Goldie-Writer & the Three Fears

I’ve been reading a lot about fears lately. Not intentionally. But the subject keeps coming up, so clearly it wants to be written about. I guess by me.

Fear #1

I wanted to give myself a break and read something funny, so I chose Paula Poundstone’s book The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness. I enjoyed her writing so much, I even stuck around for the Acknowledgments. And there it was, staring back at me from the page: fear.

I don’t know how anyone writes for a living. Every writing session is a deep dive into a sea of self-doubt.

If that’s the kind of fear that keeps you from writing, change the subject. Write about something you don’t care quite so much about. Or if you can’t change the subject, change the style: write it from the perspective of a five-year-old. Write it in poetry—in limericks.

Write something that makes you laugh. How can you doubt yourself when you’re laughing?

I do, however, have personal experience with Poundstone’s next observation:

“Once I get going, it can feel exciting and rewarding, but I often have to lure myself with the promise of Butterfingers or raisin toast as a reward for writing progress. It’s a really hard job and can cause weight gain.”

My toaster gets quite a workout when I’m writing for some clients. I think there’s an inverse relationship between carbs and confidence. The more I have of the former, the more I lack the latter.

I need to work on that.

Fear #2

After the Poundstone book, I turned to a book on writing, one I’ve been looking forward to: Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir.

I hadn’t even finished the first chapter when…

“As with everything I’ve ever written, I start out paralyzed by fear and frustration.”

Many people mistake fears for writers’ block. But you see? Paralysis is just a natural part of the process. Karr continues:

“The tarantula ego – starving to be shored up by praise – tries to scare me away from saying simply whatever small, true things standing in line for me to say.

Ts’ok. That’s why God gave us delete keys.”

I think you can definitely expect a separate blog post about Karr’s use of language. She’s a poet as well as a noted memoirist. And apparently she fights fears as well.

A few pages later, she clarifies: this paralyzing fear isn’t about writing, per se—it’s about how readers will perceive her writing. She gets the Willits, in other words. But not about whether she’s writing well; about whether she’s fairly representing the other people who appear in her life story:

“The thought of misrepresenting someone or burning down his house with shitty recall wakes me up at night. I always tell my students that doubt runs through me every day I work, like the subway’s third rail.”

Okay, let’s cut Paula Poundstone a small break here. After all, her “search for human happiness” is part-memoir. Maybe she’s deep-diving in the same part of the ocean as Mary Karr.

Fear #3

Okay, I don’t really have a third writer to quote here; I just thought “Goldie-Writer & the Three Fears” sounded like a nice title.

I could throw in something from the always inspirational Elizabeth Gilbert, but I’ve written about her work before. If you deal with fear and you haven’t read her book Big Magic, don’t even talk to me.

Well, I have read Big Magic. Several times. But I still get scared. And sometimes I feel paralyzed—not generally about writing. About marketing.

And I’ve heard all the stuff. How it’s just an exchange of information. How you can’t make anyone buy something they don’t want to buy. My latest coach just reminded me it’s just another form of storytelling. And Lord knows I know how to do that.

Doesn’t matter. Every time I run a marketing campaign, I feel like I’m standing on the edge of a very narrow diving board—the highest one they have at the Olympics. Maybe even higher. And I’m diving into a pool the size of a teacup. Is it any wonder I get scared?

Liz Gilbert says to talk to your fear-monster. Mine even has a name: MarProk—Marketing Procrastination. But if I forget to give him an alternate assignment before I start marketing, there he is all up in my face talking about the joys of toast and sleep (sequentially, not together) and how little the world needs whatever I’m selling.

Just right

So here’s a reminder to you—and to me—that Goldilocks did eventually find a bowl of porridge, a chair, and a bed that were Just Right for her.

Damn! I just remembered how the story ends. The three bears return home and scare her off. Hmm. Not the metaphor I was looking for.

Time for a quick rewrite:

Keep going and you will find writing work that sustains and feeds you (porridge rather than Butterfingers).

You will find the support you need to do that writing. And comfort in the work, too (the chair and the bed).

And when the bears show up, don’t try to change their nature. It’s their job to be bears; find a way to peacefully coexist with them. And get on with your job:

Write.

Transformation: when your window wants to become a sail

I’m in the transformation business. One of the things that excites me most about working with writers is seeing the “afters” from their “befores” as they absorb my feedback and hone their craft.

