Lessons From Fathers

With Father’s day today, it’s important to take a moment to reflect on both the blessing and the responsibility of being a father. It’s great to be celebrated, but it’s also important that we treat fatherhood with the weight and importance that it deserves.

From the first moment our children come into our arms, they look to us for protection, for guidance, for comfort. With that in mind, here are three essential lessons that either my father taught me, or that are essential for my three boys as they grow to become young men.

Work Hard – The World Doesn’t Owe You Anything

It’s unfortunate that the sense of entitlement has grown to become ubiquitous. I can’t say whether our parents ever felt that way about us and our generation, but I see it now, especially out in the workforce.

A paradigm of entitlement is a precarious way to look at life. It leads to thoughts of “what’s in it for me,” and “where is my share?” It’s expecting something for nothing, as if you’re somehow owed a salary, a social following, and a Star Wars movie every six months — but not too many strong female protagonists.

I’m not talking about our “unalienable rights”, like feeling safe, equality, and the pursuit of happiness. Outside of those basics – which we still struggle to extend to everyone all the time – we get what we put into life. It’s not a perfect principle, but it is a universal one. Sometimes life hits us in unexpected ways, like getting fired from a job after 20 years of hard work, or Facebook changing it’s algorithm…again. But overall, the harder your work ethic in your career, your passions, your relationship, your finances, your personal growth, the greater the outcome.

Our children need not only to be taught, but to be given examples of hard work. Less chasing after the next bitcoin gold rush, more pragmatic, focused work toward a desired goal and a celebration when that goal is attained.

Celebrate your kids hard work. Help them understand that they have control over so much in their lives if they’ll just work for it.

Act, Don’t React

Hypocrisy is pervasive today. You see it in politics, in climbing the corporate ladder, and even in our churches on Sunday. It’s an unfortunate contagion that sucks when we come into contact with it.

What would happen if we actually lived the golden rule, treating others how we hoped to be retreated in return? Could it brighten someone’s day? Avoid a fallout between friends? Prevent nuclear war?

Consistency in character is an enviable trait. No one grows up hoping to have the temperament of the angry gent forcefully laying on his horn in rush hour traffic. We often can’t alter the world around us, but we always have the ability to control our emotions.

Striving to act, rather than react, to life as it comes at us is an invaluable lesson for our children, who every day have to struggle with figuring out how life works. It can’t feel great when someone takes your legos out of your hand, or unfriends you on Instagram. Whether or not that incident throws off the rest of your day, however, is completely within their control, if we will just take the time to teach them.

Enjoy Life and Live In The Moment

When’s the last time your spouse caught you head down staring at your phone rather than listening to her as she recaps her day?

This isn’t a guilt trip, it’s a call to arms. We can do better!

Life is meant to be lived with those we love, not vicariously through digital screens and crafted streams. These incredible devices can do so much good, to connect and to educate us, but they can also muffle the sound and mute the colors that life has to offer.

When our kids look back on their childhood, will they remember their Father’s smile? Or will they remember the phone that was constantly between them and their dad?

Fatherhood isn’t easy, because the rewards are too great to come easy. The joys of Fatherhood last longer than a like or a view, they last for generations, if we’ll invest the time to do it right. As stated before, the harder we work, the greater the outcome.

Take time today to celebrate, yes, but also take time to reflect on the kind of Father you are, the kind of Father you want to be, and what you can teach your kids to help them as they grow.

Principles Of Writing, Publishing, And Launching Your Book

Everything I Know About The Process Of Becoming A Self-published Author

In early 2017 I started working on the self-help book that I wished existed but I had yet to find: a non-fiction novel based on the principles contained in The Book of Mormon.

If you’re not familiar, those, like myself, of the LDS or “Mormon” faith believe that The Book of Mormon is scripture, a companion to the Bible that teaches of Jesus Christ, His gospel and His ministry.

As it states in the introduction to the book, there is a belief that “a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book”. To put this to the test, I spent months studying the book looking for the direct statements, promises, and principles that it taught in order to see what I could find that would help me “get nearer to God.”

That was the impetus for the book I set out to write.

Since then, I’ve been working on the writing portion of the project, as well as writing a daily email about the “precepts” that I had highlighted in my research as an opportunity to share what I’d found.

In this post I’ll outline the things I’ve learned going through this process, in hopes that it will be helpful to those of you who want to write and publish your own books in the future.

Like my Minimalist Travel Post, this article will focus more on principles rather than tactics, and ones that I believe are widely applicable across genres, types of books, and what style of publishing you choose to pursue.

I hope you enjoy it!

Writing Your Novel

The hardest part about getting a book out into the world, in my experience, is the writing. It seems like a universal obstacle, as many people who set out to write a book never actually finish the book.

Step number one is to figure out the principles that will help any author finish their book so they have something to put out into the world, to tell their story, share their knowledge, and affect change in those who read it.

What’s Your Story?

When you start out writing a novel or a screenplay or any other long-form project, rather than starting with “it was a dark and stormy night…”, I like to think about the global story I’m trying to tell.

Just as sharpening an axe makes chopping down a tree much easier, thinking about your big-picture story, story structure, themes, characters, and more will set you up for a much more successful writing experience.

Some things I love that have worked for me:

  • Write out your story in one page. Beginning, middle, and end. Who are the characters, what do they want, what do they need, what obstacles stand in their way?
  • Write out your story in one paragraph. This cuts out some of the “fluff” and lets you drill down to what the big parts of the story are.
  • Write out your story in one sentence. This helps clarify what your story is about, both narratively and thematically.
  • Use this sentence to tell others about the story you’re writing. What is their reaction? What questions do they ask you? Do these responses motivate you or discourage you? What changes can you make to get to a better story?

Going through this process helps me save time by not writing stuff that won’t get used. By figuring out your big picture at the beginning, you’ll be off on a much stronger foot than if you just started writing.

