12 Minutes of Writing Before You Have to Go

A simple exercise that leverages the urgency of a buzzer-beater deadline to help you get a flurry of words into the processor, leaving little time for all the usual distractions.

If you have 12 minutes before you have to get out the door but you wanted to get some writing done before you depart, that is a good thing, You are immediately up against a deadline. All other matters can slip away. Just you and your typing and the second hand clicking away.

There is no time to get up and get yet another cup of coffee, certainly not enough to make a fresh cup.

Have to take a leak? You can hold it. It’s only 12 minutes. The fact is, you’ll be typing so fast and focusing so hard, given the limited amount of time, that even if you have to go to the bathroom, the urgency of the matter will slip to the way side.

The same would go for those pangs of hunger that seem to creep into writing time and lead to all manner of creative cooking with the various ingredients you were able to cobble together by looking through all the cupboards and the back of the fridge, which looks so dirty that you also usually decide you have to do a thorough cleaning before you even think about getting started on your cooking, let alone writing.

Most importantly, there isn’t time to let thoughts of writers block, or the fact that your project sucks, or that it has hit a wall, or that you don’t know how to transition that one section to the next, or that your opening falls flat or that you don’t even know how it’s going to end. You just don’t have the time to let any of those thoughts filter into your process. You’ve got 12 fucking minutes and so you aren’t going to sort anything out or finish anything completely, but you are going to get a good number of words down on paper.

Nevermind all the spelling errors. You can fix those later.

Again, it’s not even going to occur to you that what you are writing is bad, or good. You’re able to set that completely aside. This is about 12 minutes of writing before the bomb goes off. 12 minutes before the end of the game. 3… 2… 1…

Laptop screen down over the keyboard. Slam.

When the 12 minute buzzer goes off, you are fired up. You grab your keys and wallet, throw on your jacket, and walk out the door, off to have some fun, hopefully, but possibly to get to work on time. Either way, you get to go wherever it is you are headed riding atop a glorious wave of pounding out some words — in the most focused and driven of ways — for 12 solid minutes of uninterrupted writing time.

Discussion Board “Engagement” in Online Courses Is Holding Online Education Back

Note: This essay is also posted over at Medium. There have been some great responses offering up further insights and ideas on how to improve engagement in online courses. Definitely worth checking out.

I recently did a “guest lecture” stint for an online course. It was done via the Blackboard platform, which felt old and clunky and was an overall frustrating experience.

This is how my guest lecture was presented: Two essays and a powerpoint were posted up for review, and the 21 students in the course were then tasked with posting three questions each in the discussion board area.

My job was to answer these questions via the “reply” function in said discussion board area.
This is how a lot of online courses work, and that in and of itself is a problem. The students’ questions/comments and the instructor’s responses are siloed into a container that is isolated. Students are really only looking at the responses to the questions they posed. And even if they wanted to look at all the other questions and responses, it would be a pain via a discussion board experience, especially in a platform like Blackboard, which is antiquated and essentially a deeply flawed user experience, both for posting and viewing.

Another issue is the time it actually takes to answer all these questions in written form. If this had been an in-person class, and I had spent just 3 minutes answering each question (3 questions X 21 students = 63 questions), it would have taken over three hours — that is not how in-person classrooms are run. Actually writing out responses to 63 written questions takes longer. To give the answers depth, and make the whole “discussion” worth it, you need to provide context and examples — and that’s not always going to just roll off the fingertips. It takes time and effort.

At least in a live class, you know all the students are benefitting from the exchange. But in an antiquated, siloed discussion forum, it’s a totally inefficient learning exchange that in the end is unsatisfying for both the instructor, and more importantly, the students.

While the questions from the students were decent, sometimes it felt as if they were simply phoned-in to fulfill the requirements of the assignment. I am sure part of this is just being uninspired by a platform that lacks any innovative solutions to fostering dialogue.

Duplicate questions were also an issue. Totally understandable that several students would have similar lines of inquiry, but the platform didn’t have an easy way of allowing me to point to the place where a question was already addressed.

