Hello? iPhone? Flickr photo
Hello? iPhone?
Originally uploaded by Douglas Porter

Full disclaimer: I do not work at Apple. I never worked at Apple. Nor do I play an Apple exec on TV.

I have thought long and hard about what it takes to create something like an iPhone, though. To create a product that people will love.

Not in terms of the technologies, like touchscreen and virtual keyboards and app stores. But in terms of focus, skills, psychology.

Here’s my view on what it takes to create a product that people will LOVE.

1. GET EMPATHY

That ability to stand in another person’s shoes, and feel what they feel. The geeks who build products need to internalize that most people don’t like fiddling with gadgets to get them to work. They don’t like reading instructions. They don’t like gadgets that make them feel stupid. They simply want to do something: look up a phone number, read the news, read reviews of the new U2 album NLOTH, check their email, watch a video clip, share photos of their kids.

2. PAY ATTENTION

Every time a child or a new user or a friend says, “I wish I could—” is a potential opportunity to help your customers in a new and useful way. Listen. Really listen.

3.  IGNORE THE COPYCATS OF THE WORLD

If you’re building a product that people will love, that probably means you’re doing something that hasn’t been done before. Which means you have to persuade—or ignore—the copycats. Some people can’t see the potential for an idea unless you can prove its worth in advance. They’ll actually say, “But that hasn’t been done before. Surely, if the idea were any good—” What an epic failure of imagination!

4.  IT’S OK IF THIS IS YOUR FIRST TIME

Everyone has a first time. Just because you haven’t yet created a product that people love doesn’t mean that you can’t, or that you won’t. All it means is that you haven’t done it yet. That’s ok. You’ve been getting ready. Making your mistakes. Getting prepared. Dreaming about it.

5. FORM A CRYSTAL CLEAR VISION, AND THEN COMMUNICATE IT—WELL

You’ll need a clear vision of how you want to help people. And the vision must not be expressed in terms of component technology: you don’t want to “build a better mobile internet device with touchscreen internet browsing capabilities and an integrated ITunes-enabled music player”. Ick ick ick!

The vision needs to focus on the customer: “I want to help people stay connected. In an easy-as-pie way—that delights them. Without instruction manuals. With this end result: they will not need to lug around phone, laptop, camera, dvd-player, and iPod to stay connected to their peeps and their media.” And since we know that not everything is invented here, let’s give other creators a way to make this thing even more useful, with an app store.

6.  LISTEN TO YOURSELF AT YOUR MOST CREATIVE

In the shower. Driving. Walking. If you let yourself wake up slowly, and without an alarm, those moments in the morning when you’re half-awake and half-asleep are incredibly powerful: that’s when you get whacky ideas that your rational mind would immediately surpress during the day. Keep a pencil and paper on your nightstand. And whenever you have a good idea—or a whacky one—write it down!

7.  FIND CONNECTIONS BETWEEN THE VIRTUAL AND REAL WORLDS

Can you see that shopping on a website should be as easy and intuitive as shopping in a bricks and mortar store? That reading on a Kindle should be as easy to do on a beach as on a plane as in bed, just as it is with a paperback book? That signing a love-letter written on the computer with your own personal signature should be as easy as signing a love-letter than you typed on an old fashioned computer?

8.  LOOK FOR YES

You have to look for yes, look for how something can be done and not why it can’t. There will be a million problems, a ton of reasons why you can’t make things easy for your customers. But in the end it all comes down to a choice: will you make things easier for your customers, or easier for your business? You have to be willing to solve the tough problems, and ignore all the naysayers muttering about why things cannot be done.

9.  HAVE CONFIDENCE

You’ll need confidence to ignore the copycats and the skeptics. You need to ooze it. Be absolutely sure that what you’re doing will help people, and will change their lives. Drink the kool-aid. Stay true to your vision. Can’t you just imagine Steve Jobs slamming his fist on a conference table when presented with reasons why something can’t be done? Jeff Bezos sent the Kindle team back to the drawing board more than once, when he felt it wasn’t ready for prime time. And I can just imagine Marissa Mayer’s eye-roll when presented with wording she thinks won’t work: right or wrong, she’s sure of herself. Remember the age-old words of Watty Piper: I think I can, I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.

