'The weekend is coming! The weekend is coming! And while that news alone is a source of joy and wonder, it's doubly so this weekend because Saturday is Independent Bookstore Day!
Where will you visit and what will you buy? If you're in the Minneapolis area, you might try The Wild Rumpus for a belated copy of The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, or maybe the Red Balloon in anticipation of the newest Wings of Fire? How about Birchbark for Killers of the Flower Moon, or Once Upon a Crime for the creepy classic, Rebecca? Or maybe you'll head to Magers and Quinn for a newer classic, The Great Believers?
Or maybe you're working, or digging in the (muddy [snowy?]) dirt, or riding the bleachers at a child's doubleheader. If you can't get out and about in your neighborhood, there's always the internet's busy streets. Specifically, you might try Belt Publishing for the Minneapolis-superfan's Under Purple Skies.
Buying independent is an excellent way to make manifest your belief in the restorative value of books and the invigorating power of independent bookstores.
It's true that books are expensive and can be borrowed—for free—from the library (libraries!). But good books are forever: You read them once or twice or more. You read them aloud to those you love. You lend them to those you trust. You gush over them with acquaintances and hate on them with strangers. You revisit the phrases, the characters, the scenes, the stories—and the images and feelings they invoke—over the years of your life. And good books make those years so much better.
And bad books? They're the worst. But even bad books deserve a second life in more appreciative hands. So sell back A Little Life and The Flamethrowers to the used bookstore, and try to remember that the books we hate also give us something to think over and question, and that's a lot.
Find your Minnesota-specific guide to Independent Bookstore Day at Rain Taxi or Twin Cities Geek. And reserve Saturday for spending money on the booksellers, bookstores, book publishers, book printers, and, of course, the authors that entertain, educate, delight, and, sometimes, astound us.
It's hard to find the time for in-depth project review. It's harder to adopt the can-do attitude necessary for efficiently editing a project. But it's hardest of all to realize that in the time you've taken to review and edit, your collaborator has changed your working version of a project draft.
Collaboration is a fact of life. Like all worthwhile (group) work, it requires time, energy, and the wherewithal to relocate your personal sense of value away from effort and onto the project itself.
Whether it’s a team of two cowriting a book or a team of eight running a nonprofit, effective project collaboration requires open communication, adherence to work flow, and the right tools for the work.
Zoho and Github, which are but a few comprehensive integrative solutions for small businesses, are fine. But they’re not necessary for good project-specific collaboration. Google Docs and Dropbox Paper speak to this purpose, but not as persuasively as Microsoft 365.
Google Docs is free, accessible, and has many text-based and formatting features. But it requires good, stable internet access, and although it offers excellent note-taking features, it can be frustrating to use when working with others on high-stakes docs.
Dropbox Paper is also free and accessible, with a simple modern interface and superior media integration (making it a great option for collaborative design). But its simplicity means it lacks all but the most basic text and formatting features.
Docs and Paper include tools for collaboration (edits, suggestions, comments, chat), but these tools are so integral to the apps that they sometimes cause new problems. Google Docs, in particular, can cause maddening frustrations when various contributors actively edit and comment at the same time.
To solve some of these problems, consider Microsoft 365. It’s a hypercapable version of Word that offers the same collaborative tools as Docs and Paper, including tools for real-time collaboration (“coauthoring” in Word terminology), but as a supportive feature, not a main function.
Tools for efficient collaboration are meant to streamline group work and laborious back-and-forth exchanges. Sometimes, though, collaboration is overvalued. When it's too easy to invite in contributors, too necessary to chat about inconsequential details, and too typical to duplicate work, it's time to try something else. In these cases, consider using an app that fosters (and rewards) a clear and clearly communicated work flow, builds in the space for engaged work, and creates the distance in which everyone can take a project-first approach.
We typically offer suggestions for nuts-and-bolts practicality: Schedule your project! Create a flow chart! Try a cool app! Read a great book! But we don’t typically talk about what this practicality serves. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s not really your “project,” it’s actually your goal.
While “goals” are somewhat tainted by association with “objectives,” “targets,” “ambitions,” and other jargon-adjacent terms, goals still serve to concretize aims and aspirations. Goals still imply the promise of attainment (and therefore invoke the necessity of strategy).
A goal is hard to make because, once stated, we assume responsibility for achievement. For big projects, when just getting started feels like responsibility enough, stating a goal can feel paradoxically too small and too big. That's why we frequently hear demurrals in the form of “let’s just get going” or “let’s just see how things turn out” or “let’s take the first step."
But in our experience, a project becomes more doable, and ultimately more efficiently successful, when writers take the time to define their goals and (in what can be a bit of a thought experiment) to create a strategy for realization.
When approaching your own project and determining your own goals, you may be tempted to take your cue from productivity wonks and their SMART methodology (goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely). But such specificity is not really required, and it can sometimes become a subversive avoidance tactic. Instead, ask yourself what your project must do out in the world for you to consider it a success. Then push yourself to answer this question in concrete terms.
It is certainly possible to start your project without a goal—for some lucky people, it’s not an external goal that motivates, it's the necessity of realizing something more like an internal vision. But for most people, it’s much easier to finish your project and launch it into the world when you know exactly where you’re aiming.
Although the push for efficient productivity seems to be waning, the desire to discover a new app, method, or model to spur a project to completion will always wax. We’ve read lots of books and implemented lots of models, and—lucky for you!—we’ve discovered the secret.
The best way to finish a project is also the simplest: First, define your audience, your message, and your method. Then, create a shared calendar or timeline. Third, stick to it.
Project completion is often obstructed by too many people knowing too little. This is a variation on the old too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen trope. Typically, the issue is not that there are too many bodies working over one stove, it’s that few of these bodies can be considered “cooks,” and none of them are working with a recipe.
Do better by designating yourself the chef and creating a recipe that anyone can follow. In terms of a project, this means straightforwardly defining—but then recording and sharing—your specific audience, your message to them, and the most efficient, most welcome form of delivery.
For a nonprofit communications project, this might mean that after you determine a fundraising goal, you identify your supporters most likely to contribute to that goal, and then develop a social media-based fundraising campaign and marketing collateral that will reach and reward them. For a coauthored book project, this might mean that after you determine a self-help-book goal, you determine readers most likely to be moved by your message, and then develop an organization scheme that will reach and resonate with them.
If you want to finish a project with a minimum of detours, it’s necessary to do this relatively low-effort work. If also necessary to create—and to record and share—a calendar or timeline.
We’ve frequently discussed calendars in terms of editorial calendars—and those are great. However, our nonprofit and book-making clients are often overwhelmed by the inputs required by the editorial-calendar format. For these clients—and for you—a calendar can be as simple as an auto-formatted Google Sheet that breaks down the calendar you’re already using in a more granular, more accountability-fostering way.
Ultimately, project completion requires getting back to basics: Defining and sharing your audience, your message, and your method ensures everyone is on the same page. Putting together a project calendar will provoke participation, and sticking to it promises completion.
English PhD, former arts administrator, obsessive cook, native East Coaster, mom to two rabblerousers.
English PhD, former high school teacher, obsessive organizer, native Midwesterner, mom to three troublemakers.