SXSW 2014 Ends with a Very Late Night

magnolia cafeI had a great time, met great people, and learned a ton at this year’s SXSW in Austin. I’m glad I didn’t go to bed early as planned Sunday night, my last at the conference, and instead went the distance – a tour that ended at my old college haunt, the Magnolia Cafe.

This year I covered the event for my client LiveWorld – the post with my three days of recaps is here.

A couple excerpts, with my overall take:

My take on the theme of SXSW 2014:The blurring of digital and IRL in culture and commerce. Last year I left consumed with thoughts about 3-D printing and the Maker Movement. Also, Big Data. This year it’s been all about wearables and digital as a daily companion, not an alternative to IRL. It’s one giant leap beyond the mobile revolution, and no one’s quite sure yet what to make of it. How will brands use it to talk to customers and what those customers want from it? All we seem to know for sure is that it’s coming. Our Bluetooths are on and they’re broadcasting.

And how I became a Twitter addict:

Panels aside, IRL and digital blurred for me personally more at this SXSW than ever before. I stepped up my tweeting during sessions and used it to converse with people in the room, moving fluidly between digital and physical. In short: It was awesome! It was a great feeling to learn, connect, and discuss, all at the same time. I left feeling more convinced that social media and digital touchpoints IRL can enhance the experience of the real, rather than just distract from it. I’m not ready to be a Glasshole yet, but I’m definitely ready to be friends.

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Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling

My client Becky Blalock, the author of DARE, is blogging at WSJ.com now, in the run-up to her October launch! Check out her post, Five Ways to Break Through the Glass Ceiling.

 darecover

 

 

 

 

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Medium

mediumI’ve been having a ball publishing on Medium, the beautiful new platform/environment for long-form writing and literary nonfiction. Well, let me let founder Ev Williams describe it in his own words:

Medium is a new place on the Internet where people share ideas and stories that are longer than 140 characters and not just for friends. It’s designed for little stories that make your day better and manifestos that change the world. It’s used by everyone from professional journalists to amateur cooks. It’s simple, beautiful, collaborative, and it helps you find the right audience for whatever you have to say.

So far I’ve published three pieces there:

I Got Botox
The wonder drug from which you should run, screaming.

The Nonconformist’s Bridal Diet
Why I’m working out like a maniac before the big “I do.”

The Legendary Lower East Side Rat Killer
A rat in my kitchen spurs a community to action.

And here’s one I didn’t write but enjoyed reading: Why Go Out? by Sheila Heti.

Take a look!

 

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Why Write Your Life?

Great article about curating your life in the NY Times, very relevant to my “other” business, Grace Memoirs. A short excerpt:

Dan Schuette, a 70-year-old retiree who lives in Sun Prairie, Wis., said he was surprised and inspired while writing 15 autobiographical stories he published in a book for his family. “I realized that I’ve had a pretty good life,” he said. “It also made me focus on what I still want to do. I visit the graves of my father and my 12-day-old grandson who died and have conversations with them. I realized that if I want my kids and grandkids to come see me at my grave, maybe I should be a larger part of their life, maybe I should get in my car and see them when it isn’t so convenient for me, or make another call.”

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Lean in, Ya’ll

Becky Blalock, author of the forthcoming book Dare

All that’s left to do now on the women’s leadership book I’ve been editing is cleanup. No more heavy lifting, and we’re going to hit tomorrow’s deadline for the publisher. (And then I’ll have one more round of notes…)

I like to think of the book as Lean In for the South, although of course its appeal isn’t limited to that region. The Atlanta, Georgia-based author retired recently as CIO of a major utility firm, and she interviewed 50 C-suite women all over the country who are super impressive, if less storied, than the high-profile ladies of Palo Alto. She is lovely and amazing, and I’m so excited for her!

It has been so interesting to hear what it was like to work in a technically-oriented company in the ’70s and ’80s – not just as a woman, but in a world where the nascent Internet was still barred from commercial use. She mentions that all the women wore bow-tied shirts with square-toed shoes, trying to blend in with their male coworkers. I immediately started smelling the next Mad Men.

When she won her first senior executive role, she was one of two women in the company of 20,000 who had arrived in the C-suite. The numbers today are barely better.

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Panels I Attended at SXSW

It’s my last day here at SXSW! Here’s a quick report on what I saw panel-wise and what I thought. Caveat: I’m so tired that I’m not going to even proofread it.

