Friday, July 23, 2010

The final lineup

Chapters written: 25. Chapters revised: 13. Words written: 21,966. Pre-vacation goal: met.

Still not happy with the title: From Stage to Page: Lessons for Business Communicators from Theater, Film and TV. Maybe just Talk Like An Actor with the subhead the same. Good vacation thinking.

My "final" table of contents:

1. Show, Don’t Tell
Nobody’s paid by the word anymore, so let’s start acting like it. What we can learn from “The Fugitive,” David Mamet and “Mad Men.”

2. Barriers to Communication
Do you live in a van by the river? The fears, assumptions and lawyers that keep people from communicating.

3. The Power of Emotion
In acting, emotion is everything. In business, it’s a dirty word. But there’s a reason facts are described as “cold” and “hard” – they’ll only get you so far.

4. Stand Outside Yourself
Perspective is everything. Put yourself in their shoes.

5. Start with the Audience
A roadmap to finding the intersection between the audience's needs and interests and the organization's goals and priorities.

6. Play the Want
Only after you’ve addressed your audience’s concerns have you earned the right to tell them what you want.

7. Tell a Story
Everybody’s got a story. Our job is to help them tell it.

8. His Master's Voice
If you’re just putting words in someone else’s mouth, it’s never going to ring true. Tips for capturing the tone, rhythm and style of the speaker.

9. Plainly speaking
Is your company a Laurence Olivier in a Bobby DeNiro world? Communicate like a human, as if you're talking to another human.

10. Getting from Point A to Point B
What sketch writing can teach us about discipline and focus in our writing.

11. Throw Out Your Baby
Take it from M. Night Shayamalan. If you love it too much – a word, a phrase, a passage – you need to let it go.

12. Staying on Message
There’s nothing more liberating than a finely crafted message framework. Just don’t drop your gig.

13. Using Humor
Want to know the secret to comedy? Being funny is an outcome, not a goal.

14. Pitch It
As writers, we expect our work to speak for itself. As introverts, that approach suits our style. But that’s not the way the world works, whether in business or in Hollywood.

15. Blocked? Get Over It
There’s no such thing as writer’s block. But if you think you have it, here are some tips for getting over it.

16. Find Your Own Process
Get your 7th grade teacher out of your head. The only “right” way to write is the way that works for you.

17. This Ain't Art ... and You're Not Shakespeare
Don’t be the Sean Young of corporate communications. Learn to compromise with clients over edits and changes.

18. Be an Editor, Not a Jackass
Be the type of editor you always wanted to have.

19. Creating Cathedral Builders
The key to employee communications is to turn rock breakers into cathedral builders.

20. Meetings Drive Productivity
SNL's Lorne Michaels has famously said that they don't go on the air because they're ready, they go on because it's 11:30. There’s nothing like the specter of a good public shaming to drive productivity.

21. Communications Drives Strategy
Imagine a play without a script. Wait, you don’t have to. It’s called “improv,” and it can sometimes be as unwatchable as a group of corporate executives pulling strategy out of the air.

22. Is This Thing On?
Life is an audition, and you’re always “on.”

23. Screw Your Fear
Believe in yourself. If you don’t, nobody else will. And if you can’t, take it from improv legend Mick Napier: learn to fake it.

24. On Language
Observations on making your writing sing.

25. Pet Peeves
Grammar is about more than providing a consistent framework for using language. It’s also for lording obscure bits of knowledge over others for the purpose of making ourselves feel superior.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Goal met!

Had a very productive couple of days in the home stretch before vacationland.

After knocking out Chapter 25, I edited/revised 4 other ones, meeting my goal for this point to have all chapters written and half of them edited. More than half, I guess, since I'm up to 13.

I'm feeling really good about the content. Very, very good about half the content. I'll get the rest in shape. I find as I'm editing I'm adding a lot of words. I'm now up to 21,966, so chances are I'll get up to around 25,000 when all is edited and done.

In fact, I feel good enough that I started circulating chapters to people. I sent batches of 4 chapters apiece to 3 friends, with another one pending. They're all PR/marketing types, so it's more than just about positive reinforcement. I'm hoping they'll be able to confirm for me that I'm on the right track and have got something here, and also tell me where I'm off-course.

