Transitions and Something Cool

 

Hey All!

I imagine a lot of folks have been wondering where I’ve been. What used to update all the time is now a big ol’ pocket of radio silence…

No reason to make a bunch of excuses. I’ve been busy. Really busy. A few of the things I’ve been busy with include:

  • Running the Willamette Writers Conference
  • Going to a bunch of other conferences
  • Working on the sequel to my YA novel that came out last spring
  • Various promotional events for said YA novel
  • Just a pile of ghostwriting projects
  • Spoiling my sons all summer long
  • Getting married

But That’s Not All…

The other big thing I’ve been doing is making a big transition in my professional life.

Beginning October, I’m no longer “Brickcommajason, That Writer Guy.”

I’ve been getting too much work, and meeting too many aspiring writers I’ve been mentoring. And making too many connections with brilliant editors, agents, artists, publicists, and web designers.

So Brickcommajason is going to be making a big change. Starting next month, I’m turning into a We. Brick By Brick Literary Services launches next month.

What That Means For Existing Clients

Nothing at all. I will still be writing what I promised I will write. Except for a little tweak to the invoicing, you won’t even notice a difference…except I’ll have more time to focus on you since I’m giving some of my upkeep tasks to a loyal minion. If in the due course of time it seems right to hand you over to a member of my team, you will be the first person to hear about it and have absolute veto power.

As a plus, you’ll also get fast and affordable access to stuff I don’t currently do: design, copy editing, developmental editing, web help, publicity and social media expertise, art, layout, and stuff I don’t even know what it’s called.

What That Means for Events and Conferences

After the initial push to organize everything, this will be one of my main foci. I’ve been speaking for pay since 2004, but it’s been an adjunct to my other work (both as a writer, and before that as a martial arts teacher).

I’m shifting over the course of 2018 and 2019 to push through to that next level of public speaking. I’m not going to become one of those horsepucky motivational gurus, but I will be delivering on-topic, up-to-date, action-oriented classes on many things publishing and business. I’ll also be doing readings at schools, and there’s a couple of “I’ve never seen that before” self-defense workshops I’m putting together.

Stay tuned.

What That Means For Businesses

Businesses who need writing probably have the most to gain from this change. Instead of just little old me typing my fingers to the bone, you will now have access to a superstellar team of professionals.

  • Don’t love my writing style? We have a minion for that.
  • Love my writing but don’t love my prices? We have a minion for that.
  • Need better copy editing than I can provide? We have a minion for that.
  • Insights from an industry-leading agent? I have a partner for that.
  • Web design? Layout? All that jazz?

Yup. We have you covered.

What That Means For Writers

If you’ve spent time with me at all, you know I’m a huge writing geek. I love to talk, advise, hear stories, commiserate, and otherwise interact with writers. This blog is part of that.

And it’s never going to change.

But I’ll also be adding an array of services for writers and aspiring writers. Classes, coaching, strategic services, query help, you name it. A lot of it will still be free, and what we do charge for will be worth 1/10th of what we ask.

What That Means For My Subscribers

This is a good news/bad news scenario.

The good news is I’ll still blog over here once in a while. Mostly more personal observations and news. The occasional political rant. Travel adventures. That sort of thing.

The bad news is I won’t do it as often as I used to (but I will be doing it more often than in the past six months).

The other good news is this content will stay up, and my newsletter will be even more active. If you haven’t already, click here to subscribe to that. It will be the most frequently updated part of my content for writers

This Ain’t Goodbye…

It’s a new beginning. And I’m really, really excited about it.

One last thing, though: watch carefully next week. I’ve got a big thing launching and you should check it out.

6 Ways I Screwed Up Big Time

I spend a lot of time on this blog telling people how to do stuff, as if I’m such a high-and-mighty, super-duper success with a cherry on top. I’m not that.

I have had a lot of success in this writing thing, and some success lately in speaking and coaching about writing and business. I’m proud of those things, because I’ve worked hard and practiced discipline and applied things I learned.

