Wed, July 02 2008

Beating writer’s block

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Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Writing •

Hands down, the best book on writing is Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.  If you have to do any writing in your job - or if you secretly believe you have the Great American Novel buried somewhere inside you - get this guide.  I’ve read it three times, and I still come back to it when I hit a block.  Buy it if you’re stuck or seeking inspiration. 

This week, I’m sharing a few things that I find inspiring, and Anne Lamott’s advice on starting a writing project is very inspiring.  Especially the part about ridding yourself of your inner critics, who get in the way of getting the words down.

Here’s what she says:

Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft—you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft—you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.

What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head. First there’s the vinegar-lipped Reader Lady, who says primly, “Well, that’s not very interesting, is it?” And there’s the emaciated German male who writes these Orwellian memos detailing your thought crimes. And there are your parents, agonizing over your lack of loyalty and discretion; and there’s William Burroughs, dozing off or shooting up because he finds you as bold and articulate as a houseplant; and so on. And there are also the dogs: let’s not forget the dogs, the dogs in their pen who will surely hurtle and snarl their way out if you ever stop writing, because writing is, for some of us, the latch that keeps the door of the pen closed, keeps those crazy ravenous dogs contained.

Quieting these voices is at least half the battle I fight daily. But this is better than it used to be. It used to be 87 percent. Left to its own devices, my mind spends much of its time having conversations with people who aren’t there. I walk along defending myself to people, or exchanging repartee with them, or rationalizing my behavior, or seducing them with gossip, or pretending I’m on their TV talk show or whatever. I speed or run an aging yellow light or don’t come to a full stop, and one nanosecond later am explaining to imaginary cops exactly why I had to do what I did, or insisting that I did not in fact do it.

I happened to mention this to a hypnotist I saw many years ago, and he looked at me very nicely. At first I thought he was feeling around on the floor for the silent alarm button, but then he gave me the following exercise, which I still use to this day.

Close your eyes and get quiet for a minute, until the chatter starts up. Then isolate one of the voices and imagine the person speaking as a mouse. Pick it up by the tail and drop it into a mason jar. Then isolate another voice, pick it up by the tail, drop it in the jar. And so on. Drop in any high-maintenance parental units, drop in any contractors, lawyers, colleagues, children, anyone who is whining in your head. Then put the lid on, and watch all these mouse people clawing at the glass, jabbering away, trying to make you feel like shit because you won’t do what they want—won’t give them more money, won’t be more successful, won’t see them more often. Then imagine that there is a volume-control button on the bottle. Turn it all the way up for a minute, and listen to the stream of angry, neglected, guiltmongering voices. Then turn it all the way down and watch the frantic mice lunge at the glass, trying to get to you. Leave it down, and get back to your shitty first draft.

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Tue, July 01 2008

Inspiration week: Napalm and forgiveness

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Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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I was driving home tonight slightly grumpy because of the minor brush fires I felt I’d been extinguishing all day at the office.  I had on All Things on Considered but was hardly listening.  There was far too much noise in my mind as I reflected on the day.  It’s summer, donors are on vacation, we’re maybe in a recession, gas prices are all anyone talks about, and business just seems tougher than usual.  It’s all getting on my nerves.

And then I heard this woman speaking on the radio.  And I listened to every word until I was in tears.

It was Kim Phuc, the woman from that horrible picture from the Vietnam War.  She is in that iconic photograph running naked from a napalm-bombing attack near Saigon.  She was telling her story for the series, This I Believe.

Kim Phuc told the story of watching her clothes burn from her body at age nine, the same age as the daughter I drove to sleepaway camp for the first time yesterday.  She speaks of knowing in that minute that her life was changed, that she would be horribly scarred and different forever.  She lived through 17 surgeries in 14 months.  She talks of wanting to be a doctor but the government took her from school to make her a political symbol.  She lost everything.

She says:

The anger inside me was like a hatred as high as a mountain. I hated my life. I hated all people who were normal because I was not normal. I really wanted to die many times.

Then she speaks of how she overcame that mountain with forgiveness.  That is what she believes—she believes in forgiveness.

She said,

Napalm is very powerful but faith, forgiveness and love are much more powerful. We would not have war at all if everyone could learn how to live with true love, hope and forgiveness. 
If that little girl in the picture can do it, ask yourself: Can you?

