Archives for June 2015

How It Begins – An Odyssey of Distraction (thank you, Sloane Crosley)

My Workspace

{The true story of one writer’s desperate attempt to stay on task and get one, just one, 30 minute block of writing done without succumbing to the magnetic pull of YouTube videos, HuffPo articles, emails from friends, and other assorted Internet butterflies known as distraction.}

So.

You show up to the page to do your 30 minutes of daily creative writing, coffee in hand.

You’re feeling proud of yourself for making the commitment to write for yourself, outside of the copywriting projects you do for clients and the weekly blog posts and email newsletters you write to market your business.

For many weeks you’ve let your own writing practice slip by the wayside, crowded out by “work writing” and other priorities, so this feels good, it feels right, it feels “meant to be.”

Because you want to feel inspired to write for yourself every day, you’ve decided to take up the practice you read about in Dani Shapiro’s memoir, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life – reading from a favorite author’s work for 10 minutes each morning to get yourself primed to write, to feel eager to get to the page. 

This is working pretty well, except sometimes the 10 minutes turns into an hour, or, like the recent Sunday when you spent practically all morning lounging in bed with half a dozen books, close to 4 solid hours.

But this day you stick to the 10 minutes. You dip into the work of a much-loved writer, get your 10 minute inspiration fix, then go directly to the page and write. Good for you!

Your 30 minutes of writing done, you’re feeling pretty good about the discipline you just exercised. You congratulate yourself for not getting waylaid by the wicked pull of the internet.

This is a minor miracle, because right about 15 minutes in, you need to research a book title you want to mention in the essay you’re working on. So you open your browser and navigate to Google. Book title found. Good. Book title added to essay. Ok.

However.

As a result the inspiration fix you dipped into this morning, Sloane Crosley’s essay collection I Was Told There’d Be Cake, you now find yourself wildly curious to know more about her, right this very instant.  Your fingers go twitchy over the keyboard as you think, “I’ll just Google her and leave the results page up in the background, then get right back to my writing, then once I’m done with my 30 minutes, I’ll read through the results.”

And holy of holies, you do go back to your writing and finish your 30 minutes, without getting lead down the garden path of distraction.

Score!!

You feel enormously proud of yourself for this one small thing, because there are many days when one brief dip in the Internet pool leads you far, far astray from the work at hand, not to return for hours. And sometimes never to return at all.

Next on your to-do list for this day: write a blog post.

But wait, you’ve got those Google search results about Sloane Crosley to read through. You decide you’ll give yourself half an hour to read a few interviews, half an hour, 30 very short minutes, then get back right back to work on that blog post.

So you read one interview, then another, then another after that.  One of the interviews you read links out to something that’s supposed to show her writing space. Oh my God, you want to see it so badly!

So you click on that.  But the link is dead and there is no image of her work space.  Huh. So you Google “Sloane Crosley work space.” (Is this a form of light stalking, you wonder? Or a perfectly natural form of mild curiosity about someone whose breathtaking writing skills you happen to admire?)

Somehow in this search you find a video of the time Crosley appeared on Craig Ferguson’s show (how you ended up on YouTube, you have no idea).  Because you adore Craig Ferguson and you love this writer’s work, you watch the interview. This’ll just take 3:36 minutes, after all.

Then you remember living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the second time, in 2006, when you were still in your politico days and working on the Attorney General’s race, which is when you “discovered” Craig Ferguson and his hilarious show for the first time. As you’re watching the interview with Crosley, you see down the side of the page more videos of Craig interviewing famous, accomplished, beautiful women. 

Crosley too is beautiful, and you think she must live a charmed life – a life you’ve fantasized about, if you’re honest – that of a successful New York creative, living in a lovely large apartment somewhere on the upper West Side, maybe in the low-80’s off Amsterdam or Columbus, where one room is devoted to your writing space and outfitted with floor-to-ceiling built-in bookshelves, full to the brim with books and a nice view of the Park.

But let’s not tell anyone about that. That’s not for public consumption.  

Anyway, Sloane – what a great name, you think. She’s young, beautiful, and successful, a well-respected writer leading the New York literary life.  Aaah, how nice that must be.

You finally drag yourself away from YouTube and read a couple of print interviews with Crosley. You try again to find an image of her writing space, but, alas, no luck there.

Next, you find yourself on the Salon website, where you read a piece Crosley wrote about the Girl Scouts called Your blood turns green: Why the right can’t derail the Girl Scouts.  Edifying. Entertaining. Informative.

Then, after reading just.one.more. interview with Crosley in New York Magazine, you see a piece in the sidebar of said magazine called Six Reasons Chris Christie Is Probably Guilty, by Jonathan Chait, which you must read this instant, because you’ve been riveted by the story of the lane closures in Fort Lee, NJ known as “Bridgegate” ever since Rachel Maddow first starting reporting on it in the fall of 2013.

