The Familiar and the Unfamiliar

Do you have a favorite book title? One that is memorable and interesting, all the while telling you just what the book is about?

Here’s another perspective on what makes an ideal nonfiction book title. Previously I wrote that the ideal title employed two elements: content and creativity. You can also think of them as the familiar and the unfamiliar.
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Bad Title Strategies

If one of the most difficult tasks in publishing is coming up with a good concept for a book, surely a close second is coming up with a good nonfiction book title. It’s so hard that even when you are trying to do a good job you often end up making a baboon out of yourself. I’ll be saying more about titling in upcoming posts. For now, here are two opposite and equally bad directions to go in titling a book.
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The Frenetic, Jagged Pace

Last week I worked away from the office. I had a project that required large chunks of uninterrupted time. There was no way I was going to find that at work. So I left.

I’ve said before that my job is to be interrupted. And it is. As a manager, one of my primary tasks is to help others get their jobs done. Sometimes they can’t proceed until they have an answer to a question or a piece of information. My job is to grease the wheels of their workload so they can be as productive as possible. But sometimes I’m the one that needs to get something done. So twice in the last six months I’ve taken a week to work alone.

Even though it was work, just the different rhythm was refreshing. (And sometimes getting away is a source of great new ideas.) I find that emails, papers piling on my desk, phone calls, meetings, people at my office door—the frenetic, jagged pace of one hasty thing after another wears me down. Too often I have woken up in the middle of the night and not been able to go back to sleep for an hour or two—even when there are no major problems worrying me.

The feverish demands of work are not likely to diminish. They won’t go away. A fragile economy can only make us feel greater pressure to work harder and longer and faster. But we can control our pace rather than let it control us. Limits and boundaries and discipline are the tricks of that trade.

I have a couple friends who simply don’t do email—one because he won’t and the other because he can’t. (A true troglodyte.) They have the luxury, however, of having assistants through whom all their email come. Not all of us are so fortunate. But I can choose to limit when I do email at two or three times during the day rather than have it open and active every minute of every day.

What about when I’m on the road? The technology exists, of course, for me to be able to check my work email while I’m away from the office–at a conference, for example, or working offsite. But I’ve deliberately set a boundary by not asking our IT department to set me up with this capability. I don’t want to be wired (or, more accurately, wireless) 24/7.

I don’t text. I don’t twitter. Maybe someday I will, but I hope I’ll have limits on them if I do.

Why You Should Leave Work

Several years ago I loved reading The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes.

For my reading tastes it was the perfect combination of science, history, politics and World War II.

One thing that struck me, however, was how time and again during the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries brilliant physicists like Niels Bohr would get stuck on a problem for months or even years. After working tirelessly they finally were compelled to take a vacation and—boom (metaphorically)—the solution would come. Remarkably, the author never pointed out the pattern.
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