Next steps, after vacation:
  • Revise the other 12 chapters.
  • Gather and incorporate reader feedback.
  • Enlist a second round of readers -- more PR types, plus some from acting to help ensure some of my analogies/analysis around film and theater and comedy and Second City are accurate.
  • Gather and incorporate their feedback.
  • Decide on a final order for the chapters.
  • Print it all out and do one more scouring of the copy.
That's the content side. I've also got a number of things to do in marketing and figuring out the production. Stuff that will start right after the vacay. (Okay, I'm actually taking the laptop with me, so I might do some work on the planes.)

In any case, I think I can head out feeling pretty good about things. That was a very productive 3 months (minus 1 week).

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Okay, Now I'm Really Done

I pronounced the first draft of the book "done" at the end of June. I had 22 chapters and about 16,500 words.

In the last 3 weeks I've been working to get that last bit finished, and I finally have, just today. I finished Chapter 25. This bad boy now weighs in at a little over 21,000 words. It's interesting that these last few chapters were longer than the average. The entire book would be 37,000+ words at this rate.

Which makes me wonder if I have more to say as I go along. Maybe as I go back and edit some of the early chapters I'll be doing some new writing in addition to the revising.

We'll see. At this point I've edited 9 chapters. I'd still like to get another 4 under my belt by the end of the week, which may still be doable. Guess it depends on what shape I find these in. Some have required very little editing and others have kind of stumped me.

Also today I put together a formal Table of Contents and a preliminary order for the chapters, as well as a 3-paragraph synopsis. I needed these for when I circulate selected chapters to people, which I might start doing as early as this week. I thought I'd start with friends before sending stuff to high-up industry types who are more contacts than friends.

Luckily these friends of mine also happen to be fairly high-up industry types themselves, so it will be good to get their (hopefully not too heavily varnished) feedback. I was thinking 3 chapters per person, and I was only going to send the ones I've revised. Again, we'll see. I'm mightily relieved just to be where I am.

Especially with this final chapter, which I just pulled out of thin air yesterday and managed in 4 or so hours to bang out almost 1500 words on. It's a lot more substantive that I expected. Or maybe I'm just getting more chatty.

So without further ado, Chapter 25:
  • Language Matters -- Observations on making your writing sing, including, Be Honest, Be Precise (Except When it's Necessary to be Vague), Avoid the Negative, Use Power Words, Be Poetic, and Recognize Your 'Crutch' or 'Go-To' Words.
Enormously satisfied.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Not quite a lazy Sunday

I didn't get the replacement Sunday I was hoping for. No breakfast outside, no pizza for dinner, no reading in the sun. And I had a conference call and some follow-up and did a little work.

On the other hand, I made time for me. Lots of little tasks on the long pre-vacation to-do list. And I had some quality time during the day and at Argo this evening to work on the book. Much progress, on things both planned and un-planned for this week.

I went through my dog-eared, highlighted copy of Story, the renowned screenwriting bible. I can't believe I hadn't done this before. But just as digging through my 0ld Second City class notebooks gave me a few nuggets of usable, quotable stuff, I found a few good things in there. Better than that, though, was that I didn't come across any major gaps in my existing content. Maybe some time away will cause things to occur to me, but for right now, it's looking pretty good.

I also came up with an idea for Chapter 25. I sort of took a couple of small, underdeveloped ideas from my list of random concepts without a home and combined them with a few little things from Story to come up with what seems like it could be a full chapter of useful stuff. This one will be on language.

I researched options for self-publishing. There's so much out there, and it's changing so fast. There's a site where I can just upload a bunch of blog posts and they'll print it in a book. That's a little too basic. There's one where you do a 300-word proposal and the site's readers vote on the ones that should go up on the site. But it just resides there.

There's another crowdsourcing-type one, where people can comment, annotate -- sort of virtually scribble in your electronic margins -- and you can even assign the most helpful contributors a portion of your royalties. Amazon has one where you can pay hundreds to several thousands of dollars for everything from design and layout to editing and proofreading. It can then be sold on Amazon and put in Kindle format. And even printed in hard copy, which I'm not sure I want.

I also don't even know whether I want to sell it. A lot of people recommend giving away this kind of content. Using it as a business builder -- a client goodwill thing. I'd rather have more people read it -- make that, more clients and potential clients read it -- than earn the few dollars that royalties can bring. Or I'd at least like the ability to "give out" comps.

