On YouTube, there’s a certain kind of video made by white guys in their thirties. It’s one guy, talking to the camera, and often key words will appear on the screen as he says them, in huge font, as if we’re watching Sesame Street. Those YouTube guys are talking about “productivity” and “mindset.” There are a lot of shoulds in these videos. You should get up earlier. You should save money. You should work harder. None of them offer any concrete steps on how to do that.
HOW TO START WHEN YOU’RE STUCK is that kind of video, but in book form. There is a lot of discussion about what we should be doing, but very little that can be acted on.
Part of the problem is the way the book is written. Swale has a twelve-minute train commute to work, so that’s his daily writing time. Once he reaches his station, he does a quick proofread and then immediately posts his work on his LinkedIn page, no matter where he is in the process. HOW TO START WHEN YOU’RE STUCK is a collection of those blog posts. Most of the posts end right when Swale has caught the glimmer of a good idea.
There are small nuggets of goodness here, like getting out of your own way, and giving yourself permission to write, and identifying as a writer, and keeping promises to yourself. But time and again, Swale cuts himself off before fully discussing his topic. He could have used his train writing as a jumping off point, and fleshed out those ideas later, but he doesn’t seem to mind putting out half-baked ideas as long as he’s producing lots of content. (He constantly brags that he’s published one hundred blog posts, as if that’s a big deal.)
Swale’s big idea is that you can find twelve minutes in your day, and in that time, you can produce more than you thought you could. I agree. I understand setting the timer for twelve minutes to do a writing sprint. I don’t understand putting a boundary on a piece and declaring it finished after twelve minutes. That’s fine for a writing exercise, but not great when it’s something you expect others to read and benefit from.
It’s ironic that Swale seemed to miss his own point. He wrote an entire book about how to get started, not realizing that each post he wrote was only the start of a topic he never finished. But let’s face it, it’s a lot easier to tell someone what they should do than how they should do it.
It doesn’t even take twelve minutes.
Rating: 1 star
I recommend How to Be an Artist by Joanneh Nagler or Ten Minute Author by Kevin Partner instead of this book