“It’s Not Selfish to Pursue Your Dreams, and It’s Never Too Late.” My Interview with Author Kalynn Bayron

Kalynn BayronKalynn Bayron has been a musician, dancer, opera singer, and is now an author. Her new book Cinderella is Dead was just published from Bloomsbury. In our conversation, we talk about that path to publication, including the 70 queries it took to find her agent, and the 4 year path to publication. She described the culmination of this process as readers telling her that they see themselves in the story, “I see there is a space for me.” Kalynn concluded: “If nothing else ever happens for me, that will have been enough.”

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

You can find Kalynn in the following places:
Her book: Cinderella is Dead
kalynnbayron.com
Twitter: @KalynnBayron
Instagram: @kalynnbayron

Finding motivation to create and share amidst change

What can one of the nation’s leading creative writing centers teach us about resilience and showing up to create? A lot.

So many writers I speak to are trying hard to create amidst incredible disruption to their lives. They are short on resources like time and energy. They aren’t sure what the landscape of their writing life will look like because so much seems to be constantly changing.

Sonya LarsonToday I want to share some wisdom from writer Sonya Larson. She has worked at GrubStreet in Boston — an amazing writing center — for nearly 15 years, and writes short fiction, essays, and is currently working on her first novel. She and I were discussing how sometimes writers resist the hard work of writing because it can be isolating and challenging. They struggle to sit down at home and just write.

Instead, they may embrace situations that make them feel the rush of what it means to be a writer — attend readings, visit bookstores, go to writing conferences, or writing retreats. You know, these beautiful places, filled with literary people.

To be in these places is to wrap yourself in a warm hug of books, writing, and all we can aspire to as writers.

Which is different from sitting at your kitchen table, dishes piled up, kids arguing in the next room, and trying to write your novel.

But Sonya said something that I have been thinking about all week:

“I’ve been to two writing residencies in my life, and they were beautiful and wonderful. I loved them, they were so immersive and a great experience. But if I’m really being honest, what I produced during that time was not as significant as what I had to produce when I was forced to write on the city bus, because I had a deadline and I was freaking out.”

I have heard similar experiences from so many writers. The way we hope to be able to create rarely matches up to our reality. The work of writing happens between those two things. Amidst compromise. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Sonya explained how sometimes deadlines and a sense of excitement actually helps her writing. They are motivators that help her get the work done.

As a writer, each of us has to discover and hone our own creative process. But this also applies to how we share our work. To not only create alone, but to share your voice and allow others to discover it.

That’s something that she and her co-workers at GrubStreet are in the midst of solving as well. You see, GrubStreet runs 600 workshops a year, have 1,000 people attend their conference, and are moving to a brand new 15,000 square foot facility. Much of what they do is about creating, sharing, and in-person collaboration is a core way they do it. Of course, they have had to reinvent, now offering a wide array of classes for writers remotely.

Last week I talked about being in transition, and that feels like a word that describes some of what Sonya shared about her work as well.

I asked her how they are keeping GrubStreet’s community of writers energized and motivated through the pandemic. She replied:

“It boils down to the simple creative process of working within constraints. The conversation now is: How do we play to the strengths of this format, given the fact that we can’t meet in person for a large gathering for some time? How can we make the most use of our analog lives, our virtual lives, to deliver to writers what they are needing and wanting right now?”

“It reminds me of the task we all have as writers: there will inevitably be something in our way. We can get mad and stew at it, but ultimately the best artists pick up what’s left, if anything, and generate something new and exciting that we never would have been prompted to otherwise. It creates all of these new opportunities.”

I love Sonya’s perspective on this.

She and I talked quite a bit about how does one grow while also staying focused on your core mission. For an individual writer, this can have them frozen, unable to make the choice between ideas for different books, different paths to publication, or how to best share their work.

For GrubStreet, we can see their growth in a physical way, and I was trying to imagine how they keep the core of their community while also expanding their offices.

They are moving into a 15,000 square foot space later this year, that includes more classrooms, a literary stage, cafe, and bookstore. I was looking at these photos on their website of the new space in construction:

That looks amazing, right? But amidst this is also a risk the must navigate: to not lose the delicate thing that makes GrubStreet so special. I asked Sonya about how they are navigating change without losing themselves within it:

“I think our success has always hinged on the idea that community comes first. Our programs are based on what the community is asking for. We always follow the lead of the people serve.”

“I’ve been with GrubStreet for almost 15 years now. When I first began, the staff size was 1.5, a tiny little thing. We ran 80 workshops a year. Now there are between 20-30 staffers, and we run 600 workshops a year. It has been so fun to see it expand, and I have had a gazillion different roles in that time.”

