10 ways to answer the dreaded, “Can I pick your brain?” question… gracefully.


“Hey! I like what you’re doing in the world. I want to do something like that, too. Could I pick your brain over coffee?”


It’s an innocent inquiry.

It’s driven by a desire to learn, grow and do better.

But for many people, being on the receiving end of this particular question — “Can I pick your brain?” — can create feelings of guilt, stress and resentment.

You want to say “Yes.” After all, you’re a decent person. You want to be helpful and share what you know.

But if you say “Yes” to this person, then that means you have to say “Yes” to the next person… and the next… and so on… and soon?

You won’t have any time & energy left to do your own work or hit your own goals.

Instead, you’ll be running a 24/7 Free Advice Factory for Wayward Souls.


Is there a graceful solution?

I believe so.

The key is to answer the question you WISH they were asking.

Not the question they are ACTUALLY asking.


I will explain.

Here’s an example:


Let’s say somebody writes to me and says:


“Hey Alex! You’ve written some books. I want to write a book, too. Could I pick your brain over coffee?”


The question I WISH they were asking is:


“Hey Alex! I want to write a book. Could you recommend ONE resource that might help me to get started?”


So that’s how I’m going to respond.

Like this:


“Hey! Many thanks for writing.

It’s wonderful that you want to write a book. Nothing feels better than getting to that final line, on the final page, and knowing, I did it!

I’m going to decline your coffee date invitation, but I want to share a terrific resource with you:

It’s a [book / blog / video / program] that I absolutely love — an invaluable resource for aspiring authors: [link]

Oh, and last but not least…

If you’re looking for a place where you can connect with fellow writers, bounce ideas and get support, I would recommend checking out this online community: [link]

I hope both of those resources are helpful to you.

Be well & happy writing!”


And then — since “Can I pick your brain about how to write a book?” is a question I get asked, a lot — I’m going to save that response in the Drafts folder of my inbox so that I can quickly grab it and use it in the future, without needing to reinvent the wheel every time. Easy. Clean. Fast. Ahh.


Here are 10 more ways to address the dreaded “Can I pick your brain?” question… gracefully.


1. “I’m going to decline your coffee date invitation, but I want to share a resource with you…”


2. “I’m going to decline your coffee date invitation, but I want to share one piece of advice with you…”


3. “I’m going to decline your coffee date invitation, but if you’d like to book me for some coaching / consulting, here’s how to do that…”


4. “I’m going to decline your coffee date invitation, but here’s someone else that you should definitely hire…”


5. “I’m going to decline your coffee date invitation, but I’d love to answer your question on my blog / advice column…”


6. “I’m going to decline your coffee date invitation, but if you make a donation to my favorite charity & forward me the receipt, I’d be happy to answer your three biggest questions via email…”


7. “I’m going to decline your coffee date invitation, but here’s a blog post that I wrote about this EXACT topic…”


8. “I’m going to decline your coffee date invitation, but please know that I am rooting for your success. If you give me your mailing address, I’d be happy to pop a little postcard into the mail with some encouraging words…”


9. “I’m going to decline your coffee date invitation, but I have a proposition for you…”


10. “I’m going to decline your coffee date invitation, but I hold a monthly meet-up right here in our fair city. Come on by, if you like. I’d love to connect with you then & there.”


That’s it. Just answer the question you WISH they were asking.

Offer something valuable — just not the exact thing that they’re requesting.

This protects your time & energy, while still allowing you to be gracious and generous.

Everybody wins.

Their heart is happy & full.

And your brain… can go mercifully un-picked.



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Don’t leave a hole where your finest work should go.


Hold me in your heart till you understand.
Hold me in your heart just the way that I am.
With all your faults, I love you.
Don’t give up on me.
I wont give up on you.

– “Hold Me In Your Heart,” Kinky Boots


When Billy Porter belts out “Hold Me In Your Heart” to packed Broadway audiences, the house comes down.

A standing ovation. Every clap, every tear, every cheer is richly deserved.

He is a star — performing the role of a lifetime.

Every cell of his being, committed to the part.

The discipline. The passion. The purpose.

Billy is on fire.

But for 13 years, Billy barely sang a note.

He couldn’t book roles that felt meaningful. He struggled. He floundered. He did not perform.

Instead, he languished in obscurity — and at one point, filed for bankruptcy.

He thought his career as a performing artist was over.

It was not.

13 years after stepping off the stage for (what he thought) was the last time, Billy booked the role that seemed destined for him:

A drag queen with a heart of gold who saves a floundering shoe company from folding under.

It was the ultimate comeback story. A story of grit, persistence and tenacity. Much like Billy’s own story.

After winning the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical, Billy was asked, “After all those years of failure, what inspired you to believe… to keep the faith… to keep going?”

He replied:


“God has dreams for you that you can’t ever imagine having for yourself.”


If Billy Porter had given up after a few abysmal auditions, the world would have no Kinky Boots. (At least, not in the way it was meant to be performed.)

If Thomas Edison had given up 1,000 attempts at inventing the light bulb, the world would be a much darker place.

If Walt Disney had given up after critics told him “lacked imagination and had no good ideas,” the world would have no Mickey Mouse.

