Interview With Author Kourosh Dini

Please introduce yourself and your books!

Hi! My name is Kourosh Dini. I am a psychoanalyst and psychiatrist in private practice in downtown Chicago. My books are:
Creating Flow with OmniFocus
Workflow Mastery
Video Game Play and Addiction: A Guide for Parents

What are the real-life stories behind your books?

Though I’ve written several books, I don’t think I really set out to write any of them as books. I’d really just start writing. Those writings would then become books. I’ll explain…

My first book, Video Game Play and Addiction, began as a selfish endeavor. While a fellow in training for Child and Adolescent psychiatry, my colleagues would badmouth video games. Meanwhile, I’d been enjoying them since my early youth with the Atari 2600. Since I had to write a thesis of sorts in order to graduate, I decided to write about video games and how they weren’t inherently evil.  The presentation went well, and I even won over a few of the naysayers.  

A few conversations later, a colleague had recommended that I turn that presentation into a book. The whole idea seemed far-fetched. I’d never thought I could write a book. Who am I to write that much of anything?

But, I set time aside every morning to write. Just chipping away at it, a book’s worth of material appeared.

A couple of years later, I was still juggling a lot of different interests. I was establishing my medical practice, working at a hospital, while still playing the piano and the occasional video game. Further, I had just gotten married, and we just had our first kid.

I needed to get on top of it all.  I was never one to be terribly organized, and in fact, I would get lost in one thing or another from time to time.

To help me organize myself, I found two things. First was a book about productivity called Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen. The second was a program that eventually became OmniFocus created by The Omni Group. OmniFocus was originally designed as a way to implement GTD on a computer.

The program was initially not always intuitive for the new user. However, I persisted at using it and got to be pretty good at it. Online, I’d read comments from others who complained of a steep learning curve. I became worried that because others were not “getting it”, the program might not do well and eventually be abandoned. I again felt the need to defend something.

So I wrote a post on my blog about how to use it. That post was re-tweeted by the company making it, and suddenly I had a whole host of visitors at my site that I’d never had before.  It turned out there was quite an audience for people that were interested in learning how to use it.

A few posts later, I thought I could write a 50 page PDF to really explain the program from the ground up. As I wrote, those 50 pages became 90, then 200, then over 500 pages (albeit with lots of screenshots).

I realized I could just give it away. It would be much better to sell it as a book. So I set up a website and began to sell through an online service as an eBook. It did well. Two editions later, the book continues to do quite well even as the program has become much more user-friendly. It turns out that productive people often look for ways to be more productive.

I’ve since written and sold another book, Workflow Mastery and a video course called Being Productive.  I don’t think either would have sold nearly as well without the success of Creating Flow with OmniFocus despite them being every bit as solid of a resource. It’s just that the first book opened a door of credibility.

What inspires/inspired your creativity?

In terms of writing, my writings tend to begin as selfish enterprises.  The video game book was about getting other professionals to leave my hobby alone.  The productivity books were about me learning how to be productive for myself as well as making sure that the program I liked continued to be supported.

When writing, I’m mostly writing to myself. I’m just tickled that others find it helpful for themselves, too.

How do you deal with creative block?

I make sure that every day, I at least sit with the material. Meanwhile, I set as many distractions aside as I can.  If, during a session a work, I don’t write anything, that’s fine. The important thing is that I have spent some time fully and genuinely being with the material.

In other words, I’m not just thinking about it while doing something else. It’s not in the back of my mind while watching television or doing the dishes. It’s front and center at least once per day.

Writer’s block, procrastination, and the like are very emotionally driven. Sitting with the material allows me to directly confront those feelings, considering, for example, “What would it mean to me if I couldn’t write any more?”, “What does it mean if what I write is terrible?” and more.

Maybe the answer is to study writing more, (but not until after I’ve fully been with the work of writing this project). Maybe the answer is to realize that things can go awfully, but I’ll write anyway as it could benefit me anyway. Whatever the answer, sitting with the material and the associated feelings tends to let the work itself percolate to the forefront, and before I know it, I’m writing.

What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?

Personally, the biggest mistake is not visiting the work daily.  I find a daily visit to writing, or any creative enterprise for that matter, to be magical. Daily makes things happen.

I suppose the corollary to not making daily progress is not writing at all. You may be worried about it being of poor quality. Well, it may be! But at the very least, if you start writing, you’ll have learned something in the meantime.

I love the Hemingway comment, “The first draft of anything is shit.”  While its immediate meaning is that the first draft is not good, I also see a secondary meaning as referring to it as manure or fertilizer.  The first draft won’t be good, but it’s needed to make something good grow.

How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

I tend to not engage in a discussion when I see bad reviews. They’re better thought of as conversations with other potential readers, not me. Hopefully, the critics are clear about what did or didn’t work for them. They won’t always be, but I have no control over that.  

I believe there’s a goodness of fit between an individual and a book.  In fact, I think that “goodness of fit” is a better way of viewing most products, but unfortunately, we’re left with five star rating systems, top ten lists, and the like that seem to assume that there is some universal audience member.

That said, I try to learn what I can from negative comments or feedback. What they say may or may not be correct. I do not believe the customer is always right. However, I do think their concerns have merit somewhere. What they say may be more reflective of a feeling or idea that I would greatly benefit from paying attention to. Their criticism may not be pointing directly at a problem, but it may be indicative of a problem somewhere.

In the end, I’m much more receptive to someone who tries to speak with me directly. I welcome negative feedback. Often, there is much more of an opportunity to improve something than from positive feedback.

Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

It’s less of a balance and more of a blend. If I don’t serve myself, I’m certain that the writing will ring hollow. If I don’t have a sense of the reader, it will be useless to anyone but me. So long as I remain focused on seeking some truth, as well as the presentation of that truth, I’m writing well.

What role do emotions play in creativity?

Goodness… Emotions are simultaneously vital and confounding. They drive those writing with a fevered frenzy as well as someone in a paralyzed cycle of procrastination. Further, how we handle our emotions directly connects with how we can present any truth behind fictional characters or non-fiction concepts.

I doubt creativity exists without emotion. Creativity is the offspring of play. The spirit of play in turn is a flow of emotion and thought, conscious and unconscious, question and answer, intuition and agency.

Restating, without emotion there is no creativity.

Tell us some quirky facts about yourself

I play piano, guitar, and video games.  


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