Happiness, if the long and prosperous history of the self-help genre is any indication, is generally considered a fundamental human aim. If we aren’t feeling it, and we aren’t striving for it, then we’re doing something wrong.
But is that really true? Is it necessary to be happy—or, hold up, let me tamp down the intensity of that verb—to even try to be happy in order to make the most of the time and the opportunities we’re given?
It’s an open question, and one I’ve always considered myself too much of a realist to ask (particularly on days when my kids seem too young, my work seems too hard, the weather seems too bad, the politics seem too ugly, and the internet seems like too deep a void). Of course I (er, you) don’t have to be happy to live a fulfilled life! Sometimes (often?), happiness is too high a bar.
And yet I can’t not notice that I’m always in an at least passive pursuit of a lifestyle shift that promises a smarter, stronger, faster, more productive, more in-the-moment, more…happier…me.
Given this gap, I turned to The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking with curiosity. I had been researching manifestos and their connection to the can-do, imperative-voiced enthusiasm of today’s self-help books. I needed the break, and Oliver Burkeman’s critique of American-style positive thinking provided the medicine (wink [eyeroll]).
In The Antidote, Burkeman charms with a gently dry (and indubitably British) approach to analysis. Case in point: He introduces his subject while gathering intel at a popular business motivational seminar, Get Motivated! in San Antonio, Texas. There, Burkeman is swept up in Dr. Robert H. Schuller’s importation to “cut the word ‘impossible’ out of your life! Cut it out! Cut it out forever!” Then Burkeman notes, with well-timed irony, that mere months after Dr. Schuller whipped up an audience of fifteen thousand into believing that nothing—NOTHING!—was impossible, Schuller’s church, the largest church in the United States, filed for bankruptcy (“a word,” Burkeman says, that Dr. Schuller “had apparently neglected to eliminate from his vocabulary”).
Drawing on pop psychology and Pema Chodron-style Buddhism (especially the exceedingly comfortable When Things Fall Apart), Burkeman argues that trying to eliminate words like “impossible” from our vocabularies is, in fact, impossible. It does absolutely nothing to stave off associated feelings or events, and it hopelessly complicates happiness's path.
We’re unhappy, Burkeman argues, because we’ve defined negativity as an obstacle and have single-mindedly focused on clearing our path of all impediments. Instead, we should look to the classical tenets of Stoicism and the Buddhist acceptance of egoless-ness. These paradigms teach us that there is no such thing as an easy and unhampered way.
Indeed, attempting to reject the word “impossible” and its brethren (uncertainty, insecurity…bankruptcy) is utterly futile: It simply makes their presence all the more insurmountable. We would make our way a bit easier, according to Burkeman, by getting to know—so that we can get good and comfortable with navigating—our fears, our worries, and our sadnesses.
The Antidote offers a solace uncommon in self-help: It doesn’t urge, doesn’t exhort, doesn’t try to persuade, doesn’t offer any sort of goal-setting rubric. It argues against affirmations, against a hyper-focus on what we want, on what we desire, and on what we long to accomplish. Instead, it explores the possibility that we live our happiest life when we live our fullest life. And that means recognizing failure, sadness, and even death not as invisible or as enemies, but as possible friends.
In this way, the path toward happiness in Burkeman's book turns backwards.
For organizations or departments that don't have a dedicated project manager, it's no small thing to get big comms projects out the door. In our last post, we talked about how not to let the actual writing process gum up the works—namely, by allowing adequate time for writing and editing, and by uncoupling the writing process from the design process.
While that advice may be easy to heed in theory, it can be tricky in practice: Creating large documents involves tracking a lot of moving parts, including points of collaboration and project dependencies that can be challenging to accurately time. That's why creating a detailed, realistic project timeline at the outset of any big writing project is key.
Luckily, there are a lot of tools that can help—many of them free. If you're new to creating project timelines, you can start simple: Microsoft offers a free template for Excel that's incredibly easy to use (if devoid of bells and whistles).
The template allows you to enter dates, tasks or milestones, and people, and to manipulate the visual representation to optimize its readability.
Depending on the project or document management system used by your organization, you may already have tools you can configure to create project timelines. Sharepoint, for instance, offers a customizable project task list; and online tools such as Trello offer options for making more complex Gantt-style project roadmaps.
Whatever route you take, developing a project timeline for big writing projects will make your life easier, and your final product better.
The stakes are usually high for big communications projects such as stakeholder reports, grant applications, websites, and training manuals. These kinds of projects are often closely linked to an organization's core mission, and they require a significant outlay of resources.
In an ideal world, big projects are planned far in advance, with adequate staff time and budget. In the real world, organizations are often faced with making the best of less-than-ideal conditions for getting big communications out the door. The result? Sub-par or error-riddled documents, harried staff, and dubious stakeholders.
Even if you find yourself in those less-than-ideal circumstances (as most of us do, maybe even most of the time), there are still ways to ensure that you end up with the best final product, created in the most efficient, sanity-saving manner possible.
As project managers know, creating a detailed (and realistic) project timeline is key. One of the biggest pitfalls is leaving inadequate time for writing, or trying to integrate the writing and design stages. Too often, we see organizations trying to wrap up projects where significant revision is still taking place.
Case in point: How often have you found yourself editing sections of a report that's already laid out in an InDesign file? While a looming deadline may necessitate that backtracking, it's not only inefficient, but it risks introducing new errors or design requirements if changes to text have to be subsequently inputted into the master document. This can be especially laborious for technical documents with dense text, where precision is paramount.
The upshot? Give your writers adequate time to write, revise, and finalize their work early in the project timeline--before moving into the design and publication phase. The more polished the text at the outset, the more smoothly the final phases of the project will go—and the more likely you'll be to wrap on time and on budget, with your sanity intact and a stellar final product.
In a future post, we'll offer some models for writing project timelines, to demonstrate what this looks like on the ground.
Even though text is everywhere, seeping into every corner of our consciousness and flooding our lives, books (if they're good) still have this magic ability to float above the flotsam in a way that online pubs never can.
That's why we publish books, and that's why we do everything we can to make them great.
But the publishing world has changed so much in the past five (ten [twenty]) years, it’s hard to know how to define exactly what it means when we describe Double Shift Press as a “full-service” press.
What we’re discovering is that full-service accrues a little more complexity—and a little more refinement—with each project.
For some authors, it means we help foster their most persistent, won’t-leave-‘em-alone idea. It means we create a plan, including research, for a book that can really—and really compellingly—share that idea. For others, it means that an author independently follows a plan we set forth, returning the manuscript for copyediting, design, and printing. Or it means that we work the plan while an author accumulates more material through interviews or research.
With some authors, full-service means that we work one-on-one with them to build out each chapter. We provide relevant research or help in guiding or conducting interviews. We participate in writing, organizing, and polishing the manuscript. And we may even help to attract an agent or a traditional publisher.
For still other authors, full-service means something else entirely. Maybe they already have a draft and want to develop a book for a very specific purpose—like launching a speaking series or a workshop course. Maybe they have a thin manuscript and want to integrate a co-author. Maybe they have a disability and can’t get the book in their brain out on the screen. Maybe they already have an edited manuscript and just need design, printing, or distributing services.
We launched Double Shift Press to ensure that authors with incredible ideas are totally supported as they write, design, publish, and distribute books with a bit of magic. Full-service means that we do whatever it takes to float these books above the flotsam.
English PhD, former arts administrator, obsessive cook, native East Coaster, and mom to two rabblerousers.
English PhD, former high school teacher, obsessive organizer, native Midwesterner, and mom to three troublemakers.