By Callie Oettinger
Published: April 22, 2016
If you want to master communicating and building relationships with the gatekeepers, tastemakers, potential customers, etc within your industry, the first step is to leave your industry.
About ten years ago, I ran across Michael J. Critelli’s Harvard Business Review article “Back Where We Belong.” I kept a copy of the article, surprised that a Pitney Bowes executive had mentioned the book The Sling and The Stone. I was repping the title and it was not a business book, nor one I had considered pitching to a business audience. However… Critelli’s attention to the defense world as a part of his “ear to the ground” strategy made sense. (It’s even more interesting to read now, as Critelli wrote the article during a time of great upheaval in the shipping industry, which plays into shipping today.)
A few takeaways from the article:
1) I needed to pay more attention to cross-over audiences. Who else might be interested in the projects on which I was working?
2) I needed to learn the language of different audiences. I could speak defense and history, but was not fluent in business and other potential crossover industries.
One of my college roommates used to tease me for saying everything twice. For example, if someone asked my opinion, I might reply, “You’re right. You’re definitely right.” If they needed to learn how to do something, I might say, “You need to go to the store and buy x, y and z first. You can’t do it without buying x, y and z first.” I didn’t pay attention to my looping dialogue until her good-natured teasing, but I’ve self-edited ever since.
Digging into the legal industry has been helpful as clarity is key within the legal world, where wordiness and poorly-thought-out letters can lead to trouble. You’ve got to get to the point and edit out the distractions.
Letter to the Stranger
Among the best advice I’ve read about writing letters (both within and outside the legal world) is in Pam Wright and Pete Wright’s book From Emotions to Advocacy. I’m partial to the book’s “Letter to the Stranger” section, in which the authors ask readers to:
Assume that before you mail your letter, your letter slips out of your notebook and falls into the street. Later, a Stranger sees your letter and picks it up. The Stranger puts the letter in his pocket and takes it home to read. What impression will your letter make on this Stranger?
The authors offer the example of seeing “couples arguing or parents disciplining their children in public” — something we’ve all experienced. They then ask:
What was your reaction? If you are like most people, you felt uncomfortable. Perhaps you had a stronger emotional reaction. You did not like it! You felt sympathy for the person who was being humiliated. People have the same reaction when they read angry letters.
In a previous article, “How to Pitch,” I shared a number of e-mails/letters that Steve and/or Black Irish Books have received, with examples of what to keep and what to avoid within the e-mails/letters. I didn’t include “Angry Letters” as a section, but what the Wrights wrote about angry letters applies to all categories of letter writing.
Strangers receiving your letter are viewing one slice of you/your project. They don’t have the full context, just as you don’t have the background for the couple fighting in the park. That couple’s appearance in your life is similar to your letter’s appearance in the life of a journalist (or potential customer or anyone else). It is unexpected, and often unwanted, contact. Your letter can not turn off the journalist the way the arguing couple turned off passersby. You want to engage, not push away.
Posted in What It Takes
By Steven Pressfield | Published: April 27, 2016
A couple of friends have written in:
“I know what my theme is, but I can’t figure out how to get it into my story.”
Posted in Writing Wednesdays | 22 Comments
By Steven Pressfield | Published: April 20, 2016
Picking up where we left off last week …
I’m starting a new fiction project, very heavy with Resistance, self-doubt, doubts about the viability of the project, etc. I decided to keep a dream diary. Last week I posted the first two dreams. Here are the next two.
This first one comes about a week into the work (3/28/16). Self-confidence in very short supply. I’m committed, but still feeling extremely tentative …
I was a pilot. I had somehow gotten the training and become qualified. I was traveling via ship and train to Antarctica with my friend David and one other guy that I didn’t know; they were both pilots too. We were going to join some kind of military force in operations somewhere around the South Pole. The planes we would be flying were WWI-era biplanes (though these didn’t appear in the dream.)
The landscape was gorgeous as we traveled south toward Patagonia, like I imagine Alaska looks: spectacular mountains, bays, valleys, all wild and unpopulated. But through the whole trip, I kept worrying, “We’ll have to fly over hundreds of miles of open water, water so cold that you’re dead in ninety seconds if you hit the drink–and those old-time biplanes are just fabric and balsa wood, with only one engine. How reliable can they be?”