I have never felt more forgiving in my life.  Or as inane for my worries when I got in the car.  Or as grateful for extraordinary people that remind us that life is about such vastly bigger, simpler things.

I declare this week inspiration week.  I feel we all need it right about now.  Each day, I’ll try to share someone or something I find inspiring.  And a good place to start is someone who inspires us to forgive ourselves and others. 

Please take five minutes and listen to it here (you can read it, but click to listen to the recording to hear her voice - it’s the best way to experience this story).  It is worth every last second of your time, particularly if you are feeling unforgiving.  Or just grumpy.  It will all go away when you listen to Kim Phuc.


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Fri, June 27 2008

Knowing your audience as real people

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Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

This week, a couple of colleagues of mine were out at nonprofit and technology networking events and miraculously, each met someone who reads this blog.  This was nice ego boost to be honest.  Some days, as all bloggers and writers must feel at times, I’m not sure who is actually reading the stuff, if anyone.  Whatever the traffic stats say, it’s hard to feel the audience when you can’t see them. 

But about five seconds after my ego started to puff up, it promptly deflated.

“Hmmm, there are people out there reading and I haven’t posted since Monday,” I thought.

Followed by, “Gee, I hope the last few posts were decent.”

Then I asked my colleagues about the people who said they read the blog.  Interesting, smart people working for worthy causes, natch.

Then I felt inspired.  Because I started getting the vivid sense of audience I have when I speak to groups in person. 

My little thought process caused me to reflect on the importance of keeping our audience in our minds when we engage with them.  I don’t mean audience in the abstract.  I mean a few representative, REAL human beings.  When we’re writing a blog post, fundraising appeal, annual report, whatever—it really helps to think of it as a direct communication to Bob or Nancy or Andre, rather than a missive to a sea of faceless folks.  It inspires us, motivates us, improves our work and enriches our tone.

When Network for Good started marketing our services to nonprofits, I wrote little biographies of made-up people that represented key audience segments.  I had Technophobic Tina, for example, with details on where she lived and worked, the many hats she wore at her small nonprofit and the solutions she was seeking.  Whenever I wrote up product information for people who weren’t of the geek ilk, I’d think of Tina.  It really helped.

It’s sort of like the Stanislavski method for audience-based communications.  There are whole books on the topic, especially in terms of how it relates to customer experience.  But you don’t need any special expertise to do this.  Just sketch out the profiles of a few people out there, hang them over your desk, and talk to them when you address your audience.

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Tue, June 24 2008

Making it easy to be green

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Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

eMarketer has an interesting report today saying:

Burst Media noted that US Internet users ages 18 to 24 had a greater tendency to fully integrate green behavior into their daily lifestyles than did their older counterparts. Nearly 10% of respondents in that age group said they “completely” incorporated environmentalism into their lives. The group ages 25 to 34 ranked second-highest, at 6.3%, while other groups hovered in the 3% to 5% range.

It should be noted that the Burst survey categorized its responses according to the degree to which people adopted eco-friendly habits, and the vast majority of respondents across all age groups put themselves in the “somewhat” category—leaving open the possibility that different perceptions among respondents of “somewhat” and “completely” could color the survey findings.

A JupiterResearch study of US teen Internet users found that green teens, who are especially concerned about or committed to environmental causes, were noticeably more likely than other teens to engage in e-commerce, visit movie or mobile content Web sites, participate in chat rooms and use digital photo services.

This finding correlates greenness with overall engagement in new technologies and online social behavior. Any marketer seeking to connect with the teen audience should take note of the potentially powerful link between environmental sensitivity and a willingness to use online channels for e-commerce, social networking, and content consumption and sharing.

Despite this correlation between youth and environmental consciousness, other studies have noted that older Internet users are more likely to take specific measures to curtail their consumption of resources.

A Harris Interactive poll of US Internet users’ environmental activities found that mature respondents (ages 63 and older) were the most likely group to engage in energy reduction in their homes, purchase energy-efficient appliances, buy more locally grown food and break their bottled water habits. Further, in the first two of those categories, the second-most-active group was the baby boomer generation (ages 44 to 62).

A 2007 survey of the shopping behaviors of US baby boomers by AARP and Focalyst found that 70% of respondents—an estimated 40 million boomers—use their purchasing power to buy environmentally safe brands.

These “green boomers” are more demanding of quality in the products and services they buy, more attuned to advertising and more likely to exercise brand loyalty than other members of their generation, according to AARP and Focalyst.

