Category Archives: Self-Help

Contrarianism by Clayton Clifford Bye

Contrarianism in action: Spock and I prepare to take on some invaders. Note: I’m 6′ 1″ tall

 

A True Story.

I came home one evening from a fourteen-hour workday, having had three hours of sleep the night before. I was tired, cranky and hungry.

My wife met me at the door and said “Can you take us over to the church for Kid’s Club?”

My gut-level response? Gripe!

Yeah, that’s right. I wanted to say no. I wanted to remind her that if she had a driver’s license she wouldn’t need to ask. I wanted to say that the kids could skip their meeting this week. I wanted to ask “What about my dinner?”

But what I wanted wasn’t the best response. It wasn’t even the right response. It was a typical response.

Here’s what I forced myself to do instead: I smiled. I said “Sure.” I trudged out into the cold, scraped the frost off the windows of the car, started it up, went back inside and gave everyone a hug. I did this because it was exactly the opposite of what I wanted to do.

This story took place several years ago, yet similar choices are required of me every day. It’s something that will never change. Success demands you choose actions that are out of the ordinary–every day. Are you prepared to make that commitment?

The Incredible Power Of Contrarianism.

You want a better than average life? Stop doing what most people do. Begin right now. Don’t wait until later today. Don’t put it off until tomorrow. Make some different choices–right now.

I’m serious about this! Change is one of the most universally hated events. You should be prepared to welcome it for that reason alone–just because most other people won’t. Call it Contrarian Thinking or Contrarianism. It’s a way to force yourself to look at your choices from a different perspective.

Here’s the drill… When you want to generate better results than you’ve been getting, consider choosing a behaviour opposite of what you (or most people) would normally select in this particular situation. Now, I’m not saying you have to follow the course of action this exercise points you toward. Just give it serious consideration. Does this choice offer the possibility of better results? Do you have anything to lose by attempting this task? What other alternatives can you think of that might lead you away from the ordinary and toward the extraordinary? Make the best decision for you, based on the results you’re after.

In concise terms, Contrarians believe that the average person isn’t overly healthy, wealthy or happy, that these people just don’t make the right choices, or take the right actions, that lead to a better lifestyle. Contrarian philosophy also suggests outstanding achievement might be as simple a matter as choosing behaviours exactly opposite the average.

Emulate the exceptional not the ineffectual.

Let me ask you a couple of direct questions. Do most of the people you know deal with change well? Do you? If the answer was no (and it should have been), then there’s the justification for becoming a Contrarian. Simply put, if the results most people obtain in a given situation aren’t outstanding, why would you want to behave the way they do?

Let’s use this article as an example of what I’m talking about. A lot of people tend to read self-help literature passively, using the same approach they’d choose when sitting down with a novel. Be a Contrarian; do the opposite! Stop reading the moment you finish this paragraph, and act on what you’ve learned so far. Do something that opposes your normal choices. Not overly affectionate toward your spouse? Get up and give the guy or gal a hug. Say “I love you.” Better yet, put on the coffee, get them something to read and do those dishes they were about to do; show them you love them. It’s the opposite of what you’d normally do, and yet it makes sense, doesn’t it? We all know intuitively that better behaviours lead to better relationships. So, try what I’ve suggested… Put the article aside for awhile, and do something that’s out of character, that’s the exact opposite of what you usually do.

Convinced? Probably not. But that’s alright. Success is a journey, not a destination. The key is to keep moving in the right direction, to make more good decisions than bad.

Let’s look at another example of the kind of success-oriented movement that can be generated through Contrarian thinking. This one deals with procrastination, a problem of epidemic proportions.

Most people, I’m sure you’d agree, have problems with their to-do lists. I know I did. The pressure of things left undone was a constant in my life, and there were always tasks that seemed to get put off until they became so urgent they superceded everything else, wreaking havoc with scheduled work, interfering with more pleasant pastimes, threatening the quality of my life. Solution? Using Contrarian philosophy, I began to do the exact opposite of what I’d been doing. Specifically, I made the commitment to do my unpleasant tasks at the beginning of each day. After these tasks were completed, I’d go through the rest of the day working on a list of prioritized goals, refusing to worry about items shelved for another day because of time constraints. The results not only astounded me, they changed my life.

A Powerful Contrarian Technique.

Step 1: Find the most distasteful job on your to-do list and get it done. Why? The choice represents contrarian philosophy as well as any example I could give you. There’s something invigorating about clearing a repugnant task from your list of things to do, and it’s uncommon behaviour. Try it. You won’t be disappointed.

Step 2: From now on, begin each morning by doing the least preferable job(s) of the day. Chances are you’ll feel so good about yourself procrastination won’t seem half so attractive.

Step 3: Go through the rest of your day working from a list of prioritized goals. Recognize that worrying about things left undone is counterproductive, that a steady, energetic and worry-free progression through your most important goals will leave you further ahead at the end of the day than anything else you could do. It’s another uncommon or Contrarian choice.

Remember: When you’re prioritizing, don’t fall into the habit of putting jobs at the bottom of your list because they’re difficult, or boring, or nasty or… You get my drift, right? Arrange your tasks according to their importance and urgency, not by degree of difficulty.

I have many such examples of Contrarianism in action…

Are you, or have you ever been, a couch potato? I have. Here’s how I beat the habit: I made the decision to give my wife $5 for her personal shopping fund every time I thought about turning on the television or renting a movie. The end result was I don’t watch as much television as I used to, and my wife was able to enjoy several months of shopping at my expense.

Do you have the habit of laying blame when something unpleasant happens? You’re not alone. The Contrarian (and difficult) choice is to take responsibility where most people wouldn’t. After all, there’s a staggering probability that at some point in the chain of events there was an opportunity for you to have done something to change the results you experienced. The Contrarian would also find out what it was they could have done to get better results and would make the decision to alter their behaviour next time around.

Have you got the idea? By identifying the things most people aren’t willing to do–then doing those things yourself–you put yourself way out in front of the pack. So, stop wasting time. Make the change right now. Get contrary. Get different. Get on the high road to success.

Stop doing what most people do, and start doing what successful people do.

Is that all there is to it? Do successful people just choose behaviours that oppose the average? For the most part, yes. In general, successful people set goals they’re going to enjoy pursuing, work hard on a daily basis to achieve those goals, do the best they can within the realm of their abilities and spend little time worrying about what they can’t do or what others think. You must know, you must recognize, that the average person doesn’t go through life this way. The average person is reactive, rather than proactive. The average person doesn’t chart and adhere to a specific course but tends to be at the mercy of the winds of change, a statement supported by the lack of preparedness often exhibited when a strong wind blows through.

Think I’m being too harsh? Then consider this course of action: Get a pen and paper and write down exactly what you want from life, when you want these things to happen and the resources you’ll probably need. Break each of these large goals down into smaller and smaller tasks until you get to something you can do immediately. Do this thing. Then do the next task. And the next. And so on.

What? It’s too hard? It’ll take too much time? Well, you’re right. It should become obvious that this exercise is one without end, that will take you a lifetime to complete. But that’s the point. I’m convinced there are few people in this world who make the decision to spend each of the days they’ve been given on this earth “on purpose.” Yet this is exactly what I’ve observed successful people doing! If there’s one ability these individuals share, it’s focus. Successful people “dig in.” They refuse to be daunted by the lifelong challenge implied by the word “success.” Successful people know what they want and go for it.

Be willing to cultivate experiences which will move you relentlessly toward your goals. Why? Because the average person won’t, and the successful person will.

Spend the rest of your days “on purpose.”

The idea is so elegantly simple. At some level, I believe all successful people recognize that the meaning they choose to place on their experiences determines the direction and shape of their lives. It’s like having a pair of magic glasses to illuminate what’s important and to diminish what’s not, and it bestows the power to make the right choices.

This insight is important! If you can manage to interpret your future experiences in positive, constructive or proactive ways, I’m convinced you can accomplish virtually anything you can envision. Why not begin now?

Get On Purpose.

1. Review the patterns in your life, making a list of things you enjoy doing that you’re also good at. If you come up with zilch, go out and try new experiences until you do find a pastime you can enjoy. Reasoning? If you can’t enjoy what you do, you’ll never achieve an enjoyable lifestyle.

2. Lurking within this list of things you enjoy are thousands of opportunities. Your next job is to find a product, service or idea you can sell that’s related to this list. That’s right–sell. The only way anyone ever makes any money is to sell a product or a service or an idea. Every job in the world is, in some way, a service. All businesses sell something. And behind every one of these businesses and services are ideas people have either discovered or bought. It’s something everyone should think about, if not understand.

3. As for achieving outstanding success in the field you’ve chosen, the procedure is simple… Your earnings will always rise in direct ratio to the following:

a) The demand for what you do.

It’s up to you to find this demand, or create it.

b) How well you do it.

