The Desire to Stretch, Not Just Score.
That which is written between the lines is many times more than that which is written in the lines. It is this that gives that extra twenty-five or thirty percent that takes a book out of the class called medium and lifts it into the class called superior. That extra percent that makes it the one of the hundred that is truly successful, while the ninety-nine never see more than their first edition. ~ Ralph Waldo Trine, In Tune with the Infinite.
Some while back I ran a Mastermind group, comprising of aspiring authors looking for writing instruction from me and peer support from each other. At the end of the eight weekly sessions we met for the final time in the coffee shop of our local Barnes and Noble. One of our members brought along complimentary copies of his book to give to each of us. He’d had the idea for it for some time but needed the discipline of belonging to a writing group in order to get it done.
The book might best be described as “experimental”; I’m still not able to fathom what it is about. It is full of spelling errors and grammatical mistakes (English is the author’s second language); I don’t believe it was edited by anyone. The typeface sucks, the layout is all over the place and the paper it’s printed on is too white (take a look — really look — at commercially published books; the paper is never pure white). The professionally drawn cover art is probably the best thing about it.
Goal Versus Intention
Yet it was the reaction of the peer group that is the reason why I’m writing this post. Everyone appeared ecstatic, congratulating him on becoming what they all longed to be: a published author. The fact that this was a poorly written, unedited, badly laid out and rapidly self-published book was overlooked in the excitement of a new author having been born. It was in that moment that I recognized the chasm between their goal and my vision for them.
When I realized this was not my market, it became easier to target my efforts towards clients who embrace a different perspective. People who don’t reduce their potential to the goal of publishing a book but who are fired up by the intention to become thought leaders.
Time to Stretch
As a wordsmith I’m fascinated by the origins and meaning of words. According to the online etymology dictionary, a goal was originally considered as “the end point of a race” and, way back in the 14th century, suggested a “boundary or limit.” That’s not so different to how we use the word today. When someone scores a goal we understand that they have reached some self-appointed pinnacle of success.
An intention, on the other hand, was once associated with stretching and effort: to turn one’s attention and will towards an achievement beyond which you are currently capable. Unlike goals, intentions aren’t meant to be about destinations but overcoming the challenges of the journey.
Most people don’t know how to stretch on their own, so they tend not to. And stretching your mind is hugely effortful, which is probably why Irish playwright (and co-founder of the London School of Economics) George Bernard Shaw commented that, “Few people think more than two or three times a year; I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week,” echoed by American industrialist, Henry Ford who said, “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.”
Yet authors who don’t stretch in the process of crafting their books remain “immature writers” or knowledge tellers, according to those who study the psychology of written composition. People who write what’s already in their heads are not inclined to stretch themselves because their goal is to have a book with their name on it. I find it befuddling why that is so compelling these days. As novelist Howard Jacobson writes in Zoo Time:
Like the rest of the world, Vanessa wanted to be a published writer. She was the promise of the future: no readers, all writers.
Well, maybe not no readers…there is always your immediate family and the potential results of a lot of targeted marketing. What I don’t understand is why so few aspiring authors are prepared to expend thoughtful effort at the front end, so they don’t have to engage in the all-too-common self-published marketing frenzy, post-publication.
Why I Do What I Do
It is the spirit of stretching and becoming more that inspires me. What I help my clients achieve is to become knowledge transformers, accessing insights otherwise hidden, but that were always available with extra effort; knowledge discovered by stretching. How this happens is always unique to the individual and appears somewhat magical. But it’s really just using the book development process to shift from being one of many experts to a thought leader with a unique perspective. A process that can elevate you — as the quote from Ralph Waldo Trine at the top of this post attests — “into the class called superior.”
As my friend and mentor, Rajesh Setty, recently wrote in a blog post entitled How To Be Remarkable:
I get to see many smart people transforming themselves to be remarkable people. It’s a joy to watch and a privilege to be part of that process.”
The same holds true for me.
I help experts fulfill their potential as thought leaders, not just deliver a book to their market.
Aspiring authors with the goal “to be published” can get by with a book coach.
You don’t have to be a hero to go on a hero’s journey. You simply have to desire to become one. For my clients that means wanting far, far more than having their name on a rapidly published, instantly forgettable book.