Categories
growth

I Was Fired

I was fired.

It was a dream job.  Or what I thought was a dream job.  The pay was awful but the perks were amazing.  That’s the paradox of the music business.  All the free records, CDs and t-shirts you could possibly carry home daily.  Oh salary?  You want to get paid for this?

It was an independent marketing company.  I started as an intern even though I was only a junior in college.  It was not required for my coursework.  But I knew that the sooner I started, the easier it would be to find work in this crazy competitive industry.

We promoted music and bands that were so far from the mainstream.  With names like Anthrax and Megadeth, it was no wonder executives at major labels had no idea how to work this stuff.

On my first day at “work,” we ended early with beers at our desk for a birthday for one of the guys.  Then, we all went to see Metallica play a show at the Felt Forum.  Backstage, I met with a Who’s Who of heavy metal.   I was in heaven.

Remember Al Gore’s wife, Tipper? 

Around this time, the mid 1980’s, she and Susan Baker, wife of Treasury Secretary James Baker, started what became our greatest nemesis: the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC.)  It was probably Ozzy Osbourne, our client, who bit the head off a live bat onstage that caught her attention.

In testimony before Congress, Susan Baker said,  “There certainly are many causes for these ills in our society, but it is our contention that the pervasive messages aimed at children which promote and glorify suicide, rape, sadomasochism, and so on, have to be numbered among the contributing factors.”  The PMRC began pushing record companies for a ratings system, like the film industry, to warn parents about the evil music. 

Want To Sell More?  Get Banned

Of course, putting a sticker that says “Parental Warning” only made our clients music even more desirable to the kids.  Banned music?  I gotta hear this!  It probably was the greatest galvanizing force that helped our movement.

Epiphany

Because I joined a small company of less than 10 people, I was the lowest man on the totem pole.   One day I had an epiphany.  What if I recruited, trained and managed other interns?  Even though I wasn’t being paid, I could promote myself to management!

I presented my plan.  Of course, my boss agreed.  It was a win-win-win situation.  He had free labor.  I was promoted.  The interns were getting their first step into the music business.

An Army of Interns

We interns became part of a telemarketing force.  By calling independent, taste-making record shops across the country, we could introduce our clients and their music to the early adopters.  We would call, ship out a free package of goodies and soon, people in small towns would be talking about this cool new band, Guns N’ Roses.  This was back before the internet, mobile phones, Google.  Now it seems so antiquated.  But it worked.

Cold Calling

I became close friends with hundreds of shopkeepers and record store clerks by phone.  It was kind of amazing.  How could they resist?  I was just calling to ask them what was selling and if I could send them some free stuff that they would love.  It also really helped my shyness.  It was basically cold calling.  But the thing about cold calling, it’s a mental game.  You need to get past your fears, inhibitions and resistance.  I discovered that if I warmed up first by joking around with my colleagues, I would be in a better mood on the phone.  The hardest people were the owners of the stores.  They were busy!  They didn’t want to hear from some kid in New York City.   I started smiling before dialing.  Forcing myself to laugh right before they picked up the phone so that it was if we had already started the conversation and were past the awkward stage.  It worked incredibly well.  The more I just talked as if we had known each other already, the easier it was.  And, I truly believed in what we were doing and promoting.

And there was a side benefit.

It made me less awkward with talking to girls.  In fact, I made several long distance “girlfriends” over the phone.

So how did I end up getting fired?

Arrogance.

I was young, brash, impatient.  There’s a fine line between confident competence and arrogance.  And even though I had the support of my boss, I caused a lot of friction in the office.  In hindsight, I also realize there was probably a bit of envy and jealousy among my coworkers.  I was the golden boy of the office.  But I was too naive then to realize this.  I still believed in meritocracy. 

One day, my boss took me aside for some mentoring.  He said, “You’re like a wild horse.  You’ve got such great ideas, but nobody can ride you.”

