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Get your message out there

We writers have a saying: Everybody’s got a story. That’s true for people, businesses, nonprofits…all of us. The challenge is making sure your story serves your highest good, instead of dragging you down. My name is Ria Delight Megnin, and I can help through:

- Communication workshops that help heal what’s inside while improving what (and how) you share with others…

- Editing and proofreading that clarify your written message and strengthen your connections…

- Skilled, professional research and story-telling that build relationships and communities for a transforming world…

- Targeted marketing and social media strategies that connect individuals, nonprofits and businesses with their strongest supporters.

Ready to share your story? Let’s make it happen. Contact me at ria@riamegnin.com or 831-236-0361.

Shoulding All Over Ourselves

How are things coming on your creative writing goals lately? Are you getting caught in the “should” trap? It looks like this:

  • I “should” be working on my book
  • I “should” be doing more work to get published
  • I “should” be a published author by now
  • I “should” be more famous and wealthy than JK Rowling!!

I am not yet JK Rowling. What's up with that?

Well, stop “should”ing all over yourself! Any time you introduce the word or even the feeling of “should” to a project, you immediately kill any chances of actually accomplishing it unless you’ve got a major threat hanging over you, or a really good backup system that overrides the message.

Seriously. They’ve done studies. Shaming yourself into doing better at something simply backfires.

So how do you make the transition from “should” to “accomplished”?

It takes three things: introspection, being a sneaky ninja, and joy in action. (Remember joy? That feeling you had as a kid around writing, before you became an adult and it got replaced by SHAME and FAILURE and DREAD?)

1. Introspection. Take a deep breath. Now another. Close your eyes and take at least one more. Invite your inner intuition to rise, then ask yourself these questions.

How does your heart feel when you think about your project right now? Are you feeling passionate and committed? Are you feeling bored and frustrated? Are you feeling anxious and helpless? Are you feeling more than one thing at once? Are you feeling it just for the current section, or the whole work, or creating altogether, or something else?

What will it feel like when you’re actually working on your project again? What emotions and resources will start to rise as you kick into your creative groove?

How will you feel when the project is nearing completion? What kind of emotional powers will you draw on to make it through the final push? Think perseverance, curiosity, drive, stubbornness, wonder, love.

What will it feel like to hold the finished book or poem or other project in your hands? Where will you be? Who will be there? What will you be doing?

Sneakier than this, though.

2. Being a sneaky ninja. Having focused on those emotions and visuals, IMMEDIATELY pick up a pen or a laptop and start working on the project. Commit to working for at least 5 minutes.

This involves ninjaness because you are sneaking around your brain. You’ve shifted yourself from the crippling analytical experiences of thinking, worrying, obsessing, shaming and blocking into FEELING, a place of generative power and creative resources.

By acting immediately, you’re also teaching your brain that its services are no longer necessary. “Go away, ‘Not Good Enough’ beast that’s trying to help me do this perfectly. I am doing just fine with my friends the Emotions and our messy process of splatting words all over the page right now.”

3. Joy in action. Every once in awhile, take a pause to breathe. Sit back. Close your eyes. Resist the temptation to reread your work. Just notice your feelings at this moment. Are you feeling accomplished? Peaceful? Proud? Empowered? Hopeful? Excited? Creative? Even if your topic is depressing, are you feeling joy just in the process of taking action on your project?

How will you feel in a few minutes if you keep writing? If you don’t? How about what you’ll feel a few days from now as you sit down and create again? Do you feel closer to that vision of being published? Let yourself imagine and feel that vision of holding your completed project again.

And yes, you’ve just ninjafied your way around your brain again. You just showed it that you are not going to die if you pick up the pen. You are not going to die if your work is not good the first time through (or the second, or the 17th). You are only going to die when it is your time to die, and it’s up to you whether you’ll have gotten closer to that vision of holding a published book or not.

Ready? Let’s write!

Why having a writers’ group matters

I have the joy of helping lead a local group of writers serious about getting their works for young adults & children published. It’s a joy because we all, quite simply, need each other.

Having people to share our new work with week after week keeps us honest. It keeps us productive. It keeps us learning and motivated and feeling valued as we place one word after another on this quest for a publishing contract.

Circle of Contemplation

Yet we also treasure our solitude. One of the prompts I borrowed from a “Women Writing For Change” session this month asks us to write for five minutes about our friendships when we were children. Almost everyone I’ve heard tackle that topic explains that they didn’t really have friends, at least not the Hollywood version of happy groups of children enjoying playgrounds and parties together through the years.