This is where the enjoyment comes in. If you don’t enjoy what you do, you’ll never put in enough practice time to become outstanding at it.

c) How difficult it is to replace you.

The more valuable you make yourself in the eyes of your direct customer, the more difficult it becomes to replace you.

Alright, that was a global approach for getting “on purpose.” But what do you do about staying focused on a daily basis? I like to use what I call the 4 A’s of Achievement. It’s a system I devised for keeping me focused on the results I want from life. The system has helped me to maintain perspective, and it has led me to some outstanding achievements. I know it can do the same for you.

The Four A’s of Achievement.

Awareness: Know what you want–from life, from this day or even from your current task. Plan each leg of your journey “on purpose” and with daily enjoyment in mind.

This is so important! Specific destinations give you a target to aim for, or a direction in which to travel. They give you that all-important thing called focus. Having fun while you’re at it increases the likelihood that you’ll repeat the behaviour.

Action: Get moving! Small achievable steps, taken on a consistent basis, will get you where you want to go.

Virtually any vision you can hold in your mind can be accomplished in time. And as this is a life you’re planning, the only thing with the power to actually stop you is death itself. So, get moving!

Analysis: Keep your eyes open. Learn to recognize when you’re on course and when you’re not.

Think about it: Those miles you rack up every day will only get you to your next port of call if you’re travelling in the right direction. Look for signs. Write things down! Check up on yourself. Stay on course. Get “on purpose.”

Adjustment: If you find a good vehicle or a good road to travel, stick with it long enough to make some progress in the direction of your goal(s). But please! If you take a wrong turn, never hesitate to make a course correction. All good navigators know that staying on course is primarily a matter of small and continuous adjustments to keep from drifting off target.

Be prepared to modify your behaviour and actions as required.

That’s it. The uncomplicated but never easy path to the good life: Consistent and purposeful action over a lifetime – with a vigilant eye on the results.

To recap:

Figure out what you could enjoy doing with the rest of your life, then put your focus on behaviours with the potential to get you living that way. Pay attention to the results you get, making adjustments when needed. Become a Contrarian. Do what others are unwilling to do. Strive to find positive and productive meaning in each experience you have, rather than thinking, feeling, talking and acting as you have in the past. Dare to be different! If nothing else, you’ll end up with a more useful set of beliefs about what you’re capable of and about how the world works. Personally, I think the ride’s going to be more exciting than you could ever imagine. Have fun.

Copyright © 2017 Clayton Clifford Bye

The Magic Called Focus by Clayton Clifford Bye

The wind and the waves slammed into us with icy indifference. Air temperature plummeted to near freezing in a matter of seconds, and numbness began to crawl over the exposed flesh of my hands and face. I saw a brief flash of white as terror clawed at the corner of Danny’s eyes, then he turned wordlessly back to his oar. He was right to be afraid.

Things had started out well enough. We stopped at the Big Trout Lake weather office, where we both worked as meteorological technicians, looked over the current reports, got an updated forecast and checked both the barometer and the wind recorder. Everything seemed to be fine. We’d be fishing for walleye on the Bug River within an hour.

And everything was fine—until our motor quit. Even then, we had no reason to be alarmed. The skies were trouble free, and the lake was calm enough for rowing. All we had to do was backtrack in the shelter of a couple of islands and cross the quarter of a mile of open water which lay between them and the mainland. This done, we would be in sight of the village. Rescue would simply become a matter of waiting to be noticed. Such was our plan.

We were about a hundred yards from where we wanted to land the boat when the storm caught us. And even though a fast-moving wall of water (extending from the surface of the lake to the sky and preceded by a seething mass of ugly white waves) is hard to miss, we really didn’t have much notice. It wasn’t just one cell either, but a whole line of thunder clouds. They can move with remarkable speed.

I’ll confess I was concerned when the storm first appeared, but I wasn’t frightened. The fear didn’t really surface until a few minutes later, when we found ourselves being tossed around in ten foot swells that were crested with white-caps which looked like they belonged on the ocean. In the space of less than five minutes, and without moving a single meter closer to shore, Danny and I were blown a quarter of a mile south.

It happened that fast. One minute we were thinking about landing the boat and starting a fire to warm ourselves, the next minute we were being swept south towards thirteen miles of open water. This was something we definitely didn’t want to happen. Big Trout Lake is a killer when rough weather sets in. We both knew that once we hit the main lake there would be no avoiding capsize or the near-freezing water that would seal our fate. By the time a search party thought to look for as at the south end of the lake, instead of the west end, we would be goners. Yes, I think Danny had good reason to be afraid.

I suppose it was because of this train of thought that I just happened to be looking at Danny when it happened. I think I had some sort of notion that by focusing on him I could keep my own fear in check. And I was very much afraid. You see, the waves had gotten so large we could see through the curl of the white caps as they raged down toward us. The sight made my stomach knot up into an iron ball. When our boat was in the trough of a wave, my friend had to stick his oar upward into the side of the thing and pull with a clumsy down and backward movement. Similarly, each time we found ourselves perched at the crest of a wave, I couldn’t draw water with my oar. As for the sudden slip-and-rush down the side of each succeeding monster wave? That’s something I still don’t like to think about.

Anyway, we were at the bottom of one of these boat-crackers, and I was monitoring Danny’s every move. I watched in awe as his oar pierced the wave at no less than an upward angle of 45 degrees. He bunched up into a ball, pushed hard with his legs, rose up off his seat a little and arched backward. The oar snapped.

I can still see it clearly on the screen of my mind: Danny’s feet shot up past the top of his head as if they had been fired from the barrel of a pistol. He did a 360 degree flip in the air and then stopped abruptly when the back of his head connected with the front seat of the boat. I thought his neck was broken. But I didn’t have time to make sure. I checked for a pulse and to see if he was breathing. Yes, he was alive. He was also out cold.

At this point, we were about 200 feet from shore and only 50 feet from the last point of land that could save us from certain death. I have a vivid memory of the sinking feeling I got in my chest when I saw how quickly the remaining shoreline was disappearing. I also remember how angry I got at that response. In fact, I was so angry with my lack of faith in myself that I forced myself upright, stood there with the storm raging all around me and literally willed myself to stare for a long moment at a rock on the shore. I didn’t pay attention to such things back then, but what happened next is etched permanently into my mind. I asked myself a question. I asked “How can I do this?”

As long as I live, I’ll never forget the answer that popped immediately into my mind. It was a crystal-clear picture of me rowing with the passion and speed of a fiend, followed by a phrase that rifled up from the depths of my brain … “Paddle like a madman!”

It’s amazing what a focused mind will do. With no one to lean on but myself, and the only options being death or not death, I found myself determined to do whatever it took to drive our boat onto the rock I’d chosen as a target. I used my oar as a paddle, reefing on it with superhuman strength and the crazed fury of a madman. I dug so deep and with such tremendous force that I was continually lifted off my feet and slammed into the side of the boat. It mattered not. Nothing in the entire world mattered except hitting that rock. And so, I did.

P.S.
Danny was only unconscious for a minute or two and, other than a headache, he suffered no ill effects. We spent the afternoon, cold and wet, working our way back to our intended landing sight – on foot. Shortly before dark, and long before we reached our destination, we were rescued by a native fisherman.

 

Clayton Bye is an eclectic writer, an editor, a ghostwriter extraordinaire and a publisher of strangely different stories in multiple genres. He lives in Kenora, Ontario on beautiful Lake of the Woods. You can find many of his books at http://shop.claytonbye.com

The Fundamentals of Marketing

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The Write Room Blog is a group of 30 disparate authors who write about a vast range of topics. I will also assume that a significant portion of our million plus visitors are also writers. This marketing blog post is for all of you.

Why writers? Because the majority of  writers I’ve met over the last 23 years (that’s how long I’ve been writing for  profit) have difficulty taking the concept of marketing and applying it to their book selling business. Consider the following, if you will (and, yes, the examples place me firmly in the cohort known as Baby Boomers)  …

Where does one go for overnight delivery in the U.S.? FedEx. What’s the real thing? Coke. Why is it a small world? IBM. Who comes to mind when I mention mufflers? Midas. And do you remember when jeans were called Levi’s?

You were able to answer the preceding questions because the companies mentioned knew how to do something many businesspeople never learn. They knew how to position themselves in your mind, to establish ownership of specific words or phrases, to be the first companies you thought of when you needed a product or service they provided.

Am I really talking about marketing here? Yes, but not in the way you might expect. You see, the common assumption is that marketing is the process of offering your products and ideas for trade. It’s not. Marketing is actually about the manipulation of perception. Specifically, it’s about manipulating the perception of your prospective customers, doing everything you can to capture and maintain a position in their minds that’s valuable or useful to you.The fundamental purpose of marketing is to get into the mind of the customer and stay there.

Marketing ensures that the answer to the question “Who you gonna call?” isn’t “Ghostbusters” but is, in fact, your company. Don’t misunderstand me: good products are important. You won’t maintain the position you want without them. But they aren’t the focus of marketing.

