Thursday, May 27, 2010

Baker's Dozen

The last thing I felt like doing at the end of today, after a long week that's not over, is writing another chapter. But I did. I parked myself outside at Argo and tapped this one out:
  • Getting from Point A to Point B -- What Second City's tight sketchwriting structure taught me about keeping communications pieces disciplined and outcome-focused, free of tangents and stray threads that don't serve the narrative or move it forward. It's especially hard to do when clients are always trying to throw more and more stuff that doesn't belong into a document.
I'm glad I got it done. That's 13 chapters in four weeks. Looking ahead, I see at least 6 solid chapters, and a few that definitely need some fleshing out, rethinking or throwing out.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Number 12

Wow, this was a hard one. It took me a couple of days, on and off, to get it together. Part of the problem is most of the chapters I've written have been the things that I'm most excited about. (Thus easier.) I thought I'd tackle one that's a little more ... iffy.

Also, I'm struggling a little with focus. This started as a guide to more effective writing. (Business writing, that is.) But I also scoped out a few chapters that are more directed at communications in general, which may be less relevant to some readers. In fact some of the tips and guidelines offered in this latest chapter would be outside the purview of all but the most senior corporate communications type, crossing into HR, strategy and operations.

Similarly, I've got a lot to say about internal communications, which may not be relevant to a lot of writers. So with both of these issues I've been trying to reconcile these different things, trying to apply the lessons across a lot of areas to be more useful. But then it gets muddled and sluggish.

I'm not sure what the answer is at this point. I'm thinking maybe there's a separate section of the book on broader communications issues. That way I can keep each chapter more focused. So that's the direction I've settled on for now, and it helped me finally get this chapter out of my system:
  • Creating Cathedral Builders. The title's based on a story I came across years ago when we were putting together the employee communications practice at Ogilvy. I was sort of in charge of "articulating" the practice -- putting all our ideas and principles and experiences in a narrative to build marketing materials around. As the story goes, a man comes upon a construction site where three workers are apparently doing the same thing. He asks them each what they're doing. One says, "I'm breaking rocks," the other says, "I'm earning a living," and the third one says, "I'm helping build a cathedral." That pretty much summed it all up. A little too cutely for some people in the practice. But employee communications is about engaging employees by giving them direction and purpose and making them feel they're a part of something bigger. That what they're doing matters and they have a stake in the company's success. Etc.
So we'll see what happens with that. And we'll also see how my three-chapter-a-week goal holds up as I tackle these "harder" chapters. If I only get two a week done I'll still be close to finished by the end of June. (Not counting revising.)

And looking at my topic list now, some of the ideas are a little ... thin. On the other hand, I've thought up a handful of new chapters as the process has gone along. It still looks like I'll be in the 20-to-25 range.

Halfway there.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Insane couple of days. I've had two conference calls and a meeting on a new piece of business where I'll be writing a video script (due Friday), another call on an ongoing project, revised a client document, uploaded a dozen videos to the new casting site, revised my acting resume, discussed site updates with my web person, had an audition, balanced my checkbook, paid my bills, washed the windows, installed the AC units, laundered all the sheets and towels, did body blast class, yoga and two sessions with weights, lunched with a friend, and checked in at a friend's house who I'm housesitting for.

I also completed most of a new chapter of the book, but it's not done yet.

Two-fifths into the work week and I've taken care of three-fifths of my to-do list. Not counting the stuff that will get added.

I always feel like when I have big things to do that require big chunks of time, like this new script, I first have to clear the decks of all the little stuff. So the next couple of days should be really productive.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Grateful for the fog (10 and 11)

It was supposed to be beautiful and sunny this morning but we were socked in, which actually allowed me to be pretty productive. Two more short chapters down, numbers 10 and 11 (so I actually made my three-per-week goal):
  • His Master's Voice -- about capturing the "voice" of the speaker. This was a tough one, because capturing someone's speech patterns, tone, rhythm, syntax, word choice, etc., has always come pretty naturally to me. I had to think hard about what specific steps a person who doesn't have that natural ability might take.
  • Blocked? Get Over It -- this one's been done to death, but I figure it bears repeating: there's no such thing as writer's block. I may dump it in the end, but right now it's less than 200 words anyway. I envision the "regular" chapters, which are already pretty short as it is, being interrupted occasionally with these extremely short, one-page mini-chapters.
As I write these, I keep thinking about an approach recommended by an old friend/colleague. She's had her own book published by Simon & Schuster, but she's been talking up the whole online/crowdsourcing thing. Just putting up chapters, inviting debate, collecting comments and, I presume, revising and rewriting.

