The summer has flown by. I’ve been working on my book, tentatively titled The Corporate Blogging Book. BTW, that title is so stupidly obvious we’re thinking it just might work. Waddya think? Click here to vote on proposed titles for my book about corporate blogging. I want your thumbs up or down and your suggestions for a sub-title. Which brings me to… the most helpful book I’ve read this summer (re-read, actually, on the advice of Penguin Portfolio publisher Adrian Zackheim): Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (Random House, 1994) It’s a book about writing: how to get started, how to write well, getting published. It’s hilarious. Lamott is endearingly self-deprecating. She says out loud what many of us prefer not to admit… demons abound when you sit down to write. As she puts it: “Then your mental illnesses arrive at your desk like your sickest, most secretive relatives. And they pull up chairs in a semicircle around the computer, and they try to be quiet but you know they are there with their weird coppery breath, leering at you behind your back.”
And this… after calming herself with slow deep breathing, “I may notice that I’m trying to decide whether or not I am too old for orthodontia and whether right now would be a good time to make a few (phone) calls, and then I start to think about learning to use makeup and how maybe I could find some boyfriend who is not a total and complete fixer-upper and then my life would be totally great and I’d be happy all the time…” This really made me giggle. Perhaps because I also worry about the orthodontia thing… Laughing helps when you think you might be losing your mind because you’re writing your first book. Fortunately, she has some uncommonly useful advice to combat the demons: 1) start with a “short assignment” and 2) resign yourself to a “shitty first draft.” This is a long entry so you really truly need to click through to get to the good stuff. Read on for what you need to know about a Shitty First Draft, and for my riffs on disruptive technologies and the Web in 10 years… Think Short Assignment: taking it “bird by bird” Instead of becoming paralyzed by the thought of cranking out an opus â€“ whether a novel or non-fiction â€“ just write a tiny bit at a time. What Lamott calls “as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being.” It may just be a paragraph. Thatâ€™s enough. Then look through your tiny picture frame for the next “one-inch piece of (your) story.” Pub note: Or in blog-speak, just write one blog post at a time. The importance of Shitty First Drafts Accept it, Lamott says. Your first draft is going to be shitty. â€œAll good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts,â€ says Lamott. So start writing the draft of your article or chapter with that at the top of the page: Shitty First Draft. This is tough advice to follow but oh so useful if youâ€™re a self-critic (or self-editor) when you write, as I am. Re the title of her book, itâ€™s based on what her father told her brother when he was a little boy and in agonies over writing a long report on birds. Her dad sat down, put his arm around her brother and said: â€œBird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.â€ Other things I’ve read this summer: disruptive technologies and the Web in 10 years Also percolating in my brain: a business book by Clayton M. Christenson called The Innovatorâ€™s Dilemma and Kevin Kelly’s article, We Are the Web, in the August 2005 issue of Wired Magazine. Henry Copeland, founder and visionary behind Blogads, recommended the Christenson book. Itâ€™s quite provocative. Christensonâ€™s thesis is that large, well-managed companies have a built-in decision-making process that makes it impossible for them to see the potential in disruptive technologies. Their decision-making is based on logical, careful analysis of large, existing markets and current customersâ€™ wants and needs. Make it bigger and faster and the customers will want it. Disruptive technologies, in contrast, create products that are often smaller, simpler, cheaper and more convenient, that current customers may not know they want and that are used at first only by fringe or emerging markets and by less profitable customers. In other words, they change the value proposition in a way that managers of big established companies may not grasp until itâ€™s too late. A few examples: personal desktop computers (which have largely supplanted mainframe computers) and discount retailing (Target and Walmart have largely supplanted expensive department stores). Copeland suggested in our interview that “blogging is one of these new (disruptive) technologies. What need does it fulfill? It may not be as good as advertising or PR yet. But the key thing is that itâ€™s doing something new, which could create a new business ecosystem.” Thatâ€™s how Copeland talks â€“ in sweeping visionary statements. It was a kick interviewing him for the book. And you have to admit… blogging has appeared out of nowhere as far as many companies are concerned. They just don’t fit into the current marketing and advertising landscape. Consider: blogs cost nothing compared to traditional advertising. Most customers are not demanding blogs as a way to communicate with companies. And the customers who are interacting via blogs may indeed be on the fringe. Although all studies point to blog readers being a highly-desirable demographic of high-income influencers. Still, customers who take the time to read and write comments on company blogs are surely in the minority so far. Stay tuned while I mull this one over for the final chapter of the book. Kevin Kelly’s “We Are the Web” in Wired Magazine (August 2005) Finally, I was blown away by Kevin Kellyâ€™s article in Wired: We Are the Web. He posits that the current move towards collaborative phenomena â€“ from blogs and wikis to open source and peer-to-peer technologies â€“ is creating a new bottoms-up Web where user-generated content (as industry insiders call it) is driving the online economy. No one could have predicted this 10 years ago, he says, when Netscape burst onto the scene with its IPO. Netscapeâ€™s user-friendly browser, the graphical interface for the Web, made hyper linking accessible to anyone. And now, he writes: â€œNo Web phenomenon is more confounding than blogging. Everything media experts knew about audiences â€“ and they knew a lot â€“ confirmed the focus group belief that audiences would never get off their butts and start making their own entertainment. Everyone knew writing and reading were deadâ€¦ â€œ And further on: â€This impulse for participation has upended the economy and is steadily turning the sphere of social networking â€“ smart mobs, hive minds, and collaborative action â€“ into the main event.â€ And where is all this participatory online phenomena going? This is the part I love. Just when you think the online beast will eat you alive and suck up every offline moment when you might have a calm thought or two… the Web will evolve into something that does all the work for you. Kelly calls it the Machine. He writes, â€œIn the coming decade, it will evolve into an integral extension not only of our senses and bodies (Pub note: think embedded computer chips) but our minds.â€ Lest this sounds like a truly awful prospect, consider this. The “digital tangle,” as Kelly calls it, will be more complex than a biological brain. This always-on Machine will be able to think for you. We will have taught it whatâ€™s important by the “100 billion times per day humans click on a Web page.” So in a sense youâ€™ll be able to relax and let the Web do the mental work of remembering for you. He writes: “The more we teach this megacomputer, the more it will assume responsibility for our knowing. It will become our memory. Then it will become our identity. In 2015 many people, when divorced from the Machine, wonâ€™t feel like themselves â€“ as if theyâ€™d had a lobotomy.” Phew… a bit of a leap from blogging as a useful business tool, I know. But that’s the kind of thing I’ve been thinking about this summer. What about you? Iâ€™d love to hear your comments and reactions. Click that Comments link below and PARTICIPATE! I canâ€™t wait to hear from you.