For many years I felt like an outlier in the business world, hell, in life. It’s no secret I’m a “heart-centered strategist” as several clients have called me. I have never really bought into the idea of business as usual. I’ve learned what I can from teachers and authors and mentors who had important business skills to teach, but whose personal lives I did not admire. For decades, I’ve wondered where the mentors who prioritized business AND people are. To be sure, I have found some along the way and I cherish them, but it’s often not the norm.

Over the past few years, I’ve just been “over it” in terms of any attempt to fit into that stale business mold. More and more, I’ve leaned into what my heart and skillset tell me are important: people. I’ve also worked on my own limiting beliefs about what is possible for someone like me who wants to make both a difference and a small fortune. 😉 And you know what happened when I made those shifts? My business grew. My network of “my kind of people” has grown. And it’s just the beginning.

I’m telling you this because if you’re feeling frustrated with the way business has been done, there is so much hope for change right now.

And you know what? It’s about damn time that caring people start leading a revolution of how business and government is done in this country!

Right now, I want to share just a few wonderful things to help you in your roles in changing the world:

#1 Get Arlan Hamilton’s book It’s About Damn Time, and if you’re ready to take serious next steps Join her free Mastermind. I met some AMAZING entrepreneurs in there. Arlan is an absolute gem of a human being. If you haven’t heard of her you will very soon. She is the kind of person I’m talking about: making a difference in her work, genuinely helping people, while also making bank.

#2 Black people, get free, expert advice for your business/career. If you are a Black person, check out this list of CEOs and professionals who are donating their time/advice to Black people right now. Jump on this.

#3 Finally, I have a little Juneteenth announcement:

I am donating branding one-on-one sessions with me to Black people for the month of August. Sign up for your spot here if you’re ready for some laser-focused branding advice:

Okay, that’s it for now. And if you’re Indigenous, POC or single mom, don’t worry I’ll have more resources for you too. I just really want to help keep this momentum of Black power moving right now.

You know how they say “crisis creates character”? Well, I think “crisis reveals character.” And the same can be said of brands. During this difficult time I’m sure you’ve seen ads and posts from different brands that have either been skillfully and respectfully made, or ads that are completely tone deaf, outdated, or just plain offensive.

So many of us are watching, or at the very least will likely remember, how brands acted during this time of crisis. The other day a colleague of mine who works for Hyundai, posted a press release sharing that Hyundai donated 65,000 COVID-19 tests and provided funding for 22 drive-thru testing locations nationwide. This is the kind of hands-on, well directed actions that lead to people associating good feelings with the Hyundai brand for years to come. This is brand leadership.

You may have also noticed some of the bigger names in self development, business skills, etc. are offering free or discounted online courses which is…nice. I mean, it’s always nice when folks with more than enough money give things away for free.

Then there’s the other side, whether it’s unfortunate timing of certain ad campaigns, to companies like Tawkify forgetting that they are still running dating ads one in my feed read, “Think you don’t have time to date? You do. The best dating service for ambitious women.” LOL, gave me a good laugh though.

And then there are the cases where brands seem to just be thoughtless or consumed with making profits from fear, for instance: the VIDA protective masks ad that came up on my Insta feed the other day on which users quickly pointed out in comments that not only were the masks being made in China (which isn’t bad necessarily, it’s just not a good look right now when people are trying to support local businesses) while their competitors were making them in the U.S., but also that they were more expensive than competitors and only donated 10% of their profits (keyword there–not price but profit) while their competitors were donating much more to first responders.

And then there are brands like Amazon, with their CEO Jeff Bezos trying to distract us by wanting to test all employees for COVID-19, while only a month ago senators were urging him to give workers sick leave and hazard pay, and employees had to demand the shutdown of a facility after multiple employees tested positive. Or how about his stunt where he donated a measly $100 million to U.S. food banks (when he has personally made an additional $24 billion just since the pandemic began)? To be clear, that’s only 0.000416666666667% of only the money he’s made during the pandemic–not counting the other over $100 billion in wealth he already had.

That’s not a drop in a bucket, that’s a molecule in a pool. 

Or how about this tactless email I received the other day from some entrepreneur I took a webinar with months ago?:

The point is, people are paying attention. More than ever, our emotions are engaged and we’re going to remember the brands that showed us their true character, good, bad, and ugly.

But it’s also good for us to keep in mind with our own brands.

I’ve been trying to filter every communication I make via my brands through a sensitivity to the very real emotions and stresses people have. I aim to be respectful and conscious in how I serve you. That’s why I’ve been keeping my emails primarily focused on being a source of positive messages, reflection, and hope.

In the meantime, I’ve also been working on different new offerings I’ve never offered before because I’ve been trying to develop tools that people need more than ever.  After this many years in business, I’ve realized that some of the things I’ve learned will be of service to others now more than ever. But this is tricky. There’s a balance to strike between helping, making ends meet and being seen as someone capitalizing on a disaster.

Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to offer my services or products for free, but I am working on offering smaller, more focused offerings that are more affordable if people need help with say, just one focused thing–like how to set up their email marketing, or put together a simple website, or how to start their writing career, or leverage LinkedIn better, etc. Anyway, I’ll share more as I get closer to having these resources available as well as how I make decisions moving forward to help my communities.

I hope you’ll also take this opportunity to think about how your brand will be perceived but also balance that with the reality of what you can afford to do (it’s okay to put your family’s survival first right now) and what unique ways you may be able to help others.

In any case, as ever, I wish you the best in life and work and hope that you are safe and healthy. We’re in this together.

I have a confession. I started writing my memoir in 2013, finished the first draft in 2017, and yet STILL HAVEN’T FINISHED the damn book! BUT 2020 is the year I finish this thing! 

