Write Like It Never Happened

This photograph was taken about three seconds before the Cupcake ATM ate my hand.

So I had writers’ block for four years. That is not an exaggeration.

There was a week in the summer of 2010 when I had two life-changing conversations. In both of these conversations, each had with different people, and for different reasons, and ostensibly on different topics, the people I was speaking with suggested that perhaps lil ol’ me would be more successful and make more money and be more awesome if I acted, well, more like them.

They didn’t say it like that, of course. People don’t. When well-meaning people want to give advice, they tend to simply paint a picture, and it’s only if you look at that picture from a certain angle that you realize they have painted a picture of themselves.

Up until that time, I was following the very specific content marketing strategy of write when you are possessed of the urge to say something and publish it soon after. That resulted in between four and five blog posts a week most weeks, and sometimes there would be a week or so in which I had nothing to say, during which I didn’t write anything.

The people I spoke with thought that I should be more strategic.

They thought I should write blog posts that were designed to link to other blog posts, or to products, or services. They thought I should custom create blog posts purpose built to give opportunities for search engine traffic, “link bait”, and virality on social media.

This is good advice, actually. It’s certainly the advice I give when people ask me how to be more strategic with their content marketing. It’s the advice I give when people come to me asking for help. It’s the advice I give when people are starting from nothing and want to create something “the right way” from the start.

Like I said, it’s good advice. It just wasn’t great advice for me.

See, I wasn’t looking to get more strategic with my blog posts. I wasn’t looking to “optimize” or “take it to the next level” or “play a bigger game”. I had always found blogging to be one of the most rewarding activities I could possibly imagine. It was fun, and it made me smarter, and it helped me think, and it helped me grow.

Doing it my way got me into the Technorati Top 1000, meaning that, for a time, this was of the 1000 highest traffic blogs on the internet. (That honor, in tandem with two crisp American dollar bills, will get you a tall Pike Place blend at Starbucks, but still. It was good to know that I was good at something.)

What was it Toby Keith said? “A sucker punch came flying in from somewhere in the back”?

These conversations came out of the blue. They came from colleagues I admire. They came while we were supposed to be talking about something else, something nice. And the shock of them, the surprise of them, the “yes, that little blog you have is nice and all, but perhaps you should be a tad, I don’t know, manlier? ” condescension of them, well, I folded. I figured these guys must be right. Anything I had attained must have been in spite of myself, and if I wanted to go anywhere in life, I’d better start acting like a grown-up.

Unsurprisingly, when I went to the keyboard, I didn’t know what to write. When the only dictate is “whatever you do, don’t act like yourself”, it’s tough to figure it out. And I stayed that way for four years.

In the meantime, I have written. I’ve written for work – the classes and the emails and the sales copy. Over two million words, actually. But nearly none of them have been mine, and nearly all of them have been a struggle.

Sure, sometimes I would catch a groove and forget to obsess. Sometimes I would be on a deadline and didn’t have time to dwell. Sometimes I would drink wine and get angry and write what I damn well felt like, mentally hating the two of them the whole time.

But most of the time, what I had once loved, I’d grown to hate.

Which brings us to this summer.

This summer, I had two more conversations, one with a student, and one with a colleague.

The student emailed me to ask if she could write a certain kind of content in her newsletter. In her PS she said she hoped I’d say it was okay, because “that kind of thing would be a blast to write.” And I wrote back and said, “Go ahead. If it would be a blast to write, it will be a blast to read.”

(Hmmm. Physician, heal thyself?)

And then I talked to a colleague. I said I didn’t know what to put on my blog, and I hadn’t for years. We talked for a long time. He asked questions. I explained the problem. He thought for a while, and then he likened the whole thing to cupcakes.

He said, “Remember that cupcake we got out of the ATM in Beverly Hills? Remember how it was perfect?”

“Even if it wasn’t perfect, I still would have liked it. If it had been a little less moist, or it had been carrot cake instead of red velvet, or if it had less icing or, hell, no icing. When someone presents you with a cupcake, and it’s even a little bit good, your answer is not ‘Gee, I wish it was different.’ Your answer is ‘Sweet! A cupcake!’ You’ll even take a brownie, or a cookie, or a brownie with icing, or a cookie with brownie-flavored icing. You don’t care. You’re just happy you got a cupcake.”

“Maybe it’s the same with your blog. Maybe you don’t have to be a certain way. Maybe you can just make cupcakes.”

And so I tried. I tried to write even though I’d had writers’ block for four years. I tried to write myself up some cupcakes.

It was awkward. It was wooden. It was tentative and hesitant and SO not the same as it used to be. It felt like touching a lover after a four-year dry spell full of nasty silences and not very casual disregard. But I did it. And here we are.

