Living (and creating) while imperfect

Raise your hand if you’re imperfect.

Okay, put it down; you’re gonna need it to scroll through this post.

Most of us accept imperfections in our life:

  • The eyeliner on your left eye that never quite matches the line on your right.
  • The burned roast—but it’s only burned on one side; you can slice that right off. Or—hey!—become a vegan.
  • The attempt at parallel parking that…Well, do I really need to detail all the ways that can go wrong?

imperfectionWe park the car imperfectly and move on. Because we have to. Because if we futzed around until it was perfect we’d miss our lunch appointment…and probably dinner too.

Why can’t we do the same thing when our writing is imperfect?

So your writing’s imperfect? Join the club

No one writes well all the time. No one. I’ve said it before—many people have said it before, but none as eloquently as Ernest Hemingway, who opined:

Everyone’s first draft is shit.

And of course he was right. I mean, maybe one in a million people writes brilliantly right out of the gate. More likely that one in a million just thinks that—and they’re wrong.

So what do you do with imperfect writing?

You figure out how much time you can spend parallel parking it, and then you get out of the car—step away from the computer—and make it to your appointment on time.

Your appointment, in this case, is not lunch but your writer’s group, or your class, or your blog, or your supportive best friend who’s been writing for longer than you.

Get out of the car, no matter how badly you’ve parked it, and let another human being read your work. Yes, your imperfect, human work.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking

But maybe they’ll hate it.

And indeed, maybe they will. But did you ever consider this? Maybe they won’t.

You can try all the confidence-boosting tricks in the book—and I’ll be sharing some in my program Permission to Write.

But nothing—No. Thing.—can replace feedback from an actual reader.

I mean, that’s what you’re writing for, right? To be read.

Don’t be shy about it. It’s a perfectly fine goal, even for an imperfect writer like you. And me.

So make a commitment:

  • When you will share.
  • How you will share.
  • With whom you will share.
  • What you will share.

And then make like Nike: Just do it.

(And join us in Permission to Write for shy writers)

Writers’ batting order—creativity leads off

writers' batting orderAs I said goodbye to the 2017 baseball season yesterday—well for my Mets, anyway—I got to thinking about the magic of the batting order.

You want your swiftest runner batting first. Second, you want a player likely to move that runner along with a base hit or a well-placed bunt. In the third spot, you want someone who can deliver a big hit. And to make sure the opposing pitcher doesn’t pitch around Mr. Big Hit in the third slot, you want a cleanup hitter (the fourth slot) who can reliably hit the ball out of the park.

And then I got to wondering—well, the Mets were down 6-0 in the fifth; there wasn’t a lot of game to care about—I got to wondering what my writers’ batting order would look like. This is what I came up with:

Creativity
Confidence
Commitment
Communication

How I set my writers’ batting order

Some people might flip the first two batters. What do you need first: Creativity to generate the idea? Or confidence to get you to the computer? That would make for a lively discussion if there were a literary equivalent of the sports bar.

But I put Creativity first because you can have all the confidence in the world—not that I’ve encountered many good writers who have all the confidence in the world…But theoretically you could have all the confidence in the world when you sit down at the keyboard, but if you don’t have an idea how are you gonna make those words appear on the screen?

So Creativity leads off on my team. But then you absolutely need Confidence next. That’s what gets your butt in the seat. What keeps your fingers pounding the keys, even when you’re writing badly. Because not even Confidence bats 1.000. Confidence reassures you that even if you have an off day—hey, even the best hitters only reach base about a third of the time.

Commitment’s up third. Confidence may get your butt in the chair, but Commitment keeps it there. And keeps it coming back every day. Whether or not you want to—it’s not up for debate; you’ve made a commitment.

Those three Cs set the table for the fourth one, the one that pays off all this hard word: Communication. You get to share your ideas, your creativity, with the world.

You’re not going to hit a home run every time—and if you expect that you will, you’re in for a big disappointment, my friend. But if you do your best, “take your hacks” as they say in baseball, you have every reason to be proud.

