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Berrett-Koehler Publishers
Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content / Edition 2

Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content / Edition 2

by Mark Levy


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Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content / Edition 2

When it comes to creating ideas, we hold ourselves back. That's because inside each of us is an internal editor whose job is to forever polish our thoughts so we sound smart and in control and so we fit into society. But what happens when we encounter problems where such conventional thinking fails us? How do we get unstuck?

For Mark Levy, the answer is freewriting, a technique he's used for years to solve all types of business problems and generate ideas for books, articles, and blog posts.

Freewriting is deceptively simple: start writing as fast as you can, for as long as you can, about a subject you care deeply about, while ignoring the standard rules of grammar and spelling. Your internal editor won't be able to keep up with your output-you'll generate breakthrough ideas and solutions that you couldn't have created any other way.

Levy shares his six secrets to freewriting as well as fifteen problem-solving and creativity-stimulating principles you can use if you need more firepower-seven of which are new to this edition. Also new to this edition: an extensive section on how to refine your raw freewriting into something you can share with the world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781605095257
Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers
Publication date: 08/09/2010
Edition description: Second Edition
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 565,800
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Mark Levy is the founder of the marketing strategy firm Levy Innovation. He has written for the New York Times, has authored or cocreated five books, and has taught writing at Rutgers University.

Read an Excerpt

Secret #1:
Try Easy

Robert Kriegel, business consultant and “mental coach” for world-class athletes, tells a story in one of his books that has critical implications for you in your quest to lead a better life through writing.

Kriegel was training a sizable group of sprinters who were battling for the last spots in the Olympic trials. During a practice run, Kriegel found his runners to be “tense and tight”—victims, apparently, of “a bad case of the Gotta’s.”

Conventional wisdom would have dictated that these highly skilled athletes train harder, but Kriegel had another idea. He asked them to run again, only this time they were to relax their efforts and run at about nine-tenths their normal intensity. Of this second attempt, Kriegel writes:

The results were amazing! To everyone’s surprise, each ran faster the second time, when they were trying “easy.” And one runner’s time set an unofficial world record.

Fine for running, but does that idea hold for any pursuit? Kriegel continues: “The same is true elsewhere: Trying easy will help you in any area of your life. Conventional Wisdom tells us we have to give no less than 110 percent to keep ahead. Yet conversely, I have found that giving 90 percent is usually more effective.”

For freewriting, too, Kriegel’s “easy” notion hits the nail on its relaxed head.

Rather than approach your writing with your teeth gritted, demanding instant, virtuoso solutions from yourself, loosen up and ease into your best 90 percent effort. Here’s how:

Begin your writing by reminding yourself to try easy. I liken this to the prep work of a baseball player stepping into the batter’s box. The player adjusts his batting glove and cup, spits, kicks at the dirt, stares at the barrel of his bat, and eases into a few practice swings. These rituals accomplish two things: They allow the hitter to set up the mechanics of his swing, and they get him in the correct frame of mind to face a pitch.

That’s what I’m asking you to do. Get your mechanics down, then do a psych job on yourself. Or, put another way: Start scribbling, then remind yourself that you’re simply looking to put some decent words and ideas down on the page; you’re not trying to produce deathless prose and world-beating ideas in the course of a single night’s writing.

I’ve opened my computer’s freewriting file to find a few examples of how I remind myself to try easy. I don’t have to look far.

Nearly every entry begins with a reminder, invocation, plea, entreaty, or declaration of assurance from me to myself to stay centered during the writing and not expect wisdom, insight, or shining prose. Most of the time, I don’t specifically say to myself, “Try easy,” although the sentiment is there. Here are some samples:

Remove the “Mighty Specialness” of writing, until there’s nothing to stop you. This kind of writing is dirt simple, like putting on a sock.

Just some brain-draining, some noodling, going on here. Don’t expect lightning bolts.

Okay, a little sticking here to start, like a computer key that hasn’t been deep struck for a while. Keep moving and the stickiness may or may not leave, but at least you’ll be moving.

Here it is, on the line. I’m squeezing some words onto the page, but I’m scaring myself with demands of originality. If words don’t come out of me in interesting arrangements, tasty strings, then my writing fingers slow down, my mind stops. Wait, Mark. That kind of thinking is going to guarantee you no new ideas. Better just forge ahead, and get some stuff onto the page—great or stink-o.

These are hardly inspiring openings, I grant you. But if you, like me, suffer from wanting to accomplish too much, right away, an honest attempt to calm your expectations can improve the quality of your thinking in the long run. You, though, might be wondering, will all this self-reassurance act as an anchor on my thinking and weigh it down far below what is helpful? Might I, in effect, be courting my own dumbness?

The answer is no. Despite your pleas and cautious self-instruction, your mind still begs to solve problems and do extraordinary work. By giving yourself this “try easy” ground rule, you’ll ease up on your perfectionistic demands and give your rampaging mind more room to maneuver.

But wait, I have another way—a way virtually guaranteed to move you into that “try easy” zone.

Points to Remember

• A relaxed 90 percent is more efficient than a vein-bulging 100 percent effort.

• When you begin freewriting about a thorny subject, remind yourself to “try easy.”

Table of Contents

Introduction: Your Mind Is Bigger Than You Think 1

Part 1 The Six Secrets to Freewriting 13

1 Secret #1: Try Easy 15

2 Secret #2: Write Fast and Continuously 19

3 Secret #3: Work against a Limit 25

4 Secret #4: Write the Way You Think 29

5 Secret #5: Go with the Thought 35

6 Secret #6: Redirect Your Attention 41

Part 2 Powerful Refinements 45

7 Idea as Product 47

8 Prompt Your Thinking 53

9 Open Up Words 57

10 Escape Your Own Intelligence 65

11 The Value in Disconnecting 69

12 Using Assumptions to Get Unstuck 75

13 Getting a Hundred Ideas Is Easier Than Getting One 81

14 Learn to Love Lying 85

15 Hold a Paper Conversation 89

16 Drop Your Mind on Paper 97

17 The Writing Marathon 103

18 Doubt Yourself 107

19 The Magic of Exact Writing 113

20 Extract Gold from a Business Book 121

21 You Are What You Focus On 129

Part 3 Going Public 135

22 Sharing Your Unfinished Thoughts 137

23 Help Others Do Their Best Thanking 145

24 Notice Stories Everywhere 151

25 Build an Inventory of Thoughts 157

26 Write Your Own Rules 163

27 The Fascination Factor 169

28 Freewrite Your Way to Finished Prose 173

Notes 179

Acknowledgments 183

Index 185

About Mack Levy 189

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“I’ve been a fanboy of Accidental Genius and the genius of Mark Levy for five years now, and I couldn’t work without these ideas.”

—David Meerman Scott, author of The New Rules of Marketing and PR

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