I’m happy to say I’m pretty awesome that way. But folks who’ve seen me speak might recognize what has become one of my taglines:

Here’s what I learned by making mistakes, so you don’t have to make them yourself. 

In the spirit of that, I wanted to admit some of my biggest failures and mistakes. These aren’t one-and-done anecdotes. They’re habits I need to break, or habits I can keep but only if I adjust some of my life goals. For better or worse, here they are.

1. Too Many Ideas

I have a lot of ideas. A lot of ideas. Many of them are terrible ideas. Many more are good ideas, but not good ideas for me to do. Some are good ideas, even good ideas for me to do, but not ideas I should take on right now. And even the ones that are good, good for me, and good for now will fail if I try to do them all at once.

And yet I keep trying to do them all at once. Or I walk away from an 80% done project to take on something new and shiny. Of all things in my professional (and honestly my personal) life this is the worst habit I have. What’s worse is, as I plan and schedule my quarters I can’t help myself from saying “Well, all right, let’s let you three in anyway.”

2. Not Keeping the Front Door Open

Some small business advice people use the metaphor of the front door and the back door to describe the two kinds of customers. You keep your “front door” open — meaning you’re always welcoming in new clients. You keep your “back door” closed — meaning you retain all the clients you can.

Despite what I said in #1, I can overfocus at times. When my dance card is full, I consistently quit looking for new work. This becomes a problem when the existing assignments end, since the money dries up with nobody on deck. What’s worse is how easy this is to solve. Just a matter of putting the hours in.

3. Planning as Procrastination

My heterosexual life partner Matt Zanger (and my lovely and talented better half Rachel Letofsky) will both make fun of me for saying this out loud. They consider me an overplanner, and I consider them both underplanners.

I talk a lot in this blog about the importance of planning (I even did several articles about choosing my favorite planner). None of that is false. Planning is as vitally important to succeeding in your life plan as proper driving directions are to taking a successful road trip.

But sometimes I overdo it. I spend time planning and overplanning, because planning is comforting. And sometimes I plan again when I should be sticking to my earlier plan. It’s hard for me to admit that I plan too much, but at times…I….um…ergh…erk…plan too much.

4. The Shoeless Cobbler

I make a huge deal on this blog, in my books, and in my presentations about the importance of a good website, a solid mailing list, and systematic, tactical social media. I do that because they are hugely important.

But do I practice what I preach? My website is out of date stylistically. My newsletter gets updated on schedule (some of the time). And my social media is random. Hit and miss. I tell myself that’s okay because their job is to get me work, and I’m not doing it because I have so much work.

But still.

What makes this work is the one time I really nailed this, I had five books all in the top ten of their Amazon category just from the tactical social media part of it. This stuff really works, and could skyrocket my career. It’s there for the taking, and will still be there next week.

5. Saying Yes Too Much

This is so common  there are books about it. People give in to social pressure to take on more and more responsibilities and activities because we all want to be liked. Then you start dropping balls, or being surly during performing those responsibilities, or generally screwing the pooch because you overcommitted.

I am really, really bad about this. For me it’s a double-edged sword because my two superpowers are boundless energy and hyperfast work speed. For a long time, there wasn’t much such thing as “too many commitments.” I got it all done, and done well.

But I’m older now, with kids and a family and friends and all manner of hands on my time. I recently made myself stop pretending I could get any work done on weekends. It never happens. So baby steps, baby steps.

6. “Too Busy to Sleep”

I wrote an article once upon a time about the ROI (Return On Investment) of putting time into self-care. One of the best, most clearly proven examples, was getting enough sleep. Multiple studies show that sleeping 7 hours instead of 6 makes you at least two hours’ worth of more productive in an 8 hour workday. Six hours instead of five is even better.

This is something I know, both from research and personal experience. And yet one in the morning finds me hitting the Netflix feeder bar more often than I care to admit. Like the first item on this list, what’s even more frustrating is how easy it would be to act on my knowledge here and just kill that bad habit.

