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How Many Drafts Does it Take to Write a Book?

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Writing drafts is a process of discovery

You know, Michael Bungay Stanier didn’t write his elegant book The Coaching Habit in one draft. Or two. Or three. He wrote multiple drafts. In fact, he presented the book with multiple angles and in multiple structures to Workman Publishing, who had published his previous book Do More Great Work (that sold hundreds of thousands of copies) but to no avail.

Finally, after many attempts at getting his book published, Michael took matters into his own hands, hired his own publishing team, and published The Coaching Habit with his own Box of Crayons Press. Read more

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From Writer to Published: Craft & Creative Mastery

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Image: Unsplash

You want to publish your book.

Whether you’re writing your first or fifth book, you fantasize about finishing that book, getting it into the hands and hearts of people who need it, and what might happen to your life and sense of fulfillment as a writer once that book is “out there.”

But you feel a tension. This tension is the gap between what you currently know and what your skill set is a present, versus what you might need to know and be able to do and create in order to reach that place you fantasize about.

That gap in knowledge can feel like a chasm.

That chasm’s enormity can take your breath away.

The self-masochism begins. Read more


No easy promises to write a brave new story


“Write your novel in 60 days.” “Write from your passion, and the money will follow.” “Get a blueprint for your best-seller.”

Do those promises make you cringe? Their simplistic nature is actually destructive. Easy promises are destructive in two key ways. Read more

No easy promises to write a brave new story


“Write your novel in 60 days.” “Write from your passion, and the money will follow.” “Get a blueprint for your best-seller.”

Do those promises make you cringe? Their simplistic nature is actually destructive. Easy promises are destructive in two key ways. Read more

Inadequacy & the Flip Side of Why You Create


Steinbeck, a man with why

A series of phone calls I have had this week hearten me about humanity. A thought leader, a start-up co-founder, a memoirist, an herbalist professional, a novelist, a marketing boutique owner-cum-memoirist – they all reminded me of the importance of why.

But they also remind me of the flip side of why. And that positive flip side has more to do with the value of inadequacy than the need to feel good about ourselves.  Read more

Be Brave: A Poem-Film for Anyone Asking for Courage to Create

For anyone yearning to be heard.

For anyone whose voice feels caged in a cubicle or sliced on a chopping board.

For anyone whose Muse still battles Time and Mind and Circumstance.

For anyone ready to shape a glorious creative mess or message into a Story.

For anyone supplicating for courage to make choices on behalf of what and who matters. Read more

Warning: You Cannot Plug in Your Potential


Acorn seed via

Let’s face it, this fellow cannot write.”
– Bob Manning about a young Tracey Kidder

 “It is better to pursue and to perform your own duty imperfectly than someone else’s perfectly.”
– Krishna to the reluctant warrior Arjuna, The Gita

“The life in us is like the water in the river. It may rise this year higher than man has ever known it, and flood the parched uplands; even this may be the eventful year, which will drown out all our muskrats.”
– Thoreau, conclusion, Walden 

1. The potential for defeat abounds.

Tracey Kidder was twenty-seven years old when he walked into the hallowed Boston offices of The Atlantic Monthly, one of the United States’ most respected and longest running magazines, and asked for a freelance assignment. He found encouragement from an editor, Richard Todd, thirty-two. (1)

Kidder starting submitting several freelance pieces to Todd. Some of them  were workable enough that Todd could help Kidder shape them into something publishable. Many were not.

Atlantic’s chief editor, the notorious and tenacious Bob Manning, once scrawled on one of Kidder’s pieces a note:

“Let’s face it, this fellow cannot write.”

But Kidder did write. He had to write. And eventually he learned how to write like a captivating author.

Had Kidder ever heard or listened to the publisher’s voice, Dr. Paul Farmer’s story of wanting to cure the world would never have been told in Mountains Beyonds Mountains, readers would never have experienced the inspiring story of fifth-grade teacher Ms. Zajac in Among School Children, or had their minds cracked wide open to a whole new computer wave that not every one could see coming in 1981 as Kidder (and Todd) saw in The Soul of a New Machine.

And Kidder might never have won the Pulitzer.

Tracey Kidder, that kid who couldn’t write, is known now as a master of creative nonfiction and literary journalism.

Kidder had three things working for him that can work for any of us.

He found the kind of writing he loved to do – literary journalism – and he became devoted to mastering it even when his pieces were not accepted (and even though he feared the public seeing his really bad writing that Todd got to see).

He let his audacity override his doubt. Seth Godin would say that Kidder let his hubris fly. Judging from Richard Todd’s accounts, Todd would probably agree.

Kidder found a mentor, Richard Todd, whom he didn’t bow down to but whom he respected enough to keep his editorial direction. For over 20 years.

That is, Kidder learned his stuff. For over 20 years, he learned the choices writers in his field make to tell a good story. He learned how to get out of the way of the story he needed to tell. He made choices for the good of the story and of his readers’ experience – not for the good of his ego or the market.

He wrote really crappy stuff, by the way, including a novel based on his experiences in Vietnam that he and Todd can laugh about now.

2. Your writing potential is like dynamic water.  Read more

Is it too late to master your midlife launch?

When it comes to starting a new creative-based career, there are two stories at work in our culture. We like to hear one of them but not the other.

One: It’s never too late – even when in your forties, fifties, sixties, or seventies – to launch a new start-up, shift careers, or become a gratified author. Two: Doing so requires hard work plus mastery (i.e., learning and honing new skills & applying new knowledge).

You know which one we don’t like to hear.

Take Malcolm Gladwell’s portrait of Dallas-based author Ben Fountain in his essay “Late Bloomers”:

Ben Fountain’s rise sounds like a familiar story: the young man from the provinces suddenly takes the literary world by storm. But Ben Fountain’s success was far from sudden. He quit his job at Akin, Gump in 1988. For every story he published in those early years, he had at least thirty rejections. The novel that he put away in a drawer took him four years. The dark period lasted for the entire second half of the nineteen-nineties. His breakthrough with “Brief ” came in 2006, eighteen years after he first sat down to write at his kitchen table. The “young” writer from the provinces took the literary world by storm at the age of forty-eight.

In this age of Google-quick answers and instant e-publishing and three-step app-making, we can easily forget that creative start-ups, next-phase careers, and creative work that matters take time for mastery. (See Kay Larson’s story of authorship or Laura Olson’s story of entrepreneurship for reference, and I could write stories about other clients whose author careers and start-up careers started in their fifties and sixties.)

Enter Amber Polo. I met Amber eight years ago when she came to the first annual retreat I held at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, New Mexico. Retired in Sedona, Arizona from a career as a librarian and then in marketing, Amber knew she had at least one good book in her. She was right. She has attended every Taos retreat since then, and she has since published that book plus three more.

In fact, Amber has just ended a blog tour for her latest novel – the first in her Shapeshifter’s Library series. The first book – Released! – pits dog-librarians against werewolf book-burners. But underlying the novel is a parodic look at the state of publishing, the state of reading and literacy, and much more.

Amber is at a rich point in her life that draws on all facets of her adult professions – former librarian, former marketer, current author – to shape a deeply gratifying career.

What’s your take on the mix of mid-years opportunity and the hours needed for mastery? Check out Amber’s story, share your stories and situations, and add to the conversation.  Read more