Most of us instead struggled with social relationships, preferring the quieter worlds of books or adults or nature – anywhere we could be free to explore ideas and consider life instead of whirling like wind-battered leaves from one confusing interaction to the next.

As adults, we still stand apart from the crowd. We’re the ones watching the holiday mall scenes with thoughtful expressions, imagining how our characters would deal with the surging traffic and carols on repeat. We wonder how kids on playgrounds manage to deal with bullies today, and what adults could possibly do to help the situation. We slip off when we can to quiet woods. We take notes. We daydream. We write.

There’s something deep that makes us emerge from that solitary practice to share our creations. It can’t be ignored, though most of us try to. And it’s why our group is together – even if we don’t ever land that book contract we’re all hoping for, at least these other men and women will hear our words. They’ll see a little of the world outside the mainstream, the half-imagined space we spend our lives.

Those moments of connection are so precious. They keep us hopeful. They keep us creating.

I know no better reason for continuing to write.

Mission drift: How to keep your business on track

Have you experienced “mission drift?”

It’s a term most often used in nonprofit circles. “Mission drift” means making a change to your project to meet a funder’s requirements. And then another change. And then another… Soon, your entire organization is way off course, chasing elusive dollars and failing in its goals.

Which way to go?

“Mission drift” is a term that applies to a lot of topics, from politics to health care to corporate roles to relationships. But let’s focus for now on careers.

Since leaving my full-time editing position to become a freelance writer & speaker, I’ve paid bills by:

  • writing features for a local newspaper (on target!)
  • ghostwriting a book (still good!)
  • editing a financial website (getting off course)
  • and doing a lot of babysitting (wait, when did that stop being just a side job?).

I’ve also invested hundreds of unpaid hours in volunteering, workshops, job applications and proposals that were only tangentially related to what I originally planned to be doing. So I wrote the following list to help me stay true to my most important goals:

How To Stop Mission Drift

1. Have a mission statement. This is part of any good business plan, which you’ve already written up. Right? If not, check in with the great volunteers at SCORE or other organizations committed to helping new entrepreneurs succeed.

2. Know what you’ll stand for. Write down your “must-haves,” “nice-to-haves” and “deal-breakers” for jobs before looking at listings or talking with potential employers. Will you work for less than market value? Will you take an unrelated job if it could lead to something in your field down the road? Will you apply on job boards or only through direct contacts? Make sure your answers are aligned with that mission statement.

3. Have a schedule. Believe it or not, actual production is only about 20 percent of a healthy business. The rest of the time goes to marketing & networking (30%), financial/business/legal matters (20%), and planning/preparations (20%). When you know you’ve only got a few hours a week to devote to finding new leads, you’re less likely to waste time on job offers that aren’t the best ones for you.

4. Be accountable. Check your business actions against your mission statement regularly. Are you drifting? Have a trustworthy friend, colleague or mentor available to help weigh any thorny decisions — and point out if you’re not being true to your goals.

I’ll close with an inspirational quote from one of my favorite authors, Sue Monk Kidd: “The way to find your thread (inner destiny) again is to be still and remember who you are, to listen to your heart, your inner wisdom, as deeply as you can and then give yourself permission to follow it. If you can’t give yourself this permission, then find someone who can.”

What others strategies have you found that help you overcome mission drift?

Dayton librarian’s whale of an art book scores big

Matt Kish presents “Moby-Dick In Pictures: One Drawing For Every Page”

By Ria Megnin

The legendary 19th-century novel Moby-Dick, or The Whale, is a story of obsession. No one, perhaps, understands that obsession quite so well as a Dayton librarian who spent 543 days creating an illustration for each of Moby-Dick’s pages – and now has the published book to prove it.

Matt Kish, who lives in Columbus, describes the closing months as brutal: “Those final 100 or so pages, when the book itself becomes pretty bleak, I had no personal time whatsoever, and I knew the only way I was going to get my life back was to finish this project.

“The only way through it was to symbolically kill the whale myself. I isolated myself, because I felt I had to save every available ounce of energy for the project. I became just as obsessed with finishing the project as Ahab was with the whale. Thankfully, my wife stayed with me.”

