There are some moments that are so genuinely still that you can hear the molecules of the universe dance through the ether. In these tiny spaces between atoms, there’s just the most fleeting glance of that place where all the points in our lives intersect like long lines trailing off into the inky black.
It’s a place where all things are possible, many things are probable and the infinite isn’t all that overwhelming. It’s a place of peace and chaos. It’s the end and the beginning and all the stuff in the middle. The loves, the hurts, the wins, the losses, the missed opportunities.
For us, it’s where writing and real life intersect. It’s like looking into the abyss, except something a lot more specific than the general universe looks back.
For writers, life happens in two places: one is in our heads, where, let’s face it, most of us have a pretty rich internal existence. It’s a blessing and it’s a curse. It’s a great place to escape to when things are too much, but it can be incredibly tempting to just stay there forever. The other place, of course, is in actual real life. And by real life, on this Earthly plane, I also mean social media, because, frankly, that’s pretty damn real if you make it real.
Our work, by its very nature, overlaps those two worlds. We dream it and then we make it, it doesn’t matter if we’re novelists or lowly copywriters. We breathe life into worlds every day. Your world might be a planet with six moons and two stars, but my world where my client’s product makes bedtime an easier job for parents is just as much a fantasy. If I can’t see it before it exists, I can’t tell you the story of how your load will be lighter.
And this is where things get dodgy for us, I think.
It can get weird trying to sort out what’s work and what’s life and what parts are both. Compartmentalization is the most valuable tool in a writer’s arsenal, I don’t care what anybody tells you. And maybe it’s easier for fiction writers or people who don’t need to believe what they’re telling the world to weave those words into gold without walking the wire.
But for me, and maybe for you, reality checks are vital. Sometimes I feel like I’m kind of living in a world that’s between all things, but the truth is that the fantasy is just that — it’s the fantasy. That can never be forgotten or we’ll be lost forever in the depths of our own minds.
The Intersection and The Greater World
Having recently left a relationship that was only surviving because I was clinging to shreds of fantasy, I can tell you that the intersection isn’t the best place to hang out. It stifles you. It keeps you from being all you might be since you’re putting all your energy into world-building a scenario that a big part of you knows isn’t real.
Escapism isn’t the solution, kids. You have to face your stuff. Your demons, your reality, even your choices at the polls on this Super Tuesday. Hit that shit headlong and believe me, life will be so much better.
The tools we use to give people hopes and dreams and desires are the same ones that will sink us if we’re not careful. Someone has to pilot the ship, it can’t be left to the wind and the waves. Currents are deceptively treacherous because they feel like they’re taking us in a direction that’s best because the resistance is so low.
Trust me, I get tired of fighting, but there are too many things in this life worth fighting for, we have to battle on. Even if that battle is against ourselves and our urge to just… not.
Take Control of Your Ship
Wherever you are today, you can grab that rudder and start wrestling reality back from your layers of fantasy. You can dig yourself out of your creative mind and pop back up into the world like a determined gopher. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been down there, the light is so close, you just have to reach for it.
Start by owning it. Own that you’re dealing with your heavy shit by world-building. Then reach out to a professional. Read some books. Learn all you can about your situation from as many angles as you can. It’s a fucked up world, and we won’t always be perfect at being humans, but I think the trying is what really matters here.
Once you’ve owned it, studied it, understood it, sift it like a bag of Skittles, sorting out the bits that you need or want from the ones that are sending you deeper into that fantasy world (that includes the banana-flavored bits, gross). Don’t let your inner writerly world be the same place that you go to deal with life stresses. Do that outside your head.
Tell your neighbor that if their dog poops on your lawn one more time, you’ll start flinging it at their house.
Correct the cashier that insists your coupons are expired when they clearly aren’t.
Tell people you love them.
Accept that they won’t always love you back.
Sing at the top of your lungs to an empty room.
Sing at the top of your lungs to a crowded room.
Do that thing you thought would be impossible, just to see if it is.
You don’t have to live in a fantasy for your life to be the one you deserve. You can get that on the exterior of your skull. Really. I promise. Whatever your dreams are, you deserve a chance to pursue them.
Explode back into real life, my friends. I promise, I promise it’s so worth it.
When I was in college, I had the great fortune to meet a very insightful developmental psychology lecturer who turned into an informal mentor for a time. He’d been all over the country, he’d done a lot of wild things and he had a lot of complicated thoughts about success.
I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately because I’ve been on a journey of a sort. I couldn’t figure out exactly what was going wrong in my life, just that something was out of balance.
As it turned out, a lot was out of balance. I’d let others dictate my own needs for so long that I forgot I even had any. It sounds like the sort of thing that only happens in Hallmark movies, but I can assure you, it happens to people every day.
We forget that we deserve to have peace and joy and success and redefining moments. We forget we deserve more than to merely exist. We forget we need more because we’re told there’s nothing left for us at the end of it all.
Today’s blog is for you, the writer with a teapot that’s constantly filling the cups of others, only to find that there’s nothing left for you. This blog is for you and I give it freely, while leaving something for myself.
The Journey and the Destination
Back to that psychology lecturer I once knew. His name was John. A lot of men are named John, so that alone wasn’t terribly remarkable. He was an old hippie, which was also not terribly remarkable, though at the time I hadn’t met a lot of hippies and for me maybe it was a bigger deal than I realized in the 1990s.
John knew better than I did what my journey was going to look like. I don’t know quite how that was, but maybe it’s the kind of thing that comes with that specialty. I’d already been in and out of school a few times, trying to work and have a life and not doing particularly well at juggling any of it. Maybe that’s why he’s wedged so firmly in my mind and why those times spent with him still resonate.
See, at the time I felt like I was all alone in the world, facing a lot of challenges no one else faced. I was trying to get a degree that was constantly having roadblocks thrown up in front of it, from my initial diagnosis of diabetes and subsequently learning how to manage it, the financial fallout from developing an autoimmune disease so early in life, the loss of a Big Dream when the whole concept of the local newspaper started imploding around me, the loss of people who meant the world to me.
The 1990s were a wild time for me. Won’t lie.
