What I’m learning about the creative process

This week, I simply want to take you behind the scenes into my creative practices, and what I’ve been working on. Every day, I sit here in this private studio, and what I share below is what I am earning about the creative process. But first, here is a studio tour video:

Okay, here is what I’ve been working on:

Writing My Next Book

I’ve been working on my next book for a couple years now. Last year, I took a break from writing it, and a few months back, I started again. To do so, I put two simple parameters in place to ensure I got started and kept going:

  1. I set a simple goal for each day. In the programs and mastermind I run, I call these “micro-actions.” They are the smallest step to just get started and keep going. For writing the book, I do it in 15 minute increments each day. I have found that is a small enough period of time to squeeze it in to even super busy days. And long enough to push the book forward each day.
  2. I have an accountability partner who is also working on her next book. Each day, we check in via simple messages to each other of how many minutes we wrote. So a typical day looks like this: “Wrote 16 minutes.” That’s it. No explanation, no excuses.

These two simple tactics have helped me take the book from totally stuck to momentum. I can’t even tell you how good that feels.

What is the book about? I’m viewing it as the prequel to Be the Gateway. This is a book about how to take your creative vision from just barely dabbling with it, to getting it done.

I’ve had drafts of this book written for years. I have started again from scratch, I think, three times. This most recent version includes dozens of ideas that I have been stress testing with writers every day in my mastermind group. I could not be more excited about how it is coming together.

I Moved My Podcast From Monthly to Weekly

I launched my podcast, The Creative Shift, in January 2015 as a way to share the research I was doing for a book I was writing. Wow, I’m just realizing it is the book I talked about above. So that book has been in the works for more than four years.

In each episode, I share an interview with a writer, artist, or creator who inspires me. We talk about the risks they have taken as they pursued their creative vision.

I had always looked at the podcast as something I do just for myself — it is an opportunity to reach out to someone and have a long and deep conversation about the creative process.

Last December I realized that I love doing it so much, that I need to double down. So I took it from monthly to weekly. That has brought so much joy to my life, because it means I have 4x the number of inspiring conversations each month. In the process I have met some a-maz-ing people.

I just shared my hourlong conversation with bestselling author Chuck Wendig this week: “Chuck Wendig on Owning Your Voice and Choosing the Path of Your Career as a Writer.”

I Launched a New Series of Programs

For a couple of years, I had completely stopped offering online courses about how to develop your author platform, engage with readers, and launch your books.

Why?

Because I found that it is difficult for people to make progress with information alone. Many online courses pummel writers with dozens of videos, lessons, and downloads. The result? The writer struggles alone, overwhelmed, unable to take a single step forward.

This year, I tried something new, and the results have just been astounding. The new 4-6 week programs I have been launching are setup so that each week, I give direct feedback to each and every writer.

I show up. I see them. I give personalized feedback. Together, they make progress.

With online courses, I found that people would sign up, do some work, get overwhelmed, and never finish. I’ve seen people share different stats that indicated the same thing: 10% of people finished the course. Or 30%. Or 50%.

But with these new programs I have been launching, the success rate is somewhere close to 100%. People show up. They take actions. They make progress.

More than that though, I get to become immersed in their creative journey. Nothing gives me more joy than that. Okay, my family gives me more joy than that. But this is second place.

For 1,320 Days in a Row, I Showed Up in the Mastermind I Run

Back in 2012, I launched my first mastermind group for writers. It was a fun experiment to bring a small group of writers together to provide accountability, feedback, and a support system to push their creative work ahead.

Then in 2015 I launched quarterly mastermind groups that I call the Creative Shift Mastermind.

Every single day, I show up in that group. On weekdays, I share a brand new video that answers questions and helps each person in the group establish their creative process and reach their goals. On weekends and holidays, I show up there as well.

The Mastermind has defined so much of my life in the past few years. It’s like showing up to a virtual co-working space each day with a small group of inspiring writers and creators, and then — together — getting the work done.

It’s weird to think of it in terms of numbers — 1,320 days in a row — because I mostly think of faces when I consider the Mastermind. The people who have allowed me into their lives and their creative process each day.

