Friday, June 17, 2011

Must Love Girls

image via

The folks at the skirt! Creative Conference surely know how to save the best for last. The workshops and talks on Friday and Saturday had been so informative and so inspirational I could returned to Birmingham Saturday night and felt I got my money’s worth. But, boy am I glad I stuck around.

Sunday’s keynote speaker was Claire Cook (pictured above), author of the best-selling novel Must Love Dogs, on which the 2005 romantic comedy of the same name was based.

Cook is one of the most down-to-earth writers I’ve ever met. She has this generous spirit that’s so bright it’s contagious. And she’s a woman who believes in sisterhood and solidarity. In fact, near the beginning of her talk she shared a famous quote by Madeleine Albright: "There's a place in Hell reserved for women who don't help other women." 

Cook gave us practical advice, such as: Collect email addresses everywhere you go. Add your Facebook and Twitter sites to your business cards. The best way to become a better writer is to become a voracious reader. Choose one project and work on it wholeheartedly until it’s complete instead of dabbling in too much at once.

But the real message I took from her talk was simply love yourself, love other people, work hard and play nice.

Love yourself. Stop trying to imitate your favorite author or trying to write the kind of book that seems to be popular these days. Write your story. What is the thing about you that gives you a book only you can write? Tap into that and write from that place. Novelist Emily Giffin, who wrote Something Borrowed (also adapted for film) and a host of other books, spoke at the conference and she too gave this advice.   

Love other people. When you’re trying to make it big as a writer, or whatever your career of choice may be, it’s tempting to only look out for yourself, to only focus on your goals. This is a mistake. Cook has spent years offering free workshops to people, especially women, because she wants to help others. But by helping others you often indirectly help yourself as you build a name for yourself and build a community of supporters who will be your biggest fans.

Work hard. When working on a novel, Cook commits to writing two pages every day. Period. No exceptions. Set a similar rule for yourself so you can complete your project.

Play nice. The Must Love Dogs movie almost didn’t happen, but it did mostly because Cook is a kind person. Gary David Goldberg revoked his initial offer to make the movie, but instead of burning bridges and breaking ties, Cook wrote him a thank you note showing gratitude for even being considered. This started a great friendship and when Goldberg was once again in a position to make the film he did. And Cook made enough money to put her kids through college.

Because I’m a feminist, Cook’s dedication to helping other women obviously stood out to me most and it really encouraged me too. Never again will I doubt the work I do with organizing groups such as See Jane Write. At the end of her talk one of the women in the audience said, “If it’s true that there’s a special place in Hell for women who don’t help other women, there must be a special place in Heaven for you.” To me that is the greatest compliment a woman could ever receive. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

My hair is my brand and other epiphanies

In addition to the change-your-life, Oprah-like sessions I’ve written about, the skirt! Creative Conference also offered very practical workshops on how to promote your writing, including one on social media. Session leaders Taryn Pisaneschi and Desiree Scales echoed a lot of the things I’ve heard at similar seminars, which was reassuring.

Social media is like a hearing aid, they said. You can use it to find out what people are talking about. You can also use it to find events you might want to attend, position yourself as expert and to build your brand.

Something that Twitter rookies always wonder is What should I tweet about? I even know some people who haven’t tried Twitter simply because that question has paralyzed their efforts. Taryn and Desiree reminded the audience that Twitter is just a way to start conversations and really is no different from starting a conversation at a bar or a networking event. You listen a bit to what folks are talking about and jump in when you can with what you have to contribute.  You can make connections through Twitter by simply starting conversations with people tweeting about things you’re interested in, conversations that can sometimes lead to business opportunities.

While we can use Twitter to promote our writing that shouldn’t be all we do.  With that bar conversation model in mind, remember that no one likes to talk to the person who won’t shut up about herself. Your Twitter posts shouldn’t have that “Look at how cool I am!” vibe. Instead focus on others. What information can you share? How can you help others find the contacts they need? This may seem counterintuitive but it will pay off in the long run. In that same vein, they added that the best way to increase traffic and comments on your own blog is to comment on other blogs and feature other bloggers on your site.

Taryn and Desiree then gave a session on brand building. In addition to recommending that we all purchase the web domain for our name and use it as a landing page with links to our blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook accounts, etc., they also discussed things I’d never considered. You are your brand, they stressed, which means your physical appearance is essentially your logo. This sounded scary at first, but not so much after they explained. Basically you need some simple signature. Desiree, for example, has on a stylish necklace in every photo on her websites and therefore always sports one when she’s networking or at speaking events. Taryn usually wears something pink to match the dominant color of her website.

So I got to thinking: what could be my signature? My husband is community manager for an advertising agency and I instantly knew what his signature would be: his tie. He’s known for wearing colorful and stylish ties and he wears a tie to work every single day even on Fridays when his co-workers are sporting jeans. But I had no idea what my signature could be. 