That said, leave room for discovery and change. Things will inevitably come up that provide new insight into your theme, your characters, and your story. But, you’ll be able to weigh those things against the story you set out to tell, rather than be distracted by every new idea that floats into your head.

Write Every Day

Principle number one (despite its arbitrary order in this list) is to form a habit.

Just as a pilot flies airplanes, athletes play their sport, and politicians beg people for money with an endless stream of emails asking for $5 to help them “cross the line”, writers write.

If you want to be a writer, you have to write. If you’re not writing, then you’re not actually a writer, are you?

One of my favorite maxims about accomplishing anything is that “we overestimate what we can accomplish in a year, and underestimate what we can accomplish in a day.”

It’s incredible to me how quickly a novel-length bit of writing can come together by just writing a few hundred to a thousand words a day.

For my first book, I set out to write a book in six weeks. I got up early, wrote a daily quota of 1000 words, and in six weeks I had written a 125 page ebook about film sound.

For this book, after nearly a year of writing a few-hundred-words email a day, I realized that I had over 120,000 words, enough for TWO full-length novels (or in my case, one really long novel…)

Depending on what you’re setting out to write, set a goal, something that you can accomplish in a few months. Then work backwards to determine how many words you need to write a day.

If you’re a fast writer, you may be able to do 800-1200 words in an hour. Break down your big word-count goal into daily tasks, and then make a commitment to yourself to write every day.

Make extra time by getting up early, skipping that extra episode in the evening, or working through your lunch break. Commit to yourself that you’ll write every day no matter what.

Then, when you inevitably miss a day, don’t let it throw you off track. Make a backup commitment to never miss two days in a row.

Again, we underestimate what we can accomplish in a day, and the compounding effect of establishing a writing habit and writing every day will get you to a finished novel faster than any other tip, trick, or tactic I know of.

Get Into A Writing State Of Mind

When you’re writing, do everything you can to quickly get into a state of mind that will allow you to write for your allotted time. Use location, lighting, noise, music, whatever you need to trigger your brain into thinking “oh, this is writing time.”

For me, it includes the same time and place every day, using the app Brain.fm which helps me block out any other low level noise (or my kids yelling about who gets to be Luke Skywalker and who gets to be Kylo Ren…), using the Freedom app to block internet access and force me to focus, setting my phone to airplane mode, and using a very clean, minimal, focused writing app called Highland. I use this process for screenplays, novels, blog posts, and any other long-form writing that I do in my life and career.

I’ve used many apps and rather than saying “use this one”, all I can say is that it works for me.

Every one of us is different, has different habits, different distractions, and different ways we like to work. The principle is to figure out what works for you – time of day, location, music or silence, people or solitude – and then rigorously get to that same state every day.

Forget The Excuse Of Writer’s Block

“But what about writer’s block? How do you overcome it?” I hear you asking.

I joined the school of “writer’s block doesn’t exist” years ago. Athlete’s don’t get “runner’s block”, and professional speakers don’t get “talker’s block”.

So what’s the deal with this whole “writer’s block” thing?

Writing, at times, can be a very vulnerable process. As a defense mechanism, some writer decades ago came up with the concept of “writer’s block” to justify their fear and high expectations – and their failure to put words on the page.

The best, and only, advice I have for you is to eliminate writer’s block from your vocabulary. Don’t allow yourself to use it as an excuse to not write. If you can talk, you can record yourself and transcribe it later. If you tell yourself that not writing is not an option, then it won’t be an option, and you’ll write.

The things you write every day as your putting together your first draft will never be perfect, so lower your expectations as low as you need to to get words written every day.

You are more in control of yourself than you think. Want proof? Think about an elephant balancing on a unicycle. Lift your left arm. Blink three times in a row.

Writing is a physical act, and your brain has the power to tell your body to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. So do it.

The next time you sit down to a blank page, start writing. Don’t stop until you hit your quota.

Editing Your Novel

After you’ve written your first draft, now it’s time to go back to page one and start thinking about how to turn it into something people would enjoy reading.

Yes, I just told you that the thing you just wrote is borderline-unreadable. As with the rest of the things I believe in this post, I believe that our first drafts are usually not finished or even ready for public consumption.

They’re not meant to be readable.

A chart-topping musician doesn’t write a song and get it on the radio in the same day. It’s a process of writing, rewriting, recording, editing, mixing, mastering, and then releasing it into the world. Our process is the same.

Celebrate the fact that you finished the first draft of your novel, but then–generally after some time off–dive back in with a new hat on – your editor’s hat.

The best resource I’ve ever found for getting through this process of editing in a methodical way is the Story Grid method. The book by the same name was written by Shawn Coyne, a professional book editor with over 25 years and hundreds of books of experience.

The Story Grid Podcast is a masterclass in writing, editing, and storytelling, and I recommend it now to everyone that I meet who wants to be a writer and tell stories.

The book costs less than $20 and the podcast is free besides the time you invest in listening to it, but it has some invaluable information when it comes to getting your book to the level where people want to read it.

As with many professional pursuits, it helps to have partners with other, complimentary skills to yours. Most writers are not good editors, just as most athletes aren’t incredible coaches. While both work in the same arena, they need each other in order to achieve a successful outcome.

Even if you are self-publishing, the goal is to write something so good it can’t be ignored. Most writers don’t have the ability to look at their work with the proper perspective as an editor can.

Find a friend, or someone on Upwork or an editor that can help you with the editing process of your book. While it may be a larger expense than you think you can afford, you can save a few bucks a week and after six months or a year you’ll have enough to hire someone to help edit your book.

Find someone who you can trust to give you good feedback and help with the grammar, spelling, and punctuation as well. Use them to help you improve your writing and make your book more professional as you go through a number of drafts together.

Publishing Your Book

While many authors have dreams of being chosen by one of the big publishers and to sell a million copies of their book, chances are that won’t happen to you or me.