When you read the line, “It’s not that partisan enemies are ginning up accusations,” you laugh and think, “Ha ha, ‘ginning up’ – what a good old-timey phrase, I’ll have to find a way to work it into a piece of writing soon.” 

Somehow from here, you end up on the GQ website where you read an interview with Bill Hader of SNL.  You love Bill Hader.  

Then you remember one of your favorite SNL sketches with Hader, Tony Ruins Puppet Class,” so you Google that up and watch it.

And in this way, 2 ½ hours pass. Hours that seem like minutes. Hours which you will never get back.

But no matter, you got your 30 minutes of writing done, and that is a victory.

Good for you.

Overwhelm, Despair, Self-Doubt & Other Fun Adventures on the Road to Success

take risks, dream big

As a former ad agency employee and current copywriter for hire, it’s no surprise that Mad Men was one of my favorite shows. (Although in my ad agency days, unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on how you look at it – it wasn’t customary to have a fully stocked bar in the office, or cocktails in the middle of the day.)

So when the season finale aired a few weeks ago, I watched with great joy as my favorite characters’ stories got wrapped up neatly, along with a twinge of overwrought mourning that the whole shebang was coming to an end.

The day after the final episode (and who am I kidding, for days to come), I found myself reading more, more and still more about Mad Men, and especially its creator, Matthew Weiner.

And I happened upon this article in which Weiner discusses his rocky and challenge-filled road to success with honesty and transparency.

In the piece, excerpted from a book called Getting There: A Book of Mentors and published on Fast Company, Weiner talks about how artists “frequently hide the steps that lead to their masterpieces.” This can lead to discouragement for those of us trying to create something meaningful, he says, because all we see is the finished product, and compare our work to that.

He goes on to say “I always swore to myself that I would not hide my brushstrokes.”

Shortly after reading that piece, I read Melissa Cassera’s blog post, “Don’t hide your brushstrokes,” where she talks about Weiner’s article and the application of its ideas to business.

I love what Melissa says here:

“By glossing over all of the ‘unsexy’ points of your journey — all the brushstrokes — you’re doing a disservice to your fans, clients, customers, everyone in your business audience, and quite honestly, everyone you meet.

By pretending that it’s all ‘easy’ and ‘perfect’ and ‘drama free,’ you’re missing an opportunity to actually HELP somebody.”

At the end of the post she asks:

“What’s the toughest, unsexiest moment you can remember from your business / career history? Share your ‘brushstroke moment’ and what you learned. Feel free to do it in the comments below. Or, better yet, share it with your own community.”

And that inspired me to write about one of my own “brushstroke” moments here.

I previously shared this story with my email subscribers, but it felt too personal to talk about on the blog. But what the heck? Melissa’s post changed my mind.

(By the by, this is one of many, many “brushstroke moments” I’ve had in the last 2-3 years of taking my copywriting business from a side hustle to my full-time source of income. And I’m still having them.  Weekly. There’s enough to fill a book I tell ya, but today we’ll start with just the one. :))

Here’s the story I recently shared with my email subscribers:

So, did I ever tell you that right around this same time last year, I was so exhausted, stressed and overwhelmed that I almost considered giving up on the idea that it was possible to have a satisfying, happiness-inducing, lucrative business doing work I love, for clients I love?

No?

Well, let me give you a little bit of the skinny here.

In May of 2014 I was working a long-term corporate freelance writing gig for a big organization, one that offered a lot of nice perks, but also imposed many stress-inducing deadlines, and required me to work on site in an environment that made me wildly unhappy (my breath gets shallow just thinking about it).

I was also running my copywriting and web marketing consulting business at the time, which I adored but . . . by necessity it remained a “side business” to be squeezed in and around my corporate writing gig obligations.

So here I was, making a pretty decent living as a copywriter, with plenty of projects on tap for the corporate client (a situation those of us who sell our writing services actually dream of), but I was working 7 days a week to keep up with both that work and my side hustle, and frankly, not enjoying my life very much.

It was a despairing cocktail of non-stop obligations, deadlines, and 12 hour days, most of which were spent doing work I didn’t love. And with that schedule, I didn’t have enough time left over in a week to optimize my business, my website, or my offerings – which meant until something changed, I’d always be stuck with my overwhelming workload, at my current revenue plateau.

Since my most cherished value is “freedom,” working this way made me feel like a tiger pacing a cage – imprisoned, and none too happy about it. I was desperate to change things, but how?

One of my most vivid memories of this time is sitting in Panera Bread one night with one of my closest friends, sobbing into my caesar salad about my work life and my obligations, barely able to breathe. (Between the crying and the gasping for breath, my friend actually offered to take me to urgent care. True story.)

Obviously, I could not go on this way.

The trouble was, I had I no idea HOW, exactly, I could change my situation. I was in no position to just up and leave the corporate writing gig, but there was no way on earth I wanted to give up on my dream of creating the copywriting business of my dreams either.

