You’re a writer, you know how it is. You write. You have to write, not because it’s your job, but because it’s like breathing.Continue reading “Always Writing”
You’re a writer, you know how it goes. You think up an idea, you jot some notes, you toss it into a drawer somewhere…a drawer labeled whenever. If you’re like me, things go into the drawer, but never seem to come back out.
I have a huge, mondo-sized, drawer overflowing with ideas, all labeled “whenever.”Continue reading “No Step, No Journey”
Welcome to year three of the Five Years to Independence program. Or system, or scheme, or deal… what it’s called isn’t as important as what it is. What’s in a name?
Name notwithstanding, this is not a self-help program, or a get rich quick scheme. This is just a different way to view the road you’ve traveled, and to adjust your thinking to find success in the way ahead.
Here’s something I hadn’t considered but is true: although this program is meant to help you if you know you’re talented, have spent your life hiding from it, but now realize you must become who you are, this scheme actually works if you’re living on your talents, but want to move up to a higher plateau. I know this because I developed this thing to turn my own life around, and am now using it again to further my products (the novels Droppington Place and Marigold’s End). You marketers: did you see this shameless plug? Shameless.
Year one, as we recall, was the Year of No Regrets, in which you stopped whacking yourself upside the head for not having explored your talents when you were younger. You changed the way you looked at the past, recognizing that the road you took led you to this new road.
Year two was the Year of Confidence, in which you viewed yourself as the creative talent you know yourself to be. If you dance, in this year you become a dancer, or a writer, or a painter, or a videographer. The Year of Confidence is the year in which you stop hiding behind the ordinary to finally be the extraordinary person that you are.
The secret behind these two years of mind-changing is that you were also practicing your art: working on your talent, albeit behind closed doors. You did this so that, when you announce to the cosmos that you ARE a singer, you’ve been singing for at least as year. That’s the keystone to this whole project: stop hiding from your talent, stop regretting that you’ve waited so long, and USE IT!
If we do a bit of math… let’s see, carry the one… that brings us to Year Three: The Year of Accomplishment.
Here is where the chicken hits the road. In this year, we move our art from inside ourselves out into the world. Yes, into the world.
Years ago I worked for a major international bank, helping people find solutions to their mortgage problems. The management catchphrase in use there was “if you didn’t document it, it never happened.” Essentially, if no one saw the transaction, it never took place.
In my revision of myself, I realized that a writer who thinks about writing but doesn’t do it is not a writer – he’s a thinker. A writer writes.
But that’s not quite right, is it? If I wrote beautiful poems every day, but kept them hidden in a closet, or burned them, is that writing? A writer’s work needs to be read, just as a painting needs to be seen and a song needs to be heard. A song sung to one’s self may be beautiful, but does not further one’s career.
So, this year, we stop singing to ourselves, and we put our talent out there. Out there on the world stage, come what may.
The glory of this age in which we live is that you now, finally, have a world stage at your fingertips. Now you can do your stand-up before a world audience – every nation in the world can see you dance, hear your song, read your words.
That’s an accomplishment, to get your work out there into the world. I’ve advocated doing that throughout the previous two years, if you’re brave enough. If you haven’t been brave enough to do it before, then this is the year you overcome that fear and let ‘er rip.
So, here’s how I faced my fear of the World Stage: It’s a busy place, with a hundred million voices all clamoring for their moment in the sun. Being one in a hundred million is a pretty safe, anonymous place to be. (For example, my books (see the shameless plug, above) are out there, waiting to be read. and have only sold 17 copies so far). That’s a nice comfort. On the other hand, I’ve sold 17 books so far, which means that a shaft of sunlight DID shine on my work, at least 17 times.
So, that’s your job this year. Put yourself out there, either in the safe and comfortable way of YouTube or Instagram, or, as I did, pushing my online published work to literary agents (can you spell “rejection letter?”).
Do it. Don’t hide from it. If no one sees your dance, how can you become known to the world as a dancer? Don’t forget, that’s the point of this whole exercise.
You’re a talented individual who has hidden from that talent all your life. You can keep hiding, or you can become who you really are.
“Be brave, little Piglet.” Owl’s stentorian tone emboldens little Piglet to hold on and endure the flood of the Hundred Acre Wood, according to A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh.
You and I, we must be brave. What is talent, except the bravery to do the unusual, isn’t it? The talented have a vision, a world view, that needs to be shared.
You’re talented. Let’s get out there and share it!
This is really long-winded, I realize, but it’s important.
Ideally, by the end of the Year of Accomplishment, you’ve exhibited your talent in a place that will get you noticed. Ideally, that shaft of sunlight will illuminate your work, and you’re on your way.
