Take Control of Your Productivity as a Writer (Claire Diaz-Ortiz Interview)

The theme today is productivity: how you can take control of it and make the most of it as a new writer or even as someone who has been writing for a long time.

Our interviewee from the Self-Publishing Success Summit, Claire Diaz-Ortiz, is an accomplished author, speaker and Silicon Valley innovator who was an early employee at Twitter. She holds a MBA among other degrees she has received from Stanford and Oxford Universities. She has been named one of the top 100 most creative people in business today by Fast Company and has been featured widely in print and broadcast media. On top of that, Claire also produces valuable content at her in demand business blog:

Being a journalist and best-selling author himself, Claire’s father was her biggest influence growing up. Naturally, writing has always been second nature to her. Had she been asked what she wanted to be as a grownup at the age of four her response would automatically have been writer.

It was a few years after finishing grad school that Claire seriously considered writing her first book. The first action she took was Googling “How to write a book.” That yielded her some information but she hit the jackpot of her search when she refined her wording to “How to write a book proposal.”

The internet is an invaluable tool that can lead you to discover various resources that will help you get started and guide you on your book writing journey.

You should banish any attempts at perfectionism unless you don’t want to make any real headway. Claire says, “It’s much better to have 10 terrible chapters than three great ones and seven that you haven’t even started.” 

It was during grad school that Claire was assigned a book called “The Clockwork Muse” while writing her thesis which greatly impacted her own writing productivity. In it the author proposes a methodology which assists prospective writers develop a workable time framework to complete all their projects. You can time your muse by setting up your writing schedule to conspire for your success. By understanding how you write, when you write best, and scheduling accordingly you can own your writing process instead of allowing it to overwhelm you.  

For your brain, the act of researching is very different from the actual writing process therefore it is crucial to separate the two tasks. If research is required for the type of writing you are doing it is better to complete this separately since you will want to call upon this information during your writing process. Otherwise, you will constantly be distracted from writing if you have to keep browsing the internet for supporting articles and other forms of research to back your claims. You have to keep trying to just write. When you focus your energy on one task it generates the best results. When you intentionally give yourself less time to work with through Parkinson’s Law your work will expand to fit into the time allotted for its completion. Editing down your time on tasks is another great tool because it forces you to focus.

Here are some helpful tips Claire gives on controlling your productivity:

Seek help from others: It is valuable to consider what others think about your writing because they could provide you with some great insight on how to make it even better. Regardless of how “right” you think you are due to the sheer amount of time and effort you’re putting in, it is wise to hear people out. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring someone’s input, criticism can turn into one of your best teachers.

Write when you’re most productive: Figuring out what time of day you have the most energy is vital. You may even discover what specific days of the week you’re more productive as well. This process is easy to do. You take two weeks out of your schedule and intentionally omit caffeine out of your diet. Then you proceed to monitor how your energy is feeling on a scale of 1 to 10 at every half hour or hour mark. You will soon see consistency with energy levels during certain times of the day versus others. By tapping into your “Magic Hour” you’re really unlocking a new level of productivity.

Plan a writing retreat for yourself: One final golden nugget that Claire relayed to you is to go on a writing retreat. The best way you can make some real progress is by literally disconnecting from the world around you and only focusing on your writing for a concentrated period of time. Even spending one full day will leave you with a lot of valuable thinking and work done to get your writing process moving forward. Ideally three or more days work best to get your first rough draft completed. Figuring out spaces where you can be creative and focused is critical to your success no matter if you’re in your usual daily rhythm or on a retreat. 

