Is This the Proper Response to Fame?

Cathedral Corridor

Our anticipation and response to fame should mirror the anticipation and response of the ancient acolyte to a visitation from the gods.

During the new moon the acolyte enters the temple, dons the vest, lights the incense, and prepares the sacrifice. In that prescribed order. There is nothing more he can do.

And then he waits.

With each piece of content the writer performs a similar ritual. She crafts the headline, neatly lays out one sentence at a time, shapes short paragraphs, selects the appropriate image, closes with style, and publishes it. That’s all she can do.

Then she must wait.

When the gods arrive the acolyte falls flat on his face, overwhelmed by a sense of fear, respect, and awe. He can not control whether they arrive or not. He is at their mercy.

When the audience arrives the writer falls flat on her face, overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude and obligation. She can not control whether they arrive or not. She is at their mercy. And grateful for any attention at all.

And that is the proper response to fame. Do you agree? Drop a comment.

P.S. Have you seen my new podcast Rough Draft?

What In the World Is Wrong with These Bloggers?

Andrew Sullivan

I’m about a month late to this party. Oh well. It’s still important to address.

On January 28, 2015, Andrew Sullivan announced his retirement from blogging. For those who don’t know, Andrew Sullivan is the grandfather of political blogging.

That’s probably an understatement. Okay, he invented political blogging.

A few days later Vox followed up with a report on what it meant that Sullivan had created a popular blog, but couldn’t figure out how to monetize it.

This seems to be the perennial challenge, doesn’t it? How do you make a living from a popular blog?

Klein said there were two reasons: scale and the erosion of voice. In his own words, “the bigger the business gets, the harder it is to retain the original voice.”

Can’t argue with that. His next statement is more revealing:

He was trying to make his blog — and its sizable audience — into a business. But blogging, for better or worse, is proving resistant to scale.”

As if it was an enigma. Like we haven’t solved this problem a hundred times over.

But not so fast.

Klein is careful to define his terms. Blogging is “the unedited voice of a person.” (That’s actually Dave Winer’s definition, Klein notes.) It’s transparent, off the cuff, random.

We all know bloggers like this whom we love. Unfortunately, some of them don’t know how to go from popularity to profitability. Which is a shame. But it’s really quite easy to fix. [Read more…]

Do This When a Monster Project Paralyzes You

Alexander 2

Floss just one tooth every day. That’s not a big commitment. But it is what dentists tell people who have trouble remembering (or feel overwhelmed) when it comes to flossing.

Sounds lame, actually.

Flossing isn’t laborious. Pull out a twenty-four inch string of floss. Wrap one end around the index finger of your right hand, the other end around the index finger of your left hand. Work it between your teeth.

I just timed myself and the whole affair took me fifty-two seconds. And I was being particularly lifeless.

We don’t floss because we are lazy. And look for any excuse not to floss. This mindset holds for big projects. Take writing a book, for example.

I’ve got this side project I so want to finish. But, to be realistic, will involve at least a year or two of writing and research. That’s overwhelming. And the project only continues to grow. For every book I read I discover three more I want to read.

Add my mounting responsibilities at Copyblogger and, naturally, there is a logjam. I may go days without touching my side project. Unless I think about it like flossing just one tooth.

Why would a dentist tell patients to floss just one tooth a day? Because she knows once someone goes through the trouble of getting the floss out for one tooth, they are more than likely to floss every tooth. And flossing just one tooth doesn’t seem like a big deal.

So what I’ve committed to is at least 24 minutes every 24 hours. Even if all I do for those 24 minutes is re-read what I wrote the day before. That doesn’t seem nearly as daunting. And usually that’s enough to get me back into the momentum.

By the way, there’s nothing special about 24 minutes except that it mirrors 24 hours. Which makes it handy. Easy to remember. Cute you might say. Like your pearly whites (if, of course, you floss everyday).

What’s your gimmick to trick your mind into doing stuff it hates? Share in the comments.

Image by Alexander Rentsch

Literary Snobs, Rejoice! Your Heartlessness Can Make Us Better People

Reading on a Kindle

Recent research suggests that reading Faulkner might make you kinder, gentler compared to reading Clancy, Gladwell, or nothing at all.

