Buddhist philosophy 2017: Plant the damn tree already

Buddhist philosophyIt’s Buddhist philosophy, right? That saying about the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, but the second best time is now?

As we might say in my ancestral homeland, New Jersey:

Plant the damn tree already.

I’ve run into it a number of times this week—people (myself including) lamenting action that we should have taken long ago. But at least we’ve taken now.

There’s my friend the networking expert Robbie Samuels:

“I still remember how stressed I was just a few years ago about writing a single blog post – after getting feedback from several people and deliberating for weeks I finally posted it. I then asked Dorie [Clark] what to do next. She said write another blog post. Ha!”

Now, with many blog posts—and even his own podcast—under his belt, Robbie is getting ready to launch his very first book into the world at the end of this month.

A book! From a guy who had to deliberate “for weeks” about one measly blog post. I mean, I’m sure it was a valuable blog post—but it’s a tiny percentage of the words he’s put out into the world since then.

Then there’s one of my own writers. She’s never had a problem producing work, and she’s shared many pieces for discussion in class and in our writers’ group. But she was 20 full weeks into her studies with me before she read her work out loud in class. Like most things we dread, it turned out to be much more rewarding and much less stressful than she’d feared.

I need that Buddhist philosophy myself

I’m not immune to this fear-crastination. (I couldn’t decide which was more appropriate—”fear” or “procrastination—so I’m going with both.) I could have planted a grove the size of the Amazon rainforest by now.

Take my email list. And it wasn’t even writing the emails: I was completely terrified of even choosing a list management service. Why? Not a freaking clue. But I researched that decision like I was choosing a neurosurgeon.

If you’re stuck in that place, I offer this loving advice:

Plant the damn tree already.

What’s the worst thing that can happen if you jump into action?

People don’t like what you have to say?

No one laughs at the funny parts?

I end up paying too much for my email service? Or too little?

Plant the damn tree. Yeah, you might not dig the hole at the exact right depth. The sapling may lean a little too far to the left despite your best efforts to straighten it.


Your 20th blog post is always going to be way better than your first. And because Robbie finally planted that tree, he now gets to kill a bunch of them to publish his book. (But save a tree and read the e-book instead.)

I started collecting emails about 14 months ago and—hey!—they multiplied like rabbits. I’ll be moving them to a bigger digital hutch soon. And this time, I’m not sweating the decision.

I’m just gonna keep planting trees.

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Lawyers and letters, a writer’s tale of frustration

I don’t hate lawyers. Let’s be clear on that, okay?

But I do—well, not hate—feel really super-annoyed by anyone who’s afraid to say anything controversial. Anything.  It’s hard to write with a constraint like that.

Sometimes I’m blessed to write for someone with actual opinions about the way the world should work, and I write those opinions, and we’re both pleased with the results. This might change the world, we think foolishly.

And then it goes to—you guessed it—the lawyers.

And it comes back stripped of pretty much everything resembling an idea. Seriously. Sometimes I think if I wrote

“Moms like apple pie.”

The lawyers’ note would be:

“Don’t offend by leaving out the dads; also people who aren’t parents. Also, other fruits.”

lawyersA few good lawyers

Only once in all of my years of writing have I encountered a lawyer who understood what I was trying to do. He wasn’t a corporate lawyer, though—maybe that’s the difference. He wasn’t trying to imagine what the higher-ups might think; he was a higher-up—he  had the autonomy to make his own decisions.

I had drafted a white paper for my client. We wanted to reach journalists, to convince them of the merits of our client’s argument. And journalists, even more than regular human beings, appreciate good writing. Since, even more than regular human beings, they have to read so much that isn’t. But the client had also hired a lawyer; he needed to vet the draft.

Most of the revisions were fine—factual corrections, a couple of helpful word changes. The lawyer hadn’t messed with my argument too much. But he’d de-fanged my opening sentence. And I just couldn’t let that pass.

We all know how important first impressions are when we meet people. They’re even more important in writing.

In person if the first thing out of your mouth doesn’t grab someone, you may have a chance to redeem yourself with a witty second remark. But in writing, if the first sentence sucks, a reader doesn’t have to be polite and stick around for the second.

The lawyer and I traded a few emails, revising and re-revising that opening line. We even got on the phone together. I explained my reasoning, he explained his, and we arrived at a solution that suited us both.

That’s the way the process should work.

Sadly, it doesn’t often work that way. When the people vetting your draft are more interested in covering their asses than in communicating—I was going to write “chaos ensues.” But chaos at least has the benefit of being interesting. And most documents that survive risk review are not.

Writing is just the first part of the process. Revising—that’s the secret sauce that gives your writing zing. Join my free webinar on revising.

Trust yourself, trust your ideas: How to move forward

“What advice would you give your teenage self, as you were about to graduate from high school?”

I’m used to hearing this question asked of “your 30-year-old self,” trust is the only way to move forwardbut in this case my questioner was only 16. She was looking for advice she could use now. So I told her:

“Trust yourself.”

That’s actually the same advice I would give myself today. (I’m working on being smart enough to take it.)

Master speaking coach Victoria Labalme offers much the same advice in her TEDx talk:

“Trust the idea that leads to the idea.”

I love this. It acknowledges that not every idea we have will end up being worth pursuing. But every idea has the potential to lead us to another idea, and another, and eventually we’ll hit on one that resonates. All we need to do is trust in the process.

Trust -> Risk -> Move (Repeat)

Just about everything we do involves risk. But if we thought about it that way, we’d probably never get out of bed. (That has risks too, especially if you have a dog waiting for you to open the front door.)

Labalme encourages us to recognize that although we may feel unsteady, we have the capacity to move into the world “heart open” and do something we cannot do with the covers pulled over our heads: Live full and fulfilling lives. All we have to do (No, that really deserves quotation marks.) “All” we have to do is trust that the choices we make in the course of that living will lead us to wherever we need to go.


No, of course it’s not simple. Not when every moment, every thought, every action provides an opportunity to second-guess ourselves.

So as new year approaches, I’m working to embrace the choices I’ve made. You might like to try that too; you never know where it will lead.

And since I’m a writer, I invite you to celebrate and embrace the writing you do. It may only be 15 minutes a day—as the folks working with me in Jumpstart 2017: The 5×15 Writing Challenge have committed to. (Today’s their first day; give them a virtual high five.)

The first draft might be rough, but that’s the job of a first draft. The idea might not be exactly right, maybe the perspective is off. Maybe all it needs is a little adjustment. Or maybe—and you can decide this after you set it aside for a day or two and return with fresh eyes—maybe it really isn’t a great idea. But maybe, as Victoria Labalme suggests, this idea will lead you to a great idea. All you need to do is keep following the breadcrumbs. Whether you like what you write or you hate it: Keep doing it.

And enjoy the journey. At least you’re moving. Which is, my scientist friends will confirm, the only way to go forward.