I don’t know a ton about traditionally publishing a book, because I’ve never tried to go that route. I like the idea of maintaining control over every aspect from the writing to the publishing and distribution of what I write.

What I do know is that you give up a ton of upside in order to get what a publisher offers – mainly some financial backing and some wider distribution options than you have available on your own.

Most authors I’ve spoken to make $1 or less per book using this method of publishing and distribution. Given that most books don’t even sell 250 copies, that’s not a huge upside for months – if not years – of work.

If you’re an author with a platform – a social following, a large blog readership, or some fame in another part of your life that you’re writing about – then you may be able to go out and get an advance for your book and make some ok money. Most first-time authors aren’t getting six-figure advances.

For a first time author, anything in the $10-50k range is fairly standard. For celebrities or proven authors, you may get into the six figure range. The million-dollar advances are reserved for the outliers – the Obamas and the Clintons, the Kardashians, etc. Those who have millions of people who follow their every move and who would line up to buy their book.

If you’re starting out, your goal should be to write a book and get it published at all costs. Let the writing stand for itself, and strive to write something so good they can’t ignore you. THEN use that success as leverage to go the traditional route if you choose on your next book.

Self Distribution

This new style of self-publishing is old enough now that there are proven routes to distributing your book and making it available for anyone to purchase and read your writing.

Here, I’ll outline the process that I used to self-publish my recent book. More about the book later…

First, the principles that guided my process. I was looking for a way that was simple, as automated as possible, with as few steps as possible, that maximized gaining the emails of those that purchased the book (so that I could add them to my email list), and made me more money than a traditional publishing model.

I knew that if it were too complicated that I’d never make the time to get the book out into the world. I knew that if I couldn’t get the emails of my customers I was losing out on building an email list asset that would serve me for future books and future endeavors.

I knew that I needed to at least cover my costs, which includes the time it took to write the book as well as pay for the email service provider I’ve used for the last year to send out the emails. Beyond that, any income was just a bonus, and a confirmation that what I had written had some value for those purchasing it.

Here’s what I ended up doing for this book:

  • I wrote the book using Highland.
  • After compiling the book together, I used Pressbooks.com to convert the PDF into ebook formats. If you sign up, wait a few weeks or so and they’ll send you a discount code for half off of your order.
  • I researched more than a dozen potential printers. Ultimately, despite costing a little more than some other options, I chose to print through Ingram Spark. They have a massive distribution network, high quality printing, and options for both bulk orders as well as print on demand, where they can print when an order comes in and ship the book(s) directly from their printer, saving me time and effort.
  • I built my website with wordpress using the woocommerce shopping cart template and shopping cart. While there are more up front costs associate with this method than other options like Shopify, they are one-time costs, rather than monthly costs, so in the long run it seems to be a cheaper option. I have lots of experience building wordpress sites, and this was by far the easiest to put together.
  • I used booklaunch.io to build a landing page for the book, and then used their wordpress integration to turn that landing page into the homepage of my website. The links on that page take a visitor to the store to purchase the book. It looks great and was very simple to build, and is very inexpensive even for the top tier plan, around $10 a month.
  • I use the Drip.com email app to deliver my emails and to create Facebook ads based on my email subscribers. While I prefer Convertkit.com over Drip, the latter has a few tools that were better suited for sending out daily emails, and for segmenting out my “best” readers to get feedback, make special offers, etc.
  • On the website, I’m doing a month long preorder sale, which was super simple to setup inside woocommerce. More on the preorder sale in the next section.
  • I am selling digital, paperback, and hardback versions of the book. The digital format came from pressbooks directly, while the physical copies come from Ingram Spark.
  • I’m selling the ebooks directly rather than through Amazon or the iBooks store so that I can build up the email list. At some point I may cave in and upload the ebook to those digital stores, but for now I’m valuing the collection of emails over the potential upside that comes from having your book on Amazon. If and when that happens, I’ll likely put the book up at a higher price point in order to persuade customers to purchase directly from me, given the option.

Launching Your Book

Many people have written about launching a book on the internet. A solid google search will net you some solid principles and tips for doing it in a way that works with your style and personality, and to get the results you’re looking for.

I’m not an expert and I’m not trying to become one on the internet. I can only share what my plan is going into this book launch, and I promise to share the results as they occur.

I don’t have a huge platform to sell to, so aiming for some huge, blockbuster style book launch would be foolish, in my mind.

I think it’s important to set realistic goals and then put a process and a plan in place to achieve that goal. For me, selling even 10,000 copies seems like way too much of a stretch to be in the realm of possibility right now.

Tim Grahl wrote a book called Book Launch Blueprint, which is a quick read but has some solid principles on launching your book. My friend Nathan Barry also wrote a book years ago called Authority which is what I used to write and launch that ebook I wrote years ago.

In short, there are three things (at least) you can do to try and sell as many copies as possible. A solid goal to shoot for is 1,000 copies, as mentioned by Tim in his book, and that’s what I’ve set my sights on for this launch.

Here’s his prescribed approach for new writers:

  1. Sell as many possible copies to your existing fans.
  2. Help your fans share the book with their friends.
  3. Find influencers who will help you promote the book.

Sell To Your Fans

I’ll admit, this is the point that I’m currently at, selling to you with this very post. The hope is that I’ve provided enough value to you as a reader that you’re incentivized to read my other work.

In order to sell to your friends or your fans, they need to a) know you exist, b) trust you, c) like you, and d) see value in the thing that you’re selling.

As I’ve heard it said, “you can’t monetize obscurity.” If you have no platform or following, you likely won’t sell that many copies, because a) no one knows you exist, b) they won’t trust you if you just appear in front of them in an ad, c) they don’t have any reason to like you yet, and d) you haven’t provided any value yet.

So, find a way to provide value.

The way I chose to do that was to write a daily email for nearly a year as an easy way for my readers to get a quick scripture study in every day.