The truth is, I don't need any service for this. I can have someone do a nice design template, load it in there, post it on my website and/or its own dedicated site and even put it in a format for reading on the Kindle.

More study on all of that. There's new info every day.

And finally, looking toward the marketing of the thing, I created a new blog that I may or may not use. I exported the book-tagged posts and will cross-post future ones. The idea is I would put up a sample chapter so that I have something I can pre-announce to people. I've already mentioned it on Facebook, and I did a little thing on LinkedIn, which nobody really pays attention to.

But this would be an email blast with an announcement that the book is coming and previewing a finished chapter. (Along with FB and LinkedIn posts as well.) That should cover all the business contacts and others that I'm not linked to via social media. I may do it this week.

So that's a damned fine day. A little more writing, a little more editing, a bit of marketing, and I should be able to go away with a clear conscience.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Doctor is In. WAY in.

So those are my partners in fake medicine. After Wednesday's wash-out, these goobers gathered together on the set and read my blog and proceeded to make fun of me.

Yes, yes, poor me. Getting paids hundreds of extra dollars, and not being able to relax on Sunday, and being prevented from planning for my amazing Alaska vacation.

I do whine a lot. Well, I whine sometimes. I don't know how often is a lot. I do strongly dislike when things go awry, but on the way back from today's make-up shoot it occurred to me that "things going awry" is pretty much the normal state of the world, and there's not much avoiding that.

Maybe that perspective will be helpful in the future.

Anyway, we got in bright and early ... well, not so bright, but damned early -- 7 am -- for a Sunday. And our shoot was one of the first, so we actually worked solidly for several hours straight. Then sat for the next 5 hours until our full 8 hours was spent.

What I didn't realize, though, amidst all my whining, is that you get paid double on Sundays. Boo-yah! All better.

Well, mostly better. I think I'm going to make Monday my Sunday. Now off to another streetfest before I pass out from being up at 4:30.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


Yesterday afternoon/evening, as I was sitting in the hot sun at Argo trying to write and edit, I had a minor existential crisis. This book is all crap! Or at least half of it is! And I can't seem to squeeze this damned 24th chapter out!

I was exhausted by the end of several hours. I don't know if it was the heat or the book, or if maybe it was the other way around -- my exhaustion was causing me to perceive these other problems.

So this afternoon I took a fresh start and finally banged out that second-to-last chapter. It's pretty good:
  • Pitch It -- As writers, we generally expect our work to speak for itself. In Hollywood, though, screenwriters must go through the pitch meeting before getting their screenplays green-lighted. In my screenwriting class at Second City, we learned not only about story structure and technique for TV shows and films, but we had to pitch our ideas as well. It's an excellent experience -- a great way to focus your thoughts and even re-evaluate your content in the process. In business, we don't always have the luxury of sitting down face-to-face with the people who review our copy, but when we do, it pays to be prepared with a quick pitch summarizing the content and putting it in context. I provide a simple formula for doing it.
I also edited another four chapters this week, which means nine down and well within sight of my goal of having half the chapters edited before I leave next week. Last night as I was looking at some of the early chapters I was really second-guessing myself. I have to re-re-look at them with a fresh eye. Some are definitely less substantive than others. We'll have to see whether they provide a nice variety or stick out like sore thumbs and need to be changed or cut.

Oh yeah, and one last chapter to write. I think. For some reason I feel like an even 25 is a good way to go. Though I reserve the right to change my mind and consider 20 the ideal. Or even 23.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Zippity do-dah

I've ben thinking for a couple of years about joining zipcar. But when I looked to the usual scenarios of my car usage needs, it never added up economically. Like a trip to Milwaukee? The mileage limit would blow the budget. An all-day trip? Same thing. Better off going to a regular car rental agency.

But I learned from one of the other actors yesterday that they now have an affordable full-day option and they've extended the miles. So I did some more looking and realized that, while it likely won't meet my every vehicle need, it will be a good option to have for when it does.

Like on a Sunday when the agencies are closed. If I had a Sunday job (like I might this Sunday), I'd have to pick up a car Saturday morning and return it Monday morning -- double the cost of a single day.

Plus it's right around the corner. No more schlepping (okay a little over a half-mile) to the car rental counter. And no more freakin' Enterprise. They have this neat trick where they give you the car with a half a tank or a third or three quarters -- never full. So you have to calculate the car's mpg in order to figure out how much gas to put in when you're done. No doubt this routinely works in their favor.