The final drawing emerged Jan. 29, his book contract was completed, and now the only obsession in Kish’s life is dealing with the incredible publicity his project has generated.
“I’m simultaneously excited by it all and overwhelmed and exhausted,” he says.

A whale of a response

How much publicity? Starting just a few days into the project, his posts to a daily blog for friends and family began to be featured on literary and art websites and talked about all over the globe. In December 2009, he was invited to speak about his work in New York.

Within days, even though he hadn’t even reached the halfway mark of the book, he was approached by an agent who almost immediately landed him a publisher.

“It started slow, but then things happened with dizzying speed,” Kish recalls. “This incredibly personal exploration of the novel suddenly had a contract and a deadline.”

He speculates that there’s three reasons for the powerful response.

“Moby-Dick is a cultural touchstone. Even people that haven’t read it, they know the whale, they know Ahab, they know Ishmael, they know that it ends tragically. It’s part of our cultural consciousness. It’s really an American myth.”

The second reason? Kish is not a formally trained artist. Yet his bold, unusual style is immediately gripping, conveying a raw emotional presence with every image. Some pieces are abstract, others intensely detailed. He used spray paint, brushes and ink, ballpoint pens, colored pencil, acrylics, collage, markers, stickers. The quickest took 30 minutes, others took up to 12 hours.

“I know if my work was to be critiqued, there are long lists of errors and completely missing blocks of an art foundation,” Kish says. “I didn’t even attempt to make my illustrations historically accurate. It’s very much about my life, my perspective – it’s influenced by video games I played in the ’80s, comic books from my childhood, covers of progressive rock albums from my dad’s basement. So it’s something that’s never been seen.”
The third reason? The sheer insanity factor of anyone taking on such a monster project.

Life-long connection

“Monster” being the key word. Kish says his lifelong passion for Herman Melville’s 1851 novel began around age 5, when he saw a film version of the story.

“The movie monsters were fictional, but this grabbed me,” he says. “This was a monster that could almost have been real.”

An illustrated children’s version of the story was his next encounter with the white whale; he read the full novel for the first time in junior high. Seven more trips through the book would pass before he started the project.

“What’s odd is that each time I read it, it’s shown me things that almost seem to echo or parallel things happening in my own life — the complexities of growing up and growing old and dealing with life,” Kish says. “In some ways, really grappling with that book requires some life experience.”

In 2009, the former English teacher and bookstore clerk heard about a man illustrating every page of another famous novel.

“I was feeling very creatively restless. I wasn’t really enjoying what I was drawing anymore,” Kish says. “I realized it had been four or five years since I read Moby-Dick, the longest absence in my life. And I thought, ‘I’m just going to jump right in. It’s a way to get me closer to the book, and this is going to keep me inspired artistically.’ And the next day I got started. That was Aug. 5, 2009.”

Two years later, on Nov. 13, Kish will share his creation with readers used to seeing his touch in the DVD, CD and young adult collections. He says he’s not sure what art will flow next for him.

“This project completely shaped and structured my life every day for a year and a half, and that was really trying,” Kish says. “I had an intense sense of relief to finally be done. But I was also really wistful. All those characters had become companions to me.”

To attend

Matt Kish presents “Moby Dick In Pictures: One Drawing For Every Page” at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13, at the Dayton Metro Library, downtown branch, 215 E. Third St., Dayton. The event is free. Information: 937-463-2665, http://everypageofmobydick.blogspot.com.


 

Primatene mist disappears from stores Dec. 31 – or sooner

The first time I heard of Primatene, I was 11 years old and watching the end of the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film. Casey Jones was taunting The Shredder’s grim second-in-command for grunting and huffing his way through their fight.

“A little Primatene could clear that right up!” he teased.

It was years before I understood the reference, and even more before a very smart doctor realized my five+ annual bouts of bronchitis just might involve a form of asthma.

“Don’t you have an inhaler?” he asked. “Go pick up some Primatene.”

This stuff became my magic elixir. Used to be even the slightest sniffle would quickly descend into weeks of all-day, all-night wrenching coughs. Toward the end of my 20s, I came close to pneumonia on several occasions. But with Primatene?  I take two hits, get some rest, drink OJ and eat a lot of soup, blow my nose, and on I go. No keeping roommates up night after night. No sobbing as I clutch my chest in pain at 2 in the morning.

