We don’t just need each other. We thrive with each other. How can we stay open and fresh in collaboration? Who’s exemplifying the best of creative collaboration? How can we work together to make change that matters in this world?

The Story Learning Gap for Authors & Business Artists


Maria AC (ernieland, Flickr)

Maria AC (ernieland, Flickr)

For a long time, I’ve been listening to what business artists and writers need to write their books, and I’ve been surveying what events they can attend.

I’m seeing a gap that may implicitly hold them back. It’s a gap that may create subtle fear in people wanting to write and publish their books. Seeing this gap drove me to create a very different kind of writer’s and author’s event.

Here’s what I mean. Read more

creative courage: resist the right things: an assay

 diving_platform_med copy_creativecourage

Brene Brown grew up with gritted teeth and a tart tongue.

Armored, that is. In her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, the fellow multi-generation Texan comes clean about her lifelong resistance to being emotionally vulnerable. Brown’s situation as a Texan, a professor, a conversation leader, and an author illuminates some qualities about what it takes to have creative courage in the most ordinary and unheralded moments.

I’ve been observing the many ways that faces of fear impede the authors, business artists, and entrepreneurs I interview, meet, and work with.

In fact, while drafting this piece out in my yard, one of my neighbors – an artist from the city – stopped by and asked, “How does depression and fear fit into your tracking wonder schemata?” Good question. So, I want to essay here a few ideas through Brown’s example as well as through two other entwined books about ordinary creative courage. You may recognize yourself and your own situation – or that of someone you care about.

What is it you must resist to be brave? Read more

Books That Matter to Die Empty Author Todd Henry

unnamedTwenty years ago, conversations around creativity revolved around creative thinking. Lateral thinking. Metaphorical thinking. Design thinking. Those thinking models remain useful, but what we talk about when we talk about creativity today exceeds creative thinking.

We talk about living creatively and being creative, not just thinking creatively. One person whose work in this field I admire and who’s leading part of this conversation is Todd Henry.

Todd brings a refreshing voice of sanity to being a creative professional or entrepreneur. Think Marcus Aurelius or Thomas Merton meets David Allen’s Get Things DoneThe Accidental Creative: How to be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice offers creatives a practical dashboard to maximizing how to come up with ideas while staying healthy.

His new book – Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day – works from this idea: “Don’t go to your grave with your best work in you. Die empty.” It’s as much about character as it is about creativity. He takes little – how we spend time, how we spend money, how we eat – for granted or outside of the creative life.

What books have shaped Todd’s thinking and living? In this Books That Matter feature, you will discover the books that shape this ethical creative’s pragmatic heart and mind. And his view of publishing’s future sounds spot-on.  Read more

Solo-preneurs’ Dangerous Misreading of the DIY Story

pattismithNote: This is a op-ed blended with personal narrative. It’s unapologetically 3200 words. I welcome your views and comments to further the conversation.

1. Are You a Punk or Outlaw? 

The DIY movement has its roots in home improvement – decades before Home Depot made it vogue and cheap. But its more current currency has rougher roots. For over thirty years, DIY has come to mean

  • doing something without the need of professionals or experts
  • doing something outside and without the need of institutional support or validation

DIYbio is a good example of how people are learning biology and how to conduct biology experiments of their own without university or government support.

DIY Rocketeers are another example of people who aim to reach outer space without NASA.

DIY at its best has the spirit to empower people who feel on the fringes and disenfranchised. Imagine a young Patti Smith amping up in London, 1976. Unbridled, rough, raucous, she belted out spontaneously to the “mob of hapless kids” questions like, “Do you feel frustrated? Do you feel like a loser?”(1) What became tagged as punk rock – and later alternative rock like it – had at its core the drive to buck the music industry machine – not unlike, for country and western fans, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson starting their “outlaw country” movement several years before Patti Smith’s London performance.

Punks and outlaws form the original spirit of the contemporary DIY movement.

Most creatives and entrepreneurs reading this piece might or might not think of themselves as punks or outlaws. Yet they might, quietly, feel frustrated and cast on the outside of this digital world abuzz with promises of glory, hardwired happiness, and badass creativity. If anything roils their middle-aged heads, it’s this peculiar online and cultural conversation that is the latest iteration of the DIY Story.

At its best, this latest act of the DIY Story has empowerment at heart. To empower people to educate themselves, hone their own skills, and create for themselves without necessarily having to rely upon paying experts, attaining a formal education, or thriving by receiving a field’s institutional approval.

No more hoop-jumping. No more gate-keeper passing. Assume the Nike ethos, and Just Do It Yourself.

Want to make art? JDIY.

Want to write, design, and publish a book? JDIY.

Want a website? JDIY.

Want to start a business? JDIY.