Plus no more worrying about insurance or gas -- all that's included in the price. Or where to park the car if I need it overnight.

So it's done. If I only use it a handful of times in the next year, it will have been well worth the $75 to sign up. And who knows? Maybe it'll change my habits. Like if it's really hot or cold or rainy, maybe I'd use it to drive to an audition. Or maybe I'll start driving out to Wal-mart and buying diet coke in bulk.

I'll turn into one of those people.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wasted Day

I would say I shot a commercial today but that's premature. I went to a commercial shoot today.

It was a midday call, so I knew off the bat they'd be running late from whatever they were shooting in the morning, and sure enough they were. So they got there, then had to break for lunch then started herding the two dozen or so principals and extras through wardrobe and makeup. I'm in a group of four actors and we're among the last to be made up.

Meanwhile my agent calls and asks if I can do a shoot for the same client on Sunday. "Wait, they want me for a second spot?" I asked. She didn't know. Lots of questions -- would I be a principal, is it also out in the 'burbs like today, etc., etc. No info. The funny thing is, someone there on the set was calling the casting agency, which was calling my agent, who was calling me to convey this info.

As the afternoon dragged on and on it started to dawn on me what was happening. I asked the other three in my group if they were also getting messages from their agents. They dug out their phones, checked voicemail and checked in, and it became clear that they were checking all our schedules for Sunday.

Which indicated to me that they weren't trying to book me for a second spot -- they were seeing if they had the option of shooting this one on Sunday instead. Rampant speculation ensued. After around 4 pm we get called upstairs to shoot. They touch up our makeup and inspect our wardrobe. They bring in the camera and the director starts framing things up and checking the light and discussing it with the crew.

After a while, the camera rolls out of there. Then the lights. Then other crew members are peeling off. Finally we realized we were all alone up there. We sat around for another hour-plus, speculating. It was clear they were filming somewhere else.

Finally, at a little after 6 came word that they were bumping us to Sunday. One of the actors has a conflict at 3, so we'll see what happens. It hasn't been officially confirmed with us that we're on for Sunday. Likely we won't hear for sure until Friday or even Saturday.

Yes, we get our session fee for today. Around $700 or so. But you know what? I'd give up that 700 bucks to not have to screw up my Sunday and round up a car and schlep back out 40 miles to the western suburbs. To say nothing of the work and work-out and fun I missed out on today.

So now I have to get up early, get my rental car from its metered space, gas it up and return it. Then figure out how to get back out there on Sunday.

Not fun. I have clients to serve and flab to burn and a book to write and edit and marketing to do and packing and planning for Alaska and errands and chores and ... well, I hadn't counted on losing a whole day from all that ...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Work, work, repeat

Work a little, commercial audition, work some more, conference call, edit client's book, a little more work, 40-minute power ride on the bike, tie up the day's loose ends, yoga, then off to Argo to work on my own book. Then home for dinner, blog and, I'm hoping, time to finally catch last week's episode of Friday Night Lights, then maybe read a book chapter, then to bed.

Progress, though. I worked some more on Chapter 23. Still not quite happy with it. And I edited two older chapters and feel pretty good about them. Part of what I'm trying to achieve in this second round is to make sure there's a consistent tone to it. And that the tone isn't all that serious. (As I say in the chapter on humor, take your work seriously, but don't take yourself too seriously.)

Tonight I sent out a couple of passages to an expert to get his input and check my facts. Eventually I want to get a set of readers to look at 2-3 chapters each -- people with specific expertise (theater, comedy, film, PR, marketing, etc.). But only after I'm not embarrassed to send them out.

And I've been doing research on the side as well. So far I haven't seen any business communications/writing books this this particular angle (lessons from show biz). There are a couple that use acting techniques to help people with their presentation style, which makes sense, but none taking this broad view.

Most of the books are A-to-Z how-to guides or they home in on specific types of writing -- speeches or business letters or email. Again, mine's a little different, for better or for worse. Different/niche-filling or different/unmarketable?

And they come in all shapes and sizes -- short handbooks to comprehensive manuals. Most of the old rules are really out the window.

What's really interesting is that a specific academic/business publisher that a couple of people have recommended has several titles in this area. Once again, for better or worse. Right up their alley or been there, done that?