10.  SURROUND YOURSELF WITH BRILLIANT & TALENTED PEOPLE

People who love their work. People who are different from each other. People who are smarter than you! People who can disagree with you. People who want to change people’s lives. People who are not in a rush to get home and watch TV. And then—this is the important part—treat them well.

11.  DON’T BE AFRAID OF WHACKY IDEAS

What’s whacky today is tomorrow’s innovation. Play the “what-if” game. What if we created a phone that would let you be productive on the train ride to work, so you could leave your laptop at home? What if we helped you turn those idle minutes in the grocery store checkout line into something more productive than reading the gossip magazines? What if we were to build a phone that people could love more than sex?

12.  HAVE PATIENCE

Great, truly great, products take time to create, just like a fine wine. You’ll have to iterate. Prototype. Test it with real customers. Redo. Know this: needing to redo something is not a failure! Failing to redo something is a failure: it’s called giving up. The old saw comes to mind: “If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.”

13.  REMEMBER THAT TIME IS MONEY

Benjamin Franklin said it, and I say it again. Remember that time is money. If you have the vision and persuasive power to build a product that will change the world, eventually everyone will want a piece of you. God knows I’ve made the mistake of giving everyone else the help they need–everyone but me and my product, that is! Long before Randy Pausch become famous for his Last Lecture and his inspiring fight with cancer, Randy gave a fabulous talk on time management. Read it. Watch it. Live it.

14.  STAY FOCUSED

Don’t forget that crystal clear vision of how you will help people. Look at it every morning. Don’t get distracted. Figure out what it’s going to take to get from here to there, and get the right team in place to help you do it. Then do it.

And whatever you do: Don’t let the bastards wear you down.

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Bingo Number 12
Bingo Number 12
Originally uploaded by Leo Reynolds

Don’t you hate it when you think of just the right thing to say—just minutes after the moment has passed you by?

Last week, a friend of mine asked for links to a dozen websites whose aesthetic and usability I liked. Piece o cake. The challenge wasn’t with creating the list, rather, I had trouble keeping the list down to 12. Then yesterday, in an interview, when asked for examples of consumer sites that I love, my mind went blank. I came up with two. Two phenomenal sites, but still, only two.

I hate it when that happens.

Still, I liked this list of favorites so much, I’m sharing. And who knows, maybe this list of FAVORITE DOZEN WEBSITES will start one of those beloved (or annoying) memes on Facebook. Like the 25 things.

N.B. To make a FAVORITE DOZEN WEBSITE list, you have to like both the aesthetic and the usability of the site. It’s not enough to have one—gotta have both. And I’ve not limited this list to consumer—at least two enterprise websites made the cut.

MY FAVORITE DOZEN WEBSITES

Blurb Logo
Love Blurb; delightful rotating visuals of books greet you on the home page, along with the tagline: Real books: made by you. Easy to navigate. Exploring the Blurb website and
bookstore is like opening a present. What will your book be?

Flickr Logo
Flickr’s home page invites you in to “Share your photos. Watch the world.” It is a great photo sharing service that has built a loyal community. I like how they show their usage stats on the home page, just like McDonalds did with its “billions and billions served” signs. This moment, Flickr’s stats: 5,248 uploads in the last minute, 558, 832 things tagged with urban, 2.5 million things geotagged this month.Take the tour.

NetApp Logo
NetApp, a.k.a. Network Appliance, gets an A for their enterprise site. It’s contemporary, modern, inviting. And they do a good job with their language and design, making complex info simple. Brings to mind that phrase coined by Mark Rafter: finding the simplicity on the far side of complexity.