One element of Blackboard that really annoyed me was how hard it was to simply create a link in the discussion board. In every response I was referring to multiple sites or articles — I would have to highlight the text, select the hyperlink option, wait for a pop-up box, fill in two fields, hit “Insert,” and then wait for the pop-up to close. Blackboard should be embarrassed about this — a learning platform that makes a basic tenet of digital interfacing unbearably inefficient is not worthy of use in any educational institution.

I could go on and on. The short of it: learning management systems that employ antiquated discussion board forums to foster exchanges lack the functionality — and the vision — to offer a truly dynamic, engaging online learning experience.

There is so much opportunity with online learning, and we clearly have a long way to go with making it a truly enriching experience even with the best of the online education platforms. Offering up a way to showcase a rolling dialogue based on a unique set of questions is a good place to start — One only needs to look at a Twitter chat, a Q&A via the Facebook Newsfeed, a Reddit AMA, or a Product Hunt Q&A to see that there are much better solutions than the tired old discussion board.

Which online learning platforms are doing the best job of fostering online course engagement? I’m very interested in hearing about the more innovative platforms and online course strategies. Let me know via Twitter @jeffyamaguchi, or leave a response over at Medium.

This just occurred to me: I certainly wouldn’t want to have this “discussion” in the discussion board area of most online course platforms.

A Hidden Park in Brooklyn


Late one evening I was looking at the map to make sure I knew exactly where Sunset Park was — not the neighborhood, but the actual park that resides in it. And when looking at the map for green spaces, you can’t help but notice all the other green spaces. On a Brooklyn map, you will be drawn to Prospect Park and Green-Wood Cemetery by the sheer nature of their expansiveness. But I know those places well. So what really caught my eye was a small area of green right on the water, tucked within an industrial part of the city.

A quick bit of research revealed that yes, there is indeed an area of green there — a small park that is open to the public. It’s on the water — the Upper New York Bay — and it has stunning views of the Manhattan Skyline, as well as the outer edges of Sunset Park.

Of course I went there the very next day.

The park is called Bush Terminal Piers Park. It truly is tucked away — you don’t see it from the main road (1st Ave). You have to turn into a side street (43rd Street) — one that feels a bit like you are entering private property. But if you simply follow the road, you will be soon be welcomed by an obvious park entrance gate and stunning views of the harbor.

I’m going to let the pictures tell the rest of the story, except to say this: I had one of the most relaxing mornings in ages wandering around this park. I sat on the rocks and looked out on the water, and the city. I took photos, and wrote in my journal. I went to the end of the jetty and just stood there for a long while. I spoke to no one.

I plan to go back, and soon.









Finding the Way to Write Every Day

Yes, I know it takes discipline. But what is the regimen that helps cultivate the necessary discipline?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been trying to “write every day.” Easy to say, but not so easy to do. Miss one day, then another, and yet another, and all of the sudden it’s Sunday and I might as well just sleep in and then go out to brunch and give in to the whole day-of-rest mentality, because what’s another day of no writing? The demoralization factor has now kicked in, making it even harder to stick with what has essentially become just the intention of writing. Forget about any actual words down on paper.

This “what’s another day?” mentality has a way of extending itself indefinitely. I’m way short on word count, maxed out on feeling like shit.

Obviously, it takes discipline to write every day. I know this. We all know this. The mystery I am trying to solve is what is the regimen that I should put in place that will firmly establish and strengthen the discipline it takes to write every day?

The tactics, those are endless:

  • Use an old computer that is not connected to the internet and can only be used for writing.
  • Wake up early and take advantage of the quiet household and the rested mind.
  • Write during the lunch hour.
  • Write for 30 minutes after the workday is over, not leaving your desk until you’ve put in that solid 30 minutes of writing.
  • Stay up late, and have a session of writing be the last thing you do each night.
  • Join a writers group, thereby forcing you to deliver something to your fellow group members on a cycle.
  • Take classes that enforce deadlines.
  • Take advantage of spare moments, or 12 minutes, as it were.

I’ve tried all of those, and they work — as tactics — but they lack a regimen that helps cultivate the necessary discipline to write every day.

The good news is, I have found a regimen that has been cultivating my discipline: Writing 500 words a day, no matter what.

This allows me to leverage any of the above tactics to find the TIME to write in a focused and meaningful way, and the word count gives me a very specific GOAL to meet every day. Hence, I am writing every day.

