Book Review: “The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together, Volume One” by John Carlton

 

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This book was my introduction to John Carlton, one of the most respected and accomplished sales copywriters in the world.

As befits a sales genius, his title is irresistible. How many entrepreneurs don’t get a weekly (if not daily) case of “I really should get my shit together”? 

So I skimmed a few of the five-star reviews and bought the book. Nothing to lose.

A lot gained. This is a “turning point” kind of book. Really one of the best I’ve read since going all-in on making my livelihood as a writer.

Carlton doesn’t just stuff a bunch of fluff behind a great title. (No expert copywriter would.)

For $10, the amount of substance in these e-pages is, frankly, amazing. TEGTGYST goes far beyond about how to craft headlines, promises, proof, grabbers, closes, etc.

The really priceless stuff is on topics like:

  • Dealing with stress
  • Dealing with people — I especially liked the part about clowns who try to mask incompetence with overconfidence.
  • Time management
  • Brain management

Here’s what I think makes a great writer, of any stripe:

The ability to short-circuit the reader’s self-awareness that they actually are performing the act of “reading”.

Does that make an ounce of sense? Maybe it’s a poor description, but I’ll wager you have an idea what I’m talking about.

There’s no mental friction reading great writing. You don’t have to jerk your attention back to the page.  Focus is a non-issue.

There’s a mind-meld going on between what the writer was thinking as he wrote and what you’re thinking now.  It becomes your thinking for a moment, and leaves a mental imprint forever.

Actually, Carlton covers this in the book:

“Good writing is invisible to the reader — he should not be aware he’s reading something. Instead your copy should smoothingly melt into the conversation already going on in his own head.”

(It’s also the same general concept as John Gardner’s “fictional dream”, for any MFA-types who have happened upon this blog.)

Practicing what he preaches, Carlton pulls this effect off from the introduction to the last word (which, appropriately, is an upsell for his mastermind group.)

By two chapters into this book, I felt like I was having  the kind of conversation that begins with a fridge full of beverages, and ends six hours later with empties everywhere, overflowing ashtrays, and guitars leaning against chairs.

Seriously, the guy is all rock-and-roll. If I had an hour to spend with him, it’s hard to decide whether I’d want to talk about entrepreneurship and copywriting or get out my Les Paul and jam through some Cream and Stones numbers.

So that’s that.  Two days later I bought his Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel, and his Freelance Course. Worth every penny. Simple Writing System is next.

Jay Abraham talks about the “Strategy of Preeminence”:

Few embody preeminence  quite like John Carlton.

If you’re a professional writer or an entrepreneur of any stripe, I hope you’ll check this book out and see for yourself.

What Are The Ideal Getting Things Done (GTD) Contexts?

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I’ll skip a never-funny-always-in-poor-taste Kool-Aid joke and just say:

If GTD is a cult, sign me up. 

Reading David Allen’s book earlier this year was like stumbling on a full, cold Brita after days of crawling through the desert.

My brain had been so burdened by trying to remember everything I needed to do, all the open loops, that I’m surprised it worked at all.

Relief was at last in sight.

The implementation has had its difficulties, though I suppose this is natural.

I have a slightly mismatched gadget setup of Mac computer/iPad/Android, which made the otherwise obvious choice of Apple-only OmniFocus less appealing.

So I went with Zendone, an online-only GTD  system that auto-syncs with Google Calendar (by which I live and die ), and Evernote (with which I’m still at the “ape rubbing the monolith” stage ).

Zendone been useful, though I don’t yet have the completely watertight GTD system that Allen dangles as the reward for applying all his wisdom.

For one, Allen emphasizes the need to put absolutely everything into your GTD system, which is a challenge.

More specifically, I feel like I’m under-utilizing the GTD idea of contexts, the tags that identify tasks by the conditions you predict they will require to get done.

Currently my contexts are:

  • Computer (internet required)
  • Computer (offline)
  • Outside (i.e. out of my office)
  • Deep focus
  • <30 minutes
  • <10 minutes
  • Don’t even think about it during work hours

These account for most if not all the physical and mental states I find myself in over the course of a day.

If you use GTD, what are your contexts?

A Timeless Lesson From John Caples, Part 2

Let’s continue with John Caples’s Readers Digest– informed breakdown of ways to open copy or interesting articles.