Twitter Logo
Twitter’s home page is contemporary and playful. Love the bird. Only drawback: the words on the home page copy do not (yet) communicate the actual benefits. It’s not about communicating “what are you doing?” It’s about sharing ideas, thoughts, and links more than it’s about sharing what you’re doing. And it’s more about listening to others than it is about broadcasting. But I digress. I love the aesthetic, and more importantly, I’m a fan of the Twitter service. To the tune of 400+ tweets since last November. Shameless plug: you can follow me @clairegiordano.

SmugMug Logo
In addition to providing a great service (according to friends; I’m not—yet—a customer), everything about SmugMug’s website is beautiful: color, font, layout, images, and words. It’s uncluttered, and there’s a lot on the home page to invite you in. A friend gave me a tour,
and I found the site intuitive to use. Locally owned and operated. And last I checked, they were a big Amazon S3 customer, too. I love everything about SmugMug—and just need to make the time to upload my pics.

Delicious logo delicious
Delicious has done a good job enabling navigation and discovery of social bookmarks, as well as liberating its users from having all their bookmarks in one browser. Or worse, having to “sync”. Why should I have to sync? I have better things to do. Once you start using delicious, you’re hooked. If you’re still saving bookmarks into a browser rather than into the cloud, all I can say is, ignore the corny tagline (”The tastiest bookmarks on the web”) and give delicious a try—it’s well worth it. See what 5 million people like about it.

Anyvite logo
A great way to send beautiful online invitations to your parties. Light years better than Evite. I love the aesthetic of Anyvite: the logo, the images they rotate in, the fonts. The service is easy to use, and gets the job done. Did I mention that I like Anyvite’s design? Let’s face it, when it comes to inviting someone over, many of us want the invitation to be beautiful. We want our guests to feel special. Even if we are opting for the convenience of online invitations. Especially then.

MagCloud Logo
I like Derek Powazek, and enjoyed working with him on a short-lived project a few years ago. I like the minimalist aesthetic of the MagCloud site; the white background frames the magazines and the text quite nicely. The font works, too. Interesting service— check it out if you’re interested in the Best. New. Magazines. Funded by HP.

Sun Microsystems Logo
Sun just rebranded their website a few months ago. I like the open source software buttons in the left hand column, the compelling feature stories in the center, and the great hed/deks they create for the feature stories. Of course, I’m biased when it comes to Sun, after working
there for 16 years.

WordPress Logo
Ok, so this isn’t a website per se, this is a particular page on the Wordpress.com website. But oh, what a page. This one page about the features of the Wordpress.com blog hosting service does a great job with its taglines, copy, layout, and use of white space. If you’re considering using the service, the page is effective at communicating a lot of detail in a way that lets you both scan quickly and dig into whatever details you need.

Alltop Logo
Brainchild of Guy Kawasaki, and admittedly inspired by Popurls. Alltop is a news and blog aggregator, similar to Popurls, yet with an added layer of categories on top, between you and the news articles you choose to browse. Some think of it as a digital magazine rack. Good content, useful navigation, great aesthetic. But oh do I hate the ads that blink. Ouch.

Xkcd Logo
Xkcd is a staple of geek life, and I couldn’t resist putting it on this list. White background, simple black on white sketches, edgy geek humour. Xkcd is contemporary, modern, and a must-visit page.

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Starbucks LogoWhat does the Starbucks brand mean to you? Beyond the obvious one-word answer: coffee. And what does Starbucks have to do with your resume?

Suzanne Taylor of Inside Intuit fame asked me to critique the Starbucks experience the other day, and as someone who drinks coffee only occasionally, I decided I had to go to Starbucks and check it out. I felt like a mystery shopper as I slinked into my local Starbucks.

I drank in the ambience, the service, and the coffee. My impression of the Starbucks brand: it’s modern, bold, clear, awake, stylish, full of estrogen, familiar. And the branding was everywhere: on the napkins, cups, signage, artwork, coffee mugs. Everywhere. Which says this to me: Starbucks wants to be everywhere, and wants to be part of your everyday.