It’d be easy to call myself lazy, or a procrastinator, but that’s not the real issue here. I know why it’s come to this. And it’s a lot more than that. Eyeroll. In short, a lot of traumatic things have happened in the past few years, but it’s finally time. While I’m going back to some of my tried-and-true methods to get shit done, I am also committed to being open to new ways of doing things, especially if that knowledge is coming from people who know. So I reached out to some of my favorite women who have accomplished kickass things. I asked them to share their secrets for staying focused and actually finishing their creative projects.

Here’s what I asked them:

What are the top 1-3 things that help you stay focused and actually FINISH your creative work?

And sub-question: How does it help you/what does it do for you?


Natashia Deón

Author of the novel, GRACE

When I asked Natashia Deón to provide her name and title for this post she provided the above title. But there’s no way I’m letting her get away with that minuscule description. 😉 Let me tell you why you want to listen to what this woman has to say: not only was her debut novel, GRACE, critically-acclaimed, but it also garnered her a 2017 NAACP Image Award nomination, was a New York Times Top Book of 2016, and has too many other accolades to list here, but she was also a U.S. delegate to Armenia, in partnership with the University of Iowa’s International Writing Workshop and the U.S. State Department, not only that but she is also a practicing attorney, law professor, and creative writing professor, AND she’s also creator of Dirty Laundry Lit reading series, founder of the nonprofit REDEEMED, and a mother of two. She also happens to be very kind, generous, and down to earth. Here’s her advice:

The top three things are probably in this order are:

1) Committing to finishing within the year

2) Then mapping out what I guessed it’d take to “finish” in that year

I asked myself, does it mean writing a complete scene every other day…even if it was really bad? Would it take a week? Did finishing mean I’d have to start by taking a week to outline the novel? Would I outline? I really just got real with myself–my other time commitments, my family, birthdays, job, etc. I wanted to break it down step-by-step because, as the saying goes, if you want to eat something that’s huge, you have to take it a bite at a time.

And finally,

3) I decide to invest in this story.

Not just with my time but saving up enough money to hire a professional editor to have a look at it and give me feedback. So many writers want some other writer to “donate an investment” in them by giving them free feedback and advice. But if you’re a professional, or are serious about your choice to write, you need to invest in your “wedding day.” At least get your nails done or a hair cut for the photos.

Amanda Fletcher

WRITER FIRST and PEN America Emerging Voices Fellowship Manager

Amanda and I met when we both were working for PEN Center USA in Beverly Hills. At the time, we were both kinda working on our temporarily shelved memoirs. She’d also been through the wringer in recent years. Aside from her killer taste in music, I immediately loved Amanda’s no bullshit attitude and beautiful honesty. And of course, she’s a great writer–she was originally an Emerging Voices Fellow before she ever came on as staff. Anyway, Amanda finished her first draft of her memoir and is currently deep into edits. Last year, she used Instagram as a tool to keep herself accountable to her writing goals and as a result posted snippets of her memoir, which were, of course, equal parts stunning, delicious, and profound.

So I wanted to ask her what helped focus and finish her creative work. Here are her answers:

    1. Using a timer. Start with 10 minutes and move up to 50 minutes. Keep your ass in the seat until the timer goes off. Once it does, set it for 5 minutes. Get up and stretch, pee, get a snack, whatever, but once it goes off again, sit your ass back down and do another round. Knowing there is a time limit helps me to stay focused on the task at hand, knowing that as soon as the timer sounds, I can check my email or my socials. I have pretty severe ADD so I need parameters around my practice. And I resisted this one forever–my roommate literally bought me a kitchen timer to make me try it. And it worked! I finished a draft of my book in less than a year. So, remember that even the things you think are stupid–maybe especially those things–can be of the most help to you.
    2. Hit it every day. Even if it is just that single 10 minute round. I need my story to be at the forefront of my focus, even on the days I am drowning in my day job. Sometimes all I can do is make notes on my phone, but I keep it fresh in my consciousness as much as possible–my best ruminations come from riding my bike in the morning. I am constantly pulling over to jot down ideas. Hey, if you’re stuck, jump on your bike or go for a walk or something. Let the universe break you open.
    3. Have an accountability partner. Meet another writer for coffee and bring your laptops. Use the timer to control the conversation. Catch up for 10, write for 30, break for 10, and repeat. I am lucky enough to have a friend–Jamie Schaffner–who is enmeshed in her first novel and we have committed to checking in with each other every time we complete a round. We set goals for the day and encourage each other through all aspects of the writing process via texts and memes and the screen effects you can send on an iPhone, like fireworks and confetti and shit. It helps to know people are watching–I kind of went extreme on this one and posted excerpts to my Instagram account. They could only be pulled from what I had written the day before. Think of it like exercise and diet–way easier to stick to when you are forced to record your progress.

Ahyiana Angel

Author, Host + Founder of Mayzie Media

I first encountered Ahyiana through my friend and colleague Betsy Cardenas who interviewed her on her podcast. Anywho, I’ve been following Ahyiana ever since. If you’re a creative and an entrepreneur you’ll love her popular podcast Switch Pivot or Quit and her book, Quit Playing Small. And last year, we met IRL at ALT Summit where we were both speakers! I love Ahyiana’s energy and positivity, and of course her intelligence, but I also love how she’s willing to call bullshit on common tropes of the entrepreneur life (like influencer culture, ick). Anyway, I knew it would be important to ask her sage advice. Here’s what she had to say:

What helps me to stay focused is setting a goal or having an agenda. It’s easier to work toward an endpoint when I know what the goal or objective is. When I’m not clear on what my goal is it is much easier to get off track and find yourself working on things that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. This type of action ultimately amounts to creating busy work for yourself. Having an agenda or planned end goal keeps me productive and motivated because once I complete one thing I can build onto the next and keep achieving my goals from there.

So there you have it, great advice from three badasses who are DOING. THE. WORK.

I hope you enjoyed this break from just hearing me blab. Let me know if any of this advice resonated with you, or let me know what subject matter you’d like to see other featured expert posts like this on, in the future.