John, though, he never once let me lean on these things or treat them like defeats. I wasn’t even in his department, but he didn’t care. He was a kindred soul of sorts. He would remind me that every time it felt like I’d been hit in the face with a rock, I needed to pick that goddamn rock up and figure out what I can learn from it.
And, although I have never been short of mentors who helped me get to where I needed to be, John was a sort of umbrella that I still open in times of peril. Even though we’re not in contact anymore and he’d probably not even remember me now, he’s up there on that list of people who influenced me so profoundly that I can’t begin to thank them.
The Big Thing He Taught Me
Sorry, I’ve sort of buried the lede here, but it’s also a bit by design. See, the big takeaway from my time with John was that there’s not a lot to be had from a life lived without adversity. Not that it’s a great thing to always live in turmoil. I mean, you’ve got to have balance. But in tough times, it can be tempting to look at people who seem to have had some pretty smooth sailing and just envy the fuck out of them.
Trust me, I feel that so hard. Some days I’d trade all these character-building scars for some straightforward success and a lot fewer speedbumps.
But that’s when I drag that man out of my memory bank. Because the thing that old hippie taught me – that the journey was the thing, not the destination – you can’t begin to understand how many times that has saved me. From myself, from others. From the world.
John taught me to see hope and wonder in a world full of booby traps.
It was a gift.
It was a life preserver.
There are people you can never thank in the moment because the words won’t come. There are people you may not even realize have made such a profound impact until they’re long gone. There are people you will always need, even long after they’ve forgotten you.
When times are tough, remember the philosophy of my friend John. It’s about the journey and how you handle the troubles along the way, not how quickly you get to where you think you need to be going.
And also remember that you deserve to have your own needs met, even when that means you get to add a whole minefield to the road ahead of you. So when that client is being overly demanding, when that person in your life can’t respect you and your choices, go forth boldly. You are not alone. John and I both have your back.
When I was young, I often wondered about the human condition. What makes us the way we are, how do we exist in the way that we exist apart from the way that lamps exist and floors exist and that electrical boxes exist? I mean, it’s all atoms and mostly carbon and water, so we’re not all that different, really. Except we are… and that’s where it gets weird.
Some people turn to religion, others to a blind faith in the void, but I think the truth is something in between. Like so many batteries in a circuit, we work together. We exist together. And one can continue to live on, even when the physical remains of that one are gone.
I think it’s why we’re such story-driven creatures. We tell stories so we remember. And if someone lives in a story, do they ever really stop existing? If we still love them and know them and feel them around us in the day to day, can they be lost to a void or whisked away to Heaven without us?
Every time one of ours falls away, I think about this. About how they can’t be gone because I remember them. Because you remember them. Because we remember them.
There’s a poem by Henry Scott Holland that drives this home, really, for me.
Death is Nothing At All
Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner. All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!
Clean yourself up. I’ll wait.
Ok, that’s enough. Life is for the living, as they say.
So many have gone before us and will continue to leave us throughout this life… they might not even die, they may simply become someone completely unrecognizable or their lives may take them somewhere we can’t go. Surely those are to be mourned just as hard as someone we’ve lost to the grave… loves not loved enough, friends we maybe never knew as well as we wished we had.
Every person who goes out also stays, though. They echo in shadows. They reflect off of every shimmering surface. They’re with us forever, they never go away. They are ours, we are theirs and that’s for as long as memory can last. For better and for worse. How, then, can the dead be lost?
Today… well, honestly, since I heard about the loss of Nefarious’s younger brother, I’ve been trying to find the right words for her. Because it’s unfair for her to suffer this alone when so many people feel her so hard right now.
It’s hard to see it with the blinders of grief on, I know, but in time, one day, you’ll notice us, Kiddo. You’ll realize you were never alone through any of this and your adopted family had your back for every step.
The Internet has brought us some strange relationships and moved some peculiar people into and out of our lives, but I have never once regretted our friendship. You’ve made me a better person because I find myself trying to set a good example or to live up to your expectations… I thought you should know.
You’re family, kid. And your pain is my pain. Your loss, my loss. But you know he’s not really gone, don’t you? He’s just in the next room. Like Mocha’s mom and Our Judith and Billy and so many others.
It’s probably getting kinda crowded in there, frankly.
… you would be the asshole that got me back to work, wouldn’t you? It’s the kind of thing you do…
Much love, have a safe trip and remember that you only ever have to ask and a whole community will crawl all over themselves to help you. Because you are so, so loved.
And so are the rest of you fuckers.
But today this is a blog for one. And I know she’s reading.
For the last several weeks, I’ve been streaming Bob Ross pretty much non-stop during writing time. At first, I did this because I believed his soothing voice was keeping my high strung dogs from flying off the handle every time a garbage truck drove by, but as time went on, I also found myself lulled by his dulcet tones.
Then it happened.
Bob said, “You’re going to need a friend when Nature rises up and takes over.”
That was in season 25 or so, I can’t remember the exact episode now. But I remember the shock. I’m pretty sure I had a happy accident.
Happy New Year!
This is how I’m opening my New Year’s Letter for 2019. If you’re still reading, I really admire your ability to digest bullshit. I really did hear him say that and as the seasons roll on, he says a lot of very weird shit. Then he goes on to justify it by saying that if you’re a painter, people expect you to be a little strange.
Number one, Bob, you’re way more than a little strange. You’re potentially deranged. And yet the world loved you and I think that’s ok. I’m just not buying that wholesome act you’re putting on any longer. There’s nothing more terrifying than the look on his face when he cleans a brush with paint thinner and “just beats the Devil outta it.”
Number two, Bob… seriously? Are you going to continue to perpetuate that tired stereotype? Blerg.
In the New Year, I will be continuing to watch Bob, listen to him tell stories about being in the military, living in Alaska, his dreams of living inside his paintings and Steve, his sorry excuse for a hippie son.
Even though he says very disturbing things.
Maybe because he does.
Welcome to 2019, Plebeians
This letter was written on December 27, so not quite the New Year, but certainly in the run up to it. The last several years have been indescribably difficult. I would say it was epic, but you wouldn’t get the impact I intend. I mean epic like Odysseus’ voyage home… or like one of those dreams where you run and run and run, but you can’t ever get to where you’re going.