But transformation can be scary stuff. And I don’t know about you, but I’m not the kind of person who’ll volunteer to be scared. And pay good money for it? No thanks.

not a great transformation
[not my window]
During the big storm that swept up the East Coast recently, a large plate-glass window at the back of my house tried to transform itself into a sail.

Scared? Uh, yes, I believe I screamed. Well, “exclaimed.” With growing urgency and volume each time I saw it bow in. Eventually we found some tape to support it. I’ve been through enough hurricanes to know you’re supposed to tape the windows, but this wasn’t supposed to be a hurricane!

After taping the window, we hung a blanket over it for good measure. My friend said it was to prevent the glass from blowing into my house if the window shattered. I think it was more to prevent me from screaming at each new shape the window assumed. She assured me the window was rated to withstand 100 mph winds—and she’s a builder; I figured she should know.

Transformation & Fear

My friend and I reacted differently to the window’s attempts to transform itself into a sail. I went straight to fear; she saw nothing amiss. That’s the thing with transformation. No two people approach it in the same way.

Something that’s routine for me—like writing—may scare the living daylights out of someone else.

Other people can sell ice to Alaskans (a phrase that packed a whole lot more punch before we destroyed the polar ice caps). But even thinking about selling can render me practically comatose with fear.

How do you move through the fear to transformation?

First, if it’s a rational fear—like shards of plate glass flying through your home to decapitate you—Take Appropriate Action. By the way, the local newscast said winds reached 93 mph in the town next door, which totally vindicated my fear. Then again, it wasn’t 100 and the window remained intact, so my builder friend was right too. But I was right-er. (Not that I’m competitive or anything.)

If it’s an irrational fear—if it’s not going to kill you—then by all means Take Appropriate Action. Action is the only thing that can banish fear.

I know, I know. I hate reading that too. I wish there were a pill you could pop, or a website where you could click a button and the thing you’re afraid of magically gets done for you. But really the thing you need to do is…suck it up and do the thing.

How? When you’re paralyzed with fear, how do you take even one step forward?

Elizabeth Gilbert says to have a conversation with your fear. If you haven’t read her book Big Magic yet, do that ASAP.

And I’m going to offer another suggestion based on my recent experience: Hang a blanket over it. Picture your fear on the other side of a big window and just tape up a blanket. Or draw the curtains if you’ve got ’em. And leave your fear standing outside.

If you’re feeling vindictive, you can imagine your fear standing out in the cold. If you’re a kinder person—and I feel certain Liz Gilbert is a kinder person—give it a lawn chair, a strong SPF sunblock, and a gossip magazine to keep itself occupied while you do that scary thing.

Then Take Appropriate Action

Writing isn’t going to kill you—not unless you do it while hanging off a mountain one-handed. And marketing hasn’t killed me yet. I have no doubt that one of these days, I’ll remember that.

Transformation can seem scary. But the more you can ignore the fear and do the thing that scares you, the less power that fear will have over you. At least that’s what they tell me.


Transform yourself into a more powerful storyteller. Join my one-day Anchor Your Ideas challenge, March 17th. (Blanket over the window optional.)

What happened? — Frequent Questions

Q: What happened?
A: Glad you missed me.

I took Sunday off from blogging. I think some people thought I’d fallen in a sinkhole.

Nope. I’m fine. And my writing streak remains intact—567 days in a row as of yesterday.

It’s easy for me to talk to you here about whatever’s on my mind. And it’s fun, too. But if it was supposed to be fun all the time, they wouldn’t call it “work,” would they?

I need to spend more time wrasslin’ with Marketing Block. And less time writing blog posts.

For now.


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.

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.

Is it possible to love Seth Godin even more? — Frequent Questions

Q: Is it possible to love Seth Godin even more than I already do?
A: I didn’t think so. I was wrong.

love Seth Godin
The illustration to Seth’s bio on his website. He’s actually a little taller than this.

Look, I’ve been a raving Seth Godin fan for probably a decade. Ever since my then-partner brought home his book—well, compilation—The Big Moo. It was the first business book I’d ever read that didn’t sound like pompous bull.

More recently, I forked over some pretty decent money to attend his one-day workshop in New York last December and was rewarded with the best idea I’d had all year, the 5×15 Writing Challenge. We’ll be doing another one in late December.

And I jumped at the chance to be part of the pilot of his Marketing Seminar this summer. Again, money well-spent.

I thought for sure the only person in the world who could possibly be more of a Seth Godin fan than me would be Helene, his wife. And then I found his interview on the Why I Write podcast. Now my fandom of yesterday pales in comparison to my fandom of today.

