From the NFL to Helping People Reach Their Full Potential, with Anthony Trucks

Anthony TrucksIn today’s episode, Anthony Trucks takes us through his story of reaching the pinnacle of his dream — joining the NFL — only to having that dream crash down around him. But then, he found alignment: The clarity, the drive, the balance that so many of us desire. I loved this advice from Anthony in our chat; that to get what you want, “you have to go past logic.” You can find Anthony at https://anthonytrucks.com. His new book, Identity Shift: Upgrade How You Operate to Elevate Your Life comes out in August.

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

You can find Anthony in the following places:

My social media reset

As a writer, how do you put creativity first in your life, and ensure your platform as a writer is infused with inspiring and meaningful connections to others? That is what I want to explore today. I want to share personal examples of how I have been trying to do this, and share how I have been going through my own social media reset.

My 10 year old son has been learning how to do animation on his computer. The other day he was showing me an animation he liked, and as I left his room, I called back, “Don’t forget to create.” It was my reminder to him that while it is great to get inspired by the animations of others, to see useful examples, and support his peers, that he shouldn’t spend the whole day doing that. He should work on his own creations as well.

So many adults have a challenge with this too. It is too easy to just keep reading the work of others, to just keep scrolling at amazing art on Instagram, or watch videos, or listen to music, or so much else. To consume consume consume because, my goodness, don’t we deserve a break from all of our daily responsibilities?

But if you are reading this, you are likely a writer. Or an artist. Or a creator of some sort. You have made the choice to make your creative vision a priority in your life. For some of you, it is a very part-time hobby. For others, it is a full-time career. And for all of you, you are doing it amidst a cacophony of responsibilities that have only gotten more complicated with the pandemic.

If you want to grow as a writer and reach more people, I want to encourage you to focus your intention on:

  1. Making creative work a priority, and being sure to reserve some time and energy to create each week.
  2. Connecting with like-minded people who appreciate the kind of writing that you do. To be intentional about reaching your ideal audience and building meaningful professional relationships with colleagues.

As my family approaches a year of being home together for school, work, and all of life, there has been one constant: creating.

While opportunities slipped away amidst lockdown, we tried to be mindful to replace them with creative energy. My 10 year old gave up taekwondo and in-person piano lessons. He instead put that creative energy into learning how to code, how to using digital illustration tools, and more recently, how to animate. He’s created dozens of games and illustrations and shared them online.

My wife has never been more driven to create than this past year. She has always been an artist with a rigorous work ethic, but this year she has been in overdrive.She decided to master the art of watercolor painting, and I’ve seen her day by day, month by month, churn out painting after painting. Watching her progress has been astounding. She also learned how to make clothes. I’ve watched her go from one homemade clothing project to the next, mastering various aspects. Each week, more fabric and vintage buttons arrive in the mail. So. Many. Vintage. Buttons.

For myself, even though I have put aside some creative projects temporarily (such as finishing writing my next book), I have ensured creativity has stayed central to my weeks. This has mostly been through music, playing guitar and dabbling with my synthesizer and digital music.

This same kind of creative intention can also apply to how we connect with others around our work. This past year, I have been working on a social media reset. I joined Twitter in January of 2008, Facebook a couple years after that, and Instagram a few years later.

What am I optimizing for with the reset? A feeling of connection with those I follow. To open up Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and feel a sense of caring about what each person shares. To be quick to engage with them with a like, a comment, a DM.

This reset felt necessary because for awhile, opening up social media felt like being on the receiving end of a firehose. Over the years, I would follow people one at a time. But before I knew it, I was following more than 1,000 people on Twitter, and nearly as many on Instagram.

As I looked through my feed, there were names and faces I didn’t recognize. I couldn’t remember who they were, why I followed them, or when I started. Invariably it may have been because 7 years ago I was researching a conference, and followed some of the speakers. Or perhaps I met them briefly at an event. Or I liked what they shared on a random day in 2014.

I began imaging a reset. What if I only followed a few people who inspire me in some way. What if my feed was short, and where nearly every post was something I wanted to leave a comment on or click “like” to? What if this allowed me to support these creators with greater depth, instead of an infinite scroll?

To optimize my social media for a feeling of deep connection, I had to do something I have resisted for years: unfollow people. In some ways, this has been an arduous process.

So much of being on social media is about wanting to be liked. To hope that others care about what you share, and that in the process, you get to validate the work of others. To unfollow someone feels like the antithesis of all of these things.

As I considered this, I looked around at others. Hmmm. Brené Brown has 3.3 million followers on Instagram, yet she only follows 537 accounts. Brit Bennet has 28,000 followers, and only follows 427 people. Alyne Tamir has 328,000 followers and only follows 337 people. Maybe it was okay to follow fewer people so that I can engage more.