2. The Shocker

Closely related to the interrupting idea is an opening that is even more striking and can be described as ‘the shocker.'”

First off, you snickering kids in the back can go to the principal’s office right now.

Caples is spotlighting the “get their attention, even if you have to be a little crude” approach. (See the Office video up top, if you haven’t yet.)

Citing Reader’s Digest, Caples gives four examples including:

“A Frenchman is rarely seen drunk, but France has the highest rate of alcoholism in the world.”

I suppose this inadvertently illustrates how, to quote Jane’s Addiction, “Nothing’s Shocking” anymore.  Would it shock you to know that there are many French alcoholics?

Perhaps the shock lies in the juxtaposition–on the outside they’re all class, but behind des portes closes (closed doors)…

(And for what it’s worth, Moldova is now pacing the world in alcohol consumption… which must also mean alcoholism?)

The first more “modern” example that springs to mind (and this is a headline, where The Shocker is even more effective), is the Bottom Line Personal chestnut:

What to never…ever eat on an airplane!

Though it’s not all that modern. Good luck getting any food on today’s planes.

Still, the shock effect remains strong, infused with a mega-dose of curiosity. That one’s a keeper.

There must be a line that gets crossed eventually, where you’re just too shocking.

Where do you reckon it is?

The Essence of a Clause

In casual reading of OPW (Other People’s Writing), I’ve been known to let “its”/”it’s” and “your”/”you’re” slide.

(Increasingly so, because the cause is starting to seem hopeless.)

But the one I can’t let go–the mistake that bothers me most–is the bungling of that and who.

“I’m the kind of person that complains about other people’s grammar mistakes while making tons of my own.”

“Only readers that have the perfect mix of gullibility and four or more credit cards qualify to buy this product.”

No. People WHO. Gullible readers WHO!

That isn’t the topic today, though.

(It will be one day soon. And there will be blood.)

Today we’re looking at something closely related: That versus which, and the scary, dark, churning river that runs beneath them:

Essential clauses and nonessential clauses.

My reading this afternoon comes from The Associated Press Stylebook:

“Both types of clauses provide additional information about a word or phase in the sentence.”

No problem. We’re writing about X. There is more to say about X. Why start a whole other sentence to say it?

“The difference between them is that the essential clause cannot be eliminated without changing the meaning of the sentence — it so restricts the meaning of the word or phrase that its absence would lead to a substantially different interpretation of what the author meant.”

So the key is whether not saying the additional thing we want to say about X would irreparably damage the information.

I have two cats: A tuxedo, and a six-toed tabby.

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One day I leave to get the mail, and when I come back my tea is spilled:

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I come to a fast conclusion about what happened, based on past knock-overs. 

“The cat that has the long whiskers and the bow tie on his face did this.”

The whiskers and bow tie are essential to my accusation. They’re how I identify the culprit. Essential clause. And I identify it as such with “that”.

Let’s go back to the text:

“The nonessential clause, however, can be eliminated without altering the basic meaning of the sentence — it does not restrict the meaning so significantly that its absence would radically alter the author’s thought.”

So returning to the scene of the crime, I further conclude that:

“The six-toed cat, which is too lazy to cause any trouble, has been napping on the armchair all day.”

Maybe this isn’t a perfect example. But the fact that the innocent cat is historically too lazy to cause any trouble isn’t essential to my point.

It’s nonessential. So, “which”.

The necessary part is that I believe he’s been on the armchair all day and therefore couldn’t have made the mess.

So I scold the tuxedo, clean up the mess, and get on with things.

Later I check the security camera reel and see the truth:

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My house is a house of false accusations.

There are two other interesting points here: One about how comma placement can affect a clause’s essential-ness. And one interesting addendum about “who” vs. “that”, as they relate to “an inanimate object or an animal without a name.”

I think we’ll revisit this in two weeks.

Book Review: “Positivity” by Barbara Frederickson

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A coach-type recommended this to me as a building block of better work habits and personal progress.

I finished it feeling better than I did when I came to it (and was able to draw enough links between my feeling better and the content of the book), so I consider it time well-enough spent.

The big proposition here: Having at least three positive thoughts for every one negative thought is a tipping point at which your mental state goes from frustrated, malaise-ridden and inefficient to success-optimized for whatever you’re trying to accomplish.

