Accidental Genius by Mark Levy - Read Online
Accidental Genius
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Editor’s Note

“Creativity unleashed…”The best brainstorming sessions all start with the caveat that there are no bad ideas. “Accidental Genius” encourages the same for writing, allowing for brilliance to stem from uninhibited creativity.
Scribd Editor



When it comes to creating ideas, we hold ourselves back. That’s because inside each of us is an internal editor whose job is to forever polish our thoughts so we sound smart and in control and so we fit into society.

But what happens when we encounter problems where such conventional thinking fails us? How do we get unstuck?

For Mark Levy, the answer is freewriting, a technique he’s used for years to solve all types of business problems and generate ideas for books, articles, and blog posts.

Freewriting is deceptively simple: start writing as fast as you can, for as long as you can, about a subject you care deeply about, while ignoring the standard rules of grammar and spelling. Your internal editor won’t be able to keep up with your output—you’ll generate breakthrough ideas and solutions that you couldn’t have created any other way.

Levy shares his six secrets to freewriting as well as fifteen problem-solving and creativity-stimulating principles you can use if you need more firepower—seven of which are new to this edition. Also new to this edition: an extensive section on how to refine your raw freewriting into something you can share with the world.
Published: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. on
ISBN: 9781605096520
List price: $17.95
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More Praise for Accidental Genius

Mark Levy teaches readers a wonderful mental technology, freewriting, that helps you dive deep into your unconscious to discover treasures, like your next business venture, marketing campaign, or movie script. This book is a must for all who need to reach their most precious assets.

—B. J. Bueno, founder of The Cult Branding Company and coauthor of The Power of Cult Branding

One of the best books I’ve ever read on unlocking your thoughts—your chatter—and turning them into something powerful and meaningful. I’m recommending it to all my clients.

—Jerry Colonna, cofounder of the venture capital firm Flatiron Partners and executive coach

"Mark Levy is the creative force behind all my live magic shows, television appearances, newspaper interviews, and even my book. We use the techniques he explains in Accidental Genius to explore surprising ways of presenting magic. By following the techniques in this expanded edition of Mark’s book, you’ll learn how to create your own miracles in whatever realm of life you work."

—Steve Cohen, The Millionaires’ Magician, cocreator of Chamber Magic, the longest running one-man show in New York City

Mark Levy’s techniques for breaking the dam to unleash ideas and solutions, words and pages, are brilliant, quirky, and doable. I love this book.

—Debbie Weil, corporate social media consultant and author of The Corporate Blogging Book

I devoured the second edition in one sitting, even though I had to pee really badly near the end. Mark made a great book even better. I’ll apply what I learned to improve my thinking and writing process starting today.

—David Meerman Scott, author of The New Rules of Marketing & PR

Follow Mark Levy’s principles and the words will soon be flowing out of your brain and onto your paper, from there to do your bidding and accomplish your purpose. Buy this book. Free your mind.

—B. Joseph Pine II, coauthor of The Experience Economy and Authenticity

This book is the must-have writing book of the decade. Levy has crafted an actionable, dynamic, and inspiration-filled how-to manual for becoming an accidental genius writer. Thought leaders, universities, marketers, and creatives will find this book invaluable for generating new ideas and powerful content no matter what the vertical.

—Nettie Hartsock, founder of The Hartsock Agency and author of Fire Your Publicist!

"In Accidental Genius, Mark has created a playground where words are used to creatively solve problems. Mark has a unique style that takes the fear out of exploring new ideas and unlocks the reader’s imagination to safely experience untried possibilities."

—Toby Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Marketing and author of the Diva Marketing blog

When I arrived at Mark Levy’s doorstep, I had a head full of ideas, a life of experiences, and the inability to commit any of it to writing. Like waving a magician’s wand, I quickly produced a book using the exercises in Mark’s book. You owe it to your legacy to get it all out on paper. Do it!

—Christina Harbridge, author of Your Professionalism Is Killing You

Want to generate innovative ideas, one-of-a-kind insights, and clear, compelling content that profit you and your organization? Write this way. Mark Levy’s brilliant book is packed with I-can-use-that-right-now techniques that get your best thoughts out of your head and onto the page. Read it and reap.