The first time I ran this program, my Year of Accomplishment took two years, at the end of which I made the leap from under-employed customer service rep/novelist to technical writer/novelist. I became a writer.
I’m in another round of the program, with the goal of accomplishing the title change from technical writer/novelist to novelist/technical writer. I’m in year two of that accomplishment. The accomplishment will be to get seriously published: that’s a big one.
Like the speed limit on the freeway, the five-year structure of this program is just a suggestion: it may take you seven years, or six months.
Thanks for staying with me. Two more years to go!
If you’re just tuning in, this series of posts is about a self-improvement (ick, I hate that term) a self-developmental program that I’ve put myself through twice (yes, twice) which I call Five Years to Independence. If you follow the steps, yes it takes a long time, and no, no harm will come to you, and, in the end, you’ll feel better about your talents, and will find yourself accomplished in your field.
This plan works for you if you are not currently using your chosen talent to support yourself. If, for example, you are a fine painter, but you spend your days checking tax returns for a living, this plan is for you. I myself spent half of my life trapped in a succession of customer service positions before I figured this out.
Year One was all about not looking back, about honoring the road you’ve chosen so far in life. Although it hasn’t led you to success in using your talents, it has led you here.
And here is where we begin Year Two – The Year of Confidence.
Although this year is about self-confidence, it’s not the point. The point is that this year you express, believe, and totally embrace confidence in your talent. Whatever it is.
If you dance, this year you are a dancer. If you write, this year you are a writer. If you act… and so on and so forth.
This is the year in which you give yourself permission to be who you really are. You stop making excuses as to why you’re not that person: you be that person.
It takes a lot of courage to stop thinking of your talent as “well, you know, I dabble in watercolor,” and to instead refer to yourself as a painter. But that’s what this year is all about: courage.
One of the key parts of last year, the Year of No Regrets, was that, while you stopped kicking yourself for never having trusted your talent, you also worked in your art. You wrote, danced, sang, built a resume, even if only you saw it, which says Yes, I Am That Artist.
So, in fact, you are that artist. You write/dance/sing/act/paint. Whether anyone has seen it or not is immaterial. There is now artwork in the world, which you created. Artwork, by its very definition, is created by an artist. And that’s you.
Now, if you skipped the working part of the first year, it’s okay. Start working now. Now. Don’t put it off, or you’re wasting your time.
So, yes, that is who you are, but it does take some courage to admit it. You don’t have to go get new business cards. You need to tell your heart of hearts every single moment of every single day that you are a practicing artist. If you doubt yourself, look at the work you’ve accomplished.
If you are a performance artist, your road is both more difficult and more rewarding. A painter’s painting is a forever thing, but that moment when you catch the audience’s heart – that is fleeting. If you’ve ever done it, you feel it in your soul. For you to practice your art, you need to put yourself in front of an audience so you can pursue and perfect those moments. It’s harder, because you need to be cast in role – I recommend acting classes, either in workshops or for college credit, or both. Community Theater is always a very useful option. But it is so rewarding, because those little moments are such emotional highs. I know, spoken like a true actor. Funnily enough, I chose writing instead.
So, do you now what to do here in Year Two? Be it. Live it. Stop dreaming of it and become it.
So, here is my caveat about the Five Years to Independence: you have to define success. You don’t quite see my name on billboards, or find my novels at Barnes and Noble (yet).
Here’s how the plan has worked for me: I spent literally twenty-eight years in the customer service industry. Starting as a simple rep, I worked my way up through the ranks until I was a corporate director. When that company was sold, I moved on to become a partner in a service business, where my primary function was customer service. All the while, I dabbled in acting, in voice-over, in writing. The Great Recession crashed my business, and I found myself working part time at Bank of America helping people negotiate their failed mortgages.
It was then that I started this program, having built it as I went, and figured out who I really was, and what I wanted to be. I wrote my brains out in the Year of No Regrets, and sold my work for pennies to a number of online publishing sites. In that year, I became a writer.
In the next year, I decided to focus on a practical use for my writing, and learned how to be a technical writer. In the summer of that year, I got myself hired as a full time technical writer.
That, to me, is a huge success. I make my living, pay my bills, support my family, through my art as a writer. I no longer say that I dabble in writing – I do it every single day. It’s not prose or poetry, but it’s my art. And I love it.
To be sure, there’s much more to come – I have two novels, Droppington Place and Marigold’s End, that I’m marketing right now (for you marketers out there, did you notice how I slyly built two links right into this post? I know, I know, brilliance at it’s best).
The caveat, then, is that you must define your success. Getting to where you want to be requires mapping a road. Now that you are confident as an artist, you need to start thinking about where you can ply your trade.