It worked, and the results showed. The list grew without any marketing or advertising. It also proved the second point, helping your fans share with their friends.

(At the time of this email, the list is just shy of 600 subscribers, which is by far the largest email list I’ve ever built).

Help Your Fans Share With Their Friends

When you create something of value, the marketing handles itself, as people will spread the word for you. It’s the most effective and cheapest way to advertise anything.

Once you have fans that know who you are, trust you, and like you, you can then “cash in” some of that value you’ve provided the with an ask to share your product, email list, etc with their friends.

Make the process as easy as possible when you ask. Create simple links, or write out things they can easily copy and paste. Do as much of the work for them as possible and you’ll see greater results.

One helpful tool I’ve found (which is a bit of a “hack”, so I’m not sure how I feel about it yet) is greeninbox.com which allows you to send emails to, say, select Facebook or LinkedIn friends. I’m not sure how it works, but I’ve set it up to send a short announcement and share request to about 350 of my Facebook friends who I think would be in the target market for this book.

Find Influencers

Who do you know that has their own platform that would benefit from the book you’ve written? Think outside of just social media – what about journalists, podcasts, magazines, and organizations? Any of these are in need of good content, and you can reach out to them and offer to help them create some.

Again, provide value up front, make it as easy as possible for them to say yes, go the extra mile, be a great interview or guest post, and help them with their goals as you strive to hit yours.

Why Write At All?

There are a few reasons that I write, which help when I’m unmotivated or insecure about the task in front of me.

First, it’s to figure out what I think. It’s dangerous to me to go through life without ever challenging my assumptions, my beliefs, my methods and systems. If we never stress-test what we think we know, we’ll never be in a position to learn and to grow.

Writing is that stress test for me.

I don’t typically write from a position of authority–even though my editor says that I should be better at that–because I feel like my writing is more of a documentation of what I think, what I’m trying, what I’m learning, and where I failed.

I think if you’re 34 and you’ve “got it all figured out”, you’re fooling yourself.

The hope is that some of the things I figure out and publish, either in my emails or in books or on my blog, are helpful to those that read it.

The second reason I write is for my kids and my posterity. My grandparents are and were people that lived incredible lives, ones that I wish I knew much more about.

My paternal grandfather passed away while I was at college, and we never really spoke that much. I don’t have a ton of memories with him, and I really regret that now. If he had kept a journal, or written a memoir, I know I’d devour and cherish those words of wisdom, as limited in scope and personal as they may have been.

My maternal grandfather has accomplished a lot in his life, but keeps much of his story to himself. As he gets older, it’s becoming harder and harder to get him to remember stories that would be helpful to me now – learning how he dealt with starting his own business, growing it, balancing a family of five, etc. There are so many parallels and I feel like there’s a ton of wisdom that’s just slipped away.

My mom was great at keeping a journal, and it’s something that my siblings and I have read since her passing and it’s helped connect us to her, learn from her, and feel her presence even though she’s gone. I want that for my kids, my grandkids, and those that will come long after I’m gone.

Writing and publishing our stories is an act that we will never know how far-reaching its effects are. It’s leaving a message, sharing lessons, and guiding those that will read them years and generations after the words hit the page.

While most authors at some point or another feel a sense of inadequacy when it comes to their work, I’ve found that–at least for me–the desire to write for my kids and my future family most often outweighs the fear of writing poorly, and it helps me through those times where I wonder if it even matters at all.

Last Thoughts

I plan on updating this post as often as necessary for it to become a living document where all of my lessons learned and all of my advice will exist to hopefully help the writers that read it.

If you’ve got a story in you–and we all do–I urge you to write it. The act of writing is as simple as talking, and you shouldn’t let things like writing applications, self publishing, and distribution strategies get in the way of putting your story into the world.

Just write, and know that you can figure out the rest if and when you need to.

If I can be of any help to you and what you’re experiencing in your journey to publishing a book, let me know. You can email me on the CONTACT page, or leave a comment below.

Thanks for reading, and best of luck as you write your story.

 

If you want to check out my recent book, you can find it at dailymormonbook.com, and if you know anyone that may find it interesting, please feel free to share it with them. 

So Good They Can’t Ignore You

There’s a book out there that completely flips the script on the idea of “follow your passion”. That book is So Good They Can’t Ignore You, by Cal Newport. The title, on the other hand, comes from a story involving the comedian and actor Steve Martin:

In a 2007 episode of the Charlie Rose show, Rose was interviewing the actor and comedian Steve Martin about his memoir Born Standing Up. They talked about the realities of Martin’s rise. In the last five minutes of the interview, Rose asks Martin his advice for aspiring performers.

“Nobody ever takes note of [my advice], because it’s not the answer they wanted to hear,” Martin said. “What they want to hear is ‘Here’s how you get an agent, here’s how you write a script,’ . . . but I always say, ‘Be so good they can’t ignore you.’ ”

In response to Rose’s trademark ambiguous grunt, Martin defended his advice: “If somebody’s thinking, ‘How can I be really good?’ people are going to come to you.”

The book was a game changer for me. I remember thinking early in my career that if I wanted to succeed I needed to become more passionate. Heck, one of the reasons my ex-wife divorced me was because, and I quote, “you just don’t seem to be passionate about anything.”

Yeah, that took a while to overcome.

Luckily, this book exists, and I read it. The very first thing I highlighted is this:

When it comes to creating work you love, following your passion is not particularly useful advice.

The gist of the book is that rather than finding and connecting with the thing we’re passionate about in order to magically become successful, the actual way that happens is through becoming what he calls a craftsman.

Want to be a writer? Learn and practice the craft of writing. Photographer? Take pictures every day. Musician? Write every day. Perform often. Get better at your instrument, whatever that is, through constant structured practice.

We can do anything we want, and we can ultimately become extremely passionate about it, but that often comes after we’ve put in the work to become the best craftsmen we can be.

