Marketing Block — Writer’s Block’s evil twin

marketing blockI don’t believe in writer’s block. I’ve written about that dozens of times, including this post about Fran Lebowitz’s decades-long block. But when I came across that post the other day, I had a new appreciation for what Lebowitz has gone through. Writer’s block may not be real, but I’ve been locked in mortal combat with its evil twin for a couple of weeks now. Marketing Block. It’s a bitch.

Interviewed in 1993 for The Paris Review, Lebowitz talked about the pain of not writing:

“Not writing is probably the most exhausting profession I’ve ever encountered. It takes it out of you. It’s very psychically wearing not to write—I mean if you’re supposed to be writing.”

Replace “writing” with “marketing” and you have a snapshot of my life the past month. “Exhausting,” “psychically wearing”—Fran, I see those adjectives and I’ll raise you “painful.”

Of course, if writer’s block isn’t real…

Damn. Really?

I’ve been suffering for a month from something that doesn’t exist?

Marketing Block and the F-Word

In my blog post last spring, I wrote:

If you invent an external reason for your inaction, you don’t have to face the (probable) internal reason—a reason Lebowitz identifies as fear.

At this point, I gotta tell you, “fear” isn’t the only F-word floating around in my head. Perhaps I’ve been too smug about people who fear writing so much they pathologize not doing it. They may be inventing the condition, but they’re not inventing the pain they experience from it. Neither am I.

Okay, time to pick myself up and deploy some well-placed F-words in the direction of my fear. Maybe if I tell Marketing Block I’ve decided it’s not real, it will get the hell out of town.



Do you need some practice speaking up at work? Join me for “Say What You Want to Say”—a webinar for women who are ready to lead. Priceless advice from an award-winning business speechwriter: On November 20th, it’s free.

What can I do when I get nervous? — Frequent Questions

Q: What do I do when I get nervous?
A: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

A friend of mine gave a speech yesterday. “I’m nervous,” she told me.

My response? “Good. That means you’re alive.”

Really, folks, everybody gets nervous.

That speech you’re so nervous about giving, I bet you were nervous about writing it, too. But you survived the writing and you will survive the reading. The key to both is:

Don’t pathologize it.

nervous
got nerves?

Being nervous is just part of the process. Like making sure you put the page numbers at the top of each page. Like printing out two copies of the draft, so you’re sure to remember one. Like tapping the pages on the lectern to make sure they’re all lined up neatly before you speak. It’s a process.

I guarantee that every speaker—no matter how experienced—feels butterflies. But the pros just say, “Hey, butterflies. How ya doin’?” Breathe, maybe strike a power pose in the bathroom. Stand up straight and walk onstage with a smile. Maybe the butterflies will flutter after you. But once you hear the first applause or laughter, you’ll relax into it.

If you’ve rehearsed your piece—you have rehearsed your piece, haven’t you?—you’ll be fine.


Do you need some practice speaking up at work? Join me for “Say What You Want to Say”—a webinar for women who are ready to lead. Priceless advice from an award-winning business speechwriter: On November 20th, it’s free.

Speaking up — a hairy story

The universe has a wacky sense of humor. No sooner do I start writing about the importance of brave communication than I’m thrown into a situation that requires speaking up for myself.

Was it scary? Yes, sadly. And that’s all the more ridiculous because the incident involved would barely register on the scale of all of the #metoo outrages we’ve been reading about in the last month or so.

I could have walked away. Perhaps in the past I would have walked away. No, no–if I’m going to be honest here, I’m going to be 100% honest: I have walked away in the past. Hasn’t every woman? (And apparently every man who’s been within an arm’s length of Kevin Spacey.)

But then I thought about all I’ve been writing lately about speaking up, communicating like a leader. And so I spoke up. Here’s the story.

The 12-year-old boy inside the grown-ass man

Sunday morning, heading down the hall to the choir room to don my robe, this older dude from the choir is walking behind me. As we pass the church’s thrift store holding room, he says, “You need a hair dryer.”

speaking upI thought perhaps someone had donated an ancient hair dryer and he was making a joke about it. I said, “What?”

He repeats, “You need a hair dryer,” and then flips the back of my hair.

For the record, my hair was perfectly dry–and awesomely shiny thanks to my new shampoo. But even if I’d just climbed out of Cape Cod Bay, the dude–I didn’t even know his name (it’s New England; I haven’t been introduced to half the people in the choir)–had no standing to comment on my appearance. And even less standing to touch me.

This is the second time an old man at this church has touched me and spoken to me as if I were his child. 

I hadn’t visited the church more than a handful of times, but after one service I took out my phone to note an upcoming church event in my calendar. Dude sweeps by and slaps me on the shoulder, saying, “Put that thing away!” He may have thought his avuncular smile would mitigate his intrusiveness. It didn’t. But it did delay my reaction–took me maybe a week to figure out that he was treating me like his child.