To ensure their programming served the widest range of people in Boston, she said: “We had to stop using this model of building something amazing and waiting to see who would come. We realized that you have to go out and meet people in the communities where they live. We have to ask ourselves: are we listening to people?”

You can listen to my entire conversation with Sonya on my podcast, The Creative Shift.

Last year I spoke to GrubStreet Founder and Executive Director Eve Bridburg about how they began in 1997 with 8 students, and now serve more than 6,000 writers per year. You can listen to my conversation with Eve here.

What Sonya and Eve share has me considering how I grow as a writer and creator. How I can live up to my creative vision in a manner that feels true to who I am, but can also be expansive and reach more people.

Thank you to Sonya, Eve, and the entire GrubStreet community for the inspiration.
-Dan

“The Best Artists Pick Up What’s Left, and Generate Something New and Exciting,” My Interview with Writer Sonya Larson

Sonya LarsonToday I’m excited to writer Sonya Larson. We discuss her role as Director of GrubStreet‘s Muse and the Marketplace writing conference, and how they are adjusting to serving writers amidst the pandemic. I love her take on finding hope amidst challenges: “The best artists pick up what’s left, and generate something new and exciting.” GrubStreet runs 600 workshops a year, have 1,000 people attend their conference, and are moving to a brand new 15,000 square foot facility.

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

You can find Sonya in the following places:
larsonya.com
Twitter: @SonyaLarson
Instagram: @larsonya

In transition

So this is going to be a very personal post. This week I am celebrating the 10 year anniversary of my business, WeGrowMedia. A decade of working with thousands of writers and creators. Of learning how to support my family through this company. Of writing and publishing hundreds newsletters and podcasts. Of so many little successes, failures, and an unending process of learning.

I have been fortunate to have a decade of success, and my business has been doing well. I am working with so many writers every single week, and I’m grateful for every moment of it.

Starting my company was a big risk. Ten years ago, my job of nearly a decade was ending and my wife and I were about to have our first child a month later. The safe thing to do would have been to look for another corporate job in publishing, and for my wife to have gone back to work as an art teacher after the baby was born. But that’s not what we did.

Instead, I learned how to work from home, helping writers to grow their author platforms, launch their books, and make creativity central to their lives. My wife briefly returned to her job to finish out the school year, but then quit her tenured teaching position at the bottom of the recession.

We weren’t trying to embrace risk. Rather, we were embracing our vision for the life we wanted to lead.

It is bizarre to look back on that 10 years later and know what happened, as if I skipped to the middle of a book.

Since that time, I have had the immense honor to work with writers each day. My life is filled with those who create.

A decade ago I recorded a video where I shared my feelings of what the moment felt like, of leaving a corporate job to go out on my own. After spending years in a gray cubicle, I said:

“It feels like I can take chances again. I can be bolder, I think. I’ll have failures and will just start again.”

It’s amazing to consider this person who was not yet a father. This photo sums up the moment of transition perfectly. In front of me are the papers I am signing that formalize the ending of my employment. To the right are the stacks of thank you cards from my wife’s baby shower:

While I am celebrating the success of this venture, I’m also considering the journey. How my path as a creator is like everyone else’s: filled with impostor’s syndrome, comparisonitis, confusion, and anxiety.

Today the work I do feels so closely aligned to who I am. Every year of the last decade has been full of change, but it has all led me to a place of greater clarity.

When I recently interviewed Jarrett Lerner, he shared this quote from Walter Dean Myers that I have been thinking a lot about:

“In Walter Dean Myers’ memoir, Bad Boy, he talks about the best writing advice he ever got. An older author told him to look at his career and stop worry about this paragraph of this book, this page of this book, and stop worrying about this one book. Step back every now and again and think about your career.”

I’ve talked about my Clarity Card process recently , and I’m going through that process, considering this: “What do I want to create in the next 10 years?” I’m not thinking about products I want to create or milestones I hope to reach, but rather as experiences and moments I want to be a part of. The people I hope to engage with, and the conversations that will fill my life. I’m thinking of how I spend my days, and the transformation that is possible.

But I do realize that milestones are important. Just this week a couple of writers I know release books. One of my clients, Leigh Stein saw the publication of her new novel, Self Care: A Novel. She and I have recorded a couple of podcasts on her launch process here and here .