Do you love Seth Godin too?

The Why I Write pod is produced by the National Council of Teachers of English, so Seth made sure to note that an English teacher somewhere along the way told him he was a terrible writer. He never took another English class again and whenever he needed to write something he would just talk it out. The result: “I write like I speak.”

Later on, the podcast host trotted out the inevitable question: “How do you manage to write every day?” And Seth paused, unwilling to accept that there’s anything unusual in having and expressing ideas on a daily basis. Then he said something like:

“Look, we’ve already established that I write like I speak. And when was the last time you ever heard of anyone getting ‘Talker’s Block’? No one is astonished to hear you say more than two sentences in a day.”

You’ll hear more about this podcast soon. But listen to it yourself. If you don’t love Seth Godin already (how is that possible?) I promise you will before the 25-minute podcast concludes.


Retreat? Did somebody say “retreat”? Yes indeed. Check out my year-end retreat—two and a half days to focus on your story, improve your writing, and enjoy the community of a select group of women writers. Enrollment limited to six writers. Will you be one of them?

Who’s my audience? — Frequent Questions

Q: Who’s my audience?
A: Why are you writing?

I’m not just being flippant: Who you write for depends a lot on why you’re writing.

I write my Frequent Questions posts for whoever asks the question, for the most part I’m writing my other blog posts for an intellectually curious writer with a serious sense of humor. In other words, for myself. My marketing writing is for me, too. The me that hasn’t yet done the work I’ve done to be able to teach what I teach.

When I start with a new group of writing students, I always do an exercise aimed at helping them see themselves more clearly through our favorite medium, words. It’s also a great self-esteem boost—and who couldn’t use one of those on the regular?

Seeing themselves more clearly helps them see their ideal audience more clearly—if you agree with me that the ideal audience is someone very much like yourself.

Marketing to your ideal audience

I was talking about this with my writers yesterday and they asked me what Seth Godin had to say about the subject in his Marketing Seminar. So I broke out my notes and found that—eek!—I’m diverging from Godin’s teaching a bit.

One of the questions he encourages us to ask is how our ideal audience differs from us.

Can our audience be like us and be different from us at the same time?

I think yes.

Because if we have something unique that they do not: our experience, our product, our wisdom—whatever it is we’re marketing.

While my ideal audience may be smart, creative, committed writers, they’re writers who have not walked in my shoes. I can tell them where to position the cushions to avoid blisters.

Being like me is not the same thing as being me.

But, listen, if any of you out there are me, could you find someone else to do the dishes?

Golden brandcuffs — the downside of commitments

golden brandcuffsYou’ve heard of golden handcuffs? They’re a series of payouts timed over a long period—the corporate world’s way of keeping key executives from straying. I don’t have golden handcuffs keeping me here at Bennett Ink. But I do seem to have forged myself a pair of golden brandcuffs.

I was taking some Me Time on Sunday evening. I’d just spent an exhausting three days at a conference. Valuable stuff, but my mental gastank was pinned on E.

Despite that, after the last session ended I had to pound out a speech for a client. I had definitely earned that baseball-watching time.

Maybe, I found myself thinking, maybe that two hours I spent writing for my client could count as my 15 minutes for today? That’s not the commitment I’d made to myself 538 days earlier—I’d promised to count only non-client writing. But I was mentally fried. And there was baseball on the television machine.

And then I saw that Julia Wu, one of the writers in my Writing Unbound class, had posted a piece in our Facebook group and on her Medium blog. A meditation on what makes a brand. The brand examples she cited included this one:

“A writing coach who centers her business around the word daily: daily practice and daily publishing.”

And off the couch I got. So what if it’s a tie ballgame? The Cubs had a 50% chance of losing it, and did I really need to see the Cubs lose again?

Choosing the golden brandcuffs

Now, obviously I forged these golden brandcuffs all by myself; I choose to write and publish daily. But Julia Wu’s salute to my daily habits came at an interesting moment.

The coach I was working with this weekend insists we should spend no more than two hours a week creating content. Although I’ve only committed to 15 minutes a day, I probably average something closer to 30; the longer posts may creep up to an hour. So I’m at upwards of 3.5 hours of content-creation—not counting marketing emails and my Occasional Flashes of Brilliance.

Of course, I could always blog on my own time. Problem is, when you’re a solopreneur, every minute is your “own time.” And this quarter I’m trying to spend at least 20 hours a week having a—what’s it called?—life.