Between four years ago and now, other well-meaning people have tried to give me advice on how to beat my writers’ block. It’s become a bit of a joke in the classes I teach. People come onto our Q&A calls and ask how my book is going, and we all laugh.

The advice people give can about writers’ block can generally be paraphrased – or quoted verbatim – as “just write”.

I would ask what I should write, and they would say just write. I would ask how to start, and they would say just write. I would say I don’t know how, and they would say just write.

They were correct, of course. That’s exactly what I should have done. But their advice never held, it never stuck, because, well, I don’t know why. I wanted it to work. I just needed more, I guess.

You don’t understand, I would think. I can’t, because I’m stupid.

You don’t understand, I would think. I can’t, because I’m weird.

You don’t understand, I would think. I can’t because I’m loud and I’m brash and I swear too much. I can’t because those big, strong men I admire and respect told me I was doing it wrong.

And I suppose what I would have wanted was for somebody to take me by the shoulders and say this:

“Write like it never happened.”

“Don’t let them get you. Don’t let them break you. Don’t let them take the vitality and the fire and the sparkle that is you and sanitize it into a beiged-down version.

Don’t change just because it makes other people feel safer. Don’t let them tell you that you would be perfect if you just weren’t so… you. Don’t let them take you away from everybody else who likes you just the way you are.

I know it will be hard, and I know it won’t be the same, and I know you’ll doubt your every word for a while, but it will get better.

Do you remember when you were little, and you swore you would never let anyone break you down, no matter how hard they tried? That small person inside of you is counting on you to make all her dreams come true. That small person said that one day, she would write and people would read, and that mess of a childhood would be transformed into something better. Nobody can make it okay for that small person but you.

Write like it was ten years ago and nobody had told you that you couldn’t do it. Write like it was possible. Write like you had hope, and write like you had dreams, and write like there are millions of people out there waiting to hear what only you can say.

Write like you did before it ever occurred to you that there might be anyone who wanted you to be different.

Outrun it. Outrun the feeling that they might be right. Outrun it, outwrite it, and drown it with voices of love and support and admiration and high fives.

Listen to your children who believe you can do everything and that Mummy is the wisest, strongest, prettiest person in the whole world. Put your trust in the ones who know you and love you and never want you to change. Write and write and write and write and write, no matter what, write.

It. Will. Get. Better.”

I think that’s what I would have wanted to hear.

So just in case that’s what you want to hear, and you need somebody to say that to you, I’ll say it to you now:

Write like it never happened.

About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.

megaphone1Do you see what I did there? With the “some of which are important” thing? Don’t you hate it when somebody makes an “important” announcement, and you’re like, “I’m sure it’s technically possible that a human or two on earth might find that important, but I’m struggling to imagine what they might look like, and regardless, I am not among their undoubtedly few number”?

(No? Maybe that’s just me.)

Anyway, do you see how I deftly avoided that outcome by allowing YOU to determine which ones are important? Do you see what I did there?

Ahem. Let’s move on.

We have updates.

If you would like to watch me screw up Facebook

I have never pretended to understand Facebook. We have never been particularly close, Facebook and I. I have, in spite of myself, amassed some friends and fans over the years, but that has mostly been without my knowledge or full understanding.

Anyway, enough people I like have told me I should give it a chance, and I have decided to be a little less bloody-minded and give it a shot. I realize my steadfast refusal to take Facebook seriously is starting to resemble an old man complaining about young people’s music. My stubbornness is now boring even me.

So!

If you would like to watch me fumble around like an idiot, make a complete fool of myself, and possibly give out free stuff later, you can do so here.

(I’m also on Twitter, which I’m not nearly so lousy at. That’s because most of my Twitter feed is Jack’s philosophical quotes, and it’s hard to screw those up.)

If you have been looking for the vault sale

This time last year, we had 17 products, books, courses and bundles in the store. When we realized just how insane that was, we figured we’d pull a Disney and put them in the vault to streamline things a bit at Chez IttyBiz. The intention was that we would open up the vault in a year and give newbies and/or oldbies (?!) a chance to get stuff without inundating everybody all year.

For scheduling reasons, we’re not going to do that, but we’ve had some questions about it.

Therefore!

If you’ve been looking for the Vault Sale and are bummed, you can take a look at some of the products in our back catalog here. We made a page. It’s not going to win any marketing awards, but it might jog your memory.

If you are looking for the Emergency Turnaround Clinic

When we redesigned the website, the pay what you can Emergency Turnaround Clinic class banner got lost in the shuffle. Sorry, dudes.

If you are looking for it, it is here. We’re working on getting it put back properly soon.

Experiments in writers’ block

I am experimenting with a theory on writers’ block management. Not, like, a theory theory, like relativity. More like a “One wonders if this would work and perhaps the only way for one to find out is to get over oneself and try it out like a big girl”.