But you have to step up to the plate. You have to try. So stop reading this and write something. Yes, now.


Time to kick your writing skills up a level? Join me for my popular Writing Unbound program this October. A serious commitment, for people serious about change.

Ignoring the Willits — another 90-Day Writing Challenge in the books

no Willits allowedIt’s only been a month or so since I introduced you to the Willits, surely the most annoying creatures on the planet. The Willits always pop by unannounced—generally about two or three sentences into whatever I’m writing. And they don’t just tiptoe in. They announce themselves loudly, asking unanswerable questions:

Will it move anyone?
Will it be coherent?

And, of course—always—

Will it sell?

I called these unanswerable questions. They’re also completely irrelevant.

How will your audience receive you work—will it move them? will they buy it?—you have about as much control over that as you do over the wind. The middle question—will people understand your writing—you have a modicum of control over that one. But you don’t have to think about it—in fact, you should never think about it—until the first draft is done and it’s time to revise.

Writers ignoring the Willits

A dozen writers entered the 90-Day Writing Challenge that wrapped up yesterday. One of them never started; two of them dropped out in the first week. The rest navigated life and the Willits as best they could. And, believe me, life and the Willits threw everything but the kitchen sink at these people.

Two writers finished the full 90 days; a third completed her commitment of writing Monday through Friday for 13 weeks. One writer made it all the way to 70 days before life intervened—and then started a new streak the very next day. Another writer missed the full 90 by two days. Together, they raised $610 for their favorite charities in the U.S. and abroad. And they did something important for themselves. As one writer put it,

“It is amazing the benefits I have got from doing this – not just writing but positivity, focus, clarity and peace of mind.”

Positivity, focus, clarity, and peace of mind—the Willits hate those things.

Willits, Willits everywhere

Even if you write every day as I do (Day 522 yesterday), the Willits will still pop in. But they’re much less likely to stay if you have a goal, a commitment—to yourself, to your client, to a class. If your attitude is I’ll write this when I feel like it, the Willits will hijack your attention in a heartbeat. So set yourself a goal that matters—and pound your NO WILLITS sign firmly into the front lawn.

Staying on course is always easier when you have a supportive community. That’s one of the reasons my Writing Unbound course combines live group discussions with watch-at-your-own-schedule videos. Click the link, fill out the application, and let’s talk. If you need a Willit-free zone, we can help you create one.

Writing 90 days & more — could YOU do it?

Today may look like just another Thursday to you, but to a handful of writers it’s a big freaking deal. They’ve been writing 90 days in a row (why not “writing for 90 days”? You know the answer: SEO). Yes, they have completed my second 90-Day Writing Challenge.

Ninety days in a row can be a pretty daunting commitment. I started my streak accidentally, but I still remember where I was when I hit 90 days, and how proudly I proclaimed it to the people I was with.

A dozen writers plunked down their money to join the challenge. As I write this on Wednesday night, it looks like only three will complete the full 90 days, with another two fulfilling their commitment of writing Monday through Friday for the 13 weeks.

The rest? Some of them never even started. One missed the full 90 by a single day—but to his credit, he picked back up and started writing the very next day. I have enormous respect for that. One of the reasons I’ve continued to write daily—even when I need to drag myself out of a sickbed to do it—is that I’m afraid once I break my streak, I’ll never recreate it. He’s well on his way, though.

What does writing 90 days get you?

What do my writers get out of the experience? Well, here’s what Harold Waisel told me today:

“I’ve learned a lot in the 90-Day Challenge. More story, less passive voice, trying to use more active verbs. And the more you practice, the better at it you get.”

“The more you practice, the better at it you get.” Exactly.

That’s one reason my Writing Unbound program lasts for 10 weeks. That’s more than enough time to solidify new habits, like writing every day. Yes, I ask participants to commit to 15 minutes a day, just like my Challenge writers. And just like me. (Day 520 on Wednesday Sept. 27th.)

I probably won’t run another 90-Day Challenge until sometime next year. It’s quite a—well—a challenge for me too, keeping track of who’s written, reading all the marvelous and inventive things they come up with.