Frederickson makes sure to state that having some negative thoughts is important, so as not to be lumped in with the “positive all the time” crowd (whose continued existence in today’s oh-so-cynical world I doubt at least a little).

Recently, the data–which another scientist gathered and analyzed–that led Frederickson to trumpet 3:1 as her golden ratio has come under heavy fire .

I say, who cares?

Yeah, yeah, science, numbers, rigor, accuracy, whatever. Lobby UNC-Chapel Hill for the revocation of her tenure if it makes you feel better (919-962-2211).

The fact is that the fuzzy math doesn’t make this book significantly less helpful to those of us who are weighed down by negativity.

Specific goals are good for the daily improvement of our habits, even if the “real” ratio for is 2:1 or 4:1 or 4.5:1.

I suppose the question hangs as to whether there is a magic tipping point *at all*, and if there isn’t, then the positivity rocket Frederickson is selling seats on is–ahem–challenged.

But I come to a book like this wanting to feel better, and for now, striving for 3:1 is making me feel better. Again, a specific goal glues everything together, even if it’s not the precisely “right” goal.

If the heavens don’t open up once I hit the ratio, I’m not going to feel cheated.

Now, there is the fact that in “Positivity”, Frederickson–whose writing is at times a little too chirpy and cheerful–loves to repeat how she’s a data-obsessed scientist, how empiricism and math are king, etc…

…Almost to imply “this is why you should trust me over those Pollyanna-ish laypeople spouting empty platitudes.”

So the big problems with her data are pretty funny seen in that light, but shouldn’t blow the house of cards down for someone coming to this book for help rather than academic enlightenment.

Another issue is that most of the techniques prescribed for increasing positivity are not terribly original: Meditating, deliberate kindness, avoiding depressing news and violent entertainment, and related tips that have been repeated for decades or longer.

Frederickson does promote (heavily) an original “Positivity Self Test” survey that we are encouraged to complete every day to track our progress and identify useful patterns of positivity and negativity.

Which is a good idea, but for those of us who habitually consume books and programs like this (the target market, I’d wager), our dockets of daily check-ins and journaling are already overflowing.

Parting shot: I generally dislike sub-titles on non-fiction books. I understand that a book needs to state its case before the would-be buyer puts it back on the shelf.

But “Top-Notch Research Reveals The 3 to1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life” is one of the worst ones I’ve ever seen.

For shame, Random House. Hire a good copywriter to come up with your sub-title next time.

When Life Gives You The Pomodoro Technique, Make Ketchup

I do better, more focused work when I’m applying the Pomodoro Technique. 

Have you tried this? Twenty-five minutes on, five minutes off.

Here’s my timer:

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Analog to the max.

It has a magnetized back that sticks to my whiteboard. But not very well. When it rings it slides down and almost off.

The best thing?

It ticks and tocks. Loudly.

It’s a constant reminder that time is tangible and precious. I haven’t found the app that can do this nearly as well.

Physical reminders like this are important. Dan Kennedy wrote that he has a hangman’s noose in his office to remind him of deadlines. Intense, but I guess it works.

My first forays into Pomodoro-ing were fifty minutes on and ten minutes off. At that time I didn’t even know it was a thing lots of people did.

Let alone the cool name.

I thought I had come up with it myself. Which I guess was true, but yeah…

A few months later I noticed I wasn’t doing it anymore.

I picked it back up  recently–doing the proper 25/5–on Brennan Dunn‘s suggestion. I started getting a lot more done. 

The reason the Pomodoro Technique works for me is that it creates clearly-defined “compartments” in my workday.  I think of it a little like playing hopscotch–I can see the square, I just need to get my foot into it.

The more clear chalk lines I can draw in a day, the farther away I get from “winging it”.

“Winging it” is that awful state of sitting down at the desk with no plan or rules or goals and hoping it’ll all work out somehow.

If clear chalk lines make our day a fun game of hopscotch, winging it is a derelict weedy lot strewn with garbage and broken glass.

And we’re barefoot. OK, your turn to hop.

I wish all the school I consumed over the years had taught me some version of this.

You can’t time-manage five minutes into six minutes, but things like the Pomodoro Technique and GTD do a lot to make the minutes our friends, not our enemies. 

I love time, don’t you?