If Madeline L’Engle had given up after receiving 29 publishing rejections, the world would have no A Wrinkle in Time. (My favorite young-adult fiction book ever. I’m so grateful she persevered.)

If Robert Goddard had given up after his peers in the scientific community mocked his ideas, the world would have no “rocket science.” No moon landing. No Mars Rover. No Voyager playing Mozart through the cosmos, just in case anyone “else” out there is listening…

If you give up… then what?


The world will be left with a hole where your finest work should go.


Be patient.

Don’t give up.

Do what you are called to do.

And if it provides some comfort, remember Billy’s words:

While you work… and wait… and work some more?

God is dreaming for you.



Why I don’t necessarily want to grow “bigger”. (And why it’s OK if you don’t, either.)


Over the years, dozens of lovely people have said to me…


“So, Alex, when are you going to launch a BIG online program? You’re a natural teacher. You’re so great with words. You could be selling e-courses on writing & communication to tens of thousands, instead of teaching small workshops with just twenty people in a room!”


As a writer who also happens to run a business, I’ve struggled with this. Greatly.

A part of me is enthralled by the power of “online learning”. So much potential to serve. So many ways to make an impact.

I see other teachers doing it, and doing it beautifully. And yet, it has never quite felt “right” for me.


Still, I wonder. Is it time? Time for my first BIG ‘n mighty online writing program?

Every time I sit down to outline it, The Big One, I feel… hmm. Not good.

This year, I finally realized what had been bothering me.

It’s a simple sentiment. I can sum it up in 7 words:


I want to be there with you.


That’s it. That is why I LOVE teaching live, in-person writing workshops.

It’s the simple fact that I am THERE with you.

Physically. In the same room.


When you get stuck, I can come over and help.

When you feel like you’re going to cry, I can give you a hug.

When you get something on paper that astonishes you, I can celebrate right along with you.

When your words are rambling all over the page, I can help you refine & simplify on the spot.

MOST importantly:

When you feel the urge to drift off into what Julia Cameron calls your “shadow work” (Twitter, Facebook, Email, Youtube videos, whatever) I AM RIGHT THERE, looking you in the eye, delivering a lesson that you paid top-dollar to receive… and instead of getting distracted, like you have one million times before…

You stay put. You do the work.

(This kind of visceral, eye-contact-driven, I-see-you-and-I-need-you-here-with-me accountability is SO difficult to create in an “online classroom”. I’m not convinced that it’s possible to do. There. Eeep. I said it.)


Moral of the story:


If you’re like me…

… and you see people growing in a way that is beautiful for them, but not ideal for you …

It’s OK.

You don’t have to grow that way.


Go big, if you want.

Grow small, if you choose.

Rock out in a stadium with thousands.

Or do a show in your mama’s living room.

Create the kinds of experiences that feel good… to you.


There are an infinite number of ways to serve, inspire, entertain, educate.


The question isn’t:


What’s the fastest way to grow big, bigger, biggest?


But rather:


What kinds of experiences do you truly want to create?




Read More business // acceleration creativity // inspiration

Write from a full cup.


Not every writer wants to be famous, get a book deal, or sell tons of products.

Some writers just want to get noticed — and feel helpful.

These kinds of writers think & say things like:


“I’m not writing to make money. I don’t necessarily want to get published in big magazines. I don’t care about any of that. But when I post something on my blog, I want feedback. I want comments. That’s all I need. I just need to know that somebody is reading… that somebody is getting value from my words.”


I can relate.

I don’t write just to amuse myself. I write because I want to help. I write to make a difference.

You might feel the same way.

The problem, though, is when you start feeling like you “need” feedback, comments, clicks, likes, shares or gushing emails full of praise in order to feel good about what you’ve written.

(That’s like needing somebody to tell you “you’re beautiful” in order to feel beautiful. Relying on that kind of external validation… just doesn’t work.)


You can’t write from an emotional deficit and then expect “comments” to fill your cup.


I can tell you from personal experience…

It’ll never happen.

Because no matter how much love you get, it will never be enough.



You must write from a full cup.


Do whatever it takes to feel “full”. Full of love. Full of confidence. Full of self respect. Full of excitement. Full of generosity.

Write from that place. Already full. So much to share. So much to give.

And then — if you happen to receive any external praise — your cup will begin to overflow.

But you don’t “need” that praise. You’re already full. The overflow is just a happy surprise.

I know you might be thinking, “Yeah, but, still… I don’t want to work hard on a piece of writing and then have NOBODY read it! How can I possibly feel OK about that?”

The irony is this:


When your cup is already full, your writing tends to get… better.

Stronger. Clearer. More helpful. More generous.

When your cup is already full, your writing tends to magnetize even more of the readers that you want to reach.


It may take time. One reader today. Two readers tomorrow. Ten devoted fans, next month. Ten thousand, five years from today.

Slowly but surely, people will respond to the fullness & generosity that they sense in your words.

So, try not to write from a place of “hungriness” or “need”.

Don’t write to get.

Write to give.

Don’t write because you feel empty.

Write because you are full.



5 of the trickiest writing questions that I’ve heard… all year. (Got a question of your own? I want to hear.)