It sounds interesting, though finding a large enough following of interested people might be difficult. Certainly not as difficult as finding a publisher, though. There are some sites I need to check out. Just a few chapters to get under my belt first.

Friday, May 21, 2010

So ... many ... steps

Oy. I spent almost all of today (minus spin) working on these new videos. That's after 4 hours yesterday.

It's crazy. Upload to iMovie. Export to hard drive. Upload to YouTube. Link on Facebook. Upload to casting site, then attach to resume. Upload to SlideShowPro to get them onto my website (create album, upload video, label, caption, create and upload thumbnail, activate, move to Gallery, test, fix, etc.).

Insane ...

Reel, Part 2

Sixty bucks later (and well worth the investment), I got the videos I needed to fill out my second reel. And there are actually several other ones like these out there somewhere that I've given up trying to get a hold of. A nice one I did for Citibank TWO YEARS ago that still hasn't seen the light of day, and one for a big drug company whose ad agency contact is long gone.

But I think I've got enough here to showcase my host/narrator (and CG graphic spinning and flipping) abilities.

There's a third category -- the Dad/Husband/Boyfriend roles. Me cutting turkey, me buying wine, me presiding over home repairs. But they're all nonspeaking. I might do a third reel that combines all three of these categories. I would have to really pull tiny clips and the best of the best in order to get it under two minutes.

But this is enough for now. Probably more than enough.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Technical difficulties

A new casting website has come along that promises to save casting agencies, talent agents, and actors time and headaches by putting all our stuff -- resume, stats, photos, video -- online. There have been several of these over the years, and I've dutifully gone through the process of getting all my stuff up (not to mention the various proprietary sites that some agencies set up on their own).

It's motivated me to update my reel, and most of the day I've been working on doing that. I thought I'd make one for the humorous stuff, one for the spokesman-type stuff and maybe a third all-purpose reel. I got the funny one done, but have just spent most of the afternoon on the rest.

The problem is I've got several good industrials out there that I just haven't gotten physical copies of -- just links to websites. So I've been working today to try to capture them off those sites with various applications I've downloaded. None of them quite fills the bill. The closest I've come are videos where the audio is out of sync.

I've got one last resort, though. A friend of a friend who can supposedly do what I need. Which would be great, because it's been sticking in my freakin' craw for a long time now.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Coming Together

I didn't write any new chapters today, but I added new intro sections to two existing ones. The more I think about it, the more I feel like there needs to be this "hook" -- taking lessons from the performance world and applying them to business communications.

A couple of others still don't quite have that tie-in. I'm not sure how fanatical I need to be about it, but we'll see. At least I'm feeling better that I've got a direction in mind. And I'll give myself a break if I fall short of three new chapters this week. Maybe two will do, with revisions to others.

It's fascinating how things are suddenly coming together from a lot of different directions. I'm doing this book on business communications at the same time I'm working with a client on designing a communications training program for their executives. That project has not only allowed me to use some of the material I've drafted for the book, it's also given me ideas for additional chapters.

At the same time a friend sent me information the other day about this organization that does a lot of writing workshops and coaching and said I should teach a master call there. So I wrote them and they said I could submit a proposal for a one-night class. Looking at their site I saw that the heavy-duty business communications stuff is done by their core staff, while guest faculty teach a lot of courses on writing things like novels, screenplays, memoirs, essays, etc.

So I don't know if I exactly fit there, but I thought about it and came up with an agenda for a class on speech and presentation writing. Which is perfect. That's an area I identified as a major strength of mine years ago at the PR firm. In fact, for a while there I was dubbed "Speech Boy."

I'd thought for a long time that I could do classes on speechwriting, but I never thought I had the material to fill a whole class and give people practical steps they could use. So then I later broadened that goal to teaching and coaching writing and more recently to communications. And now that I've put together nine chapters of this book, suddenly I see all the material in front of me.

And now I'm thinking, even if the class doesn't work for this group, I could pitch it elsewhere. (And actually, I can still pitch it elsewhere.) But beyond that, I've got material for a second book. Okay, more like a manual. Six chapters or so offering people who give speeches or write them for others a simple guide to putting it all together. And all of it can be adapted fairly quickly from the stuff I've already written.

All of that was just today. Revise two chapters of my book, finalize and send a proposed workshop curriculum to a client, devise and send a proposal for a speechwriting class to this other group, and outline the content for a possible manual on speechwriting. Next up, look for other venues to give speeches and teach classes and trade and business media to submit articles to.