When I told my husband that I had to sit and think about this, he actually laughed at me. It didn’t take me too long, though. In between sessions I kept meeting women who would come up to me and say, “You’re WriteousBabe!” which is my Twitter handle and the name I use for the blog I write for skrit.com.  “Yeah, that’s me,” I’d say. Then they’d say, “I knew it was you as soon as I saw the hair.”

Of course! My big curly coif is my signature! Ironically, as I type this I’m rocking straight hair, which I do only about three times a year. But don’t worry, I’ll be sure to bring back the curls before my next networking event. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Why I No Longer Want to Be a Champion

The second day of the skirt! Creative Conference began with breakout sessions (that is after a delicious breakfast prepared by the wait staff at the W Hotel Midtown). I attended a session called Desperately Seeking Musings, in which, ironically, speaker Michelle Goss taught us it’s not very effective to desperately seek inspiration. And she has a point. Think about it: when you’re facing writer’s block and you’re sitting there staring at a blank page or blank screen, does it ever help to keep telling yourself, Try harder, try harder? Of course it doesn’t.

What Goss explained is that to truly unlock our creativity in a way that it becomes a way to live and not just a thing to do we must change our life perspective.

We have four choices:

1. The victim. She believes life is happening to her, that it’s a mystery over which she has no control.  She says things like “Why does this always happen to me?”

2. The champion. She believes life is a problem to solve. She’s constantly working to improve and manipulate her circumstances and fix the problems of others.

3. Spiritual Adult. She believes life is an ally that gives her feedback to grow and change. Life is a joy not a burden.

4. Soul. She believes life is a divine mystery and we are all interconnected. She knows she’s completely loved by the Source of all Love without having to do anything.

As soon as these were presented I instantly knew where I stood. I’m a champion. I wake up each morning and, in my head, immediately start rattling off a list of problems, my own and those of others, and what I will do that day in an attempt to solve them. The champion life perspective is popular and endorsed, but it’s exhausting. How on earth can I be creative when my brain is filled to the brim with problems? So I no longer want to be a champion, as crazy as that sounds. I want to be the kind of person who believes that all things that happen to me, both good and bad, can help me grow. With that type of perspective I can live at ease, setting my mind free to create.     

Monday, June 13, 2011

Creativity in the Time of Corrosion

This weekend I had the privilege to attend the skirt! Creative Conference, a two-day event in Atlanta, Georgia for creative women, specifically women writers, organized by skirt! magazine. Never before have I been in an environment in which I was surrounded by women who understand my passions and dreams and who genuinely seem to want me to succeed even though they’d only known me a few hours or a few minutes even. Any attempt to describe how amazing the weekend was will fall short, but over the next few days I will try to share some of the wealth of inspiration and information I received.

The conference kicked off with a keynote address by Kim Marcille Romaner, founder of Possibilities Amplified, Inc. and author of The Science of Making Things Happen: Turn Any Possibility into Reality. Her talk was called Creativity in the Time of Corrosion: 6 Strategies for Surviving Today's Belief Crisis. Why is this a time of corrosion? Quite simply because things suck – the economy is still sluggish, natural disasters are ripping through the country, and many other nations are facing civil unrest. How do you hold on to your faith, how do you hold on to the belief that you can make your creative dreams come true in the midst of all this?

Though Romaner’s theories are rooted in complex scientific theories, they’re actually quite simple.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I tweet, therefore I am





Two weeks ago See Jane Write hosted a social media seminar called See Jane Tweet. Our dynamic speakers Erin Shaw Street and Kristen Record Heptinstall shared with attendees invaluable information about Twitter, why it's important, and how we women writers can make it work for us. 


Since then I've attended yet another seminar on social media and the two things that keep coming up, the things that stick out to me most, are the ideas that your social media identity truly is an extension of who you really are and that social media tools do not cut us off from "real world" relationships but actually enhance them by helping us forge new connections. 

Erin shared at See Jane Tweet that she has connected with more likeminded people in Birmingham in two years via Twitter than in 11 years of living here.

With these things in mind it is thus so important that show our personalities when using Twitter and other social media tools. You can show who you are by what you tweet about.  Use Twitter to give attention to people, topics, and causes you care about. Sure, you want to share your own writing but also share interesting content produced by others because as Kristen and Erin said in their presentation, "No one likes a non-stop self-promoter."  Tweet a news story, a photo, or a song lyric stuck in your head. Another way of doing that is by retweeting links. And don’t be afraid to share your opinions in your tweets. 

If you're still not on the social media bandwagon, after the jump find 10 easy steps to hopping on the Twitter train, all tips from Erin and Kristen's wonderful presentation.