Writing Wisdom: Lessons on Business and Life #1

Wow…what a CapD Difficult few weeks it has been.  Every victory earned was hard fought and I’m exhausted.  Throw in a couple personal life challenges, and oy vey, I feel like I need a week in Hawaii being catered to by __________________ (insert fantasy of choice.)

I just finished editing another section of my novel to 99.99% completion (2 down; 3 to go) and I’m over-the-moon thrilled with how it turned out.  BUT (and there are some big buts here––and probably a double entredre too) it cost me big.

If I were going to sum-up these last several weeks, I would call them the “Do as I Say, Not as I Do” weeks.  (For any of my coaching clients reading this; take those words seriously to heart.)

Now, none of the lessons learned here are new lessons.  These are things I know.  These are mistakes I should be well past making––that is, if I were a perfect, flawless human.  Which sadly, I’m not.  No matter how evolved any of us likes to think we are, evolution demands constant vigilance––get a little sloppy, and we are right back where we started.

First, let me start by saying that writing this novel has been the most demanding, terrifying, lonely thing I’ve ever done.  Taking a company public and dealing with Wall Street analysts?  Easy.  Raising $100 million revolving line-of-credit when your business is missing its numbers?  Piece of cake.  Writing a novel?  Makes those Saw movies look like Disney.

But here’s the good news––writing a novel has also proven to be an extraordinary microcosm for business and life, in a way that has allowed me to get very clear on belief systems and fundamental truths.

I’ve thought a lot about why this is and I think it comes down to the solitary nature of art.  As a writer, everything is up to you.  You ARE your whole company.  You are responsible for everything good and not so good that happens.  You can’t say, “Yeah, I design great shoes, but those developers can’t figure out how to get them made.”  You are designer, developer, manufacturer.  You are also marketing and sales.  And finance.  Writing a book is like funding a start-up.  You’re doing this on spec.  Bills still need to get paid even when you’re not.  (Want to talk about scary?)

What’s great about this, is that if you show up to your process and pay attention, you learn lessons in a way that really makes them stick.  Bottom line?  You have no choice but to learn them, because there’s no one else to fall back on.

So….getting down to it…..here are some of the business and life lessons writing taught (strike that, reminded me of) these last few weeks:

1)  Some things are not worth saving.  (Employees, relationships, product lines, 100s of pages of story.)  And when you try and save things you shouldn’t; it always, always, ALWAYS, costs you.  Cut your losses early and quickly––as difficult as it may be.

2)  Some things are not exactly right, but may be worth saving.  That beautiful, moving paragraph that you keep trying to insert in this chapter?  (That wonderful human and dedicated employee that just isn’t right in sales?)  You may be able to ‘cut and paste’ them out of sales and try them somewhere else.  You may end up with a win, but you still have to be willing to let them go.

3)  Nobody wins if you work so hard you kill yourself.  I nearly burned down the house twice.  Got so involved in my work, I was absolutely oblivious to everything going on in the world around me.  (Like food on the stove, showering, buying groceries, getting exercise.)  I managed to forget that I was not only writing a book, but training for a half-marathon.  To achieve that goal I actually needed to get out of my pjs and show up at the track.  I have one word people, BALANCE!  And I was lousy at it.  You may like to think the work benefits when you’re being obsessive, but it doesn’t, it suffers.  Always.  (And by the way, the bad OCD gremlin inside me still doesn’t want to believe that, but I keep telling her, it’s true.  Because it is.  Really.  I mean it.)

4)  Nothing good happens without perseverance, hard work and tenacity.  The old ‘life is a marathon, not a sprint’ thing.  You have to show up every day ready to play your best game, even when you’re tired, or scared, or just plain blue.  Some days the work is so hard, you feel like throwing in the towel.  But you can’t.  Not if it is good work; not if it is the work you’re meant to do.

5)  Measures of success need remeasuring. Your victories don’t have to be grand, they can be simple.  Like finishing a paragraph or a sentence that gave you fits; coaching an employee out of a bad attitude.  It’s not just about hitting the NY Times best-selling list, or taking your company public––it’s all that stuff in the middle––all those points along your journey that represent victories.  Don’t set yourself up for future devastation by creating unrealistic measures of success.  Please, don’t do that to yourself––not in life, or business or art.  Be kind.

6)  Real success only occurs in the absence of ego.  Probably the greatest benefit that I’ve experienced through writing, is the ability to take criticism non-defensively.  This is big.  Huge big.  I was never any good at this before, but I am now.  I have one clear, precise goal:  That is, to write the best novel I possibly can.  Any feedback I get that helps me do that?  Bring it on.  Don’t go easy on me and do NOT hold back.  And most of all, don’t tell me what you think I want to hear.  Tell the truth.  Let there be no naked emperors in the room.  (CEOs everywhere, take heed.)

7)  Coaching matters.  One of the things I feel most blessed by, is my relationship with my editor and writing coach, Marcia Meier.  Marcia has been my champion throughout this journey––has seen me through incredible self-doubt and fear; has held my hand and encouraged me when I was ready to walk away.  There is no way––and I mean NO WAY––I would have developed into the writer I am today without her support.  The right coach––the one who can tell you the hard stuff in a way that enables you to hear it from a place of power––is invaluable.  Our relationship has grown over the last two years into something quite magical––it has reminded me of the power of community and team.  My team is smaller than it was when I was CEO-ing, but it is no less important.  Surrounding yourself with people who see your vision and are committed to helping you achieve success, is not only important, it is the cornerstone of creating exceptional product.  It makes all the difference in the world.

I’m going to stop here: There are many other things that could make the list, but I’ll hold them for later.  Right now, I’m remembering that old balance initiative and stepping away from the keyboard.  Time to get into my running clothes, and after that, I think it might be a good idea to get something other than coffee into this old house of mine.

Happy weekend to all, and special love to my Boston homies.  We Massachusetts folk are made of tough stuff, and don’t you forget it.

Editing and Closets

Editing a book––or conquering any big, complex project––is a bit like organizing a closet that hasn’t been cleaned in years.

The first time you look inside and realize the scope and magnitude of what you’re dealing with, you want to RUN FOR THE HILLS.  So much stuff.  So many memories.  You feel attached to all of it.

When you finally muster the courage to take that closet on, you begin by dividing things into segments.  What you haven’t worn; what is torn and tattered; the things that no longer fit.  After awhile, patterns begin to emerge––you see that you have 400 black dresses, a single white t-shirt and only a few things with a smattering of color.  Tells you a little something about balance.

After that first pass––while you’ve gotten rid of the obvious––you still have more than you need.  You’re still having a hard time letting go because you can’t get past what it cost you to acquire those 400 black dresses; the long hours of work you had to put in to pay for them.

With each pass, you get a little more discerning; things get easier.  You’re able to say, “Even though it cost me, it doesn’t look good on me; it no longer fits.”

You keep the cycle going until you are down to the essentials––the base and foundation.  And then it becomes glaringly obvious where the holes are.  And you fill those in.  And when you’re done, you can start tweaking; adding a belt here, a shoe there––a polish and a rub.

Editing––like any big project––does not have to be overwhelming.  You just have to stand back and think before you begin.  Organize, break things down in small bites, detach from ‘what is’ and envision ‘what can be.’  And when you’re ready, you’ll know exactly where and how to begin.

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