That comes next, in the Year of Accomplishment!
Remember when you were a kid, and you had to do chin-ups at school? OMG, that was the worst thing ever! I always cheated and took a little jump up, so I always got a count of at least one. That second one was murder. And the third? Forget it. Same with push-ups. To this day, when I think of push-ups, I see the unmoving gym floor swim before my eyes…
Marketing is all about getting people to pay attention to you. You could make YouTube videos – tried that. You could make your own website – mine is right here: PhineasCaswell.com. You could make podcasts or something.
Whatever you do, you have to somehow drive traffic to it. That’s the key, the thing, the line over which you must cross to become the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling.
So, I’ve been posting oodles of posts about the famous pirate Blackbeard on my site (see the shameless marketing plug above). In particular, I’ve focused on his most notorious ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge. Beyond that cool name, there’s just not much information available about her, which I take as a personal challenge. Why?
Okay, sit down – you’re not gonna believe this. My next novel deeply involves Blackbeard. Whoa! Huh? Did not see that coming, right? Blackbeard was born in 1680. My character Phineas Caswell, hero of Marigold’s End, a Phineas Caswell Adventure, was born in 1694. Both were sailing around the Caribbean at the same time, 1706… See? Those gears are a’turnin’,right? Blackbeard was 26 – in command of privateers or something, right? And Phineas… well, I leave it to your imagination to link those guys together. Or, actually, to MY imagination…
Anyway, I just ran a Google search on the phrase Queen Anne’s Revenge. My website didn’t show up on the first page, or the third, or the seventh. I gave up on Page 15, certain that I’m just not out there in the world. In fact, my site would appear, if I could find it, after “great snacks for the kiddos” and “cool dog names.”
Just like in middle school, in gym class, it’s all a question of keeping one’s chin up. Someday. Someday I’ll cross some magical line and come up on the first page of a Google search. And then the angels will sing, and the heavens will open up, and somebody will click through, visit my site, and buy my books.
Or, I could win the Powerball. The odds seem to be about the same.
Don’t you hate those people who sum up their lives in, like, fifteen seconds? What do I do? Well, after I graduated with my MBA from Dogsnorton University, I became the sales manager for Incredible Products, the premier manufacturer of sodium-hydroxide based whisk-broom filaments with offices here and in seventeen other countries. Perhaps you should look into purchasing sodium-hyrdoxide whisk-broom fliaments. Your first thought: don’t these elevator doors ever open?
On the one hand, it’s nice to know what that person is all about. On the other, an elevator pitch invariably leaves you standing there saying “uh, well, huh, how about that?”
Sadly, this must become you. Wait, don’t go! …well, go if you must. But hurry back.
The fellow making his elevator speech to you is showing you a sign, paving your road, mentoring you, yes, you. Instead of muttering “you’re ticking me off, Phil,” you should take a mental note. Use a pencil if you have to.
This person is showing you how to market your book. He’s not exactly granting you permission to be annoying and mono-focused, but he is giving you a great example of how to sell. His elevator speech is guiding you in creating your dustcover speech.
When you buy a book, you don’t just read the front cover. You flip it over and read the paragraph on the back of the dustcover to see if the book has more than just a cool picture to recommend it. That guy’s elevator speech is his dustcover paragraph.
Here are two dustcover paragraphs on my book, MARIGOLD’S END:
The deep blue sea has haunted and hunted twelve-year-old bookbinder’s apprentice Phineas Caswell ever since it took away his best friend and his father. Now, shanghaied aboard his uncle’s ship, the Kathryn B along with his new-found friends Louise and Taylor, he must face pirates, storms, and the secret of nations as he learns the meaning of trust and the value of responsibility.
Everything happens to twelve-year-old bookbinder’s apprentice Phineas Caswell: his father and best friend are taken by the sea, he’s beset by bullies, and he’s dragged off to sea by his uncle. But, after learning the ways of sailors, after battling ruthless pirates, facing storms, and even determining the fate of nations, he realizes that life is not what happens to you, but what you make it.
So. Which book would you buy? – I’m sorry, “neither” is not a valid option. I’m still trying to decide which of these best describes not just the story, but the style of the book. Like the elevator speech, how you say what you say says what you need to say, too. Well, I say!
The second book sounds like more fun, but the first book might teach you more. I haven’t figured out which one I like yet – your input would be appreciated before you leave the elevator.
So, go out there and practice your dustcover speech. Who knows? Someday you might be on an elevator, and someone might ask what you do. You turn to them and say “Everything happens to twelve-year-old bookbinder’s apprentice Phineas…”
Don’t these doors ever open?