In addition to the coffee experience, I observed the lighting, decor, artwork, signage, complementary products, customer service, internet access, support for the disabled, and cleanliness. But I won’t go into those details, because that’s not the point. Although I will say that I do like Starbucks coffee, and prefer a Starbucks decaf mocha to Peets anyday, even though my coffee afficiniado friends disagree: Andy swears by Peets, and Hal lives for Dunkies.

So what is the point? What does the Starbucks brand have to do with you and your resume?

As I sipped my decaf mocha and listened to the blues—John Lee Hooker with “Boom Boom”—it hit me: my Starbucks thought exercise was invalid. It’s rare that a customer experiences a brand (or product) with the open mind that I did.

The open mind experience generally happens when the brand is new, only the first time, and only when friends and media haven’t gotten to you first with their opinions.

Preconceived notions have a huge influence on how you experience a brand or product. And with Starbucks, most people have preconceived notions.

And that brings me to you, and your resume. If you show your resume to someone that worked closely with you in the past, they already have an image of who you are and what you can do. Their perception of your resume is based more on what they already know about you and less on the words in the resume.

So feedback from someone who has worked closely with you is useful, but only to a point. They can’t see your resume through a stranger’s eyes. Their perception of your brand is already quite set.

If you’re looking for a job, be sure to get feedback on your resume from people who don’t know you, who haven’t worked with you, who can’t connect the dots based on their past experience with you.

As much as possible, they should be in the same industry, in the same job function, and at the same level as the people who will be considering your resume for opportunities. Oh, and you should only give them 20 seconds to look at your resume—because that’s all a prospective hiring manager is going to give your resume before putting it in the “Pursue” or “Discard” pile.

Good luck!

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Precolumbian Spider ImageWhen I was young, I would scream at the sight of a spider. They scared me. Plus they were ugly. I would ask my Dad to kill them, get rid of them, make them go away. Sadly, this continued through college and well into my 20s.

When I first became a mom, I decided it would be wrong to pass a fear of spiders to my children. So I stopped being afraid, and I carried the spiders outside, singing a variation of Hello Dolly:

“Hello, Mr. Spider, well hello, Mr. Spider, it’s so nice to see you coming back to town—”

You get the picture. Not a pretty picture (at least not with my singing voice), but certainly better than screaming in fright.

Then my children decided they didn’t like spiders, and they asked me to kill them. So I did. No more Hello Dolly.

The other day, I found a spider, and watched it, wondering what its life was like. It was beige, practically albino. I watched it, then walked away. And let it live.

I guess I’m growing up.

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The framed poem hung in the kitchen, by the kitchen table. I noticed it the first time I stayed at Uncle Bill and Aunt Tia’s home in Monte Sereno; they had picked me up at the San Jose airport, a 20 year old college junior in the Bay Area for a summer internship at Lockheed Missiles and Space.

Uncle Bill was my grandmother’s younger brother, but at 6′2″, by no means a “little” brother. And I didn’t know it at the time, but I was blessed by the chance to get to know my great Uncle Bill that summer, as he died of complications from a stroke less than 3 years later.

There are lots of Bill and Tia stories. Lots. They brought laughter and excitement into every room, into every gathering. And love, too. They adored each other.

And they also loved the game of golf. Hence this poem in their kitchen. Although it was written more than a century ago in Scotland, it seemed to epitomize how my Uncle Bill and Aunt Tia felt about golf. I myself don’t play, but have to respect a game that elicits this kind of description.

GOLF is a science, the study of a lifetime in which you may exhaust yourself but never your subject.  It is a contest, a duel or a melee, calling for courage, skill, strategy and self-control.  It is a test of temper, a trial of honor, and a revealer of character.  It affords a chance to play the man and act the gentleman.  It means going into God’s out-of-door, getting close to nature, fresh air, exercise, a sweeping away of mental cobwebs, genuine recreation of tired tissues.  It is a cure for care, an antidote to worry.  It includes companionship with friends, social intercourse, opportunities for courtesy, kindliness and generosity to an opponent.  It promotes not only physical health but moral force.

