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?

 

xo.

 
 
 

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.

Instead…

 

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.

xo.

 
 
 

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?”

Or…

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

Or…

“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.

xo.

 
 

Read More good question

GOOD QUESTION: How can I protect my ideas from copycats & encourage folks to credit me, properly?

 
 
 

Dear Alex,

I created something that I am really proud of: a game called Storybowl!

I hold Storybowl gatherings locally, and I created a how-to kit so that people can create their own Storybowl experiences at home.

It thrills me to know that there will be Storybowls happening all over the world!

But… I’m wondering:

How can I make sure that people are crediting me as the creator when they teach Storybowl to others?

In other words, how can I protect my idea, and my work, without sounding like a jerk? Or should I just let it go?

Andrea

 
 

Dear Andrea,

To answer your question, I reached out to one of my favorite humans on earth:

My dad, Don Franzen (who happens to be an intellectual property attorney – convenient, right?).
 

Here’s the gist:

Here in the USA, it’s difficult to claim ownership over an “idea” — at least, in a court of law.

That’s because copyright doesn’t protect “ideas” — it protects the concrete expression of an idea.

But! You can claim copyright for a published piece of original writing, or an expression of original methodology that has been documented in some way — say, in an e-course or recorded presentation.

Your Storybowl game sounds like “an expression of original methodology,” so you might be entitled to copyright protection.
 

Here are a couple of legal-ish things to remember:

: You can’t take any legal action to enforce your copyright until you officially register with the Copyright Office. There are clear instructions how to do this (it’s cheap, like a $35 registration fee) at: http://copyright.gov

: You might also be entitled to Trademark protection, if you have a logo or name attached to your creation that identifies it. (And since your product is called “Storybowl,” it sounds like you do!). Getting a trademark registered is a bit more complicated than copyright, but you can learn more at: http://uspto.gov/trademarks/basics/definitions.jsp

: To recap: for maximum protection, get those copyright and trademark applications filed. If you want to do it yourself, LegalZoom is a terrific website that can help. But of course, consulting with an attorney to get personalized advice on how to proceed is never a bad idea!
 

As my dad points out, filing the official paperwork is a good place to begin.

But sometimes, even after going to all that trouble, people will still copy, steal or use your work without giving proper credit.
 

What then?
 

There’s the “lawyer” answer:

“Add a scary, threatening statement to every product! Write a cease and desist letter! Sue their pants off!”

And then, there’s the “non-lawyer” answer:

“Give simple instructions on how to credit you properly, hope for the best, and then… let it go.”
 

At your Storybowl gatherings, for example, you could say:

“I’m so excited to share this game with you! It’s insanely fun and I hope that you’ll feel inspired to share it with friends, back at home.

Do me a favor: when you do, just quickly mention that Storybowl is a game invented by a cool lady named Andrea Scher.

It’s always awesome to get credit for your work. I’d really appreciate it.”
 

Inside the Storybowl product, you could add a short note to the first (or final) page, saying:

“Storybowl is a game invented by… me! Want to play the game at your workshop, company retreat or gathering? Do it! I’d love that.

And when you do, kindly mention that it’s a game invented by a rockin’ artist & storyteller named Andrea Scher.

Want to be super-awesome? Mention my website, as well: SuperheroLife.com.

Thanks for being MY hero. Getting credit for your work… feels so good.”
 

When you give folks crystal-clear instructions, most of the time… they will happily comply.

And sometimes, they won’t. And that sucks.

I’ve had my work stolen and miscredited more times than I can count — including one instance where a woman literally copied blog posts that I had written & pasted them onto her website, word for word, passing them off as her own.

I’ve learned that I can’t spend my days obsessively policing the Internet, hunting for copycats or people using my work without crediting me. It’s just not worth my time.
 

To sum up my advice:

Protect yourself by filing the necessary legal paperwork, if that feels like the right route to go.

Give clear instructions — and language! — to help people credit you, properly.

Trust that (most) people will comply.

And then…

Try to relax & let it all go, knowing that you’ve taken every reasonable measure to protect your creative work.

Being “on patrol” for potential copycats, 24/7, is a pretty dreary way to spend your life. It weighs heavily on the heart.

You’ve got better things to do.

