Go the extra mile

September 1, 2009

This post also appears as part of The Inspirer, my monthly newsletter, that you can sign up for at my website www.joparfitt.com.

Go the extra mile

My inspiration for this month’s article only came to me a few hours ago when I received an email from an ex-student of mine, Amanda van Mulligen. Amanda had got in touch to send me the link to an article she had written called A World of Inspiration and in which, she said, I featured. I clicked on the link and was faced not only a super piece of writing, but also an article that described how many connections and referrals I had given Amanda since we first met almost four years ago. It went on to describe how each of those contacts had become so much more, how they had enriched her life, inspired her, and even made her money. I was delighted. But my happiness was not so much for the fact that Amanda had written about me but that she had gone to the effort of letting me know. She had gone the extra mile.

And as I thought about that for a moment I realised that these days, when competition is tough, we can all do with finding ways to go the extra mile. Here are my top ten ways:

Top ten ways to go the extra mile

1 When you write an article, try to add a box of resources and further reading to the end, so that the readers know where to go to find out more.

2 When you write a book, add a substantial and useful resources section, an appendix, a bibliography and see if you can also add the URLs of all the people, organisations and websites you mention too.

3 Forging a career as a paid writer can be tough, so make it easy for those who may commission you and have your portfolio available online.

4 Publisher like to commission new authors who are more than just writers, people with a presence, a following, a route to market. So start a blog, send a newsletter, build a portfolio of other published work, poetry, articles, reviews, so that you already have Googlability.

5 When I teach, I always give my students handouts and reading lists and in my Life Story classes I now edit all their homework for them, which I then offer to share with the entire class, so that all the students can learn from it. What added bonus can you give?

6 People buy from people they have already worked with, so why not offer your potential clients something for free so they get to see you in action

7 If you coach or mentor, as I do, see if you can give your clients as much extra as you can. I always connect mine to editors, suggest magazines they could write for and introduce them to the people they need to interview for their books or articles.

8 Look out for opportunities to connect other people at all times and then do so. A simple email is all it takes.

9 Develop a ‘paying it forward’ mindset. Remember, the adage: give and you will receive.

10 Say thank you. Thank people for referrals, for work you pass their way, connections, ideas. A simple thank you encourages those people to give again.

One other person has gone the extra mile for me this month and I would like to thank her here, partly because she deserve thanks, but mostly because I think you will benefit from knowing her too.

Meet Sheila Bender

Firstly, I have long admired the work of writer, Sheila Bender. She wrote ‘Keeping a Journal You Love’ and ‘Writing in a New Convertible with the Top Down’ among many others, and my copies of her books are peppered with Post-it notes as I refer back to them again and again. I decided I wanted to connect with Sheila, to ask if I might use an extract from her books in my Life Story online program. I found her at her website Writing it Real and sent her an email. Not only did Sheila reply to me, and fast, but she invited me to write for her newsletter too, and then, knowing that many of my Inspirer recipients do not subscribe to it, she made a special link so that you could all read my article, about The Greatest Block of All. That was going the extra mile. People normally pay for her newsletter, so this was a big favour. Thank you Sheila.

I hope that this month’s offering has inspired you. I wonder how you could you go the extra mile? Perhaps you’d like to tell me by visiting this article on my blog and adding a comment? I know it would mean you had to go the extra mile, but that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Til next month

Jo

The power of endorsement

August 31, 2009

I am still reeling. Five minutes ago, a one-time student of mine, Amanda van Mulligen, sent me a link to an article she had written, entitled A World of Inspiration. In her accompanying email she intimated that I was featured in this as I had had a part to play. Well, this is it, you too can read it here at www.velvetescape.com. You can read more of Amanda’s work at www.thewritingwell.eu.

I am humbled by Amanda’s gratitude for what I did for her, simply by referring her a few times and connecting her with people I thought might be of interest. I do this all the time for people, students, mentors, friends, anyone. I just can’t help myself. Thank you to Amanda for showing your appreciation, I appreciate it.

But, I call this post ‘the power of endorsement’. That is because, a looong time ago, my mate, the Courageous Marketer, John Sealey, told me that one of the most powerful things you can have in your marketing arsenal, are testimonials.