Of course, just about the time I discovered what Casey Jones was talking about, the federal government (rightly) cracked down on the chlorofluorocarbons produced by every dose of the inhaler. As of Dec. 31, 2011, “The only over-the-counter asthma inhaler sold in the United States will no longer be available,” the FDA says. As stores reduce stock, it may disappear even sooner. Instead, customers will need a prescription for a different inhaler, one that involves hydrofluoroalkane instead of CFCs.

If you can’t afford a doctor’s visit, the FDA recommends visiting free or low-cost clinics in your area. If you can’t afford the higher cost of prescription inhalers, they suggest contacting the manufacturer, who may have discounted versions available for low- and no-income consumers.

I’m all for saving the ozone layer. And it makes sense that people be required to have some trained medical advice before treating a breathing-related condition. But I have to admit, I wish the makers of Primatene had gotten on the ball earlier and made the switch to HFAs or some other propellent, so I could keep getting cheap magic elixir without another visit to the doctor.

In the meantime, I’ll be chest-tapping, neti-potting, and qi gonging my way through every other asthma-reducing trick I can find.

What do you think? Should the FDA have ensured an equal substitute was in place before ordering Primatene off the market? Or was this the best way to go? And what do you turn to to help with colds/bronchitis/asthma problems?

For writers, travel’s a blessing and a bane

For freelance writers, regular travel can be both a blessing and a bane. Sure, that trip to the French Riviera gave you enough characters and image metaphors to pack a hundred articles – but how to get those articles pitched, drafted and delivered when your environment is transformed every few days?

I’ve always loved travel, but this year has been off the charts. I spent the winter zig-zagging across the country. Since April, I’ve been to Haiti, Greece, Wyoming and now Tennessee.

I won’t say the adventures weren’t worth the sacrifice. How can anything compare with the chance to taste fresh hummus in the streets below the Parthenon, or witness an earthquake refugee restoring his community, or leap off a whitewater raft into chilly river waters – just for fun?

But they have come at a cost to my workflow, just when consistent focus would be most critical to my future. My business won’t build itself, and the fits and starts around my international adventures aren’t doing me or my potential clients any favors.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds her work getting regularly disrupted. (All you work-from-home moms and dads: you are amazing.) So I’m curious. What tips and tricks have you found that help balance a chaotic schedule with the need to get things done?

Here are a few of mine:

1) Have a routine.

Something simple. Something you can keep sacred, anywhere from a ferryboat in the Aegean to a lake house near Knoxville. For me, that means finding half an hour in the morning to write a blog post, a poem, a journal entry, an essay – and five minutes for yoga sometime during the day.

2) Work with a buddy.

My writing friends keep me honest. If I haven’t posted to my blog, they let me know my work is missed. If we have a date to share our latest works and I’ve only added a couple of sentences to my novel, you can bet I’ll be dedicating an extra hour right before the meeting!

3) Use organizational tools.

For me, a calendar and action lists work best. I have three action lists right now: personal life, work, and Burning Man. I organize each of these into phone calls, online tasks, errands and things I can do anywhere.

I also use a mind map – a graphic “tree” representation – to maintain a general overview of all the activities in my life at a glance. They match up to folders and subfolders on my computer, where all the details live.

4) Stay accessible.

I finally succumbed and bought a smartphone, granting me Internet access anywhere there’s a phone signal. I still prefer to compose email and documents on my laptop, but I bought a light, powerful one that travels well.

In addition, I pay $27 a year for peace of mind in the form of Carbonite, which automatically backs up all of the files on my computer every time I log on to the Internet. No computer crash, virus, spilled coffee or stolen bag need trouble me again! At some point, I expect to upload everything to the Cloud, making my life truly portable so long as the Internet exists.

Looking forward to hearing your tips! Email me at ria@riamegnin.com.

What story do you tell?

It’s true — people don’t care about you.

I don’t mean your loved ones. I mean the ones you want to contribute to your life by supporting your business, attending your events, and volunteering for your causes.

The truth is that people these days, especially those who use social media like Facebook, are bombarded with constant requests for their time and money. Sometimes dozens a day. And that’s just from their friends! How can you get your business or nonprofit or event to stand out from the crowd?

Let’s take a trip back in time to find out.

WAY back in time.

You’re in a forest. Everywhere you look, you see trees, bushes, tall grasses, fellow tribemembers going about their daily lives. From every direction comes birdsong and the sound of leaves moving in the wind. Suddenly, everyone hushes. Then you hear it, too — a powerful roar! Someone screams. Warriors rush for their spears. Parents grab their children and run for the trees.