“We anticipate that as time goes on, more and more boomer shoppers will simply expect brands to be eco-friendly,” said Heather Stern, director of marketing at Focalyst, in a statement. “Rather than this being a point of brand differentiation, it will be a price of entry.”

Here’s what I think:

1. Most people want to feel they are totally “green.”
2. Most people, as Seth Godin will tell you, are lazy and in a hurry.
3. Most people, therefore, are in practice “somewhat” green, whatever their self-perception.  They do some things that are environmentally responsible as long as they aren’t too hard, inconvenient, time-consuming or expensive.  (I am in this category.)
4. Young people are the most well-intentioned - but also lazy and in a hurry. 
5. The marketers that succeed are those that make it very easy to be green, whatever your age. 

Don’t be a Kermit the Frog, “it’s not easy being green” marketer.  Make it easy to take action, to make the right choices, to support your organization.  I know we need energy and time to be truly green, but most people are only somewhat green.  We have to start somewhere with them.  They’ll get greener one baby step at a time.  After all, people want to feel green - there’s a demand - so meet it with easy, concrete actions that collectively may just make a difference.

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Tue, June 24 2008

Guest Post: Good Ideas Party

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Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Fun stuff •

Katya’s note:  A few weeks ago, I got invited to a very cool party for cutting edge nonprofits in New York.  (Can’t believe I made the guest list…)  I couldn’t go, sadly, so I asked the organizers of the NY event to fill in me and my blog readers on their party via a guest post.  Here is Jerri Chou of alldaybuffet with her report.

By Jerri Chou

If anyone needs to understand how to get things done, it’s those working on some of the most important social causes and issues of our day.

So recently, alldaybuffet, an organization that brings together the creative and social worlds, teamed up with Behance, a company that helps creative people be more productive, to throw an Internet Week event called Make Good Ideas Happen.

In an introduction to the world of creative productivity, three nonprofits—StartingBloc, City Year, and Sustainable South Bronx—presented themselves and their initiatives, inviting the creative community to provide ideas, action steps and contacts to help make their ideas happen.

And for one hot night, 250-300 creative and idealistic professionals showed up to the roof of the Delancey in New York where business cards flew, next steps filled white boards and engaging conversations flooded a tropical rooftop. In addition to generating contacts, strategies awareness, a rare level of communication between nonprofits and the creative community was a great productivity driver.

Mission statements came to life as City Year corps members explained what they do day-to-day and StartingBloc executives showed off the breadth of a network that reaches from London Business School to Goldman Sachs. Meanwhile, creatives filled the gaps in knowledge of these social leaders and put a face to everything from IA to brand planning.

At alldaybuffet we really feel (and it’s often proven by our initiatives) that one of the best ways to ensure next steps is to connect and learn about the people you’d like to be working with face-to-face.

You can pour over websites, brochures and PDFs, but when it comes down to it, you learn differently through dialogue. It’s the same reason a teacher is often more effective than a “How To” book. You can ask questions and dynamically fill in your gaps in information based on what you know, what you don’t, and where your interests lie.

That effort to understand is extremely important. One of the biggest confusions comes from lack of knowledge of how things work. Indesign what? XML who? Nonprofits, just like creatives need to make an effort to understand where each person is coming from, if you’re open, that understanding will come and will help you better understand what the next steps really are instead of dodging lingo.

Of course, while we can all learn a lot through dialogue, it also helps you understand what you don’t understand. Finding out what you don’t know, and either learning more about it or accepting that you can’t possibly make the time to will help you determine what resources you actually need and who you need to help you implement them.

How do you find those people? By building personal connections and, while we love the Internet, ala Internet Week, face-to-face meeting is still one of the best ways to make a direct, impactful and lasting connection. After all, we’re social creatures and as faces are one of the most familiar social tools, putting a name to a face is still one of the most powerful means of communicating. But more than any face book profile, engaging with someone allows you to read body language, see a person’s passion through expressions, ideas and gestures of another human being. It’s these human components that motivate people to act more than any email list.

Of course, if you’re going to be doing a large-scale project, you will need large scale help. Understanding exactly what someone can do, and a realistic idea of how much they can do is key to creating a long lasting relationship.

We look forward to seeing what the creative world can do to help and what more we can teach the social world about being more productive. If anything, we and the future depend on it.

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