A good friend of mine has, at various times, compared times in this life to a coma dream. She was actually IN a coma, so she knows better what that means than I do. But I assume that there’s a sort of eerie sense that things aren’t quite real, but they’re not fake either. It’s like how I feel about those multiverse theories. But I digress.
A lot of fucked up stuff has happened the last few years. It started… well, I can’t tell you when it started because it’s been like waking from a dream. I know you guys probably don’t realize it, but I have been in a really bad way and basically on automatic pilot for a while now. Pieces of me were always there, but not like now.
Let me start over.
Finding Yourself Again is Tricky
About a week after Terry Pratchett died in 2015, The Guardian ran this long essay that he had written about his fight with Alzheimer’s. The deeper I got into it, the more I cried. And not for the reasons you might think. In 2015, I was still losing myself, a piece would fall away here and there. Sometimes I’d find an odd bit, but I’d lose another. What caught me was that the weird Jelloy world I was living in was what Pratchett was described in vivid detail.
“I have posterior cortical atrophy or PCA. They say, rather ingenuously, that if you have Alzheimer’s it’s the best form of Alzheimer’s to have. This is a moot point, but what it does do, while gradually robbing you of your memory, visual acuity and other things you didn’t know you had until you miss them, is leave you more or less fluent and coherent as you have always been…. [while] the disease slips you away a little bit at a time and lets you watch it happen.”
This was my lightbulb moment. Or, rather, it was sort of a dimmish-nightlight-in-the-hall sort of moment. I wasn’t together enough to realize how important this description would be for me or how it would shape my future.
I knew something was very wrong, but most days I couldn’t tell you what it was. I couldn’t tell you what I had for lunch. But somehow I could still write and so I did. That’s all I did. That’s all I could do.
Then the muscle spasms started getting so bad that I couldn’t deny them. My abs would buckle so hard that it looked like I was in some kind of mad sit-up contest for one, my hands would shake, my arms refused to swing as I limped slowly along. I brought these things to my neurologist in Missouri and she did a few tests, but ended up writing it off as “spells.” I was having spells, but I didn’t get better (but to be fair, no one turned me into a newt).
All My Exes Live in Texas?
We moved to Fort Worth, Texas in 2017, and I lucked onto a neurologist who was a genius diagnostician. He said almost nothing to me the first several times I was in his office. He ordered an MRI, he checked my arm swing and how well my muscles responded, all that normal stuff. Then, one day, he asked me to try a drug I’d never heard of: ropinirole, a dopamine agonist.
I had already been reading up on what might be said one day by that quiet man with the big computer of a brain. That’s why I cried as I left the office. If the ropinirole helped, it was another nail in the coffin. And, like Pratchett describes his own moment of clarity, I was suddenly experiencing pretty much every emotion at once.
“When Milton’s Satan stood in the pit of hell and raged at heaven, he was merely a trifle miffed compared to how I felt on that day. I felt totally alone, with the world receding away from me in every direction, and you could have used my anger to weld steel.”
It took about two days before I was confident enough to call Dr. Dhaliwal to tell him that yes, the drugs were working. And in ways I never expected. Things I didn’t know I had lost had returned like a not very funny cream pie to the face. Colors were brighter, scents were scentier, emotions were deeper, oh and that lmp I’d had since I was a teen (always blamed on a soccer injury) had disappeared entirely.
After all the things that had happened in Missouri, including a suicide attempt and two (!!) cancer scares, this was the worst thing I could have ever imagined happening. My neurologist would ultimately diagnose me with early onset Parkinson’s with Essential Tremor. And I would take more ropinirole. And I would get worse.
The funny thing about starting the drugs you desperately need is that the more you need them, the less you notice how sick you are. So, as I regained function bit by bit, I also got worse. More ropinirole. More symptoms.
Today we’re at a reasonably middling dose of ropinirole, plus a few other drugs that help keep the many symptoms of Parkinson’s in check by helping me sleep, giving me a little energy boost or working on other parts that we never knew were connected.
Really, it’s very good. But understand that Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s share a lot of features and may actually be related disease.processes. So as you read that essay, know that it could just as easily be me writing it.
The takeaway should be that 2018 was the year I got my mind back. There’s nothing more important.
Oh, and Then There Was That Time I Died
2018 was such a weird year.
It was the year that I died.
Did I tell you? If not, please don’t feel bad. I was still trying to find my feet in a world of neurological issues when it happened. I was overwhelmed.
The plan this past summer was to have a relatively routine surgery that I won’t go into the details of here, but I assure you that it was seriously no big deal. My body had other plans, though. Once they had me prepped and the really deep anesthesia started, my blood pressure bottomed out.
And there it stayed.
I’m not sure what it took to bring me back from the brink, but when I woke up in the recovery ward, I was surrounded by the anxious eyes of the entire anesthesiology team. They were pale and shaking and fearful, as if they’d seen the dead rise again.
Having had many, many surgeries over the years (autoimmune disease, yay!), I knew that it wasn’t normal to wake up to a fan club. But they didn’t want to tell me what had happened. I was moved to a private room at the hospital (woo woo!), where the hospitalist and my surgeon explained it all.
They really thought I was going to die. At first, this was all a big joke to me. I mean, not really, but I couldn’t wrap my head around it, so instead I made dumb jokes. It was all I could do.
Mostly, I was kind of embarrassed. I mean, I thought people were supposed to have life-altering epiphanies or see visions or something when they die. I got nada. It was just another Thursday in my world, albeit one where I scared a lot of people, a hobby I don’t generally engage in.
So that happened. And even now, I don’t know what it means. Or if it means anything. We all live, we all die and some of us do stuff in between.
And Then We Opened In The Cloud
To be fair, ITC had been around a while already, it was meant to be a rebranding of Waterworth Writes, a company I know you’re all familiar with.
See, a friend told us the winter prior that she was very sick. She’d always been supportive, even trying to help raise the past iterations of a ship like this one that we could never quite get to sail. So, with her terrifying news, I was determined to launch In The Cloud before she posted her last Breitbart article to social media.
I had launched it, but nothing happened. I was just… still me and a big empty, useless boat. I assumed I’d figure it out as I went. I didn’t do well with that until after I came back to life. After that, I kind of got a headwind.