If you didn’t have a brain attuned to danger, you wouldn’t have reacted in time to the threat of that predator, and you wouldn’t have lived to pass on your DNA to a new generation.

As human society evolved, however, reacting to every loud noise would have made you crazy. The real threats were much more subtle, and required more than just senses and instincts. It meant having the ability to share stories that communicate information and strategies in a memorable way.

So how does this apply to what you want to do?

When you have a call to action, whether it’s “buy my product!” or “come to my party!”, one part of your strategy for engagement should be to tell a story. Use photos and videos (up to three and a half minutes for most Internet viewers). Use the basic elements of storytelling in the text: engaging characters, conflict, a solution arrived at by clever action.

Good storytelling will cut through the forest of advertising and invitations we’re subjected to, and instead of resenting the intrusion of your request, people will actually crave hearing more. That’s the kind of engagement that earns you long-term support.

Want help crafting or improving your story? Drop me a line at 831-236-0361 or ria@riamegnin.com. We’ll work together to find the best ways to connect with your audience for the long term.

P.S. Don’t make the common political and business mistake of drawing people in with your terrific story, only to abandon it once you’ve gotten what you want. Success means telling that tale all the way through.

Remember Starbucks’ near-collapse? In the course of becoming a mega-behemoth nationwide corporation, they lost track of their original mission and ended up shuttering 900 stores across the country, laying off thousands. Then, they brought back original CEO Howard Schultz, who among other steps closed all stores to the public for more than three hours to share the story of Starbucks with staff once more. Result? A community coffee shop that’s got its groove back.

Tell your story. Show your story. Watch your engagement grow.

How to write an article or story lead

The lead of an article can be both blessing and curse. It’s the jumping-off point, the critical hook to catch and keep a reader’s attention long enough to read on. There’s incredible pressure to get it just right.

Once you do manage to write the lead, if it’s a blessing, you can launch yourself into the rest of the piece with ease. You’ve set the tone and a theme that gives structure and flow to the entire story you’re telling. When it’s a curse, the lead can be paralyzing – how do you follow up that great start?

Some people say to write the lead last. Others can’t get started until the first sentence is polished and perfect. I’ve had luck with both approaches, but either way, the secret is having a tried-and-true structure to follow.

Here’s some tricks to try:

1. Get a feel for the overall piece. Look over your notes. What major themes emerge? What quotes or ideas were standouts? What concepts need the most emphasis? What elements tie in with others and could tease to each other, guiding the reader like a string of flags along a path?

In addition, you’ll need to decide if this is a news piece or a feature. Is this piece about delivering the most important facts as quickly as possible, or luring a reader into an enjoyable storytelling romp with information on the side?

2. What structure would best serve this article or story? Does it naturally flow as a chronological tale? Are there highly exciting moments that could launch the story pyramid-style, letting the details follow? Or is there enough good dialogue or dramatic scenes to layer the piece, alternating those storytelling features with exposition?

3. Organize your piece. This could mean sketching a rough outline on a notepad, copying and pasting your notes into relevant sections, or selecting “telling” quotes or scenes to serve as guideposts. For some writers, this could mean crafting the full article, minus the lead.

4. Choose the theme or scene most likely to arouse excitement in the reader. Often, this means arousing their curiosity as well. The key is to deliver drama while tying it in to your story’s purpose. If your article’s about a local fisherman who’s just caught his one millionth fish, and you open with a description of his house, that lead better focus on the mounted fish hung on every wall.

5. Keep it short. Three paragraphs, 90 words max. This is just the hook. Leave the rest to the line and the sinker.

6. If you stall out, change the engine. It happens to all of us. You slave for an hour, tweaking and researching your lead to sweet perfection. And then you sit for two hours trying to figure out what comes next. If you get stuck, don’t be afraid to play around with other ideas. Sometimes you’ll find an amazing alternative lurking in the shadows of your mental garage. Sometimes the process will shed fresh light on your material and turn that dead lead into the perfect vehicle for your story.

Should you follow each of these steps, in order, every time? Yes, but no one would know it. The more you write, the more these tools and structures become part of an unconscious process. It’s how experienced journalists can craft a solid article out of a late interview with just minutes to deadline. It’s what gives master storytellers the deep sense of joy in their craft. And it’s what carries all of us writers through the staring horror of the daily blank page to the courageous act of creation, time and time again.