So, I started unfollowing people. This was so difficult. I’ve spent months on this process, slowly unfollowing people in small batches. I started first with big brand accounts. Then to people who didn’t seem to update at all. Then to people whose I couldn’t remember why I followed them.

But then, it got more difficult. People who I recognized and knew and liked. Now, this doesn’t mean they aren’t wonderful people, sharing great stuff! They are.

I kept reminding myself of my goal: to fill my days with a deep sense of connection. And I can’t do that following 1,000 people. Too often, I scroll through Instagram or Twitter and don’t click “like” or leave a comment because there is simply too much to engage with. I want that to change.

With each person, I worried that the moment I clicked “unfollow” that they would be alerted to it. They would be offended by it. Deeply. That they would feel attacked or dismissed. That they would wonder what they did to cause such an extreme action. They would reconsider why they liked me, and my intentions. They would talk badly about me.

As I went through this process, again and again something funny would happen. I would hesitate over the “unfollow” button, with all of my fears, then click it. Then I would realize, “Oh, they don’t even follow me.” That didn’t bother me. Instead it was a reminder that while I was worried they would be offended that I chose to unfollow them, they were already being intentional about where they put their own focus and intention. They can’t follow everyone either. That was very freeing.

This process of unfollowing got more complicated as I unfollowed more people. Choosing to unfollow them is not to meant to remove them from my life, but simply to not clutter my feed. I kept reminding myself that social media is not reality. These relationships and connections do not solely exist on a social network.

Doing it in batches helped. If I just unfollowed one person, I feared it would look like I was targeting them. But if I unfollowed 10 at a time, it was a reminder that none of this was personal.

This is one of the strange ways that social media can come to feel suffocating. When you feel you have no control over your experience of it. But for me to fill my day with creative intention, then I need be able to choose my focus. This social media reset is not a rejection of anything, it is quite the opposite. I want my connection to others to be filled with intention. With energy. With more direct engagement, and less obligation. To open a social network and have it feel calm, manageable, and inspiring.

I’m curious: have you felt the need for more intention in putting creativity first, or connecting with others with more intention? If so, tell me about why this is challenging for you, or solutions you have found that are working.

Thanks!
-Dan

How a Creative Community Fuels a Creative Life, with author Amanda Stern

Amanda SternGrowing up in New York City’s Greenwich Village, Amanda Stern met Shel Silverstein when she was 12, lived on the same block and Bob Dylan, and described it as: “the whole village was like a stage, and everyone was in a show.” We explore her success as a writer with 9 children’s books, 2 young adult books, a novel, and a memoir, and the value of being a part of a creative community. She says: “Making connections and building community is one of the best ways to generate ideas and come up with new projects.”

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

You can find Amanda in the following places:
amandastern.com
Her podcast: Bookable
Twitter: @amandastern
Instagram: @alittlestern
Facebook

Impostor’s syndrome, creating, and sharing

I am preparing to share some training events later in the winter, and I wanted to know: what questions do you have around author platform, marketing, book launches, and the creative process? Reply to this email and let me know. This will shape what I create in the trainings, which will be free.

Something that comes up frequently when I speak to writers is impostor’s syndrome. This feeling that their success isn’t deserved. Or that what they are working on isn’t good enough. Or they are overstepping a boundary in how they share their work. Over the years, I have found this is common. And what’s more: it doesn’t go away with success. In fact, it can become amplified.

On social media the other day I saw a very successful writer share this:

“January is a hard month for me… I’m fairly certain my book is terrible, my friends are only pretending to like me, and my career is circling the drain. So if you feel that way too, you’re not alone.”

When I went to find that status update, it had been deleted, so I don’t want to name the author since I assume they thought twice about having this out there. But it’s worth noting how successful they are: a New York Times bestselling author of dozens of books books, in a range of different genres and publishers. They have tens of thousands of followers, and often share inspiring advice that people love.

Yet, that status update… that feeling.

So much of the work I do with writers is within this context:

  • When someone is writing their author bio for the first time, it can feel impossible to characterize your entire life, your entire creative vision in a brief space.
  • When creating a content strategy for what they will share on social media, they can worry that the marketplace is already too crowded, why add their voice to the mix?
  • When preparing to launch a newsletter or podcast, they can feel that perhaps they aren’t quite ready. That they need a better microphone, or should pause and take a class on interviewing first.
  • When launching a website, they may feel that it is too soon. That by having a website, they are asking for too much attention.
  • They worry that if the commit to sharing online that they will run out of things to say.
  • When emailing other authors, they may fear that even a generous note is somehow too self-serving.
  • They may resist sharing or reaching out to anyone, for fear that they are bugging them.

These reasons (and others) are why we hesitate to share. For fear that if we are seen trying to succeed, that the universe will somehow make us fail for our hubris.