Increasing productivity as writers is becoming more challenging in a world where the number of distractions and demands upon our time and attention is growing. Given these circumstances it’s not surprising why so many people want to write but very few follow through. In spite of this, the advice you have been given can alleviate this struggle if you choose to apply them and adjust them accordingly to meet your personal lifestyle needs. Claire Diaz-Ortiz is just one shining example of an individual who took action on these tips and turned on the ignition to her successful career. Knowing what you now know, will you be next?

write a timeless book

How To Write A Timeless Book That Sells 500,000 Copies And Grows Your Business (Josh Shipp Interview)

A former at risk foster kid, Josh Shipp is now known for his renowned TV series, breakthrough work with teens, for being listed on Ink Magazine’s “30 Under 30” list, and for being the bestselling author of “The Teen’s Guide to World Domination.” In his interview with Chandler Bolt during the 2016 Self-Publishing Success Summit, Josh discusses many of the lessons he learned, as well as some advice that could dramatically impact the life of a writer. Some of his advice provides insight on how to write a timeless book that sells 500,000 copies and how you can use that book to grow your business. 

It’s easy to feel incompetent as a beginning author (or even as a well-known author!), but Josh’s story goes to show anyone can become an author. After countless hours of counseling, as well as being kicked out of multiple foster homes, Josh began speaking as a teenager. Wanting to find a healthy medium between doing work that matters and having a good business he began writing.

Check out this short video clip from the Self-Publishing Success Summit:

How can a speaker turn into a writer? And how can that writer write a timeless book that sells more than 500,000 copies? The answer is simpler than you think. It might be difficult to change someone’s life through a one-hour speech, but it is possible to impact him or her through a phrase or few sentences that spark an epiphany. This strategy is one Josh uses when writing his books. Creating tidbits that stick in readers’ minds is a big part of the writing process, and a tactic that can be borrowed from speaking.

Also part of Josh’s writing career is his desire to elicit feedback from his readers. Creating a focus group using three groups of people (Twitter followers, personal friends, and random people), Josh then sends a portion of his book out to the group via a Google doc and asks for their feedback on how the book could be 10% better.

How Did He Do It?

There is one catch to his focus group: the group must consist of those who make up his target audience. Using outside friends or strangers who do not make up his audience would defeat the point of feedback. Josh desires to receive feedback on how to make his book better for his target audience, not random people. Getting advice from those who do not make up your target audience is counterintuitive as making the book more applicable to target readers is the goal.

In addition, it is important to get advice from as many points of view as possible to ensure clear and understandable content. As the author, Josh understands what he is trying to say. After all, he is the one who spends hours crafting his sentences, writing, and editing. His readers do not have his background with the content. Getting his reader’s feedback on what could be explained more efficiently is a big part of Josh’s writing process and ensures quality material.

Josh did not start as a bestselling author. He did not start as a man renowned for a documentary TV series. He started as an at-risk foster kid. But look what he has achieved with a few simple tips. With Josh’s story in mind, take encouragement. You, too, can become an author and write content that matters. You don’t need to shoot for changing a life but simply work to spark an epiphany in a reader’s life. You, too, can ask for feedback from your target audience. You, too, can become an author.

In the difficult times remember what Josh says: “Don’t think there’s something broken in you and that it’s only difficult for you.” Anyone who has accomplished something significant has at some point viewed himself as incompetent. This is natural because failure is part of the process. Yes, there is prestige in writing a book, and yes, there is a sense of accomplishment. As there should be! But in hard times, when the words don’t seem to be coming and the epiphanies seem lost, remember Josh’s words. “The icky period is the price tag.” Success is born of failure, and writers realize failure is always the precursor to success. Embrace the icky so that in the end you can embrace the success.

Liberal Arts Techie book cover

You Have A Book In You. Here’s How You Discover It.

Earlier this year, I published my very first book on Amazon. The physical copies arrived at my house a couple of weeks ago. When I flew home for my dad’s birthday a couple of weeks ago, my grandmother showed up with 10 copies and insisted that I autograph each of them for her.

That was probably the highlight of my year: my grandmother asking me to autograph books that had my name on the cover.

If you’d told me a year ago that I’d be a published author right now, I would have laughed at you. I didn’t think it was possible to write and publish a book as quickly as I did. But it turns out that I had a book in me, and all it took was a crisis halfway across the planet to get me started writing it.