And it was true.  Thinking back, it was a great gift to be fired.  I needed to move on and wouldn’t just quit.  I needed to be pushed.  And, I needed to get a wakeup call.  Creativity, passion and action are great, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t fit in.

The Nail and the Poppy

This makes me think of the old story from Asia.  “The nail that sticks up will be hammered down.”  I think that’s from China.  Pretty good summary of Communism.  Or I think in New Zealand they say” the poppy that sticks out will be cut.” It’s fit in or die.

This is a struggle I’ve had all my life.  How to be remarkable, unique and different and still fit in, somewhere.

I haven’t given up on meritocracy completely.  It’s just that I know there’s a balance in life.  You can be amazing, brilliant and unique but still be kind, compassionate and generous.  I’m not the man I was at 24.  Hopefully, a bit wiser, kinder and more generous.

I went on to get fired several more times in my life.  It seems, it took me a long time to realize I’m an entrepreneur at heart.

Categories
Writing

What I Learned From My First NaNoWriMo

I wrote 50,000 words in a month!
I wrote 50,000 words in a month!

I participated in my first National Novel Writing Month  (also known as NaNoWriMo) this November.  And I won!  Well that’s how they describe it if you meet the monthlong goal of writing 50,000 words.

It was a very interesting experience.  No, it’s not like I can crank out a novel and then have it instantly for sale in a month.  But having a discipline of writing a daily word count goal of around 1500 to 2000 words is extremely motivating.  And, the group support and knowing that you’re not alone is invaluable.  Basically, it’s a first draft of sorts.

How Did I Get Here?

Writing a novel has long been one of my hidden desires.  I’ve taken writing courses over the years, read many books, took part in a writers weekly workshop and even wrote a libretto and music for an opera – still incomplete.

I have kept a written journal almost everyday since college.  I have written publicly mostly in a non-fiction capacity beginning with music industry trade journals, fan magazines, MTV’s short lived MTV-To-Go and then writing scripts for The Headbangers Ball in the late 80’s early 90’s.  I even wrote a financial newsletter for a while under the name Doctor Money.  But, fiction is what I’ve always wanted to write, ever since I was 8 and I discovered how to lose myself in the worlds of fiction which was so much more interesting than my everyday surroundings.

[box] The Storyteller’s Creed I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge, That myth is more potent than history, That dreams are more powerful than facts, That hope always triumphs over experience, That laughter is the only cure for grief, And I believe that love is stronger than death. —Robert Fulghum[/box]

About a year or two ago, I had a short session with the famous author and psychic Sonia Choquette.  Within the first 5 minutes, she said, “You’re a writer.  You need to write.”  Sonia is one of those gifted, loving spirits who can help you find your true life path among other things.

So taking her advice, I started writing first about myself, memories, things that affected me, kindnesses done to me and things that still pain me and I regret.  It was a strange period of feeling the blood return to areas of my emotional body that had long been cut off.  I had repressed so many painful moments that I was hit by a surge of memories of events I had long forgotten.

And then, I happened across the announcement for National Novel Writing Month.  Here’s my chance!

[box] A people are as healthy and confident as the stories they tell themselves. Sick storytellers can make nations sick. Without stories we would go mad. Life would lose it’s moorings or orientation….Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart larger. —Ben Okri[/box]

What Did I Learn?

Freewriting

Because I didn’t have a clear outline of what my story would be about, I just had to write freely.  I did have a character and some basic thoughts about an issue, setting, time place – a world; but there were many times when I was really just writing scenes that I felt were not really going to be included in the final edit.  This was harder than I thought.  I am someone who likes to get the big picture, plan it all out then go to work with as little waste as possible.  But, to make the challenge, I had to go forth and write!

Pockets of Flow

By doing this daily, I did begin to experience what I think of as “pockets of flow.”  It would usually be in bursts of 200 to 500 words in dialogue or a scene.  A lot of times I didn’t even know who was saying these things, but I knew it would have to be said.  That was interesting.  I can only thank my connection to the source, the muse, my guardian spirits for opening these channels.

