Monthly Archives: November 2016

Mind-Mapping to Clip Away at “Clutter Brain”

Try this Invaluable Tool for Revising Your Book—or Your Life!

MindMapWhatever your political leanings, if you’re a deep thinker (every writer is), these are disturbing times. Disruption at this intensity has most of us asking bedrock questions about purpose and values. We’re all wondering: What really matters in my work and life and, of course, my writing?

In that spirit, I took time recently to mind-map my writing life. I began with that core question: what really matters to me? What activities am I involved in that contribute to my deepest sense of purpose? Which activities and tasks are merely clutter? Which ones seem “nice” on the surface, but are only eating my time?

Over the course of a few weeks, the chicken-scratch map in my notebook evolved into a three-circle map on my whiteboard. Now there’s a mix of marker notes about driving purpose and easily movable sticky-notes. I’ve written the names of individual projects and activities on the stickies. I can literally see which projects in my work and personal life actually resonate with my values—some resonate with multiple values; I need to make those my priorities.

I can also see which pursuits don’t resonate anywhere. Those are likely clutter and may need to be pruned.

The mind map’s overall form looks a bit familiar. Anyone who’s worked with me in a coaching relationship has learned about mapping when trying to determine what a book is trying to say on a deep thematic level.

Some clients do this at the beginning of a project. Some absolutely cannot do it until they’ve got at least half of their initial shitty rough draft written. Some use this tool at multiple points throughout writing and revision as a regular check-up. Themes can indeed evolve and shift from the start of a book-writing journey to its end.

Whether mapping your life or your book, the strategy is the same. With a book project, instead of personal values, you’re looking for your book’s 2 or 3 driving themes.

  • A business inspiration book might be focused on whole person success, balancing dreams with logistics, and saying no so you can say yes to what matters.
  • A memoir might wrestle with the resilience of codependent families and the irrational stubbornness of love.
  • Your new plunge into mystery writing might be all about fear of death, the layered nature of deception, and the shadow side of genius.

When you feel you’ve begun to identify those core themes, write them as bold domains on a large sheet of paper or whiteboard. Then start to write 3-5 word tags for the scenes that have come to you. I prefer to use sticky notes for this, so I can physically move the tags around.

Can you see now how each scene overlaps with and serve one of your identified themes? Use that to heighten the applicable themes in each scene. Are there any squirrely scenes that seem important but you’re not sure where to place them? Are there scenes that still sit at the outskirts with no clear connection at all? The latter may be a clue that it’s time to say goodbye to that block of content. It’s clutter.

Like an activity that’s sapping your personal time and not in line with your core values, the out-of-alignment scene must be pruned. Clutter scenes often resist loudly. Sometimes it’s the very first scene you wrote when the book idea first came to you. There’s a sentimentality there. If sentimentality is the only reason to hang onto a scene, that’s yet another clue that it would be best to let it go.

Revision requires such ruthless decisions.

Whether you’re mind-mapping your life or your next book project, this is a fantastic tool for breaking out of “muddy thinking” and overwhelm. Not sure where to go next? It’s best to consult your map first!

An Open Letter to Secretary Hillary Clinton

I don’t do political posts.  (Apparently, kind of like I don’t do NaNoWriMo.)  When a friend asked for help writing an open letter to Hillary Clinton, I balked.  But her points were so relevant to so many, so broadly neglected by mainstream media, and so resonant across party lines, I went ahead and helped.  Sadie has made it clear this is an open letter.  She wants people to share it, copy-and-paste it in excerpt or in whole in their own letters–whether to Clinton or as a modified version to another candidate.  

Yes, it’s too late for fully changing election platforms.  But someone new will be in the White House in January, and that individual needs to know that these issues matter deeply.    Enjoy, and feel free to plagiarize this piece at will!  😉


Dear Secretary Clinton,

As an independent, I have voted for Republican, Democrat, and Libertarian candidates in diverse races over the years. I am one of those irritating swing voters. This year, you should be my shoe-in for President. But you’re not. My vote-early ballot still sits on my kitchen table. All the votes are filled in—except for President. It’s your right to know why someone who is very open to voting Democrat, feels she can’t in good conscience, vote for you.

It ain’t the emails.