Still, it’s not every day you build a recognizable brand. Maybe it’s worth investing the extra time to maintain it?

I don’t know. What do you think? Scroll down and let me know.

powered by Typeform

“Shockingly expensive” — truth in marketing

“The Shockingly Expensive Meal Program Worth Every Penny”

That’s the headline of the ad that appeared in my Facebook feed yesterday. Well, actually it said “Worth Every Pe…” but we all know how it ends.

shockingly expensive food

This company knows who its target audience is—and it’s apparently not bargain-hunters.

The people who buy this stuff pride themselves on spending lots for meals. And—hey—if it’s “worth every pe…” I might not care if it’s “shockingly expensive.” But I will balk at $400 angora throws or $200 dog collars. (Sorry, Fenway.)

Everybody has a price range for everything. It just depends on what you value.

Shockingly expensive — and truthful

Still, you have to admire that marketer’s guts, right? “Shockingly expensive” are not words you see often in advertising.

In a world where you can buy an online course for $59, my writing programs may seem “shockingly expensive.” Even my self-directed course costs nearly $500. But, yes, I think it’s “worth every penny.” And more. Heck, it’s a year-long program. Where are you going to find that for $59?

Think a shorter course will be less expensive? Actually, my 10-week program requires an even bigger investment—in money and in time. I want to weed out the dilettantes, the people who have a passing thought that “Gee, it might be fun to write more.”

When people invest in working with me, I want them to be committed, to do the work, to interact with their fellow writers, and to experience real change together.

If that sounds like you—and if you’re ready for a “shockingly expensive” personal growth experience that’s “worth every penny”—check out my Writing Unbound program.

I can’t promise you a puppy on your lap as you savor your organic breakfast. But I can promise to get you thinking in new ways—and get you writing things that people actually want to read.

“Significant objects”: How to make the usual unusual

We were talking in class about metaphor—it’s one of the toughest concepts to grasp, apparently. Not what a metaphor is—all of my writers have been through high school English class—but what a metaphor does. So I was searching for marketing pieces that use story and metaphor when I came across the Significant Objects project.

All of the best marketing uses stories, as the Heath Brothers have documented. Take toothpaste, for instance. A pretty mundane product.

You could market it with facts—People who brush their teeth regularly are X% less likely to get gum disease.

Or you could market it with a story.

An indirect story—People who use this toothpaste are X% less likely to develop gum disease.

A direct story: Use this toothpaste and you’ll have a dazzling smile.

An indirect story: People who use this toothpaste are X% more likely to die with all their original teeth.

If you’re really good, you can get consumers to tell themselves the story:

Ooh, I want a dazzling smile so I can be more attractive and get a date.

Whatever story you use, it’s still just toothpaste.

But the Significant Objects product used story in a different way. Writer Rob Walker and brand analyst Joshua Green bought inexpensive items at thrift stores and found fiction writers—some well-known and some not—to write a story about them. Then they took these knick-knacks and auctioned them on eBay.

Did the stories enhance the value of the objects? Not objectively. But they did enhance the perceived value: the average mark-up for some objects rose as high as 2700%. Yes, you read that right: 27x the original price. Retailers strive for a sale price of 3x cost.

Services as significant objects

If story can enhance the value of a souvenir ashtray, what can it do for something of real value—like the products and services we provide?

So I gave my writers an assignment: Write about your own business as if it’s a “Significant Object.”

Look, it’s never easy to write about your own business. If it were, there’d be a whole lot more marketing communications writers whipping up lattes and frappucinos. So I’m always on the lookout for ways we can write about our businesses indirectly, or at least from different angles.

So, “Write about your business as a Significant Object,” I said. A daunting assignment, but one that could yield valuable results. So I volunteered to do the assignment too.

Here’s what I came up with:

A new perspective

I was antiquing—that’s what one does on a rainy day on Cape Cod. Driving down the first “highway” in the United States—it’s little more than a country lane, but here and there you’ll find an old shack or cottage with an “Antiques” sign planted in the front yard, a strange species of native tree.

The quaintest of the shops lack sufficient parking, but those are the ones with the best finds. So I parked down a side street about a quarter mile away and hiked back.

Inside, in the only corner of the shop not covered in dust, I saw a woman sitting on a decidedly not-antique desk chair, reading a book. At first I thought she was the shop’s proprietor, but then I saw a small sticker affixed to her sweater, near her right collarbone: “$129.95.”