Especially since achieving that dream would allow me the space and time freedom to work on a book that’s been gnawing at me for over a year – and I had yet to get started on.

But one of the great things that happened for me during that time – the thing I credit with eventually helping me get beyond it all – was reading publicity and business strategist Selena Soo’s emails in which she shared her story about once being in a very similar situation.

She was working in PR, yet not making much money, even though she was working non-stop. And she was uncomfortable with some of the pressure involved in get results for PR clients. And because she never established clear boundaries in her work, she was working early mornings, nights and weekends.

Almost every detail of what she described felt like what I was going through. And she had actually turned her situation around, to great success – she quit that iteration of her PR business, changed her business model, and started offering coaching and consulting services, which got her to $157,000 in revenue in the first year of her new business.

And best of all, she did it on a schedule that didn’t consume every waking moment of her life, which sounded like pure bliss to me. Because making a nice income is great, but only if it comes with time freedom and a flexible schedule as well – that’s the ultimate prize, in my book.

I was intrigued by Selena’s story, and honestly, envious.

So when she announced her Get Known, Get Clients (GKGC) program last May, I hopped on board almost immediately. [The program is now closed, but if you’re curious, you can read the review I wrote about GKGC and the results I got from it right over here.]

It was through working with Selena last year and applying the advanced strategies she teaches that I was finally able to leave my corporate writing gig in February of this year and go fully out on my own with my copywriting and web marketing consulting business.

Now I’m much happier, more fulfilled, and I actually have free time. Not a lot mind you, but way more than I did this time last year.

And I’m gung-ho and ready to rumble with my business again. I can’t believe that this time last year I actually thought of throwing in the towel, even for a second.

There are still challenges, of course. And lots more work to be done. So much so that some days, if I’m honest, I long for the ease of just having to show up at a regular gig again.

Luckily, that sentiment quickly passes.

If I could offer any encouragement to anyone going through something similar, anyone on the verge of chucking the dream of supporting themselves with their creative business for the so-called security of employment, I’d say think long and hard before you make that deal with the devil. There’s probably some way you can turn things around, as I did (and as Selena did).

Just remember, you’re trading your life energy – time you’ll never get back – for what you do to earn a living, so make sure you’re happy with the choice.

 

[Want to learn to write copy that connects with your ideal clients? Sign up for free weekly updates and get instant access to the CREATIVE REBEL GUIDE TO WRITING A CLIENT-ATTRACTING ABOUT PAGE, plus copywriting & web marketing tips and other fun stuff for creative freelancers & biz owners that I only share with my subscribers, delivered straight to your inbox each Tuesday.]

Diary of a Southern Summer: Dog Days

KDH & Ronda in Oak Island, NC

(Me and my best friend, Ronda, Oak Island, NC, Summer 2013. I’m the one in the back with the dolphin-sized forehead.)

Well, it’s official: the sweltering days are here.

And it’s not even summer yet. The first day of summer isn’t until next Sunday, June 21.

No, it’s still “spring” according to the calendar, but the humidity and the temperature say otherwise.

Right now it’s 94 degrees with 46% humidity.

On Tuesday it promises to be 98 degrees.

Welcome to summer in the South.

Although I really can’t complain, because the weather only just turned torrid a few days ago. Normally it would be this hot by May, but we had an actual spring that lasted for more than 3 weeks this year – high 70s in the day, low 60s at night, ab-so-lute-ly ideal.

I wish that fleeting and perfect spell could have lasted forever.

Just this morning I was remembering those halcyon days – the mornings when I could open my patio door and my bedroom windows and leave them open all the live-long day, the ability to take my daily walk in the park in the middle the afternoon if I felt like it, sitting outside at high noon to enjoy a beverage and read a good book – ah, good times, good times.

We won’t be seeing any more of those days again until round about October, I reckon.  

I read on Wikipedia that “In the Northern Hemisphere, the dog days of summer are most commonly experienced in the months of July and August, which typically observe the hottest summer temperatures.”

Um, no, not if you live in the South, my friend. “Dog days” typically start much earlier, and last much longer.

On the plus side, I live on the coast, so I can take myself to the beach if I feel like it. But the truth is I seldom do, unless I have friends visiting from out of town.

And this week I do! My best friend and her husband are coming to Oak Island later today, which is about 40 minutes south of here, and they’ll be staying until next Sunday.

And lucky me, they’ve invited me to come down and join them in their beach condo for the week. So come Tuesday afternoon, once I’ve wrapped up as much work as I possibly can, I’m headed a south for fun, sun, giggles, great conversation, and lots of quality time with my best gal pal Ronda and her hubs.

Summer in the south, it ain’t so bad.

Especially when a beach, a blender of margaritas, and people you love to hang out with are part of the equation.