The benefit of this approach is that you minimize the chance of having an entitlement mindset, that as soon as you’ve found your passion that the world somehow owes your money, a career, or fame. The world doesn’t owe you anything.

The most successful musicians I know – Neon Trees and Imagine Dragons – are two of the hardest working groups of musicians I know. Same goes for The National Parks, a band that has been touring for years on end and is only now seeing some more national-level success. They were craftsman first, realized they were passionate after becoming craftsmen, and kept getting better and better, letting the work speak for itself.

I’ve never seen someone succeed because of their passion. It always comes down to hard work, and having the mindset of becoming “so good they can’t ignore you”.

This concept can also be used to reverse engineer the success you want. If you want to take your career to the next level, as yourself “what do I need to do for (person who will hire mepay for my artetc) to not be able to ignore me and my work?” Then work backwards from there strategically and consistently. You may not end up convincing that specific person, but by improving your craft, you’ll inevitably get noticed by others that are looking for the thing you’re striving to be the best at.

A few other favorite quotes from the book:

Regardless of how you feel about your job right now, adopting the craftsman mindset will be the foundation on which you’ll build a compelling career.

If you can figure out how to integrate deliberate practice into your own life, you have the possibility of blowing past your peers in your value, as you’ll likely be alone in your dedication to systematically getting better.

Why You Should Ask “Who Benefits?”

Cui Bono? is a latin phrase that translates to who stands to gain? or for whose benefit? I’ve heard it tossed around in political conversations lately, as a reminder to think about the motivations of those involved in a given situation.

I think there’s an application for this phrase in our work as creators.

I firmly believe that a creator cannot be truly successful if his or her main goal is to make money or become famous. If the answer to Cui Bono? is “solely the creator”, then the creation will suffer, or fail.

There are many reasons for thinking this – I believe it’s a law of nature; I believe it is a true, eternal principle; I believe it is a prideful and selfish notion and that those desires stem from the darker side of who we can often be tempted to be.

Charles Haanel, who wrote The Master Key System, often touted as the “original” self help book, taught this same principle in a lecture back in the early 1920s:

“Every transaction must benefit every person who is in any way connected with the transaction, and any attempt to profit from the weakness ignorance or necessity of another will inevitably operate to his disadvantage”

When we’re looking to turn our creative output into a money generating business, we must maintain the pure motivations we had when we were creating just for ourselves. The only art that I personally care about is art that was crafted by someone who cared about the creation, not the monetary result of creating it.

Seth Godin, another self-help pioneer, speaks about mass marketing. If you’re creating work for the masses, the only real way to differentiate yourself is by price. The only reason you would ever do that is to compete in the marketplace – for money.

Who wants that life? Who here cares if they get heinz or some other brand of ketchup? It’s a mass market condiment to slather on mass market hot dogs. It doesn’t matter who made them, only that the product does what you want it to do.

What we’re setting out to do is to create work that changes people. You want people to see or read or experience the thing you’ve created and feel something. That takes a ton of effort to not only infuse the creation with a bit of yourself, but also to have that desire to change people and benefit people as part of the process. From the very inception of the idea, you have to think about why you’re making it, and if the reason is “to get more followers on instagram”, I think you should stop right there and find something else to do.

If we truly care about the work we are doing, we’ll also care about how it can potentially benefit others, how it can change people. That, to me, is the definition of work worth doing.

In the comments, let me know what you think of this principle. Do you agree? Does it feel true? What else would you add, or what would you remove from what I’ve argued?

Awareness Vs. Knowledge

I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time over the last decade reading all of the top books on the subjects of film producing, business, and self improvement. I could probably do a Q&A sitting in for Seth Godin or Tim Ferriss and give you the exact answers they would give because I’ve read and absorbed so much of their writing and speaking.

Yet, there I was, at the end of 2017, with a failed business and drowning in debt from holding on to that business for too long.

How does that happen?

Well, I’ll tell you.

Awareness Parading As Knowledge

I had awareness, not knowledge. Although I understood all of the principles behind growth, marketing, profit, and more, I still failed. Why? Because none of it turned into knowledge.

So, obvious question: how do we turn awareness into knowledge?

The process outlined in the greatest self-help book of all, The Book of Mormon, works.

Gaining Knowledge

First you need a desire to believe – something to hope for, a goal or an outcome. You need a picture of what you’re working towards.

Next, awareness. Study the laws that govern the thing you’re doing, whether it’s marketing, or creativity, or profit, or your personal health or finances. Everything has fundamental laws that if you don’t understand them, or act against them, you cannot succeed.

Then, you act, act, and keep acting. You put one foot in front of the other, put in an hour a day, for as long as it takes. At some point – which neither you and I can know when that point is – that action turns into knowledge at the point where the work you put in creates the desired outcome. You know have knowledge – you wrote 1,000 words a day for three months and now you have the first draft of a 90,000 word manuscript. You made 7 sales calls a day and now you have enough work to grow your business.

You may think you have all the “knowledge” in the world, but you may only have awareness. If we don’t put in the work to turn that awareness into knowledge, we’ll never know what we don’t know. That’s a scary place to be.

How well do you understand the laws that govern your goals, your business, your life? What actions are you making on a daily basis that are intended to help you reach the desired outcome? Have you seen this principle in your own life? Let me know in the comments.

Business Procedures

Over the last ten years I was the CEO of a small (read: two-man) production company called Telekinesis Entertainment. I left that position at the end of 2017 to go back to freelancing on my own.

During those 10 years I had this running note in Evernote that I would periodically update, which kept track of the “policies and procedures” that I would one day plan on putting into a New Employee Handbook, were we ever presented the chance to hire new employees.

While that dream didn’t quite pan out, the principles and procedures I collected are still valuable, so I wanted to make them public and present them in a way where they can be continually updated as I go forward with my new business and on future projects.

Many of these are film related, but my hope is that they can be broadly applied to whatever field you work in as well.