A case in point … When you want fast food, great value and fun for the kids, what restaurant invariably pops into your mind? McDonald’s, right? The company has bought that position in your mind with a constant barrage of advertising. They started out owning the word fast, then they went after the word value and the phrase fun for the kids. More recently, they ran ads which reminded people that McDonald’s is also fun for adults, purposely going after the words or phrases or positions in your mind which relate most closely to what McDonald’s does well. Why? These are the things they want you to call them for. Food isn’t the focus. McDonald’s doesn’t sell food that tastes like you’ve spent all afternoon labouring over it, so they invest huge amounts of money to program you to think about them only when you want a fast, inexpensive meal you and the kids will enjoy. Again, it’s the process called positioning.

When I needed most home repairs, I used to go to a store called McDiarmid’s. Why? I had more success getting the things I wanted at the price I wanted at McDiarmid’s than I did anywhere else. They owned the home repair spot in my mind. Well, McDiarmid’s is gone now, replaced by a new franchise. A franchise that figured people like myself would keep coming there out of habit. But that didn’t work for me. McDiarmid’s still owned the spot they were after. Who got my business? The company I go to when I need deck maintenance supplies: Home Hardware. They’ve successfully captured that position in my mind. It was enough to draw me in when McDiarmid’s sold their business. And the people who were here before any of the preceding companies: Fife’s Hardware? I miss them. The owners retired a few years ago, and the store closed. Everyone in Kenora (where I live) knew that when no one else had what you needed, Fife’s did. You’d pay a little more, but they’d have it.

Got the idea? Marketing is concerned with two related things: Getting into your mind and staying there. This post is designed to give you an introductory look at how this is done.

 

Be first in the mind of your customer.

There were cars offered in the marketplace which were better than those built by Henry Ford. He didn’t even build the first car. Ford was, however, the first to build automobiles on the assembly line and, as a direct result, was also the first to offer an affordable car to the public. For the rest of Henry Ford’s life everyone else had to chase him.

Understand the lesson provided by Ford’s example. I believe it’s the key to a successful marketing campaign. If you can’t be first, set up a new category you can be first in.

Rolls-Royce did this admirably. Henry Royce provided detailed engineering and unsurpassed quality, while Charles Rolls saw to it that the cars they made were big, fast and stylish. Their 1907 Silver Ghost was the culmination. It was a car so unlike any ever built—having such power, comfort and quality of manufacturing—that it firmly captured a spot in the minds of the public. Result? Not only did Rolls-Royce create a new category of car, they quickly became the standard for excellence in automobile manufacturing.

Interestingly enough, Rolls was never first in the overall marketplace. But, remember, marketing isn’t about being first in the marketplace (having the best sales or the biggest share). This goal may be part of your overall strategy, but it isn’t the primary function of marketing. Marketing is about being first in the mind of your customer. Rolls did that.

When I was growing up, people wanting to make a firm and decisive statement about their wealth and status bought a certain kind of car. They didn’t buy a Jaguar or a Lambourghini or a Porsche. Nor did they buy the most popular car from the most successful manufacturer in the marketplace. They bought a Rolls. Why? Because Rolls-Royce was the best that money could buy. In my mind it still is.

 

Do whatever it takes to maintain your captured position.

Which tastes better, Coke or Pepsi? More to the point: who cares? The colossal media wars that have occurred between Pepsi and Coke have had nothing at all to do with which product tasted better, or was better. Their many battles have simply been for a position in your mind. Pepsi wants to be first; Coke is.

I believe that if you comprehend this last point, then you understand marketing. Marketing is not a battle of products, it’s a battle of perceptions.

 

Own a word in the prospect’s mind.

So, how do the big guys and gals do it? How do they capture a position in your mind and then maintain it? One way, perhaps the most powerful of all marketing approaches, is to own a specific word in the prospect’s mind. Gillette owned the word razor. Pillsbury was dough. Betty Crocker was cakes. These companies were the brand names the people of my generation (baby boomers) grew up with, and it didn’t happen by accident.

The whole concept of brand names stems from what marketing is about. It’s about making certain that the customer thinks of you when they need the products or services you provide. Marketing is about positioning.

As I’ve illustrated, positioning is a powerful concept. But let’s delve a little deeper. Let’s take a look at the rise and fall of Bayer. I think it’s a fascinating example of just how powerful the concept of positioning is.

Bayer bottled acetylsalicylic acid (A.S.A) under the brand name of Aspirin. And because they were first in our minds with such a powerful and useful drug, they were wildly successful. In fact, they were so successful in their positioning efforts that Aspirin actually replaced the phrase acetylsalicylic acid and the abbreviation A.S.A. in our culture. Their company also created a phrase based on the bottle design, “The Bayer Cross.”

Ownership of the word Aspirin gave Bayer such domination in the market that no company was able to compete with them until the problem of Reyes Syndrome was discovered. What happened then illustrates the power of positioning even more clearly than Bayer’s incredible marketing success. The very thing that made Bayer successful—ownership of the word Aspirin in our minds—also led to their demise, in terms of market share. You see, at the same time people were linking the name Aspirin to the wonder drug, acetylsalicylic acid, they were also linking The Bayer Cross to the word Aspirin. Do you remember what happened? When Aspirin fell out of favour, so did Bayer.

An interesting follow-up note to all of this is that other drug companies seem to have learned from Bayer’s mistake. For example, we all know that Tylenol rose up to replace Aspirin in the marketplace. But do we know who makes Tylenol? No, we don’t! In fact, I actually had to go look on the label of my own bottle of the stuff to find out that Tylenol is bottled by McNeil.

I want to make sure you understand what I’ve been saying. The company who successfully imbedded the word Tylenol in our minds, thereby making sure that when we wanted acetaminophen we thought of Tylenol, also made equally sure that when we wanted Tylenol we didn’t think of their company.

I believe this marketing strategy was probably a wise choice. Do you remember the Tylenol poisonings? The brand isn’t quite as popular as it used to be, is it? But the problem didn’t directly affect the maker itself.

 

There can only be one.

Las Vegas is gambling. It owns that word. Want proof? How many of you think about going to Reno when you think about gambling?

Ask someone in their 50’s or 60’s to tell you who The King was. They won’t tell you it was Edward. The King was, and always will be, Elvis.

Who owns the word Camelot? As popular as the Kennedy administration was, I’d wager King Arthur still owns the deed to that particular plot of land.

Who’s The Duke? John Wayne. There’ll never be another.

Who owns the word Communism? It’s Russia, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter that communism has failed there: Russia still owns the word.

There can only be one company or product in first place in any particular market.

 

Your largest competitor will determine your strategy.

There are many reasons to believe that two companies (or people) can’t own the same word in your mind. Think about the implications of this!

Pepsi’s marketing strategy is determined by Coke. Burger King’s strategy is determined by McDonald’s. It’s a fact of business. Even smaller outfits like Pic-A-Pop or Wendy’s are bound by the fact that there can only be one company at the top. Why? A simple reason is that it’s difficult, and often financially impossible, to go head-to-head with whoever is before you in your particular market. The leverage just isn’t there. Instead, the underdog needs to go for an entirely different position in our minds. To do otherwise is a risky proposition. Watch the ads and the business stats. I think you’ll find this holds true.

Consider the implication this way: People don’t carry many options around in their minds. We’re programmed to make constant choices between two things: We move away from or toward; we do this or that; we choose right or wrong. None of us want to settle for second best. We’ll take our first choice whenever we can. So, in the long run, marketing tends to come down to what I’ve mentioned: finding a way to be first in the mind of your customer, then doing everything in your power to stay there.

 

Find a way to be first.

Let’s go back to the Coke-Pepsi example. Coke was invented only a few years before Pepsi, but customers have the perception that Coke is the old-timer, the big boy on the block. Coke also did a terrific job portraying the drinking of its product as an American pastime. Did Pepsi let this fact hamper their ambitions? No way. Pepsi eventually turned Coke’s apparent strength (it’s lifelong appeal to the older generation) into a weakness and became the choice of a new generation. It created The Pepsi Generation.

I’ll repeat that. Pepsi set itself up as an alternative to Coke by turning Coke’s major strength into a major weakness. In other words, they chose a marketing approach that exactly opposed Coke’s position in our minds, making the drinking of Coke a choice between the new and the old, forcing us to unconsciously place Pepsi in an equal or equivalent position in our minds. They split the market, created two categories, and forced the consumer to choose between the best of the old world and the best of the new world. They earned a spot in our minds where they were, indeed, first. How’s that for Contrarian thinking?

The Pepsi story proves there are many ways to be number one. The key to discovering one of these spots is to remember there are always different ways to look at things, different perspectives, different points on which to focus.