Still not sure I want to publish. In the year-and-a-half that would take I'd probably be sick of the whole topic by then. And I've actually seen a number of instances where people self-publish and then are picked up by publishers. It really is a whole new world.

But for now it's head down and write, write, write, edit, edit, edit. Two more chapters to write and six more to edit before Alaska.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Two weeks

Not even two weeks to Alaska. Two working weeks (minus today when I finish here). It's ridiculously close at hand!

As usual with travel, I'm fighting two competing instincts. Or, I should say, priorities. Because only one's an instinct. So on one hand, there's the notion of relaxing and have a, you know, vacation. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not bad at relaxing. I am, at heart, a lazy son-of-a-bitch. But not on vacation.

Which brings us to the instinct -- to cram in as much as possible. They always say to travel like you're going to be back to the place you're visiting. I rarely apply that, because there's so much I still need to see. Plus, in this case, it's freakin' Alaska! It's not on the way to much.

So the question comes down to Denali. That's the place to see Bears and other pretty major wildlife. On the map, it's very close to Anchorage. Of course, Alaska's twice the size of Texas, so it's actually 4-plus hours away. Just look at this thing!

At bare minimum, it takes a whole day to see, plus another day of travel.

Anyway, the relaxation option still offers plenty of memorable experiences. I'll no doubt see plenty of wondrous stuff. Moose, eagles, and maybe some whales. Orcas would be especially cool. Not to mention non-animal stuff: glaciers, mountains, fjords. And I'll have a chance to catch some giant fish.

Oh, and books. Sitting around reading books. Happy hour on the deck. Games.

Two things I won't see that kinda tick me off. The stars and the aurora. Aurorae? It doesn't get very dark there in the summer. Just sort of twilightish from about 1 to 4 am. Sleeping should be some trick.

Anyway, I'm also a guest. So it's not ENTIRELY my decision.

More research to do ...

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Even with a bunch of work stuff and a short week I managed to get some work done on the book. In several different sittings over the course of the week I edited five chapters. And I'm feeling much better about things -- from both a timing and a content standpoint.

The timing still looks like mid-August. If I can get half the chapters edited before my vacation AND maybe write three additional chapters, I'd feel good going away. Three more chapters would make 25, which is a nice round number. Or I might just toss a few and make it 20. We'll see.

Overall, though, the content seems to be holding up, with some adjustments. This hook I settled on -- relating acting/film/TV/etc. to business communications works pretty well for most of the chapters. The key is, I want whatever "show business" anecdote that I start the chapter with to provide some real insight on its own, rather than just being an expedient and hollow gimmick. Accordingly, I totally changed the intro to one of the chapters.

And I even had a little time to write a new chapter -- #23. Not sure about this one. I feel like I've got some things to say about Messaging, but then I second-guess myself and think, "Is it enough just to have 'something to say?' " Shouldn't I be covering the landscape? Providing a how-to/primer? And if not, what's the point? So we'll see about this one. I'll definitely take another look at it:
  • Staying on Message -- In acting we talk about "continuity of intent" and the importance of not "dropping your gig." That is, staying focused and disciplined and in character. Messaging takes that same kind of discipline. No matter the distraction, no matter all the other wonderful things you could be talking about, the only way to really break through is with focused, persistent messaging. Some people feel like a message set is a straightjacket. To me, it's liberating. It focuses your priorities and provides a natural structure for all your communications.
Crossed 18,000 words. Looks like this will be about a 20,000-word book. A mini-book.

Friday, July 09, 2010

It's About Time

Finally got a booking -- the first in several months.

And this one happens to be a SAG job. (I was doing that thing again -- not talking or thinking about or counting on it -- which seems to have worked this time.)

It's not a national spot, unfortunately. It's for a local hospital, so assume it will just be Chicago area. But then, Harris was also local only, and it paid a fairly pretty penny.

Oh, and I'm also fat. Just ridiculously bloated. When I went back to DC, my Dad's wife said that I looked good now -- I was "too thin" over the holidays. Yup, even though I upped my workouts to 7 days a week, I've managed to put an extra couple of inches of girth around my waist.

This came up because the agency was confirming my measurements. And I recall a gig a while back where I gave my waist size as 31", since that's the size jeans I buy. But then I realized jeans fit much lower than regular ol' pants. So I was bustin' out of the wardrobe they supplied. This time I made sure to tell them 32", but even some of my 32s are feeling a little snugola lately. So I took a tape measure to the fattest part of me and it said ... 34"!