It’s your pharmaceutical funding. As person who goes to a naturopathic doctor and eats organic non-GMO food to take care of my own health, I am deeply concerned about your financial ties. At the beginning of this year, you outpaced all other Democrat and Republican candidates in your acceptance of donations from the pharmaceutical industry. You also have had, and may continue to cultivate, ties with Monsanto affiliates. Though the precise nuance of those ties is up for debate, they are significant. I am concerned these alliances will influence your decisions and leadership regarding human health and the quality of our food.

Shouldn’t these issues be important to everyone? I mean, there won’t be any other debates left worth having if we’re all too sick to think clear. Not many of my Democrat friends realize that, if they are concerned about the following issues, they have no real representation in their party anymore:

GMO Foods – The Democratic Party has bought the lie that GMOs are the only way to effectively feed the world

Small organic farms and eco-farming – The Democratic Party is too far sold out to Big Food companies like Monsanto to care about protecting small organic farms

Access to natural supplements – The Democratic Party is too deeply entangled with the FDA and big pharma to protect the supplement industry

Access to real HEALTH Care – On a grand whole, the ACA focuses on access to conventional pharmaceutical treatments, not the natural modalities that really help people get healthy

I, and all my Democrat, organic-eating, whole health loving friends are deeply concerned. The Republican Party is just as financially entangled on these issues, and I can’t picture profit-loving Trump cooperating with small organics and natural health philosophies once Big Pharma and Big Ag begin courting him.  So this is the first time I’ve strongly considered voting third party in the Presidential race. I honestly hope your campaign will respond and counter my sources. I pasted them below.

My ballot still sits on my table waiting for your reply.


Sadie R.
Minneapolis, MN


Secretary Clinton and Big Pharma:


Secretary Clinton and GMO/Monsanto Ties:

“As Secretary, Hillary promoted the USAID-funded “Feed the Future,” a program that promotes the use of Round-up Ready [Monsanto] products.”

No Virginia, There’s No Such Thing as Writing Your Book in One Month

I’m not fond of November. It’s not just the crusty dormant fields and the trees stripped entirely bare by the wind two nights ago. It’s this contemporary phenomenon called NaNoWriMo. That’s trendy-speak for “National Novel Writing Month”. I shudder all of November, battening the hatches against the coming flood of manuscript submissions in early December.

How many amateur writers use this month to purge from their minds their great American novel? How many get to the end of their binge-writing month stunned at the brilliance of their own prose, expectations Everest high? Yes, they’re ready to hire an editor to give the manuscript only the lightest copyedit, since the thing is clearly PEN Award material as is.

Honestly, I don’t want to know. Enough of them will come to me at the end of this sprint to keep me occupied with gentle letdown convos for the remainder of the year.

I hate November. I boycott NaNoWriMo. It teaches fledgling authors to cultivate creative benders instead of working them into the marathon mindset and lifestyle required to craft excellent book-length work.

You are not going to write your book in a month. You might write 30 to 60,000 words of crappy draft content. It’s useful. But brace yourself for what’s next. Little of that 60K in content will show up in your final draft. Period. Consider this material as purely an intensive interview with yourself.

Once you’ve plopped that content onto the page, you will take out a highlighter and, like any good investigative journalist, you will mark the passages that might be useful. You’ll start asking the deeper questions that will help you develop those passages into usable scenes. You’ll interview your characters and the story itself to discover what this book is really about. You’ll look for that one topic you don’t want to wrestle with in this book. You’ll write about that.

And you’ll take the next 3 to 5+ years to hone and craft a work that’s finally ready to share with me, your line editor.

I despise NaNoWriMo. That said, I’m making a horrible back-peddling decision this year. I’m joining you. I’ve had enough people hit me with an insistent “Don’t knock it till you try it.” I have to admit, I am overly critical of a concept that at least gets people started in the book-writing journey.

I have a book project of my own that I set aside three months ago to focus on a few private client projects that were all coming to a close at once. I have a pocket of time right now when the schedule is a touch more manageable and I can get back to this beloved based-on-true project.

Now, I’ve already been working on Jackson: Memoirs of a Touring Actor’s Dog, for about two years. So it’s not like I’m diving into this cold. But the truth is, my resumption of work on Jackson is intersecting perfectly with NaNoWriMo.

What the hell. I’ll give it a shot. But on two conditions:

  1. I don’t have to be happy about it.
  2. At the end of the month, I’ll keep writing. Gimme another 2 or 3 years on this one before I’m ready to even share a draft with ya.

How about you?