These are the things that keep me in the job I have, instead of the job I want. I’m working to fix each of them. In fact, a monthly piece on how I’m fixing them item-by-item is part of my plan for the coming few months. I’ll close today with a pair of quotes that’s always been near to my heart, and applies to these screwups and screwups of all kinds.

“Fall seven times and stand up eight.”

That’s one of my very favorite Japanese proverbs (“Nanakorobi yaoki”).  Or, as Rocky Balboa put it while talking with his son:

“It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”

Either way, success in all things isn’t a matter of not making mistakes. It’s a matter of learning from those mistakes and making each mistake less often.

How have you screwed up? What are you doing to screw up in that way less often? How can I (or anybody else in the blog community here) help?

A Modest Proposal


I only get political here on the blog every once in a while, but I have something needs saying so I’m going to say it here.

We should invade Mexico.

Seriously. We should do it. This year.

I came to this conclusion after reading an extremely smart article suggesting that no border wall will solve the problems of south border immigration in the United States. It posited that the reasons people are leaving Mexico in droves will always outweigh any attempts we make to restrict the influx…so instead we should spend that energy and budget on helping to stabilize Mexico.

But stabilizing her is a sisyphean task that would cost trillions to maybe work. A full-on invasion would be cheaper and more effective.  And I don’t mean a take-backsies invasion like what we did in Iraq. I mean making Mexico part of the United States permanently like we did with parts of Mexico coming on to two centuries ago. Let’s look at some of the benefits:

  • Make the Drug War a Real War. Our “wars” on poverty and drugs have not gone well, but we’re pretty good at actual shooting wars. The power of the cartels is the single biggest factor that makes life in Mexico terrible for (almost) everybody, and our sad civilian law enforcement efforts have made no significant headway. If we got busy dropping a SEAL team on the heads of each of those snakes, then played whack-a-mole with whoever stepped to the plate, actual legitimate government could actually make some headway toward establishing just social order.
  • They Have A Lot of Natural Resources. Even oil, Republican friends. Those resources aren’t being tapped effectively right now because of the state of disarray for government and business. This makes an admittedly expensive invasion less of a budget buster and more of an investment. They get a nicer place to live and raise families. We get lots of silver, copper, salt, fluorspar, iron, manganese, sulfur, phosphate, zinc, tungsten, molybdenum, mercury, gold, and gypsum. And oil. Lots and lots of oil.
  • We Cut the Source of the Undocumented Labor ProblemEmployers are the real bad guys in the immigration story. They take advantage of illegal aliens by paying them below market wages because the power differential is big enough to get away with it. They screw over American workers by hiring cheaper labor. If all Mexicans became Americans, this wouldn’t be possible. Employers would have to hire local labor for market scale. (Yes, I know lots of illegals are from other countries, but at last count this would cut off 59% of the supply).
  • It Might Save Tequila. You might have read a few years back about how we’re about to face a worldwide tequila shortage. Thing is, farmers are growing less agave and more things like coca plants and marijuana because of market forces and the influence of the cartels. A stabler Mexico could put those agave plants back in the ground before we have to start making our margaritas with vodka.
  • “Fuck Yeah.” Politics in the USA has never been so viciously divided, which is why we let the foxes run the henhouse for so long. For better or for worse, we’ve done better at remembering we’re all Americans when we have a common enemy to face off against while we sing the iconic song from our favorite movie.

So sincerely. Let’s invade Mexico. If nothing else, it will make our Facebook feeds even more interesting.

Who’s with me?

The Scurrilous Sin of Soft Hitting

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My beloved and departed sensei Lee Sprague used to say “If you hit a man, kill him.”

If sounds macho, brutal, and unnecessary, but what he always said next demonstrates why he’s right.

“If you have to go hands-on with somebody, fight the best fight you can or he has a better chance of killing you.”