This is mostly a roundabout way of saying that I want her to know that she was a big reason to move the timetables up. And even though she’s sick enough that she doesn’t check in sometimes for weeks, she’s the reason I keep pushing forward with it.
She’s the reason I keep pushing, even when I don’t have anything left. So there’s that. After losing Don, Kat, Our Judith, Rich, Billy, Earl and so many others, I couldn’t let her slip away without really understanding that she changed my world profoundly. That’s about the best that she’ll ever get out of me.
2019 Had Better Hold on Tight
I’ve made some great connections in the world of copy, copywriting, marketing and general shenaniganry over the last few years. I completely believe that we will create something profound in 2019. And if not profound, then we might at least settle for profane.
In The Cloud should roughly double in orders this year, if current signs are any indication. We’re on fire and even though I am one of the more inept business owners around, at least I keep getting back on that horse and riding. We’re in high demand, so that’s always nice.
I just have to remember what we’re worth. My Jewish Second Mom will keep beating this into me until I buy it, I think. We’re worth a lot, she says. There aren’t a lot of people who can do what my team at In The Cloud does, nor with so much flare.
We make this Internet look good, that’s what I’m saying.
Goal-Setting for 2019
The days and nights and nights and days of effort it has taken to set 2019 up for success have not only shown me what I’m made of, but what those around me are capable of. And they’re pretty damn awesome. That being said, I need to get some of my life sort of rebalanced. So here come the 2019 goals!
Double ITC’s output and revenue. We already discussed this. But I thought it was worth mentioning again. Maybe I can actually get my taxes paid on time for once!
Spend more time exploring. I have barely left the (home) office in a year. I have my groceries delivered, I have a postage machine, Amazon brings me everything else. I need to get out of the house and look around at the world. I need to find out what makes it worth living in Fort Worth, Texas (besides Dr. Dhaliwal).
Write more for our company. I have seriously neglected my duties as head blogger at the companies under my direction. That’s already in the process of being fixed, but I need to make it last. Keep it up. We used to blog here all the time, me and you. Time to do better.
Cut the fat. I spend a lot of time fucking around. There’s no way to say it other than like that. I’m a real good fucker arounder. I have to concentrate my fuckery so I have time to do anything besides fuckery and work. Like, you know, take a walk or eat an orange.
Improve focus and productivity. Sometimes it’s everything I can do to focus on the day ahead. Or the one that just got away from me. This year that’s getting attention. Sleeping well and better is the first phase.
Stay active. I am currently doing about an hour of cardio daily to help keep myself moving. It has helped dramatically, but it’s hard to start after I’ve stopped. So I’m not stopping. I need to keep on movin’ on.
Own my shit. You may not believe this, but there are certain people in this world that I am genuinely concerned about what they think of me. It makes it hard for me to have an honest face to face without falling to pieces. I need to own my shit. I’m owning this today.
I guess that’s about it. I have some big goals for next year, but I have no doubt that the people around me will help turn our company into something really magical. Something real special. We’re not a lot now, we’re just learning to crawl, but we’re going to get there. This is everything. We’ve got this nailed so hard.
Thank you for reading all the way down.
Thank you for believing in my vision, if you’re Team ITC. Thank you for being patient.
Thank you for being an inspiration, if you’re a particular reader. Whatever you’ve done in your life and whatever mistakes along the way, know that simply knowing you changed my life profoundly. In my eyes, all those sins are forgiven. Well, except Breitbart.
Thank you for being a friend, if you’re a bee enthusiast. Those long, dark nights of the soul can get pretty bleak. Having so many bees in my corner has been… what’s the word, even? Nonetheless, I would not be here without you.
Thank you for letting me go, if you’re part of the clan back home. I would never have gotten better there. They didn’t know how to help me, I had to leave to realize my potential.
Thank you for everything. All of you. There are so many people who need hand-written notes that I’m very likely to not actually write any due to the overwhelm. But I’m shouting out to you right now, in this blog that gets easily six views a month.
Happy New Year from Waterworth Writes and In The Cloud
Happy New Year, you jerks. May your champagne be bubbly and paper horns noisy and annoying. I’ll be here, clicking the keyboard, trying to figure out why Whataburger is such a big deal and generally feeling my way around in the dark until I find another door.
Oh, and if you need any salty copy written for your company, we’re here to serve. Check out our leaky ship, In The Cloud Copy for more details.
I’m about to reveal one of the biggest secrets in the writing trade. Are you ready?
We don’t write to perfection. We write until it’s good enough.
“Wait,” you say in a sad, almost childlike voice. “But you’re a seasoned professional, that means you’re among the best at this job. How can you just phone it in?”
Ah, little grasshopper, that’s not what I said. I said we write until it’s good enough. That doesn’t mean I have low standards. That means I know, deep in my black heart, that I will never find every misplaced comma, not every turn of phrase will be gold, I won’t always spell everything right. There will be typos. There will be mistakes.
But I’m ok with that.
Perfectionism, Writing and You
One of the biggest problems I’ve see among the newly minted writer is an insidious sort of perfection that looks and sounds like fear. These kids will literally edit all the life out of their work, they’ll write until the piece is begging for an early death.
When this happens, I tell them that they’ve “touched it” too much. If you can imagine a piece, any sort of piece, as a butterfly’s gossamer wing, then you can get what I mean. You catch Mr. Butterfly and those delicate colored scales start to fall off. The more you touch his wings, the more color disappears. In the same way, the more you touch your work, the more you fuck it up.
I’m all for a first and even second proofing pass. I do this myself. I read work out loud so I know it flows properly. But after a pass or two, I’m done. I walk away. Your client, your readers — whoever is judging you — may demand changes that you may never have caught on your own anyway. Because of shit like the Gestalt effect, it’s hard to see your own errors. Your brain fills in the blanks and makes it look right.
This is the biggest unsecreted secret of all pro writers. It’s not about having the right latte or the perfect typing machine or even having a vision of pixies to guide you. IT’S THIS. Good Enough. It’s THE secret to it all.
Time is important when you’re writing, the more you spend, the less you make. So learning to proof quickly and walk away, that’s the secret. I can’t possibly give you any better writing advice.