But I will be running another 5-Day Writing Challenge December 26th-30th. That’s when all this craziness started last year, with the Jumpstart 2017 5×15 Writing Challenge, so it’ll be an anniversary. And I’m planning a great celebration.

Click here and I’ll keep you posted.

Quitting time — an entrepreneur’s dilemma

quitting time
(Not Fenway)

I worked for 12 hours on Wednesday and 11 the day before. So Thursday rolls around and 6:30 looks a lot like quitting time.

C’mon, it’s quitting time. Quit! says the little entrepreneur on my shoulder. Which shoulder? The left one. Nope, that’s where the bad advice comes from.

Stop with the computer already, says my Canine Assistant, Fenway, jumping into my lap.

This is not a problem I’d encounter with a human assistant, I think. Okay, I’ll walk the dog. But then…

Seriously, Elaine, you need to rest sometimes. Ah, the reasonable voice. My coach, reminding me that I need a balanced life. And she’s right.

But am I quitting?

No. I’m not longing to quit because I deserve a rest. I want to quit because the next item on my to-do list scares me. And if I turn on the baseball game and grab my knitting, I can avoid pushing past my comfort zone for one more night.

So is it quitting time? It most certainly is not.

Sorry if this post is shorter than usual, but I have some boundaries to crash. And I ain’t going anywhere until I’ve crashed ’em.


Time to kick your writing skills up a level? Join me for my popular Writing Unbound program this October. A serious commitment, for people serious about change.

Daily writing practice —consistency breeds success

Some people practice yoga. Other people practice their golf swing. Me, I practice writing. Every day for the last 511 days (as of yesterday). That’s what you call a daily writing practice.

Why is a daily writing practice important? Two reasons:

  1. Consistency and
  2. Consistency

First, consistency: a daily practice makes you better at whatever you’re doing—the old 10,000-hour rule. I’ve written about this a lot (here and here, among other places) so I won’t revisit the discussion.

The second point of consistency, though, is not for you. It’s for your audience. You might call that the Field of Dreams rule. And my friend Melissa Smith is a shining example.

Daily writing practice leads to 1400% more readers

daily writing practice
Daily writer Melissa Smith

Back in March, her blog had about 250 subscribers. She says she remembers the date well “because that’s when I was sure it couldn’t still be just family and friends.” Six months later—with zero marketing—she’s at 3600. That’s more than 1400% growth. With—did I mention?—zero marketing.

Melissa says:

“When people ask why I have been having success with my blog I tell them the single biggest reason is because I write and publish every, single, day. They would rather me give them magic answers, tips, tricks, and awesome SEO. It’s so much easier and so much harder for them as well.”

I added the emphasis there: Every. Single. Day. No, it’s not magic; just work.

If you show up, people will show up with you. Of course, then they’ll expect you to keep showing up. Meet their expectations and you’ll develop a relationship with your followers, sustained by your daily writing practice.

Melissa runs ThePVA.com—an excellent matchmaking service for VAs and employers like me—but it’s not her work blog that’s attracting so much attention. Melissa is documenting her year as a “Roamer,” a group of entrepreneurs settling in a new country every month. It’s not shiny travel porn, and that’s key to its success. Melissa is a real person writing about her real life. The homesickness. The joy of discovering new places, new pursuits. The friendships she’s forming. It’s like a one-woman Amazing Race.

I don’t know what Melissa plans to write about when her year of Roaming ends. But I do expect she’ll be writing. Once you’ve seen what a daily writing practice can do, there’s no going back. That’s why I hit Day 511 yesterday and why I’ll do all I can to make sure I hit 512 today.


Time to kick your writing skills up a level? Join me for my popular Writing Unbound program this October. A serious commitment, for people serious about change.

Why write every day? Quantity breeds quality.