I can only say: thank you.

Being in the Trenches with Private Clients

I work with private clients to truly immerse myself in their goals and challenges to establish their author platform, launch their books, and reach related goals to their writing.

Sometimes I am able to share a glimpse of that work via case studies like I did last week.

When I work with a writer like this, I consider myself a co-pilot in their career. It is my job to understand their goals and their challenges and not just give advice, but help them through. Of course, there are no guarantees, but I have found that having a partner in the process can really change everything. For me, it is a total joy to not just give advice, but to be in the trenches doing the work with writers in this manner.

14 Years of Weekly Blogging & Email Newsletters

Every week, I have clicked “publish” on my blog and email newsletter. It’s so much a part of my life, I can’t imagine not doing it.

Honestly, I love the deadline. The opportunity — and pressure — to create something new each week, and click “publish.”

This very post is being written on Friday morning, just before I send it out to thousands of people. I woke up just after 4am, stared at a blank page, and by 8am, I will be sending it out. I feel alive writing this, and that is the joy of creating.

I love stretching the creative muscle in this manner. To see the newsletter and blog not as a way to create, to publish, and to connect.

I take this so seriously. I know that it is a privilege to be allowed into people’s inboxes. I don’t take that responsibility lightly.

Showing Up in Writing Communities

This week I did an hourlong live video presentation for Romance Writers of America. I talked about (surprise, surprise) how to connect with readers with — and without — social media. The writers asked such amazing questions in the Q&A at the end. It was a wonderful experience.

This weekend, I’m giving a presentation at a large conference for writers in Manhattan. And in the past couple of months, I’ve been able to present to the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Writers’ Institute, I’ve done monthly podcasts for The Alliance of Independent Authors, and shown up on podcasts such as Mark Dawson’s Self Publishing Formula.

It always astounds me at the hard work it is for each of these groups to bring together a community of writers. This too is an an incredible privilege to show up with these writers.

Deep Dives into Creative Growth with Collaborators

I have two standing calls on my calendar each week. Each call is essentially a 1-on-1 mastermind, where we keep each other accountable to our creative goals, we brainstorm ideas, get feedback, and work through business challenges.

One of those calls is with Jennie Nash. She and I have had these weekly calls for years now, I can’t even remember how long. Every week, we hop on the phone for an hour to an hour and a half. We split the call down the middle, and when it begins, there isn’t really any chit chat. It is “Do you want to go first or should I?” We come prepared to discuss specific issues and ideas that we are working on.

The other call is with Lori Richmond. We cover a similar similar range of themes, and the call is run the same way: we are here to work.

What’s amazing about my collaboration with Lori is that it came out of a failure. I had previously interviewed her for my podcast and we stayed in touch. Last year I had this idea to run an in-person workshop in New York City. I invited her to be a part of it, and we spent months developing this ambitious program. Honestly, it was amazing.

Except, it totally flopped.

I think we needed at least 6 people to sign up in order for it to be viable, and we didn’t get that. So the event was canceled. I wrote about what I learned from that process of failing here.

While planning the event, Lori and I met weekly via Skype. When the event didn’t work out, we said, “Why don’t we keep meeting to discuss our other creative goals and challenges?”

This has been a huuuuuuge success. It’s amazing what can come out of a failure.

My Other Daily Creative Practices

Beyond everything above, I have been continuing with my total obsession to finally learn how to play the guitar. My daily guitar practice routine is now up to an hour a day. I track this in a spreadsheet, last month I practiced for 1,975 minutes.

I also continue to study the lives of inspiring creators. This is the wall I stare at in front of my desk:

All day, I meditate on the creative process.

What you see above is really one thing: simple creative practices. Each day, each week, each month, simply showing up.

It’s amazing to see what it all adds up to.