The story of how I wrote my first book started last year when I was in the middle of Eastern Europe, alone and crying in a brand new Airbnb in Bulgaria, stranded and breaking up with my girlfriend.

Two hours earlier, I was packing my suitcase and walking away from the apartment we had been sharing and moving to a foreign city where I couldn’t even read a menu. I hit the pavement totally alone, and wandered around the city till I could check into the Airbnb.

You don’t know what alone is until you’re sitting on the floor of an Airbnb in Bulgaria wondering how you ended up across the planet breaking up with someone you thought you were going to spend your life with.

I wanted to reach out and feel a bit of my home, so I got on Google Hangouts and called my little sister. I explained what was going on, but honestly wanted to talk about anything else, so she started talking about the startups where she was applying for jobs.

I’ve spent my entire career in startup companies, so if there’s something I can talk about, it’s what it takes to get a job in one.

But my sister was still trying to figure this world out. She was a brand new college graduate, and wanted the downlow about how to interview at tech startups, what they were looking for in new hires, and how she could maximize her ability to get hired and get paid.

I was happy for the distraction, so I ended up talking to her for a while about it. After we got off the Hangout, I started writing her an email with a bunch of other advice that started rolling out of my head. Before I knew it, I had fired off a 1500-word email that was basically a start-to-finish blueprint for getting hired at a startup.

I went to bed and woke up the next morning thinking about the email, so I opened my laptop and re-read it.

As I read, I realized that I had spent a lot of time the past year helping people improve their resumes and land jobs at tech companies.. I realized that I had accumulated a lot of “insider” knowledge about getting highly sought-after jobs that most people, frankly, didn’t have. The skills I’d learned about getting hired and working at tech companies was valuable information that wasn’t being taught in college, or passed onto students by their parents.

So I started expanding the 1500 word email into a outline, figuring I could at least get a handful of really good blog posts out of the exercise. I was basically trying to fill my free time in Bulgaria with something productive and semi-therapeutic.

As I expanded the outline, and its word count grew, I realized that if I wanted to be a bit more ambitious, I could probably turn this outline into a complete ebook. Something I could sell on Amazon.

By the time I finally got home, I had a bunch of ideas about getting hired at companies in the outline that I wanted to test out on people who were actually in the job market. So I posted a big status on Facebook explaining that I had been helping my friends  write resumes and ace interviews at tech companies, and asked anyone who wanted help to reach out to me.

I got a few dozen replies, and started working with a handful of my friends who were looking to upgrade their careers a bit.

The ideas that I’d sketched out in the book worked really well. People were getting hired, and by working with them I was effectively doing more research on what was starting to look and feel like a book.

I kept testing the ideas, publishing a couple of blog posts with material from or inspired by the outline. Those posts got a lot of traffic – another encouraging sign.

At this point, I felt like I actually had a book on my hands, so I focused in to flesh out the outline into something coherent that I could send out for feedback. Those initial feedback rounds were incredibly valuable to point out information gaps, gave me additional sections that I could add to the book, as well as sections that weren’t adding any value that I could remove.

My iterative process was working. Something was finally starting to take shape.

Finally around March of the next year, I had over 10,000 words written, but I had stalled a bit. I wasn’t working on it every week, and I hadn’t set myself a goal to get the book finished.

I had a conversation with a buddy of mine who is an entrepreneur to ask him what he thought and to get some motivation from him. He delivered.

He told me, “Look, Austin. You can talk about being a writer all you want, but unless you actually do the work of writing, you really should question whether or not you can call yourself a writer.”

Those words stuck with me.

I knew that I was a writer, but if I wasn’t writing and if all I had was this unfinished book, how credible could I really be?

I knew that I had to finish the book.