I’m reminded of a pattern I noticed in old gunfighter movies. The best gunfighters didn’t battle with their closest competitors. No, the good ones tolerated each other. They shared the marketplace, so to speak. They each fell into a niche where they were first, where they were the best. One was the fastest, another was the most accurate. There were one-gun men and two-gun men. There were those who preferred long rifles and those who used a six-shooter. Then there was Bowie. He used a knife, rather than a gun.

All of these men either stumbled into a field (or pursued one) where they were best, and in doing so set themselves up to be pursued by foolish upstarts looking to knock these so-called market leaders off their perch. As I mentioned, they each created their own category. They discovered ways to the top by carving out niches within the biggest marketplace, by finding an area where no one could compete with them, where they were the best, and where they were first in people’s minds. As is often the case, art imitates life.

 

Marketing is a process, not a solution.

When you’re actively trying to change a customer’s perception of you, your product, or the marketplace, you’re attempting to change his or her beliefs. This takes time. So often a business will opt for the quick fix to their growth problems—a series of sales, down-sizing, a new product line—only to find they’ve cut their own throat in the process, that instead of owning a spot in the customer’s mind, they’ve become indistinguishable from others in the marketplace.

 Think of marketing as educating the customer. You’ve got to teach people what’s unique and special about you and your product. You’ve got to show them why they should choose you in the first place, why they should return frequently, and maybe even why they should increase the size of their purchases. You’ve got to create a permanent position for yourself in the minds of the people who are your target market. It’s the only sure-fire approach to sustainable long-term growth, and it takes time.

 

 Don’t add unnecessary new product lines.

Adding a new product line without a lot of careful thought is a risky proposition. You may end up diluting your brand.

I used to go to Midas when I had muffler problems. I wonder why they thought I’d go to them for brakes? Someone else already owned that spot in my mind.

Another example of this foolishness is Pizza Hut. I thought they did a wonderful thing with their slogan Pizza Hut… And Nothing But. The phrase stuck in my mind, and it actually brought me back to them after many years of absence. Then they did something I couldn’t believe. They started running a series of ads introducing their newest product, wings. Ads, by the way, which also included the above slogan. What a waste of money! Not only did they not get the chicken wing spot in my mind, their credibility suffered.

Extending your line of products or services on the assumption that people will buy because it has your name on it is an idea which has proven to be expensive for many companies.

Be prepared to leave some things alone. No one’s going to believe you can be the best at everything. This is still the era of specialization, the age of delivering a specific product or service to the largest number of people. Giving up things is integral to that process. Note: It took me over 20 years to learn this lesson. And when I did, when I chose to specialize, the floodgates opened and customers beat their way to my door. My specialization? Ghostwriting. If you or someone you know requires a ghostwriter. I’m your guy. Writing the way it should it should be.

Take, for example, the appearance of the superstores (Big Box Stores). They were, and are, first when it comes to offering a good selection of quality products at the best price. They managed to achieve this position because they willingly gave up all the frills other businesses traditionally offered so they could dramatically reduce the price of their offerings to the customer. A lot of businesses have gone under learning there’s no way to directly compete with these stores. Why? Because a traditional business can’t give up what the superstores have given up. A business that has lost or is losing its market share to a superstore needs to understand that there’s no going back, that they’re going to have to establish a different category they can be first in.

 

Contrarian thinking can help.

No one sells more cottages claims a local realtor. If I wanted to go into competition with him, I’d seriously consider a statement like No one sells fewer cottages … but we sell every single one that’s listed with us. Do you see the reasoning? If the market you’re interested in is held by someone who specializes in selling fast cars, why not establish yourself as a dealer who sells slow cars? That’s right, slow cars—for the person who wants complete leisure and comfort, rather than speed. To effectively compete in a marketplace held by a big restaurant like McDonald’s, I should give serious consideration to slow-cooked, wholesome food (if not gourmet) served in an intimate and adult environment. It’s an offer that’s exactly the opposite of what McDonald’s does. I won’t get the customers to whom fast food is most important, but I’ll get the ones who don’t mind slow food, and to whom taste and atmosphere does matter. It’s a smaller share but it can be very profitable.

These examples illustrate a viable marketing approach that works by offering something the competition can’t do. It’s what the superstores I mentioned earlier did to small business. Think about it: The fast food place can’t offer the slow, painstaking preparation that is a must in gourmet cooking; the fast car dealer can’t switch to, or add, a line of slow cars without damaging his position; the realtor who sells a lot of cottages, definitely isn’t going to give each of his customers his individual attention—because the big guy can’t be small and personal.

 

Admit a negative, get a positive.

When overnight isn’t necessary … was a slogan tossed around by a national postal service in the U.S. that couldn’t compete in the arena of overnight document delivery. The company owned up to this negative but showed that it could compete effectively for two, three and four day deliveries. Very slick. I found myself giving them the positive, even though I knew exactly what was going on. You see, by admitting they’d justifiably lost a portion of their business to companies like FedEx, I was more inclined to believe their claim that they were still the place to go when overnight delivery wasn’t necessary. Cool.

 

Look for weakness.

It’s unfortunate, but when you’re the little guy, or you’re a business losing market share to someone’s brilliant idea, the right marketing choice has to be chipping away at the opposition until you find a weakness. Those who stop chipping just don’t survive. The refusal to do the difficult and make the Contrarian choice, means that they have no hope of uncovering the rare weakness all companies exhibit from time to time. As a result, they aren’t positioned for that one master stroke, that chance to do the unexpected, to be bold, to be daring, to be a winner.

 

Hang in there.

In every situation there’s going to be a choice open to you which will produce more substantial results than anything else. Develop the patience and the pertinacity to look for that option, the objectivity to recognize it and, finally, the courage to boldly capitalize on the thing. Marketing is no exception.

Choose a position you want to occupy in your customer’s mind, and when you somehow manage to earn that place, do whatever it takes to keep it. Expect to have your position constantly challenged. Be prepared for it. You should also expect that you and your employees will make mistakes. Be willing to allow this to happen, to let isolated failures go unpunished. Sustained creativity and growth can’t happen when people are afraid to make mistakes. Unless you’re willing to accept your mistakes, fix them and continue on, you’re in trouble. Persevere.

 

Think of marketing as artistic communication.

Marketing isn’t exact. How can it be? You’re trying to access and affect the beliefs of a wide variety of individuals. In the world of marketing the most insane ideas will often work, while supposedly fool-proof campaigns crash and burn. How else can you possibly explain the creation of the Pet Rock fad? Get creative. And have some fun communicating with your prospective customers.

 

Advertise.

Most businesses tend to advertise when they have the money, rather than when they should. It’s a truism; Advertising is needed most when things aren’t going well. If you’re looking to launch a marketing program of any kind, please remember that successful marketing requires consistent advertising over long periods of time. It’s the only way to get into a prospect’s mind and stay there.

I don’t mean to imply you must advertise every day, or every week. Timing, after all, is important. For example, a successful trend usually occurs when the supply never quite exceeds the demand. Consider your favourite author. Would you purchase books written by he or she if new ones appeared (and were advertised) each week? Probably not. It’s the fact a new book by this author comes out only rarely that keeps you interested, that keeps you buying. Successful impresarios and businesspeople have made use of this knowledge for years. Just think of the phrases for a limited time only or Christmas comes but once a year. They’re classic examples of trend building.

 

Have a monthly marketing budget.

You wouldn’t go wrong by regularly giving the public answers to the questions: “What do you do? When do you do it?” and “How do you do it?” But the simplest marketing rule to remember is that you need money to get into a mind, and you need money to stay in the mind once you get there. Successful marketing means spending lots of money. Plan for it.

 

Summary

Do whatever it takes to learn about, understand and put into practice the concept of positioning. I’ll even give you a reason for doing it: What word, words, or positions do you occupy in the minds of the people you work with? Can you answer the question? If not, you now have your reason for learning to use positioning. Furthermore, when you do identify the position or positions you now occupy in the minds of these people, are these perceptions helping your company to be more profitable? Are they indicative of relationships you can count on in the future? Can they be sustained? If not, what are you going to do about it?

Marketing is the answer, isn’t it? Even if you have to capture the mind-positions you want one person at a time. Think of how great it would be to secure ownership of words like good friend, honest, trustworthy, loyal, reliable, valuable, kind, cheerful, positive or successful.

What’s the one thing you’d like to have people recognize you for, and what are you going to do to make sure that when they think of that specific word or phrase your name pops into their heads? Marketing is the answer.

Me, a Servant Leader? by Yvesn Johnson

servant-leadership1

I often get the proverbial “Deer in the headlights” look when I ask people if they are leaders. We all are leaders in one manner or another. Are you a mother? Are you a father? Do you volunteer for any events? Guess what? Yep, you’re a leader. For the purposes of this short article, we will use a simple definition of leadership. Leadership is helping people to do what needs to be done.