What have you learned in establishing simple creative practices for your goals?
Thanks.
-Dan

Chuck Wendig on Owning Your Voice and Choosing the Path of Your Career as a Writer

I’m excited to share my interview with bestselling author Chuck Wendig. He gets really honest about:

  • How he got a 3 book deal to write Star Wars book via a Tweet.
  • Why he says Twitter won’t help u sell books, but that it is filled with a lot of professional opportunities, giving you access to amazing people.
  • When Marvel approached him to write for a comic book series, they gave him a choice: a super popular one or a much less known series. He chose the lesser known book, because it would give him more creative freedom that would really leave a mark.
  • The not awesome jobs he took while trying to become a professional writer.
  • The reality of what it is like to make it as a freelance writer.
  • How he wrote four novels that no publisher wanted, were never published, and why he is thankful for that.
  • How he approached his last ditch effort as writing a successful novel differently, and why it worked.
  • How he changed his writing practice from taking 4-5 years to write a book, to writing the next one in 30 days.
  • The reality of what it is like to have your book optioned for a deal in Hollywood, to assemble a team, to get offices… and then have it fall apart.
  • Why he describes book series as having diminishing returns in terms of sales and audience, with each additional book.
  • How he got death threats because of his books, and how he dealt with it.
  • How when one opportunity closes, many new other opportunities open up.
  • The reason his new book, Wanderers is 280,000 words long, and how his publisher encouraged him to go where he needed to with it.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking ‘play’ below, or in the following places:

You can find Chuck in the following places:

How I Helped This Author Grow Her Platform From Scratch

Today I want to share the specific steps I took to help a first-time author establish her platform and release her book. The topline results of our work together so far:

  • Her book was released this week. It hit #1 New Release in the Divorce category on Amazon.
  • She now manages a thriving private community of 1,350+ people. Imagine what it must feel like to see your readers share photos of themselves with your book two days after it is released. To not just hope your book is reaching people, but to see it. That is what this author has experienced this week.
  • She has 2,500+ people who like her Facebook Page, with lots of engagement. This is not about just gaining likes. The other day she shared an 800 word post that 31 people shared to their own friends and family. She has been focused on truly connecting her writing with people in a meaningful way.

Reminder: Tomorrow is the final day to register for my 4-week Be the Gateway program. Get personalized feedback from me each week to establish your author platform. Register here.


But there is so much more that she has accomplished too, which I will get into below. Okay, meet Whitney Boole. She’s a therapist who helps clients who struggle with issues including depression, anxiety, relationship struggles, codependency, infidelity, parenting, trauma, addiction, and grief and loss. This is Whitney and her book, You Got This: Healing Through Divorce.

Whitney Boole

When she came to me, she had written a first draft of the book, but had no online platform as an author. Like most writers I speak with, she was incredibly busy. Quite frankly, I am astounded by all that she does in life, it is truly inspiring.

For the work that she and I did together to establish her author platform and launch her book, I want to highlight two particular things that we did. I often recommend that an author should pick one or two specific things to focus most of their attention on in order to not spread themselves too thin, and to ensure that they are creating a meaningful connection with readers.

Too many writers try to do it all. They read a list of 100 marketing tactics, and they end up trying all 100 of them with the minimum amount of effort. The results are always the same… an overwhelmed author whose work was a mile wide, but only an inch deep. Vast, but with disappointing results overall.

The two specific things that I want to highlight which made all of the difference:

  1. The creation of a private Facebook group called You Got This: Healing Through Divorce. Early on in our work together, Whitney and I analyzed which social networks would be best suited to reach her ideal audience. It’s easy to justify any of them, but we finally concluded that Facebook had the right balance. So she doubled down on Facebook.

    The private group was created so that Whitney can provide people a place to come together and get support around a complicated topic: divorce.

    The result is that 1,350 people have come together to get advice, to cheer each other on, to go deep when needed, and give each other a good laugh when needed.

    It’s Whitney’s group, she sets the ground rules, she encourages certain conversations and shares her own advice when appropriate.
    To see this community come together from 0 to 1,350 is astounding.

    In the process, Whitney has heard from her readers again and again about what they need most. This has allowed her to not just tailor her messaging to meet their needs, but she actually wrote an additional chapter for the book at the last minute based on topic that she saw come up again and again in the group.

    This group has created meaningful human connections around Whitney and her writing. I don’t have the words to express how powerful that is.

