May I be of professional service to you?

October 2nd, 2020

Greetings, friend! Like a proper hired gun should, from time to time I post here to tell people what I’m good at, what I can do for them, and what sorts of gigs I’m looking for. (Plus there’s a part at the end that tells you how you can help!)

What it boils down to:

  • I help companies—especially B2B tech companies—get better at content marketing so they can appeal to their customers more successfully.
  • I help authors and literary agents by outlining, ghostwriting, and editing book proposals and full manuscripts to make them great.
  • [BONUS NEW THING] I’m now getting back to journalism, especially focused on climate change, other environmental issues, and the way science is understood in society.

My Superpowers

After many years in business, I can tell you that I’m really, really good at two things:

  1. Learning a client’s offerings—even complex technical ones—and their customers’ needs quickly, then helping the client figure out the best ways to talk about how those offerings solve their customers’ business problems.
  2. Writing top-quality prose that conveys the material from #1 with zero jargon, and without sounding like either a marketing pitch or a technical manual.

Note how this applies to book projects as well: pick up the topic on the fly ==> understand the audience ==> help the author convey the right messages in their own voice to that audience.

More details on specific applications of  this follow . . . Read the rest of this entry »

Saving your life with books.

May 29th, 2019

“I read the way a person might swim, to save his or her life. I wrote that way too.”

—Mary Oliver, “Staying Alive” (via Maria Popova)

[Photo by Janko Ferli? on Unsplash]

Do yourself a favor and see ROMA.

January 2nd, 2019

I watched Alfonso Cuarón’s ROMA yesterday on a 70mm print at the Alamo Ritz in downtown Austin. Rather than tell you more about the movie, I’m going to recommend that you go into it with no more than what you’ll find out by watching the trailer above — or even less than that, as I did.

Suffice it to say: this mostly quiet, intense movie is intimate, at times heart-rending, and impossible to forget. I cried. At moments I had my heart in my throat. I connected with the characters. And later in the day my girlfriend and I discussed the movie for easily an hour.

Cuarón is one of the living masters of cinema, and ROMA is a very personal masterpiece from his hand. Not just worth seeing, but worth seeing on the big screen.

Doing something about my dream every single day.

February 8th, 2018

This is hardly a new idea: if something is important to you, make it a priority to do SOMETHING on it every single day.

Your fitness. Your art. The good order of your life. Your relationship. You’ll know.

Jerry Seinfeld talks about it in terms of “Don’t break the chain.” There’s a whole movement for “non-zero days” (launched in this epic Reddit comment, but also glossed usefully here). Whatever approach you take, just make sure you do at least one little thing each day that moves you closer to your dreams.

I’ve been candid here about the struggle that I’ve been through lately. 2017 was a hard, hard year, and now I’m rebooting my life in many different ways. From that vantage point, it’s easy for me to see how I’ve allowed relationship issues, making a living, and all of the other things that have filled my days to keep me away from my real work — writing books.

Writing books is who I really am, regardless of my relationship status or what day job I have. (Note this post from, alas, 2009.) And yet I’ve been treating it as optional, or as something that can come later. Well, enough of that bullshit. Writing my first novel every single day until it is done is as important as anything in my life, and now I’m acting like it.

The picture at the top of the page shows my buddy Austin Kleon‘s hand-drawn calendar to get you going on the Seinfeld model. (You can download it here.) As you can see, this is day 9 for me of writing my novel. Results so far:

  • Getting well synced with the ideas in the story, which I started cooking up in October but set aside as life intervened. (Or, as I allowed life to intervene; I’m working to take full responsibility for my own actions — which this project also helps.)
  • Yesterday and today, I was able to spend longer periods happily pecking away without feeling the need to check social media, read e-mails, and so on. And during those periods, the ideas just flowed, such that now I see much better how different parts of the book — plot points, characters, themes — will play off of each other. Now there are also more little details that will make specific scenes hum. These are reminders, as a writer friend was telling me a while back, that I’m wired such that I will always be full of new ideas. That, in turn, means that I can afford to freely discard stale ideas weighing me down.
  • In general, I just feel better about my progress. Artists create. Writers write. I’m writing. Pow.

What are you working on that deserves a piece of your attention every single day?

“I’m sorry.” . . . “Not your fault.”