But taken the wrong way, this version of the DIY Story actually can turn out to be ironically expensive, frustrating, and self-limiting.  Read more

Publishing Options for Hybrid Authors Like Laraine Herring

Screen Shot 2013-09-16 at 5.22.28 PMThis is a story about seeing beyond either/or. It’s a story about choosing friends and fulfillment and your readers while still forwarding your career. It’s a story about collaborative publishing. It’s a tale of two novels, too, coming out on the same day by the same author.

But context, first. (Skip down if you don’t like context.)

Renowned screenwriter, playwright, and essayist David Mamet decided, with his agent, to self-publish his next book – a novella and two short stories. He did so not because the Pulitzer Prize-winning author couldn’t get a book deal. He did it because it made sense – financially and artistically. In this New York Times piece by Leslie Kaufman, Mamet says,

Basically I am doing this because I am a curmudgeon and because publishing is like Hollywood – nobody ever does the marketing they promise. Read more

Your Big, Bold Creative Life with Melissa Dinwiddie: Tracking Wonder Conversation

MelissaDinwiddie_bigsmile-e1368336180385We often hear about the importance of play when it comes to creating new things and ideas. John Cleese says, “If you want creative workers, give them enough time to play.”

But what about creating a new life? A whole new way of viewing yourself and of acting in the world? Where does play come into what I would call this existential creativity (Sartre in a sandbox, anyone)?

If it’s hard work to create a book or a CD or a program, then it must be hard work to create the life you’ve dreamed of. Right? And if it’s hard work, where is there any room for play?

Those are some of the questions I ask in the comments section below and the questions we’ll live in today with my special guest, Melissa Dinwiddie on this edition of Tracking Wonder ConversationsRead more

Books That Matter to Pam Houston


When William Faulkner won the Nobel Prize for Literature, he implored the then-younger, perhaps more jaded writers to exhibit this quality. The next year, John Steinbeck followed suit and called for it as well. Maxine Hong Kingston has called it the most important quality a writer can possess.

And David Foster Wallace rhapsodized about it, which was then valorized in this viral video and perhaps suffered from living with it in such high measures.

It’s not focus. Not discipline. Not imagination. Not talent. Although every one of those counts in large measures.

I am talking about compassion, and Pam Houston knows, lives, and writes with it. It seems as much her companion as her dog Dante.

Readers find it in her characters from one of her much-loved intertwined short stories in Cowboys Are My Weakness or her most recent novel Contents May Have Shifted (Pam travels a lot) or from one of her three other titles. Students find it in at U.C. Davis where she directs the Creative Writing Program and at writer’s conferences around the country, including the Taos Summer Writer’s Conference where Pam and I taught for numerous years.

(Science of creativity link: By the way, there’s a reciprocity between compassion and reading fiction. It turns out Jean-Jacques Rousseau was right: Reading fiction develops some people’s social intelligence, empathy, and capacity to read other people’s emotions.)

I’m pleased to share with you today the Books That Matter to Pam Houston. Read more

Inside Your Brave New Story

Screen Shot 2013-05-29 at 1.38.23 AMHere’s what I’ve been hearing: Something in us aches to be free and brave to create what matters. To take risks to stand up and stand out. To tell the Story we know must be told.

But time dogs us. We make a creative mess more than a mountaintop. We’re not sure how to shape our account, plot, or subject matter into a Story that will move the hearts and minds of the people who need it.

We blush to admit any of this because we think we should have it all figured out by now and soldier forward on our own, or we’re convinced our story is frivolous. “Who am I?” we say. “My story isn’t new. I should focus on other urgencies.”

And still the ache burns. And the ache becomes a calling.

For anyone who yearns to be heard and for anyone whose voice feels caged in a cubicle or sliced on a chopping board, I’ve made two things for you.  Read more

For Authors Ready for the Life-Affirming Fact

In the Tower of Babel that is publishing these days, it’s easy for authors to get distracted and to side-track their creative process in favor of over-thinking viable creative products.  The push to publish and profit can override the hardest fact.

I’m offering four spots in a program and then a free call for a select group of authors who want to be smart about the hardest fact.You can’t ignore the push to publish, and you need to know your options for shipping – whether your shippable product is a book, ebook, educational experience, brand, or seminar. But that’s not the hardest fact.

If you’re self-publishing (or self-enterprising), it’s almost near-impossible – although I’m not convinced yet it’s impossible – to bypass the traditional or even Amazon’s alternative distribution models and, hence, knock out middlemen’s profits. But that’s not the hardest fact.Publishing among the Big 6 (or is it 5 or 4 now?) still puts up big gates for you to learn to navigate. But that’s not the hardest fact.

You need to build your own audience, and you need to learn how to promote and market. It’s part of being an author-entrepreneur, like it or not, who figures out how to build a platform and craft a brand that fits. But that’s also not the hardest fact.