  2. The second thing that Whitney did that made all the difference is to break the rules in order to go deep with her audience.

    I have helped thousands of writers get started on social media, and in that process, I have seen an endless stream of articles about “best practices” for using social media. You know, articles with headlines like “If you are doing this on Facebook, you are doing it wrong!” Or “241 tips to go viral on Facebook.” Or “The data is in, this is what science says works best (and what works worst) to succeed on social media.”

    Bleh.

    Instead, Whitney has been experimenting with a wide range of different ways to engage her ideal audience on her Facebook page. Links, photos, quotes, etc.

    Because her work is about truly helping people, she also breaks the rules in order to go deep.

    This Facebook post is 800 words, and even includes a photo that has words in it, which I have read Facebook doesn’t like. The result? 31 people shared it.

    When she shared a post just before her book came out about how terrified that made her feel, she had 70 people share it with their friends. This wasn’t a promotional piece, there was no link to the book or even a mention of the title.

    The ‘share’ is a powerful thing. It’s not just a ‘like’ where you click and move on. When someone shares your post, they are advocating for your work to the people closest to them: their friends and family.

    Again and again, Whitney goes deep and tries to connect with her readers in meaningful ways.

Beyond these two specific tactics, she and I worked through the processes I share again and again in my blog, podcast, and programs:

  • We got radically clear on her messaging.
  • We refined her public presence to include her work as an author, not just therapist who is in private practice.
  • We did deep research in identifying her ideal audience.
  • We studied the marketplace to understand who reached that audience, who were her colleagues.
  • We setup social media channels and created a content strategy of what to share.
  • She did direct outreach to total strangers who share the same mission she does.
  • We took a close look at her existing network and how to best encourage them to be a part of all of this.
  • She wrote blogs.
  • She learned how to be on camera and record videos.
  • She did her first Facebook Live event.
  • We strategized how every part of her platform connects to potential business goals down the road.
  • We went through the decisions in book production from cover design to book description and so much else.
  • She clicked “publish” and “send” on dozens and dozens of items to connect her mission to the people who would appreciate it most.

The platform you create for your writing and the ways that you connect with your ideal readers will be unique to you. That is why I am such a big advocate for not doing all of this work alone, of finding a collaborator or community to help you through it. That’s why in everything I offer, I truly show up to work with you. To ensure you feel heard. Where you get feedback consistently. Where you can brainstorm ideas based on your goals. Where you have a safe space to ensure that the ways you engage with your ideal audience are based on a meaningful human connections.

Whitney’s work has inspired me, and I hope she has inspired you as well. You can listen to me talk through all of this on my podcast by clicking ‘play’ below, or in the following places:

Thank you.
-Dan

P.S. The process I shared above part of my Be the Gateway methodology and program. Join me for 4-weeks starting Monday May 13th where I help you work through this. Register here.

“The support of my work often stopped at a Facebook Like.” My interview with author Leigh Stein

Leigh Stein did something that few writers do: she talked publicly about how many copies her books have sold. Her novel sold 8,000 copies. Her memoir that followed it sold 1,345 copies, which was hugely disappointing to her. In particular because it came out at a time when she was running an organization of 40,000 people. We dig into the highs and lows of the writing life, and what she learned in publishing fiction, memoir, and poetry. Plus we celebrate the sale of her new book to Penguin!

You can listen to the podcast by clicking ‘play’ below, or in the following places:

You can find Leigh in the following places:
leighstein.com
https://www.instagram.com/leighstein/
https://twitter.com/rhymeswithbee
Her books on Amazon

The joy and the risk of clicking publish

As a writer, there is this moment you dream of: the moment of publication.

It used to be that the moment of publication was a rare event. The publication of your book, after years of crafting it. The publication of an article after months of writing and trying to getting it placed.

But now, the opportunity to publish surrounds us. The little screen in your pocket begs you to publish something, right now.

Yet the act of clicking publish is still a highly charged one. It can fill us with extraordinary joy, or incredible anxiety and apprehension.