The results make sense.

Literary fiction is bent on perceiving reality through the eyes of the characters. Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying” is a good example. Darl, Dewey Dell, Jewel, Vardaman, Cash, and so on, tell the story of Addie Bundsen’s death and burial from their point of view. Whether you can trust their POVs only adds to the suspense.

Popular fiction, on the other hand, chooses to put a high premium on the plot, with the main character getting the meat of the development. You see life through his or her eyes, but the stakes are often so high that little attention is paid to their interior lives.

By the way, I find this research ironic. Novelists in general tend to be anti-social. This paradox is stretched when you realize that a good novelist is also empathetic to the human condition.

But do literary novelists really care?

Their listening ability, one that isn’t beyond overhearing conversations not meant for their ears, is for selfish purposes. To get the story. The novelist isn’t a social scientist looking for ways to improve the human lot (for the most part).

He just needs material.

Like when Quentin Tarantino, as screenwriter, the modern equivalent of a novelist, overheard the notion that “Sicilian’s have nigger blood” and knew he had to use it. He found the perfect place in the conversation between Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper in True Romance.

And try to interrupt a novelist in the middle of his work. You will have your head removed. Try to engage a writer at dinner, and he will be dull, absent (unless he is lights-out drunk). Ask her out for coffee, and she will refuse.

So isn’t it funny that this cranky deadbeat whom we call a novelist can possibly help people navigate the emotionally sensitive waters of, say, a blind date or funeral or even blogging? I think it is. But what do I know … I’m as socially inept as they get. What do you think?

If you love what you just read, then subscribe to CopyBot. Then share on Twitter or Google+.

How to Get Paid What You Are Worth (Even If You Are Insecure)

Barleby Quote

It was a delicious hoax. Terry Simmonds created an algorithm to rank your Google+ profile. Much like your Klout score. You dropped in your G+ ID, pressed “Submit,” and in less than a second spit out results.

Google+ was two years old back then, and even at that point, outside of follower count, it was difficult to determine your influence on the network. And you know everyone wants to know where they stand. This is why vanity metrics like Klout, though ridiculously silly, are popular.

So Simmonds’ Author Rank grader was irresistible. You even got a few pointers about your score. For instance, there was this one:

“If you feel your score is lower than it should be, then it’s probably due to the Dunning-Kruger effect.”

What exactly is the Dunning-Kruger effect?

In 2003, Campbell Dunning and Daniel Krueger were dusting up their study on confidence in male and female professionals. One of the most notorious findings was this idea that we tend to be more optimistic about our abilities than we actually are:

  • We tend to think we are better drivers than we actually are.
  • We tend to think we are better writers than we actually are.
  • And we tend to think that our Google+ profile grade should be higher than it actually is.

I fell for Simmonds’ grader, did not know about the Dunning-Kruger effect, and then laughed my head off when I discovered what it meant.

Ego checked.

Don’t let your doubts do this to you

A few months back The Atlantic published a piece on The Confidence Gap. Women were lagging in many sectors, and it boiled down to this: they doubted their abilities and let those doubts stop them.

Men, on the other hand, had moments of doubt, but they didn’t let that stop them. In fact, they viewed it as a challenge. One to overcome.

Another difference between men and women involved internal and external attribution. Men tend to blame the circumstances around them. When they find themselves struggling, they respond, “This class is hard.”

Women, on the other hand, respond by saying, “See, I told you I wasn’t very good at this.”

Another factor that contributes to low confidence is the plague of perfectionism, “the enemy of good,” because it keeps us from getting things done. Here’s one way this works out in the professional world:

  • Men will apply for jobs when they feel they qualify for about 60 percent of the requirements.
  • Women won’t apply until they meet 100% of the qualifications.

But what does this have to do with earning potential as a freelance writer? Everything.

How confidence influences what you earn

When it comes to the freelance writing world setting fees is hard work. And based upon how many times I get asked the question “How much should I charge?” it is probably one of the most contentious issues facing freelancer writers.

