Measuring Success
by Alex Shippee in Labels: , , ,

One of the first things I did when I moved out of my parents' house was buy a calendar. It cost two dollars and I hung it on the wall next to my desk. This is an idea I stole from Jerry Seinfeld where he would mark an 'X' on his calendar every day he sat down and worked on his jokes. I reproduced this habit hoping it would help me stick to a writing schedule. As I write this, it is only Day 8, and I can't say I've completed some doctorate program in creative discipline. But enough time has gone by that I have learned the following things:
* Day 1 might have been the most important step. I sat on this idea for a few days because I knew once I started, I wouldn't want to break that chain (which is true). If I did, this would become just another ambition that fizzled when things got hard. Instead, when I finished writing that day, October 21st, I marked my first 'X' with a feeling of humble accomplishment. It felt good.
* Days 2-3 were when I really started to feel the building momentum. These were the easiest 'X's to mark.
* Days 4-5 were not only the continuation of my budding productivity, but also of a new work week. At the end of these days I couldn't bring myself to work on the same story I've been adding to since April. Instead, I drafted a blog post and started a piece of non-fiction. This gave me a creative rush I'd liken to overcoming the exhausting middle point of a long run or swim. It was smooth sailing for a while.
* Day 6 was the first day I when I would rather do ANYTHING except write. But I did. I scribbled some unpublishable thoughts in my moleskin on Day 6 and marked my 'X,' although reluctantly. Did this really count as a success?
* Day 7 was a strange day. I realized that when I last left the main story I had been writing this past week, I had just reached the point I had been working towards since I started the first page six months earlier. And now I had been neglecting it. I turned on the right music for that particular moment in the story and wrote while standing up. It was a struggle, but an invigorating one. Still, when I went to sleep I realized I hadn't written much more than 500 words, and yet I still marked an 'X.' This is when I realized that if I wanted to get even more out of this experiment, I would need stricter rules for measuring my success.
* Day 8 is what I'm working on at the time of this first draft. I opened up my main story, but couldn't get out more than a few edits. I'm tired and I know I need to get to sleep soon. I think to myself "I wrote and edited for work today. Doesn't that count?" I answer myself, almost immediately: "No." With work, I have the motivation of my bosses, co-workers, and clients. When it comes to my private writing, I have only myself to rely on . That's what my first week taught me: sticking to a regiment is an exercise in self-motivation. On Day 1, my motivation was to do anything. By Day 6, I started to realize that setting the bar so low would furnish only meager results.
I started to sense this problem when writing on a Saturday: instead of working through the anxiety, I would make another cup of coffee, talk to my roommate, watch 30 Rock for "inspiration"...but really I was just scared to sit still. I finally did start to write in earnest, but by then it was also late and I was tired. If I had worked through that fear hours earlier I would have gotten more accomplished. Still, I wrote in an 'X' because I had successfully sat down and written. For the first week, "anything" is infinitely more valuable than "nothing." For the second week, and beyond, I'm going to start measuring my success. Otherwise, how can I say that 'X's on my calendar are anything more than decoration?
The following books, blogs, and articles have helped me in the past and will continue to do so in the future. I'm clearly not an expert on any of this, but maybe they can help you, too. And, as a rule, they aren't confined to writing. All creative endeavors face similar roadblocks:
The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield (book)
The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand (book)
The Business of Running, by Ryan Holiday (blog)
The Inferno, by Dante Alighieri (book)

The Hustler King: Inspiration
by Alex Shippee in Labels: , , ,

I had a professor while at Marist that shared the unhealthy, manic lifestyle of his students. He'd come into class - over caffeinated and wearing a four day beard - and tell us about the essay he was trying to finish on a tight deadline. He was very easy to relate to, although it didn't hurt that he was one of the younger professors at 32. I remember one time, before our first test, he had a review session at about 8 P.M., at least twelve hours since he got to work. The inspiring part wasn't that he was still working - anybody can do that - but that he was still gushing energy and happiness to perform the most fundamental part of his job: teaching students.

When I think about the perfect leader, I usually come up with an image that one of my favorite writers, Robert Greene, would call the "Hustler King," a leader that is still in tune with the daily struggles of his enterprise. That proximity is the source of his strength. The person grading his students' papers, learning their ideas, is the professor; the person solving the client's problem, sharing their frustration, is the CEO; the person behind the camera, explaining to customers what went wrong, is not the PR people, it's the person who was responsible for the mistake.

At some point in time, every job gets delegated down to somebody else. Professors have TAs, CEOs have employees, and companies have PR firms. This is the typical way organizations develop and grow. It's average. It's normal. It works. But with that delegation comes an almost aristocratic distance. Being far away from your students, your customers, your clients, your robs you of that intimate knowledge that breeds real intuition. That's what I want for myself one day.

I see that professor as an example of a Hustler King, jubilant to still be helping his students learn at 8 o'clock at night. What other Hustler Kings are out there? Do you know any that inspire you?

Humans on Twitter
by Alex Shippee in Labels: , ,

When you're on Twitter everyday, it can seem like a very impersonal tool. I recently read this post titled "Learn From Your Friends To Make The Most of Twitter." He mentioned my company's Twitter, @tcgagency, but this was my favorite part:

"By now, there’s been plenty of blog posts written about the various ways to effectively use Twitter, so I’m not going to bother writing what they are. Instead, I wanted to give some “props” to the people who have helped me build my Twitter account and communication skills on the site. They exemplify what I feel to be the foundations of a successful Twitter profile: community, value, authenticity, and sharing."

This is a smart and very communal idea. Behind this, is something very similar to Follow Friday (#FF) - where users recommend people whose content they enjoy - but with more authenticity and expression. Anyone can tweet a few account names, but it takes more time and thought to write something about them. It's a gesture that shows you've been paying attention to someone and it makes for stronger bonds.

Twitter makes it easier than ever before to communicate with someone, but with that ease comes laziness. A lot of accounts will just tweet links to articles - it's amazing how many places you can get the latest from Mashable - without any indication that they read or even something away from them. These pusillanimous accounts are half way between nonsensical spam and users that really try to build relationships.

There's a good amount of talk about just how powerful bonds built over social media are. I think a good rule of thumb is that you're more likely to build a relationship if you feel like you behave and communicate similarly offline and if you take chances, even if you are a little shaky (fast forward to 12:42 where his company, that made a video amidst a PR crisis received playful, sociable responses). Because if you don't show people that you're human and trying to get involved in the conversation, than how are they going to find out?