  • Always show up at least an hour before interviews in order to setup properly
  • Check all batteries and cards the night before a shoot.
  • Charge batteries at end of day for multi-day shoot
  • Double check that footage is on hard drive before wiping/formatting card. (Trust but Verify)
  • Eyes on camera during interviews.
  • Always monitor audio.
  • Confirm proper audio signal chain levels, especially wireless transmitters.
  • Check batteries and card level between each interview.
  • Do as much as you can for the client.
    • Buy the hard drive
    • Offer to help them understand file naming and structure
  • Go above and beyond is as many ways as possible. People remember the experience and how they felt more than they remember the details of what you did or said. Make them end the day excited and impressed.
  • Be responsive to the client. Try to never make them wait more than 30 minutes during the work day, and follow up first thing in the morning for any correspondence the evening before or over the weekend. You are not expected to respond after 5pm PST or on weekends.
  • Be protective of your time. We’re only asking that you do what it takes to make the client happy and help the project and business progress. If you constantly find yourself working more than 40 hours per week (other than on-set/production work) please let us know so we can find solutions to streamline your processes or find a way to delegate some of your responsibilities.
  • For long term project contracts, build in future rate increases, or points in the future where that can be discussed.
  • On every video campaign we go through as many different formats and styles as possible to explore the possibilities of the messaging. Look for ways to combine two genres like “bandwagon and funny” or “sexy and fearful”
  • Run the system. Prioritize it. Do it first, do it quickly, but make sure it gets done. Macros/micros. Take them seriously, it’s how the business grows. It’s how your department grows. It’s how you contribute to the future of the company.
  • Strive to make the company a place of honest communication and emotional safety and security.
  • Budgeting a video – add up all hard labor and equipment and food and location costs an multiply by 2 to get to a 50% profit margin on every video.
  • New client calls – ask “tell me about yourself/your business”. Feel out their personality then construct the rest of the conversation in those terms.
  • Ask: what are you resisting?
  • Have an active todo for each lead or project that you’re assigned to.
  • Ask clients: “a month from now, when this project is wrapped up, what would make it a success? What metric is that measured by?”
  • Have a monthly “parking lot meeting” (how do we go from plowing 1 lot per hour to two lots every 30 mins?” Look at every aspect of the business and find ways to increase efficiency, and therefore profit margin.
  • New employee after each increase of $200,000 for senior and $150,000 for junior employees in REAL revenue (net profit after contractors and rentals)
  • The 2.5x per employee is the Real Revenue number. Not gross sales. (You need to make 2.5X what you pay your employees in order to afford them).
  • Domestic flights – arrive 90 mins before departure to allow for skycap check in, taking cars to long term parking, getting into the airport and checkin.

Better Than The Worst

The other day I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, ScriptNotes, where John August, one of the hosts, interviewed indie film producer Keith Calder. While I recommend the enlightening conversation, there was one point in particular that stuck out. Here’s the excerpt:

Keith: …It’s interesting because I think a lot of people, when they’re approaching independent film, are looking at the movies that exist in the marketplace, meaning like things you can just watch on TV or in theaters or on Netflix, and their assumption is, “Well, if I make a movie that’s better than the worst of those then that means I will get to be released in those same ways.”

John: The plus one fallacy.

Keith: Yeah. And it’s the same thing that happens with people writing spec screenplays. They look at the movies onscreen and they say, “Well, if I write a script that’s better than the worst of them then that means that I will be able to succeed.” And it’s just not the way that the world works.

The concept of being “better than the worst of those” made me stop and pull out my writing app and jot down the beginnings of this post. Why? Because I’m guilty of this paradigm, and I’d bet you are too.

This post will dissect what it is, how it hurts us, and what to do about it.

What Creatives Want

To be successful. To be seen. To be appreciated. To be significant. To change the world? I dunno, that last one feels a bit ambitious to me but maybe that’s 100% what you’re about. No judgement here.

We want to do fulfilling work and hopefully get compensated for it, either directly or indirectly. Sure, many of us dream of the huge payday one day, but most if not all of us will be just fine if our bills are paid and we get to do what we love for a living.

Is that too much to ask?

What Creatives Think

That as long as we’re “better than the worst of them” — than the worst that we’ve seen — then we’ll be successful. Except…that’s not reality. Not by a long shot, unfortunately.

Don’t blame the messenger.

What Really Happens

That “what we’ve seen” portion represents about 1% of the total amount of content that exists. That’s right. 1%. Now, because I love math and spreadsheets you’re gonna have to bear with me a sec here.

As an example, in 2016 there were 736 movies released in theaters, comprised of 93 studio films, and 643 indies. However, that’s the tip of the iceberg, and you probably only saw a few dozen of those movies, maybe more if you have a Movie Pass.

4068 films were submitted to Sundance in 2017. (18%) Let’s be generous and say that 1 out of every 10 films made in 2016 submitted to the Sundance film festival. So what we see in theaters represents less than 2% of the total output from filmmakers, and again, you only saw a small percentage of those movies.

In case I managed to make things super confusing, if you see 50 newly-released movies in a year, you’ve only seen about 1% of the movies that were made and submitted to Sundance or put into theaters. So, if your goal is to be “better than the worst of them”, you still have to be better than more than 4,000 other films, at least.

Put another way, even if you’re in the top 2% based on whatever metric you’re measuring this example by, the chances are you’re still not getting into theaters, let alone having a box office hit. That is reserved for the top .01%.

What really happens when you try to be better than the worst? You fail.

Why? Because you didn’t make your best work. You tried to just be a little better than someone else, without even considering what “better” even means. You were trying to score a touchdown on a golf course. Whoops.

What To Do About It

Focus on making the best work you possibly can, on becoming “so good they can’t ignore you”. Don’t hold back. Give it your all.