When I Was a Young Writer…
Not that I’m an old writer now. I’ve just got a few miles on me. And a spare tire…. shut up.
When I was a very young writer, I read every piece of writing advice I could get my hands on. And the thing I didn’t realize then that I do realize now is that there’s no formula, there aren’t any magic tips that’ll make it work. Experience and effort will guide you. They will.
So how do you know you’re “good enough…” Or rather, that your work is?
OH LOOK A LIST!
Being good enough is sometimes harder than being perfect because it’s tricky knowing when to stop. But, these are a few rules I’ve made up just now that you can live your entire life and steer your career by:
Use spell check, but also learn how to spell. I am one of the world’s worst spellers. That’s my Kryptonite. If my spell check stops working, I literally have a meltdown because I can’t spell those five dollar words. And some of the nickel words…. but spell check is there for me most of the time. And while I always look at what it has to say, I also read through everything to check the spelling myself, because that’s the biggest fucking thing, dude. If your spelling is shit, no one will listen to a word you have to say — and spell check can’t always catch errors. Like, for example, accept vs. except. Which one do you need? They’re both spelled correctly. But they’re different….
Read your work aloud. I know I already mentioned this above, but I wanted to discuss this method of proofreading down here, too. Take a rough draft, any rough draft — the rougher the better — and just read it to yourself, but do it out loud. This is an old technique writers use to ensure that their prose is following a proper rhythm for the type of piece it happens to be.
Let’s say you’re writing a really exciting fiction scene and the protagonist is being challenged and he’s kicking ass six ways from Sunday. You want to use a lot of short, choppy sentences to really get that heart rate up. When things calm again, you want to go back to softly melodic sentences. Those things are hard to gauge just staring at the page, but when you hear them read, you can tell where the problems are.
The more practiced you get, the more quietly you can read these things. I give you my permission. When it all sounds like a song, when the words flow effortlessly, you’ve found good enough. It’s funny how sometimes the not quite right word will do, contrary to what that asshole Mark Twain had to say on the subject.
Try to write it in one go. Depending on what you’re writing, this may be impossible, but at minimum, write a whole section, a whole thought, all at the same time. This does two things for your writing: first it ensures that the voice remains consistent and number two, it helps you to finish faster and not ramble. Rambling may be fun when your grandfather’s telling stories at Thanksgiving, but it’s not awesome for a commercial writer. Instead of rambling, get to the fucking point, use as few words as possible and kill more when you do your read-through. It’ll be easier to accomplish this if you do the whole piece at once. When you’re done writing, proof it. Right then. And then send it. Just… all in one session, bickety bang.
Don’t begin to pretend you’re flawless. PAH-LEESE. You’re not perfect. Fucking Stephen King, one of the best writers of our age, isn’t perfect. We all have our weak spots. Mine currently is the overuse of the words “often” and “so,” it’s happening so often that I really have to watch what I write so no one notices that it’s often a serious mental stutter for me. So, anyway…. no one is perfect, so know yourself.
Learn what problems you tend to have, that way you can sort of cheatsheet it and look for those items a little extra hard. What hangs you up will change over time, but something always will be a consistent pain. If time is short, just look for those things that you always fuck up. It’s better than half-assing your proofreading.
I’m so glad you joined me today on the blog. Usually I tell you go to fly a kite or something around this point, but instead I’m going to leave you with these immortal words (I seriously can not make this kind of thing up):
“There’s nothing wrong with making friends with nature. [muttered] One of these days nature is gonna take over and you’re gonna need a friend…” ~Bob Ross, The Joy of Painting, Season 12, Episode 2.
If you’ve been a regular reader, you know that I don’t always go off on personal tangents. But this one, I mean, it’s a Big Deal ™. A few weeks ago, RIng dropped the price on its basic video doorbell. I’ve been wanting one for a long time because I’m a scary hermit that doesn’t answer the door or leave the house. What I mean is that UPS knows my address by heart, but has no idea what I look like.
So, anyway, when the price was dropped, I was poised to strike. I mean, I was confident a video doorbell would make a difference. It took all of 10 minutes to install once I got the frikken hole drilled in the brick on the front of my house. If you have a basic understanding of power tools and a little extra time over your lunch break, this is definitely something you can handle.
How are Doorbells Related to Writing?
My ever-questioning horde, let me explain. To start with, I have four dogs. Four. In Missouri, this was not considered totally crazy, but here in Fort Worth, Texas, it’s a different story. People just don’t have that many dogs. Nothing is really made with that many dogs in mind. So I have to go out of my way to keep them calm and quiet so the neighbors two blocks over aren’t disturbed and call Animal Control.
It is what it is. I try to not be annoyed by my new homeland. It has a lot going for it, like a lack of winter weather.
Combine these doggos with my almost compulsive urge to order shit from Amazon, eBay and other merchants so that I don’t have to leave the house. See, if I’m out there in the world, I’m not safe inside my ice cave. And that’s just no bueno, you know?
in pre-Ring days, I’d have a sign that people would ignore. It said, more or less, “don’t fucking ring this bell or knock or I will cut you.” Delivery guys were assholes and did anyway. One, when I asked him why in the world he rang the bell that was covered by one such sign, countered by asking me how else I’d know my order was delivered.
The answer? Uh, I get a text message as soon as you log it. Jerk.
You don’t need much of an imagination to understand how loud and stressful this was becoming. Between delivery people who didn’t understand how their own system worked and my easy to work up terriers, it was… it was chaos. Loud, ugly, overstimulating chaos.
You know how it’s super annoying when someone interrupts you mid-thought and you have to stare at the page for 20 minutes to sort out what it was you were driving at when it happened? Yeah, that’s what my dogs were doing to me several times a day. It was affecting my work. It sucked.
Today, when a package comes, I get a silent alert on my desktop and a vibration on my phone. That’s it. Most of the time, the dogs don’t even realize someone has been here. That spells quiet time more often, fewer false alarms and so many more fully executed thoughts.
I have literally reclaimed hours of work time due to this doorbell. It has paid for itself over and over again.
Just so you know, as part of the quiet installation I had to disable the bell on my doorbell. In case you want to get one because I said it was pretty awesome. That’s my special tip for you.