The outline was as good as it needed to get. It was time to start doing the damn work. So every week, I’d set aside a few hours over a couple of evenings to write. I’d come home from work, have a quick dinner, put my headphones on, and sit in my living room while my roommate watched TV and I’d write.

The book started to take shape and grow. I had this massive Google Doc that I’d crack open and attack a few times a week, for 3-4 hours at a time. I rearranged my life to do this. Went out less. Stayed up later than normal. But overall, nobody noticed that anything was different unless I told them what I was working on.

As I would write, people continued to reach out to me about their resumes, and I’d send them the Google Doc to read to see if what I was writing was useful.

My training has been in startup companies, where getting user feedback on what you’re building as often as possible is crucial to making sure you’re building the right things. So every chance I got to get someone to read what I was writing, I took it. I learned something every time, even if it was only that I was saying useful things that helped them think through their careers differently.

After a month or two of writing, I knew that I needed to set an artificial deadline for myself that would force me to finish the book. An undertaking as big as writing a book requires you to force your hand with a deadline to get the work done. Without that deadline, I might still be tinkering around with a big Google Doc rather than with a couple hundred printed copies of my book sitting in a box in my bedroom.

To set a deadline, I reached out to a podcast owner that I knew to see if I could appear on his show to announce my book. That was May. He said, “Sure, let’s do it on July 18.”

I didn’t really do any math in my head about whether that was feasible, I just said “let’s do it,” hung up the phone, said “oh shit” to myself, and realized I had to start cranking.

I budgeted 3 weeks of review time, which meant I had to get my final draft ready before July.

That deadline set a fire under my butt, and I went to work. And when I was happy, I sent 10 copies off to 10 friends and mentors whose opinions I trusted, and gradually began integrating all their feedback into the book.

Meanwhile, I found a designer to create a cover for me.

I did the research about how to self-publish on Amazon, and created a plan to pimp the book. This was the least thought out part of the process. And had I talked to Chandler beforehand, I would have done a lot of things differently. But at this point, I had a deadline, and I knew that I was going to make it live.

On January 18, I called into the podcast and launched my book, The Liberal Arts Techie.

It was real. My first book.

So where do you come in?Liberal Arts Techie book cover

How does my story relate to you?

Well, I figure that if an average guy like me can find the ability to start a book in one of the darkest moments of his life, then there are a lot of other people who have books just waiting to be written.

And I believe if I can write one that you can write one as well.

The point of this blog post is to give you the following takeaways

  1. You’ve got an idea for a book inside of you that you are probably overlooking. It’s that thing that you know that nobody else does. Or it’s the thing that everyone is asking for your advice on. Or any number of things. If you start paying attention, you’ll discover what it is.
  2. Writing a book doesn’t really look like writing a book at first. It looks like you spending some time fleshing out an idea on paper. Maybe it’s going to look like a bunch of blog posts. Maybe it’s going to look like something else. All that matters is that you have an idea that you start turning into an outline.
  3. Writing a book is an iterative process. Keep chipping away at the outline, and you’ll see things begin to take shape. The first drafts I sent off to people were SO much worse than the later drafts, and astronomically worse than the final copy.
  4. When you’re courageous about getting feedback on what you’re writing, you learn faster and the book gets good faster. Getting early feedback on the book was essential to how good it got. If I had been afraid of sharing unfinished drafts, I wouldn’t have moved as fast.
  5. Writing a book doesn’t have to consume your life. Set aside time every day to write, and you’ll get it done. You can watch less TV or spend less time on Facebook. I’m sure you’d be blown away by how much time you actually have.
  6. You have to set an artificial deadline, otherwise you’ll never finish. Go make a promise to someone that you’ll have a book they can buy on a certain date, and then go figure out how to make that real.

Bonus lesson

– A transatlantic breakup sucks, but it sure frees your time up to do something more useful.

I hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter


Austin Gunter is a startup marketer in San Francisco, and the author of The Liberal Arts Techie. You can read more of his stuff and subscribe to his newsletter at