That follows, and it’s tactically sound, but still seems to fall squarely in the macho warrior thug box. But his second insight is what makes this some of the best advice in the world:

“And if you don’t feel comfortable killing the man, you shouldn’t hit him in the first place.

There’s huge wisdom in that, as applied to all endeavors. So much that Our Most Badass President ever said similar words:

The unforgivable sin is soft hitting. Do not hit at all if it can be avoided; but never hit softly.

Apply this to your writing…

If you’re going to bother writing at all, it’s a sin to write soft. Don’t write what comforts you. Don’t write what the market suggests will give you a soft life. Write what scares you, what hurts you. Write the yucky stuff that will help you grow as you pour it out onto the page with a feeling exactly like what you get when you pour alcohol on some road rash.

And don’t write just stuff from that space, but write it hard. If you have to drop an f-bomb to make it real, drop an f-bomb to make it real. If one of your characters is an ignorant hillbilly from Kentucky, don’t you dare not write the word “nigger” for fear of offending some middle-class white book reviewer. If the story calls for ugly, write the ugly and put it boldly on the page. If it calls for beautiful, write a rainbow that leaves people weeping. If it calls for staring at the abyss, stare hard until it blinks and asks you about the weather.

Write hard. Leave your reader feeling like this:

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Apply this to your life…

Same goes for your hopes and dreams. If you want to do something, do it. Don’t halfway do it. Don’t go through the motions while giving most of your attention to safe, familiar other things. Don’t wish and whine and hold back until your time and life and opportunities are all spent. Hit it hard and try to kill everything in your way just as ferociously as you would kill a human attacker that stood between you and seeing your family again.

A close friend of mine recently experienced the importance of this. Last summer, he needed to make a Big Life Change which involved having a very hard conversation with somebody he cared a lot about. He did it exactly wrong, having instead a series of soft conversations that left room for equivocation and negotiating.

Six hard months with lots of tears later, he had to have the very hard conversation anyway. The stuff that happened during those six months irrevocably (probably) destroyed that relationship. They are no longer friends, because he hit soft when hitting was necessary.

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Most of us have been there or seen it from reasonably close up. That hit should be hard, and clean, and decisive. End the fight so everybody can move on with the least amount of damage possible.

The exact same thing applies to the big things you want out of your life. You can say to yourself “I want this thing” and approach it in tiny steps that never amount to anything. Years of frustration later, you will either decide it wasn’t really for you, or decide to finally hit it hard.

Or you can decide to hit it hard from the beginning. Decide nothing in the world will get between you and this accomplishment, then map it out and work the plan you make. Ruthlessly eradicate everything in between you and that goal (including and especially your bad habits, which will amount to 80% of what’s in your way). Fucking commit to it and make it happen.

And if you’re not ready to make that kind of effort and commitment? Just like killing a man, maybe that means you shouldn’t get started on that road in the first place.

Hell Yes or Fuck No

Derek Sivers is a smart guy who recorded a video with the best message about commitments I’ve ever read: Hell Yes or No. You can watch the video, but I’ll explain it in three points.

  • You are overcommitted
  • When asked to commit to something else, check to see if you feel a physical “Hell Yes!” response in your body.
  • If you don’t, the answer is “No.”

I added the “Fuck” because to me just saying “No” to myself is hitting too softly. Whether or not you need the f-bomb in there, the point is easy to understand. Only commit to responsibilities and social engagements you’re actually excited about. The stuff you can go in whole hog on. The stuff you look forward to.

If you say yes to things you’re luke warm about, you hurt yourself by stealing time from what you value. And you hurt the person who asked you by doing something half-assed…or worse, by beginning to resent and ultimately dislike that person because of an unnecessary series of soft hits against you.

To Review

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If you’re going to write something. Write it hard.

If you want to be or do something in your life, attack that goal it with total commitment.

If you’re going to do something or help somebody, do what you can engage with passionately.

Don’t leave life just swaying against the ropes. As they say in a famous video game…finish him!

Austerities and Celebrations

Once upon a time I had an idea. 

