books

Good enough, Day 21: Day 22, or The Beginning

I have never been especially good at math. I am also highly distractible, and find that I can lose time when I’m focused on something. Or not focused on something! Which is to say, pretty much anytime.

At some point in this series, I lost a day. No, really—go back and count the days. I started on the 24th of August—a Saturday—specifically so that it would end on a Friday—the 13th of September, my birthday. I used two different online calculators and then counted out the days manually, just to be sure.

Alas, somewhere between Tuesday the 27th (a tiny piece on meditation) and Thursday the 29th (a poem), I had a time bubble in my brain, and lost a day—a Wednesday. I was posting things quite late in the day already at that point, as usually happens with these series, and people were responding to each day’s post the following day, as the emails were arriving at rather weird hours in the inboxes of America, and so I somehow convinced myself that not only had I gotten that day’s work done, but also the next day’s.

I did fret about this a little. I HAD BROKEN THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT. I had made a promise to write every day, 21 days in a row, and now I’d ruined everything. I thought about coming clean right then. I thought about doubling up (or is it down?) the next day. For a brief moment, I even thought about proceeding as if nothing had happened, finishing out the run, and leaving things at that.

And then I came to my senses: this was a series about letting go of perfection to make way for something, anything at all. Was the point—the larger, capital-“P” point—to write perfectly, or to write, period?

* * * * *

One shelf of one cabinet in my apartment is devoted to books written by people I know (and one dead relative I never met, but about whom I figured, “Good enough”).

Over the past few years it’s gotten fuller and fuller, which is wonderful, but which is also a little sad, because it was never one of my books that got to do any of the filling. Yes, I wrote a couple of chapters in a really terrific book, but that book counts as a collective win, not a personal Everest scaled.

There are many, many reasons why there is no Colleen-Wainwright book on that shelf, but they boil down to the same, sad, scary word: perfectionism. If nothing can ever be good enough, it’s hard for anything to be, period, let alone be something as big as a book.

So a few months ago, I took matters in hand and signed up for a class—a writing class focused on process, designed to get new writers who don’t think they can write and long-time writers who either need a little reinvigoration or a full-on (gentle) ass-kicking, and, via various tools and exercises and gentle (but ass-kicking) encouragement, gets them writing—a few pages, every day, for six weeks.

What’s funny about the class (other than the teacher, and many of the students, which really makes for a delightful way to spend a few hours of your week) is that somehow, just by writing a little bit every day in a very specific way, all of that process ends up in a not-insignificant amount of product. To drive this point home, each student in the beginning level of the class is asked to compile a handful of pieces into a chapbook, and to make enough copies to share with the class.

I called mine GOOD ENOUGH, because it is.

* * * * *

I took the liberty of printing up a few extra copies of this first—and likely, only—run of my first (chap)book. 21 extra copies, which I am making available for (PAUSE FOR COLLECTIVE GASP FROM PEOPLE WHO KNOW ME) sale.

There are short 10 pieces in it, only one of which has seen the light of internet day so far: poems and tiny essays and bits of creative nonfiction. (There are also some pen-and-ink drawings, which you may recognize if you were a reader of my late, lamented newsletter.) One of my longtime readers and dearest critics has pronounced it the best thing I’ve ever written. She is also a friend, but not of the variety to blow smoke up an ass—mine, or anybody else’s. I’ve seen her not do it.

The price is $5 for the book, tax included, plus $2 to ship it to you anywhere in the U.S. Each one is numbered (x of 52 copies), and I will happily sign it for you, and/or include an inscription of your choice. One per customer, please, in case you were thinking of hoarding chapbooks.

* * * * *

It’s been a relief to write again, and a consternation, as well. Any thoughts I had of getting past my perfectionism and writing happily ever after vanished somewhere around Day 5. Or maybe it was Day 2.

Irregardless, as I heard someone say just today and let roll off my back without so much as a shrug, I will write. Certainly here and increasingly, I hope, Out There. I will do it imperfectly, with my full self, or as much of me is available at the time.

Thank you, and excelsior!

xxx
c

The skinny on, plus all previous 21-Day Salutes™.

