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Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

An Ask Too Far

By Steven Pressfield
Published: April 15, 2015

[The blog is hors de combat this week, as we prep for the launch of Shawn's wonderful new book, THE STORY GRID, coming in a couple of weeks. Here's one of my fave posts from a couple of years ago:]

In the past year or so I’ve become aware of the verb “ask” used as a noun. I simultaneously like it and am appalled by it.

An “ask” is a request for an action or a favor. I was reporting the contents of a long e-mail to a friend; she interrupted: “What’s the ask?” Meaning, “What does the e-mail writer want?”

“Ask” originated, I suspect, in the publicity biz. The difference between advertising and publicity is you pay for advertising but you try to get publicity for free. Hence “ask.” Schmooze schmooze schmooze ask.

Many moons ago I worked at Ted Bates Advertising in New York. One of Bates’ rules of copywriting was, “Always end with a call to action.” That’s the ask. “Buy now.” “Call this number.” “Log in to win.”

There are legitimate asks and not-so-legitimate asks. Have you read Josh Olson’s immortal “I Will Not Read Your F*%king Script!” That’s about an illegitimate ask.

I get a lot of asks. Write a blurb for my book. Write a foreword. Hype my stuff on your blog. Here’s where I come out on asks:

1. If it comes from a real friend or a legitimate colleague, I do it.

2. If it comes from someone who seems like a decent person (or virtually anyone in the serving military), I do it. The good news here is that quite a few real friends have entered my life this way. You can tell a good ask from a bad ask.

3. Everyone else, I pass.

There’s an ethic to the blogging world. It goes something like this. “For every ‘ask,’ you must first produce twenty ‘gives.’” (Some would say a hundred.) A give is the opposite of an ask. I suspect that the heavy give-to-ask ratio is because what I might call a give (say, this post), you might consider a waste of time, a pain in the ass, spam.

I take my own asks very seriously, in the sense that I cringe when I do them and I try to balance them by as many gives as possible. Recently when The Profession was published, I did a bunch of asks. Buy this book. Tell your friends. I hate doing that. The way I justify it to myself is by saying that a person who reads an ask from me on this blog at least had to voluntarily come to the blog in the first place. Still, asks suck.

There are outbound asks and inbound asks. The trick with inbound asks is learning to say no. For most of us, this is not easy. I’ve been trying for years and still don’t say no half as often as I should.

My problem is I like to think of myself as a nice guy. This is not good. I’m working on getting over that. There are people out there who are what I would call social sociopaths. They’re not actual murderers or criminals; they won’t hurt you. But, for whatever reasons of character or upbringing, they are utterly without empathy. They have no sense of the value of another person’s time or hard-won skill or hard-earned reputation. If you’ve got it and they can use it, they want it. They want it now. They want it free. And they want it again and again.
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Posted in Writing Wednesdays

What It Takes

What It Takes

Readers First

By Shawn Coyne | Published: April 17, 2015

Greg Mistler's well travelled copy of Gates of Fire

[Join to read more of Shawn’s Stuff]

Here’s something I think is true.

It’s a riff on my 10,000-reader rule, which I think is the magic number of readers per title a publisher must reach before she can be satisfied that she’d done all that she could.  After exposing 10,000 interested people to a book, she’ll either concede defeat (for whatever reason the book just didn’t generate enough word of mouth to survive) or she’ll start reaping revenue from the title year after year.

What’s important isn’t selling 10,000.  What’s important is having 10,000 people read the book!

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What It Takes

What It Takes

Exile Revisted

By Callie Oettinger | Published: April 10, 2015

Winslow Homer's Veteran in a New Field

Two weeks ago I wrote about Dave Danelo’s book The Return and “Exile,” which is to The Return what “Resistance” is to The War of Art.

Last week, Shawn wrote about the “Groucho Marx Syndrome,” of an author spooked by the possibility of success, of actually achieving what he wanted.

This past week, a friend e-mailed about an artist friend of hers, asking for suggestions to help share his work. Upon receiving my ideas she replied with doubt, that she didn’t think he’d go for it. He was an artist and just wanted to create.

The artist Shawn wrote about and the artist friend of a friend have Exile in common. I used to think it Intellectual Snobbery because the reasoning for their actions often rambled along the lines of “only art is pure and I don’t want to be untrue to art, therefore I won’t do anything I deem as below my art,” blah, blah, blah … That might be true for some, but after reading The Return and Shawn’s post, I wonder if Fear and Exile aren’t the driving forces instead.

In the “Exile is Normal” section of The Return, Dave wrote:

Although Exile is particularly acute in returning veterans, it isn’t restricted to them. Exile is the letdown that follows any triumphant, climactic victory. It is the theoretical happily-ever-after that never arrives. It is an enduring, empty frustration that you’ve lost the one skill you knew you possessed; the one life you are trying to move on from, but which you can never go back to. And now you don’t know where you belong.

New mothers call it the baby blues. Freshly minted PhDs call it dissertation depression. Olympic athletes call it medal mourning. Buzz Aldrin, one of the only humans to walk on the moon, described Exile as “the melancholy of all things done.”

“I was petrified of losing the one thing in my mind I was good at,” said British swimmer Cassie Patten, talking about her life after the Olympic Games.

The artist has battled through his work. She’s finished her novel, painted her masterpiece, completed her album. And then what? Then there’s the return from this battle, of coming down from the high of the artist’s accomplishment—or of never returning because it is easier to keep fighting than to move on.

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Posted in What It Takes | 16 Comments
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