Category Archives: Writing

A Tale of Two Twitters

Today is #pitmad day! If you don’t know, #pitmad is a bi-annual (I think? Maybe it’s four times a year…) Twitter hashtag party wherein authors with completed manuscripts can post 140-character pitches for their novels, and agents indicate books they’re interested in hearing more about by “favoriting” the pitches.

This has been incredibly terrifying and unbelievably edifying. And by edifying I mean, per yesterday’s entry, character building. Because rejection is good for your character, and going completely unnoticed is even better.

Actually, it’s been a ton of fun, so maybe not so character-building after all. Authors retweet each other’s pitches (and I’ve had plenty of retweets, which is loads of fun!), and we get to know each other and build our little writerly communities. Good stuff.

So that’s one Twitter world. The, ahem, “best of worlds” if you will. (You know, the whole Tale of Two Cities theme? “Best of times… worst of times…” If I have to explain it it’s probably really not worthwhile but there it is. I’m attached to it now.)

Then there’s the other world. The worst of worlds. (ha ha. Now the humor turns dark.) This one kept me up all night because I couldn’t stop reading. That world can be found on Twitter too, by keying in hashtags #EricGarner #ICantBreathe and #CrimingWhileWhite.

I’m too tired and sad to explain, but you can click over there and check it out. But you probably already know.

I’ve posted so much on FB about it, I’m wrung dry. And the sad thing is, I don’t even *have* to live in the #ICantBreathe world. I can duck out any time I want. Go back to my blissful #pitmad world and pretend #EricGarner never happened.

And that’s partly what’s so unfair. Because for my POC friends, ducking out isn’t an option.

Sometimes I have profound and pithy things to say at the end of my entries. Sometimes I’m just rambling and too tired and sad and confused to wrap it all up. Guess which one this is.

What 300 Calls a Week Taught Me About Rejection

When I was young and hungry and the mother of a newborn, I bought a book called “How to Make Money as a Writer.” It sounded like a pretty good idea to me. And it was–the book worked. It’s how I got my start.

But here’s the thing. What it asked me to do was hard. It asked me to make 300 calls per week. Cold calls. To people in the phone book who had never heard of me.

And that is precisely what I did. Out of those 300 calls, I’d get maybe 10 people to agree to meet me. Of those 10 people, I’d get maybe one of them to agree to pay me to write for them. Of that one, about half of them actually treated me with respect and paid their bills.

It sucked. Hard.

It also taught me a lesson that has served me well (and that I’ve had to re-learn over and over again, btw):

Rejection is not the enemy. Fear is the enemy.

If I had let my fear (and trust me, there was plenty of it–I know I seem pretty fearless from the outside, but inside I’m a quivering mess of jello every time I open myself up to rejection) get the best of me, I would never have made those 300 calls. I would never have gotten those 10 meetings. I would never have gotten that half a person per week to pay me for something. And I would not be a professional writer today.

This lesson has served me well throughout my career. I no longer make cold calls (thank all that is holy and good in the world because cold calling is the worst job ever), but my ability to embrace rejection continues to play an important role. I’ve learned to quote my work at a rate that will get “rejected” regularly… and as a result I have better clients who respect me more, and I get paid enough to make my ends meet. In other words, those rejections are what pay my bills.

Now, as I embark on the part of my novel-writing career that involves putting my work in front of people who have the power to accept or reject it, my comfort with rejection is a powerful ally. When you consider that even the most successful of novels can be rejected dozens of times by agents and publishers before finally finding a home, one has to be completely fearless (or at least fake it pretty well) to make it.

And what about you? Can you let go of fear and embrace rejection? You won’t regret it.

#fearless #orfakeit

Sprout Massacre

sprout massacre 300x225 Sprout Massacre
Massacre? Or Manifest Destiny?

Do you have these odd little internal habits that seem perfectly normal to you until one day it crosses your mind that maybe it’s not normal at all but quite possibly downright weird? Maybe you don’t even realize you’re doing it because you’ve done it all your life and so it’s not even something you think about.

For instance, maybe you tell yourself stories about inanimate–or nearly inanimate–objects, in order to explain their (ahem) “behavior.” You’ve done this all your life, almost unceasingly, running this internal storytelling monologue with yourself, until one day you’re standing in the kitchen and it hits you that maybe you’re just wee, teeny bit, tiny bit, a little insane.

So this morning I was harvesting sprouts. We grow them in these little trays, where they start as seeds and get watered twice a day. We watch tenderly as they spring to life, the miracle of a tiny seed suddenly sprouting roots and leaves and growing into a cute baby plant. For about five days, we nurture their growth, marveling over the miracle of life, and then we yank them up by the roots and eat them.

But first we yank them up by the roots and stick them in a container in the fridge to chill for a while. You harvest them by fistfuls, and there are always some stragglers left in the bottom of the tray and you have to decide whether it’s worth the trouble to go back and harvest those few one at a time, and usually it’s not, so you just wash them down the drain with a scrub brush.