Endurance is more important than talent

Don’t feel bad if you’re one of those insanely talented people, I have good news for you. It doesn’t matter. 😉

As a kid, I had a natural propensity for art and drawing, writing, and make believe, but things like math and sports (or any physical activities that required coordination for that matter, LOL), didn’t come so easily.

For the most part, I just put in the minimum effort I had to in order to get a decent grade in math or P.E. I had zero desire desire to work at anything I wasn’t innately talented at. Everyone told me that I was so good at art–so why should I waste my time on other things?

“Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but, most of all, endurance.” -James Baldwin

Through the years I drew almost daily and even took an art class here or there. But I never really challenged myself. I figured if I didn’t already have the ability, I never would. By the time I entered middle school, and encountered others who had more talent than I did, I gave up.

If you’re familiar with the work of Carol Dweck, you know where this is going. Basically, I’d developed a fixed mindset around art: I thought any talent I’d once possessed had reached its limit, or ended at a certain age. I couldn’t see the reality that if I took some classes, I might actually learn some new skills and advance my talents.

Even years later when I became a graphic and web designer, I would only draw on the computer. and only things I felt confident in, for the most part. I’d often farm out any heavy illustration work as I knew mine just wasn’t up to snuff.

When I decided to become I writer, I knew one thing: I didn’t want to do the same thing again. Once and for all, I wanted to put in the work and get the education to really do it right. Even as I started, I still had an inflated sense of my potential. That was quickly squashed again as I met others who clearly had more natural talent than I did. But something had changed. I didn’t give up.

After years of being a single mom-entrepreneur and pressing the fuck on, come what may, I knew I had something no one could take away: perseverance. It didn’t matter if I was THE BEST. As long as I could grow and improve, I was going to be okay.

 “You don’t realize you could actually work super hard and give everything you have, and lose. It was the best message for me.”  –Beyoncé Knowles Carter

Eventually we’re all going to have moments of failure and if we’re resting entirely on our talent, we’ll take it personally and believe that there’s something intrinsically wrong with us. Either that, or we’ll send the blame to someone else: judges, clients, nepotism, anyone or thing but ourselves.

However, if we base our success on our continued effort, that personal sting fades.

Sure it usually still sucks to lose, but if you know you’ve got endurance to fall back on, you know you can keep going.

Endurance > Talent

In the book, Art & Fear, the authors tell a story of a ceramics teacher who divided his class into two groups. He told them that at the end of the semester their entire grade would be based on one thing. Group One would be graded on the quantity of pots they produced while Group Two would be graded on the quality of the best single pot each person created.

When the semester finished, the highest quality pots were produced by the folks in the group graded on quantity, not quality. Why?

“It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

Keep Going

Endurance is a skill you must practice in order to possess it. Here are some ways to build your endurance (and skill), in whatever field you desire to pursue:

  • Push yourself beyond “good enough.” I know that’s scary. I’m not advocating for perfectionism. But if you really want to get good at something, do your best, again and again, knowing that as you continue to grow, your work will improve and your next “good enough” will seem great in comparison.
  • Force yourself through “I don’t feel like it.” I’m a firm believer that while passion is great, your ability to do things you don’t feel like doing is directly correlated to your success.
  • Cobble together time wherever and whenever possible. One of my #1 excuses is that I don’t have time. Truly we don’t have time for EVERYTHING. But if we really want to improve an area, we must give it time. Life is busy, especially if you have young ones in the house—sometimes the only time you can cram in to work on your craft/idea/skill/etc. is in between making lunches and taking a shower. Use that time! You’ll be surprised how much more you can accomplish by doing that instead of waiting for “someday.”
  • Schedule it. For many of us, simply scheduling time on our calendars will make it official and motivate/remind us to make it a priority.
  • Take breaks instead of (risking) breakdowns. Don’t push yourself to the brink. If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, take a step back and ask yourself why. Then make some adjustments, BEFORE it becomes too much.
  • Practice the really difficult or “don’t feel like it” tasks in micro doses so you can build a tolerance. Once you’ve done that you can handle more of it. Until it becomes not such a big deal any more to do the hard things.
  • Rip the Band-aid off. Sometimes it’s better to act before your mind has a chance to talk you out of something. Just go with your gut, make that call, agree to that gallery show, whatever it is. If it feels right, or if it feels scary, chances are you should do it.
  • Remember, it all starts with mindset, so feed your brain positive, empowering things and then ACT on them.
  • When you’re feeling lost or bored, or whatever excuse your mind comes up with to give up, remember WHY you’re doing this in the first place. Sometimes that’s enough to get you back to it.
  • Celebrate your victories—small or big, take a moment to celebrate AND write it down. Keep a “Wins” file that contains mention of these victories. You can revisit it when you’re feeling like a less-than-talented hack.
  • Set yourself some minimum stretch goals. Just like the pottery study, make yourself practice X amount of hours, or submit to X number of publications, or read X number of books, or whatever it is. Commit to that and be amazed by what you achieve in the practice of that goal. But remember, don’t make it too easy–that’s the stretch part.
  • BONUS TIP: If you’re in a funk, play Britney Spear’s Work Bitch and remember, you want a masarati, you want a hot body? You gotta work, bitch! 😉


Decision Fatigue Can Rob Your Creativity

Have you heard of capsule wardrobes? Or entrepreneurs who eat the same exact thing for breakfast every day? There’s a reason they’re doing this. And I’ve totally been resisting it. But I think it’s time to change that.

Did you know that adults in the U.S. are estimated to make 35,000 decisions per day? Holy shit. No wonder I sometimes feel like an incoherent blob the end of a hard day.

Research shows that we have only so many good decisions in us, on any given day. This phenomenon is called decision fatigue.

decision fatigue robs your creativity

Any given day we choose what to eat, wear, buy, believe, how to work, where to go, and the list goes on. As the day wears on our willpower and ability to make quality decisions deteriorates.

