Make It Real

When I come up with a new idea or a new project, I find that simply writing it down amongst the daily scribbling in my journal is nice but no guarantee of it ever becoming anything more than that. Instead, I find that if it is something I’m really serious about, I need to take a small step towards making that idea real.

For instance, Twyla Tharp notes in her wonderful book, The Creative Habit, that every new project for her starts with a box. She notes:

Everyone has his or her own organizational system. Mine is a box, the kind you can buy at Office Depot for transferring files. I start every dance with a box. I write the project name on the box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of the dance. This means notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videotapes of me working alone in my studio, videos of the dancers rehearsing, books and photographs and pieces of art that may have inspired me.

As you can see, it’s nothing big. It’s just some words on a box. But it is about everything that box now represents. It is a simple start, a promise to fill it, and a goal to finish the project. The box is a commitment.

It doesn’t have to be anything special — or even a box. Make a folder for your idea or write the project name and date at the top of a fresh notebook page. The point is to do something. To take the first step. To own it.

Getting Started (After Only Twenty Years)

There is a science fiction story I have had brewing in my head now for over twenty years. It started as just a very simple idea. A “what if” question. A spark of something. For years and years I brushed it aside whenever it popped into view. I always had, what I felt, were valid excuses for writing it off. Here’s how the dialog would most often happen inside my head…

“I’m not a fiction writer.”

“I’m certainly not a science fiction writer.”

“But, it’s a really good idea.”

“Maybe, it would be good to give to one of my friends that are, accomplished, science fiction writers.”

I would act on this. I would tell it to my sci-fi writer friends in passing. They would kindly hear me out, but express no real interest in stealing it from me. “It’s a good idea.”, they would say. “You should write it.”

“But I don’t know how?”, I would resign.

And, so, back into the the bin it would go. Only to pop back up next week/month/year. But, each time a little bit closer — more fully formed each time it returned. Closer to a real story.

The excuses to avoid it, therefore, had to become even more deft…

“I can see the story but I have no idea who would tell it.”

“Where is the voice of the story coming from?”

“Without a voice, you can’t tell a story.”

I would shove it into the bin again — with force and prudence. Convinced that this idea was beyond my reach creatively. It was not my genre. I had no voice. I only had rough ideas and sketches and major details. But, I had not the talent nor skill to weave together into a coherent narrative.

But the idea keeps coming back. It haunts me. It now wakes me up in the middle of the night. It keeps me from being able to rest. Each time getting closer. Showing me a little bit more of itself.

“Write.”, it says.

A few weeks back it gave me it’s voice. I now know who is telling the story and why. And, last night, It came to me in a dream. The opening scene at least. It was lucid while I was barely so. I saw our protagonist. I knew his motivations. It was a start. It was not the whole story. But, it was enough for me to get the opening lines down first thing this morning.

Y’weh sits on the bench with his face in his hands. He’s tired. Lately, he sits here in much the same position before the work day begins. Exhausted before he has even started. His lab coat feeling like a burial shroud. He’s been at this job for a very long time. And, if he could find another — if he had a choice — he would. But, once you start The Process, you can’t stop the stars. You have to see them through.

It may take me another twenty years to finish. But, today, I finally exhausted all of my excuses — I started.

About My Personal Brand…

Over the ten-plus years of this blog, I have had many people comment on the look and feel of the site. They like my “logo” or the “clean and minimal look and feel”1. They like the consistency of my “branding” across all of my sites2. Or, any number of things along these same stylistic lines.

They think, that in order to be even moderately successful one needs this sort of “personal brand strategy” to be taken seriously. That, they can’t get started doing what it is they want to do without figuring such things out first.

The problem is that what they see as my personal brand is not, in fact, my personal brand. How my site or logo or business cards or the fact that they are all nicely matchy-matchy have nothing to do with my personal brand.

Because, I now know that worrying about “personal branding” and “social media strategy” and the rest of that silliness has ZERO to do with success. You know what that stuff is?

1) An excuse to cover up the fear of not getting started doing what you say you want to do by telling yourself you need all of that stuff to start or be successful.

2) Something for people who wish to capitalize on that fear to tell you need to get so they can sell it to you and make themselves successful.

Here are two examples of people far more successful than me who care nothing about their “personal brand”. Both of these people started in exactly the same place we all have and are huge successes with ZERO attention paid to what most people think is personal branding:

  • Seth Godin — Seth doesn’t even host a blog on his own domain name. He uses TypePad for gosh sake! The only personal brand he has is this: He shows up, every day, with helpful advice about (mostly) marketing and life. He shows up with a desire and willingness to create things that help people be better at sales and marketing.
  • Alan Weiss — Look at that website? It’s like an assault on your eyes! And, his Twitter handle isn’t even his name. It’s the damn car he drives. Yet, he makes millions in consulting fees every year and has written some of the most sought after, expensive, and hard to find (because they are always out of stock) books on the subject of consulting and life-balance. He shares his knowledge and tough love. He shows up with a desire and willingness to create things that help people be better and more successful consultants.

The desire and willingness to create things that genuinely help people is the only business plan and personal brand you need. With this, you can get started today. No fancy website or business cards needed.

Do you or do you not want to help people? If so, then do so. Don’t wait until you come up with a “personal brand”. Because, what you call my “personal brand” is not, in fact, my personal brand.

You know what my personal brand really is? I’ll give you a hint: It has nothing to do with my “simple, minimal, and unique branding”. It is the ONLY thing that has made me as moderately successful as I am…

The only personal brand I strive to develop is genuine kindness and a desire to help others.

That is my personal brand.

If you want to copy something, copy that. If you want to have any chance of being successful, start there. And, when you do, measure your success not in money, but in the number or people you genuinely and selflessly help.

You don’t need to pay me, hire me, have my consultation, ask my permission, or anyone else’s for that matter. You don’t even need a domain name for now if you don’t have one — Just ask Seth. In the words of Steve Jobs, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

Are you willing to do the work? Do you, or do you not, want to help people?

You need to stop stalling, get out there, and have a willingness and desire to create something that helps people right now — Today.

I hope this helped. I really do.

  1. Here’s a little secret I’m going to tell you… It’s simple because I don’t have the skills to do more than that. I’m a writer, not a designer. I use this weakness to my advantage. 
  2. I like black, grey, and red as a color combination. It’s not a strategy, it’s a preference. 

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