Creating and sharing is difficult work because it connects so much to who we are, how we define our creative vision, and how we connect with others. These feelings can be infused in every stage of the process of what it means to write, to develop your platform, and to share and market your books.

Knowing that is critical, because I think it can do the most damage when it surprises you. When you feel “wow, where did that come from? Must be serious if I’m feeling it. I’d better NOT share now. I’ll just wait. And wait. And wait. Maybe someone else can share for me…”

Because that is the real danger. Waiting and waiting and waiting to feel you have permission to create. Permission to share. Permission to connect with other like-minded creators and readers. The waiting can silence not only your own creative vision, but your own ability to truly inspire someone with your work at a moment they need it most.

What is the solution to impostor’s syndrome, or a natural feelings of anxiety about creating and sharing? Well, let me share an example from author-illustrator Lori Richmond.

She and I were talking the other day, and she had just sent out her email newsletter. I congratulated her on this, and she said, “I woke up yesterday and said to myself, ‘today I’m making a newsletter, and it will be mailed tomorrow no matter what.”

It’s worth noting that Lori has a couple very stressful things going on in her life right now. Thankfully, they are positive things, but they are eating up a ton of her time and energy. Yet, amidst that, and amidst her otherwise busy daily life, she created and sent the newsletter.

Let’s analyze it. Why? Because it embodies how consistent creative actions lead to powerful results. Her newsletter had 5 sections. Here is a miniaturized version of it just so you get a sense of it visually:

 

This is how Lori breaks out the five sections:

  1. Book Celebration: She has a new book out, so she celebrated that first. It’s worth noting that (of course), most of her newsletters are sent out when she doesn’t have a big milestone like this to celebrate.
  2. A Video Tutorial: She has weekly series on Instagram called “Doodle Class” where she teaches kids how to draw. She shared the video from the previous week.
  3. Featuring Her Corporate Workshops: Here she talks about the workshops she does for corporations, and encourages her readers to hire her if their company’s needs align.
  4. Sharing Recent Illustrations: At the start of the year, she decided to draw a self-portrait every day of the year and share them on Instagram. Here she shares all of her self-portraits from January.
  5. Seeking New Work: She pitches her services in illustration, marketing, branding, small business websites, and more. She also asks her subscribers to share her work.

What I see here is someone who is creating all the time, continually putting her work out there, being clear about the work she would like to do more of, and how that may align to the interests of her readers.

You can see the entire newsletter here. Oh, and be sure to subscribe to Lori’s newsletter so you received future issues!

If you ever suffer from impostor’s syndrome or have anxiety about how you develop your platform as an author, here is some advice:

  • Realize this is normal. We all feel this at some point. Or even frequently. Success doesn’t make it magically go away.
  • Creating and sharing is a wonderful way to battle anxiety over creating and sharing. I know, that sounds strange. But find a way to do it in a small and simple way that feels authentic. When Lori shares a self-portrait, it is a small illustration she does. But when you zoom out and look at a month’s worth, you can see the amazing body of work more clearly. Every creative act builds upon the next.
  • Talk to other creators. Reach out to other writers and people who take the risk to create something new. Talk about the creative process and how they manage their own anxiety about creating and sharing. Don’t go it alone.

I work with writers everyday on book launches, platform building, and integrating creativity and sharing into their daily lives. If this work seems difficult to you, that is because it is. Because it asks you to stand up for who you are. For the vision of what you want to create. And to connect it with the lives of others.

That isn’t easy, but it is worthwhile.

I started this note by asking you to send me your questions about author platform, marketing, book launches, and the creative process. Please hit “reply” and let me know.

Thanks.
-Dan

Knowing your readers

Two writers I am working with recently told me how our work in establishing their author platforms and marketing strategies is helping them with their writing. One expressed how our work has helped them clearly see the connections between all of her books in terms of the themes. The other said the work is helping to figure out some aspects of how she is ending her next novel.

This is not uncommon feedback for me to hear. Over the years, many writers have told me that they wished they worked with me earlier, while they were still writing their books, because it would have helped them better frame their messaging and how it would connect with ideal readers.

Today I want to talk about how these two things can often work together: the creative process with the platform/marketing process. And how each strengthens the other to create what so many desire: a career as an author that feels authentic and fulfilling. Let’s dig in…

Too often, writers think of marketing as something tacked onto the end of the publishing process. A necessary evil of “promotion” that they worry will tarnish their otherwise pure intentions with their writing. They may have the same apprehension when they consider the concept of an author platform. They assume the experience will be them begging for social media followers, and they dream of the day when their writing succeeds big enough so they don’t have to worry about platform or marketing anymore.