Now Go Write!
I know that I usually give you some sort of advice or whatever, but today it’s all doorbells. Doorbells will change your freaking life if you get the right one.
But that’s beside the point. Sometimes, life presents these kind of moments where you have a chance to kind of look back and assess where you are. I typically do this over Dead Week (irony is not lost on me), but being dead made me think that maybe this is something that should happen more than once a year.
For example, I’ve been letting everything in the world get between me and you. You guys, you’re the best, and I’ve not blogged at you for like… well, too damn long. And I have a lot of information packed into my brain that you probably could use for something. Even if that’s an example of what not to do. Like die unexpectedly. Don’t do that.
We All Lose Our Way Sometimes
Last year, another death sent me reeling ’round about this time. My good pal the Honorary Honorable William Bradberry shed this mortal coil. I spiraled for a while because it turned out that I had never bothered to imagine a world where he wasn’t. He was sick, it was a long march to ruin. I had time, but I didn’t.
We had several group projects going that we never finished (and now we never will), pet projects that we’d touch for a while when work was slow, but never really had a good plan to focus them in with. Some were pretty good, some were fucking awful. But it didn’t matter, because sometimes you do the thing just to do the thing.
Anyway, when he passed on, I should have taken the time to recalibrate my compass, but I didn’t. Instead, I just sort of marched forward, best I could. There was always the next project, the next blog, the next client. Before I knew it, it was Dead Week and I hadn’t finished anything I wanted to accomplish for the sheer sake of ticking it off my list.
I did put some wheels into motion at the beginning of this year (big announcement coming soon), but as the months between January and today came and went like so many sprockets on a conveyor belt, I began to doubt and fear that I’d never find my way through the complicated workflow. In fact, last Thursday, I was almost certain I was going to give up.
And then I died.
Recalibrating Your Project Compass
There wasn’t a bright light or an angelic choir (I mean, did you really expect I’d be escorted into the Great Beyond with such a thing?), not even smoke-belching flames. I was under anesthesia and suddenly, I didn’t have any blood pressure. I didn’t know I had died until I woke up in a recovery ward, surrounded by strangers that seemed to be waiting with bated breath.
As far as I knew, I was good. They told me otherwise.
It’s a terrifying thing to realize how many loose threads you almost left behind. At least, it was for me. I resolved to find my compass again and recalibrate it, because it was clearly not showing me good information. It was saying “tomorrow, tomorrow” when it should have said “right the fuck now.”
I’m struggling to find the words to put to this, but I’m afraid that if I don’t write it out while I’m in that “I almost died, here’s my epiphany” mode, I’ll never do it. That’s the right the fuck now part. This attitude won’t last forever. That compass needs daily maintenance, you know.
Next time you find yourself listing to the left or the right of your intentions, recalibrating your compass may help. This is what I’m doing and what I do when I realize I’m dangerously off course:
Assess where you are. You have to be brutally honest with yourself when you’re in this stage of the game. Did you really mean to end up in Toledo? I mean, really? No one wants to go there. Ohio is the worst. Just having this discussion means that you probably know you’re in the wrong place, own it.
Figure out where you want to be. Hopefully you took some time to write down your original destination back when you headed out. If not, there’s no time like now to sort that. Even if you did, you might have learned something that changed the picture. Stop reading right now and figure out where you’re going.
Write out the major steps to get back on track. Think it’s trite all you like, but without a map, that compass is pretty damn useless. It won’t give you all the answers on its own, it’s just a tool to help interpret the data you’ve got. Write your steps down. Using a tool like Any.do or AirTable can help you see where you need to be and when as you walk along.
Consciously review this plan weekly or monthly. Just because you set off in the right direction doesn’t mean that you didn’t manage to somehow take a wrong turn or get led astray by temptation. The best part of a good plan is the way you can constantly revisit it to make sure you’re progressing. That’s why writing down all those steps helps so much.
Celebrate when you realize you did the thing! Did you find your destination? HOORAY! YOU DID THE THING! This is definitely a time to celebrate and take a breath. You accomplished something most people only dream about. Good on ya!
I died on Thursday, May 17, 2018, and I was reminded what it means to be alive. I am a walking cliche. But that’s ok, because it turns out that old cliches are pretty useful for content marketing.
Now get the fuck off the Internet and do something. Don’t get hit by a self-driving cars in your eagerness, though. Always look both ways.
I’ve been writing these New Year’s Letters for long enough now that it’s not only a tradition, but a compulsion to do them. So much so that I think about them long before it’s time to put fingers to keys and punch them into life. Every year, I think that they’ll be trite and meaningless, and every year, they serve as a refocusing point for me, and maybe for some of you, and so I think that makes them pretty much ok and not entirely self-serving bits of debris in a sea that’s already fairly stuffed full of flatulence-loving self-promotional acts woven together from delusions of grandeur and mental masturbaton.
Was it the Year We Needed?
Another year has come and gone, and it’s been a Hell of a year. It was not the year I expected to have, not by a very long shot, but maybe it was the year I needed to have. As most of you know, I moved house from southwest MIssouri to the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas metroplex in February 2017. I very nearly lost my mind during that process. I have never before felt so much stress or so little control over anything, and I’ve been told I had cancer twice (I did not).
Even once that move was complete, the stress level was immense because of the incredible amount of culture shock I was experiencing. Along with that, I had to maintain my business, maintain some level of workload, try to rebuild a household, maintain my health and not fall to pieces. As it turns out, these were very significant challenges. I spent a lot of time stumbling around in the dark, but as they say, “When you’re going through Hell, keep going.” And I did. I had to because there wasn’t anything else.
When we lost Will this summer, then both my grandparents, a friend from school and my great aunt, I was pretty sure I was going to lose my mind completely. I shut down emotionally for a while. I’m sorry about that. You deserved better. I deserved better. But it was much too much for me to handle all at once. Those of you who pulled me out of that deep, dark pit are saints for everything you did and continue to do. It was a very bad, bad place with no color. I won’t lie, I’m still recovering from that. Mostly, I’m ok, but sometimes I’ll hear a song or something and just start crying for no reason.