Like tell stories.

And make art.

 

“Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.” –Ann Landers

 

xo.

PS. Have you ever had your work stolen, or used without proper credit? How did you handle it?

 
 
 

Read More good question

10 ways to write blog post titles, headlines & email subject lines that make people go, “whoa!”.

 
 
 

There’s a reason why there are entire websites & books & even sociological studies devoted to one thing:

Naming your baby.

OK. Coming up with a title for your latest blog post might not be as emotionally-loaded as coming up with a timeless moniker for your unborn child, but even so… many people struggle to do it!

Even professional writers groan & grumble under the pressure of trying to come up with “the perfect title”.

But it doesn’t have to be agonizing. You can think of it as a playful word-game.

And of course, having a few tried-and-true templates to use — even just as a starting point — can help you “win” the game a lot faster.

Behold:

10 ways to structure blog post titles, book chapter titles, article headlines, email subject lines for your newsletters & any other short bits of text that need to grip attention, quickly.

 

1. Make it THE BEST.
 

Ever wonder why your favorite blogs & magazines are riddled with “Best Of” lists? It’s because… people like them!

Words and phrases like “favorite”, “biggest”, “newest”, “ultimate”, “infinite”, “top picks”, “absolute”, “can’t live without”, “of all time” and “… ever” can all signify this kind of BEST-ness.
 

A few examples:

: My favorite writing music [sexy, mellow, a hint of electronica]

: 10 of the best first date questions … possibly ever.

: The ultimate guide to naming your “thing.”

: Infinite reasons to be happy & hopeful: the longest love-list that ever lived.

: My [new] favorite tools for writing, creativity, productivity & whatnot.

 

2. Try a PROVOCATIVE STATEMENT.
 

Sexy. Mysterious. Intentionally vague. Or just… surprising!

Use a provocative statement as your title, and your reader will immediately wonder, “Hmmm… what does she mean by that? I’ve got to read and find out!”
 

A few examples:
 

: You already know everything.

: Everything is marketing.

: Don’t leave before the miracle happens.

: THIS is what’s possible.

: Be the one who says “Yes”.

 

3. Use an INTRIGUING QUESTION.
 

I love using questions as titles, especially when I’m writing a piece that’s intended to spark conversation or self-reflection.
 

A few examples:
 

: What is a “good writer,” anyway?

: What would Love do?

: Is your “Internet Penis” too small?

: Who is living your dream?

 

4. Make a LIST.
 

Oh, the Internet loves a good, long list.

And if your blog post or article is, in fact, a list… well, it’s pretty darn easy to come up with a title.
 

A few examples:
 

: 100 questions to inspire rapid self-discovery (and spark your next talk, date, blog post or book.)

: 10 mini love notes from Valentine’s Day.

: 35 things you can do instead of starting a blog.

: 50 ways to say “You’re Awesome.” (So popular, it led to a book deal!)

: 30 mantras for people who over-work, over-commit and are generally terrified of “missing out”.

 

5. Offer a HOW TO.
 

Personally, I’m a very “instructional” kind of writer. Pretty much everything I write is intended to solve a problem, offer an exciting idea, or teach a lesson. (Well… maybe not my erotic fiction stories. On the other hand, they do offer some “exciting ideas”… ;)

Hence: you’ll find a lot of “how to” posts here on this site. People love ‘em. And… just like with lists, they’re pretty easy to title!
 

A few examples:
 

: How to say NO to everything, ever.

: How to write a ridiculously sexy (but totally classy) note to your sweetheart.

: How to survive when everything sucks.
 

Using the “how to” format doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to use the words “how” and “to”.

Words like “lessons”, “guidelines”, “insights”, and “tips” can convey the same helpful, instructional tone.
 

For example:

: 7 guidelines for writing emails that people actually want to read.
 

You can also include an “OMG! NOW WHAT?!” statement, followed by a “how to” statement.
 

For example:

: ZOMG! You’ve got a video interview in ten minutes time. Here’s how to nail your message, feel great & SHINE.

 

6. Offer a BACKSTAGE TOUR.
 

I get completely riled up & excited whenever someone I admire offers a “backstage tour” into their not-so-public world.