There are a myriad of leadership styles and theories. I thought it would be beneficial to talk about Servant Leadership. Admittedly, I thought Servant Leadership was a Christian leadership style. Actually it is not. In 1970, Robert Greenleaf developed this leadership model. A servant leader simply serves the people he leads. In other words, he seeks their best interest over the company’s interest.

You’re probably thinking, “How does this apply to me?” In simple terms, we all can be servant leaders. How can you help your children be better and more responsible citizens? How can you serve your job better than you are currently doing? Is there anything you see that needs to be taken care of in your community? Hmm? Are you waiting for someone to take care of these issues? You might be the person who needs to “do something.” I challenge you by saying, “If not you, then who?”

Admittedly, servant leadership is more a leadership model than it is a lifestyle. But can we not all help one another out? I am amazed at how some exclaim, “This is terrible?” “This is awful!” “We must save the whales!” “We must love everyone.” While those exclamations are wonderful in themselves. They are meaningless unless you put actions behind those words. It is far easier to look like one who cares than it is being one who acts on those feelings.

Obviously, this is not the forum to get into a long dialogue about the virtues of “doing something.” However, I can leave you with a few items as food for thought. They center on a variation of an old saying, “Many hands lighten the load.” As such, I encourage you to see what you can do to help out your community. You can “serve” your fellow man by volunteering a few hours at a Soup Kitchen. You can donate your time reading to children at your local library. Instead of thinking about how the poor single-parent has poor parenting skills … help him out. Show him how to be a better parent. There are countless things we can do to help make this world better. Your mind is the only limitation you have. I have pledged to donate all proceeds from my book, There is No Gray in Moral Failure: A Practical Guide in Preventing Sexual and Financial Misconduct, to charity. It is highly probable that I will not be donating $1 million dollars to charity, but it is a start. Come join me and lets make a positive contribution to our community. “Me, a servant leader?” Yes, you can be a servant leader.

Yves Johnson is an author, consultant and speaker. You can find his books at http://ow.ly/B4aGp. You can obtain signed copies from http://ow.ly/B4aKo. You can follow him on Twitter @YvesJohnson1. Follow him on Facebook at http://ow.ly/B4aWO. Join him on Goodreads at http://ow.ly/B4aPP. Lets do some business together! Yves also welcomes visitors at his blog: http://ow.ly/B4b3l

The Proverbial Sign Posts of Life by Louise Malbon-Reddix

One Way, and twenty-one  are two of those proverbial signs in our lives.

For sure it is one way that we go in this life, and that is through it.  And we should enjoy it as we go.  All too often we are in a hurry and rush this life along and don’t take the proverbial time out to smell the flowers along the way. Life too is changing, and it seems like you should be born with all you need to know as soon as you leave the womb and take your first breath.

That magical number of twenty-one is when you are  “grown”. You can find all types of statistics that go along with that magical age.  Such as, how old you have to be to work or get married.  At what age can you legally drink, or join the armed forces. The truth is this, that all of the factors can change depending upon the demographics of where in the world you are.

In that there are truly enough discussions about these things, I want to take this time and opportunity to talk about simply taking care of yourself.  The truth be told, no matter where we are in the world, we are all alike and need to really stop and  take the time out  to care for ourselves.  I mean our whole selves. Which means, that we need to take care of all of us; mind, body, and soul.  And to put that in some plainer language, wearing those big drawers and shoes takes some skills!!  Seems like you can, when you look at others as they go through life. Somehow, when they were in the position of whatever it is that you find yourself now in, they made it look so easy.

But we are not born “grown” and we do have those different times of growth and development that we must needs to go through.  And it should be chronological, but sometimes not!!!  We are grown way before our time, sometimes, and not “grown” enough when we need to be at others. Too begin with, we must take an account of where we are in life and enjoy that station, in life. Learn everything you can as you go.  Even those things that look like you don’t need them, you do!  Put those in a pocket somewhere.  Lord only knows the time when you will need to whip them out and use them.

Sometimes, you just have to take the time and remember who you are. You are somebody and be careful with you, please. You do have the right to live this life out by your own standards of who you say you are, within rules/laws of course. You do not have to live up to everyone’s expectations. There is an old cliché,” Straws can break camels’ backs!”  I want to say here, that straws can & do break camels backs.

I wish such straws as mentioned above came with sign posts, but they don’t.   So make sure that whatever it is that you do resonates with all of you. It is true we will all have regrets, of one kind or another. Especially so if  you have hit this life from the perspective of being twenty-one and no one can tell me anything.  I just hope that the proverbial sign posts in your life don’t change when you look back to regret, and remorse.

There  are those times in your life when you will get to those places in life where nobody knows your name!!!  I am one who knows! Yes, quick to leave home, I was.  I stayed away from home too, because I did not want to hear those dreadful words, “I told you so!”  Happy!! Yes, I am going to where nobody knows my name!  Only to have those same words to become haunting words. “Nobody Knows My Name!” Because they were true!  Nobody did know my name and I was suddenly in a place where I was so all alone!

Come back to that place, “Where Everybody Knows Your Name”, even you!!

You are you first and foremost before anything else happened in your life; the job, the wife/husband, the children, the move, or God forbid , the permanence of a death in your life.

Look back and see you or someone familiar to you and how they did. Learn from the experience of someone else. You really don’t have to experience something to learn a lesson. You may have to reach back for some of those old songs to help you get through, like Bill Withers’  Grandma’s Hand –

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qv5pagal-ls,

or Dianne Reeves’ Better Days

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dlFj9iCnaIE.

And hear some other advice I learned along the way through here, “It is a great life if you just don’t weaken!” From my mom, of all people – Margaret Bullard-Bess- God Rest her soul.  Just keep swimming too, I heard that from a little blue fish!!!

 

Louise Malbon-Reddix – Author of:

Stand In Your Anointment – This Too Shall Pass!

Book Trailer Too!!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfOUVQFaxU0

Where to buy the book

http://www.amazon.com/Rev.-Louise-Malbon-Reddix-MPC-RN-CCRN/e/B009OU5ZR0

Also at Barnes & Noble’s or your favorite book store too!!!

My Child is being Bullied? Oh, I Don’t Think So!

Bullying Circle

Ouch! That hurts! Why did you smack me!? “I’m being bullied again today and this is getting serious, but who will help me?”

Bullying is no joke, and it’s no dress rehearsal. Bullying is real and children who choose to exhibit these behaviors are not backing down without intervention. To answer this child’s question – YOU will help him/her.

Because we realize bullying behaviors occur daily in our nation’s schools, we must stop, look and listen to our children and deal with the pressures that these annoying behaviors pose on their lives.

Parents, school officials, and legislators, we have a huge responsibility, so we must do ALL that we can to help our children, but not just the child being bullied. We must also reach out to the child bully, and we can.

Let me ask these questions

As a parent, are you aware of anti-bullying laws and policies in place at your child’s school? If so, how are these policies being enforced? If not, have you voiced your concerns and/or asked to work closely with school officials in hope to create anti-bullying procedures at your child’s school? Do you know if school officials at your child’s school are clear about what actually constitutes bullying behaviors? If not, what are you waiting for?

School officials, have you written anti-bullying policies and campus plan of action? Have you disseminated your plan to parents? Are your main stakeholders (students) feeling comfortable and safe in the school setting? I hope so, because it’s your duty to ensure these policies are not only in place, but acted upon consistently and proficiently each school day.

In some cases, there are concerns about what constitutes bullying behaviors verses normal play, or friendly horsing around. Remember, bullying behaviors are intentional and are repeated acts over time. The child bully intends to pose harm, and he/she does not plan on stopping. I know that you have these concerns too, so I’ll define what bullying is and what it looks like.

Bullying Defined

Repeated acts of:

Verbal (name calling, teasing, insulting, or threatening)

Physical (hitting, kicking, scratching, pushing, stealing, hiding/destroying someone else’s property)

Social (refusing to talk to or play with someone, purposefully excluding someone)

Cyber (using electronics such as computer to write mean, demeaning messages about someone)

Religious (individuals who use religion as a weapon in order to gain power while trying to make people do things their way, or believe in their religious tactics. These individuals may also quote the bible, but most times do not follow the teachings of the bible).

Signs of being bullied: Be Watchful

Bullying younger siblings/cousins – taking his/her frustration out on others

Sudden moodiness

Emotional – Crying/Whining

Poor eating habits or asking to eat as soon as he/she gets home – bully takes lunch or lunch money

Depression

Torn clothes or mysterious bruises/scratches

Isolating self from others – appearing lonely

A change in grades – poor grades

A sudden dislike for school

Exhibiting unfounded anxiety

Low self-esteem

Complaint of sick feelings – stomach aches, headaches

Asking not to go to school

Signs of threats or suicide

If you have reason to believe that your child is being bullied

Stop, Look & Listen – Take Action NOW

Talk to your child. Ask him/her about their school day. Ask if there is anything that you should know. Whatever you are doing or plan to do, stop! Your child must trust that you will drop whatever you are doing to see him/her through this crisis. Your child needs to know that you are listening to him/her; you hear their frustration and the pain they’re experiencing. You may want to repeat what you heard them say to you, thereby acknowledging that you are really listening. Let your child know that you will be there for them “at all costs.”

