On a five mile run last week, I listened to the entire book (1.75 speed on the Overdrive app), Make Your Bed, by Admiral William H. McRaven.
As a writer, here are seven lessons I learned while listening to the book:
1. Make your bed literally and figuratively.
Make your bed in the morning. It is a small task, but the first of many little things to give you a sense of accomplishment throughout the day.
Write and publish something every day. Even a tweet will do.
I’ve been publishing something to this personal blog, which I call the Daily Learning Log, every day. It is a part of my morning routine. It is a small task. It only takes me 10-20 minutes, but I can go through the day knowing that I have written and published at least one thing today. This has a domino effect on the other projects I will tackle throughout the day.
2. A bestselling book doesn’t have to be long.
Again, I listened to this book during one run. The book is very short, but very popular and very effective.
The definition of a book has nothing to do with a word count. Books can be long and they can be short. This one was very short and it became very popular.
3. A speech is a perfect way to test a book idea.
The book was an expanded form of a commencement speech Admiral McRaven gave at his alma mater. The speech is included in the book as well. Many of the same stories are there. The speech became very popular and it gave the book a proof of concept.
A lot of other authors have written books based on talks. Austin Kleon’s books start out as talks. I had a lot of success testing out ideas for books as I wrote them. A short, live video I created last year became the basis for my next book.
4. One voice can change the world.
In the book, McRaven describes a story in which one of his companions started to sing a song to keep the group from quitting. One voice inspired another and then another until the entire group was singing. This kept them together and unable to quit.
In his commencement speech he talks about the math of changing the lives of just two people can create a catalyst of change for twice as many people until millions are helped.
A book or a piece of writing only needs to inspire two people who, in turn, help two more people.
5. You have no excuse not to write everyday.
Work hard. You may not be in the military, but you have no excuse not to work hard every day.
6. Find a companion to push you through the hardest projects and you both will become the best.
McRaven tells the story of a companion who was constantly forced to do extra training every day because they both were failing their trials during the day. The extra work paid off and in a swim test at the end of their training, they were stronger and faster than anyone else. The real lesson of the story, though, is that they did this together. They were together during the hard times and in the success. They pushed one another to succeed.
J. R. R. Tolkein and C. S. Lewis had each other and the other members of the Inklings. Look at the top writers in any genre today and they will know their colleagues in their genre well and keep each other accountable. Don’t try to be a solitary writer. Reach out to others trying to accomplish the same things you are.
7. Use a simple format for nonfiction: lesson/rule/principle + story + reflection.
Why does such a short book work so well?
The format is simple. He starts with a lesson, then immediately tells a story from his experience in the military. He offers some short reflection on the story and even some additional stories to prove the point. It is a simple, yet universal format that works for nonfiction.
Here is the original Instagram post I published immediately after finishing the book:
7 Lessons I learned from Make Your Bed by Admiral William H. McRaven (A book I read in a single 5 mile run on 1.75 speed on Overdrive) As a writer, here are seven lessons I learned while listening to the book: 1. Make your bed literally and figuratively. Write and publish something every day. Even a tweet will do. 2. A bestselling book doesn’t have to be long. 3. A speech is a perfect way to test a book idea. 4. One voice can change the world. 5. You have no excuse not to write everyday. Work hard. 6. Find a companion to push you through the hardest projects and you both will become the best. 7. Use a simple format for nonfiction: lesson/rule/principle + story + reflection. #makeyourbed #amwriting #amreading #navyseals #bookrecommendations #bookstagram #bookworm #audiobookstagram #businessbook #williamhmcraven #writersofinstagram #writersofinstagram #authorsofinstagram