It took six weeks to write my novel, So This Is The End.
Six weeks of writing. Followed by six months of anxious procrastination.
I thought about releasing the book, but I didn’t. The document sat on my computer desktop — untouched, gathering digital dust. I didn’t pitch it to literary agents. I didn’t mention it to my publisher to see if they might be interested. I didn’t show it to friends and colleagues. I didn’t self-publish it. I didn’t even look at it.
Why so much hesitation? Why not just put it out there? All the usual reasons.
I’m too busy. I don’t have the energy. Besides, I have other commitments right now. I should focus on projects for my clients, projects that actually pay the bills. And anyway, it probably needs more work. It’s not good enough. It’s not ready yet.
Finally, with my birthday and a New Year approaching, I decided to rip off the Band-Aid and just do it. No more waiting. No more tweaking. No more maybe-later-ing.
I quietly released the novel on my website. No book deal. No fanfare. Just me, uploading a PDF with a homemade cover design that I drew with a black Sharpie pen.
This is what happened next…
A woman I’ve never met stumbled across my website and downloaded the book. She read it. She passed it along to her brother, who happens to be a TV producer. He read it. He passed it along to his colleague Nina, an actress, director, and screenwriter. She read it. One day, out of the blue, Nina emailed me to say:
“I wanted to compliment you on your story. I really enjoyed it. I wanted to ask if there has been any interest in adapting So This Is The End into a screenplay.”
At first, I thought Nina’s email was a joke. But it wasn’t.
Right now, she’s writing the pilot episode and she’s excited to pitch all the big networks. We’re already making our list of fantasy cast members (hey, John Cho.) There’s no guarantee that this project will actually get purchased — or get made — but it’s possible. Who knows what might happen next with this book?
The book I almost didn’t release because I didn’t think it was “ready.”
So, hi. Hello there. Whoever is reading this, I suspect you have something that you’ve always thought about creating — or something you’ve thought about sharing publicly. Maybe it’s a poem, blog, podcast, book, song, product, or a drawing of a dog wearing a cowboy hat with a funny caption underneath. Whatever it is, I hope you will be brave and put it out there. Even if — like me — you don’t feel completely ready. Please do it anyway.
Share it offline, online, onstage, on air. At the very least, share it with one person that you trust. Don’t bury your work in a drawer underneath the winter socks that you never wear. Let it be seen.
I know it’s scary to put your work out there. Oh my god, I know. It might feel terrifying. It might scritchy-scratch at your deepest insecurities. It might poke the tender, soft, underbelly parts of you. Please do it anyway.
Because of your video, someone might smile for the first time in ten days.
Because of your poem, someone might remember that they love the sound of the rain, and they might turn off their phone and walk to the window and listen.
Because of your book, someone might cry, or laugh, or see the world a little differently, or feel inspired to write their own book, or you might get a surprising email from an agent, publisher, producer, journalist, screenwriter, or maybe one very excited fan who just wants to say, “I love this. Thank you for making it.”
Absolutely anything could happen. But absolutely nothing will happen until you put something out there. Hit publish, post, send, print, or upload, roll up the curtain, iron your best shirt, bring out the fine china, sound the trumpets, whatever needs to be done. Release it with love and with no expectations.
Even if you don’t feel ready.
Toss your pebble into the water and watch the ripple go, go, go, expanding outward into unexpected possibilities, opportunities, and invitations.
There’s no telling where that ripple might lead.
A few years ago, on a trip to London, I met a woman named Clare. She runs a project called Urban Curiosity. We ordered lattes and deliciously buttery breakfast treats, and I asked her, “What’s this project all about?”
It’s pretty simple. Mainly, she leads people on walking tours throughout the city of London. People wander through different neighborhoods, noticing the architecture, noticing the trees, noticing the sky, the clouds, the pets, the people. The only rule is that you have to put away your phone. No photos. No videos. No texting. Just walk.
“I want to inspire people to look up, not down,” Clare told me.
I remember feeling a rush of energy in my body, almost like my skin was tingling, when Clare said those words. I remember thinking, “Yes. Yes. A thousand times, yes.”
Today, I watched a short film about a man who set up a high-powered telescope on a random sidewalk in Los Angeles and invited strangers to peek inside and look at the moon. It’s incredible how each person — all ages, all kinds of people — react in the same way. “Oh my god. Wow. Just… oh my god.” The filmmaker concludes this tiny, 3-minute film by saying:
“We should look up more often.”
Imagine if we looked up into the sky, and into people’s eyes, as often as we look down at our phones. Imagine the difference it would make. We would all walk around shimmering, awestruck, grateful, just one big collective WOW.