And yeah, it’s totally worse if you have kids, a disability, others to care for, a household to run, deal with discrimination, have health issues, etc. (more factors=more decisions)

This is where tools like the capsule wardrobe (ugh) come in.

Leaders and entrepreneurs like President Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, Nicole Richie have adopted capsule wardrobes because it reduces the need for another creative decision in the morning. The theory is that the less good decision-making “credits” you use up the more reserves you’ll have left for important choices throughout the day. Have one navy suit, two ties and two white shirts? Boom, you know what to wear, with little to no consideration needed.

Now I’m not proposing you throw out 90% of your clothes. A capsule wardrobe, or eating the same thing for breakfast everyday isn’t going to change your whole life. But imagine the results for your creativity, or personal brand, if you consistently did this kind of thing with a bunch of daily tasks and removed the need to make some of the more arbitrary decisions. Now that may make a big difference.

To be clear: I do not currently utilize a capsule wardrobe or eat the same thing every day (though most days my breakfast is an RX Bar). I actually like to joke that because of my years of being a sometimes broke single mom, that I’ve had an involuntary capsule wardrobe for the past ten years. 😉

Seriously though, as I continue to tweak my lifestyle to fit my dreams, I want to cut the waste and optimize my life and career the way I really want it to be. I don’t want to squander precious time on things that don’t matter to me.

These are times when events are often outside of our control–inevitable roadblocks, bumps, potholes on the road. Pandemic, anyone? These may require more decisions that can potentially rob us of our ability to accelerate as fast as we’d like down toward our dream life. Sometimes they even run the risk of knocking us off the road completely.

Paring down decisions can be one way to help you keep momentum when you’re starting to feel overwhelmed. Simplifying can help you hold on to your creativity and ability to make better decisions on a daily basis.

What to Do About It

So, below are some ways to reduce decision-making in your daily life. Obviously, not all of these things will work for everyone. For instance, I would get bored of eating the same thing everyday, while someone else might love it. Customize with your own needs in mind.

As a creative multi-passionate person I also have huge resistance toward- what I like to call -“a boring old routine.” But I’ve also found that a balance of routine and free time really helps my focus and progress on my projects. So here we go:

  • Plan the week’s meals ahead, buy everything and meal prep on Sunday (or whatever day starts off your week).
  • Eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch or dinner everyday. I prefer only to do this for breafast, but you know, do you. 😉
  • Simplify to a capsule wardrobe
  • Set a clear work schedule (especially if you work from home) and stick to it as much as possible
  • Set a clear creative project schedule. Treat your creative project as important as work, or exercise–or whatever you naturally have an easier time prioritizing.
  • Embrace (or try for a month) a morning routine–time for yourself in the morning where you do the same thing every day: get your coffee, write your morning pages, take a shower, eat your avocado toast, do yoga, etc. whatever works for you.
  • Set your clothes out the night before.
  • Batch time/decision wasters: check email 1-3 times a day at set times (instead of incessantly all day), check the snail mail once or twice a week, do laundry only on certain days, etc.
  • Outsource mundane tasks (if you can) like cleaning, laundry, design, bookkeeping, errands, etc.
  • Use IF/THEN pairing decisions: “If it’s 5pm, I quit working for the day; if I have a glass of wine, I have a glass of water.”
  • Prioritize big or important decisions or tasks for the beginning of the day. Keep your To-Do list short and execute like a bawse!
  • Ask yourself if there’s a simpler way. Sometimes we get too wrapped up in options or “best case” choices. I’ve literally deliberated over types of milk in the grocery store for 10 minutes, before. It’s ridiculous. So more often lately, I’m trying to remind myself–what’s the simplest solution here? The least stressful?
  • Remember that done is better than perfect. Sometimes you just need to finish something. You could even possibly come back later when you’re fresh. I often use this approach with clients who are on a deadline, sometimes it’s more important to get something right. Other times, it’s best to finish a simpler version of something and then add bells and whistles in phase two.
  • Stick to one task at a time until it’s finished. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been working and save a big graphic file on my computer, that might take 30 seconds (max) to save, and I feel the urge to go check on some other project “while I’m waiting.” 30-frickin-minutes later, I realize I’ve actually wasted more time by switching tasks.
  • Meditate, do yoga, or something mindful each morning (or any time you’re feeling overwhelmed) to start your day and strengthen your good ole prefrontal cortex (aka the good decision factory).

When it comes to your writing career, here are some additional ways to help get your best decisions made before you begin to burn out later in the day.

  • Set aside time to put together (or revisit) your branding and marketing strategy once or twice per year. Knowing what you want to achieve, by when, with measurable tasks can then be then broken down and used as checklists, rather than having to remind yourself repeatedly what to do next, or decide on what the next promotion will be.
  • Take time to go deep FIRST and get a solid understanding of what you really want, what you want to be known for and what steps you may need to get there. I’ve found that a great deal of decision fatigue develops when you’re not solid on what you really want to build. When that happens your subconscious desires (some of which can be self-sabotaging) take over.
  • Do the research and brainstorming it takes to really get to know your Ideal Readers. Once you understand them on a deeper level, marketing, branding, pricing, etc. decisions will become a lot easier. Plus you won’t be tempted as much by the latest “miracle” marketing bullshit.
  • Keep a Creative Ideas folder on your computer or phone (or good old hard copy). Use software to organize all these files and ideas, using the likes of Google Drive, Notion, Evernote, or equivalent software. This way, when you get great ideas (that you can’t necessarily act on right now or you’ll distract yourself) you know they’ll be in a safe place, waiting for when you have more time. I have both a physical folder and digital for this. Plus I also use Notion.
  • Reduce or distill your larger 6 month/year goals down into monthly, weekly, daily goals. Smaller chunks, when written out, will help you just follow the list rather than feeling like you need to decide what’s next.
  • Plan out your week, every week in advance–schedule in specific time for tasks so you can just follow along (for the most part) during your work week.
  • Organize your creativity and/or business supplies in a way that works for your brain, makes things easy to find, and helps you stay in the flow.