When I say “I had an idea,” what I mean is a lot of people had ideas that got into my head and moshed around like the front quarter of the floor crowd at an Anthrax concert. After they’d bumped into each other long enough, those ideas formed a thing that was a little bit original, a lotta bit derivative, but inspiring to me.

maxresdefault (2)I called the idea “austerities and celebrations.”  It owes a lot to Dan Millman, Thich Nhat Hanh, Tom Callos and Ray Bradbury, plus NaNoWriMo and Movember. This will be my fourth year I’ve been doing them. By coincidence, the VOLT planner (called the SPARK planner last year) has a similar idea baked right into its structure and presentation. I want to challenge each of you to try these in the coming year. It works like this

Austerities

Choose a month. This month. Next month. Stop doing something for the whole month. What you stop doing really depends on your goals. You can do it to quit a habit you’ve meant to. Or to experiment with quitting a habit you’re not sure is good or bad for your life. Or to simplify your social calendar. Or anything else. A few of the things I’ve cut out during austerity months includes:

  • Drinking soda
  • Swearing
  • Answering phone calls in real time
  • Using, um, “adult” websites for recreation
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Screen time without somebody else participating with me
  • Arguing on Facebook
  • Eating fast food
  • Spending money on new durable objects

My first austerity in 2017 will be to say “no” to commitments I’m not truly excited about. I get offers literally every day, and I’ve found my family connections and work have been suffering from having too many hands on my time. I’ll be practicing “Hell yeah or no thanks.”

Some of these things I never picked back up. Others I took on because I liked my life better with them in. Others I recommenced just because the habit was stronger than the practice. The point isn’t really successfully eliminating something from your life forever. It’s getting enough distance from that thing to make an intentional, mindful decision about whether or not to welcome it back inside.

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Celebrations

This is the opposite of the austerities. Take a month and every day, do something. This can be a habit you wish you had, or something you really like but don’t usually make happen. It could be daily progress toward a goal that’s really important, or that you just keep putting off. Aim for things that make your life better, or you think might make your life better. Here are a few of the celebrations I’ve commenced over the past years:

  • Repair one small item in my house
  • Play chess with my oldest son every night
  • Write 500 words on a book project
  • Meditate for 10 minutes in the morning
  • Do the physical therapy exercises for a borked up knee
  • Run a kata from kenpo or goju shori
  • Wake up without hitting the snooze button
  • Make an unsolicited FB contact with a distant friend
  • Read a blog article about a topic I wish I knew more about

This month, my celebration is to make one step daily to get my finances in order. I’m not broke by a long stretch, but a combination of things has made my money a tangled rat’s nest. By taking one positive step forward each day, I’ll end the month with things clean and automated and simple like I like them.

As with the austerities, some celebrations became parts of my daily life. Others turned out to be less fun than I thought they would be, and are back to being just a thing I do once in a while. Others still let me cross something off my lifetime to-do list, never to enter my mind again. The point is building discipline with daily reminders to do stuff while improving the quality of my life for a month at a time.

Serenity

We Are the Sum of Our Habits

Tony Robbins says we are the average of our five closest friends. I don’t know if that’s true — the influence of parents, siblings, mentors and personal heroes has a tidal effect even if our peers are the water we swim in. But I do believe that we are the sum of our daily habits.

3f675e5e9a54b2c8846e9dbb84fc7fd7Austerities and Celebrations are a way of looking hard at habits and deciding what to do about them. As Bruce Lee famously said of Jeet Kun Do, keep what serves you and ruthlessly eradicate everything that doesn’t.

Austerities and Celebrations are a way I’ve found to really up my game in carving myself into the person I want to become. I alternate between them: celebration in January, austerity in February, celebration in March, etc.

Maybe they’ll work for you. Maybe they won’t. Maybe they’ll inspire you to do something similar to (or wildly different from) what I do and make your life a whole bunch better. But if you’re looking for something to try, why not give them a shot?

Comment here or hit me up on the Facebooks and let me know how it goes.