At least once a week, I have one of those weary, frazzled moments when my to-do list feels never-ending… when my inbox feels frighteningly full… when the quarterly reports come in and the book sales aren’t as high as I thought they would be… when I feel very small and very insignificant. Those are the moments when I feel tempted to dive into a digital device to escape and numb out. Instead, next time, I will try to remind myself:
About seven years ago, I released my very first e-book.
It was a tiny book. Ten pages long. Just a wee little thing.
It didn’t take very long to create. In fact, the whole process took less than two days.
First, I drove to my favorite coffee shop. I ordered a triple-shot latte. I was lucky enough to snag a big, cozy, velvet armchair right by the fireplace. I snuggled deep into the cushions. And then I wrote the book in one afternoon. (Again, we’re not talking about War & Peace or Anna Karenina. This was a micro, mini, pint-sized book.)
While working on the book, I pretended like I was writing an extra-long email to a friend.
I didn’t think, “Oh my god, eek, I’m writing a book, I don’t know how to do that…”
Instead, I told myself, “I’m just writing to a friend to share some advice and encouragement. I know how to do that. I do that all the time. No big deal. Easy!” That mindset helped things to flow along pretty quickly.
The next day, I read the Word document aloud to make sure it sounded like “me” — conversational, human, not robotic. I cleaned up a few typos. I added a very basic cover page with the title, my name, and my website. Then I clicked File > Save As > PDF.
And just like that, my very first e-book was… all done!
It was a tiny project, yet it brought me big buckets of joy. Joy, and also satisfaction, pride, and a big boost in confidence. I felt like a “finisher,” not just a “starter” or a “dabbler.” It shifted how I felt about myself as a writer, as an artist, even as a human being. A tiny shift — yet, a big deal.
I love projects of all sizes. But I especially love tiny projects.
A tiny podcast. Each episode could be just five minutes long.
A tiny book. Just twenty pages or less.
A tiny audiobook. Thirty minutes of love.
A tiny event. Six people gathered in your living room.
A tiny mission. Write one “thank you” card every Friday and mail it off.
A tiny moment. Journaling in your diary and writing a poem for nobody else. Just for you.
Once I decide, “I’m going to do a tiny project. Nothing too crazy. Simple and small,” it’s amazing how much R – E – L – I – E – F floods into my body.
Instead of feeling overwhelmed, I feel focused, light, and energized. Instead of giving up, I march forward. Instead of feeling inadequate, I feel capable. When I set tiny goals, ironically, I make big moves.
If your heart is feeling heavy… if your to-do list is feeling monstrous… if you’re sick of starting projects and never finishing… I encourage you to hit the DELETE key on everything and switch to a tiny project instead.
Tiny projects can get you unblocked.
Tiny projects can lead to surprising opportunities.
Tiny projects can change many people’s lives. Including yours.
Tiny projects are a big deal.
Every year, on January 1st, my year begins the same way.
I sit down with a strong cup of coffee, a very official-looking clipboard and a Sharpie pen, and I map out my professional goals for the upcoming year.
I write down:
— The books and articles that I want to write.
— The workshops and retreats that I want to produce.
— The clients that I want to collaborate with — and how many clients, and when.
— The exact dollar amount I want to earn — and the composite of books, products, services, and tickets that I’ll need to sell in order to reach that goal.
I write it all down. Then I schedule everything onto my calendar. Then I finish my coffee — and begin the hustle-bustle-rustle of making it all happen.
The weeks and months evaporate so quickly. The calendar moves from January to June in a flash of emails, phone calls, documents, plane tickets, and “I’ll be ready for dinner soon, sweetheart, I just need to finish one more thing…”
I work hard. Goals get achieved. My calendar is packed full of work. Beautiful, fulfilling work. But still… work.
Work comes first. Always first. And then — in the little cracks, corners, and crevices that still remain on my calendar — I try to insert “the rest of my life.”
“Life” gets pushed to the perimeter. “Life” is constricted and squeezed into a few hours here, a few hours there, a few stolen minutes in between this and that.
But this year, I decided to do things completely differently — a total reversal of what I’ve done in the past. This year, I decided,
“Instead of scheduling my professional goals and projects first, what if I do the opposite?”
“What if I schedule ‘life’ first?”
To me, it seemed like a radical, disruptive idea. Schedule life… first?! It’s almost scandalous. So un-American. So European!
This year, on January 1st, I sat down with a cup of coffee and my clipboard, and I wrote down a list of “life experiences” that I want to have this year.
— Quiet mornings reading in bed with coffee and stroopwafel cookies.
— Taking Dudley to the park, watching him chase sticks and go berserk with excitement.