—David R. Forgan, 1899, SCOTLAND


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See's Candies LogoI used to be a Godiva chocolate fan.  I don’t shop often, but if I were in a shopping mall that boasted a Godiva store, you could safely bet I’d stop at Godiva to purchase a dark chocolate rocher, or perhaps an open-shelled oyster. For about 15 years, this was my habit.

And it was a well-rooted habit. I’d fallen in love with dark chocolate as a child in Greece, visiting my grandparents. My grandfather would take me to a place near Constitution Square in Athens that had the most delicious chocolate. He delighted in my delight, so it was a win win, and became tradition. And then, when we stopped flying TWA to Athens (for safety reasons) and switched to SwissAir, and the flights had to layover in Zurich for the night, well—I was toast. At Sprüngli on the Bahnhofstrasse, I learned to love the rich flavors of Swiss chocolate pralines.  Yum.

So when I discovered Godiva in Boston, it brought back memories of those trips to Greece and Zurich, and the delicious European chocolates. I was hooked.

My mother-in-law, Marjorie, tells a story about the day she took care of my then 2 year old daughter. Marjorie wanted to take my daughter for a walk, but didn’t want to worry about a 2 year old breaking free and running into a busy street. So Marjorie took her to the nearby Stanford Shopping Mall.  For you cold-loving East Coasters out there—it’s an outdoor shopping mall:  open-air, filled with beautifully-tended flowers and plants, warm, often sunny. Most important, it’s safe from cars. 

As they walk along, my daughter says, in a sing-song voice: “Almost there!”

“Almost there? Almost where, honey?”

“Almost there!” my daughter sing-songs again, smiling.

“I suppose we are almost somewhere. But where are you talking about?”

“Almost there!” My daughter’s smile got bigger. “Almost there!”

And then, finally:

“There!” She points to the Godiva chocolate store.

My nutrition-conscious mother-in-law was a bit surprised to see a 2-year old so familiar with a chocolate store. I can guess all the thoughts that went through her mind about my parenting choices. Indulgently, she took her in anyway. Before Marjorie could even wonder what to buy, my daughter pointed to the milk chocolate flower, and that was that.

Today, my chocolate store of choice is See’s Candies. No more Godiva for me.

What caused the switch: the free samples that See’s gives out. Ok, I get that they’re not really free; the cost of the samples is built into the price structure. But the samples feel free. And my children are delighted to be able to try things. And of course I always buy something, too, because I’m not going to accept a free sample without giving the company some of my business.

And it’s not just the free samples.  The See’s dark chocolate caramels are divine. My son likes the key lime truffles. My daughter likes the variety. And we’ve always been treated well at See’s. Their prices are good, too—probably lower than Godiva.  And the geek in me doesn’t mind the white lab coats that the salespeople wear.

Did I mention the free samples?

Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive BookI’m reading a book titled, “Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive” by Goldstein, Martin, and Cialdini.  It’s a light read, and a quick read, but full of simple (and sometimes surprising) ways to persuade customers. And one of the techniques is that of reciprocation. People feel obligated to return favors.

See’s Candies leverages the principal of reciprocation well. By giving me a free sample, they persuade me to want to buy from them. And I, for one, am happy to return the favor.


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Hackers & Painters book coverAre you craving serendipity? I’ve run into a few “valuable things not sought for” lately, and I could get addicted to this. There seems to be an underlying theme. You have to take risks, try new things, get out there, network, learn, and even do things that make you uncomfortable.  Somewhere, somehow, you’ll be surprised.

Example: I lunched with Allan McKillop last week in Palo Alto. Allan works at VMware and has spent much of his tech career managing super talented software engineers. We were at Coupa, a meeting place for geeks, VCs, and entrepreneurs who like spicy coffee and free wifi. Or tea. There’s a Mac on almost every table. I’m not sure they’ll even let you in with a PC.

Allan and I hadn’t seen each other in ages. During my 2+ years at A9, I was heads-down, focused on product launches, usability feedback, use cases, customer needs. Result: I lost touch with some friends.