I was also given hot and cold news about my health this year. The neuro added a diagnosis of mixed Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease and Essential Tremor, the rheumatologist added Seronegative Rheumatoid Arthritis. The hepatologist, however, said that my liver was in really good shape, the tumors have all but disappeared and the inflammation is gone. This is a good thing. A very good thing. But it means that all the exercise and healthy eating has to be a permanent thing or that liver transplant becomes a discussion we have to have again. So good and bad.
A New Normal
It took months to return to normal, but I’ve found it again. I’ve found maybe better than normal. I’m hoping. Every night I go to bed and hope that this is a permanent thing. I’m allowing myself to believe there’s going to be a tomorrow and a yesterday and that I’ll remember a week ago. So far the memory is still a bit hit and miss, but it, too, is improving. Texas has been very good for me and it’s nothing like what I expected it would be.
I’ve started some new projects that are very, very promising. I’m excited to see where they go in the new year. It’s boring work stuff, but for me it’s pretty exciting. I have a lot of creative control and my input is valued highly. Sometimes that’s worth a lot more than money, really. It’s difficult to describe how much that matters, but trust me, it does.
Friends Near and Far
One of my very real fears about moving to Texas was being so far from my home base, the people I’ve known my whole life and my family. The culture in the Ozarks is very family and clan-focused and it’s really the central focus of the whole thing. I won’t lie, I wasn’t sure how it would go. I knew my health would make it extremely difficult to get back often or regularly. Eight hours in a car, minimum, is a lot for me.
But, you know, my dad was right when he said that things aren’t like they used to be. All you have to do these days is hop on the Internet and your friends are right there. All the friends I have in the box. They were there through the toughest times and the easy ones, too. If you’re reading this, you know who you are. You have no idea how much you’re appreciated. How much you’re needed. How much easier you made it to make this massive transition.
Who’s chopping onions in here?!?
On to This Year’s Goals!
Now! As for the coming year, there should be goals. There should always be goals, even if you don’t achieve them. Otherwise, what are we? We’re just floating along like jellyfish, hoping something will hit, I guess. So, I suppose we’ll start with these:
Consume at least one book a week. So, maybe reading is still a little tough, but audiobooks are working out ok. Thanks John and Jason for pushing me in that direction.
Travel a bit. I’ve been to Austin once, and San Antonio twice. I can make both trips very easily, so I should go more often and for funsies. Also other places….
Establish and enforce better work/life balance. I am the worst for dicking around on the Internet when I should be working and then panicking and doing a bunch of work at the last minute. This has to stop. Time management and work/life balance should be this year’s main work goals.
Invest more time in my personal brand. If I can do the thing above, I should have time to do this thing. My blog is sad and lonely and a site I’ve literally been working on for a year needs to launch. It’s pathetic.
Get better at meal planning. Ah, this is also a time management thing. If I had better meal planning skills, I’d not take a freaking year to figure out what I was having for lunch.
Lose another 50 pounds. This is partially because of all the med changes and partially because I like cookies too much. I need to get back on the one cookie per meal diet, exercise more and track everything.
Run three 5Ks. I’m signed up for the Cowtown 5K on February 24th, but I’d like to do at least two more. It’s a little bit of a challenge because I need to ideally take Annie. All this has to be cleared ahead of time and can be a pain.
Explore the metroplex. I’ve lived here for 10 months and have yet to really explore the city. I need to do this. Annie needs to see the world.
I know a lot of people guffaw at New Year’s Resolutions, or even year end goals, or whatever you wanna call it. It’s all the same thing. Really, the timing is arbitrary, but I think it’s pretty important to have a set time of the year to stop what you’re doing, evaluate where you are versus where you want to be, and kind of double down your efforts.
I don’t think it hurts to assess your progress. You can disagree all you want, that’s your right, but I can also call you a pig-faced waffle stomper, so I think that makes us a bit even.
So, whatcha got? What hot burning desires do you have for 2018? What’s driving your engine this year?
It doesn’t take long looking through memories on Facebook to realize how rapidly social media fractured for Americans over the 2016 Presidential election. Even now, there are huge divides keeping us apart and it’s more than what we can blame on algorithm shifts and a natural cycling of “internet friends” and fans.
Since the incredibly surprising turn of that election cycle and the subsequent fingering of Russian interference in our election process, Americans seem to have pushed deeper into their safety bubbles and forgotten how to build bridges and find commonalities. As business owners and professional communicators, it’s up to us to help turn social media around or else we’ll all be sunk. It begins with reconnecting our social networks and remembering how it was to talk to our people without worrying that we’d offend that one perpetually offended person, I think.
Axiom # 1: You Can’t Please Everyone
A friend recently reminded me of something I thought I knew too well. You can’t please everyone all the time. You’ll always be on the outs with someone. And that’s ok. He gave me permission to piss people off, which, as it turns out, I needed. And that’s what I once preached in this blog, at least to some extent.
The fact is that you can’t please everyone. And for as fractured as social media has become, you certainly can’t please all the people who subscribe to you all the time. This is why we segment professional marketing work into manageable groups and have friends who are interested in whatever weirdness we have to say, not simply to increase our numbers. You can’t please everyone and there’s no fucking point in trying. You’ll just wear yourself out, make yourself feel like a failure and ignore the data that says otherwise.
It’s ok if you lose 10 percent of your readership because you said something a bit risky. It’s ok that you had an opinion that lost a small percentage of your market. In fact, it’s probably good that you do because there are always some lurkers that aren’t doing you any good. And that goes for both personal and professional social media. Some people exist to make you feel like you must walk on eggshells, and that’s just wrong.
Fly that fucking freak flag. Fly it high. Your people will find you.
Axiom #2: You Need to Please Some People
I’m not here to make a moral argument, though there’s plenty here to make. I’m going to leave that to you and your people to figure out. But, from a pure marketing standpoint, you have to remember that item #1 up there isn’t for every post. You can’t sit around all day, every day, rattling a saber and claiming that Martians are coming to seize your car illegally and retain a broader audience. You might find lots of people who have experienced Buick abductions themselves, but when that happens, that becomes your new audience. That’s what happened as a result of your giving no fucks.