At the end of this year, I’ll be retiring my signature workshop — Write Yourself Into Motion — to clear space for some new workshops and experiences (… that I am verrrrry excited to create.)

After teaching Write Yourself Into Motion about 30 times — for over 600 students in 3 different countries — I’ve noticed that the same questions tend to come up, in each workshop, again and again.

This is understandable. Many of us are grappling with the same challenges.


Here are 5 of the best (and trickiest) writing questions that I’ve heard… all year. Maybe, ever.


I hope that my answers are helpful.

I hope that these answers encourage you to make the time & space to write… whatever you want. #NoExcuses.

I hope that you remember, above all, that you don’t need to be “a genius wordsmith” or a “famous blogger” in order to make a difference in the world. You just need to write from the hut (heart + gut) and tell the truth about what you know.

To quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Everybody can be great… because anybody can serve.”

That includes… you. You can serve through your words.


1. “I work from home and there’s always something to distract me from writing. Dishes, laundry, Netflix… any tips on how to get focused and stop procrastinating?”


Whether you work in an office or from home, there’s always “something” that you could be doing, other than writing.

I’ve learned that I need to create a firm “boundary” around my writing-time. A distinct beginning. A clear ending.

I’m not alone, here. It’s a common approach — because it works.

I once heard a story about a famous author who pops a particular flavor of gum into her mouth whenever it’s time to start writing. When she feels complete for the day, she spits it out and switches to a different flavor of gum. For her, that flavor-change acts like a “cue” for her body & brain: “Now I’m writing. Now I’m done.”

Gum might not be your thing, but you could try lighting a candle, closing the door to your bedroom or home office, playing a particular kind of music, or sitting in a special writing chair.

Create some kind of “cue” to signal the start & end of your writing time. It sounds simple and obvious. Try it. It helps.


2. “This is painful to admit, but… I just don’t think that I’m a good writer. I don’t want to share my work, because I don’t think it’s any good. How can I get through this resistance?”


Sometimes, I hit “publish” on a blog post — or send off an article to an editor — and think to myself, “Blech. Whatever. That wasn’t my best work.”

Then, months later, I might receive an email from someone halfway around the world, saying, “What you wrote practically saved my life.”

Or, “Because of what you wrote, I landed my dream job… at last.”

Or simply, “You inspired me to write a sexy love letter for my husband… and when he got home, we had the BEST night. Ever.”

Asking, “Is my writing good enough?” is a fruitless question. There will always be something to criticize, something to refine.

A better question might be, “If I share this piece of writing, can I [help / educate / entertain / heal / inspire / take your pick] at least one human being? Or maybe more?”

If the answer to that second question is “Yes” or even “Probably, and I hope so…” then you must share your writing.

Don’t hold back.

You never know whose life you might impact.


3. “I have lots of things that I want to write about and blog about, and they make all sense in my head. But when I try to write them down, it’s a big, jumbled mess. How can I get better at translating my thoughts into clear words on a page?”


Let me ask you this:

If you got an email from a friend, and he or she said…

“I’m going through a tough time. Do you have any words of advice for me?”


“I’m struggling with a problem. Do you have any tips on how I can solve it?”


“I’m having a depressing day. Can you tell me a story that might give me some hope? A story about you, or someone you know? I could use some encouragement. I just need a reminder that I’m not alone.”

… would you struggle to craft an email to respond to your friend?

Or would the words just… flow?

Often, when you think to yourself, “I have to write a blog post / book chapter / magazine article / newsletter,” it can feel incredibly stressful and pressurized.

Instead, think to yourself, “No stress. No pressure. I am just writing down a few thoughts to help out a friend.”

Write from that place. Let it be conversational and un-complicated.

Just as natural as helping a friend.


4. “I do a lot of writing for my job, but I’m always writing for other people… in other people’s voices… or to support other people’s projects. I want to work on my own personal projects, too, but there never seems to be enough time. Any advice?”


I feel you. As a copywriter, ghostwriter and writing coach, I could easily fill up my entire day with client projects, never leaving an iota of time for my own creative work.

(I happen to really love my clients, so it feels even trickier, sometimes, to carve out space for my “other” work.)

I’ve learned to block out specific days on the calendar that are just for me, for my projects, alone. No emails. No phone sessions. No client work. No teaching. Just open space… to work on whatever feels electric & exciting to me.

I encouraged one of my clients to try this, too. She now celebrates “Fiction Friday” once a week, and saves that entire day to work on her young-adult fiction novel.

Maybe carving out an entire day, every week, isn’t doable for you. But maybe you could carve out an hour. Or an afternoon. Or, like this brilliant poet, just write ten lines of poetry, every Tuesday.

When something really matters to you, it is always possible to create the time — even if it’s just ten minutes. Or ten lines.


5. “I’ve been in the corporate world for so long, I don’t even know what my ‘writing voice’ is, anymore. How do I find it again?”


Simply: you don’t “find” your voice.

You create it.


What are your burning questions on writing, communication and self-expression? Write ‘em down below.

I’d love to share my thoughts in future posts and advice columns.

Big thanks. Happy writing.



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