Using words & phrases like “backstage tour”, “sneak peek”, “inside glimpse”, “secret trip”, “virtual tour”, “what’s inside”, “behind the curtain” and “how I really do it” can all convey this sense of voyeuristic delight.
 

For example:
 

A backstage tour of my business.

(Note to self: do more backstage tour-style posts, in the future!)

 

7. READ THIS WHEN.
 

I love using phrases like “Read this when” or “Open this when.”

It immediately helps the reader decide if this particular piece of writing is going to “speak” to them, right now, or not.
 

A few examples:
 

: Read this when you can’t remember who you are, what you do, why you do it — or how to talk about it.

: Read this when you’re feeling unwanted & rejected. (You’re not. This will help.)
 

You can also invert this formula, and try something like…


Warning: Do not read this if you enjoy clinging to excuses that prevent you from making art, moving forward & doing wonderful things.

 

8. PROBLEM? SOLUTION.
 

Got a problem? Here’s a potential solution. Yep. Pretty much sums it up.

This is another great way to help your reader decide, “Is reading this piece worth my time, or not?”
 

A few examples:
 

: Don’t know what to write in your online dating profile? Try this.

: Tired of waiting? Great. Start creating.

: Got a nude photo shoot coming up? (Who doesn’t?) My tips on how to feel brave, strong & sexy.

: Don’t know what to blog about? 88 pieces of fill-in-the-blank inspiration.

: Downsizing your joy? Stop that. Let us be happy for you.

: Want to be famous, successful, booked ’til forever? Operate like the world is already listening.

 

9. “QUOTE.” AND MORE.
 

Pull a quote from your finished blog post, article, chapter or whatnot. Perhaps the final, closing words. Or another phrase that sums up the “spirit” of the piece.

Plop that “quote” into your title… followed by a few more words to clarify what the piece is about. Boom.
 

A few examples:
 

: “If all else fails…” 10 of the BEST possible worst case scenarios.

: “Fortunately, it is not required for happiness.” 7 words to re-focus your mind on what matters.

: “I’m not that busy. Really.” Dispelling the myth of success & busy-ness.

: “If you really knew me, you’d know…” The ultimate conversation starter & story-sparker.

: “So … yeah. Things have changed.” How to break a commitment without ruining anyone’s life (or your reputation).

 

10. I DID _____! HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED.
 

You did something cool. You learned a valuable lesson. Now you want to share it. The title practically writes itself!
 

A few examples:
 

: I spent an hour with a publicity powerhouse! Here’s what I learned about getting big-time media coverage…

: I spent an hour with “The Oprah Whisperer!” Here’s what I learned about telling a soundbite-sized story…

: What a real-life ninja taught me about devotion & mastery.

 

WANT MORE?
 

Here are a couple of smart ideas & resources that I’ve discovered:
 

: The all-time most popular posts from 21 wonderful websites from Mental Floss.

: How to write magnetic headlines from Copyblogger.

: How to craft post titles that draw people into your blog from ProBlogger.

: How to write great book titles from Lulu.

: Best practices for email subject lines from MailChimp. (They analyzed 200 million emails to see what works & what doesn’t.)

: The Blogcademy. Excellent training for amateur bloggers who want to “go pro.” (They have an online academy now, too.)

: The Signature Sound Bite class. If you rrrreeeally struggle to consolidate your ideas into simple, snappy, memorable phrases, this class is for you. It was developed by Susan Harrow, a 25-year publicity industry veteran. Get a free taste here.

: Everything from Melissa Cassera. She’s another publicity industry veteran who has tons of fresh, simple ideas about what it takes to get people OBSESSED with your writing & blogging.

 

KNOW WHAT WORKS.

BUT DO WHAT YOU WANT.
 

Yes, it’s true. There are certain words, phrases & sentence structures that are highly likely to make people respond in the way that you want.

(It’s been studied and proven.)

However…
 

You do not have to adopt the “best practices” that the “experts” (including me!) reveal and recommend.

You can do whatever feels right in your “hut” (heart + gut).

Title every blog post you write with an obscure song lyric.

Record an album with a symbol for a name.

Change your legal name to “Hashtag”.

Write a book with no title.

Whatever you want.

Art has no rules.

xo.

 
 
 

Read More business // acceleration creativity // inspiration