So I was standing there yanking them up by the roots and wondering how they felt about it. For instance, were the ones that were harvested really sad, or were they kinda oblivious and thinking it was some sort of fun adventure. If they knew they were going to be eaten, I figured they were probably pretty scared about that. Poor little yummy little things.

Then I thought about the stragglers. Were they relieved when they realized they’d been spared? I imagined them throwing some sort of quiet but jubilant party: “YES! We made it! Now we have all this room to grow… spread those roots out, search for the nutrient-rich earth that is surely mere millimeters away. We are gonna MAKE it!”

But their party is about to be interrupted with a rude awakening. Suddenly they’ll find themselves violently crushed and torn, washed away in a devastating torrent, to a terrible underground death… or maybe (wait, some of them might find some place with nutrients and sunlight and eventually grow into something but… no. They’re on their way to a water treatment facility, and death by chemicals. Except the ones that end up in the trash. THEY might become something in a landfill… but more likely they’ll suffocate in the plastic bag).

Back to the tray. So then I got to wondering. What if one of the sprouts, prior to his tragic end, got to wondering (with a mixture of gratitude and humility) why he’d been spared to go on living, and someone came to him and said, “Dude, you think you’re lucky. But you know what? You’re not. Because THOSE sprouts, the ones that got pulled out of this life so early? They’re going to fulfill their destiny. They’re going on to do the thing they were created to do. They’ll become part of a larger organism, playing a critical role in cell growth and immune function. Sure, they’ll die first. But you know what? At least they will have died for a reason. You? You’re going to die too, but your death is going to be pointless. Nothing useful will come of your having ever lived. No one, nothing, will ever remember you were ever even here. And it’s going to happen soon. Now who’s the lucky one?”

And then I start applying the concepts to a larger picture. I think about our lives and I think about how sad we get when someone dies young, but maybe that’s the wrong approach. Maybe as long as they died FOR something then they’re the lucky ones. And how can we even know whether they died for something or not. Maybe what looks like a tragic accident or a terrible disease is really part of some bigger scheme and they’re going on to do something important, be part of something bigger, and we’re just the stragglers left here to wash down the drain at the end of the day.

That’s the point at which I usually start frantically pulling up stragglers, trying to get every last single sprout into the harvest container for later consumption. Until I start thinking about OCD disorder and decide I don’t want to be quite THAT crazy, so I stop.

And then, I start imagining the whole thing as an essay and about three minutes later, I drop the scrub brush and run to the computer to type it up.

Yup, so that’s what my mind does. Pretty much non-stop. Every day. All day. And until today it hadn’t occured to me that it might be a little strange. Am I the only one? What weird things does your brain do?

Why I love Monday.

Monday 300x225 Why I love Monday.I love Monday. Strange, but true.

It wasn’t always this way. I remember a time when Friday would come around and I was all, “TGIF suckas!” And don’t get me wrong. I love weekends too–I love family time and letting work emails sit unanswered for a couple days and picking what to do and building things and lazing around with computer games.

But also I love the work week. I love working with my clients, telling their stories, building my training products, envisioning the future & direction of my company, taking chances, stretching myself, learning new things, focusing on my brand and reputation, solving problems, building systems…

I have learned more in a year as an entrepreneur than I did in four years of college (and I went to a great college!), and I am more who I want to be today than ever before… and expect to be more who I want to be tomorrow even than today.

Lots of folks would love to be where I am. So let’s talk about the top three reasons they’re not:

  1. Money.
  2. Money.
  3. Oh, and Money.

Money is tough. It’s scary. You put everything you have on the line at first. Some people figure out how to use other peoples’s money to do this, and that’s great for them. A few come into it with enough money to carry them for a while, but most of us start out using our own money, our own assets, our own credit lines. Even when business is good, cash flow can be tight because you have so many obligations. If you’re like me, you take care of your people and make sure they get paid first. Then you try to keep the lights on. Eating is your third priority.

I’ve talked to many a long-time successful business person and I’ve tried to figure out for years how they did this thing at first, this getting started. What I’ve figured out is that most of them (us), initially, just have to let go of the idea that financial security is the goal. I mean, YES, eventually. Eventually you hope to be making enough money that you don’t even have to worry about “security” any more.

But in the short term? Forget that 401k, the equity in your house, and college savings (except whatever has been given as gifts to your children–lock that away safely for them, because it’s not fair to use someone else’s money to fund your dream without their informed consent). Forget, for a while, knowing where next month’s mortgage check will come from or how you’ll buy groceries next week. Because, unless you’re already well-heeled, there is no starting a business without some really scary money stuff.

Sometimes you’ll want to quit because money is just that bad. Creditors will be calling and you won’t know what to say to them because you don’t have the cash to make the payment right now and you don’t know when you will, and probably it won’t be until after you get your son to the dentist for fillings and your dog to the vet for antibiotics and then tally up whether you still have enough for groceries that week. And you’ll be so fed up and tired and worn out and you’ll be ready to throw up your hands and say, “Uncle!”