Documentation

Get the story as clearly as possible from your child and document everything from your child’s version of the bullying incidents to every conversation you have with school officials. Be sure to write things down as soon as an occurrence arises or a conversation happens. This way, incidents are still fresh in your child’s mind. You may want to keep documentation separated by tabs in a tablet or a notebook to maintain a distinct record of each person’s story. It will be important to keep your child’s version separate from a school official’s so that messages don’t end up overlapping, getting accidentally mixed-up or combined.

Have other students been affected by the bully or bullies who are attacking your child? If so, what are their names? Were there any witnesses to the incidents? If so, what are their names? Does your child remember which class the other students are enrolled in? Can your child point them out? Encourage school officials to interview other children who may have been bullied.

Use dates, times and settings in your documentation. Did the incident happen in the cafeteria, classroom, or playground? Detailed documentation will not only help school officials target bullying incidents, but it will also give school officials an indication of how best to resolve issues as they examine antecedents (causes/variables that may have prompted the bully to react inappropriately), so that changes and individually tailored support plans can be implemented.

You might try color-coding verbal vs. behavioral actions just to make sharing information more succinct and organized.

Approach school staff immediately

Bullying will not just stop on its own. Don’t be afraid to approach school administrators.

You might find that some school officials and administrators may be territorial and believe that they are the educational experts, and you are “just a parent.”

Since you are your child’s greatest advocate, here are a few ideas about how to approach the issue of your child being bullied while working collaboratively with school officials:

Do your research. You can assist school leaders with ideas of how to bully shield and bully proof the school that your child attends.

Approach the school leaders as if you are on their side. Do what you can to avoid creating an adversarial relationship between you and the people who have the power to help stop what is happening.

Let the school leaders know that you are not only concerned about your child, but all children enrolled at the school. This will soften your approach thereby giving you greater lead-in for support and next steps.

Begin speaking to the school counselor before working your way up the organizational chart – Test the water, first.

When my own child was bullied at school, I spoke to the school principal directly. Due to budget cuts, this particular school had no assigned counselor. I approached the situation as a concern for the other child as well as my very own child. I said, “Perhaps this young girl is having personal problems in her home-life that’s making her feel angry.” Other times I would say, “Sounds like this child wants to take charge and is a bit bossy. Perhaps she can be shown how to use her leadership skills in a more positive and productive manner.” By using this approach with the school principal, I believe that I softened the conversation, thereby gaining the principal’s attention. It appeared that she was more willing to hear me.

But, there are times when the school will not help. Now What?

Before I address this problem, I want to urge parents to always gather as much information about your school the first week or two of the new school year. This is the time when the climate is still warm and friendly, and stress levels aren’t heightened due to the pressures of trying to keep up with everyday school life. Know the district level office organizational chart and levels of administration assigned to your child’s campus. Attempt to retrieve their contact information such as names, email addresses, voice mail, and telephone numbers, and perhaps location of their office – This is last resort. Never show up without an appointment.

When your child’s school will not listen to you or help you through a bullying crisis, and you know that you have done your part, you have spoken to the classroom teacher, school counselor, assistant principal and principal if circumstances have taken you this far, you should contact central office staff and speak to your child’s school assigned area superintendent.

Share your concerns and let this individual know that you have tried to work collaboratively with school officials at the campus level of your child’s school. Trust me – Now that bullying has gained national attention, there is no doubt this person will be all ears.

There are approximately 48 states that have laws mandating anti-bullying programs and services in schools, but some schools have been slow in implementing the programs.

Be sure that you know the anti-bullying laws of your state (Bully Police, USA has a state by state listing of anti-bullying legislation). Be ready and able to recite the Senate Bill and House Bill laws associated with the bully’s offense. For example, if you live in Texas and your child is experiencing sexual harassment issues at school, and no one will address the issue, share your knowledge of SB 471 and HB 194. If you do this, everyone will know that you mean business!

When to call a lawyer

If you have gone through all the recommended steps above, more than likely you will not have to call a lawyer; however there may be times when your story will land on “deaf ears.” If no one will listen to you, or if everyone has listened to you and they have chosen not to intervene, there is no more time to waste. You will want to get legal advice immediately. Time is of the essence and the safety of your child is paramount!

Focus on your child

Remember, there are effective steps that you can take as your child’s anti-bullying advocate. Consider the fact that bullying related suicides are real.

STOP whatever you’re doing and act quickly on your child’s behalf. Our children count on us to help them during crisis. This is not the time to put ANYTHING else before your child. Show your child that they can trust and count on you.

About the author

Author Cherrye Vasquez has a Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction; a Master of Ed in Special Education; and a BA in Speech Pathology/Audiology. Vasquez specializes in Multi-cultural education and holds certifications in Early Childhood Handicapped, Mid-Management and Educational Diagnostician.

Vasquez is passionate about empowering children, so her platform centers on diversity and bullying issues. She feels strongly that if children are empowered and armed with the tools needed for a deep love of self and self-identity, they will be able to withstand life’s challenges, including bullies.

Website:

http://www.BooksThatSow.com

Twitter

https://twitter.com/bullieswillstop

Facebook

http://www.facebook.com/BooksThatSow

Opt-in Page – Sign up to receive helpful tips and news you can use to help stop bullying

http://cherryevasquez.tateauthor.com/help-stop-bullying/

 

Fall 2013

Please look for Cherrye’s new release – Clique, Clique, STOP

Stepping Out of Your Artistic Comfort Zone By Martha Love

elves

There are times that we can not speak our truth, times we have absolutely no words to say what we are feeling, and times we hold an experience either so precious and beautiful or so traumatic and unthinkable that only laughter or tears can come close to expressing the depth of its impact on us. Art is used in therapy with adults with PTSD, with children, and with others who cannot express their feelings in talk therapy. Through making art around a stressful issue, the unconscious is expressed and healing begins to take place directly through the simple act of doing it. Likewise, the doing of some form of art is important in all our lives as a daily practice for self-awareness and self-expression. I encourage everyone to enjoy dabbling in multiple forms of whatever art, fine arts or craft, calls to you—painting, photography, drawing, sculpturing, etc. And for an author, making art can be a way to step out of your artistic comfort zone and help you to jumpstart a new story idea or move you out of a writing slump.

 

I would like to share the following true tale with you about one of my humble beginnings at making art—painting—as a way to express both profound beauty and an unspeakable tragedy in my own life. The above featured acrylic painting, called “Peekie’s Garden”, is one I created as an attempt to express my feelings of awe and to share an image that speaks to my experience of living close to nature, with dozens of beautiful peacocks and other species of wild Hawaiian birds.

 

Peekie’s Garden
Once upon a time about 5 years ago, my husband and I moved to Oahu, Hawaii. We found a dwelling to rent that was far on the outskirts of the west coast of the island in the valley of a little town called Makaha, near what locals still call the “Wild West”. It was given this name long ago because it is in an area that is rather undeveloped territory and is without visits from any governing agents accept the occasional police car called out to patrol some feuds between locals. The Wild West has a fairly natural terrain with its floral life unkept by the human hand.

 

During our first days living there, we would awake every morning just previous to the rise of the sun when the roosters would crow and the menagerie of wild birds would begin their medley of songs. Having never heard most of these calls previously in our lives, we could have sworn some sounded like what we imagined were a variety of wild jungle animals. However, we were rest assured by neighbors that this trumpeting of calls was a combination of tropical native birds mixed with other birds like peacocks, which were brought to Hawaii years ago as a gift to the Royal Hawaiian Family. After a week or two, we both started sleeping right through these loud sunrise moments and took no mind to the roar of bird calls surging through the valley each morning.

 

One day, after a year or so of living in this beautiful tropical valley, it dawned on us that the birds never actually stopped singing and that there was a constant conversation going from tree to tree absolutely all day long. This revelation about the constancy of bird calls made an unusual day for us because we understood for the first time that we had gotten so use to being among the birds that we did not even think about the fact that they were continually chirping and tweeting and squawking without a break. We watched and listened all day to the birds and to their interactions as attentively and naturally as if we were one of them.

 

Perhaps the birds we admired the most in the valley were the peafowl that roamed there free, about three dozen or more. We had observed how kind to each other they normally were. The females would feed their young even when the babies grew to be full adult size. And the peacocks in all their beauty were also really sweet birds. We watched one mature peacock allow the young turkey that would run around with a particular peahen flock—Lady, Lovely, and Lulu—to take his food from him when the turkey insisted on doing so. We were glad the peacock acted so kind and lenient to young Tommy the turkey because he disappeared after Thanksgiving. It was almost like the peacock knew poor Tommy did not have a good day ahead.