So when this second dude touched me on Sunday, I recognized the gesture for what it was. My friend Angie described it best: “rude, impulsive, and thoughtless.” And while part of me wished fervently that I could just walk away, the rest of me realized I’d never forgive myself if I did.

I spent the entire service considering my response. The more I thought about it, the more juvenile his behavior seemed. Like a 12-year-old boy insulting a girl and then pushing her just so he could touch her–because that’s the only way he can think of to get her to notice him.

This dude hasn’t been a 12-year-old boy since before I was born. And I wondered how his wife (also in the choir) would feel about his juvenile need to get other women to “notice him.” Yep, I needed to speak to both of them together. Or at least make sure she heard whatever I said to him.

Speaking up — scary but satisfying

Back in the choir room after the service, I waited until the wife showed up and then I walked over to the dude and said, “Sir”–that was probably the hardest word to get out of my mouth, since I felt zero respect for him. But I wanted to get his attention. I said, “Sir, I don’t know your name.”

He told me his name and stuck out his hand, which I shook. Perhaps he’d been expecting pleasantries. This is what he got:

“I just wanted to tell you that I don’t appreciate you insulting my hair. And you do not have permission to touch me. What in the world would make you think that you could touch a woman you don’t even know?”

About halfway through my little speech, his head dropped.

“I’m sorry,” he said to his shoes.

As I turned to walk away he told his toes, “I meant no offense.”

I drove out of the church parking lot, my heart pounding, and stopped in the nearest safe place to calm down and regroup.

“Just” and justice

It would have been so easy to walk away. After all, he “just” touched my hair, he didn’t shove his fist in my crotch like the giant assh*le who tried to rape me in college. But it’s all on the same continuum:

Your body doesn’t belong to you; as a man, I can touch or grope or worse. If I don’t choose to acknowledge your agency as an adult human being, then you have none. Tough titties. (Oooh, titties!)

So I set aside the “just” (he just touched my hair) in favor of justice. It’s my own variation of the old Broken Windows policing theory–serve notice about every personal intrusion, every boundary crossed without permission, no matter how small. Because if you don’t tell the perpetrators you care about the small transgressions, they have no incentive to stop. And some of them will escalate to even larger transgressions.

I’m sure I bewildered the old dude by getting angry about something he’s done hundreds of times in his life. But I guarantee you his shoes were more confused than he was: You’re sorry? What, for not using the shoehorn this morning?

Still, you know, I’m okay with leaving a string of bewildered, handsy dudes in my wake. We need to tell them this is not normal or acceptable behavior. For sure someone should have done that before. But now it’s our turn; we need to take it.


Do you need some practice speaking up at work? Join me for “Say What You Want to Say”–a webinar for women who are ready to lead. Priceless advice from an award-winning business speechwriter: On November 20th, it’s free.

Mwah-hah-hah: Fear

Hallowe’en is (at least partially) about Fear, right? Good-natured fear. You know the toddler in the Dracula getup isn’t going to puncture anything more serious than the wrapped candy you distribute.

The fear that hits writers sometimes is like that, too. It’s not gonna kill you, so as the cliché has it that must mean it’ll make you stronger. But it’s so, so hard to remember that. To remember that all you need to do is keep putting one word in front of another. You may not be able to outrun your fear, but you can write yourself a path through it.

So I asked my writers this week to write about their fear. We looked at the conversation Elizabeth Gilbert shared in her essential book Big Magic; I  couldn’t wait to see what this creative group came up with.

Gilbert sets boundaries with her fear: you can do this, but not that. I am in charge. One of my writers took a similar approach, but added a trio of enforcers named after personal growth qualities we all need. At the end of her piece, the enforcers escorted Fear outside “to have a talk.” Tony Soprano would have been proud.

Another writer could have been writing a movie script called Fear Takes a Holiday. Instead of calling in the goons to beat up Fear, she showed Fear what a good time looks like. Encouraged it to take a load off and hang out in the sunshine. You could almost see the piña colada in Fear’s hand, see the smile slowly dawning on Fear’s face.

Smiling Fear? Well, that’s no real fear at all. So whatever you fear, hand it an umbrella drink and show it a grand old time. It’ll never want to go home again.

It’s not always easy

Oh I talk a good game. I tell you not to believe in Writer’s Block, the Loch Ness Monster of the word world. But just because Writer’s Block is a myth doesn’t mean it’ll always be smooth sailing when you write.

Take today—well, yesterday by the time you read this. I had to add maybe two sentences to a draft I’d been working on. Two paragraphs at the most.

No, it’s really not always easy

Most days I can turn out 300 words in under half an hour, so this should have been a piece of cake.