I tried to quit  a few months ago. I got scared and decided to get a job, a nice comfy job with health benefits and a 401k and a steady paycheck. And an employer paying part of my social security tax (did you know that the self-employed pay more taxes than employees?). I dressed up my resume, created a personal website, spiffed up my LinkedIn account, consulted with my leadership coach to create a great message & strategy for launching my job search. I was ready.

But then God butted in: “Seriously? WTH, chicka?” I mean, God sounded really annoyed. “Seriously, what are you doing? What what WHAT are you doing?”

Okay, reality check. I don’t think God personally meddles in our daily affairs as a general rule. Or, actually, ever. But I do believe God speaks to us if we listen.

Take it how you will, this is what happened: It was the day before I made a public announcement of my intent to seek a job. I walked downstairs to the office mailbox, expecting it to be empty, but it wasn’t. In the mailbox was an envelope. It was from a former client who was no longer engaged with my company. Inside the envelope, to my surprise and consternation: A sizable check.

I called them up, laughing, and said, “You guys must really love me–what do you want me to do with this check you’ve sent me out of the blue?” They laughed too and said, “It’s a deposit to start our program again in August.” I bit my lip. This was unexpected and… complicated. Would I be in business in August? Should I cash the check (I really, really needed the money)? Send it back? I said the only thing I could think of: “Well, thank you.” I decided to sit on it a few days.

The next day, someone called me up and asked for a quote on a project. Another, smaller, check arrived in the mail that day too. Two days later I had three major new contracts, one of them with a client likely to send me regular business. Even all together these projects & contracts were not enough to catch us up on everything we were behind on. But it was enough to bring me to my senses.

I cashed that darn check, set aside my resume, and stopped answering calls from creditors who never have productive things to say to me anyway. I realized that the worst possible thing that could happen on my current course is that we could end up going bust. Best possible thing? I could create a lifestyle and a career that I love. And become financially wealthy at the same time. Either way, I will learn and grow and sometimes fall down, and then get back up and go.

Had I decided to quit & get a job, I might always be safe, comfortable, taken care of (until the company has to cut jobs, that is). Perhaps that would be nice.

I also would always be spending my energy, my creativity, the best hours and days of my life…

My one wild and precious life…

Creating someone else’s dream.

What a trade-off.

Since then, my client base has sky-rocketed. I work with the best people and companies my market has to offer. I’m building processes & programs that will allow me to scale my business up and grow it in new and exciting ways. I chose this. I love it. I am still paying the price. Have we caught up financially? Ha! Check back in a few years. Is it terrifying? Every single day. Would I trade it for a job where TGIF is the best thing I have to say on a Friday afternoon?

Hell no.

Why? Because there’s not much I would trade for this one simple fact: I love Monday.

Dreams and dreaming

Came across this from more than ten years ago, before I’d ever heard of blogging (had anyone heard of blogging in 1999?). Clearly I had been reading Lewis Thomas. On dreams and dreaming:

May 16, 1999

I am alone in the house, or, might as well be.  My face feels warm, as though radiating energy stored from the sun today.

I linger on the edge of sleep, images well up in my relaxed consciousness like giant gar rising to the surface of Cedar Creek.  A water moccasin drapes silently among the twigs, unmoving.  Sun and shadows dapple brown water.  A red lizard embraces a green one, eddies form around my paddle, a dripping sound mingles with bird song.  A daddy-long-legs touches my hand and I awake with a jerk, my hand tingling.

If I could play the instrument of consciousness like dreams can, resonating in the depths of being, singing the music of life’s history, drawing up the harmonies of ancient ancestral memories, I should be remembered above Shakespeare and Homer and Milton.

But dreams are wild things, unharnessed and unharnessable, universal, archetypal, and yet completely individual, custom-made entities, capable of setting to music the diverse beings that are me–the bacteria, mitochondria, and the cells that carry the ancient coding that still remembers the taste of primordial soup.  Of all entities, perhaps the dream is the one that understands most fully the inter-being of all that is.  A dream weaves itself out of the fabric of individual experience, current events, unremembered memories, personal ancestry, evolutionary memory, and primal being.  It subsists on energy gleaned from the sun, stored in muscles, and gathered from bean soup digesting in my small intestine.  If it serves a purpose for me, it serves the purpose of reminding me of these interconnections and allowing me, if I try, to imbibe of what it draws up from deep wells of ancient wisdom.  But I am inclined to think that the dream, like the bacteria in my gut and the mitochondria in my cells, is a separate entity existing for its own ends and living in symbiotic harmony with the consciousness I call me.

This passage is its own witness–the dream expresses its individuality as I lie on the brink, once more, of sleep.  A canoe sounds like water beneath me, dark creatures rise to creek’s surface, larger than I’ve ever seen, tribal sounds beat from the cypress woods around me and mingle with bird calls I’ve never heard.  Everything moves despite me, I cannot stop the flow of the creek nor the drift of the canoe, I do not even know whether I can move myself, nor whether I exist as something separate from the canoe and the creek and the tribal beating and the monstrous cypress trees rising from the depths of the swamp to touch the sky.  I am comforted, and slip at last into deep, all-encompassing unconsciousness.