 

brooks palmer and his book clutter busting your life

Book review: Clutter Busting Your Life

By the time Brooks Palmer’s first book fell in my lap, I didn’t need anyone to tell me that my problem with clutter wasn’t the stuff itself. I knew full well that the crap I couldn’t seem to keep myself from accumulating was connected to circuitry gone awry—that I was collecting things to fill emotional holes or wall off feelings or otherwise protect myself from perceived danger.

But I did need someone to say it to me differently, in a way that I could finally begin to hear it. Simply, as it turns out, and with gentleness and compassion. Over and over. And over.

This is how Brooks (once a mysterious angel, now a first-name, real-life friend) works, both on the page and in person. It seems almost too simple at first—that by sitting down and bringing your attention to objects, one item at a time, you could simultaneously reduce the amount of useless stuff in your life and restore a sense of joy and hope. Until, an hour or two later, there is a carful of stuff on its way to Goodwill and the library and various other redistribution centers, and you are left in your little apartment, surrounded by freshly empty spaces and suffused with a surprising mix of energy and calm.

* * * * *

Which brings us to Clutter Busting Your Life and an obvious question: if the first book worked, why another? If the process is so simple to understand, why more pages to explain it? If your spaces remain relatively empty—or if you know what to do when they start becoming less so, and you do it—what could a second book really offer?

The answer, it turns out, is some insight into handling clutter where it intersects—and interferes with—relationships. Because while determining whether an object that is yours alone should stay or go is a straightforward process, dealing with other people’s stuff—a partner’s, a child’s, a parent’s, a friend’s—is fraught. And unless we wall ourselves off from the world (a sad and horrible prospect), we are always, always dealing with other people’s stuff.

Not to mention their “stuff”. Because to further complicate matters, it is not just someone’s actual, physical stuff that can become clutter to us, but our reactions to the stuff, and their reactions to our reactions, and so on. You cannot do a damned thing about anyone else’s crap, but boy, can you ever complicate matters by your response to it: one person’s magazine attachment or drawerful of half-empty toothpaste tubes can metastasize into everyone’s full-blown marriage crisis if tended (im)properly.

So this book, then, is about arresting the escalation. It’s about learning to removing the “clutter” in relationships—the fear and anger and frustration that accompanies all things buried, all decisions forestalled too long—so we can reconnect to each other. Which, yes, begins with reconnecting to ourselves.

Note: in the hands of your average self-helpster, navigation through this territory can get annoying and/or dangerous quickly. Again, Brooks Palmer’s strength resides in his ability to keep things simple and focused. He addresses the levels of relationship one at a time, in order and through the lens of clutter, starting with our relationship with ourselves, then moving outward into our various relationships with others—current and workable, past, current and unworkable. There’s a special chapter on clutter busting for two, but there are exercises throughout to help you with various aspects of the excavation process, emotional and physical, including a recap of basic clutter-busting technique for newbies or those needing a refresher course.

* * * * *

Full disclosure: if you get Brooks’ new book, you will find a blurb from me on the inside front page. While “blurb” is a light, bouncy, almost throwaway word, I take blurbing very seriously. (Except as a verb. Then I laugh like a hyena, because “blurbing” sounds asinine.) Into my very serious blurb I inject one bit of hyperbole, about Brooks possibly being able to help us all clutter-bust our way to world peace. Which is probably an overstatement. There is a whole lot of clutter between us and achieving world peace.

I do believe, though, that on some level, this is holy work. Bringing ourselves back to connection with one another and the present moment is big stuff. That one road back might involve shedding a few things—and ideas, and behaviors—that no longer serve is really not such a far-fetched notion.

If it’s your road, this might very well be your road map.

xxx
c

Book review: The $100 Startup

For the past year, I’ve been traveling around the country, telling people about Chris Guillebeau. (Seriously. You can see it here, starting at 2:48 in.)

One reason is that his story—of building a platform from zero to massive, of pursuing “impossible” goals like visiting every country in the world by age 35—never fails to inspire audiences. In a time when life can look rather grim around the edges, let alone when we stare into the deep, black heart of it—we need all the light we can get.

But the other reason I talk about Chris all the time is because his methodology for success is rational and replicable.

Yes, he’s a quick study, but he is also a perpetual student who reads widely and never stops asking questions of people who know things he doesn’t.

Yes, he has what is probably a natural facility with words, but he still parks his ass in a chair (or the floor of some foreign airport) and plunks out 1,500 of them per day. Every single day.