Nothing beats a good hissy-fit. You know the kind, where you pull your hair and stomp your feet and get so red in the face people think you’re a thermometer? That’s a really effective way to scare off bears and stray pussycats. I tried it at the office… not so effective there. I guess I can sort of kiss that raise goodbye.
But a wild hissy-fit might just be the thing that puts your book over the top. What would happen if, like, you started getting into the world’s grille about something – racism, climate change, dirty diapers, you get the drift – and made some sort of a big hissy-fit. Your fit gets on YouTube, you go viral, and, oh, hey, you also wrote a novel that now we all have to read because, goodness, what a vibrant person you are!
It could work.
Sadly, if you threw a hissy-fit over something really nice, like the West African success against ebola, you wouldn’t get any coverage at all because the world doesn’t work that way.
Sadly, if you threw a hissy-fit over the nastygram items listed above, you might get branded as a tantrummy sort of bozo, because that is the way the world works. Seriously, who wants to read a book written by a bozo, unless you are the REAL Bozo, and then, hey, that might be kind of cool. A book on clowns by the master clown himself – you could make it really scary…
Step One in the Gorilla Marketing Plan is to avoid Hissy-Fit Marketing (HFM), because it only garners negative attention. I get enough of that at work.
Step Two is to make things big, which is sort of a parallel to HFM. Make things big – broadcast yourself. Spread yourself out. Do LOTS of stuff, and tie it all together. Yes, it takes a little effort, which is anti-gorilla, but it simply has to pay off.
You are publishing your book online, right? What’s the magic word there? Nope, not bozo. It’s online, bozo. Search engines and crawlers and robots troll the WWW every single second, making links between this and that, him and her, it and, well, it. The more connections you have, the bigger you are.
You don’t stop dancing with the 600 pound gorilla when you’re tired – you stop when he’s tired. Dolly Parton wears those outrageous wigs to make her short little self not so much. Say what you will about the other parts of her, at least the wigs make her look taller.
So, no on the hissy-fit, yes on the broadcasting yourself all over the WWW.
If that doesn’t work, well, then, ding-dang it! What THE HECK IS GOING ON HERE??? WHATSA MATTER WITH THE DING-DANG STINKING WORLD…
What are you supposed to do when you’re hiking along a trail, happy as a lark in a predator-free environment, when, son of a biscuit, there’s a bear, like, right there, growling and frothing and pawing the ground like a bull, although he’s only seen those on TV because we know that bulls and bears only get together in the stock market, ready to have you, yes you, for lunch?
You don’t run, right? Run, and, bango, the bear’s looking for bread because he’s ready for a you-sandwich. No, no, no. You make yourself look much bigger than you really are, right? You need to suddenly grow six inches and six sizes and froth at your mouth and shake your head like, dude, there is something really wrong with you. If you do that, chances are pretty good that the bear will remember that he’s on one of those low-carb diets, and really, you look a little fluffy, like maybe you’re stuffed with mayonnaise, and well, gee, maybe he left the kids on the stove and, maybe some other time, huh?
In the world of online writing, the bear is the vast void of the Internet, the inescapable sea of voices, writers just like you, well, almost a lot like you, sort of, that yell dude, it’s me! Read my stuff! Just like the frothing fellow on the trail, this bear eats you – well, your work – and away it goes, and you find yourself looking down the path wondering how come you worked so hard but got nothing but bear-bite marks on your keester. And, just like the trail-growler’s lunch, you die, because, as writers, we all die when our work goes nowhere.
So, you gotta be big…bigger than big. You have to be a phenom. And maybe you’re just a tiny little phenom, like not so big a phenom that we read about you in the tabloids at the supermarket – really? Are you the batchild? – but big enough to have your voice heard over the moaning, bad-writing multitudes mewling for attention. Because you’re a better writer than that.
Bears live in creepy caves that most often have a boatload of icky spiderwebs. While the world wide web has nothing to do with bears, although, of course you and I know that it does, it, too, hangs out on servers, which are like creepy, sort of icky boxes of hot metal and plastic. But I digress. Don’t let that keep you from climbing across the world wide web like a thousand-legged spider, because that’s how it really, really works: all of the silken webs tie together, and you can use ‘em to catch more than just flies.
When you write for a publisher, look for ways to get the same piece published at other sites. Start your own site. Start your own blog. Publish the same piece in as many places as you can think of. Spread everything you write just as far as your imagination can take you. Each piece you write then becomes a web, and you become the spider at the middle.
The robots that look for similarities across the web see you, yes, you. Your name rises in the search rankings. Eventually, and this is no joke, you become someone. Yours is not the mewling voice, not the blather of the multitudes. Yours is the voice of authority.
Are you famous? Well, somewhat.
Because yours is the voice that beat the biscuits out of the bear.