Find the people that are looking for “it” already, your so-called “tribe”. Learn how to tell people that you made something that they will like based on who they are and what they’ve enjoyed in the past. Keep making more every day and don’t let some arbitrary measurement of success like followers or subscribers or favorites get you down. Beat back the resistance with a massive stick and get to work.

Brian Grazer once said that “good enough equals shitty” . This is a man whose films and TV series have been nominated for 43 Academy Awards and 131 Emmys. He knows a thing or two about what “good” is.

The resolution we must make is to constantly improve. To seek out mentors, examples, and opportunities that will make us better. To do the hard things that lead to progress and growth. To never settle for “good enough” or “better than the worst” examples of what we’ve seen in the world. To strive to be so good that we can’t be ignored.

The Rules Of The Game

Last fall we signed up our middle child, who was 4 and a half at the time, for youth soccer. He’d watched his older brother play for the last two years and wanted badly to play on his own team.

When we got the jersey from the coach he wore it around the house with his hand-me-down soccer cleats for what seemed like a week straight. The smile on his face was as big as the oversized shirt on his tiny frame.

We practiced in the backyard together. I’d pass him the ball and he’d cheer and shout with every goal he scored.

The big day came, a beautiful Saturday morning. All the work – the strutting around the house, the joy and cheering, the countless goals in the backyard – led up to this. He walked onto the field a tad hesitant but still willing. My wife and I and his two other brothers sat on the sidelines with anxious anticipation.

The teams lined up on their youth-sized field, five players per side. The other team waited for the whistle from the referee to start the game.

As soon as the whistle blew, my son stood there as the other team huddled around the ball – as only 4 year olds can do – and dribble-passed it down the field, tripping over each other, to ultimately score the first goal.

I could see the tears well up on my son’s face. He stood still in an attempt at being stoic, but was unable to hold his emotions for long. I saw it coming – as his dad I’d seen it dozens if not hundreds of times before.

He looked at me and I knew it was over. I walked on to the field and picked him up, and he let it all out. Huge cries accompanied huge tears. Soccer broke him, and all it took was about 15 seconds.

So what happened?

After I got him to calm down and regain his composure, I asked him, “what’s the matter?”

His response cut me to the core:

They didn’t give me the ball!

The tears welled up again and he buried his face into my arms.

I realized at that moment that I had failed my son. I forgot to teach him one of the fundamental principles of the game of soccer – that the other team isn’t going to give you the ball.

This story has stuck with me over the last 6 months or so, and has become one of the biggest breakthroughs for me spiritually, financially, and across my whole life.

In order to succeed, you have to know the “rules of the game”.

I have found that there are true principles that govern everything we do.

Yet, so often – like my son – we see someone else having success and we decide to try our hand at it without fully understanding the “rules of the game” or the principles that govern the thing we’re trying to do.

Like seeing a friend with 1 million YouTube subscribers and thinking, “yeah, I should start a YouTube channel”, or a relative with a six-figure-a-year clothing business she started in her basement and thinking, “I could do that!”

I’m not saying you can’t do that, but I AM saying that if you dive head first without any awareness of or respect for the rules of the rules of the game, you’re going to have a hard time finding any success.

Think about it this way: you sit down to a brand new game that you just got on Kickstarter. There are dozens of pieces, hundreds of cards of various types, a timer, six tokens, and a hat for someone to wear, supposedly.

How would you even know where to start if you didn’t read the instructions?

How would you know what to do next?

How would you know how to win?

What’s hard is that we often don’t think of creative pursuits as having rules. This is RIGHT brain territory, where creativity and imagination are allowed to run free! RULES? We don’t need no stinking RULES!

How’s that working out?

For me, it didn’t work out at all. I spent nearly a decade beating my head against a wall trying to figure out how to “hustle” more, or trying to get more followers, or a myriad of other “hacks” and “tactics” to try and brute force my way into a successful career and successful projects. I read all the books, listened to the podcasts, went to the conferences and the meet ups and the networking events. Nothing moved the needle. NOTHING.

It failed every time.

The sad thing is that I’m 34 and I’m just barely learning this lesson. Talk about humbling.

I was going about it all wrong. I had skipped an essential step: learning the rules of the game.

Now, I had an awareness of the rules of the game. I could tell you how to grow your business, or make money off of your art, or get more followers or, or, or, or…

But when it came to my own career, I wasn’t abiding by the principles I was teaching others. I wasn’t playing by the rules.

There’s a difference between having an awareness of the rules, and learning the rules.

Back to our game metaphor. How do you learn the rules? First, you read the manual. Then, you play the game, over and over, until you’ve internalized the rules of the game. Even then, after dozens of rounds of gameplay, you still every now and then have to consult the rule book because you can’t remember. You learn the rules by playing the game.

But what if I lose?

Here’s another takeaway: when you play the game, you’re also – by default – accepting that there will be times where you lose. Someone else will play the game better than you, whether by luck or because they have more experience playing the game, and you will lose.

Does that mean you failed? No, not permanently anyway. It means you haven’t yet learned how to play the game at that level. It means you haven’t internalized the principles. It means you don’t have a strategy that’s been worked out and tested yet.

You can’t get lucky if you don’t try.

But the only way to get those things is to play the game.

Can you succeed without learning the rules of the game? Sure. You could get lucky. It’s possible, certainly, but it’s a terrible long-term strategy. You wouldn’t want to base a career on a lack of understanding of the basic rules of the game. But what about the friend on Instagram who’s getting paid tons of money in sponsorship deals despite paying for the first 10,000 followers?

Just because they’re playing the game differently doesn’t mean they’re right. It doesmean that they did the work to understand the rules enough to know how to shortcut the process, or how to “hack” the game in their favor. It doesn’t mean we want to do the same. The difference between them and you is action. They at least stepped up to play the game.

There’s a process in here that we can pull out and apply to anything in our own lives.

Learn the rules of the game > play the game > gain experience > put together a strategy > know how to win consistently.

