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19.10.16

How I used focus ‘hacks’ to write a book in 90 days: Author Renee Giarrusso

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For leadership and communications expert, Renee Giarrusso, writing a book in 90 days meant some personal sacrifice. Her busy training practice meant the only hours she had to write were outside business hours. This is time she usually spends doing yoga, cooking or relaxing with friends and family.

Given the sacrifices she was making, Giarrusso didn’t want to mess around. She puts a high priority on personal time, so she promised herself that her sacrifice would not go beyond 90 days.

Of course, we are all human. Our best intentions are distressingly easy to derail, especially in the evening and on the weekends. Giarrusso was ahead of herself; she outwitted any self-defeating tendency to frig around. Here’s how she hacked her focus:

  1. Joined a library. To keep herself focused when working at night or on the weekends, she joined her local library and wrote there, away from convenient distractions.
  2. Set a word target. Every time she sat down, she pledged to write a minimum of 1000 words – sometimes 2000. ‘I set a target word count. I treated each time as a writing immersion [workshop]. I had to have a certain amount done each week.’
  3. Turned off digital distractions: ‘I didn’t take my phone in, and had every other app on my laptop turned off: no email, no chat rooms.’
  4. Kept her earbuds in, with music going, to stop herself from tuning in to her surroundings. At one point, however, the librarian came over and said sternly, ‘No talking,’ surprising Giarrusso. ‘I realised I was talking to myself out loud.’ When she explained she was writing a book, the librarian was delighted and left her to it.
  5. Used the early mornings. Giarrusso wrote in her home office before the morning activities took hold.
  6. Grabbed spare moments. Although 80% of her book was written in focused sittings, the rest was written in grabs when ideas came to her. If Giarrusso was driving, she’d pull over to the side of the road to get her ideas down.
  7. Contacted an editor, and committed to the deadline to deliver her manuscript for editing.

In 10 weeks, Giarrusso had written 28,000 words, and her manuscript was ready to be professionally edited. She wanted her book to be light and practical book, with exercises and pictures, a reflection of her approach to speaking and training. ‘When I do keynotes, every time I meet organisers, they notice my energy. I am very interactive,’ she says.

Finding her voice

The title for her book – Limitless Leadership: A guide to leading from the inside out  came to her from a memory. She had used the title seven years before for a training program, she says. ‘I love the word limitless – that anything is possible, no excuses – and as a leader if you have that limitless mindset you will never rest on your laurels.’

Keen for her book to have her ‘voice’, Giarrusso didn’t labour over the text. ‘I didn’t read the book until the end. I got Scrivener [a writing software] because it won’t take you to the start of the document when you open it. I knew that if I kept reading over it, I would fault it.’

Instead, Giarrusso had lined up an editor, Joanne Yardley, to review her work.  She responded to all of Yardley’s questions promptly, keeping her side of the deadline bargain. That impressed her editor. Giarrusso says: ‘I have “completion addition”. I was the kid who started doing their homework when the teacher said there is 15 minutes to the end of the class.’

Arriving at structure

To structure her book – before she started writing – Giarrusso reviewed everything she had written about her ideas and saw a theme about motivation and purpose in leadership. She wrote these out as the six keys of self-leadership, found two blogs she had already written on the topic and fleshed out these ideas, put them into her six-keys framework. She jotted down ideas and found pieces she wanted to include from her workshop materials.

Then she made an effort to include a personal story. ‘Clients said they wanted to see more of me. I lost my father at 49. I was in my early 20s. He only saw me as a uni student. I thought, how can I fit him in? I wanted this story to be relevant. Well, the relevance is that I am highly optimistic. He passed away on a Monday night, I had my final assessment at my first corporate role the next morning. I got the job. I had 12 years at that global company before I went out to consult.’

For fun, she also wove the story of The Wizard of Oz – her favourite movie – into the narrative. A poet since the age of nine, Giarrusso believes she’s always had ‘a book in her’.

Business impact

The book, which came out in September this year, is the first in a series on the topic of Limitless Leadership. After a talk, a CEO approached Giarrusso, bought her book, and went straight to the back for testimonials, biography, client list and programs details. “My book becomes a walking business card,’ she says.

Because she named her book after one of her training programs, Giarrusso says it has provided ‘awesome leverage’.

‘I have always been confident in my ability, but it is like when you build a house — something happens and the house is complete. It feels complete,’ she says. ‘It is a special feeling to give everyone in my workshop my book and say, now go to page 35. It made it all worth it. And it is humbling to share ideas with people you care about.’

Giarrusso gives a copy of her book to clients and to prospective clients. She says it helps to open doors, and attracts the attention of decision-makers. ‘People take you more seriously when you write a book. It solidifies that you are serious about what you do.’ As a result, Giarrusso says her confidence has grown.

Lessons learned

  • Set timelines and word counts.
  • Remember why you are doing it.
  • Be light with yourself; this is something so many people don’t do, and what a privilege it is to be able to do it.
  • Find an editor you click with and form a collaborative and mutual relationship.
  • Don’t’ get too much feedback on your writing. I had one CEO read it as I was writing. It is never going to be perfect.
  • It not about me, it is about the readers.

 

PS: Want more? You might like: The transformative power of writing your book.

 

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