Not long ago, I sat down with Kristy Lin Billuni (also known as the Sexy Grammarian), to talk about productivity, her work helping writers improve their work, and how to overcome writer’s block, among other things. What follows is a summary of what we discussed.
Pablo Diaz-Gutierrez: So Kristy, tell me what you do, how is a typical workday?
Kristy Lin Billuni: I’m a writer and a teacher. I run a small business called Sexy Grammar. I arouse writers, which means I work with you to complete whatever writing project you’re wrestling. My workdays combine direct work with clients on their writing projects with the work of running my business. I think of myself wearing the 3 hats of Michael Gerber’s E-Myth: Sometimes I’m the Technician. Other times I’m the Marketer or the Manager.
PDG: I enjoyed that book very much. It’s a great, hands-on guide to running your own business.
KLB: Me too. I think we’ve discussed it. He’s super smart.
PDG: Is it a common problem for writers to struggle with long vs short term goals? Do they have trouble moving toward their goal, or feeling that they’re advancing at all? And if so, what’s your advice for them?
KLB: I do a lot of work with goal setting and goal revision. I talk a lot about the idea of shooting for stars to reach the moon. Especially with large projects like novels and dissertations, writers come to me in a state of overwhelm. My job is to provide structure and to break down the work into smaller projects. So, yes, it’s tough for most writers to step back and see the smaller projects that get you to the larger goals.
PDG: That’s a great point. I’m a fan of breaking things down into manageable bites, and start hacking away once you’ve broken down projects into smaller pieces. How do you tell your clients to get going? Is there some criteria that you advise?
KLB: I think effective prioritizing has a lot to do with visioning. Without a clear vision, it’s easy to get distracted by opportunities or challenges that interest you but have nothing to do with the ultimate vision, whatever you’re building. I call those distractions “pig farms,” and there’s a story. I was helping my brother build a business plan for his mobile veterinary practice. He was really flying with it. He had a vision and a mission and some solid goals. And he was doing some great networking. And somebody in his network said, “Hey, veterinarians. You like animals! Maybe you want to buy my friend’s pig farm!”
PDG: This is a great segue for my next question. In many aspects of life, the Pareto rule (or 80/20 rule) apples: 80% of the results spring from 20% of the actions. Is this true for writing as well? If so, how do you take that into consideration to be a better writer? Are there parts of your work that don’t contribute to the end result, or is it all a necessary part of the process?
KLB: A lot of the ideas, content, and words we develop in process will not end up in our final writing products. I often talk about this idea during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). In this post I claim just 1%! That is, expect only about 1% of what you write in first draft mode to make it into your final work. If you’ll allow me to quote myself: “Fill notebooks with nonsense and drivel, with no expectations about content, and amid the nonsense and noise, the self-indulgence and secrets, we find gems. And that’s when we get to feel like writers.” This is probably not exactly what you’re talking about. I don’t think that other 99% of the first draft work isn’t present in the final work. I think you have to write a lot to get a little bit of brilliance.
PDG: Early riser or midnight vulture?
KLB: Early riser. I’m up at 5am, writing by 5:15. I get my best ideas while I’m still groggy.
PDG: Mac or PC?
KLB: Mac. I don’t want to understand how my computer works. I just want it to be pretty.
PDG: iPhone or Android?
KLB: iPhone. I want it to talk to my other stuff. And be pretty.