It always boils down to this: experience and confidence. There is a lot to be said about this.

If you have fifteen years of experience and results, then you can charge more than someone with less than a year experience. But if you have fifteen years of experience and a load of confidence, you can charge more than someone with the same amount of experience, but with half the confidence.

In fact, the one with loads of confidence, but little experience, can even get away with charging more. It is about believing in your abilities.

What overconfidence actually does to your reputation

Isn’t that narcissism? And what if you are exposed? Don’t sweat it. Research determines that “honest overconfidence” does not come across as self-centered nor does it drive people away. In fact, it draws people.

New research is even pointing towards the fact that overconfidence that sails past actual ability is not harmful.

We don’t bail on overconfident people when they are found out. This is probably why political candidates can make unreasonable campaign promises, get elected, not deliver, and serve a second term, on different, but no less unreasonable, campaign promises that they will again fail to fulfill.

It seems we are drawn to these confident people. Charmed by their outlandish claims. It establishes the notion that we follow people who have strong convictions — even if those convictions are wrong.

They are like hard beacons in a soft world.

It’s more than just confidence

So does this mean you get cocky and charge people an unreasonable amount of money? Heck no. One thing I can’t stand is the pompous writer who charges based upon their name, and not the results they can deliver.

In negotiations it is about confidence, experience, but also conversions. What kind of value can you bring to your client?

It’s not as simple as saying “I just need to be more confident and I can achieve anything.” That sort of attitude leads to “ambition inflation,” and a lot more failed dreams. You also need competence.

Besides, people can detect fake confidence.

Fight for the value you bring to the table

Let’s say you get an offer to write a two-page native ad for a product that costs $150 per installation. In the research phase you discover how much the product costs, their profit margin, potential market, and then figure out how many of those units you can sell.

If you believe you can sell at least ten additional ones, that’s worth $1,500 dollars. More than likely, if it’s a big market, or a fresh market, then you might be able to sell 100 additional installations. That’s $15,000 in additional revenue. What is your stake in that? Ten percent? Then you could charge $1,500 for the sales letter.

But the question is this: do you have what it takes to achieve those results (experience and competence)? And do you have the confidence to ask for it?

If you believe you do, then ask for it. Don’t be shy. Have the confidence to defend the value you bring to the table. Even if you may be guilty of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

And by the way, take this quiz to determine your level of confidence. Great tips on how to bring your confidence up if you land on the low end of the scale (like I did).

If you love what you just read, then subscribe to CopyBot. And follow me on Twitter or Google+.

Image source: Bartleby

A New Direction for “The Education of a Writer” Series

As of late, I’ve been giving a lot of thought of where I want to take The Education of a Writer (TEW) series. Here’s the deal …

I’ve lost touch with the story. The arc. How it should end.

I don’t want this to be an episodic, bumpy read. I want it to be seamless from start to finish … especially since I’ve taken you through a decade of my professional life in a short period of time. In other words, I’m not sure how to tie the first post (The Year of Falling Apart) with the last (yet unknown), and I need to figure that out before I go on.

The last post should’ve arrived several weeks ago according to my original plan. But we all know what can happen when plans hit the pavement … like I keep on thinking of more things to share, and still … gaps remain.

Stories that I’ve written in the past should be included in the full story. Stories like:

The Best Thing You Could Do Right Now to Succeed as an Entrepreneur

Writing Advice from a Rock Climber, Monk, and Bonehead — Really? 

How to Outsmart Obsolescence

A Quick and Dirty Guide to Killing Your Life-Long Dream

How to Cope with Co-Workers Who Hate to Be Touched

The Creative Freelancer’s Guide to Melancholy

Yet I don’t want to force them to fit.

So here’s my next move. I’m going to gather all of the TEW posts, put them in a Word document, and bind and shape them into an integrated book. Hopefully dealing with it as a whole will allow me to see my way to the end. I want to close as well as I opened.

That means no more TEW posts until I discover the end. Then I’ll start sharing the new posts. Possibly.

If you love what you just read, then subscribe to CopyBot. And follow me on Twitter or Google+.

Image source: A-Z of Unusual Words