I’m experimenting with the idea of, instead of finding a way to beat writers’ block, or cure writers’ block, or end writers’ block, trying to write even though I have writers’ block. (Blame Dave. He lent me his Kindle and I’ve been getting ideas.)

Anyway, I’m going to be experimenting. A possible outcome of that experimentation is a lot of blog posts coming out. (An alternative possible outcome is me embarrassing myself, although the two are by no means mutually exclusive.)

Basically, if I write a bunch over the next little bit, it’s just because I’m messing around, not because I’m launching something.

Oh, and Dave is hot and I have hair and there are kittens.

We have a new site. If you are reading this on that site, you will have established that by now. (Hi!) If you are not, Dave is hot and I have hair. (And Jack looks ridiculously cool, but that is not new information.) Also? Kittens. And other kittens.

As part of the new site, we’re bringing back some old posts. If there are specific old posts that you would like us to bring back as we are bringing back old posts, please email the ninjas (ninjas@ittybiz.com) or fill out the contact form here and say so. You can say “I don’t remember the name but it had a pile of bunnies?” or “the pink RV one? I think it was pink, anyway…” and they will know what you mean.

So what’s next?

Tomorrow we will talk about writers’ block and cupcakes, and you can see me in a cowboy hat.

Until then, come check out the new site and see if anything’s broken.

Also? MONKEY! And a PUPPY!

 

About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.

You're probably not going to die over your pricingSo I’m looking at buying a book. This book is called Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When The Stakes Are High. I am looking at buying this book because for some reason, Dave and I cannot hold a conversation these days without someone ending up in tears.

(I blame the Cardinal Grand Cross. And Mercury in Retrograde. And Neptune in retrograde. And Mars in retrograde. Good Lord, it’s amazing neither of us is dead.)

Here is a sample conversation in my office:

One of us: So have you had any thoughts about the YouTube thing?

The other: Jesus ****ing Christ, why did you have to bring that up today?

So here I am, reading the sample, thinking about buying this book, which could be alternately titled How to Stop Crying At Work, Naomi, And Dave, Perhaps You Could Work On The Sighing Thing. Having looked through the sample and putting it off because, well, it’s easier to blame him for a little while longer than to jump in feet first and take responsibility for my part of the problem, I decide to mosey around looking at the authors’ other books.

They have another one, called Crucial Accountability. It looks good, too, and it is said in the reviews that it’s basically a rehash of the first one, but more practical. So it seems like getting both might be a good idea.

And then! Miracle of miracles, there is an ebook bundle I could buy. I didn’t know they did this in any industry other than self-published erotica, so I am intrigued. (Also, yes. I like kits. Hi, Mom.)

So my finger is poised above the Buy Now With 1-Click button – naturally, I’m using Dave’s Amazon account, because I’m passive aggressive like that – and I check to see how much it’s going to cost.

It is $21.99.

Now, $21.99 is not a lot to pay for peace. It’s also a lot cheaper than mediation, or calling up a couple’s counsellor to say, “Hi, we’re business partners, but I fought less with my first husband than I fight with this guy”. But I said to myself, “That’s not much of a deal.”

So I go and forage around and I find out that the digital price for book number one is $9.99, and the digital price for book number two is $9.00.

Neither of the books appear to be on sale.

Buy one book, and then the other book, pay $18.99.

Buy both in a bundle and pay $21.99.

Not much of a deal indeed.

Now here’s where things get weird.

I almost bought it anyway.

I almost reloaded the (now gone) page for the bundle to purchase it anyway, for a higher price.

You know how we’ve been saying for eight years that marketing is about psychology?

What kind of a brain would do that?

A human one, that’s what.

What this means to you today.

We get a lot of questions from a lot of people asking what their pricing strategy would be. A lot of angst goes into the process of figuring out what launch pricing should be, what sale pricing should be, what bundle pricing should be, and so on. There’s a lot of navel gazing that goes on around this topic, as there should be.

The ittybiz owner asking the question wants to avoid this little mess of a situation.

But here’s what you need to know.

There are, realistically, three possible outcomes once your customer-to-be comes across a weird situation like this one.

  1. They roll their eyes and buy one book, or one book and then the other book, to save their three bucks. Fairly likely.
  2. They buy the bundle because they didn’t even bother to look. Likely enough.
  3. They don’t buy either because they hate you, or because they decided to stop the checkout process to write a blog post about you. Not that likely, but clearly possible as evidenced by the article you’re currently reading.

There is no secret fourth outcome in which you die and your business fails.

You should take your pricing seriously, just like you should take your tagline seriously, your contact page seriously, and your email sequence seriously.

But if you mess it up, there is a very low chance you will die.

If this topic interests you, read this too. It is tangentially related.

Now I’m going to go read the book because somebody is going to ask me if I’ve read it and if I haven’t I’m going to look like an idiot.

About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.