 

Now this was the same peacock that we had also watched hide in the bushes, with his neck stretched down in the brush while it partially was sticking up in full sight. Had his neck been green, he would have been well hidden in the foliage, but since it was blue and such a bright blue at that, he looked silly in his visibility because he seemed to have no clue he could be seen. For this, my husband and I gave him the name “Peekie”. Yet in all his timidness, when spring came and his plumes grew in, Peekie was adorned with the most noticeably stunning and the fullest set we ever saw there in the valley.

 

I could go on and on about these beautiful birds, but what I wanted to convey is that while we loved them, watched, named, and protected them, I really did not know how to express in words this close interspecies relationship we were experiencing with them. So instead of trying to futilely write about it, I started painting them. And the painting I have at the top of this post is of Peekie and Lady in what I call “Peekie’s Garden”.

 

Tragically, in the middle of painting “Peekie’s Garden”, a woman, who had recently moved there from the mainland USA, used a baseball bat to brutally kill one of the peacocks in a flock that roamed next door to our residence. It was a slow and agonizing death for the peacock, because after her brutal attack she had thrown him in the bushes only half dead with one of his eyes bashed out, taking another 45 more minutes to die. We were just not able to understand how someone could kill such a majestic bird, much less be so cruel about it. Her reason given was that the peacock was making too much noise for her to sleep, as it was mating season and peacocks are known to do a bit of loud screeching at night during that time. The peacock that was killed was much younger than Peekie and we are not sure if he was even old enough to have many plumes. Since he lived up the valley from us, we had not really gotten to know him, nor had we named him. But now that he met with such an untimely death, we decided to name him “Angel”.

 

All the birds in the valley were quite disoriented for a while after the killing and most of them hid quietly in the surrounding bushes and trees. Even the mongoose that usually circled underneath our lanai looking for fallen crumbs from our lunch, hid in the nearby forest. So, I continued painting “Peekie’s Garden” in this state of silent sorrow with the birds. My heart ached, but I just made myself keep painting. Finally, when the painting was finished, I hung it up in my house as an expression of our love for all of the peacocks in this valley known for its double rainbows. Perhaps it was because the completion of the painting helped to bring me out of my sadness and more aware of my surroundings, but it seemed that at this very same time the valley became vibrant and the birds started singing once again.

 

The process of painting this image helped me to express my feelings that could not be put adequately into words at the time—feelings of love and awe for these birds coupled with the sadness of the cruelty animals must sometimes endure from a human hand. It is not a great painting by any means, as I am only a beginner at this form of art. But it holds within it, I feel, a reality that the pen could not convey at the time. I’ve thought of turning this story, with painting, into a children’s book, focusing on the profound beauty of these lovable birds.

 

(A side note: The woman who killed “Angel” was not found guilty of animal cruelty in court because of a technicality in the law. But thanks to the Hawaiian Humane Society, that law has since been challenged and changed so this horrendous act will never go unpunished if it were to ever occur again.)

 

Four Tips for Beginning Painters—In Case You Want to Give Painting a Try!
Just like writer’s block, many people are afraid to even begin to paint and do not think of themselves as having any artistic ability. The truth is, too often we just had very little education and encouragement in art and never had a chance to develop our talents. If you have had limited past experiences making art and feel nervous and unsure when faced with a blank canvas, remember that is normal because you are stepping out of your artistic comfort zone. Just take a few deep breaths and follow these tips for beginning painters:
1.     Be sure you have good art materials to work with including a good set of brushes, real canvas, and a good quality of acrylics, watercolors or oil paints. Those cheap poster paints and paper that you may have used as a child in school most likely did not give you a fair chance at painting something you would like and enjoy. I suggest starting with at least student grade acrylics as they are easier to work with than oils. Watercolors are also fun! Try the watercolor pencils as they are easy to draw with and use to fill in the color, giving you more sense of control over your painting as a beginner.
2.     There are no “mistakes” that cannot be fixed! Once you begin painting with acrylics, just keep adding paint, layer after layer, and if you are not satisfied with how something looks then paint over that part, again and again if necessary. Often times the “mistakes” we paint over lend an added depth of variety to the color background of the finished painting.
3.     Plan to paint many sessions for each painting and take your time! You do not need a lot of time every day, just 20 to 30 minutes. Taking time out of a busy day for small sessions of painting works best if you have your easel and painting set up all the time in a corner somewhere in your house. Then it is there for you to go to for short sessions anytime day or night.
4.     Shake out your hands often so not to clinch the brush, which can make a painting look too stiff. Remember to breathe! Enjoy the process!

 

Author Bio
Martha Char Love is presently retired and has enjoyed a career as both a full-time instructor of behavioral science and a counselor in community colleges, as well as a school psychologist K-12. She has a MA in Educational Psychology and in Depth Psychology (Analytical Psychology), and a Post Masters Graduate Degree in Art Therapy. She is the co-author of “What’s Behind Your Belly Button? A Psychological Perspective of the Intelligence of Human Nature and Gut Instinct”,  a narrative of the maturation of sciences of psychology and neurology exploring gut feelings.

 

If you would like to learn more about Martha, her work and book please visit her Website at:http://careerstorefront.angelfire.com and her Blog at: http://instinctualgutfeelings.blogspot.com

 

OVERCOMING READER’S BLOCK by Salvatore Buttaci

Sal's blog post for Nov 13


It is almost common knowledge that the creative drive sometimes hits a stone wall and otherwise prolific writers are left wordless. But what about readers? As long as the synergistic relationship between writers and readers is optimally working, the pleasure road ahead is smooth for both of them. Consider, however, that just as writers run afoul of the joys of productivity, so too do readers find themselves in a slump when it comes to appreciating the joy of reading.

Let’s face it. Writers need readers and readers need writers. It is a fact not to be ignored. A dampening of the writer’s output and/or the reader’s appreciation of that output can disastrously result in aborted creativity. It is the old story, “If a tree fell in the forest and there was no one there to hear its fall, did it make a sound?” Allow me the paraphrase: If a book is written and there is no one there to read it, what value can that book claim? A written book is only half alive; it gains full life when it is read by others.

Oddly enough, the solution to reader’s block can be mined from the same ore as the solution to writer’s block. Both involve selectivity, time management, and repetition.
Here is an explanation of each as it applies to readers.

1. Selectivity. A surefire way to become overwhelmed by the number of books and e-books available out there is to visit Amazon.com. It can be dauntingly discouraging. It reminds me of a cartoon I once saw of a diner in a fine restaurant being handed a huge multi-paged menu and the waiter saying, “I’ll be back in a little while to take your order.”

The greater the choice, the greater the difficulty in deciding.

Readers need to settle on certain genres in fiction and nonfiction. In other words, narrow down the playing field so that instead of facing millions of books they can zero in on, for example, the genre of science fiction, historical romance, adventure, how-to nonfiction, and biography.

How do we narrow down the choices of books from which readers can select those they prefer? This article you are now reading at www.writeroomblog.com offers a manageable solution to the problem of selectivity. Only the best of books are listed here. You will find fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

To find them go to the top of the site’s page and click on BOOKS. This will take you to a display of books with a brief caption beneath each book cover. Find one that interests you and click on that book cover. This will bring you to that book’s page at Amazon.com where you can order a copy of book or Kindle.

Often when readers enjoy reading a book by a particular author, they will seek out other books by that same author. It makes perfect sense to be selective in both genre and author because it reduces the D.Q. –– the Disappointment Quotient. A low D.Q. can only add to the pleasure of reading.

2. Time Management. You have heard it often enough. And I am sure you have said it too: “There aren’t enough hours in the day!”

We know that an extension of the day to thirty hours sounds desirable, but we would still be complaining, even with an additional six hours to get things done. We need to manage our time better than we have been. Take note of how you spend your day and delete those activities that waste the minutes, even hours, when you could be relaxing in the pages of a good book.

In their struggles against the “block,” writers try to reserve certain times in the day when they can write undisturbed for an hour or so. Making this activity habitual loosens the constraints of the dry spell and writers before long begin finding themselves breaking the bonds of the I-Can’t-Write-Today Blues.

So it can be for readers. Find a particular time in the day or night to read your book. Strapped for time, perhaps read only a chapter or two, but at least you would be reading in that time slot everyday, creating a habit the mind will come to know and anticipate.

3. Repetition. For any habit to take root, it must be practiced repeatedly. Selecting a certain time facilitates that objective. Reading one day at about three in the afternoon and then refraining from that activity for the next two or three days does not. Repetition is the key to honing all crafts. If writers do not write daily, if readers do not read daily, they will find themselves in the same pitfall as the ballplayer who forgoes the habitual time set aside for batting practice, then wonders why he consistently strikes out.

To sum it all up, following the hints expressed in each of the above three areas will help book lovers get back in the swing of reading. Select favorite types of reading, manage time better so there is adequate time to read, and finally, repeat the joy of reading by reserving the same time and even the same place everyday. Once the good habit of reading takes hold it will be very difficult to break.