So there we were, catching up, and two men walked by our table. They paused for a split second, almost imperceptibly, and gave each other a look. Allan and I both noticed, but didn’t stop our conversation—there was too much catching up to do.

Later, as the men were walking out, one of them stopped and pointed to a library book on our table. A book littered with little orange post-it stickies that I use to mark passages. I always bring a book to meetings, just in case someone is late. Don’t want to waste a moment when I can be reading. The book: Paul Graham’s Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age.

“I’m just curious: what are all these stickies for?” (did he call them stickies? what are they called anyway?)

“To mark interesting quotes.” (my reply)

“But why?” (he persisted)

I explained that I used to update my Facebook status with quotes I had found, to share with friends, and I thought there were lots of interesting quotes in the book.

And then it hit me. He looked familiar. Could he be? No. Well, maybe. No. How to find out? I couldn’t just ask him if he was Paul Graham. Or could I? I wanted to know. I like writers. Admire them, even. So I stuck my hand out and introduced myself, and asked what his name was.

“Well, I’m—Paul Graham.”

Serendipity.

I shared a few of the interesting quotes. Paul said he puts a lot of effort into making sure there are quotable quotes in his essays. He was surprised by the quotes I chose and thought one of them was not even quotable!

One trick Paul uses to see which quotes his readers find quotable: he’ll look at the delicious annotations. People who use delicious to bookmark online articles will sometimes annotate the bookmarks with a comment about what they liked or why they’re bookmarking the page. Sometimes they’ll even annotate with a specific quote.

I wouldn’t have met Paul Graham if I hadn’t followed Stephen King’s advice to always have a book with you. I wouldn’t have met him if I weren’t going out of my way to reconnect with an old friend. I don’t think Paul would have stopped if the book weren’t full of those little orange stickies. And in the past, I wouldn’t have introduced myself, wouldn’t have told him that I’m a fan of Anyvite, a Y Combinator startup. I certainly wouldn’t have given him one of my beautiful new Moo cards.

Someday, perhaps I will walk into a cafe and run across someone who’s been reading and enjoying my book, too. After I’ve finished it, of course, and after it’s published. Now that would make my day.

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Pink ribbonMen, don’t stop reading.  This is for you, too.  Just because you don’t have the same kind of breasts we women do doesn’t mean you don’t appreciate them.  I’m guessing you appreciate them rather a lot.  I mean, they’re round and soft and curvy—and heck, they even make milk when called for.

Anyway, this is my Thanksgiving wish to all my women friends, family, colleagues and readers:  Get that mammogram.

So many women get busy—really busy.  Young and old, single and married, mothers of young children, mothers of grown children, single mothers…

The point is, we get busy, and we skip things.  We avoid dentist appointments, annual paps, and yeah, mammograms.  Because who wants to get your breasts flattened into pancakes by cold metal plates anyway?  And we’re busy taking care of everyone and everything else.  I mentioned the busy part, didn’t I?

The hardest part is making the darn appointment.  I always think of it at 10:00 o’clock at night when the office is closed.  Or at 7:00 in the morning before it opens.  Or perhaps when I’m in the middle of an intense discussion, and it doesn’t quite feel right to interrupt and say,

“I get how critical it is that we improve the clickthrough rate on that ad campaign, but I just remembered that I really need to schedule my mammogram.” 

So here’s what I did today.  I put a 10 minute meeting on my calendar for Monday December 1st—to call and schedule the darn thing.  And if you haven’t had a mammogram in a while, I hope that you do the same.  If you’re a man, and you have a busy wife, significant other, sister, mother, favorite cousin, best friend: why not whisper in her ear, too?  Because it just might make a difference.

That’s my Thanksgiving wish.  Take care of yourselves, and each other.

GET THAT MAMMOGRAM.  And tell your friends.  Please.

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So what about that book I’m writing? Is it done yet?