It’s important to separate our processes from our decisions and I hope that a few of these tips will help you clear your head and make more progress on the things you care most about.

If you find yourself avoiding working on your author brand or marketing efforts, here’s a piece about shifting your mindset.

how to give your book or creative work its best shot at succeeding

Your book, service, art, or product–should you choose to share it with the world–deserves its best shot at success. Don’t forget that.

One of the most common questions I get is, “Do I need to have a brand or online presence before I have a book?” Or if you’re not a writer, just substitute in your “products” or “services,” for “book.”

Let’s look at this chicken vs. egg conundrum via the indomitable perspective of story:

Imagine you’re about to attend a cocktail party at a colleague’s house. You don’t know anyone there, but your colleague says you’ll dig these people. You’ve been working on the final touches of your first novel all day. It’s finally finished and even the cover looks great. Then you realize it’s quarter to six and you should have left like ten minutes ago. So you throw on a t-shirt and some running shorts, swipe a brush through your hair real quick and slap on some blush.

When you arrive at the party you realize you’re woefully under-dressed. Everyone is in cocktail party attire–little black dresses and button down shirts.

Crap that’s right it’s a cocktail party, you think, well here goes nothing. You walk in and say hello to your colleague Jane, who tries to mask her shock at what you’re wearing with a meager smile.

“You do know this is a cocktail party right?” she whispers in your ear as she gives you a quick hug.

“Of course, I just didn’t have time; I was finishing my book.”

“Oh well…uh, that’s great!”

“See!” You hold it up in front of your chest like it’s a medal.

“Oh you brought it with you?!” She laughs awkwardly and congratulates you on your accomplishment. Feeling a boost–after all you just finished your entire frickin’ book–you walk over to a friendly looking gay couple and introduce yourself.

“Hello, I’m Lucy, a friend of Jane’s. And this is my newly finished book!” Again you hold it out, this time like Vanna White. “It’s sci-fi. Would you like to buy a copy? It’s really great.”

The two men shoot quick looks of shock at each other, but as polite humans they feign mild interest and say pleasantries, but really they’re thinking Who the hell is this, and who does that? I don’t even like sci-fi novels. Also, where’s the shrimp scampi?

You sense their waning interest and move on to someone else who will surely want to buy your new book.

Of course, you wouldn’t actually do this in real life. But when you go out into the world with a book but no real brand, you’re basically doing the same thing. You’re essentially going into a world where no one knows you, what you stand for, if you have any talent, or if your work will be any good, and begin barraging people with requests to read or buy your book.

Most people are not going to succeed using this method. Or at the very least, they’re entering the room at an extreme disadvantage. I mean, would you like this? Surely you’ve even experienced the receiving end of this kind of tactic. I know I have.

Consciously branding yourself before you have something to SELL is more like spending some time to make sure you’re appropriately dressed for the party (maybe you even have a conversation starting accessory), you’re showered and clean, your hair got did, maybe even your nails too. And you leave your book at home, but you bring your well-designed business card. You have more natural conversations with the other guests, finding out what they’re interested in, how you might help each other in your careers. You might even talk about the book you’re writing when they ask you what you do, but you don’t try to sell it to them (yet). You make sure you stay connected, if they want to be. And you do something nice for them, or give them some useful information, or the phone number of that reliable, honest mechanic you know. You act like a decent human being, not a book-hawking automaton in running shorts.

I’ve said it many times, but let me reiterate: branding doesn’t mean creating some bullshit persona, it’s clarifying the strengths, gifts and vision you have for your career and life while also identifying WHO you’ll help and HOW you’ll do it (whether that’s a book, massage service, or paintings, or whatever), so you can live within the bounds of your best self and attract the people who will help you or who need you (and your work).

Taking the time to craft a brand and introduce it to the world before you have your work all dialed-in requires self-knowledge and forethought.

If you swoop in out of nowhere and have no backstory you’re not going to be a sympathetic character. It’s going to be a lot harder for people to give a shit about who you are and what you’re selling.

Of course there are always exceptions, but let’s get real, better to plan for the hardest, most-likely path and be pleasantly surprised if it works out to be easier, than the other way around, right?

These days agents and publishers are looking for two things. As my friend Monica Odom, literary agent extraordinaire said during our recent online workshop:

“Before you pitch or query an agent, know your work and know your brand.”

Of course, you must have a really good story and execution–don’t think I’m suggesting otherwise–these are crucial to your work, unless pf course you’re already an overnight viral internet sensation. So if all you have bandwidth for is writing your book, then do that for now. But know that the time will come where you will need to set aside time to work on your brand as well. Ideally, before your book launches. This is especially true for those who go down the self publishing route as you will not have an established publisher backing you; while this route does grant you total creative freedom and control over your own work, it does mean that its success is also down to you.

All writing being equal, the author who has a brand to support sales of their book(s) will win the bigger deal and get more support from their agent, publisher, and readers.

Over and over, through my work with various authors, agents, and editors, I’ve found that publishers are looking for not just an irresistible idea but a partner to help sell it to the world.

I know how daunting and discouraging this can seem. Even with a background in branding and marketing, I sometimes still get overwhelmed by the thought of promoting myself. Not because it’s awful, but simply because I know the creative writing side of my brain operates much differently than the marketing side. It takes work to switch gears, no doubt.

And life gets busy. Like real busy.

But I’ll tell you a secret: Once you establish the foundations of your brand and parse out a general strategy that works with who you are, it gets more exciting and less overwhelming.