“Excuse me?” I hated to interrupt her reading, but I had to know what the joke was. She looked up. “You seem to have picked up a price tag by mistake.” I laughed. She didn’t.

“No mistake. One-twenty-nine-ninety-five. You’re not buying me—that’s been illegal in the U.S. for quite a while. But half an hour of my time, to talk.”

“What would we talk about?”

“Mostly people like to talk to me about writing,” she replied. “I’ve won awards for it. In fact, I teach it. But I like to come here on rainy Saturdays because you never know who you’ll run into. Would you care to buy a chat?”

“Actually, I was looking for a bargain I could resell at a profit. A hidden treasure,” I said. “Have you noticed anything like that in this shop?”

“Treasure? I assure you, young woman, that I am worth my weight in gold.”

I sized her up—yep at that rate, $129.95 would be a real bargain. So what could I do? I bought a full hour.

And we talked about things I’d never thought about before. And the things I had thought about before—well, she showed me different perspectives on them. The ideas seemed to glow, hanging between us like a crystal chandelier as we turned them this way and that.

When I left the shop, the rain had disappeared. The skies were bluer than I’d ever seen them, the air felt crisper. And so did my mind.

I turned around and bought another half-hour. For you.

What’s it worth?


Is something holding you back, keeping you from discovering your writing talent? Join Writing Unbound and set your creativity free.

How to build a fan base? Think like your audience

Last weekend, Major League Baseball rolled out a new feature: Players Weekend. The players wore different uniforms, with the most hideous socks imaginable, and instead of having their last names on the backs of the jerseys, they each had nicknames.

The ostensible purpose of this exercise was to attract more young fans to the game. As a side effect, it also gave the teams a fresh batch of merchandise to sell. Okay, they’re auctioning off the game-used jerseys for charity, but MLB will happily sell you a replica for anywhere from $30 to $200.

I’m not the only person baffled by this promotion. If you’re a fan of the last Mets pitching star still in the rotation, Jacob deGrom, will you really be more likely to beg your parents to buy his jersey when it has his nickname on it rather than “deGrom”? That nickname, by the way—prepare yourself—it’s Jake.

The Spanish-speaking players seemed to go for more interesting monikers. Infielder José Reyes went with “La Melaza,” which apparently means “sweetness.” One of our relief pitchers, who has a Puerto Rican grandparent, was “Quarterrican.” I’m amused by the wordplay, but would a kid care?

And the night games still started at 7pm—or even 8:00—and still dragged on for more than three hours, on average. You want to attract the next generation of fans? How about playing games while they’re still awake?

No, the nickname promotion seemed to focus more on increasing MLB’s profits rather than increasing its fan base.

What could they have done differently?

To build a fan base, start with empathy

People want to feel special. Actually, more than that, they want to feel like you think they’re special.

I suppose kids named Jake might feel special to know they share a nickname with a major league pitcher. But that’s a pretty limited universe. (And a pretty unsurprising nickname.)

What if instead of offering to sell young fans something, baseball actually gave them something instead?

build a fan base with empathy

I haven’t been a “young fan” since well before the current crop of players was born, but I felt pretty darn special yesterday when the Cincinnati Reds gave me a certificate to commemorate my first Reds game.

There I was in my Mets jersey and “2015 National League Champions” cap and they still gave this to me.

Now, imagine you’re actually a young baseball fan. Does this certificate go up on your bedroom wall? I think it does. And I can’t see when it comes down. Wouldn’t you always want to remember your very first major league game?

And once you’re a member of the club—I don’t mean the ball club, I mean the club of people who go to baseball games. In this case, people who go to Reds games. Once you’re a member of that club, don’t you want to stay in it?

Now it’s true, if you’re focused on the bottom line, there’s nothing in this for the Reds. They’re not making a buck on this transaction. In fact, they’re losing money—paying an employee (today it was sweet-as-pie Rita), to sit at the computer, offer her congratulations, personalize the certificates, and print them out for the fans.

But what return is the team getting on that investment?

Young fans who feel special will grow into older fans who feel special. Catch a fan young and you’ve likely got a lifelong fan. That’s a lot of chili dogs and beer (and Graeber’s ice cream—a revelation) and merch to sell.

Somebody in the MLB marketing department ought to visit a Reds game one of these days. If it’s their first time, the folks at Fan Accommodations will be happy to give them a commemorative certificate. For free. Rita would be far too polite to say it outright, but the baseball execs might get the message: building a fan base means building a community. It’s not about getting people to buy merch, it’s about them to buy into the experience.


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.