Erin Reel on Writing with Focus

“It may be a book that will change the course of my life… I have yet to discover a micro-chapter or 140 character status update that holds my attention or imagination.” ~ Erin Reel

Erin ReelThe following guest post by Erin Reel was first published in 2011 on my former blog site, and it is an excellent reminder of the power of focus in today’s fast-paced world: “Good writing is still good writing.” Erin Reel is a wealth of resources and wisdom about writing, from craft to career, and she assists executives, entrepreneurs and experts in creating books to assist them in their business pursuits. Learn more at her website, Erin Reel Publishing Services, and in the bio below the post. Take it away, Erin!

The Power of Focus and the Length of Brilliance: My 35 Year Relationship with ADHD (in more than 140 characters)

by Erin Reel

I recently read an interview with marketing guru and bestselling author, Seth Godin (Poke the Box) on Publishing Perspectives that both inspired me and brought me to pause to consider my 35 year relationship with ADHD, what brilliance is and the state of writers today in this brave new world.

In the interview, Godin discusses his new Domino Effect publishing plan in partnership with the great bookseller in the ether, Amazon, the sluggishness, dated and anxious way traditional publishers do business and the role of the book, physical or E, in our oh-so-modern book reading and thought blinking society. I read the trades every day. I hear about new advances in the way we read and connect with books every day. I read about how authors are taking on the role of marketer and publicist every day (though this isn’t new). I read how if we as authors and entrepreneurs who work with authors don’t embrace the speed at which we connect and process information, we’re as good as yesterday’s news. Okay, already! We get it! The world is fast, the publishing industry is the new wild, wild west and we had better move quickly enough to claim our stake on the frontier.

My concern is this, while all the E movers and shakers, all the media and marketing gurus and all the social entrepreneurs are screaming at us, “Think fast!” as they launch their super-creative hot potato to us, all I want to do is hold on for a moment longer than I’m allowed and consider what’s in my hands…not where I’m immediately going to launch it next.

Godin says in his interview upon reflecting on the role of this ancient medium, the clunky physical book:

“Now, I think there is huge opportunity to help people think clearly by going slowly, by having 40-page long chapters, with footnotes. But those ideas aren’t going to spread. And so, I’m happy to leave the Pulitzer Prize-winning to other people. What I’m trying to do is use this medium that I love and that I’m familiar with, to come up with ideas that actually have impact and can be used as reliever. And so, yeah, my chapters are now down to 2-pages long, or 3-pages long, and the reason is that’s the way we have trained people to think. We think clearly at a different rate than we did 80 or 90 years ago.”

Now. Godin is very good at what he does. He certainly knows marketing and book packaging. But really? Does he assume the message in a Pulitzer Prize-winning book doesn’t spread and influence the lives, thoughts and possible careers of many who will go on to replicate that level of success because the means by which it’s brought to us is…clunky and slow…and more than 100 pages?

Let’s take a look at a short list of Pulitzer Prize-winning authors whose ideas, words and song have had and continue to have an impact on our nation and beyond:

  • John F. Kennedy, for Biography
  • Margaret Mitchell, Saul Bellow, Ernest Hemingway, Eudora Welty, Harper Lee, William Faulkner, Upton Sinclair and Toni Morrison for Fiction.
  • Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim for Drama.
  • Roger Ebert for Criticism
  • Alice Walker for The Color Purple; Cormac McCarthy for The Road; and David Mamet for Glengarry Glen Ross.

Godin says we think clearly at a different rate than we did 80 or 90 years ago. That would place us back in the roaring twenties and early thirties. I have a feeling they held a similar sentiment.

All I know is that now, I have far more distractions screaming for my attention than I had ten years ago. And I have no problem shutting them off. Why and how? Because for the past 35 years, I have been forced to harness and direct my ADHD brain to focus so that it is possible for me to take a book like Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage, read it cover to cover, learn from it, recall important and impactful information therein, draw parallels and connections to my world and the world around me and allow that brilliant book written by a brilliant man to become a part of my social and professional consciousness. It may be a book that will change the course of my life. It may be a book that inspires one of my clients into writing the next great American novel. Who knows? I have yet to discover a micro-chapter or 140 character status update that holds my attention or imagination.

The trend now for authors and entrepreneurs is to be multi-present in the marketplace because the internet is our oyster—that there is power in multi-tasking, brilliance in quick thinking and quick acting. I recently watched a PBS special where high school and college students were observed doing their homework while their internet browser remained open, maybe a few documents were left open on their desktop and with their phone beeping new texts at their side. The students claimed they were able to get a lot of “work” done quickly and with ease. The result? The scientists who studied these students concluded that, yes, they were focused on many things simultaneously, but the work produced was disjointed and the quality of the work mediocre at best.

Writers, who are forced to be multi-present in order to succeed as authors, are faced with more distractions now than ever before. And they’ve become a lot savvier in the last ten years, to boot – they read the trades and the latest publishing news right along with me. But I can tell you with certainty, they are not thinking clearly because they don’t know which noise to consider and which noise to turn off.

My answer to them is simple: know the difference between trend and marketing and the solid stuff publishers and readers are looking for. Never write to meet a trend. Good writing is still good writing. Craft is still craft, and the process of revision and editing has not changed despite all the other changes you hear buzzing around out there about how we read and how authors are taking their publishing destiny in their own hands and are finally making enough money to support their families. Writing a work of fiction (and nonfiction) takes months and years of real time to plan, outline and execute. The writer must be armed with a tremendous amount of persistence, patience and most of all focus.

Whether you end up reading the finished, polished work on your e-reader or as a physical book is up to you. One choice is not smarter than the other, and length should never indicate the timeliness or importance of the message.


More About Erin

Erin Reel is an internationally-recognized independent publishing consultant with clients throughout the United States, Europe and the Pacific Rim. She began her career as a literary agent working the high profile book to film market in Los Angeles over a decade ago, and later, as the head of her own agency, successfully published books with the “Big Six” publishing houses as well as smaller publishers throughout the United States. In addition, she contributed to Making the Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent’s Eye and Author 101: Bestselling Secrets From Top Agents, two of the most widely read and respected resource books for writers.

Erin is a frequent contributor to news analysis and commentary on the publishing industry and is the co-creator of “The Writers’ Kitchen” a feature on Rainn Wilson’s, SoulPancake.com which has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Network. She is also regularly seen on LitReactor.com, a popular writer’s resource site supported by some of the most important writers today. In 2012, Erin launched a new venture focused specifically on assisting executives, entrepreneurs and experts, what Erin calls the “E3″ market, in creating books to assist them in their business pursuits.


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