—Sam Horn, speaker, consultant, and author of POP! Create the Perfect Pitch, Title, and Tagline for Anything

"Accidental Genius can change your life. Really. Mark’s ideas will help you open up remarkable ‘aha’ possibilities for your business, for your writing, and for what you should really being doing with your life."

—Lois Kelly, author of Beyond Buzz and the Dying to Help blog

Mark Levy has penned the book that solves the problems all writers and people in general face: they get stuck. Mark does a truly spectacular job of showing you how to unleash genius. Many of these ideas I’ve used for two decades to author twenty books—I will use them to write my next twenty. This book is a gift for all those who have the desire to share their thoughts with the world—and with themselves.

—Kevin Hogan, author of The 168 Hour Week and The Psychology of Persuasion

When we need to generate content or solve a problem, most of us sit down and think about it. Levy gives us an alternative approach. Rather than laboriously forcing ideas, his process provides a vehicle for thoughts to flow freely. The result? Powerful new ideas and a compelling way of communicating them. The process becomes easy, creative, and enjoyable, enabling us to generate content we can’t wait to share.

—Larina Kase, PsyD, MBA, author of The Confident Leader and coauthor of the New York Times bestseller The Confident Speaker

Freewriting has become my secret weapon. I use it every day to work my way through problems and find new, creative solutions, to summon wisdom and guidance that I didn’t know I had, and to imagine possibilities that once seemed out of reach. I use it with my clients to leverage their inherent knowledge and intelligence to guide them in their businesses. Mark’s book does more than get you writing. His exercises and prompts unlock your creative genius. It’s straightforward and entertaining, and most importantly it is wildly inspiring. Fasten your seatbelt. Once you start freewriting you don’t know where you’ll end up—and you’ll certainly never go back.

—Kate Purmal, founder of Kate Purmal Consulting and a former executive with SanDisk and Palm

"Accidental Genius is essential reading for all who want to plumb the depths of their creativity and wisdom––and send their inner editor on vacation. Which should be everybody."

—Lloyd Dangle, cartoonist and author of Troubletown

"Accidental Genius makes us realize that we squander our greatest asset: our creativity. New businesses, new successes, and new profits never blossom because people let their good ideas die on the vine. Levy deftly teaches how to help your ideas come alive and bloom into books, products, companies, and more. The simple methods in this book bring forth the magic in our minds and show us how to grab it, plant it, cultivate it, and grow something new under the sun."

—Nick Corcodilos, founder of

Mark Levy’s simple yet revolutionary writing tips are about to awaken your genius so you can accomplish the things you want to in life. Your genius is waiting!

—Thomas Clifford, Fast Company Expert Blogger and corporate communications producer

"Accidental Genius is a work of genius—but not accidental. Mark’s wit, wisdom, and world-wise years of hard work are delivered with an eloquent sophistication of simplicity that informs, educates, and entertains. Anyone who reads this will benefit greatly—writers, marketers, PR professionals, business leaders, sales, and more. Buy this book. Read it. Use it. Awaken the genius within."

—Steve Kayser, editor of the online business magazine Cincom Expert Access

Whoever said ‘geniuses are born, not made’? Well, I did, until this incredible book! It took Mark Levy not just to tell us all to ‘be remarkable’ but to show us how! Where were you when I started out twenty-five years ago? Well, at least we’ve got it now.

—Bill Schley, author of The Micro-Script Rules and Why Johnny Can’t Brand



Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content


Accidental Genius

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Andrew Levy

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed Attention: Permissions Coordinator, at the address below.

Ordering information for print editions

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Berrett-Koehler and the BK logo are registered trademarks of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Second Edition