Are you kidding me? Oh well, we'll see what happens at the wardrobe fitting. If they've got me in Fred Mertz pants, we're all in trouble.

Anyway, enough about my obesity. Just glad to have the gig. As Evan Dando says, it truly is about time.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Robby and the Chocolate Factory

That there's a factory. A chocolate factory. Built in 1929 and set in the middle of a suburban neighborhood, it looks like some Spanish hacienda. Nobody would know they live across from a manufacturing plant, except maybe for the trucks delivering peanuts and sugar and lactose and taking away Snickers and Milky Ways and Three Musketeers.

Long day. A 5-to-5 day. Grueling. But at the same time, you're in a chocolate factory. How fun is that? Kinda fun.

And at least I'm being paid. And not just in peanuts. Also nougat!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Way down ...

This started out as a pretty good year. In January, I had 7 auditions and 3 bookings.

Then it tailed off considerably. Just 32 commercial auditions (using commercial broadly, to mean "paid" work -- I also auditioned for 2 films). Which is considerably off pace.

Last year at this time, I had 58 auditions, and went on to have over 100 auditions for the year for the second consecutive year, not to mention my best year ever, earnings-wise.

I will say I think the quality is up a bit. In the first half of last year I had a lot of little teeny auditions -- random voiceovers, etc. But still, this is a pretty major downturn. I seriously believe I had some kind of latent recession of my own, both in business and in acting in the early part of the year, after a couple of not-so-bad years in which everyone else seemed to be suffering.

Things are back on track business-wise. And the acting seemed to pick back up in June (in fact, June and January combined were responsible for nearly half the last six months' auditions). And in other good news, I've been so busy with the book project and work-work that it hasn't bothered me that much.

But for the record, here is the breakdown of the 32 auditions:
  • 19 commercial
  • 3 commercial callbacks
  • 6 industrial
  • 4 print
Interestingly, total bookings are the same as last year -- 5 (1 commercial, 3 industrial, 1 print).

But enough about the past ...

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Self extension

So the vacation is going to push back my book schedule a bit. Even if I use some airplane time -- and there's going to be a lot of it -- it would be tough to edit and revise 22 chapters in 17 days, plus draft the remaining few unwritten ones.

More than a few. A couple of more chapter ideas came up this weekend, which I spent part of doing more research on other business writing books.

So like I suggested the other day, it's going to be more like mid-August. Which I can live with. I shouldn't rush this part just because I want it done quickly. In fact, I should simply want it done urgently, not quickly. Keeping the motivation up is the key. And having time both to really edit it AND to maybe leave parts of it aside for a bit -- to step back and get a little perspective -- obviously, that can be nothing but helpful.


Monday, July 05, 2010

North to Alaska

That's the title of an old tune stuck in my head. Like hundreds of songs I only know from all those endlessly aired TV commercials during my childhood for various music collections ("Fun Rock!" "Country Classics" "Sweet Sounds of the '70s"), I know only the chorus: "North to Alaska/They're goin' north, the rush is on."

Anyway, that's where I'm going! Alaska. Craziness!

When I was in my early 20s, a good friend of mine moved to Hawaii for a couple of years and hosted all kinds of visitors from the mainland. I kept telling myself I'd go, but never made it out there, to my great regret. So now that I have the ability to visit a remote, expensive-to-get-to place, hosted by someone who knows the territory AND can provide free room and board ... well, I'm not going to make that mistake twice.

Very excited. And not just to check off my 46th state. (Though let's not kid ourselves -- that's part of it.) And not just because it'll provide endless excellent FB opportunities. And not just because it's going to be an absolutely stunning, mind-blowing feast of natural beauty.

I think a big part of it is I'm going to go fishing there. I haven't been fishing in SO long. More than a decade. And it was probably a fishing-free decade or two before that.

I want to catch a 50-lb. salmon.

The craziest thing is I just booked it this weekend and am leaving in less than three weeks, which is a ridiculously short anticipation time-frame.

So, Alaska. That's what I'm getting myself for my birthday instead of an iPad. (Though I might still get the iPad at some point.)

And I looked it up. Johnny Horton, ladies and gentlemen:

Friday, July 02, 2010

The invisible man

When I was doing theater, I always liked having my friends show up to see it. But it was a double-edged sword, because I was also kind of nervous about it. For two reasons. First, what if the show sucked? Inviting people to a show is like hosting a party -- you feel responsible for everybody's good time.

