A little over a year ago, I started working a book proposal. My idea was tentatively entitled Productive: How the New Science of the Brain Will Change the Way You Work. I felt uninspired by the classic, business as usual form so I took a completely different approach. Following the lead of Jennifer Lee’s Right-Brain Business Plan, I created a right-brain book proposal. I spent hours pulling images from magazines, articulating values, imagining every aspect of my audience.
One of the activities I that opened up a lot of thinking and creativity for me was taking giant sheets of paper and creating huge, hand-drawn mind maps, comparison charts, and lists. One of the comparisons was how Productive was different from the status quo productivity approaches that are already out there. A sampler:
- Old view: Time management. Productive view: perception management (e.g., flow and mindfulness)
- Old view: the to-do list. Productive view: the bucket list.
- Old view: Getting things done. Productive view: Doing good and doing well.
Taking inspiration from Chris Guillebeau’s A Brief Guide to World Domination, I named my comparison “The Productive Manifesto.”
About two weeks into the work on my right-brain book proposal, something totally amazing happened. An agent approached me. OK, an assistant agent. Years ago, I’d pitched to his boss; she’d held on to all her contacts and handed them over to him. “Do you have any project in the works?” he asked. My proposal was literally under my fingers as I answered, “Yes!”
After a brief exchange and an even briefer telephone conversation, I was writing up a two page proposal on Productive so my new agent could shop it around at Book Expo. It seemed like a miracle. A fairy tale. Too cool to be true. I held my breath and thought, “Wow, this is going to make an awesome story when the book gets published.”
By early July 2011, I’d written a full book proposal that my agent was shopping to lots of the big publishers. There were many editors had voiced interest and we started getting nibbles. I had intense, short, rapid-fire conversations with editors who asked intense, short, rapid-fire questions about my platform: the numbers that defined my “popularity.” By August, two publishers had dropped out. I had great rapport with both editors and one took my proposal to the editorial board where I was turned down. My platform wasn’t strong enough, they said. Not enough readers, not enough traffic, not enough market share.
And then my dad died on July 18.
Writing a book was the last thing on my mind. In fact, I stopped writing altogether, vowing not to return until I could write from my heart in an authentic, vulnerable, real way.
In the fall, as I made my way through the path of grief and out of the worst of the anxiety and depression, I sat down and wrote the first full draft of The Productive Manifesto. I was so freaked out by what I’d written that I put it aside. I made attempts to begin writing the manuscript for the book I’d envisioned, the one that I’d proposed, but I couldn’t get any traction. I’d blog from time to time, whenever I felt I had something to say, mostly in a new-to-me memoir-driven style that, to my surprise, people seemed to really respond to.
As a writer, I soon came to feel that I had a split personality. One personality wrote heart-felt, bare, intensely personal memoir-styled posts. The other personality had opinions and an intense desire to share strongly held convictions about what it means to be productive. The strong opinion side was the one that authored the manifesto: a kick-ass, in your face, call-bullshit-on-the-status-quo document. In my fear about how this more intense side would be received, I tried to muzzle it. Yet, it wouldn’t stay silent.
Finally, a few weeks ago, I sent the draft to a few key people and got incredible feedback. Not rubber stamped, “Oh how nice!” One person was very upset by what I’d written, but she remained in conversation with me until we could both see what needed to stay and what had to be revised or cut.
Still, I was terrified to publish.
And then I went to the World Domination Summit last weekend. Led by Chris Guillebeau (the same author whose manifesto had inspired my own), WDS was convened to answer the question, “How do you live a remarkable life in a conventional world?” The entire event was electric with inspiration and packed to the gills with internet-famous luminaries. To be honest, I was somewhat intimated. But there were brilliant moments of advice that were exactly what I needed to hear.
By Brené Brown, I was admonished to remember, “Even if you have to BS yourself through this: No one belongs here more than you do.” She told us to live our lives according to our values and beliefs, be brave and courageous, and most of all: choose contribution over criticism and cynicism. Music to my ears since one of the key sentences in my manifesto is, “Contribution is the ticket to a life well lived.”
Jonathan Fields said, “As a blogger, you have to take some strong positions or nobody cares.” In his conversation with Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts, they concluded that leadership from a thoughtful, introspective place (my memoir personality) is through conviction–having strong convictions and being willing to stand on those is essential. This was exactly what my strong side needed to hear. The muzzle evaporated. Permanently.
Finally, Danielle LaPorte, Ms. Fire Starter herself, put the icing on the cake. She said, “Be unapologetic.” Be unapologetic about who you are. Be unapologetic about what you believe in. Be unapologetic about putting yourself out there again and again and again.
In many ways, this is a thank you note to Chris and all the people who made the World Domination Summit a reality. I came back home with a sense that I can stand in integrity as a writer with both sides of me living in harmony. I was privileged to hear amazing stories and meet phenomenal people. And I bumped into some edges–places within myself that still need examination and work.
Within the next few days, I’ll be publishing The Productive Manifesto as an ebook and I feel a huge sense of anticipation. WDS was a master class in preparing for whatever comes next in this journey. I know that some people will hate the manifesto. And others will love it. If I’m lucky, there will be very few in the world of personal productivity who feel lukewarm about it. And one thing I know for sure: it’s going to make a helluva story when the book comes out.