“Quantity is how you get to quality.” I heard someone say that on a podcast recently—I’ll tell you more about that in a minute. But the quotation resonated with me because that’s the whole point of this blog. I was going to save this rumination for a milestone—maybe Day 500, which is tantalizingly close. But let’s eat dessert first, shall we?

write every dayI sell the daily practice to my writers by telling them that when you write every day, you increase your skills. And that’s true. But no one can turn out brilliant work every day. So in addition to teaching you to write better, a daily practice also teaches you to accept imperfection.

And—and forgive me if the point seems obvious at first—it forces you to write every day. Even when you think you haven’t got a single idea in your head.

If I weren’t committed to write every day, I might skip those uninspired days. But many of those “idea-free” days have produced some of my best work.

If I wrote, say, three days a week, those posts might be more narrowly confined to my so-called field of expertise—business writing. It’s much easier to turn out three posts a week on business writing than it is to turn out seven. But because I write every day, I wander out of my field and digress sometimes.

This—my most-shared post to date—began as a digression.

So do most of my Story Safaris. Like this one, and this one, and this one.

My “uncomfortable conversations” posts—part one and part two—those are personal stories. If I didn’t have the space to fill, you might not have gotten to hear them.

Write every day—quantity matters

I promised to get back to you about the quotation that set me off here—”quantity is how you get to quality.” That’s not an quote from the podcast guest, or from the original coiner of the phrase. It’s from prolific director and guy-who’s-made-my-skin-crawl-for-decades, Woody Allen. Increasing the skin-crawling factor, at first the only similar quotation I could find was about sex, from his movie Love and Death:

“It’s not the quantity of your sexual relations that count. It’s the quality. On the other hand, if the quantity drops below once every eight months, I would definitely look into it.”

But I finally found a quotation that fit the context in which the podcast guest quoted him. It’s from a documentary about Allen:

“I’ve been working on the quantity theory. I feel if I keep making films, every once in a while I’ll get lucky and one will come out OK. And that’s exactly what happens.

That “quantity theory” is exactly what’s at work when you write every day. So write. Every day. You’ll be amazed at what happens.


Write better when you write more often. Join my 5-day writing challenge: Write for 15 minutes a day and I’ll donate your registration fee to a global literacy nonprofit. More info and registration link here.

Keep going — Confucius meets SEO

"It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop." Or, Confucius meets SEOI wanted to open with this indisputably wise quotation from the Chinese philosopher Confucius. But what happens when Confucius meets SEO?

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop”—SEO hates negative keywords. And you can’t get much more of a “stop word” than stop. But translated into a positive frame, the wisdom turns bland and boring, essentially:

“Keep going.”

It’s a good thing for all of us that Confucius never had to deal with SEO. And yet, somehow, his work has gone viral enough that’s still being quoted more than 2500 years after his death. Now that’s genius.

Of course, his name wasn’t really Confucius. Wikipedia notes that as a Latinization of Kǒng Fūzǐ (孔夫子, if you want it in the original). Over the centuries the philosopher has picked up a number of posthumous nicknames,. My favorite is the first, coined in the first century AD: “Laudably Declarable Lord Ni.” May we all be “laudably declarable,” lord or not.

But I digress

Whew! Almost went down a rabbit hole there. I’m sure there’s many a good story safari to be had in the life and wisdom of Kǒng Fūzǐ. But I’m more interested in this particular piece of wisdom:

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”

I always feel like I’m going too slowly. I’m rarely satisfied with my own progress. My patron saint is St. Hurry-Up. Well, St. Expeditus—Santo Expedito in Portuguese. I first discovered him in Brazil, though why he’s not widely worshiped in New York remains a complete mystery to me.

So I feel like I’m never going fast enough. And yet to my clients and friends, I seem to be in constant motion—thinking, creating, shipping (to use Seth Godin’s term). No matter how gummed up I feel inside, I make sure Ship Happens. I’ve even set goals for my vacation. Not work goals, but still—goals.

Hey, at least I’m taking a vacation (next month!). That hasn’t happened in—wow!—probably a decade, since I went to Brazil and discovered St. Hurry-Up. So I’m, um, slowly making progress on slowing down. I guess I should count that as a win.