But the other issue was that friends know you really well. They know you in real life, off stage. They're intimately familiar with all your standard parlor tricks -- your mannerisms, habits, tics, "go-tos," etc. Not to mention your personal history, who you are, where you're from and what's inside.

It feels odd, and a little bit ... dishonest maybe (?) ... performing in front of them. As my sister always said, "It just feels like you up there, not some other character."

So yesterday, after my grand announcement on Facebook of the forthcoming book, I went back through the chapters, reading them over, seeing what I had. And this time I did it by putting myself in the shoes of various friends, contacts and colleagues. Second City instructors, fellow actors, clients.

And that was tough. I had more than a couple of wincing moments. I've tried hard in this book, as I do in daily life, to be honest. To not exaggerate my accomplishments, to not make stuff up wholesale for the sake of a good story. But still I worried about how these people who really know me will react.

Am I overblowing the acting thing? The Second City stuff? I mean, of all the great actors in town, who the hell am I to be talking about acting and drawing lessons from it? I have to keep reminding myself that my particular expertise is the communications/PR stuff. That's been my primary career since college. That, I hope, is the real value at the core of the book. And the acting stuff is more like a hook, a way of getting in.

Some of the references are to my actual experience on stage or in front of the camera or in class. But much of it is from the perspective of a plain old fan of film and television. I need to be sure to make that point in the intro. That I don't consider myself Helen Hayes. And maybe go through and make some adjustments to the language here and there.

And also probably research a few of these references. Like when I talk about The Method, or presentational style of acting or sketch comedy form, I damned well better be right, and not just shooting loosely from the hip with opinions. Which is my tendency.

Anyway, I've got to have another look, because yesterday afternoon I had a brief moment of feeling like this thing sucked.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Book

I got the idea to write this book on April 29. I started the first chapter May 1. The goal was to have a first draft by end of June.

Now, 16,467 words later, I am 90-95% there. Didn't quite make the deadline, but got close enough. July will be for rounding up stray chapters and editing what I've got. I've also started researching what's already out there, and began looking at publishing options.

This is a book with a narrow audience. Business communicators, PR people and the like. It's the kind of book I personally would like to read -- observations and tips on effective writing and communications.

The cool thing about it is it brings together my two worlds -- performing and business -- something I've been doing a lot more of. "Leveraging," as they say, the performance stuff (acting, improv, Second City Training Center) to boost my creative portfolio and capabilities in business.

I haven't nailed down a title, other than conceptually. Lessons for business communicators from the world of acting? Trouble is, it's also lessons from playwriting and screenwriting and just stuff I observe from movies and TV. Lessons from theater, TV and film? Stage and screen? Everything I ever needed to know about business communications I learned on the stage? From stage to page? Something along these lines.

It's a little ironic, and telling, that my many hundreds of hours of acting/writing classes and training, along with auditions and rehearsals and shows and bookings have all led up to, not a stellar acting career, but back where I started. To the career path I set out on after college.

It's not a hard read. Less than 20,000 words, this kind of thing is sometimes known as an "airplane read." The chapters are short, full of anecdotes and stories, and the style is informal and approachable. Here are the chapters so far, in no particular order (I think it's the order in which I wrote them):

  • The Power of Emotion
  • Throw Out Your Baby
  • Find Your Own Process
  • Pet Peeves
  • Show, Don’t Tell
  • Barriers to Communication
  • Start with the Audience
  • Now it's Okay to Talk About Yourself
  • This Ain't Art ... and You're not Shakespeare
  • His Master's Voice
  • Blocked? Get Over It
  • Creating Cathedral Builders
  • Getting from Point A to Point B
  • Meetings Drive Productivity (No, Really!)
  • Plainly speaking
  • Be Funny
  • Screw Fear
  • Tell a Story
  • Is This Thing On?
  • Stand Outside Yourself
  • Be an Editor, Not a Jackass
  • Communications Drives Strategy

End of July I'd like to have a "finished" draft. Edited, clean and in order. (There may be a vacation in there, so I reserve the right to push this back to early/mid-August.) From there, I look to get the thing produced. There are so many options, and actual, traditional publishing seems the least appealing (and not just because it's also the least likely to happen).

I am proud.