This was actually inspired by some writing advice from Peter Heller, author of one of my favorite books, The Dog Stars. He shared the advice in a video that was part of a “Writers on Writing” series I put together when I was working at the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. The video is worth watching — Heller took his lead from Graham Greene’s writing process, and explains how the word count limit helps cultivate momentum in his writing efforts — reach your specified word count, stop wherever you are, and then be excited to jump back in the next day. Don’t always put yourself in a position to be facing the blank page of a new chapter.

Next up, finding a solid method to weave together these 500 word exercises into a narrative that makes sense.

NOTE: This essay is just over 500 words (505, to be exact) — the regimen in action!

The Follow-Up Note


Filled with resources, but far too long, and therefore, likely going completely unread.

In the classes that I teach at NYU, there are 8 sessions, two hours each. I always feel pressed for time. I find myself saying over and over — “I’ll provide some more info on this particular subject in my follow-up note.”

And I do! After each class, I send a note that summarizes the lesson and provides links to the various companies, websites, social media profiles and articles mentioned during the lecture. I always feel like these follow-up notes are extremely valuable to the students.

There’s just one problem: I don’t think the students actually read the notes. Why? For the very simple reason that they’re just too damn long.

I get it. The students came to the class, listened to the lecture, participated in the discussion, and they’ve got some homework to do — Or maybe they just want to dive into something that intrigued them from the class — a website or a company or an author they jotted down on their notepad to remind them to check it out once they got home. The last thing they want to do is pore over a follow-up note — one that rings of “I’ve heard all this before” — that scrolls on endlessly.

And yet, I can’t help but want to include summaries and links, and other things that they should check out, items that I wasn’t even able to get to in class.

But no more. And this goes for the workplace as well. I’m keeping the follow-up notes brief, and to the point. They’re more likely to be read, and therefore acted upon. In short, they’ll actually have an impact.

With that in mind, here is my follow-up note to this post about follow-up notes:

1. No more than three items in the follow-up note, just a few sentences each, though one sentence is fine. Each item should only have one link.

2. If you really feel you need to say more, then write it out as an essay or blog post, and simply provide a link to the piece in the follow-up note. (This counts as one of the three items).

3. Always include an immediately doable action item to encourage forward progress.

That’s it! End of note.

Do share via Twitter your follow-up response to this post on “the follow-up note” — @jeffyamaguchi. Keep it short, of course!

Digital Publishing Q&A Podcast Experiment #3

Success with experiment #3 — this episode comes in at UNDER 10 minutes!

Publishing questions asked and answered:
1. How can I best leverage social media to gain followers/readers to my digital platform? I use the same quality pictures and hashtags as a 10K followers account on Instagram, for example, but they obviously have 10K and I am stuck at 370!

2. How do you make academic content interesting?

3. If I have a limited marketing budget for a midlist author, where online is it best spent (especially if the author is from outside of the US)?

Show notes:
The Oxford University Press Tumblr

Agree with my responses? Disagree? Something to add? Share your thoughts with me in the comments or @jeffyamaguchi.

More details on what this is all about:
I teach book publishing classes at NYU (and other places as well). Early during each semester, I pass out notecards and ask my students to write down a question or issue they’d like me to address during the course of the class. This helps me get to know my students better — some specifics on what they’re truly interested in as it relates to publishing. It also gives me ideas to weave into the curriculum. I respond to the questions in class, but I was looking for a way to better to document and collect this information. So I thought I’d experiment and try it out as a podcast, something I could share with my students, and beyond.

Listen to the episode at SoundCloud.

Listen to more episodes.

A Digital Platform Cheat Sheet For Authors Just Starting Out

Key points to consider as you embark on establishing the mechanism that will allow you to forge a long-term relationship with your readers.

1. There are many options and social media platforms “you should be on.” You should be aware of all your options, of course, but don’t get overwhelmed. Focus on a manageable number of social media platforms, try them out, and figure out which ones you actually enjoy. It’s important that you actually like the social media platform(s), otherwise, you won’t stick with it, for obvious reasons. This means you might end up only focusing on one social media platform, and that’s okay.

2. Do not use the title of your book for your your social media permalinks/urls/profile names. You want to choose something for the long-term, something that can be used for not only your current book, but your future books. Your name is likely the best choice, of course, and that is what I recommend.