This morning, I’ve been considering things that have published recently that I’ve been a part of, and what I’ve learned in the process:

I Have Published More Than 1,500 Videos

The other day I realized that I’ve clicked publish on more than 1,500 videos. Here is a tiny sampling of them:

They are all videos I have shared with the writers in my Mastermind and other online programs. Through these videos, I provide direct feedback on a daily basis.

In the early days, I would be nervous when doing a video. I would spend an hour setting up my chair, the background, the lightning. I would do different takes.

But now, I tend to record at least two videos a day. Of course, I have honed my process, the tools, the lighting, the background, and my preferred tone and structure for the videos.

More than that: the act of clicking publish on these videos is about me communicating with another human being.

With all the hype of digital media, the most profound impact that I have found is not the gadgets, tools, channels, and services, but simply the way that clicking publish allows me to better communicate with another actual person.

Bringing Together 14 Agents and 700 Writers

This week I helped an author client click publish on a Literary Agent Summit — an online event featuring 14 agents and editors.

You can get free access simply by registering here before Monday. It’s a pretty amazing resource.

The author is Alison Taylor-Brown, who I shared a case study from on another Summit we did a few months back, as well as this inspiring post: Choosing the Writer’s Life. The Literary Agent Summit is her third online event, and it’s incredible for me to assist in helping her click publish on it.

That act has allowed her to meet and spend time with 14 agents, to help 700 writers on their own publishing journeys, and there will be loads of emails and feedback with her and those people over the next week or two.

For Alison, clicking publish will not just share information, but help books be born, and assist in people connecting with each other around them.

An Actual Book! (From a Friend)

My friend Teri Case just published her most recent novel: In the Doghouse.

What hand did I have in publishing this? Zero! It is all Teri. But… again and again I noticed people supporting her who I know she met in my mastermind or other programs.

Teri clicked publish a thousands times in the lead up to this book. On blog posts, newsletters, emails, social media updates and so much else.

I’ve featured Teri in a couple other case studies on my blog:

To me, her book is a reminder that clicking publish is about showing up to be there for other people. The writers she has met have showed up for her, and she has shown up for them. This week, we are celebrating the publication of her book, but it is also a symbol of that human connection.

Even though there is a single author’s name on the cover, and that author deserves all the credit, they are often surrounded by an incredible support system that becomes a part of that book’s story.

Sometimes Clicking Publish Means Taking a Risk

This week I clicked publish on a new episode for my Creative Shift podcast. I was kinda nervous about this one.

You see, it was a weird diversion in terms of topic. I interviewed author Brian Heiler who runs the PlaidStallions.com website.

Our discussion? About his lifetime dedicated to collecting and writing about 1970s toys.

Yep. I told you it was different.

I was so excited to talk to Brian, but I felt I was taking a risk. My audience is comprised of writers and artists, where does this podcast fit for them? When I reached out to Brian, that is exactly the first thing he said to me: “How do I fit into this?”

I didn’t have a clear answer. I told him I was a fan of his work and I outlined what I hoped to speak with him about. He was game, and his reasoning was fascinating: he wanted to push himself outside his comfort zone.

I had to click ‘publish’ on this with two feelings:

  1. Incredible joy because I loved the conversation.
  2. A bit of apprehension knowing that most of my audience would find this a strange topic.

Some highlights of the interview: He blew me away when he told me that in order to do the layout and design for the book he wrote, he went to night school! In our conversation we discuss how he developed an online community after years of engaging offline with fellow 1970s toy collectors and fans. We dig into how he sustains blogging for so many years.

Oh, and we talk about the time his dad came home with 5,000 General Urko dolls from Planet of the Apes. I mean, this is not an episode that you want to miss! You can listen to it here.

Clicking publish on this podcast reminds me that this is not always a strategic act. It is one that allows us to explore our curiosity and make connections with other people that may not always fit into some perfect little box.

I have found that clicking publish becomes a part of the creative process. One that doesn’t just create a piece of media (a book, a blog, a podcast, a summit), but that creates powerful moments of connection between real people.

Over time, that provides a deep sense of fulfillment and adds a richness to our days.

Thanks.
-Dan