Branding is kind of like writing a book–if you think about the end product too much you’ll get buried under the enormity of it all. But if you break it down to the most important concepts, the themes, the characters, the settings, and commit to a schedule–even if you can only spare a couple hours a week–you’ll begin to see the power of the results you can achieve.

Baby steps, my friends. Either that or hire help if you can.

In your brand story you are the protagonist, the hero of your career, so you must show people why they should care about the stories you’re building.

woman reading a book

Photo by Jacalyn Beales on Unsplash

If you still doubt me, here are just some of the ways a consciously-created brand can help your writing (or creative) career:

  • Actually getting the book deal because you have an edge over less prepared authors
  • Getting a bigger-better ($$$) book deal because you’ve helped the publisher see the potential in your brand and work
  • Sell more books to your already building audience
  • More promotional opportunities will popup because more people are aware of you and how awesome your work is
  • More people will genuinely want to help promote your book(s) by reviewing it, telling friends, helping you with connections
  • Better connections with colleagues who can help you with publicity, bylines and the readership you need because they understand the value you bring

Where to Start

When it comes to branding, most people instinctively start with their visuals, logo, or website, or even social media, but that’s like creating a book cover without writing the book. This is the wrong approach.

It all starts with you and the story you want for your career–your ultimate vision. Ignore the temptation to jump on the pretty stuff and do the internal work first. Remember, the story is the most important thing, so you need to know what the hell you want the story of your brand to look like before you can tell it properly.

What Creating a Brand looks like, using an adapted Hero’s Journey model:

Before you read this, remember it’s the overview so don’t get overwhelmed, each step should be broken down into bite-sized pieces. This is not possible in one blog post, this is something I do in my online branding course and one-on-one with clients.

  • Happy Ending/Vision: Start at the end. It’s important to understand what your end game comes first when you’re planning. Decide what you really want for your life and career. Even if you are having trouble visualizing what your career would look like after your first book, focus what you want that book launch and the aftermath to look like. It’s okay to not to have all the answers, but it is essential to at least strive for an understanding of what you truly want–even if that’s not super specific at this point.
  • The Hero and her Conflict: This is where you get to know the character, what you’re good at (your strengths) and areas where you’re not so strong (things you don’t have the knowledge in or struggle with), your values, and what makes you unique. It’s important for you to understand who you are–so you can base your brand on that and not a fleeting thing like a product or book.
  • The Mentor: Learn how to create your brand consciously. You will need help. You find some info online for free (there are even some here on my site), sign up for my email list, or read books, etc. Or if you’re ready to get the bite-sized guidance start-to-finish, sign up for my online course.
  • The Quest: Start brainstorming ideas based on what you’ve learned about yourself, your work, and your ideal readers, for marketing strategies, design, social media, events, etc.
  • The Challenges & Temptations: There will be setbacks, or challenges, the most common of which is your own motivation to get things done. Familiarize yourself with these and always look for tools to overcome. Don’t let these biatches keep you from the career and life you want.
  • Taking Action, Building Toward the Climax & Denouement: Figure out how much time you can carve out for building your brand and slap deadlines on those tasks. Work consistent brand-building into your life and you’ll see the results begin to build over time.

To get you started on the brainstorming aspect of creating a broad overview of your own strategy using the above mentioned formula, which is essentially the first step, download my free worksheet to help you visualize this process and get started on building your brand.

National Novel Writing Month reduced my stressI hemmed and hawed about whether to participate in National Novel Writing Month this year. The idea of this challenge–writing a 50,000 word novel in a month–has always appealed to my overachiever side, but I’ve never pulled the trigger, until now. This year, since I’ve been working my way through some doozies of personal emotional shit storms, like my hometown literally burning to the ground, not to mention our shared trauma over numerous international and national tragedies and natural disasters, I decided this was the perfect time to push myself to commit to starting my novel. Why not pile on more, right? 😛

Why in the hell would I commit to this insane writing challenge now, during a time in my life when I’ve been especially busy and stressed? Because I needed a g-darn creative outlet that is ONLY for me.

As a creative entrepreneur and bleeding heart, I don’t always give myself the time and resources I need for self care. Shocker, I know. I go through phases where I’m really good about practicing the gospel of self care that I preach, and then there are other times when life hits hard and I feel like blob of flesh with a spinning top for brain. A slow, wobbly whiligig at that.

I look at the beautiful Instagram feeds of folks I admire like Glennon Doyle, Lewis Howes, and Tim Ferriss and see how “on it” they are with fitness and general well being, and then think, what the heck is wrong with me? Why don’t I have it all together?

For most of us, real life isn’t so curated, or expertly executed. (At least I hope it’s how most of us are and not just me and a few people I know.) There’s this myth that we too can “have it all together.”

But there’s a limit to our personal bandwidth.

I’m going to be asshole here and go ahead and say that it’s not really possible to have everything perfectly aligned in your life–or at least not for more than a short period of time. Life is seasonal, with good times and bad.

We have to stop pretending like perfection and balance is attainable.

Now, before you think I’m a total pessimist, know that I’m not saying we can’t improve our lives, or even have damn great lives. I just think we hold up this model of being wealthy, healthy, perfecto human beings like if we just work hard enough, are disciplined enough, or eat paleo, everything will change. We’ll have achieved nirvana here on earth. And because we believe this, we compare it to where we are now and push and press ourselves to the point of exhaustion to get it. Then feel like failures when it doesn’t happen.

We forget that progress takes time, or that many of the celebrity-lifestyle-gurus who are doing great things also do not live perfect lives, despite what we may see in their Instagram feeds.

No one knows the personal challenges you face like you do. People may try to understand (or not) but remember no one really knows what’s going on in that old brainpan of yours. Some of us have taller hurdles to jump, or mountains to climb.

Give yourself a break and take the time you need to figure out what will work for you. Stop frantically trying all of the things. Get alone time and think on what will help you change and improve your life and career.