Paperback print edition ISBN 978-1-60509-525-7

PDF e-book ISBN 978-1-60509-651-3

IDPF e-book ISBN 978-1-60509-652-0


Text designer: Detta Penna

Copyeditor: Joy Matkowski

Proofreader: Katherine Lee

Indexer: Kirsten Kite

Cover designer: Ian Shimkoviak/The Book Designers

Cover photo: Shutterstock


Introduction Your Mind Is Bigger Than You Think

Part One The Six Secrets to Freewriting

1. Secret #1: Try Easy

2. Secret #2: Write Fast and Continuously

3. Secret #3: Work against a Limit

4. Secret #4: Write the Way You Think

5. Secret #5: Go with the Thought

6. Secret #6: Redirect Your Attention

Part Two: Powerful Refinements

7. Idea as Product

8. Prompt Your Thinking

9. Open Up Words

10. Escape Your Own Intelligence

11. The Value in Disconnecting

12. Using Assumptions to Get Unstuck

13. Getting a Hundred Ideas Is Easier Than Getting One

14. Learn to Love Lying

15. Hold a Paper Conversation

16. Drop Your Mind on Paper

17. The Writing Marathon

18. Doubt Yourself

19. The Magic of Exact Writing

20. Extract Gold from a Business Book

21. You Are What You Focus On

Part Three: Going Public

22. Sharing Your Unfinished Thoughts

23. Help Others Do Their Best Thinking

24. Notice Stories Everywhere

25. Build an Inventory of Thoughts

26. Write Your Own Rules

27. The Fascination Factor

28. Freewrite Your Way to Finished Prose




About Mark Levy

The act of writing stimulates thought, so when you

cannot think of anything to write, start writing anyway.

Barbara Fine Clouse, Working It Out:

A Troubleshooting Guide for Writers


Your Mind Is Bigger Than You Think

Let’s talk about your mind. It holds more than you could imagine in terms of experiences, stories, images, and ideas. Want proof? Just think about all the phenomena that appear in your mind without you willing it there.

Take dreams. You don’t command them into being, nor do you steer their surreal content. Yet your dreams emerge from somewhere.

Memories act the same way. You’re in the kitchen preparing soup and remember a day from childhood when your family was eating steak. You didn’t summon that memory. It showed up on its own.

Other types of thoughts also turn up without help. You’re sitting in traffic when the answer to a computer problem hits you. How did that happen? You weren’t thinking about the computer problem, but your mind created the thought and somehow pushed it into existence.

Those dreams, memories, and thoughts didn’t come from outside of you. You generated them through means hidden from you.

Our minds hold a vast invisible inventory of thoughts and expertise. These phenomena might better help us create ideas and solve problems if we could only reach them, play with them, develop them, and make them practical.

That, then, is what Accidental Genius is about: It teaches you how to get at what’s inside your head, so you can convert the raw material of your thoughts into something usable, even extraordinary.

How do I propose to help you get to these extraordinary ideas of yours? Through writing. Or, more specifically, through something called freewriting.

Freewriting is one of the most valuable skills I know. It’s a way of using your body to get mechanical advantage over your mind, so your mind can do its job better.

As expansive and impressive as the mind is, it’s also lazy. Left to its own devices, it recycles tired thoughts, takes rutted paths, and steers clear of unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory. You could say that one of its primary jobs is to shut off, even when there’s important thinking to be done.

Freewriting prevents that from happening. It pushes the brain to think longer, deeper, and more unconventionally than it normally would. By giving yourself a handful of liberating freewriting rules to follow, you back your mind into a corner where it can’t help but come up with new thoughts. You could call freewriting a form of forced creativity.

This technique will work for you even if you don’t consider yourself a gifted writer or thinker. The writing itself generates thought, which is why some refer to this technique as automatic writing. It often produces intriguing results without labored effort on the part of the writer. At times, the thoughts seem to pop up on their own.

How Did I Come across Freewriting?

It was 1995 or so, and I got a call from a friend who edited a local entertainment newspaper. He told me that one of my rock ‘n roll heroes, Paul Weller, was coming to perform in nearby New York City, and would I want a free ticket?

Would I! Weller, a Brit, hadn’t toured America for years. Who knew when he’d return? Of course I wanted a ticket. The catch? I had to review the concert for my friend’s paper.

Writing a concert review might not seem like a big deal, but I hadn’t written anything in a decade. Did I still know how to write? Even if I did know, how do you describe music? (The drum went bum-bum, bum-bum, bum-bum?) Still, I took the assignment.

The concert wasn’t happening for a week, so to prepare, I pulled a paperback off my bookshelf that I’d never gotten around to reading, Peter Elbow’s Writing with Power. Its premise was wild: Even if you thought you were blocked and didn’t know what to say, you could produce reams of