January 26, 2015

The most expensive lesson in writing

The most expensive lesson in writing

In writing, preparation is not production.

I don’t remember when I first heard the expression “preparation is not production” but the failure to see the difference has been the most expensive writing mistake of my life. 

It was a mistake that was chronic and mostly invisible. Even after I realized I was doing too much prep and not enough writing, I still found excuses – I actually accepted the myth that “90% of writing is procrastination”. Little did I know I was under the control of a secret power…

‘The secret power of idleness’

The preparation versus production distinction is not a new one.Read the rest

Why Stephen Fry gets it wrong on grammar

 If you’re interested in writing, this Stephen Fry video is worth 6 minutes of your time. 

First of all, there’s the amazing musicality of the audio. Injecting music into your writing is a powerful writing technique – as I have argued  - and I think Fry proves the point. By the time you’ve listened through, you’ve learned a great deal about how to interest and entertain your reader through musical prose. (It’s always a good idea to read aloud what you have written to know how it sounds.)

Secondly, Fry rightly puts the grammar pedants in their place. He asserts that most of what the grammar busy-bodies have to say about usage is irrelevant nonsense.Read the rest

Neil Strauss’s key to writing: Assume that no one cares

In an excellent video interview (below) with Tim Ferriss, NYT best selling author, Neil Strauss offers his key to good writing. Let me paraphrase a superb writing technique:

As you begin to write, assume that no-one cares.



Clueless writers assume that there’s something inherently interesting in whatever they write. But the experienced writer assumes no such thing. He knows he must leverage reader interest at every point and go to whatever lengths it takes to grab and hold that interest. Strauss has written 7 NYT best-sellers.

 There’s no shortage of writing techniques that allow you to appeal to reader interest, but Strauss’s goes right to how you conceive and create any piece.Read the rest

Writing Techniques #2: Distinctive writing



We begin our second episode of Remarkable Writing Techniques with a lesson in distinctiveness from Dada artist, writer, and general fruit-bat, Kurt Schwitters. On the face of it Schwitters’ sound poem, “Ursonate“, doesn’t make sense, but  I think that it’s an excellent illustration of  the need for distinctiveness.

iTunes link for podcast archive and subscription.

 A writing lesson from the back of a motorcycle

(3:15 mins.) We follow that with more on writing distinctiveness – this time from the back of a  Triumph Bonneville. Except that this one doesn’t just concern writing: Distinctiveness is more than a writing technique.Read the rest

How to make your writing more distinctive

Distinctiveness is as important to your personal or corporate brand as design or presentation, yet the skill of written distinctivenss is widely ignored. I have a solution for you.

This month’s – soon to be released – podcast will cover the question of distinctiveness in some detail. In the meantime, here’s a Slidshare presentation on that writing technique: How to make your writing more distinctive.


The transcript on Slideshare is a bit jumbled, so here it is:

1. How to make your writing distinctive.

2. Distinctiveness is essential across all aspects of your personal brand: From your design and image, to your ideas and the way you approach your content…

3.… Read the rest

Vary your sentence length to make your writing more interesting

I want to show you a remarkable writing technique that connects Jack Black with Alexander the Great. It comes with an example from one of America’s finest writers - Saul Bellow.

But let’s look first at a way to guarantee that your writing is dull, monotonous, and guaranteed to go unread. Here’s the easiest way how:

   Make every sentence the same length.

Good writers know that varying the length and patterns of their sentences makes the writing more musical, easier to read. That’s what I want you to see.  So, by the time you finish this post, you should be able to apply the technique.… Read the rest

Writing techniques: Episode #1

SmallerIn this first podcast on remarkable writing techniques, I look at 4 things:

1. (Begins at 4:00 mins.) A simple but powerful writing technique that gets people to read and keep reading anything you write: How to create anticipation and suspense in your writing.

2. (Begins at 18:00 mins.) Why writing in recent years has become a very big deal. In the connected economy the opportunities for those who can write are astonishing. Never before have we seen these types of opportunities.

3. (Begins at 29: mins.)  ‘How to be an extremist.’ These are a few ideas from my upcoming course on writing like Seth Godin.… Read the rest

A different way to learn writing

I’m here to help you make quick progress in your writing skills through an approach that I call remarkable writing techniques.

Remarkable writing techniques are the product of 25 years of language teaching and of entrepreneurship.

I understand the obstacles that exist for the busy individual but I see the impact that good writing can have on real life.

In response, I’ve developed an approach to help you make real progress in a dramatic way and through a unique method.


Return on your time investment

I know that you are a man/woman of action. I know you want a good return on your time investment.… Read the rest

Why I left China

At the end of 2009, I left China in something of a hurry. Let me outline why.

One of the companies I’d founded – a chain of language schools, called Kai En – was going bankrupt. The problem came about after the US economy went south and the language school’s client-base dried up. There were big changes in the market.

I hadn’t actually worked at the language schools since 2005 but I still had shares in them. (I worked at ChinesePod between 2005-9.)

But three years of heavy losses drained myself and the other shareholders financially. From 2007 – 2009 our efforts to keep it alive cost us pretty much everything we had.… Read the rest

From self-belief to self-direction

 In a sense, leaders are in the empowerment business. If you lead a team, you should spend a great deal of your time doing things that empower them.

Why? Because people consistently underestimate their capacity to make things happen. They defer instead, to people, events, feelings, or some other excuses. Then, not much happens.

The most potent form of empowerment comes when you instill self-belief into people. If they believe in themselves and feel assured that their gifts have a home in your team or organization, they get really loyal and really motivated. They are empowered, self-directed, and likely to do great things.… Read the rest