Actions have effects. This is a universal truth. So, while having an outlier thread now and again is a low risk way to increase engagement, having lots of outlier threads make them become the norm. This will result in a significant shift in your audience base. Ultimately, whatever you do on social media comes back around, provided you keep at it. So, if you have an audience-focused Facebook feed, for example, you need to keep your audience in mind. If you’re just out there to be out there, give it Hell and good luck with the results.
Axiom #3: There’s Not One Right Way to Social Media
The most important part, I think, is that there’s no right way to social media. Obviously, you don’t want to be that guy who is always pissing people off, but then again, maybe that’s your schtick. You don’t want to be that guy who is always advocating for the extreme, unless you do. For most of you, it’s going to be a good bet to try to act as a uniter, even if that means having to unhitch from some of your horses for the greater good.
What I mean is that while social media becomes increasingly fragmented in the personal spaces, brands and public figures need to be trying to focus their efforts on themes that are uniting for their overall social media presentation. Beyond that, it’s up to you how to go about it. There’s no right way. The only wrong way, as I see it, is to add to the issue of fragmentation.
So corral them doggies, share some #NotEntirelyUnpopular posts, add something new to the landscape. I think by now, we can all agree that 24/7 politics are exhausting and there’s hardly energy enough for them any longer (this is not to say that there’s not room for larger messages woven into overarching brand stories). There’s really only selective call for politics in a brand space, anyway, but again, my opinion on this. If your brand is all about selling white bedsheets to Klan members, obviously, you’re not *my* market.
I know this seems like a mess of a blog. But the point is that although you can’t please everyone, you have to please someone and if you’re a brand, you should consider the bigger picture. As social media continues to fragment, you don’t want to be the business with just one guy as an audience. You (and I) need to be doing the things it takes to reunite those audiences, even if only as brand advocates. I think it’ll do a world of good to remind people that just because their politics are slightly different, they all use the same brand of toilet paper.
Common ground is the key to life and to refocusing our social media efforts. It’s up to you to decide what that means before it’s too late for your brand image.
I know I promised I was back and this was back and it was BACK, but as you’ve seen, I’m not as on the ball as I had hoped to be. I know other writers who have struggled with this sort of thing after a massive life change, be that having a baby or being diagnosed with a serious illness or just moving far, far away from home for the first time. These massive shake-ups are the times when our lives truly, truly far apart.
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but when I was in school and taking creative writing courses, the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory was usually an early handout. This inventory was perfected by various mental health experts to help better classify and determine just how stressed a person was. Some of my professors disagreed with certain items and moved them around, but for the most part this was the currency of fiction.
Characters in assignments were to have a score of 100 or 125 or 150 to really teach how fiction works. It makes a better story if there’s conflict, the entire world reasons. No one wants to read a story about a lovely picnic or a starry sky or a vast canyon. I mean, I do, but I’m not people, apparently.
The Bit About Falling Apart
Today, I sit at a 198. That’s plenty, if you ask me. This is why I’m falling apart. Client work is still moving along, I think it’s even getting a bit better, but personal projects, hopes, dreams, goals, all of that stuff is getting dusty on the shelf. This is the bit where I fall apart. I’m not depressed, I’m not in danger, I’m just… I’m so stressed I can’t function properly. And there’s naught to do for it except watch the big hand rotate around.
Until then, I’m trying to learn how to love my new home of Ft. Worth, Texas. I’m eating more tortillas than should be legal, I’m holding private tres leche cake judging contests between the various supermarkets, I’m exploring new and unusual vegetables and fruits. It’s not home, it won’t be, but it can be a home. I just keep chipping away at it.
The funny thing, I think, the funniest thing to me, anyway, is that in the midst of all this abundance, I am overwhelmed. You’d think that having sixteen different supermarket chains and twenty different healthcare systems and a zillion entertainment options and a sea of houses would simply thrill someone from a place that exists with only a tiny fraction of all of this. You’d think it would be a cornucopia. In ways, it is, certainly. I can visit merchants I had only ever seen online before, for example, but it’s too much. My brain can’t take it. I am constantly functioning with a status of “overwhelmed.”
… that’s the falling apart. That’s why I’m struggling. It’s like when you first got onto the Internet and there was simply more to see and do and read than you could have ever imagined. It was more collective thought (and porn) than anyone ever dreamed possible, but it was too much. You didn’t sleep, you consumed until you fatigued.
I think that’s where I am now. I’m pining for the fjords, but there’s nothing for it. This is what falling apart looks like today. It’s me missing fickle spring in Southwest Missouri, where it goes from 10 degrees to 70 in a matter of days. It’s the smell of sweet clover and cow manure wafting through my memories. It’s everything I knew disappearing into shadows.
… But Then There’s the Coming Together
As much as I miss my home and I fear it’ll fade into nothing the longer I’m here, no one can wallow in the past for long. There’s a bit in all of us that wants to survive, to live, to thrive. There’s that little glimmer of hope and curiosity and fucking overcoming life’s shit that keeps us moving on. I promise you, I have this, too.
I know because when I look over my neighbor’s fences and see the red-orange sunset that seems to spread forever I take comfort. I know because the wicked wind that comes across the prairie has stopped screaming and is now simply singing a low song. I know because tacos from a truck are far better than anything from a fancy restaurant.
As each box is unpacked, each picture hung on the wall, each day ticks down, I feel a little bit more like I am finding myself again. For those of you who grew up in these sorts of knots of confusion and noise that they call cities, I don’t mean any offense. It’s not a wrong way to live, but it is a very different way than what I knew. Even Springfield, the third biggest city in Missouri and probably the biggest city in the Ozarks, isn’t anything like this. Even the smallest suburbs here are more city than Springfield ever hoped it could become.
It takes time. Just like the first time I saw the Internet, the first time I’m forced to have to exist inside a network of cement and asphalt and trains and cars and noise and lights will eventually become my new normal. If it’s normal to have friends inside a computer, it can be normal to have a railway lullaby. Anything can become normal if we find a way to accept it that doesn’t clash with our inner self. That’s the coming together.
Like with writing, integrating in a new place can be as simple as understanding yourself and the context in which you’re placed. The falling apart and the coming together… it’s all a little bit you and a little bit me.