We reached our destination—the last place on dry land. David and I and the other guy were driving, each in his own little car, south toward the jumping-off point. We came to a checkpoint, manned by a single Aussie female. David drove up. The female guard challenged David aggressively, asking him what we thought we were doing. He answered by singing, “We’re off to see the Wizard … “
I take this dream to be a spot-on depiction of my state of mind starting this new book. I feel exactly like a newly-minted, zero-experience Sopwith Camel jockey about to take off in a rickety crate to fly over hundreds of miles of sub-zero ocean into the polar unknown.
Somehow the dream encouraged me. I thought, “Yeah, that’s the situation. That’s exactly how I feel.” It is what it is. Let’s get on with it.
Two nights later, still very shaky, I had this dream:
It was the aftermath of the Civil War, the immediate days after Lee’s surrender. I was a rebel. A bunch of us—ragged and starving, but still carrying our muskets (with bayonets)—were straggling on foot toward home, apparently back to South Carolina or Georgia, wherever our little farms were. Parties of Yankees kept passing on the roads, celebrating their victory, not just soldiers but civilians in carriages, dressed up in their finery, just driving like a parade. Union troops in large numbers were closing in everywhere as well.
Some sort of very serious announcement was being made by the Yankees to us, not by loudspeaker since that hadn’t been invented but the equivalent. Something like, “You Johnny Rebs have ceased to be granted the status of soldiers and now will be treated as traitors. You no longer possess any civil rights and are not protected under the laws of the United States.” More announcements followed. Each one was more grave than the one before, letting us know that we were even more screwed than we thought we were. It was as if the stakes kept getting raised and then raised more after that. A few of our guys had gotten shot by the advancing Union troops. It was clear that the rest of us were in for a long, hard haul just trying to get home, hundreds of miles overland on foot, through the woods, hiding out.
At one point someone of our party, possibly even me, gestured with his bayonet close-up toward a carriage of Yankee civilians, revelers, well-dressed, men and women, who were passing and abusing us verbally. This soldier (like I said, maybe it was even me) pointed his rifle at the Yankees, with that long steel bayonet aimed right at them. He said, “We may have lost the war, but we’re still men, we’re still armed and still capable of taking a life. So shut your mouth.”
Again, I take this dream to be about the new book. Its message to me seems to be, “No matter what anyone else says, or how dire realistically the situation is, you’ve still got your skills and your will. You’re still viable. Don’t lose faith. Keep heading home.”
I had a third dream, a week later, that continued this theme of marching home, heading south. In this dream I was just myself, wading through a swamp thick with alligators and praying that I didn’t run into one. At dream’s end I spotted a cabin up ahead with a chance to get a meal and a short rest.
Here’s my takeaway from these five dreams, which came over the first three weeks of starting a new and, to me, extremely daunting project:
As writers, artists and entrepreneurs we all look for “creative capital,” i.e. something we can “take to the bank” and call upon in moments of self-doubt, isolation, hesitation, and fear.
What works? Is it prior success? Can we call on that? Is it past praise from book reviews, editors, agents, from the writers’ group we meet with every week? Is it the love of our spouses or lovers who believe in us? Is it our number of “likes” or “followers?” In our darkest hours, what resource can we call upon that will actually help us?
To me, it’s dreams like these. Or other visions and insights. (See the chapter titled LARGO, pages 128-9 in The War of Art.)
Dreams like these are God’s currency, solid gold, legal tender in any country. They’re absolutely free and absolutely self-contained, springing forth from our unconscious to support us and encourage us. When we speak of “the Muse” or “the Quantum Soup” or “the Divine Ground,” this is what we’re talking about. Dreams like these are worth a million bucks.
I can tell you that, based on these five dreams (though any one of them by itself would suffice) I will bust my butt for the next two years writing this book I’m talking about. Yeah, I’ve laid the idea on Shawn for real-world feedback and gotten his blessing. That definitely helps. And a couple of other trusted friends have stamped it with their approval too.
But the dreams are the money shot.
This, as I said, is the artist’s inner world. It’s the artist’s interior life.
[Back next week to continue our posts on Theme—though I’ll continue to keep my dream diary and report in from time to time as this adventure progresses.]