So what does all of this have to do with me doing #NaNoWriMo and it actually helping my stress levels? I’m so glad you asked. 😉

I do creative work and strategy work for a living and I love it. But it also drains my creative well (as Julia Cameron would say), so when it comes time for downtime sometimes I go into blob mode, incapable of making a creative decision–even if that’s just what I should make for dinner.

With all of the major disasters and events in October, toward the end of the month I was feeling like El Blobo, bigtime.

Thank god though, I was able to actually listen to this little nagging voice that kept saying, “Hey, maybe you should start on that novel you’ve been wanting to write…maybe you could use #NaNoWriMo to get your butt in gear?”

I told my accountability buddies I was thinking about doing NaNoWriMo and how I felt a little crazy to be thinking about it since I was already juggling so much. But this voice inside assured me that if I could figure out a way to fit it into my life, it would be a good thing, a restorative thing. So I listened. And my accountability buddies decided they’d join in too.

Here’s how I adjusted my goals: The traditional approach is to write 1,667 words every day so that by November 30th you’ve got 50,000 words written. I knew this was way out of my feasibility at this time. I settled on just 500 words per day.

This little chunk of words–which I can sometimes finish in as little as twenty minutes (this is shitty first draft status, so don’t freak)–feels like a treat rather than an obligation or responsibility.

Now I’m only a week or so in, so you know, count that for what it’s worth, but I have been enjoying this writing like I haven’t for a long time. See it’s not an emotional rollercoaster like writing my memoir or essays about single motherhood can be. And while that writing is important and I will go back to it, this feels like pure fun!

Not only does it tap into the pleasure of just writing with my imagination, but I’m writing a novel set in the 1800’s so it also hits my history-buff-research-aholic pleasure center as well.

I’m telling you all this, not because i think you should jump on the NaNoWriMo bus, but because I hope it will spark some ideas for you on how you might refill your well with something you love–utilizing a tool that will keep you accountable.

Speaking of that, I registered on the Nanowrimo website and set my personal goals, but the site also tracks your progress compared to the standard 1,667 words/day standard as well. And so, here’s where that impossible ideal of comparison rears its ugly head. And I choose to ignore it.

Here’s a recent screenshot (of my hackneyed tracking on the site):

my nanowrimo progress

I’ve also been tracking my progress by posting on Instagram, and forgot to enter my words on a daily basis on the site. So basically, I already screwed up my tracking part. LOL. But I don’t care. I’m doing the writing.

I don’t care that other people are writing more, or not. I don’t even care about the quality of what I’m producing.

I do care that I found a creative activity that is purely selfish, in the best way possible.

And guess what? That makes me better at everything in my life. A happier mother, girlfriend, dog-mama, friend, consultant, designer, marketer, brander, etc. You get the idea. And that, my friends is the stuff of real, positive change.

My challenge to you is to think about what you might do to nurture your own creative spirit.

How can you slow down enough to be able to hear that little voice inside you telling you exactly what is needed to heal your overworked, stressed, yet pressing on soul?

And hey, if you figure it out let me know! I’d love to hear what you decided to do for yourself and how you plan to keep yourself accountable.

Remember, you have something(s) amazing to contribute to this world, but you ain’t going to make it if you’re feeling like a blob with a spinning top for a brain.

Go find that restorative thing, hold yourself to it, and love your badass self.

Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. -Chuck Close

I realize this is a funny thing to say given that my work is largely infused with inspiration/motivation, but you’ll see what I’m really getting at. As writers and/or artists, we know that 90% of the battle is just putting your damn butt in the chair to write, or picking up the paintbrush (or pencil), or whatever implement you use to create. Yet all too often we expect this flash of inspiration to hit us like a gift from the gods.

Sure sometimes that happens, but more often than not it’s a slow build.

For me, creative writing, especially nonfiction about my life, is often an arduous process. There’s the occasional moment where the clouds part and the Universe says, “here you go, honey,” as they hand me a nugget of flow.

But usually, it pretty much goes like this:


As a kid I was a good student. I hated disappointing anyone almost as much as I hated being anything less than perfect. For the most part I got straight A’s. I was highly disappointed in myself if I didn’t.

Classmates would often remark that I was “so smart” or how they wished they could get A’s like I did. Frankly, this kind of pissed me off. Sure, on the surface this was a compliment, but underneath was the assumption that I just had some special gift that they didn’t. Bear with me, I know I sound like a bragging asshole right now.

I spent hours studying, doing drills, and practicing to earn those grades. In fact, in fourth grade when I got my first D ever (ironically, in spelling), Dad and I worked every night for months to bring that up to an A.

I was lucky that my parents definitely passed down their genetic propensity for traditional intelligence (make no mistake there are many different types of intelligence), but after that, it was up to me to get the grades even in subjects that felt like my brain was being torn apart. I’m looking at you math and conceptual physics!

In seventh grade this girl Mary and I competed for the best grades, we were often neck-in-neck for who had the best percentage A. This was when I realized there were smarter, harder working kids than me. She wanted it more and maybe she was smarter than me, too. I backed down a bit from my quest for perfection and sometimes settled for B’s or C’s (conceptual physics, you bitch). If I couldn’t be THE best, I’d get by with my reasonable best.

The thing is, I never applied this drive to physical activity as a kid. When it came to sports of most kinds, I was riddled with self-doubt and self-pity. If I couldn’t hit the ball, run fast enough, or catch often enough I just gave up. I needed to be at the top, and if I couldn’t I bowed out. It didn’t occur to me that hard work might just get me to “decent” eventually. I understood how to apply hardwork to school, but not as much to other things.


Fast forward twenty-some years to when I started out at UCLA X Writers Program. I entered thinking I was a pretty good writer who just needed to learn some tools in order to write better. From my first class, I realized I was an amateur. I was not even close to the top tier. Again, I wanted to be THE best. 

I secretly dreamed of being the next Joan Didion, or Mary Karr, until I realized I would likely not only would have to work for decades, but also was not born with their level of talent either.