3. Establish a hub. You may not know initially what your hub is going to be, just know that you are going to have one place that can serve as the place where people can find the overall roadmap to your digital presence. Likely your hub will be a website with an address that is your name — yourname dot com. On this website you can provide links to your social media, and updated bio, information about your books and other projects, and any other relevant background and news.

4. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter are the main social media of the moment for authors and books.

5. Other social media you should check out and consider as part of your digital platform: Pinterest, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Medium, YouTube, Snapchat, and Goodreads. There are many others. Again, try them all out, see ones which ones work best for you, and commit to the platforms that end up making the most sense. Knowing one platform well means you will have an easier time learning the next, and it also gives you the insight you need for the natural next step in terms of adding to or growing your overall platform.

6. A digital media presence is about connecting and engaging in the conversation, and each platform has its own conversational nuance — How often to post, using hashtags, using images, etc. You don’t want to come across as someone who is just trying to sell a book. Make sure you take the time to figure out the best way to engage, share, and be supportive in the various platforms. This takes time, so make sure you put in the necessary effort.

7. When placing buy links on your site for your books, do not only link to Amazon. You’ll want to include links to BN, iBooks, Indiebound, Powells, and your favorite local bookstores. Linking only to Amazon, for obvious reasons, is not fair to all the other bookstores that sell and support your book. It can also mean that other retailers will not include your book in promotions. Believe me, retailers notice when you only link to Amazon. I take those calls, or hear from the sales person who takes those calls, on a regular basis.

8. Images with well-written captions are very strong currency in the social media space. In other words, don’t stress out about having to write essay-length blog posts.

9. One of the best ways to easily understand a social media platform and forge connections is to share or support the effort of someone else. Try it out by connecting with and supporting a fellow author, bookstore, or library.

10. Remember, you don’t have to be on every platform. But you do have to be consistently active and creative on the platforms you do choose to engage.

What Writers — and Publishers — Can Learn from Louis C.K.

Louis C.K.’s show Louie is awesome. But he’s doing even more awesome stuff via his website — selling digital files of his shows, a movie he made earlier in his career, comedy tour tickets, and even the shows of other comedians — directly to fans. Writers — and publishers — can learn a great deal from the things Louis C.K. is successfully pulling off. Here are some things to take special note of:

He’s doing it for the fans, making what works best for them the priority. I think everything really does start from there. He’s got this material, he wants to share it, and he knows fans would be interested in getting it. With this as the foundation, he set about figuring out a simple and seamless way to make this happen. Digital files sold direct from his website, available to anyone and everyone.

Of course he wanted to make a little money. But he also wanted to keep the cost to fans as low as possible. So he took out the middleman. Simple as that. This is the opposite of what we see in publishing. Lots of middlemen. If it isn’t a retailer, it’s a production and distribution service provider, or a digital publishing operation that tries to sell itself as a “marketing” company. They all take a percentage, the net effect of which is higher pricing (not to mention less for the artist).

Keeping with the theme of simplicity, he released digital products without DRM. This way, fans can easily download and listen/watch on the device and platform of their choosing. Louis C.K. acknowledges that this means the files may end up on file-sharing sites, something he discourages for obvious reasons. But putting fans first trumped concerns about piracy. Let me just say again the key point here — he put fans first.

And remember, he’s still working with major corporations to fund and distribute his work. It’s not like Louis C.K. has completely gone independent. His current hit show Louie is on FX, a major cable network. The works he’s selling directly originally appeared on HBO. He’s only selling direct with a selection of his works. This acknowledges that if Louis C.K. had not ever gotten the backing of major networks like FX or HBO, he most likely would not have enough of a platform to successfully pull off the direct selling venture. The lesson here for authors is to find ways to track multiple paths. The individual DIY projects will have their own unique ways of strengthening the collective, long-term body of work — and the end result will be more control of your total artistic enterprise.

It’s important to call out one of the key aspects of Louis C.K.’s direct-to-fans offerings. He now has a commerce-based connection to his fans. He knows who they are, what they bought, how much they spent, and most importantly, he can communicate with them directly (if they’ve opted in to that type of communication). This direct connection (and the data associated with it) is single most valuable asset in the artist/fan relationship. It’s important to note that in book publishing, authors do not have this level of a connection. Neither do publishers. Amazon, Apple, and BN do.