The harder the game, the longer it takes to get good at it. Put another way, any time you see an “overnight success”, what you’re actually seeing is the outcome of work, of playing the game, often over hundreds or thousands of nights.

Here’s the best part about all of this though. While the rules may seem restricting, or cumbersome, or arduous, while they may be so overwhelming that it makes you lose any desire to even try to play the game, they also do something else.

Something important.

Something life changing.

The Rules Tell You What To Do Next.

Around the same time as the incident with my son’s soccer game, I realized that I had failed in another aspect of my life as well. I have attended hundreds of meet ups and networking events and conferences in my career, and inevitably at the end of every keynote or panel, when it comes time for the Q&A, I shake my head, fully aware of what’s to come:

“How do I succeed at X?”

“I tried this and it’s already been two weeks and I only gained 10 followers”

“No one is buying my stuff”

Answers that I used to think were stupid and entitled. “Tell me what to do next so I don’t have to figure it out for myself” is how I translated those questions. Oh, and the responses were even worse:

“Hustle”

“24/7/365”

“Hire me as a consultant for $1,000 a month”

Gross.

Here’s where I failed though: I chose to look down on these people who were asking these questions, and I chose to gag at the responses. What I should have done – and what I’ve since chosen to do as much as I can remember to do it – is to see these questions as a cry for help, to translate them into “I don’t know what to do next”.

They just didn’t know the rules of the game. I should be helping them, not criticizing them.

I wanted to be a self-help writer, to put up helpful blog posts, to create courses for creatives, yet I wasn’t playing by the rules of the game. I was hurting more than I was helping, just as I had done inadvertently while teaching my son to play soccer in the backyard. I’d forgotten an essential part of the process.

What About You? What Game Are You Trying To Play?

What is it that you’re trying to do? Start or grow a business? Make some money from your art? Influence more people?

What are the rules of the game? Where can you go to learn them? Who’s successfully played the game before you that you could learn from? How can you start playing the game, getting some experience, figuring out your own winning strategy? What does success look like for you?

What should you do next?


 

I’ve spent the last few months writing down every principle I can think of when it comes to being a creative professional. I’m going to share them here on the blog as well as in some courses that I’m putting together. The first one is encapsulated in this short, 5-email course called Anything You Want, which expands on this principle of learning the rules of the game. If you enjoyed this post, I know you’ll like this course. It’s free, and you can get the first lesson with just putting in your email address below. Thanks for reading!

Principles Of Minimalist Travel – Pack Light And Optimize For Happiness

 

In case you were wondering, I’m now an authority on minimalist travel. My wife and I just returned from a 2-week trip to Europe through Italy and Barcelona. Just six months ago we did a week-long trip to Paris. I do a decent amount of travel for work as well as a film producer, and often spend a weekend to two-weeks on the road flying from city to city.

Needless to say I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time—and too many late nights—researching everything about minimalist style travel. In the age of the internet, that makes me an expert 🙂

This is the post I wished existed, so I decided to write it. This is not a “here’s what products and brands to buy” post with a thousand affiliate links. This post is what I believe are some basic, universal principles to packing and traveling light, getting the most out of the gear you bring, and to having an incredible time traveling. Some of my own opinions will be sprinkled in, so, as they say, your mileage may vary. Continue reading Principles Of Minimalist Travel – Pack Light And Optimize For Happiness

Fighting “The Resistance” While Traveling

The “resistance” has reared it’s ugly head on this most recent trip to Italy. My wife booked a wedding out here in Rome last year so we’ve been looking forward to it for a while, and decided to extend the trip into a 2 week Italy/Barcelona excursion. So far it’s been cold but hasn’t disappointed in the slightest.

I was mostly excited to have some extra time to write and make progress on some of my goals. Without the commitment to leave at 8am every morning and go to work for 8 hours, I felt a huge opportunity to spend more time being creative.

So, I hopped on the 8 hour flight from Philadelphia to Rome, put my laptop on my tray table, and… slept. The whole time.

I did wake up for numerous bathroom breaks and to eat some cheap airline food, but other than that, I didn’t even crack my laptop once. Pathetic, I thought.

Arriving in Rome, we did some sight seeing and got home early because of the time difference (+8 hours from Utah). We both fell asleep around 6am, which meant I was WIDE awake at 1am, as I normally only get about 6.5 hours of sleep a night. Not recommended, but it’s what I can do at the moment.

I got up to write since I had all of this energy and went out into the living room area. Cracked open the laptop and… wasted about three hours of time. I did manage to write a few emails to get ahead on my Daily Mormon email list, but wrote exactly ZERO words on my book, which is what I had intended to do. Pathetic, yet again.

Yesterday, we took a train to Venice. The total time was 3.75 hours, so clearly I had ample time to write. You’ll never guess what happened…

Normally when I set out to get some deep work done I make a concerted effort to turn off my notifications, close the door, flip on Brain.fm for some extra neuro-awesomeness, and then start a Freedom session to really make sure nothing interrupts me. Sure, it would be easier to just turn off the wifi and go to work, but we all have our process.

Naturally, then it should have been easier to write on a train with wifi that was existent but not functional. Yet, that’s how resistance works. It flips the script on you. What should have been a boon ended up being the death of my writing habit for the day. To be honest, the habit didn’t even put up a fight.

“No WiFi!?! Well, looks like I’M not getting anything done today.”

Pathetic.

It wasn’t until this morning that I actually realized what had happened. The resistance won a battle I didn’t even know I was in. 

The takeaway is that the resistance is always there, always seeking an opportunity to prevent you from doing your work, to stop your art or your writing from being able to affect the world in the way you want to. Each of us has a different, personalized version of it, and we each need to know how to recognize it and fight it.

This morning I got up after a luxurious 8.5 hours of sleep, made sure I did my morning routine, and am sitting here writing. (With working WiFi…)

It’s a never-ending battle with resistance, and there will be days that we lose. The important thing is that we get back up the next day to fight it again, and again, and again.