Cake…yeah, that’s about the only thing I didn’t eat as I tried to avoid my work. Everything seemed to get in the way: the constant rain (I felt trapped inside), the conference calls that punched a hole in my day, the exhaustion that overtook me as soon as the calls were done.

Did I remember all of Elizabeth Gilbert’s wonderful advice about dealing with fear? Reader, I did not.

Did I remember any of my own wonderful advice about just making your fingers hit the keys, even if all you end up writing is “I have no idea what to write”? Negative.

Did I…yeah I know lists are supposed to have three things in them. But whatever the third thing would be here, you can rest assured I didn’t do that either.

I moped. I pouted. I napped.

I felt like a hypocrite.

It's not always easy

And then I remembered that I’m not a hypocrite; I’m a human being.

So I popped a piece of dark chocolate and I sat my ass down at the keyboard. Well, in my chair in front of the keyboard.

And I wrote what I needed to write.

It may not be the most brilliant work I’ll ever do. But it’s done—and that’s the most important thing.

It’s not always easy. But you can’t let fear silence you.

So write, already.


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

Nothing to fear but fear itself?

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

fear itself
By USCapitol – Franklin D. Roosevelt’s First Inauguration, Public Domain

Like most things in life, the truth of FDR’s famous quote turns out to be not quite as attractive as the words burned into our brains by decades of misquoting: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

Ah…I wish this post were about President Franklin Roosevelt’s first inaugural address. But it’s not. It’s about me. Because I’m always telling you how important authenticity and transparency are, I have to be authentic and transparent with you now.

Fear itself

I talk a lot about fear. So much, in fact, that some of you may believe I’ve conquered it.

Um…no.

Fear is quite the shape-shifter. You beat it back in one form and it comes back in another; you learn to use one set of tools against it and it learns to work around those tools. Or worse, to use them against you.

I once had such a strong fight-or-flight reaction that the only way I could stay put (and I needed to stay put) was to imagine that my feet were encased in a bucket of cement.

I stayed put. And I got the job, too. Needless to say, that wouldn’t have happened if I’d let Fear win that round.

So I’ve adapted to some of the tactics Fear uses to stop me from creating, but I can still find myself reduced to tears by fear of doing something new.

Do I keep doing new things? You betcha.

And so should you.

My most recent fear—a fear that reduced me to tears only a few days ago—was, at bottom, fear of not doing something well. Of getting a C on the great pop quiz of life.

Of course, I’m not going to be perfect all the time. Or maybe even ever. And especially not the first time I do something.

So when Fear perches on the corner of your desk, looks deeply into your eyes and suggests that you Stop—take a deep breath and tell Fear to take a hike. Keep your fingers hovering over the keyboard, pressing down one by one. Make words appear where there were no words before.

Because you’re not alone. Ever. Anyone who’s ever created has been there. And have you read a book lately? A magazine article or blog post? Words on a screen or words on paper—those are proof. Proof that we can beat Fear Itself. And be imperfect. And go through the cycle again.


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

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 tomorrow on my free webinar “Confidence & Creativity for writers and other humans.”

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 at the Confidence & Creativity webinar tomorrow.)

Are you ghosting yourself? — Frequent Questions

Q: Are you ghosting yourself?
A: Ghosting? No…I’ll get back to those unfinished pieces one of these days.

stop ghosting yourselfMany of the writers I work have had trouble finishing their writing. They’re not happy with their first draft—or their third—or 20th—so they put it away. Maybe they really do intend to get back to it “one of these days.” Or maybe they’re just ghosting themselves.

In case you’ve been out of the dating market for a while, the Urban Dictionary tells us that “ghosting” is:

The act of suddenly ceasing all communication with someone the subject is dating, but no longer wishes to date. This is done in hopes that the ghostee will just “get the hint” and leave the subject alone…

In the world of writing, that might translate as putting the manuscript in a drawer (if you’re old school) or deleting the shortcut from your computer’s desktop.

In dating, the ghost avoids a mature conversation with the “ghostee” about the problems between them. Those problems might well be insurmountable. Or they might be completely fixable—given the right information and support.

It’s the same with writing.

Ghosting yourself vs. working through the problems

When you ghost your writing, you avoid the same uncomfortable question date-ghosters hate asking:

Is it you or is it me?

It’s You (the writing): might be the wrong topic, a topic that doesn’t lend itself to the kind of treatment I’m trying to give it. Maybe that blog post or magazine article really does contain all I need to say on the subject. Maybe that’s why I’m having trouble turning it into a book.

Or

It’s Me (the writer): Maybe I’m just not good enough?

That is one scary-ass question.

It takes a lot of self-confidence to answer it honestly—a whole lot more than it does to “misplace” your unfinished pieces in the back of your hard drive—ghosting yourself.

