Book Review: The Nerdist Way

The Book

The Nerdist Way is a self-help book directed at nerds and written by comedian/host/podcaster/etc. Chris Hardwick.

As I’ve mentioned, I’m a big fan of The Nerdist podcast and Chris Hardwick, and with the many time management issues, bad habits and self-doubts that accompany the process of developing any craft, I decided it couldn’t hurt to pick up Hardwick’s book for some advice on how best to target and use my strengths to reach my goal of becoming a published author. The Nerdist Way isn’t directed at any particular craft; it’s a general guide for leveraging your particular talents.

The book is split into three parts: Mind, Body and Time. The Mind section is all about figuring out who you are and using that information to make informed decisions. It also deals with self-awareness, confidence and anxiety issues. The Body section deals with…well, the body. It provides workout and nutritional tips. The logic for this section is that most nerds aren’t comfortable in their own skin, aren’t in shape, and deserve to feel good. The Time section provides tips on time management and organization.

As you might have deduced from the title, the voice is consistently nerdy, using examples and methods drawn from gaming, nerd pop culture and comics, for instance.

The Review

I probably could’ve used this book about five years ago, when I wasn’t on psycho tunnel vision mode with my book/writing, and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do or if I was capable of doing anything. But I read the parts that didn’t necessarily apply to me because they presented unique and entertaining methods for figuring out my strengths, developing and applying them, and ultimately using this knowledge to my advantage. Coming up with a character sheet was a big one in the Mind section. I didn’t try it, but I think I might. And then I’ll share it with you so you can laugh at me.

Personally, the Time section proved most useful for the current stage of my development. I have horrible time sinks and that’s how I end up doing a lot of stuff at the last minute or getting behind on my writing. The book suggested I track the use of my time–every second of it–to see where it goes. I didn’t try any of the cited time management resources listed in the book, but I made a spreadsheet myself and tested it at work.

Wherein S.Z. realizes she’s more psychotically competitive than she thought…

When I started tracking the use of my time I felt a familiar, but magnified, urge. The urge to beat my competitor. Beat it to a pulp. My competitor, in this case, being time. I didn’t want to see “Interneting–1.5 hours” on that spreadsheet. I wouldn’t let time get the best of me! And that’s how I left the office with an ulcer and a headache. But my god was my desk spotless.

AMIDOINITRITE?

I think I would need heavy medication or spa certificates before trying the every-second tracking system again, but I might give it another go for the evenings when I work on my writing projects. I did learn that my work day is peppered with interruptions and urgent requests, and that a lot of my time goes into catering to “emergencies.” Much of my day job involves writing copy. Imagine trying to write a short story and having someone repeatedly burst into your workspace and take you away from your project to do something completely unrelated. I’m seriously considering investing in a “Do Not Disturb” sign for days when I have a backlog of releases to write.

Hardwick’s Gonna Pump You Up! But not me. I didn’t read the Body section. That’s right, I did not read it. There was a time when I was a health nut and tried to change my eating habits and do everything right, but I’ve slipped into a comfortable system that works for me and, at this point, I’m burnt out on health/fitness advice.

Also, I could pop someone’s head clean off his or her neck with the power of my Cardio Barre® thighs.

I did skim over the section and the little bears working out were cute.

Overall, there were some topics I appreciated (particularly related to bombing and breaking through “the wall”–both difficult trials for writers), but also a few bits of advice I couldn’t really embrace. I couldn’t get behind the whole diversify your employment ideology. In a time where many American’s can’t even find one job, I’m not ready to quit the old 9 to 5. In my case, it is not riskier to have one job. And that’s fine because when it comes to self-help books some things might work for you, some things might not.

I also occasionally wondered if I was the right demographic for the book. Here’s where I admit I’m not your usual nerd.

I don’t obsess over things so much as I schizophrenically flit from one interest to another, barely retaining anything (except when it comes to writing). I wasn’t part of the AV club, the chess club, the anime club, any sort of math/science club (terrible at both, went into college a biology major–thought I’d be a Birute Galdikas–left college with a B.A. in English). I was more of a theater geek/bookworm in high school. I’m terrible at nerd/pop culture trivia. The only video/computer games I ever enjoyed were WoW and Paper Mario. I’m a Street Fighter button masher. I had friends who played D&D, but I couldn’t handle the idea of being competitive in a social setting. Didn’t read many comic books growing up (even though Mini Melt Too was right down the street from my high school).

Yeah, so some of the stuff in the book didn’t click with me. No biggie. Then I came across this statement: “Writing a book isn’t that hard, honestly.” And everything went black.

S.Z. Smash!!

Not sure how I got doused with water and blood, but I toweled off and finished reading.

I’m still not 100% sold on the self-help book concept, but it has worked for many. It was also nice to read a self-help book that didn’t sound pompous. Some motivational speakers and writers come off like god vomited into their mouths and they’re basically regurgitating all-knowing holy scripture. And Chris Hardwick did propel himself out of boozy stagnancy to become a highly successful professional with a growing empire, so it’s not like you’re getting advice from some random dude cranked out by Motivational Depot.

The Gist

I’d recommend The Nerdist Way if you are in the nerd(-y -ist -wad) demographic and want to do something with your life, but aren’t sure what, why or how.

I wouldn’t say you NEED this book if you’re a writer. I would still suggest Stephen King’s On Writing. I’m also about to purchase Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing, by Margaret Atwood because I am loving the heck out of The Robber Bride so far.

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Book Review: “The Passage” by Justin Cronin

"The Passage"Remember my post about how I needed to avoid “epic” while editing my novel-in-progress? While I may get a little overblown with story arcs, points of view and sprawling backstory, Justin Cronin is a genius at all of these things–he does epic right.

The Story    

“The Passage” is  a vampire suspense novel…but not in the traditional sense. You won’t find any darkly handsome, sparkly, charismatic creatures lurking in these pages. Cronin’s vampires are destructive beasts–science experiments gone wrong. Through infection and carnage, these creatures threaten mankind and civilization. With the help of a strong cast of supporting characters, the main character, Amy, is charged with the task of solving the problem of the monsters and saving what’s left of the human race. Unfolding over a century, with another book to come, this story defines epic.

The Review

I couldn’t put the book down. Toward the end, I stayed up until 2 a.m. on a workday because I was hooked, and then had to pull the covers over my ears so the monsters wouldn’t get me. It’s the kind of disaster that could actually happen; the story pulled a number on my imagination.

Cronin did an amazing job with the characters. They each had their own story and personality; there was no homogeneity amongst them. He drew out their character and purpose organically–one of the most challenging tasks a writer faces. I found myself emotionally invested in the characters, rooting for them to get through the nightmare and come out on top.

If you aren’t a fan of religious allusion, you might be a bit annoyed by some parts of the story. I’m pretty secular, but the biblical stuff didn’t bother me. It had its purpose. My only issue with the writing–Cronin uses the word “hardpan” about 5 million times. In case you haven’t already noticed, repetition is one of my little pet peeves. But I’m just as culpable when I’m writing.

What I Learned

There is little more powerful than a compelling character. This truth goes beyond the novel, of course. Just think about the television shows you most enjoy. If I don’t care about, or feel connected to, any of the main characters in a show, I’m not going to watch it (think 2009 television series, “V”). “The Passage” reminded me that every character should be strong. It’s all too easy to artlessly plunk someone into a story as little more than a device, but laziness is a disadvantage in writing; readers will pick up on it. Because the story often pulled me away from the main character for huge chunks of the book, the other characters had to be just as compelling.

Overall, I highly recommend this novel. If you’re ordering it on Amazon, be sure to pick up one of these as well.