— A trip to see my brother play jazz at the Village Vanguard in New York City. (I know I’ll burst into tears of pride, joy, and excitement when he takes the stage.)
— Time for whatever-ing. Time for spontaneity. Time to arrange flowers, fluff pillows, light candles, putter around, and just… exist. Time to think about nothing and everything. Empty space for surprise invitations that might arrive later. Or not.
This year, finally, I am remembering that I am a whole, entire person. I am not just a worker. Not just a writer. Not just a consultant or entrepreneur or teacher or any other professional title. I’m a whole person living in a big universe — a universe full of songs I’ve never heard, and books I’ve never read, and pine cones scattered across forest trails, and the scent of a sopping wet puppy after he’s skittered through the garden on a rainy morning.
I love my work. I love my life. Both deserve space on my calendar. Just maybe… arranged in a different order than I previously thought.
This year, I scheduled life first — and work second.
This year, everything feels different.
As a business owner, the only thing that feels worse than getting a terrible review… is getting no reviews. No reaction. No sales. No interest. Silence. Feeling completely invisible.
On October 4, 2015, that’s what happened to me.
Brandon and I wanted to open a restaurant together. We had humble goals. We figured we’d start small. Not a full-fledged restaurant. Not right away. First, we’d open a food cart. An 8-foot long wooden box, parked on the concrete outside a sandwich shop.
We worked hard to get ready for opening day. Brandon calculated food costs and crunched the numbers. He spent hours and hours refining each recipe. I drew a logo, printed a sign, and painstakingly wrote our menu on a chalkboard.
And then, one crisp autumn morning, we hauled our gear and supplies to the cart.
We opened the window.
Just like that, we were open for business.
A few minutes went by. Nobody came up to the cart.
An hour passed. Nobody strolled up. Another hour. No customers. Zero.
People kept strolling by the cart — chatting with friends, holding shopping bags, scrolling on their phones — but nobody looked up at us. Nobody came over to purchase our food. They didn’t even glance in our direction. It was like we were wearing an invisibility cloak. Like we didn’t even exist.
As each hour passed, dread pooled in my stomach. Our business was a complete failure. And we’d barely even begun.
After standing awkwardly inside the cart for, oh, three hours — with ever-growing anxiety — I had a realization. I said to Brandon,
“We have to get out of the cart.”
I explained, “We can’t just stand here inside the cart. Nobody’s noticing us. It’s not working. I’m going to walk up and down the street and hand out free samples.”
For the rest of the day, that’s what I did. I passed out hundreds of samples — bite-sized chunks of whiskey-infused brownies, peanut butter cookies, lemon cakes topped with sugared rose petals, broiled bacon chunks dusted with brown sugar.
I introduced myself to everyone who passed by. I handed out menus. I smiled at babies and shook hands with neighbors like a politician running for office. I pointed towards our cart. I made sure everyone knew, “Hey, we’re new, and we’re open for business.”
I will be honest. It was not fun. I’m highly introverted. Prancing up and down the sidewalk — chit-chatting with complete strangers — is basically my idea of hell. At least a dozen times, I thought to myself, “This sucks. I don’t want to do this. I would rather clean toilets. I would rather smell someone’s armpit. I would rather be doing literally anything but this.” But I knew in my hut (heart + gut) that it needed to be done. We had no other option. I had to get out of the cart — or we wouldn’t have any customers.
And it worked.
By the end of the day, we had a trickle of people lining up to purchase our food. Not an avalanche of sales. Just a little snowball. But it was something. It was a start.
In the years that followed — with a ton of hard work, grit, and buttermilk biscuit crumbs — our little cart expanded into a restaurant space. Then a larger space. Today, Brandon employs a team of eight part-time employees, serving hundreds of customers each day they’re open. HunnyMilk has been featured in local papers and some national publications, too. It’s a thriving, profitable restaurant. A dream come true.
I often think back to that very first day. Back when nobody knew we existed.
What if I had stayed inside the cart?
What if I had been too timid to step outside?
What if I had allowed the fears inside my head to drown out my courage? (Because I almost did.)
Our story would be very different.
The cart is comfortable. The cart is safe. The cart smells like brownies and peanut butter and it’s warm and cozy. The cart is a place where nobody can reject you — where you’re sheltered from prickly, uncomfortable emotions.
But in order to launch something, to build something, to create something — a business, a podcast, a book, a revolution, a community — we have to be wiling to step outside the cart.
It’s not always comfy. It’s not always fun. But it’s necessary. It’s a mandatory requirement. And the pay-off is worth it. Miracles happen when we crack open the door, take a deep breath, and march out of the security-box.
Who knows what might happen for you, for your career, for your art…
… if you get out of the cart?