Or, as he summed it up himself in his first book, remarkable achievements are a result of these four prerequisites:

  1. You Must Be Open to New Ideas
  2. You Must Be Dissatisfied with the Status Quo
  3. You Must Be Willing to Take Personal Responsibility
  4. You Must Be Willing to Work Hard

So while Chris has built a fairly unconventional life for himself, filled with international travel, digital entrepreneurship, and rapid iteration, he has done so as much though old standbys like integrity and effort as he has entrepreneurial risk-taking and a 21st-Century attitude toward change.

His new book, The $100 Startup, takes a similarly old-plus-new approach to building a business. It’s Chris’s philosophy that the most rewarding work takes work, and that it should be done for personal fulfillment as much as for financial freedom. The 100 or so businesses used as case studies in the book reinforce this philosophy—each of these microbusinesses employs five or fewer employees (many are solopreneurs), and most are designed to stay that way.*

This is not, in other words, a book about building a massive, franchised empire from a single taco stand, nor designing killer iOS apps that get bought by Facebook for a billion dollars: it’s about helping you to come up with a solid idea at the intersection of your passion and a customer’s need; each of the tools within helps you tease out the one in relation to the other. There are checklists for evaluating the business-worthiness of your ideas and for prepping a product launch. There are formulas for constructing a marketing offer or creating a self-published work. There are charts that explain the different types of sales methods and that map the difference between passions that are fun for you and passions that will work in the marketplace.

It’s a book filled with incredibly detailed and specific information—nutrient-dense, especially at just over 300 pages—but because it’s so well-written and so liberally studded with inspiring, real-life stories, it’s a truly absorbing read: business book as page-turner.

In fact, if there’s a flaw to The $100 Startup, it’s that the stories, lessons, and tools are woven together so artfully, it’s difficult to treat casually. This is not a self-help book to be consumed in lieu of action, nor is it a reference book to be shelved and consulted via index. It’s meant to be read through from start to finish, preferably while taking copious notes as you go—although as much because the examples and concepts are likely to spark ideas for your own business as to find your way back to useful ideas later.

It is, in Chris’s own words, “a blueprint for change and action”. He’s thinking nothing less than a complete revolution, of people one by one leaving behind what they no longer need to serve themselves and the world and have a great time doing it. If you think that sounds crazy or impossible—especially with seed funds of $100—well, you don’t know Chris Guillebeau: a young man who simply doesn’t accept that things are impossible.

xxx
c

*Size-wise, anyway. There was a minimum condition of $50,000 in net income generated per year, but no cap on the top side, and many of these very small businesses have gone on to become far more profitable. Other conditions required for inclusion in the book were: employee size (1-5, max); a passion-based model; low startup cost; no “special skills” (e.g. dentistry, law, tightrope-walking); and full financial disclosure.

Photos by Tara Wages.

Book review: The Fire Starter Sessions

It seems like every 10 or 20 years, there’s one breakthrough book in the personal development category.

The chronological first of the How-Do-I-Get-There-From-Here? books to help me find my way was Barbara Sher’s Wishcraft. It’s gentle and playful in tone, yet still filled with the kind of useful tools and practical exercises that make a Virgo’s heart go pitter-pat.*

Next in the all-star lineup was the first I came to, Julia Cameron’s legendary Artist’s Way. Its language is a bit soft and dreamy around the edges, but structurally, the book is rock-solid. After finishing The Artist’s Way, one friend of mine followed a long-dormant dream of becoming a singer-songwriter; I finally left copywriting behind and embraced the terrifying-to-me path of acting.

Which brings us to today, and to Danielle LaPorte’s sweeping, energizing entry in the canon, The Fire Starter Sessions.

Like her predecessors, Danielle’s exercises for excavating your true self are rooted in real-life experience, emerging over time from hundreds of sessions with actual clients. Full disclosure: I attended an early Fire Starter workshop in Los Angeles, and have been a friend and admirer of the Fiery One and her spark ever since.  Further, fuller-than-full disclosure: I am reasonably sure that Danielle may count “witch” alongside other credentials on her impressive resume. She has an uncanny knack for sussing out fuzzy and/or difficult truths that training alone can’t account for.