Writers and readers depend on one another to complete the circle of literary expression and appreciation. They do not need the frustration of being blocked from writing or reading to their hearts’ content.

                                                            #

BIO

Salvatore Buttaci is a retired teacher and professor whose work has appeared in The Writer, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, and elsewhere here and abroad. He was the 2007 recipient of the $500 Cyber-wit Poetry Award.

His collection of 164 short-fiction stories, Flashing My Shorts, is available from  Amazon.com as book, Kindle, and audio book:

His Kindle e-book Ritual is part of a series of Horror Shorts published by All Things That Matter Press. Only 99¢.

A Writing Perspective from the Other Side of the Fence: A Guest Post by Dan O’Brien

Life as a writer can be hard some times.

Dan O'Brien

Dan O’Brien

Success is elusive; fans shift as often as a summer wind.

Yet, we persevere, writing into the late hours of the night and waking in the early hours of the morning to log the hours and enter, for a time, the worlds we create. When I first started writing, more than a decade ago, it was because I loved the idea of immersing myself in a place where I could construct the narrative; walk through dense forests and to the tops of mountains. Over time the process became more about writing as a tool to move through emotions and languishing memories that required catharsis.

Writing takes on many forms, for many different writers, over the course of our lives.

For me, the process is the reward.

I love to write.

When I ask myself that silly question of what I would do if I had all the money in the world, the answer is always quite simple: write. Now more than a decade later, I have a renewed sense of purpose and have become quite adept at balancing the spinning plates of responsibility.
Recently, between being a full-time graduate student and writer, I joined Empirical Magazine as an editor – among other responsibilities. A national magazine similar in spirit to Harper’s or The Atlantic, the magazine is firmly rooted in a West Coast sensibility. There is a little something for everyone, and honestly, the hope is that everyone will take a look. Contributors to the magazine come from around the globe and cover everything from politics to fiction.

Working at a magazine, especially at this point in its maturation, is a wonderful experience. There are so many moving parts that enliven your day. Sometimes I spend the day sorting through fiction and poetry submissions, searching for that piece of prose, or perhaps a stanza, that ensnares my imagination. Other days I am editing, constantly referring to the Chicago Manual of Style to ascertain the correct usage of an archaic sentence structure. As a writer, the prospect of editing and rummaging through the work of others might not sound exciting, but there are some wonderful consequences:

1. You learn to become a better editor of your own work;
2. You begin to recognize redundant sentence structures and overused phrases;
3. Your grasp of language grows exponentially. However, the most important component for me is:
4. You get to help others bring their work into a public forum

For many writers, and certainly for me early in my writing career, the notion of being picked up by a magazine or a small press was foremost in my mind. It was that distant promise of publication and everything that goes with it that pushed me forward. When I got rejection letters, most of which lacked a personal touch, I would get down on my writing, denigrate my ability.

The years passed, during which thousands of rejection letters amassed, and I realized that the pursuit of writing for a purely extrinsic reward was dooming myself to Vegas-style odds. I became clear to me that I needed to write because I loved it, and then find a way to share it with others – even if it was not through traditional routes. I found that I was more comfortable with my writing when I did it for the pure joy of it.

Now that I am on the other side of the fence, so to speak, I have noticed a few myths about submitting to paying publications that otherwise mystified and frustrated me prior to becoming an editor and being responsible for interacting with first-time and established authors.

I have decided to provide a humorous, but serious, collection of things you should do and things you shouldn’t do when submitting and entering into a discourse with a publication – sprinkled, of course, with some anecdotes. And without further ado (or perhaps slight ado if you count this sentence here):

Things You Should Do

1. Read the publication you are submitting to before sending an email. This one sounds obvious, I know. However, it happens so often that it warrants mentioning. If you have written a brilliant piece of prose that is about zombies, it is quite likely that Popular Mechanics will not be that interested in it. Pick up an issue of the magazine you are interested in submitting to and familiarize yourself with the kinds of stories they publish.

The next part is the hardest part: be honest. Does your piece fit with what they publish?

2. Read and follow the submission instructions. Again, a no-brainer. If you are thinking that you don’t know where to find the submission instructions and you just have an email address, be prepared for disappointment. Your email might go to submission purgatory with a one-liner response about having received your correspondence – if you’re lucky.

3. Address your submission to the appropriate person. If you are thinking that I am giving you the obvious pointers, then you are quite right. With that in mind, imagine that I still receive hundreds of emails a month that manage to ignore these simple suggestions. If you are writing a stunning expose on corporate greed, the poetry editor is probably not the best destination for your work.

4. Edit your work. I tell this to students a lot, so I will mention it here as well: spell check in Microsoft Word is not sufficient. I am not saying that you need to be a copy editor to submit to a magazine, but do yourself a favor and read it out loud. If something sounds funny when you read it, you can only imagine how it will sound to an editor who is choosing among thousands of articles and stories to determine what goes to print.

5. Be cognizant of turnarounds. By this I mean, the amount of time between when you sent in the work until you hear back from an editor about the status of your submission. Nothing will send your work to the bottom of a slush pile than to send a follow-up email the day after you submitted, wondering whether or not you are going to be in the magazine. Most publications will post how long it takes to hear back from them about the status of a submission, and an amount of time after which you should contact them if you haven’t heard from them.

Things You Shouldn’t Do

1. Send an email telling an editor that they would be stupid not to publish your work. It always surprises me when I get an email telling me that I need to publish a story, poem, or piece of nonfiction because it is the next best thing. Top this off with letting me know that I would be a fool not to accept it and you have almost guaranteed a trip to the trash can.

2. Send a photocopy of your story by registered mail. If you want to have your story in a magazine, start by giving it to editors in a format that they can actually use. By sending a faded and blurry photocopy of your forty-word poem and declaring that it is a soul-searching masterpiece does not inspire as much confidence as you would think.

3. Contact an editor on a frequent basis about the status of your submission. I have to sort through hundreds of emails a day, edit for the current issue, and work on editing an anthology; not to mention a thousand other intangibles. We posted a time table about getting back to you for a reason: read it.

4. Be discouraged by a form rejection letter. This is a bitter pill to swallow for many writers. They think the form rejection letter means that the editor didn’t read their work, or simply had things already planned and was stringing writers along. The reality is on any given month I send out hundreds upon hundreds of rejection letters. There is simply not enough time in the day to offer feedback to every single person. This not to say that I do not offer feedback, or that editors do not offer feedback in general, but instead the process is streamlined so writers can be responded to in a reasonable amount of time.

5. Call the magazine to find out about your submission. This is subsumed by not contacting an editor about the status of your submission before enough time has passed, but I thought it warranted a special mention considering it is really going the extra mile in terms of being an irritation. If we haven’t gotten back to you yet, calling us is not going to suddenly make us more accessible.

6. Send another email with corrections. Read twice, send once. If you don’t think what you sent is ready for publication, then please don’t send it. You get one chance at a first impression, and nothing speaks to being under prepared and unprofessional than sending a draft and immediately following up with another draft. If your piece needs work, note that in your submission, but don’t send a series of emails chronicling the different stages of the edits for that story. The exception, of course, is if you have already been accepted and you have been asked to make edits.

7. Contact the magazine to air your frustrations about not being selected. I say this with all seriousness. It is very likely that you got rejected because the piece was not a good fit and not that the magazine has decided to order a hit on your writing career. Please don’t treat it that way. Lashing out at a publication for sending a form rejection letter, or passing on a piece you have written, reeks of a lack of professionalism and could impact your ability to publish elsewhere. Many editors are friends, especially in the digital age, and word spreads fast.

8. Contact the magazine to ask if you think a story you are working on would be a good fit elsewhere. I can appreciate the sentiment. A lot of editors are writers themselves, and they love talking about the process and the product. I find myself building friendships with writers, those we publish and those we do not, and often I will give them suggestions about their work. However, if you don’t know me personally and have never been published or solicited in any way to use me as a sounding board, then do not contact me and ask if a poem or story would be a good fit at another magazine. If you think it is ready for publication, then submit it here. An obvious exception would be if the writer knew the story would not be a good fit and asked because they were uncertain in venturing into new territory.

I could probably keep listing things you shouldn’t do, but I will wrap it up there. I encourage you to keep trying and keep writing. Things only get better with time, and time is all we really have. I love to hear from other writers and potential readers, so please stop by and say hello.

Bio: A psychologist, author, editor, philosopher, martial artist, and skeptic, Dan O’Brien has published several novels and currently has many in print, including: The End of the World Playlist, Bitten, The Journey, The Ocean and the Hourglass, The Path of the Fallen, The Portent, and Cerulean Dreams. Follow him on Twitter (@AuthorDanOBrien) or visit his blog http://thedanobrienproject.blogspot.com. He recently started a consultation business. You can find more information about it here: http://www.amalgamconsulting.com/.

Dan O’Brien