Democratization of Publishing: Survive and Thrive
SXSW Program Description: The publishing industry is evolving as authors, indie app and game creators and musicians are empowered to self-publish and distribute real time, on demand content to millions of potential customers. There are more opportunities than ever to get content in front of the right audiences. Hear from industry leaders on what the future might hold and tips for getting the right eyeballs on your content. With Guy Kawasaki, John Densmore (The Doors), an app publisher, Libby Johnson Mckee (the North American Director of Kindle,) and fiction author Steven Carpenter.  

This was a “beginner” panel and therefore I didn’t take away much that was new to me. Mckee from Kindle was asked the inevitable question about whether Amazon was taking over the world and basically said, “We’re here to make our authors and our readers happy and we’re all [in the industry] trying to figure out how to do that”….(and if we become a giant monopoly in the process of good who are we to fight it…) She also mentioned that she published her daughter’s book of poetry through Createspace, to give her daughter the sheer joy of seeing it up on Amazon. (That didn’t sit that well with me, but I have to think about it.)

The theme here that did take my mind in some new and exciting directions was co-creation: bringing the audience into the development and editorial process. It’s not a new idea – Tim Sanders is a huge advocate, having developed his most recent book with heavy interaction with his FB page – but with all the turn-it-around-on-a-dime book doctoring I’ve been doing, it’s kind of remote from my recent process.

Guy explained the editorial process for APE, the self-published book on self-publishing he’s just released. He took in feedback from his community at the outline stage, feedback before copyediting, and then feedback after copyediting. All done through Google docs. He said his takeaway was that he should have done the pre-copyediting circulation in waves. He had 60 people give notes and if he had sent it out 6 times, each with new revisions, he would have gotten further.

I think there’s wisdom in crowds that should be engaged and respected, and the idea of bringing this kind of dynamism to the process of books (and hopefully also to the reading of books) is both inevitable and exciting. But my takeaway (as an editor) is that that process requires you to have an even stronger editor – someone who can listen, analyze and process data flowing in, but not get completely caught and turned upside down in the whitewater.

For self-publishing authors, the most likely viable route to “thriving” as a self-publisher is to build the tribe as you build the book, making them part of your process. Most of me thinks that this will lead to better books and more satisfaction for authors (though they may fight it at first). But there’s a sliver of me that appreciates the concept of a book that comes from the strange visions of one crazy mind and is unique and wonderful because of it.

Social Media in North Korea
A look at social and technology access behind the DMZ by Jean Lee, AP’s Bureau chief there. Along with Johns Seely Brown and marine life, NK is one of my current top fascinations so I was very excited for this panel.  The AP is the only news agency to operate a full-time bureau there.

Surprise!: North Koreans don’t have much access. Cell phones are becoming popular, even among people who don’t have a ton of money, and even though they’re expensive. They have access to an intranet that’s used to broadcast state media and has some social functions—for example, she showed us a bulletin board where locals can post birthday songs for friends.

Other insights/facts that stuck with me:

•    Growing upper/middle class that travels outside of the country and brings in hard currency
•    Some burgeoning (but limited) entrepreneurialism thanks to that capital inflow
•    Lee thinks that NKoreans are truly one with their governments propaganda. Add to that the cultural conformity of Koreans in general, and she doesn’t expect to see countercultural/revolutionary movements emerge
•    Foreign journalists are completely sequestered by the government (Duh.) She can’t email them, has to stay in the foreign corridor of Pyongyang and can’t mingle unless she has her state-appointed minder with her.  So I’m not sure what to think about whether she can have much insight into what’s “really” going on.

Overall, great panel, although it only barely lifted back the veil on things I’d like to know about life in NK.

Storytelling: The Next Wave of Engagement

SX description: Most of today’s content strategies involve publishing hundred of bits of content per month across social networks, without any cohesive story or narrative behind the content. These random pieces of information tell a story to your fans and customers, whether intended or not. Are you telling the right brand story?

I went to this one both out of rabid interest (in transmedia storytelling specifically more than social generally) and because I’ve been doing some work with the CEO of the company whose Director of Social Strategy Mark Williamson was presenting (Liveworld).

Mark had the most advanced presentation skills of any panel I went to – not so much the slides, but his relaxed-yet-dynamic delivery and the near-seamless skype integration of a second presenter who had travel issues – it was almost like she was there.