Showing Up Is 80%

By doing this on a daily basis, after about a week, I began to notice that my every idle moment I would start to daydream about my world, characters and stuff.  I even began to dream about them.  This is really cool!  Because then it’s just like taking dictation.  So, by making my “writer’s appointment” with my muse, he/she started to deliver.  Hmm.  I should just make a decision of is it a he or she?  I think a He.

[box] Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today. —Robert McKee[/box]

Limitations Are Your Friend

Well I already knew this from my creative work in advertising, music, drawing, etc.  By having a defined set of limits, you actually spur your creativity onward.  So having to define some limits is the first place I set to work on.  At first I wanted to make it like a parable, a short meaningful symbolic story.  Boy that’s a hard thing to figure out.  And as I free wrote, it kept drifting further and further towards a thriller of some kind.   My protagonist was a young boy.  At first he was 10, then 12 and now he’s around 14.  So that too has shifted as I wrote.

Genre Is A Good Defining Structure

What genre was I writing in?  As I explored further and further, I was finding myself in part thriller, part coming-of-age, part fantasy and then even drifted into writing middle grade humor scenes like Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  I was a mess!  All over the place!

About midway through, I took an online webinar on writing for Young Adult, Middle Grade and New Adult fiction.  It was awesome.  It’s similar to writing songs of which I used to do professionally.  If you know you’re genre cold, then it gives you a limited set of choices.  For example you wouldn’t start your teen pop song with a 3 minute guitar solo.  That’s not part of that genre.  Maybe if you were in a jam band genre like Phish or Grateful Dead, that would work.

So right now I think I’m in Young Adult Fantasy.

50,000 Words Is Just The Beginning

The NaNoWriMo event really was just a start to exploring what story am I trying to tell?  Now, comes the crafting part of how am I going to tell it?  What should I cull away?  What should I keep?  How can I weave in elements of the story in the beginning to create suspense and foreshadowing.  It’s actually fun.  But you still need discipline

Tools of the Craft

So as I explore these things, I’ve been going back to tools and books  I’ve read and highlighted to death, such as:

  • Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting
    by Robert McKee – masterful.  I just download the audio book version.  I had the print but it’s so dense.  This i can listen to as I clean the kitchen.  The master that has influenced so many writers and filmmakers.  His examples are mostly from the world of film, but are equally applicable to novels.   He also has an intensive 4 day live workshop that Quentin Tarantino went through among others.
  • Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell.  Very clear, well written and helpful.  I read this 10 years ago and still pull it out all the time.
  • Story Engineering by Larry Brooks.  A fantastic visual way to see the structure of successful stories.  Actually he doesn’t ever show you the visual graphic.  I think I will upload my own soon.
  • Outlining Your Novel by KM Weiland.  This was written based on the principles in Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering and I think is clearer in it’s writing in many ways.
  • The Creative Penn – Joanna Penn is such an astonishing inspiration to me.  She started from scratch 6 years ago and now is a celebrated best-selling author, speaker and presenter.    Besides her super-informative blog, she also has an incredible podcast where she interviews all kinds of great authors, editor, book cover designers and keep you up to date on the worl do self-publishing  .She was a champion of using book trailers to promote her books and wrote about my music licensing site 300 Monks Royalty Free Music, years ago.  Thanks Joanna!
  • The New Yorker Fiction Podcasts – these are gems.   You can hear great writers reading their favorite writers all of which appeared in the New Yorker.  Short stories are a great treat and you can listen on your way to work or while working out.  I’ve even re-started my subscription so that I can create a clippings file of my favorite excerpts.
  • Scrivener – This is an awesome text editor that is designed to help you write a long-form work like a novel or screenplay.  And yes I took advantage of the NaNoWriMo winner discount which is 50% off.

[box] The universe is made of stories, not atoms. —Muriel Rukeyser [/box]