But that isn’t how I see platform and marketing. I’ve always defined an author platform not as followers, but as consisting of two things:

  • Communication
  • Trust

It’s knowing the messages that best communicate what you write and why, and framing them in a manner that engages ideal readers. Not just “what’s trendy” from a publicity perspective, but how to share your work — the questions you ask, the themes you explore, your deeper reasons for creating — in a way that people can understand. Some of this is about giving people a way in to your writing.

My book is called Be the Gateway for a reason — the gateway is a metaphor about how we are better able to lead people through it. But the book also challenges you to step outside of your gateway to better understand where your readers are and what resonates with them. Which brings us to trust.

I mentioned above that many writers like to wait to talk about their work. They want the book to be finished and ready to be published before they share it with others. There is, of course, a logic here. These writers may reason, “Why would I talk about my book before it’s finished? I don’t want to annoy people. I’ll let people know about it once they can buy it.” That makes sense.

But it also means that the first message that many people hear about this person’s writing is, “Hello! It’s been awhile. Can you buy this thing from me?”

Trust takes time. It’s why most media is built upon the ideas of frequency and, increasingly, direct engagement. In old fashioned terms, we would simply call it “talking to people.”

It would be easy for a young band to imagine that the first show they play, the moment they unveil their songs, it should be magical. It should be a big audience, a big venue, and they can imagine the music washing over the audience, creating a legion of fans that evening.

But that isn’t usually how it works. Musicians build fans one at a time. Two at a time. Eight at a time. They play shows, they get to know other bands, build relationships with venue owners, promoters, recording studio engineers, and of course, anyone who loves music.

This is not just a one-sided connection where musicians are collecting followers. The musicians are learning about their ideal fans too. Whenever I hear a musician talk about a live performance, they often mention the critical role that the fans have in the creative process. How their energy, who they are, the faces the musician sees, helps give them cues about the performance. And how the energy that is created in that interplay is what makes a great event.

Somehow, these fans are a part of the creative process. No, they are not writing the songs. No, the musician is not running a survey or focus group while they are recording. But having the ability to effectively communicate with their ideal audience and have a sense of trust with them, can improve the creative process.

These creators understand the people they hope to reach beyond vague demographics. Beyond the number of sales, likes, followers, reviewers, or subscribers.

What many writers find when they embrace their author platform and marketing is that it can be a wonderful part of the creative process, not a hindrance to it. You may hear this and ask, “But shouldn’t the creative process be pure, unhindered by expectations of audience?”

The answer? Sure. If that is what you want.

But one thing I have observed in working with so many writers is that often their creative process moves through phases. And when someone has more clarity on how to communicate their work, when they have more trusting relationships with people who appreciate the kind of writing they do, well, they have more resources to work through that creative process. More awareness, more conversations, less guessing, and more opportunities to find a path forward that feels right.

There is no one right way to do this. You can absolutely write in any manner you want, including in total isolation. Do what feels right to you.

Having the ability to communicate with readers doesn’t mean that you are writing to an audience. But it could mean that you are writing for an audience. In other words, engaging with readers doesn’t co-opt the creative voice that is in your heart. It doesn’t mean you only write to fit the expectation of a reader.

Rather, I have found that the work of author platform and marketing helps writers better understanding themselves as a writer. This happens when you consider how to communicate what you write and why. When you consider the experiences you want your writing to create for yourself and others. When you bridge the gap between “I have this idea…” to “I had this wonderful conversation with a reader about my book.”

Back in 2012 I wrote about this on my blog, with a headline: “There is a Difference Between Knowing Your Audience and Writing to One.” It included these tips:

  • If you can’t build a small audience, how can you build a large audience?
  • Regardless of when your book comes out, start building your audience now
  • Finding your audience is about listening, not talking
  • Research is often missing from most writers’ author platform process
  • Be polarizing – make choices

A reader — Vicki Orians — had commented: “I think a lot of people get confused when it comes to knowing your audience and writing to one.”

At the time, I wrote: “Knowing who your audience is shouldn’t change your work away from your core vision, but it can help you ensure that your stories reach an audience that cares.”

That is absolutely true. But over the years something else I have found is that our art is often part of the larger ecosystem of our lives. It lives within the interplay of what we experience, who we talk to, and how art and writing grows and changes beyond the words on a page.

Your writing isn’t just a product on the shelf, a book. It is how the words within it stay with someone for years. How they find inspiration from it in what may seem like odd times in their life. It exists in their minds, where it is integrated with who they are and what they experience each day.

Where is the exact line between “creativity” and the other topics I discuss here — communication and trust that can happen in platform and marketing? I don’t know. I think it is different for everyone, and even be different from moment to moment. And that is the beauty of what it means to create. To take the risk to develop your ideas, refine them, turn them into art, and share them with the world.

Thanks.
-Dan