A former Yahoo exec nailed the hardest fact at the Tools of Change Conference.

Tim Sanders, the C.E.O. of NetMinds, defined it this way in Betsy Morais’s New Yorker piece “A Book is a Start-Up.”

“The biggest problem with authors today is that they overestimate their writing and editing skills. [Without editing], it would have been the ‘The Meh Gatsby.’”

Oh, how we don’t like to hear that. But his statement is true of all of us. Every one of us. Even of F. Scott Fitzgerald. He had on his side Max Perkins, the editor of editors who virtually helped reshape Gatsby and even nudged Fitz toward the great, and ironic, title.

But Sanders’ model and even Peter Armstrong‘s model at LeanPub don’t completely solve the problem.

I’ve been surveying the industry by listening to, talking with, and reading what agents, editors, distributors, and authors are saying matters today. And it keeps coming back to unsexy matters like hard work, learn your craft, practice, study the market, study your options.

Almost every author in the highly recommended Why We Write anthology says as such.And according to this Time Magazine article by Megan Gibson when Random House snagged 17-year-old writing sensation Beth Reekles’s The Kissing Booth, her editor Lauren Buckland was impressed less by her vast online fan base than by her writing:“The book was in fantastic shape….It was quite a new thing for us to find such a talented writer on an online platform.” Never mind she’s 17.

I heard this same mantra repeatedly among publishers, editors, and consultants at the Digital Book World Conference:You can have a million Twitter followers, but if you can’t write a good book, you won’t get a book deal. (and probably not much of an audience who really needs your book’s medicine)

So what do you do?

First, know where you are on the Amateur-to-Maestro Continuum. If you’re a power horse in one field, but you’re an amateur in the authorship field, admit it. If you’re a well-published author who, like Fitz, has gotten along well enough but admittedly is still learning your craft with this new book project (uh, when do you stop learning it?), then admit it.

We can admit we’re apprentice-authors. No, don’t admit it.

Announce it! Don’t admit it as if it’s a self-denying, shameful confession. Announce it as a self-affirming confirmation that you love to learn as a continuously curious and seeking human being.

We can learn specific arts as apprentice-authors.

We can find our Wild Pack – which is an improved refinement to crowd-sourcing your start-up book.

We can mentor ourselves and each other.

We can commit to the life’s path toward mastery without expecting to reach it. At least not within the next few weeks.


Between being a wide-eyed and big-hearted amateur and being a gratified and engaging author is being a hard-studying and life-affirming apprentice. And in our culture at large and in our Internet culture specifically, we have an Apprenticeship Gap.

And here’s the real hard fact: Most real authors remain apprentices their whole life. Acknowledge that, and you realize nothing is “wrong” with you. You’re just a human being hungry to do what we do best – learn.

We love to learn and thrive in optimal learning spaces. That’s not a hard fact. It’s a life-affirming fact.

So grateful to run with you – and Happy Spring,

Jen Louden on the Shadows & Joys to Teach Now

A TRACKING WONDER Conversation with Jen Louden
& How We Can Step Up & Teach Now

(+ smashing hard-boiled eggs, feeling like fried leather, getting out of fish bowls, why we have no time for sacred fetuses, & lots of laughter)
Our Tracking Wonder Conversations connect you with creative people who both captivate our hearts and minds and who elevate us to do meaningful work.

This conversation is about stepping into your full potential and bringing your best self forward when you do one of the most fundamental things we human beings do, teach. And I hold the conversation with one of the brightest lights in both the Internet world and in the face-and-flesh world, Jen Louden.

Jen is co-founder of TeachNow, a 10-week engaging online course designed to transform you as a teacher as well as a pioneering author in the self-help movement.

In this Tracking Wonder Conversation, Jen and I talk about the fears, challenges, and pay-offs of standing up for what you believe to be true and teaching it from a genuine space.

We also talk about impatience. In our culture of speed, we sometimes think that if we snag a bit of someone else’s deeply ingested medicine, then that qualifies us to go out and teach that medicine to others. This is tricky business, and we don’t shy away from the topic.

This conversation includes insights on

  •  how our fears can motivate us
  •  how to get out of your “fishbowl” to be a better teacher
  •  subversive questions to ask as a teacher
  •  allowing time for “the sacred fetus” without getting stuck there
  •  finding your honest place as a teacher
  • what are the happiest and unhappiest jobs polled in the U.S.
  • why TeachNow is unique among programs for coaches, consultants, teachers, & anyone ready to teach


  • How Jen deals with stress and hard-boiled eggs
  • Whether or not “fried leather” is an eloquent image (my vote is “yes”)
  • How I got over my fear of Michael’s Crafts stores

Read more