But Is it you or is it me? is not the kind of question you can answer in isolation.

People who care about their dating partners won’t ghost them; they’ll have a frank conversation and find a resolution to the relationship.

If you care about yourself as a writer, you’ll do the same thing. Find a class to build your skills. Find a writers’ group to get feedback from people you respect. Pay attention to how your work lands for other people. As I wrote the other day, that’s the only way to find out if you’re any good.

Writing or dating, it’s hard to do on your own. But when you step out of your comfort zone and allow someone else in, that’s when magic can happen.


Build your skills and get the support you need in my Writing Unbound program. Register by October 1st for special bonuses.

A writing lesson from Kiersey Clemons

writing lesson
Kiersey Clemons, from her Instagram account

Kiersey Clemons is not a writer; she’s an actress and singer. And although she looks quite fetching in the various outfits InStyle magazine photographed her in for their September 2017 issue, what really caught my attention was a little writing lesson embedded in the interview.

The interviewer notes that Clemons “loves to write.” But:

“I’ll never know if I’m good.”

Why?

“It’s kind of like acting,” she adds. “You don’t know until you do it and people validate you.”

A writing lesson we all need

Yep. You can’t act in a vacuum. I mean, you can but it would feel really cramped. And airless.

If you’re all alone in a room, can you act? Maybe. But I think the more common description of that activity is “talking to yourself.”

You can act onstage without an audience. Generally, that’s called rehearsing. Or maybe filming a movie.

But no matter how much you rehearse, things change once you have an audience. The audience laughs and you hold for an imperceptible moment to allow them to enjoy it. You hear sniffles spreading throughout the theater and you know you touched people’s hearts.

Audience reaction causes the other actors on stage with you to shift their performances slightly too. You shift with them, dancing together with the words setting the rhythm.

Nope. You’re not an actor until you’ve done it in public—whether that’s on Broadway, on a Hollywood soundstage, or onstage in your church hall.

And you’re not a writer—not really a writer—until you’ve done that in public, either. And I don’t mean stationing your laptop on a table in some hipster latte joint. I mean putting your work out in the world and letting people read it.

“You don’t know until you do it and people validate you,” young Ms. Clemons says.

But what if I’m no good? That’s probably the thought that’s been holding you back.

But what, I would counter, if you are good?

I’m betting Kiersey Clemons is a fine actor. She certainly has a very healthy view of creativity.


Develop your writing skills with a supportive guide and a group of writers who’ve all been in your shoes (and maybe still are). Join me for my popular Writing Unbound program this October.

Look ahead — “old sayings” vs. clichés

“Don’t look back. (You’re not going that way.)” Or, to translate into the preferred language of the SEO gods: “look ahead.”

look ahead

Do you read that as wise counsel? As a New Age-y cliché? Or as the worst driving advice ever?

It’s undoubtedly the last. My father the insurance man always instructed us to check the rear view mirrors before turning on the ignition. To be fair, he’d be perfectly fine with “Look ahead” too. He spent his days looking at wrecked cars and deciding how little—er, how much his company ought to pay for them. He knew everything that could happen to you in a car. So look back, look forward, look to your left, to your right—he insisted on all of it.

But in a metaphorical sense, “Don’t look back”—is it wise or trite?

I think the answer is

Yes.

If all you do is toss it into your writing, then it has all the weight of a fortune cookie saying.

But if you use it to make a larger point, if you can connect it to emotion and story—then you’ve got the making of something powerful.

It’s like anything, right? You don’t just drop a quotation into the middle of your work and then never mention it again.

“No man is an island entire of itself.”—John Donne

Well, yes. And…? As your reader, why should I care about that? How does it relate to me?

Look ahead

“Don’t look back” resonates for me now because I’m packing. (Argh.) And looking back is pretty much 90% of the packing game, right?

Do I really need to keep my 1980s edition of Trivial Pursuit? What was trivial then is now, like, super-obscure and useless information now. But I remember buying it, carrying it home, being one of my first friends to own it. Nope, Goodwill that sucker.

The handmade ceramic tile with my two-week-old footprints on it—even more trivial than the Trivial Pursuit. Completely useless to every conceivable Goodwill shopper. But my baby footprints! Jury’s still out on that. Oh, I would drive Marie Kondo crazy.

“Don’t Look Back” could make a fine Story Safari for a company in the throes of change. (And when is a company not in the throes of change?) When do you honor the legacy processes? How do you implement new ones without alienating half your workforce? Well, don’t look back; you’re not going that way. So what’s next.

In that context, “Don’t look back”—or, pace, gods of SEO—”look ahead” isn’t a cliché at all. It’s a great hook for a story.

Now, excuse me. I’ve got more packing to do.


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.