This is really fun and exciting. And I think I owe it all to getting out there and meeting and talking with industry people, getting exposed to new ideas, building on existing ones and getting feedback and encouragement. It's funny how the rewards that come to you are often not the ones you set out to look for.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

9th Chapter

Knocked out a short chapter today:
  • This Ain't Art ... and you're not Shakespeare. Avoid becoming the Sean Young of corporate communications (difficult to work with). Learn to negotiate and compromise with clients over edits and changes.
It's funny -- in my networking meetings last week people seemed excited about this book idea. But one also said he assumes naturally I've studied what's out there to figure out my marketing niche.

I know that's supposed to be the first step. And, in fact, with the book I'm editing that very issue is a core part of at least one publisher's proposal format: identify similar books in the marketplace and how yours is different. No doubt any publisher would be concerned about this, and I am, too. But I still want to get some more content under my belt before I do too much investigating.

I don't want what others have done to affect my own thoughts. At least not at this stage. I can always go back and retrofit, but right now I want to start with my own vision of things, untainted by outside influences.

It may well be that this very thing has already been done by others. In which case this will just represent my own personal views on well-trod ground. Which is less interesting to people unless I happen to be famous or super well-known in the field, like a David Ogilvy.

So head down for now and full speed ahead. I'm shooting for a three-chapter-a-week pace, which is holding up as pretty realistic for now.

Monday, May 17, 2010


I've never been much of a hockey fan, but I gotta say I've really been enjoying these playoffs. Now I don't fool myself into believing I'm an actual fan -- I wouldn't be watching at all if the Hawks weren't in it.

But the fact that I am following it is something. And I think it mostly has to do with the fact that during the Winter Olympics I actually went to the trouble of learning a thing or two about the game -- strategy, rules, what's a legal check and what's not. I still barely know the difference between off sides and icing, but then neither do 90% of viewers.

It shouldn't amaze me, but I am sometimes surprised at how much more enjoyable things are when you take the time to learn about them. The same thing happened with curling. And it has nothing to do with sports or ice or anything like that. It's the same way I enjoy music more now that I know a little something about the guitar or appreciate movies more because of the acting.

Yup, learning is FUNdamental. I forget that sometimes. But it's amazing how much the brain can continue to absorb. One of the books I'm reading right now is called "Salt." It's about salt. (And history and civilization, etc.) I think intellectual curiosity is maybe our greatest gift. Some would say love. But sometimes you just want to go to bed with a good book, ya know?

Friday, May 14, 2010


I belong to seven or eight LinkedIn groups -- for PR people, marketing people, legal marketers, etc. -- and every week I get an email digest of discussions and job postings from each of those groups. And some of those digests have as many as 60 different items of varying levels of relevance.

I just spent 30 minutes going through this week's batch (my new time management solution is to send them all to my spam folder and read them at once), sifting through the spam and sales posts (approximately 60%), the esoteric discussions on what we can do to rehabilitate the image of PR or whether PR and media relations are the same thing or if communications should report to HR, etc. (10%), the job offerings in India and London (10%), the stuff that's not really relevant to me (18%) ... all to find the small handful of useful articles and information (2%). That's a pretty heavy chaff-to-grain ratio.

I think on one level there's a fear people have of being out of touch with the industry, and perhaps LinkedIn gives them a quick idea of what's going on. On the other hand, I think it creates unnecessary panic, blowing things out of proportion like the 24-hour news channels do. For a time probably two thirds to three quarters of discussions were either about Search Engine Optimization or Social Media, and the very, very important boats that everyone risks missing by not devoting all of their attention to these two areas.

Bleh! I think I'm going to opt out of a few. I've found in the past few months how much easier, and more satisfying it is, to focus mainly on regular old face-to-face communication. I just had two fantastic meetings this week with people who have some great experience and are doing some really exiting things with their careers. It's really inspiring. And they're putting me in touch with multiple contacts of theirs.

Altogether since I stepped things up at the beginning of the year, I've reached out to about 20 new people, re-engaged with another 15 or so and sat down with a dozen face-t0-face. Not too bad -- that's a couple of contacts a week. I can probably step it up even more.

But anyway, it's going really, really well. I was trying this last year but the climate was just so bad. People seem much more positive now. Opportunities seem to be opening up at a lot of places -- both freelance and full-time. And it's just good to be out there. It keeps you on your toes, gives you some good perspective, and it's fun. It's such a supportive community.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


I had a non-commercial audition today for the first time in about a year-and-a-half. I think the last one was for Bustin', back in the fall of '08.

This was for a film. A low-budget independent feature. I haven't gone out for these much, partly because I've had the focus for a while now on paid work. Also, it's much more of a dicey prospect with film. Theater in Chicago is a very small, contained world. After a couple of years you pretty much know who's who and what's what. And if you don't, it's pretty easy to find out.