Something had shifted. After a brief mourning period around not being born a golden child, I was able to better fight the urge to be perfect. I cared so much about becoming a better writer. Writing was something I’d wanted to learn since high school, and now I was finally doing it. I wanted to learn as much as possible, and push myself to my best, but not THE best. 

The initial momentum of my dream to become a writer propelled me, but it was the revisiting of it that got me through the hundreds of edits and thousands of hours of writing. I still feel as if I have a long way to go, but now just being on the path is enough to keep me going.


I liken creative work to walking. When you’re doing the work, you often feel as if you’re just staring at your feet as they step over the earth. You’re not sure where things are going, or even where you’ve been. There’s beauty in that presence, but if you don’t look up occasionally you’ll likely fall off a cliff or wander into a bad neighborhood.

On the other hand, if all you do is look up and around and your surroundings, looking for inspiration or motivation, you’ll never effectively see the path that leads you to your goals. And we all know the path is always a winding one.

I think then that our best bet is to do both. Observe what’s happening in our world, look forward toward our goals, our ultimate vision, as we call it in my personal branding course.  But we must also remember to look down at our feet, be in the moment, so we don’t stumble over that rock, or we can step over that brook, or clear out those branches that have fallen to block our path.

The rewards are all around us and even within the work of our path. But it’s that combination of steps, moving forward–the daily work–that leads us closer to our dreams, while that looking up that reminds us why we’re here.  

The more we do the work, the more inspiration follows. We don’t have to be the best, but when we are relentless in the pursuit of our calling, dream, or purpose, our most inspired work bursts forth.

Low Information DietI’m one of those people who naturally wants to do 4.5 million things almost all the time. Life is full of possibilities and opportunities and, let’s face it, there’s never been a time when so much information has been so available. Did I mention I’ll also love researching the hell out of things?

But, as the saying goes, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” If I want to actually get anywhere I have to pare down.

This was a big realization to me as a I began to pursue my dream of becoming a writer and speaker. Honestly, it’s been something I have been working on ever since I read The Four-Hour Workweek, by Tim Ferriss, back in 2008. This book changed the way I would forever think of life optimization and work–you should read it. But let’s get at the point here.

One big ‘ole important step to figuring out what you want and how to get it is by clearing your mind of distraction. Easier said than done, I know.

Post-election, I’m realizing how much more I need to do this lately. I can feel my stomach turn and my shoulders tense when I see yet one more story about Trump.

Every time I’ve gone on an information diet, whether it’s for a week, or a month I feel more at peace, more focused, and happier. It’s helped me focus on what I really want, and take bigger strides to making it a reality.

We humans aren’t meant to carry all the information that is lobbed at us every day; and science is starting to show us just how bad this problem is.

So here is the Tim Ferriss Low Information Diet, in short:

  1. No newspapers, audio books, podcasts, magazines.
  2. No news websites
  3. No TV (or YouTube), except one hour of purely pleasure viewing each night.
  4. No reading books, except one hour of fiction pleasure reading.
  5. No browsing the internet, unless it’s completely necessary.

These are pretty strict, and in the beginning, people (me, ahem) often need to go on this drastic diet in order to “reset” their information addiction. Here’s my personal version, for right now:

  1. Only check social media accounts twice/day (yeah, I’m that bad)
  2. Only listen to story-driven podcasts (like Modern Love, The Moth, and Dear Sugar), limiting “work” podcasts (like How I Built This, BinderCast, etc.) to once per week.
  3. TV: Only Netflix and Amazon (no advertisements)

I find that if I don’t go on social media much I don’t end up browsing around the interwebs aimlessly. And I don’t get caught up in the next crazy political headline.

Think about starting your own version of a Low Information Diet. And tell me how it goes!

Warning:  What follows is very raw, unpolished and deeply personal.  I cried as I wrote this.  I’m sharing it with you because I want you to know there is freedom from what holds you back right now.  And, maybe just maybe, if I show you my fears, you will realize you’re not alone in yours.

Have you ever faced your demons head on?  Have you ever written down what you were afraid of?  Last June I did this, in the form of a writing exercise from Courage & Craft (Barbara Abercrombie).

The gist of the prompt was this:  Write about what keeps you from writing (you could insert whatever it is you struggle with here).  Give this thing a color, shape, sound, a voice, a texture, etc.  

So here goes…


It’s a fire-breathing dragon at first, floating in the air, it comes from the right, claws tracted, sharp teeth bearing.  A guttural roar comes from its throat, like a thousand lions, it shakes me.  I feel that its talons will tear me apart. I can feel his flaming hot body warming my skin, his hot breath, sulfurous in my face. He is telling me NO!  I will tear you apart if you write this!  You are not allowed to write this, his gurgling roar says without words.  He’s floating there, menacing on the right side of my visual field.  It is dark all around and I’m scared to tears.  If I fail, he’ll tear me apart, but this drive within me keeps picking away at me making it more uncomfortable NOT to write.

The swirling gray and black pit now threatens below me.  A whirlpool of fear and doubt attempts to drag me down and then money, paper bills start falling from the sky over me.  The bills turn to stones and as I sink into the pit the stones pile up and cover me entirely. “

And then I kept writing anyway, in fact, even more.

We all have our fears and demons to exercise.  Mine are failure, what other people think (silly I know) and lack of money.  It’s hard to pursue something just for the love of it, for the absolute faith that it will turn into something worthwhile, something that transcends the value of money.  It’s scary as hell.  But I’m done playing small.  I’m finally standing up for what I believe in for my future.  I know I have something important to give – there’s no doubt in my mind.

How about you?

You have greatness within you.  Whatever it is that you want to contribute to this world – do it.  You only have so many years left to make your mark!

Try doing the above exercise yourself!  Write about your absolute worst fears – what paralyzes and shatters you. (& please tell me about it.)