January 4th, 2018

A language peeve I’ve run into with friends from time to time . . .

Friend: [describes death in the family or other hard situation]

Me: “I’m so sorry.”

Friend: “It’s not your fault.”

Please, no, don’t do that. It sends the conversation in the wrong direction because it misses the point.

“I’m sorry” expresses “I have sorrow.” Yes, often, we use this to convey “I have sorrow for what I did to you,” and it’s a very useful—almost magical—phrase when used as an apology. But it can also convey “I have sorrow for your loss” or “I have sorrow over your unfortunate circumstances.”

Clearly, if someone says “I’m sorry” about a situation they have no part in—the death of your loved one or whatever—they are not conveying sorrow for something they did to you, but sorrow over your situation.

A much better reply is “Thank you.” That might more fluidly lead to their saying “Is there anything I can do to help?” and so on—not derailed by the logical non sequitur.

Starting Over

January 2nd, 2018

It’s a new year, sure, but it’s also a new chapter in my life. The most important relationship I’ve ever had has drawn to a close, so this is a season of transitions, learning, rebirth.

Rebirth is painful. You have to start all over, but without the infant’s naivete that carried you through the last time. You feel it all — or you should, if you want the experience to educate you. It’s horrifying, lonely, and wrenching, but also electrifying, vivid, and rejuvenating.

If you’ll let it be. If you’ll learn the lessons. If you’ll embody the experience without looking away from the worst parts.

You have to live the worst parts, go ahead and live through them, so that you can learn the lessons. That’s what makes it so hard.

This year, then, I’m cleaning the slate. New clients, new projects, new writing of my own; new fitness regime, new mindfulness; new friendships, new habits, new patterns. Questioning the old scripts and the old ways, keeping only the ones that bring me joy or still teach me something new.

In this process, I’m seeking to make amends — not that I was ever an addict, thank goodness, but that, in living through the emotional hardships of the past years, I’ve taken my eye off the ball with too many friends and clients, and with too many projects that would have been worthy had I carried them through.

That is partly — no small part — about making amends with myself. Forgiving myself for my shortcomings and mistakes, and making it right with myself by living through my talents to make the world around me better. Doing my real work, and being a real light to those around me.

When I’m doing it right, I feel grateful, even for the heartbreaks. They’ve brought me to this point, where I’m truly ready to grow into the person I’m supposed to be.

May we all have a fruitful journey.

[Image source]

Start with the state houses.

January 17th, 2017

Yesterday I opined that, no, Americans—and American progressives—are not “doomed” by the incoming Administration. We’re certainly not helped, but it’s not the end.

Where, then, do we begin? I suggest that, while remaining vigilant and activist about what’s happening in Washington, progressives would do well to focus on local and state races.

This is hardly original advice on my part, and it’s hardly new. Here in Texas, Democrats have gone 0-for-the-21st-century in capturing any of the statewide electoral seats. (Y’all please correct me if I’ve overlooked some stray winner in there.) And it hasn’t been any better in the Texas Lege.

That trend applies nationwide, as Amber Phillips explains in this informative Washington Post article written just after the 2016 general election:

These 3 maps show just how dominant Republicans are in America after Tuesday

Note that the G.O.P. has this dominant position—such that about 80% of the country’s population lives in states whose governments are controlled by Republicans—even though Democrats win just as many votes, or even more votes, in the aggregate. (Exhibit A: Hillary Clinton’s large but ultimately irrelevant margin in the popular vote.)

So, what to do? Put more effort and money into the grind-it-out work that needs to happen at the grassroots level. Support and cultivate local candidates; take back seats.

It’s a long road, especially because movement conservatives have been focused on these efforts for decades (see the Phillips article for more details), and their entrenched position puts them in control for redistricting that benefits them after the 2020 Census. (The same thing happened after the last two rounds of the Census, too, which helps explain the bigger problem.)

But what else are we going to do—give up? No.

Long road. Lots of work. But worth it.


January 16th, 2017

The other day I had a discussion with a Twitter acquaintance who’s of the opinion that the United States—and especially any progressive agenda within it—is doomed.