I get this question a lot.  No surprise there, I suppose.  It’s not everyday that a person with 19 years in hi-tech decides to take time off and write a mystery novel. Sadly, my answer does not yet include a tangible sign of success, such as a publishing contract, or better yet, a shiny new hardcover that I can autograph and give you as a gift.

Not yet, that is.

So what is this book, and is it done?  It’s a mystery novel, and no, it’s not done yet.  I finished the first draft in March.  Second draft is still underway.  I hated the first draft.  Hated it. But then, I’m predisposed to hate any and every first draft.  Good writing takes revision, and lots of it.

When facing the ugliness and awkwardness of a first draft, keep in mind the words of Tim Bray, who tweeted Stephen O’Grady this evening:

Follow Nick Lowe’s immortal advice: “Bash it out now, tart it up later.” Always works for me.
—Tim Bray

First drafts really can suck.  I was flattered that Hal Stern pleaded to read the first draft, but I knew he’d never hold me in the same regard if I let him.  It’s as if the first draft wants to scare a writer away, mock them, put them down.  If you let it, a first draft could make your self esteem wither to a tiny feckless wriggling worm.

You just have to roll up your sleeves, face the warts and start removing them.  Then find the good and shine a light on it.

After letting the first draft stew for a month, I spent the next few months revising. Killing off characters. Making the protagonist a widow. Combining other characters to make them more complex.  Analyzing the theme I’d subconsciously created to see if it had legs.  And outlining the story of the crime—a part of every mystery novel that never sees the light of day. 

See, I had written the first draft organically, following Stephen King’s advice in his great book, On Writing.  King’s advice:  consider yourself an archeologist, discovering your novel as you dig up the dirt around it, day after day.  And while I love King’s book, and it remains my all-time favorite book on writing, it turns out that the archeologist approach doesn’t work so well for mysteries, even though it’s probably a wonderful approach to writing thrillers. 

Duh.  Probably every other mystery writer on the planet knows that, but I didn’t.  You really need to understand the story of the crime before you can write a story of detection that holds together.  So I had to go back to the drawing board, and write the story of the crime.

Along the way, I read a lot.  King’s advice was to read as many hours a day as you write.  No problem there—I love to read.  I read over 70 books this year, and listened to 15 more in the car.  And I discovered that one of my favorite mystery writers had published a book on writing the modern whodunit, which I also devoured: William G. Tapply’s The Elements of Mystery Fiction.

Right now, alas, my work-in-progress mystery is on the back burner.  I’m blogging again, consulting, and looking for my next professional gig.  Truth be told, writing is lonely, and I’m antsy to get back to work full-time: I miss all the adult interaction and the complicated problems I get to solve.

But for those who care, please know that I will finish—after the months I invested getting to know these characters, I do want to share them. Just not yet.  The book will simply have to gather dust for a while.

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I’m fascinated by how people create. How they make things. Not just where they get their ideas from, but how they harvest the ideas and turn them into straw—and then gold.  Is it part of the human condition, this curiousity about how other people do what they do?

So it’s no surprise that I found Stefan Bucher’s Daily Monster videos entrancing.  It’s hard to stop watching, as he starts with an inkblot and sketches it into a monster, using timelapse video. I especially like the sounds his pen makes as he draws.  If you haven’t yet watched one of his monster videos, they’re worth checking out, either on Stefan’s website or on his Youtube channel.

When the monster is done, it’s a tough call: do you watch it again, or move on to a different day’s monster? Most artists and writers don’t share their creative process in this way; they keep it private. They might tell us about how they create things, but it’s a rare gift for an artist to show us.

I’m not the only one so entranced.  A whole community of people rallied around Stefan’s Daily Monster effort, writing stories for all the monsters, eagerly awaiting the next day’s monster.

100 Days of MonstersStefan has turned the online collaboration into a book titled 100 Days of Monsters, complete with monsters, over 200 stories about the monsters, a DVD with the Daily Monster videos, and even some open source ink blots you can use to create your own monsters. With a foreword by the effervescent Ze Frank. I haven’t gotten my hands on it yet, but I plan to for the holidays.


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