But most of all, Louis C.K. is experimenting. He has no idea if any of this is going to work out when he posts these offerings live on his website. So far, things have been wildly successful. He’s broken new ground in the industry in going direct to fans, he’s getting a lot of attention and raising his profile, he’s made money, and his fans (clearly growing) are loving it and developing a deeper sense of loyalty. Most of all, he’s taking what he’s learned and keeps on pushing forward. He’s emboldened. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

The Best Place to Eat Lunch in Lisbon


I saw the very brief entry in our Lonely Planet. A cheap lunch joint with terrace seating and expansive views from the top floor. Also, it’s run by nuns.

Turns out, the place — ACISJF — was just around the corner from our hotel in the heart of the Chiado neighborhood. I plugged the address into my phone and was like, wait a second, that is about 100 yards from here… we have to go RIGHT NOW.

Even though it was so close, it was actually kind of hard to find. It’s not a storefront restaurant. You walk down a little alley to a nondescript door, and think, Is this it? Yes, there is a sign, but it just seems like there isn’t going to be a restaurant when you walk inside. And in fact, there isn’t — you have to walk up about 6 flights of stairs. It feels more like an office building, and the whole time you are doubting that this could be the place. Maybe this is the office to the restaurant…?

But a lobby coffee bar at the top floor confirmed that we were indeed in the right place. You walk past the coffee bar and through the indoor seating area to get to the food line. It’s cafeteria style, so you grab a tray and point to the food you want. The nuns running the place are all business. The food options are plentiful without being overwhelming: Salad and rice and fish, soup (Gazpacho!), fruit and bread, and a few other delicious delights. This isn’t fine dining — this is comfort food. That’s what I love and this place did not disappoint.


Important note: You can also order sangria, which is the ideal beverage to eat with your lunch given what awaits when you take your tray outside. A beautiful terrace featuring the most spectacular views of Lisbon and the Tagus River. There are only so many tables — it’s a tight fit — but with the blue sky above, old school cityscape surrounding you, and the endless sparkle of the river as far as the eye can see, you’ll feel open and free and downright content. And that feeling will expand with every bite of your food and sip of your sangria.

If you get to Lisbon, there is so much to see and do. Make sure to put this top floor joint near the top of the list!

Restaurant name: ACISJF
In Chiado neighborhood of Lisbon, Portugal
Top floor at Travessa do Ferragial 1
Lunch only, Monday through Friday
7 or so euros per meal

Digital Publishing Q&A Podcast Experiment #2

The digital publishing Q&A experiment continues with episode #2.

Questions answered in this episode, which is almost 10 minutes shorter than the first one, are the following:

1. “What is the perception of “authenticity” in social media? Why is this the goal? To hide the curation or craft involved, or to naturalize it?”

2. “How can I learn how to further customize the WordPress theme on my website — how can I organize it differently? I can’t see how to organize my site to look like the other theme variations shown on WordPress.”

3. “How do you find out and keep track of all the different digital publishing ecosystems (blogs, apps, Twitter, etc)?”

Show notes:
Wordpress theme I mention in the episode — the Thesis theme.

Blogs / Websites I read to help me keep up with digital trends in book publishing:
Hubspot’s Marketing Blog
Bookbub’s Blog
Gumroad’s Blog
Publishing Perspectives
Digital Book World
Jane Friedman’s blog
David Gaughran’s blog
We Grow Media
Publishers Weekly
Fast Company
Silicon Alley Insider
The Bookseller

Agree with my responses? Disagree? Something to add? Share your thoughts with me in the comments or @jeffyamaguchi.

More details on what this is all about:
I teach book publishing classes at NYU (and other places as well). Early during each semester, I pass out notecards and ask my students to write down a question or issue they’d like me to address during the course of the class. This helps me get to know my students better — some specifics on what they’re truly interested in as it relates to publishing. It also gives me ideas to weave into the curriculum. I respond to the questions in class, but I was looking for a way to better to document and collect this information. So I thought I’d experiment and try it out as a podcast, something I could share with my students, and beyond.

Listen to the episode at SoundCloud.