That said, the worksheets and exercises in TFSS should prove enormously valuable in uncovering your own true self. Her core discovery tool alone (“The Burning Questions”, of course!) will shine considerable light on your key truths, but please don’t skip ahead: the book is designed to lead you through a process, and step-skippers will miss out on valuable anchoring ideas and frameworks.

While the central focus of the book is pretty clearly self-discovery, Danielle also has an excellent grasp of marketing and promotion, especially where they intersect with personal branding, and a keen sense of what stops many of us from making money (hint: usually, prior issues around money). The Fire Starter Sessions is definitely not a business book, but as with Wishcraft, the lessons you learn about how you engage with people, places, and money will impact your work life as well as your personal and spiritual lives.

Finally, if it’s not already obvious, like Sher and Cameron before her, Danielle LaPorte writes for a specific type of creative mind: searching and open, especially to the connection between mind, body, and spirit. While she is absolutely down-to-earth—her language is lively and colloquial and her practical, real-world experience abounds—as the subtitle suggests, her attitude towards change is at least as soulful as it is practical. If pressed, I’d probably describe it as woowoo-friendly, with an edge. Which is far from a bad thing, but is a very particular thing. A quick read of her enormously popular blog or a sample chapter should immediately determine if this book speaks to you.

If it does, you’re in for a real treat: The Fire Starter Sessions contains Danielle’s best wisdom on creating the life you truly desire. It’s comprehensive, wide-ranging, and packed with valuable stuff for the journey.

xxx
c

UPDATE 4/25/12, 10:50am: There’s going to be some kind of a Twitter party going on tonight at 6pm PT. 10 cents for every tweet marked with the hashtag #FireSS goes to WriteGirl, nonprofit beneficiary of The 50-for-50 Project. Go! Tweet!

Book design by Maria Elias. Author photo by Sherri Koop.

*One stellar example? The woowoo-friendly version of that time-tested accountability wonder from the business world, the master mind group. Scher calls hers “Success Team”, and if you’ve been put off by Napoleon Hill’s early-20th-Century, male-centric prose, it might be the thing that finally saves you.

Book review: Design Is a Job

design is a job and mike monteiro is GREAT at his job

There are all kinds of myths surrounding the arts, especially where they intersect with commerce. Myths about working when the muse strikes, as opposed to working to increase the odds that she will. Myths about success (“It’s a mysterious mystery come by mysteriously…plus Twitter!”). Enough myths about money to keep the stick-shaking brigade busy for a thousand billing cycles.

But after almost 30 years of circulation in the worlds of copywriting, performance, and design, I believe the most pernicious myth of all is that artists cannot learn to be good business people. Because we absolutely can if: (a) we’re willing to make what may be some uncomfortable changes to our outlook and operating style; and (b) we find the right conduit for the information on how to do it.

When you’re ready to embrace that first condition, Design Is a Job brilliantly provides the how-to. Written by Mule Design principal and co-founder Mike Monteiro, it contains a no-bullsh*t framework for building a successful creative business, covering everything from what design is (hint: not decoration) to how to keep your pipeline full of the kind of jobs you actually look forward to working on (hint: it does not involve cold calling, begging, or excessive retweeting). Networking, contracts, presenting, and management—it’s all in here, in a compulsively readable 130 pages. Because no one knows better than Mike Monteiro that the real secret to getting the job done is doing the job, not reading about it.

While it is specifically written for designers, like The Elements of Content Strategy, a similarly outstanding entry in A Book Apart’s series of “brief books for people who design websites,” it is absolutely civilian-friendly.* If you’re a creative artist who needs to get paid for your creative artistry, there’s something here for you—writers, illustrators, and yes, even you, my lovely actors. You may have to put on your translator headphones here and there, but I guarantee that if you do, you will come away with invaluable insight in how to be less of a goofy creative and more of a goofy creative who gets paid.

Few things are more wonderful than being paid to do work you’d do for free—and few things will grind you down to a grim nub of misery faster than failing to treat that work as a job. Design Is a Job clearly, simply, and often hilariously outlines the steps for actually making a profit doing the work you love.

xxx
c

*UPDATE: And lo, A Book Apart feels similarly about the synergy between these two books: you can buy them in a bundle!

Book design by Jason Santa Maria.  Author photo by Ryan Carver.