Though I wasn’t able to shake his pessimism, his take on this is wrong, for at least two reasons:

  1. Mordor, this ain’t. (Compare current conditions to the picture above.) Not to make light of the political situation or the cruel steps being taken by the President-Elect and the majority in Congress, and not being any kind of a Pollyanna, but: have some perspective.
  2. Even if it were Mordor . . . that’s not the way to think about it, for important psychological reasons.

Cynicism tends to breed doubt and inaction. After all, if we really are doomed, then why even try?

Realism tinged with an optimistic openness to good things that might happen if we try—which is another way of invoking the Stockdale Paradox—is the right approach.

Yes, things are bad. Bad enough that we can’t sit back and wait for them to get better, or take for granted even those cherished institutions and norms that seemed the most entrenched up to now. (Can you even imagine Eisenhower, Reagan, or Obama shouting down a reporter at a press conference? It’s sickening.)

But also . . . there are things we can do. There are. There ARE.

My Twitter interlocutor said something about holding out for Michelle in 2020, by which I take it to mean that he hopes Michelle Obama will run for the Democratic nomination then. As much as I respect Mrs. Obama, my friend’s wish should hardly be the centerpiece of anyone’s approach, because it relies on a singular political savior (long odds on that) and puts off the next inflection point for action by four years.

It seems fitting to be thinking about this on the day we choose to commemorate Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement. There’s a reason he titled his 1963 book Why We Can’t Wait.

And remember, those of you who are fantasy buffs, that it was within the bowels of Mt. Doom itself that Frodo destroyed the One Ring.

If we have reached Mordor, so be it. Let’s continue the work.

My Year in Reading: 2016

December 31st, 2016

It wasn’t great. While I did read some really nice books this year, plus lots of rewarding shorter stuff (mostly in The New Yorker and The Ringer or via links encountered on Twitter), I only finished . . . thirteen books. In fact, it’s been eight years since I read as many as twenty books in any calendar year.

That’s just not cutting it.

As I look back at the reading notebook I’ve kept for the past twenty years, it’s not hard for me to recall the prevailing conditions that have led me to read more books (graduate school, daily bus commutes) or fewer (social media).

For 2017, I’m creating my own prevailing conditions for reading more, starting with a commitment to spend much less time—and radically less grazing time—on social media. Here are some other things I’m doing:

  • rearranging my office slightly
  • setting calendar reminders
  • creating a specific “Read These Next” list for my computer desktop, with separate categories for research, fiction, general nonfiction, and other things like poetry and graphic novels
  • moving my Kindle and Goodreads apps front and center on my phone and tablet

And now I’m reinforcing all of that by telling all of you that my goal is to average reading one book per week for 2017.

What’s your reading goal for the new year?

Photo by Hernán Piñera, shared via a Creative Commons license

What’s your default mode?

December 26th, 2016

Cards on the table: I’ve decided to make my default mode writing-for-publication as a means of discovery.

(Or maybe I should label that “Fair Warning!” for those of you who decide to follow me. ;)

Here’s a thing I’ve discovered about myself as a writer: Setting aside some private correspondence with friends, family, and clients, everything I write needs to be composed with an eye toward eventual publication. Even morning pages, journal entries, and the like can be reshaped into something that helps others along the way.

What I’ve been doing up until now includes lots of introspective scribbling—what I call “noodling”—that doesn’t help much. I mean, it can be useful in its way, but I find that I tend to circle around topics rather than working all the way through them. It’s an unproductive sort of navel-gazing. That’s not fruitful for me or for others. From where I sit, we need a lot of fruitful thinking captured in prose (and poetry, and scripts, and every other artistic form) that frees us from the traps of division we’ve caught ourselves in.

Writing for an audience also includes a solid dose of introspection for me, but framed in a way to connect it with others’ concerns. It takes me out of solipsism into something much more fruitful. It performs work.

The practical implications of this? More minutes per day spent writing (that number of minutes should be in the hundreds for me, every single day, yet often it’s in the tens), and more pieces published here, in other venues, and ultimately in the form of books. You should expect to see more essays, more stories, more poems, more tweets, and my first books in 2017.

Lots of people write; many people want to write; some people were meant to write. This is me staking out my turf as a member of that last category.

A mercenary appeal: If there’s something you want me to write for you, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

An artistic/political appeal: If there’s some topic you want me to pursue in my work because you think I’d do a good job with it, please let me know that, too.

Now, over to you:

  • What has your default mode been?
  • What should it be?