‘People make decisions based on what other people think about you,’ he advised. So, thank you John for making me aware that I need to share Amanda’s testimonial, however immodest it may feel. There, I’ve done it again, I’ve connected you all with someone else. John Sealey, told you about a website for travellers, Velvet Escape, and a wonderful blog at the Writing Well. I hope you find them inspiring.

But most of all, thank you Amanda, for a wonderful piece of writing that does me ‘right proud’.

The Greatest Block of All

August 27, 2009

Years ago I discovered the work of American, Sheila Bender. Sheila wrote two of my favourite ever books to inspire writers: Writing in a New Convertible with the Top Down and Keeping a Journal You Love. Recently, I found Sheila online at her website Writing it Real and got in touch. I was delighted to discover that Sheila really is real and kind and honest. She asked me if I would write something about my biggest challenge as a writer for her subscriber newsletter. I agreed and Sheila, being the kind person that she is, agreed to post a special non-subscriber version just for you. So, please take a look at Writing at Real when you have a moment and please, take a look at my piece. I think you will enjoy it and maybe even learn something . . .

here it is:

That’s jazz

August 1, 2009

Have you ever seen the 1920’s poster of jazz singer, Josephine Baker, performing at the Folies Bergères? She is wearing nothing but orange pompoms and has both arms and one leg flung high, her head at a quirky angle and her wide mouth set in a deep grin, making it abundantly clear that she is having the time of her life. Passion and soul emanate from every pore of her skin. The poster is so alive you can almost see it vibrate.
I write this column on the train from Barcelona to Montpellier. Yesterday we spent a marvellous couple of hours at the Century of Jazz exhibition at the CCCB contemporary art museum just off La Rambla. Glad of the airconditioning, we moved slowly, dipping in and out of alcoves that flanked the winding snake timeline displayed in a glass-topped showcase. It was packed with music scores, album covers and extracts from the press that told the story of jazz from its roots to the present day. Speakers played music of each period right from way back in the 19th century. Serendipitously, the first piece of music played was Gershwin’s Summertime. It did not escape me that this is the name I picked for my publishing company and chosen for its feelgood factor, for I am the kind of person who believes ‘fish are jumping and the cotton is high’. Seeing my business name up there in lights I realised that there would be something for me to learn there. A couple of display cases later I fell upon a small, faded facsimile of an article by Ernest Hopkins from the 1913 San Francisco Bulletin, its title: That’s Jazz. He wrote:

‘This remarkable and satisfactory sounding word, however, means something like life, vigour, energy, effervescence of spirit, joy, pep, magnetism, verve, virility, ebulliency, courage, happiness – oh what’s the use – JAZZ. Nothing else can express it [ . . . ] Anything that takes manliness or effort or strength of soul is “jazz”‘

As I read the words above I began to grin. The very ingredient that I urge my students and clients to add to their writing is what I have been calling ‘the wow factor’. But now I realise that my wow has its roots in jazz. Only jazz is much more than wow. Jazz makes you tap your feet. Jazz makes you glad to be alive. Jazz has an organic form that starts and ends in an interesting place and moves in loops, never straying far from its theme. Life and art and words and music take on an extra dimension when jazz is around.

The exhibition’s premise was to show the connection between art and music. We saw a crude sketch Picasso gave to Gertrude Stein of lumpen clowns dancing the Cake Walk. We learned how Mondrian’s gridlike primary colour paintings are in fact his interpretation of jazz; how Matisse, Jack Kerouac, F Scott-Fitzgerald and Jean-Paul Sartre all made jazz their own. How it influences prose and poetry and paintings but most of all how it influences people just like you and me.

Next time you are working on a piece of writing or a project I urge you to consider how you could add a little jazz to the mix. Sprinkle in some soul, passion, pep, life or verve. Add some pompoms, a flourish of genius. The Josephine Baker poster epitomises jazz. Could you inject the same vigour into your writing? Do you have the ‘manliness’, the strength, the courage to write in such a way that your reader begins to nod rhythmically as your words resonate and speak to his or her soul? If you can do that, then, as Hopkins wrote almost a century ago – ‘that’s jazz’.