I was emailing with Leigh this week after she shared that an essay she wrote went viral, with more than 145,000 views and a lot of engagement. Amazing, right? But behind the scenes, it felt the opposite to Leigh. This is how she described the feeling of writing the essay:

“You would think that writing five books would inoculate me against conscious incompetence, but to be honest, the practice of actually sitting in my chair and writing the thing I’m supposed to write doesn’t get any easier just because I have the external validation of the publishing industry. I’ve been working on an essay all weekend that’s due tomorrow and the thought that keeps going through my head is, I don’t know how to write!!! It’s imposter syndrome. It’s the nightmare where you’re back in high school and you have to give a presentation but you haven’t prepared anything. I’m giving myself the same advice I’d give another writer. Just write a bad draft and fix it later. Just write something. ”

Once she submitted the essay, her fears only grew:

“When my editor didn’t get back to me for a few days, it seemed to my anxious mind like further proof my fears were true: it really was badly written, it wasn’t what she wanted, she was just trying to find a nice way to tell me. I checked my contract to see what the kill fee was.”

Can you imagine that? Here she is writing an essay that will go viral, that thousands of people will love. That her editor loved. But even after all of Leigh’s experience writing and publishing, it still wasn’t easy, and she didn’t know that this was the piece that would go viral.

That resonates with me so much as I think about the thousands of decisions I’ve made in the past decade. We don’t know what will lead to success, but we know that intentional effort and risk is required.

I talk to so many writers who are trying to find a way to break into various aspects of publishing. Leigh has an incredible network in media and has written so many essays in notable publications. Yet this is how she described the process of pitching:

“Pitching essays related to your book is a big part of the book promotion machine. Between April and June, I pitched 20 stories. Ideas about Coronavirus that seemed timely and relevant in April were completely irrelevant by May. Two of my pitches were accepted—then one of those two was killed.”

I share this here to illustrate that this is work that one needs to show up for day in and day out. Leigh is amazing. She is successful and will continue to be successful. Because she shows up to do the work.

Marcus WhitneyThis week I shared my interview with Marcus Whitney. He has a new book out called Create and Orchestrate, and he said something to me has been bouncing around my mind all week: “You have to shift from consuming to creating.” In our chat, Marcus talked about how he has been going through a major health reset in the past year and half. This too was another reminder that no matter how much you create, how much you accomplish, you always need to work on the foundations. You always need to go back to the well and find your clarity and source of inspiration.

What he shared is a reminder that we are always in transition, and with that comes incredible opportunity to feel clarity in who you are, and what you can create.

As I considered the last 10 years, I wanted to be reminded of the place I was in July of 2010. The company I had worked for was closing down, and I was one of the last employees left. In the final days, I went back into the office to take photos of the place I had spent nearly a decade working with writers and publishers.

I worked with people from across 40+ magazine brands, including the amazing staffs of Library Journal, School Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly.

This is what transition looks like:

Row after row that look exactly the same, but was someone’s professional home for years. In each of these tiny gray cubicles, someone spent 8 to 12 hours a day for years and years:

This was someone’s work:

This was my office for a period of time:

And this is the library of back issues of Variety, one of the magazines we published:

Here is a random page I opened to as I reflected on leaving the company. Looks like it was from sometime in the 1950s or 60s — famous names promoting themselves, and news of deals:

On that page is an ad for the legendary Cab Calloway promoting his show in New York. An ad for Bill Haley and His Comets available to play shows. An article about Harry Belafonte, and another focusing on Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Lionel Hampton playing a show in Atlantic City. I mean, can you imagine this?

That was a moment of time which is now gone. Just like those gray cubicles, which likely many people have moved in and out of in the past decade.

This cartoon was posted in the kitchen in the office, and it perfectly encapsulates so much of my decade at that company:

It is a barnyard full of animals talking to each other, and one says, “That’s not what I heard. I heard they’re keeping the pig and getting rid of five chickens.”

It is meant to show how when working at the company, there were constant rumors of layoffs. Even in this “safe corporate job” we were always in transition. Always on the cusp of not being allowed back into the building. Always working towards one transition, or reorienting ourselves after another.

And this is the place that I look back on 10 years, and look ahead 10 years. This is me now, earlier this week in my studio:

I am in transition. We are always in transition. And with that comes responsibility and opportunity. To wake up each day and create.

Thank you for your incredible support this past decade.
-Dan

“You Have to Shift From Consuming to Creating.” My Interview with Marcus Whitney

Marcus WhitneySomething Marcus Whitney said to me has been bouncing around my mind all week: “You have to shift from consuming to creating.” Today I am excited to share my interview with Marcus, where he shares an inspiring message of what creative power is, and how to turn ideas into action. He has a new book out called Create and Orchestrate: The Path to Claiming Your Creative Power from an Unlikely Entrepreneur. He is also the Co-Founder of the Nashville Soccer Club, Jumpstart Foundry, and Health:Further.

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

You can find Marcus in the following places:
marcuswhitney.com
His book: Create and Orchestrate: The Path to Claiming Your Creative Power from an Unlikely Entrepreneur
His podcast: Marcus Whitney’s Audio Universe
Instagram: @marcuswhitney
Twitter @marcuswhitney
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