[video] Hair today, books tomorrow

[Long-ass video clocking in at a whoppin’ 5:05]

Salutations, and apologies for the distinctly lengthy, somewhat self-indulgent, purportedly “useful” video above. In my defense (and I’m nothing if not defensive), I’m both: (a) woefully (or not) out of practice; and (b) pressed for the kind of time needed to write a shorter letter. We’re looking at a rather tense couple of months here at communicatrix HQ, deliverables-wise (after which time I’m sure my essays will return to their previously scheduled interminability; my videos will return to a brisk conciseness; and my newsletters will return, period.) (Kidding. I think. I mean, I should be putting out a newsletter next Wednesday, but don’t quote me on that. But you can sign up here, if you want to roll the dice.)

This video—which you may have to click through to watch if you’re reading this somewhere other than on the web and an actual computer—contains two main sections.

Section the First is just a hair update. While very little has changed, hair-wise, since September, amazingly (as is abundantly evident via this video), it takes me A MINUTE and THIRTY-NINE SECONDS to state this very obvious fact. I suppose part of the issue is that I’m taking a little time to say howdy and to provide context, and another bit is that I had to shill show off my fancy new Wahl cordless electric all-in-one hair-clipper thingy. Lots lots lots more to say on this whole being-bald(ish) thing, but those are stories for another day—a day which has not quite made it on the publishing calendar yet, but which certainly will at some point.

The second section concerns books. Not just any books, but a particular ritual of reading certain books—one I’ve been engaged in for some time, and which I’ve found to be extremely helpful in keeping me focused/on-track (a perennial challenge) and non-depressed (ditto, and how).

I’ve actually written at some length about daily reads in my marketing column for actors, so I won’t belabor it here except to say this: the daily devotional has its place in the secular world, too. Some kinds of change are particularly slippery and elusive, and the right words (i.e., from people who’ve been working on this stuff longer than you, and are further down the road, and are maybe not too preachy) in a manageable, portion-controlled size (for me, extremely small), repeated at the right intervals (in my case, daily) can be great helpmates. Two of the books are listed in the column I link to, above, but for your convenience, they are:

Think and Grow Rich Every Day, a carving-up of the Napoleon Hill self-help classic by two enterprising fellows, and more power to ’em. Each month focuses on a particular aspect of Hill’s teachings, with one month lumping together two of the shorter chapters (“The Subconscious Mind” and “The Brain”). The authors claim to have updated the language a bit from the fusty original text, but damned if I can tell much difference. And that chapter about the sex urge is just nutso; you’ll want to take October with a grain of salt, or a pinch of saltpeter, or something. But it’s eminently more readable in these bite-sized morsels, and has helped me to keep my eyes on the prize. And as I mention in the video, this book was, in a weird and witchy way, partly responsible for the success of 50-for-50.

One Day at a Time in Al-Anon, a compendium of teachings from the 12-step recovery programs for the friends and families of alcoholics, who (boy, howdy) generally suffer from their own addictive, self-destructive tendencies. I hope you don’t need this one. I hope that you have no boundary issues or co-dependent b.s. or any other of the narsty, sticky residue of self-loathing that growing up in an alcoholic (or xholic) home can leave. But if you do, and you can put up with a little Higher Power here and there, you may find it not only steadying in stretches, but shockingly illuminating. I have taken in a few days’ entries with the wonder I can only imagine Helen Keller must have felt by the family pump.

The third book I cannot conscientiously recommend yet, as I’ve only been playing with it since the start of this new year. (Which somehow already seems old at four days in—how weird is that?) But in the month or so since I finally got over my squeeginess over the covers, I have become quite taken with the output of Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy, aka SARK, reading a full two books’ worth and well into a third. (I put down another one a third of the way through because the erratic typesetting was making me seasick.) But in case you want to check it out—which I did, literally, from the library—here it is.

But really, with all of these books, I’d suggest test-driving them via your amazing public library before committing your hard-earned dollars and even more precious attention. Unless you are filthy rich, in which case please buy them and anything else your heart desires via my Amazon affiliate link.

Okay! This post is already too long and my to-do list isn’t getting any shorter. One short request before I go: if you have any daily-devotional-type books you LOVE, feel free to leave them in the comments. Right? Right!

