DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!


Jul 18 2012

Please Be Advised

by Veronica W

There is a word that causes me great vexation of spirit. Place it in front of any commonplace word like book, meeting or speaker and my knee jerk reaction is annoyance. The word is motivational; actually I’m not too fond of its first cousin, “self-help,” either.

I’m sure it’s just (not so) pure contrariness  but I find intentional efforts to motivate me  doomed to fail. Queries that begin with “May I give you some advice” risk a polite but firm “No” in response and it’s no more acceptable when the advice is in print. I subscribe to the old adage about advice; wise men don’t need it and fools won’t heed it.

However as with any rule, there are exceptions and I admit to finding some motivational or self-help books less offensive than others.  A few even contain some basic home truths. If  forced to choose a  favorite, it probably would be Who Moved My Cheese. I thought Hem, Haw, Sniff and Scurry’s quandaries in the maze amusing and the whole presentation was certainly creative.

This book was written in the 90s, a decade which, along with the previous decade, spawned a number of these “helpful” books.  Among others, we were treated to What You Can Change and What You Can’tDon’t Sweat the Small Stuff and All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. (although any book which espouses afternoon naps, warm cookies and cold milk  and saying you’re sorry when you hurt someone, can’t be all bad.)

Please note  that I am not talking about DIY books which tell you how to fix a lawn mower, your credit or your ailing rose bushes.  If the number of people reading Divorce Yourself, Beat Your Ticket and Retire and Start Your Own Business  is any indication, there is definitely a market for this type of help. It’s those how-to-fix your-life manuals that set my teeth on edge.  Would a book entitled Does Your Life Need A Laxative really be helpful?

I know some people find books about relationships harder to avoid or resist.  Who hasn’t at least been curious about the popularity of books like Men Are From Mars Women Are From VenusThe Five Love Languages, Act Like a Lady Think Like a Man  or The Seven Dumbest Relationship Mistakes Smart People Make? If nothing else, these are good for a rueful laugh or two because occasionally we see ourselves or our experiences in them.

There’s a story of a man who went to work  each day, carrying his lunch  in a brown paper bag.  Every day at lunchtime he joined his coworkers,  opened his bag and pulled out a sandwich. Every day he looked at the sandwich and said with obvious disgust, “Peanut butter!”  Finally, after this happened over a period of weeks, someone at the table got tired of hearing him gripe and said, “What’s up with you and the peanut butter? Who makes your lunch anyway?”  The man took a bite of his sandwich, swallowed, then said, “I do.”  Umm. Perhaps he needs to read Excuses Begone: How to Change Lifelong, Self-defeating Thinking Habits.

I recently re-read the only undisguised advice I have ever thoroughly appreciated. Although written many years ago, it is still powerful reading.  If I Had to Live My Life Over, by Erma Bombeck, is not so much about regrets as it is about our daily choices.  Please let me know if you have found any other really life changing motivational or self-help books out there. I will certainly take reading them under advisement.

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After years spent writing for Wired and other publications, Steve Silberman decided to try his hand at authoring a book. The genesis of his work was an influential article he had published a decade ago about autism in high-tech communities such as Silicon Valley, and the new book revisits the subject, concerning itself with autism, the variety of human cognitive styles, and the rise of the neurodiversity movement. Despite having spent the past two decades in journalism, Silberman found the prospect of authoring a 100,000 word book daunting, and so went in search of advice. He sent out an email to the authors in his social network, asking them, “What do you wish you’d known about the process of writing a book that you didn’t know before you did it?”

A diverse group of authors replied with advice, from science writers to bloggers, a zen master, a poet, and even a musician (David Crosby of the Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young) among others. You can view all the advice here. My favorite advice comes courtesy of Cory Doctorow, journalist, blogger, and author of a number of award winning science fiction novels:

Write every day. Anything you do every day gets easier. If you’re insanely busy, make the amount that you write every day small (100 words? 250 words?) but do it every day.
Write even when the mood isn’t right. You can’t tell if what you’re writing is good or bad while you’re writing it.
Write when the book sucks and it isn’t going anywhere. Just keep writing. It doesn’t suck. Your conscious is having a panic attack because it doesn’t believe your subconscious knows what it’s doing.
Stop in the middle of a sentence, leaving a rough edge for you to start from the next day — that way, you can write three or five words without being “creative” and before you know it, you’re writing.
Write even when the world is chaotic. You don’t need a cigarette, silence, music, a comfortable chair, or inner peace to write. You just need ten minutes and a writing implement.

What strategy, style, or method of writing works best for you? Which author(s) advice do you find most helpful? Feel free to share your own tips for writing as well.

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