With film, there are all kinds of people out there making movies. Or trying to. Or thinking about it. So I didn't really know how to go about vetting an opportunity like this. With student films at least you have the imprimatur of the school -- you know there's going to be a certain standard.

Luckily I've been part of this group of film actors who meet monthly and also act as a sounding board and information source for industry happenings. So I asked some people and got some good tips on the kinds of things to investigate (beyond just figuring out if the filmmaker is a sane, rational person who you could envision working with).

Things like the makeup of the crew, the kind of equipment, production schedule, distribution plans, etc. He was really cool about answering my questions (that's another "tell" -- if they get defensive or offended in the process then they're not somebody you want to work with).

The main reason I was interested in the project was that the scene the producer sent me was funny and the role fit me pretty well. (Sort of a Tim Gunn thing. A mean Tim Gunn.) I thought it would be nice to do a little work like that again. It's a relatively small commitment, time and energy-wise, but it's an important scene in the movie -- the first one, in fact. Also it just sort of fell into my lap. A friend recommended me and that's how I got the call. They needed somebody snobby and she immediately thought of me.

So it looks like I'm doing it, schedule willing. He enjoyed my audition and cast me on the spot. This will be a fun thing to be involved in.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wow, 30 blog hits in one day!

That's not a record for the blog. But it's a record for one single visitor to the blog. Yikes.

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And the day's not over yet.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Chapters 6, 7 and 8

I spent a pretty relaxed rainy birthday day mostly inside, taking advantage of a lull in work and auditions to focus on writing. I got three more chapters done:
  • Barriers to Communication. The fears, assumptions and lawyers that keep people from communicating. I cite examples from Chris Farley to an old boss who was never afraid to admit he didn't know something.
  • Start with the Audience. I've always talked about effective corporate communications "occupying the intersection between the audience's needs/interests and the organization's goals and priorities." All communication has to begin by directly addressing the anxieties, doubts and misperceptions of the audience. If you don't, you lose them right away. I give a sort of roadmap to figuring that stuff out.
  • Now it's Okay to Talk About Yourself. The followup to the chapter above, and one of the few chapters that's required to appear in a certain order, this one covers the other street at the intersection and provides a formula for developing that part of the content.
That's a lot for a day, though they're short -- about 1800 words altogether. Sort of blog-sized.

I'm moving kind of fast with this for several reasons. First, I want to strike while the proverbial iron is hot. Second, I'm taking advantage of some otherwise slow time, which could get derailed at any minute by client work. Third, I want to get as much under my belt before the forces of negativity conspire to kill it in its tracks.

I know there are tons of obstacles to getting this thing published (I'm not famous, I haven't been published before, I may not have a strong marketing platform, I may not have a good gimmick or brand for the thing, like Writing Rx or From Stage to Page or something), but I'm not going to worry about that now.

Before I even think about looking for an agent or publisher, which requires just an outline and a few sample chapters, I want to get at least two thirds of it done. I need to have a clear handle on what it is myself before I can sell it to someone else.

And, as I've said, I'd be content to self publish or e-publish or blog the thing. I just want to have it, in whatever form. And start spinning things off it and using it to market myself.

So a pretty good day so far. Plus a walk to the lake and skipping the gym for the first time since Easter Sunday. Next up: beer, food, hockey and cake.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Oh for two

I'm getting just a couple of auditions a week these days and I think I just talked my way out of two for Wednesday.

One was a really, really low rate. Like half to a quarter of what it really should have been. So I can't see doing that one.

The other requires "inconsolable sobbing." I can barely cry for good reason in real life, let alone cry on command for the camera or on stage. That's just the way it is. I get happy, I get sad, I get angry, but I don't toss back my head with laughter and pound the table and I don't break down in tears.

Anger's a little more accessible, I have to say. If they need me to turn red, curse a blue streak and break something, then I'm their man. Especially if it's a spot involving traffic, long lines, the cable or phone company, telemarketers, or just about any telephone customer service situation.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Fifth Chapter

This one took a little while longer, over three sittings, but I think it's one of the most important ones. It's about "showing" instead of "telling." It's something I've been pushing to do more and more of in my client work.

One of the problems is I have so many examples and anecdotes -- everything from Mamet's screenwriting advice ("pretend you're writing a silent movie") to a two-line scene from "The Fugitive" to profiles. It was getting to be more anecdote than substance. But I think I found the right balance, with plenty of applications to real-life client projects.

And I had a conference call yesterday with a new client in which I found all sorts of advice and stories coming out of my mouth, making me think I've got a couple of other potential chapters in me beyond those I've outlined.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Wouldn't you know it?