And happy new year, while I can still say it.

xxx
c

While this is probably obvious, for the purposes of 100% transparency, this post contains a shitload of Amazon affiliate links. Feel free to buy ANYTHING through your local bookseller, or to test-drive via your local library. Except for maybe that hair trimmer. Because (a) doubtful that anything but a chain store will stock electric clippers or that libraries carry them at all and (b) ew, gross.

Book review: Do the Work

cover of steven pressfield's "do the work" and photo of the author

The good news is that you can change your life at any point, on any day, regardless of your age, health, financial status, technical ability or experience.

The bad news is you will have to continue to change it, you, pushing that c*cksucking boulder up that motherf*cking hill, every day of your life, regardless of your age, health, financial status, technical ability or experience.

Every day. No exceptions.

Because the way to change, to creating things that never before existed, to fixing things people didn’t realize were broken, to making anything, is not through daydreaming or wishing or fairy dust, but through work. Joyful, tedious, challenging, maddening, daily work.

Steven Pressfield’s newest book, Do the Work, is a sort of high-octane, super-condensed variation on his previous devotional for makers, The War of Art. It’s shorter and tighter and carries a greater sense of urgency, perhaps because Pressfield has weathered the daily battle of getting meaningful things done that much longer, but also perhaps because the change cycle has accelerated in the nine years since he introduced us to Resistance, that bane of all meaningful change.

Do the Work begins with a brief recap of Resistance, what it is, the many forms it takes, before diving into a step-by-step process of how to outsmart, outrun, and outmaneuver the bastard so that you can get your project out of idea form and into some real form. As Pressfield says up front, his language is that of the writer, creating drafts, shipping books, but the principles work for any type of serious endeavor, from the building of a world-changing widget to the mounting of a play to the recovery from illness. (I have no experience with widgets, but I’m a writer who’s brought a play from idea to stage and a patient who’s gone from bloody skeleton to robust health, so I can attest to the process being applicable across disciplines.)

The book as billed as a manifesto; it is, in that it clearly lays out a theory of life and a set of actions to take. It is a tactical field manual, brief but comprehensive, where The War of Art is more of a devotional: that book you keep nearby to dip into when things get bleak. Do the Work offers helpful tools for structuring your project: “start with the end” (i.e., getting clear on successful outcome as your first step); breaking your project into a three-act structure; getting the first iteration of your project out in its entirety however roughly and resisting the urge to refine, refine, refine as you go (my personal challenge).

Overall, it is a useful book full of specific tactics threaded through with wisdom and encouragement, most of it along the lines of “Resistance lurks everywhere, so watch out for his shady ass.” If I have a reservation with recommending it fully, it’s with the design of the book. There are many, many emphasized bits of text, not pull-quotes, but phrases or sentences writ in larger point sizes to underline (pun intended) a point. In one sense, this is good because it adds to the conversational tone of the book: it’s as if Uncle Steve is sitting there beside you, grabbing an arm for emphasis when he’s saying something you really, really shouldn’t miss. But the type design and layout falls short, and gets in the way of message delivery. You will have to work harder than you arguably should as a reader (at least, in the print version; I haven’t read the Kindle version yet).

I think the information is worth it, though. If you’ve not yet read The War of Art, I would even say to start here, with Do the Work. Because this is a book about starting, designed to help you start and see you through the thousand million starts you will have to undertake every day, until your project is done. And then, after a brief pause to acknowledge completion, to start the next project.

Which is something Steven Pressfield clearly does. He has taken the advice he got as a young(er) writer to heart, to start a new project the very next day after shipping the last. How else would he have a novel slated to come out in June and a nonfiction book to come out in October?

Read the book, but read it as you do your work.

Once again Team Pressfield has generously offered three books to give away to the right owners. Leave a comment below as to why one of them is you, and I’ll see about making that happen.

xxx
c

Disclosure! Links to the books in the post above are Amazon affiliate links. This means if you click on them and buy something, I receive a modest affiliate commission. Which I hope you do: it helps keep this ship afloat. This particular book was furnished as a review copy, but furnishing a review copy does not guarantee a review. Curious? You can read my full book review policy here. More on this disclosure stuff at publisher Michael Hyatt’s excellent blog, from whence I lifted (and smooshed around a little) this boilerplate text.

Jacket art by Vincent van Gogh.  Author photo via Steven Pressfield.