If you’re secretly attached to your files full of unfinished writing …if you enjoy collecting rejection emails…if you worry that effective marketing would generate too much income for your business DO NOT register for my VIP class on Revision. Starts June 22nd!

#WhyIWrite – When every day is National Day on Writing

Did you know about the National Day on Writing? I just found out about it. And why is it not “National Writing Day”? Perhaps to give the editors something to do on National Editing Day. Anyway, you know it’s a real thing because there’s a hashtag: #WhyIWrite.

#WhyIWrite

I wrote “National Editing Day” as a joke but then I figured I should check the Google machine. No, there’s no National Editing Day. But there is a National Proofreading Day (March 8th). Mark your calednars.

The National Day on Writing comes to us courtesy of the National Council of Teachers of English. I’m sure they’re fine people—two of my favorite teachers taught English—but they really ought to meet up with the National Council of Copyeditors. (Sadly, that doesn’t exist either.)

#WhyIWrite Every Day

The official National Day on Writing is October 20th. But longtime readers know that every day is Writing Day here at Bennett Ink. And it has been for the last 440 days.

I could offer a million reasons #WhyIWrite. But I hate lists, so I’ll just give you a few.

Because my clients pay me. But the truth is I write even when I’m not getting paid directly—I just get to choose my own topics and deadlines. Still, I love my clients. And (mostly) the topics they speak and write about.

Because it helps me think. For the past couple of months I’ve been working my way through Seth Godin’s Marketing Seminar—there’s a summer intensive starting soon and I highly recommend it. When I get to the questions at the end of each module, my first reaction is, I have no idea how to answer these questions. Then I copy and paste them into a Word doc and start typing and it turns out I do have answers to those questions. Sometimes pretty good answers, too.

Because I love surprises. I love helping my readers shift their perspective and see things from a different angle. And my writing students discover their skills.

Because I have things to say. Since I started posting daily about 14 months ago, many readers have told me that my writing has made a difference in their lives. It’s also made a difference in mine.

Because every time I do it, I get a little better. Not that everything I write is a gem, but bit by bit (byte by byte?) the bar gets higher every day.

Because it keeps me sane.*

Why do you write?

*within normal tolerances


If you’re secretly attached to your files full of unfinished writing …if you enjoy collecting rejection emails…if you worry that effective marketing would generate too much income for your business DO NOT register for my VIP class on Revision.

Why am I not a superwoman? — Frequent Questions

Q: Why am I not a superwoman?
A: It’s not for lack of trying.

Today’s question doesn’t come from a reader. Well, I guess technically it does: I read each post thoroughly, right after I write it.

It’s past 10 pm and here I am, at my laptop. Normally, that wouldn’t be notable. Sunday I worked ’til 11 (well, okay, I took a couple of hours off in the afternoon to watch the Mets game).

But this particular 10 pm comes at the end of a day during which I was not stationed at my desk. I was packing and hauling and unpacking and…all I can think of is the old line Channel 5 used to run just before its late night newscast: “It’s 10 pm. Do you know where your children are?

In this case, it’s 10 pm and I’m not quite sure where my brains are.

It’s Day 428 of my writing streak. And more than a year into blogging daily. Hard to let go of either habit. But, I thought, as I trudged upstairs to set up my computer in its new temporary home, perhaps I’m not a superwoman after all.

The Not-A-Superwoman Challenge

I tell the folks in my writing challenges: You don’t have to write well every day; you just have to write. I’ve gotten that part down pat.

So maybe it’s time for a new challenge, a personal challenge. The “You Don’t Have to be a Superwoman Every Day” challenge. Recognize how hard I work, how many plates I keep spinning at once, and let one fall every now and then.

Well, I have let some things fall. I’m more than two weeks behind on Seth Godin’s marvelous Marketing Seminar. I see the empty check boxes next to his name on my to-do list and feel guilty. I know I’m missing some great wisdom. And I want it all. Now.

And I’ve got more to say on this subject, I’m sure. But my 15 minutes are up for today.

Signing off for now.

S


Want to communicate more courageously? Click here to get my e-book Do It Anyway: Tips for Courageous Writing