After all that, I dream I'm on the way to being executed by the Nazis. But at least I went out with my head held high, as part of the resistance.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

I don't dream, I sleep

I've daydreamed all my life -- probably an inordinate amount. Big dreams and fantasies about big things. When I was a kid, adventures, heroism, stardom -- the usual stuff. I was constantly weaving scenarios.

And it didn't stop when I stopped being a kid. It just changed a little. At a certain point you realize you're not going to be an NFL or rock star. So you dream of other things -- often equally outlandish things, made the more outlandish by the fact that you're supposed to be an adult.

You dream of ideal relationships, maybe. Fame, money -- those are still there.

A while back I stopped. I felt like it was unhealthy. I wondered if all those years spent inside my head, dreaming up a make-believe life, got in the way of pursuing a better real life. I don't know. What's the difference between setting a high goal and frittering away your energy on something unrealistic? Between harmless fantasy and unproductive distraction?

But I think I've missed it. Recently I began a little thing where I'm trying to control my dreams. Okay, "control." Or, let's say, "set the tone for." For a couple of years there I was waking up somewhat regularly in the middle of the night fretting about all sorts of worries, anxieties, fears and other things. That, fortunately, has stopped almost entirely. (It's probably no coincidence that it ended when an unhappy relationship ended.)

In any case, I'm working on positive thoughts before I fall asleep. Not quite daydreaming -- maybe "pre-dreaming." And so far I'm getting some decent results. Or at least I feel like I am, which amounts to the same thing. I've had a few curveballs. An ex has cropped up more than once. Lots of things unresolved, I suppose.

But I'm thinking now that a little bit of directed fantasy can be a positive, perhaps nourishing thing. Thinking about what can be, instead of just about what's missing or lacking. When done in moderation AND when coupled with some real-life action. I am sleeping better, and feeling better when I get up. And that can make a big difference in your day.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The other thing

Had tea today with an old Ogilvy colleague and I'm getting more and more excited about the book project.

She's writing a book herself (and actually has a publisher and an advance and all of that) and commented on the fact that ever since she's been working on it she meets more and more people who are also writing books or planning to write them. Her theory is that as people get to a certain age they realize they have a lot of wisdom and experience to share, which makes sense. Or, just as likely, when you're in your 20s you don't think you've got anything worthwhile to say.

Her book sounds hard. She's been on the road doing research and interviewing people. She also feels sometime like she's out there alone -- her publisher looked at some early stuff but didn't have a lot of feedback. So I offered to look at a chapter or two if she wanted feedback and perhaps we could even trade off samples at some point, which would be great.

In any case, it reminded me, I never quite closed the thought from the other day. I thought of the book when I saw that the people doing what I want to do (workshops and coaching on writing) all had major credentials, including books they authored. But then I also thought the book would serve not just as a calling card but as a foundation of the content that I would then transform into workshop presentations, seminars, articles, etc.

What I admired so much about the expert I contacted was how she had all the neatly packaged and differentiated "products." So with the content I'm putting together, I could very easily see a 30-minute presentation here, a several-hour workshop there, a 1,000-word article for a trade journal, etc.

Anyway, I really like how this is coming together and am looking forward to my next open block of time to get more on paper.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

So far, so good

I wrote another chapter today, making four chapters so far. I'm going to update here when I do, just so I can keep myself honest.

I'm not going in any particular order -- I don't know at this point what order the chapters will be in. I doubt it's going to a sequential-type thing. More like trying to balance variety with rhythm. So right now I'm just tackling whatever topic I feel like writing about at the time.

Here's what I have so far:
  • The Power of Emotion. Using an anecdote from an old client engagement I talk about how an emotional appeal can be more persuasive than simple facts, even with a hostile audience like a bunch of UAW toughs yelling at their CEO.
  • Throw Out Your Baby. Starting with a story from M. Night Shayamalyan, I talk about the importance of letting go of things -- words, phrases, passages -- that you love too much, which can interfere with your ability to be objective.
  • Find Your Own Process. With the awkward five-step process and structure that my 7th-grade English teacher taught us, I'd always end up going straight to final draft then creating a bunch of fake outlines and rough drafts to turn in after the fact. People have to start somewhere, but eventually if you find a way that works for you, it's the results that count, not the process.
  • Pet Peeves. This is one I'll probably keep adding to as I'm reminded of things that bug me. I already had a decent-sized list to start with. Things like the pointlessness of saying, "I'd like to" before thanking or introducing someone. And how people should just stop using the word "comprise" since so few people know how to use it correctly.
More to come ...