If you would like to read more about Hopkins’ article and jazz then please click here.

Over the last few years I have found more than 10 authors for this great series for Kuperard. Now, they want to update their India book, can anyone help?

Please contact me in the first instance.

AUTHOR WANTED

Kuperard’s Culture Smart guides are short introductory books that alert
first-time visitors to the values and attitudes of different countries. They
do not duplicate the hard information given in conventional guidebooks but
rather focus on the human dimension, on a country’s culture, so as to enable
foreign visitors both to be understanding guests and to get the most out of
their visit. They tell you how people see themselves, and why, and something
of their history, their collective experience, their manners, their private
and their working lives. They steer you through various situations, helping
you to avoid awkward gaffes and misunderstandings.

There are seventy-four titles in the series so far, which has had good
reviews in The Observer, Sunday Telegraph and New York Times. The books have
appeared on CNN’s Travel website, and have featured on BBC World’s weekly
travel programme “Fast Track”. There is more about them on our website:
http://www.culturesmartguides.co.uk.

Kuperard plans to publish a completely new volume on India next year. The
book will follow an established series format, and the text will be between
28,000 and 30,000 words long. The fee is £1,000, payable half on receipt and
acceptance of the ms, and half thirty days afterwards. The ideal author is
an English-speaking expatriate who has lived in the country for some time
and is thoroughly well versed in the local culture.

If the idea of writing Culture Smart! India appeals to you, please contact Jo Parfitt in the first instance.

I can hardly believe that just one week ago I was chanting Om in unison with 150 others at the Chopra Center’s Wisdom of Healing workshop in Oxford, England. Click here to read the related article I published on The Hague Online (where I am their Writer in Residence). Pick up some tips that you can try at home, right now.

It must be 20 years since I first discovered the words of Natalie Goldberg. In fact, her Writing Down the Bones was the first book on writing I ever bought. It blew me away. Here was a woman who was making a very nice living doing something that to many would be classed as sheer indulgence. She would go and sit in a café, ‘meet at the page’ and just ‘go’. She’d write about whatever popped into her head, inspired by the scene around her or the thoughts in her head. One sentence from her book has stayed with me ever since. It is a sentence that I add to many of my handouts. It is a sentence that makes my stomach do a little flip every time I read it out loud. Here’s what she says:

‘Begin to write in the dumb, awkward way an animal cries out in pain, and there you will find your intelligence, your words, your voice.’

Every time I look at a piece of my writing and think there is something missing I remember this phrase. The best writing should resonate not only with the reader, but with you, the writer. The best writing is emotive. I learned this to my cost last year. Let me tell you the story:

Just over two years ago I decided it was time I wrote a novel, I’d had an idea mooching around in my head for a while and recognised that it was no good leaving it there. I had to put it on the page. So, I started writing. I was quickly ‘in the flow’ and wrote 98,000 words. It was about an expat wife, a bit like me, who found herself in Dubai, just like me, and who wanted to retain her professional identity against all odds, just like me. I knew the topic well. I had been there, done that, got the tee shirt and written the books too. With titles under my belt including Career in Your Suitcase, Find Your Passion and Expat Entrepreneur, I reckoned I had the subject matter sussed. But after months of writing I received some feedback on my work and was told in no uncertain terms that I had got it badly wrong. You see, the thing is, I knew so much about the subject that I had inadvertently written a non-fiction book all over again instead of a novel.

My wonderful mentor, and much-published novelist, Anita Burgh took me to one side and said: “What happened to your poetry and your lyricism, Jo? Where did you go? It’s a story, remember?”

Well, I’m not sure where I had been, but at that moment I knew the place I had to go was back to the drawing board. I binned my 98,000 words and started again, this time from a place of pain. This time I got right inside the head of my main characters and felt their emotions not for them, but with them. In doing so, I was forced to drop my ‘portable career expert’ status and simply start telling the story. In short, I did what Goldberg had been telling me to do for years. To be vulnerable. To be awkward. To feel exposed.

