

Nothing has sunk more creators and caused more unhappiness than this: our inherently human tendency to pursue a strategy aimed at accomplishing one goal while simultaneously expecting to achieve other goals entirely unrelated.

Only crazy people would compare themselves to people on totally different tracks.

Jeff Goins makes the distinction between starving artists and thriving artists. One adopts all the tropes and cliches of the bohemians and supposed purity. The other is resilient, ambitious, open-minded and audience-driven. Who do you want to be? Which will propel your work the furthest?

Part III: Marketing
"Customers will not come just because you build it. You have to make that happen and it's harder than it looks." -Peter Thiel

Don't delegate the marketing...You can cut back on a lot of things as a leader, but the last thing you can ever skimp on is marketing. Your product needs a champion.

Not everyone has the dedication to make it and to make it work. Marketing is an opportunity for you to distinguish yourself, to beat out the other talented folks whose entitlement or laziness holds them back.

I gave away more than a thousand copies of one of my books to marketing students...In the first month, sold 21 hard copies, 37 ebook. Took 5 months before the book sold 500 copies in a single month. Within 5 years, book had sold roughly 60,000 copies.

Think about a favorite album, restaurant, or pair of shoes. How did you first get turned on to these? How do you find most of the things you like or consume on a regular basis? How did you find your favorite book of all time?

"The problem for most artists isn't piracy, it's obscurity." In other words, we spend a lot of time insisting that nobody steal our work or get it for free...but we forget that being unknown is a far worse fate for an artist than being underpaid.

"Although it's hard to turn fame into money in the arts, it's impossible to turn obscurity into money in the arts." -Cory Doctorow

70% of book sales come from Amazon.

What we've created is a central fact of existence to us–after all, we made it. But to most other people, it's optional. They can easily do without our work. A savvy creator embraces this reality and makes taking a chance on it as easy and frictionless as possible for the audience.

I've watched an Instagram post from an influential person take a book to the top of Amazon; meanwhile, a New York Times profile about the same project had next to no impact. When a real person, a real human being whom others trust, says. "This is good," it has an effect that no brand, no ad, no faceless institution can match.

If you want to reach influential people, make something that will make them look good....Make your audiences look good.

Identifying influencers...if you're living and breathing what you do the answer should come naturally...who are the people who influence you too? Don't have to be famous, but they should matter a great deal to the audience you are trying to appeal to.

Best way to ask someone to endorse or share your work...The best way is not to ask.

Think relationship first, transaction second.

I've always found that a critical part of attracting influencers is to look for the people who aren't besieged by requests. Authors are inundated with requests for blurbs from other authors; meanwhile, generals, academics, and CEOs are asked much more rarely...Try to find the people least likely to get a request from someone like you, and approach them first, instead of going where everyone else is going. Be bold and brash and counterintuitive not only in how you create your work but also in who you use to market it.

In my experience, almost everyone–from brands to artists–overestimates the value of traditional PR. Much of the press that people chase is ephemeral and ineffectual, yet expensive and time-consuming to get.

Media outlets have trouble getting people to pay for their own product–what makes you so sure they're going to be able to convince their readers and viewers to buy yours?

Only areas where traditional press is underrated? Credibility and status.

Newsjacking–James Altucher book launch at same time Bitcoin was blowing up. Announced he was accepting Bitcoin and got tons of bonus media attention.

Advertising can add fuel to a fire, but rarely is it sufficient to start one.

We are better off taking the money set aside for advertising and putting it into every other marketing bucket instead.

Part IV: Platform
Kevin Kelly: "1000 true fans"

Building an email list is a move toward self-sufficiency for any creator. By forming a direct and regular line of communication with your supporters, you avoid ever being disintermediated.

I wasn't important or interesting enough for people to just sign up based on my name alone. So I came up with an idea: What if I gave monthly book recommendations? (The thinking being that one day I might recommend one of my own books to this list). Once a month for four years I sent this list out, and as a result it grew from ninety original sign-ups to the five thousand people to whom I announced my first book. By the time my next book came out two years later, the list was at more than thirty thousand, and today it's at eighty thousand.

Building your list is not someone else's job. People will not beg you for the opportunity to join it. You can't buy subscribers. No list is built entirely through advertising. It will take work–sometimes years of work–for it to pay off. But it will be worth it.

"I urge authors to consider how long it took them to write their books and see them published and to devote at least that much time to pushing them." -Barbara Hendricks

It is far better to measure your campaign over a period of years, not months.

Most think they're too good for it, or they are to sensitive to push hard enough..."Success almost always requires an unstoppable authors.." -Stephen Hanselman

As Goethe's maxim goes, "The greatest respect an author can have for his public is never to produce what is expected but what he himself considers right and useful for whatever stage of intellectual development has been reached by himself and others."

Most of the real money isn't in the royalties or the sales. For authors, the real money comes from speaking, teaching, or consulting.

"Hard work will get you a professorship or a BMW. You need both work and luck for a Booker, a Nobel or a private jet." -Nassim Taleb

Bill Walsh (legendary 49ers coach) explained that his goal was to "establish a near-permanent 'base camp' near the summit, consistently close to the top, within striking distance." The actual probability of winning in a given year depended on a lot of external factors–injuries, schedule, drive, weather–just as it does for any mountain climber, for any author, for any filmmaker or entrepreneur or creative. We do know with certainty, however, that without the right preparation, there is zero chance of successfully making a run at the summit. Walsh made three such summits in eight years.