I finished my novel in January, and immediately after, as some of you know, I published my first volume of poetry, A Moving Landscape. Buoyed up by the feeling of relief and freedom that I had gained from writing my novel, I was confident enough to go one step further and show the world my poems too.

I’m with Goldberg. Your best writing and your writer’s voice are to be found when you find your words not in the pen or keyboard but in your heart, your gut, your soul. If you find it a struggle to expose yourself in this way and perhaps consider it too scary, then I suggest you try writing a poem. In my experience, poetry is written from that place of pain, and when you write it, somehow you give yourself permission to be vulnerable.

It’s July. Chances are you will be taking a holiday sometime soon. My challenge to you is that you take a beautiful notebook along with you and practise writing from the soul. You never know, you may not just find your voice, you may find yourself too.

Jo

Don’t forget to scroll down to the Writers’ Resources section in this month’s Inspirer See the Workshop Diary for brief details. To catch the news when it happens please sign up to my blog. For a summary of what I’ve been writing about see the On the blog section of this newsletter.

With warm wishes
Jo Parfitt

A Place of Pain

It must be 20 years since I first discovered the words of Natalie Goldberg. In fact, her Writing Down the Bones was the first book on writing I ever bought. It blew me away. Here was a woman who was making a very nice living doing something that to many would be classed as sheer indulgence. She would go and sit in a café, ‘meet at the page’ and just ‘go’. She’d write about whatever popped into her head, inspired by the scene around her or the thoughts in her head. One sentence from her book has stayed with me ever since. It is a sentence that I add to many of my handouts. It is a sentence that makes my stomach do a little flip every time I read it out loud. Here’s what she says:

‘Begin to write in the dumb, awkward way an animal cries out in pain, and there you will find your intelligence, your words, your voice.’

Every time I look at a piece of my writing and think there is something missing I remember this phrase. The best writing should resonate not only with the reader, but with you, the writer. The best writing is emotive. I learned this to my cost last year. Let me tell you the story:

Just over two years ago I decided it was time I wrote a novel, I’d had an idea mooching around in my head for a while and recognised that it was no good leaving it there. I had to put it on the page. So, I started writing. I was quickly ‘in the flow’ and wrote 98,000 words. It was about an expat wife, a bit like me, who found herself in Dubai, just like me, and who wanted to retain her professional identity against all odds, just like me. I knew the topic well. I had been there, done that, got the tee shirt and written the books too. With titles under my belt including Career in Your Suitcase, Find Your Passion and Expat Entrepreneur, I reckoned I had the subject matter sussed. But after months of writing I received some feedback on my work and was told in no uncertain terms that I had got it badly wrong. You see, the thing is, I knew so much about the subject that I had inadvertently written a non-fiction book all over again instead of a novel.

My wonderful mentor, and much-published novelist, Anita Burgh took me to one side and said: “What happened to your poetry and your lyricism, Jo? Where did you go? It’s a story, remember?”

Well, I’m not sure where I had been, but at that moment I knew the place I had to go was back to the drawing board. I binned my 98,000 words and started again, this time from a place of pain. This time I got right inside the head of my main characters and felt their emotions not for them, but with them. In doing so, I was forced to drop my ‘portable career expert’ status and simply start telling the story. In short, I did what Goldberg had been telling me to do for years. To be vulnerable. To be awkward. To feel exposed.

I finished my novel in January, and immediately after, as some of you know, I published my first volume of poetry, A Moving Landscape. Buoyed up by the feeling of relief and freedom that I had gained from writing my novel, I was confident enough to go one step further and show the world my poems too.

I’m with Goldberg. Your best writing and your writer’s voice are to be found when you find your words not in the pen or keyboard but in your heart, your gut, your soul. If you find it a struggle to expose yourself in this way and perhaps consider it too scary, then I suggest you try writing a poem. In my experience, poetry is written from that place of pain, and when you write it, somehow you give yourself permission to be vulnerable.

It’s July. Chances are you will be taking a holiday sometime soon. My challenge to you is that you take a beautiful notebook along with you and practise writing from the soul. You never know, you may not just find your voice, you may find yourself too.

Jo