Takeaways:

-Storytelling in social needs to have arcs, but also be serial, so that people can jump in and out –  this was a tactical insight that really resonated with me, although I think I do this naturally on social.

Social Samba – platform to create “choose your own adventure”-like stories, for example for Norton Security. Originally the platform was inspired by the desire to be able to “Friend” James Bond and other favorite characters for a glimpse into their lives, to make your newsfeed more fun.

@PeggyOlson – the second presenter tweets as PeggOlson, originally of her own volition but now in partnership with the show creators. She gave an interesting look at how Mad Men has welcomed and supported fan-created content.

Space Out: Sketch Out Your Ride for the Next Century
SX description: Extraterrestrial travel is within our (civilian) grasp and it’s time for designers, dreamers, and wannabe astronauts to come together to imagine the future. Using pen and paper, we’ll sketch our ultimate personal spaceship while honing our ability to quickly illustrate ideas as physical objects and interfaces. Sketching is a great way to quickly express ideas, iterate and share with others.

I was surrounded by UI/UX/designers and self-identified “makers” and loved it.

“Makers” – many people were present who identified themselves as makers. I had only become conscious of this term a few months ago, when I read a NY Times article about 3D printing. It feels very William Gibson to me, this idea that there’s a countercultural or at least “alternative” niche community of people who identify themselves as unique because their passion is making real objects in the physical world. Real=counterculture, virtual=norm.

Most fascinating was to see how different brains approached the direction to “sketch your spaceship” differently. Many engineer-type brains in the crowd. Me, I approached it as though physics didn’t exist and my one task was really psychological: to make a confined space feel spacious for the interstellar traveler.

Beyond the Hype: The Data of SXSW
I had met Etai from Digitas, the presenter of this session, at the Mashable party, and was excited to see his near real-time crunching of everything everyone had been tweeting about, attending, and talking about at SXSW.

Takeaways:
-    Because this kind of data is so granular, location, and time-bound, you can’t use it for anything predictive
-    panels picked 7 months ago maintained their hype-level at the conference
-    Elon Musk and Grumpy cat were the most tweeted personalities/subjects
-    Not that many people actually saw Grumpy cat or cared
-    Space, Stories, and Makers were the big themes of this year’s conference
-    Lyft (with the big pink mustache reps) made waves
-    People loved GM’s Brilliant Brew coffee frothe designs
-    I missed a shit-ton of cool stuff
-    Our speculation all week that Interactive had eclipsed music and film was correct: 27K+ people attended the interactive this year. 2012 SXSW had almost 19K for music, almost 16.5 for film, and almost 25K for interactive

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Crossover Book Deals – Indie to Mainstream

This immediately caught my eye in my feed, from the blog of indie sci-fi and mystery novelist Dean Wesley Smith. Like Smith I’ve been suggesting this approach will become more and more common:

This morning Publishers Marketplace gave out their information about six figure deals in publishing that were reported to them. Combining nonfiction, children’s, and fiction, there were about 300 six figure deals reported to Publisher’s Marketplace. (There were a ton more, of course, since most deals are not reported.)

Then Publisher’s Marketplace followed with the line:

“As everyone knows, originally self-published books made for a number of high-profile crossover deals in 2012–though in total numbers, we recorded 45 such deals in all.”

Of the 300 or so six figure deals that were reported to them in 2012, 45 were from books that started off self-published.

Indie publishing is now a clear route in.

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Saving the World on Shoestring Book Cover

Save the World on a Shoestring, for which I served as author Aiden Livingston’s developmental editor, has a cover! It’s a few tweaks away from finished. You can see more of the artist’s pop comic artwork here. I had the pleasure of meeting Garry over the holidays – what a great guy. I’ve been so happy with the entire team we’ve assembled through Netminds, including Ken Gillett for marketing; Ken Gillett cut his teeth launching Never Eat Alone with Keith. Here’s the Netmind’s “recruitment” page for the project. You can see we still need an interior designer and a proofer.

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Cushy Camping in the Lower East Side

Many friends have expressed concern (thank you!) about how hard it must have been for us in NY’s Lower East Side without power for a week. It all makes me feel sheepish, because in fact, we were the lucky ones in Sandy’s impact zone, even amongst downtowners. We had cold but fresh water, a working gas stovetop, no flood damage, and our usual 5th floor walkup.

Pop-up sausage, Grand and Lafayette

Ralph Lopez, a 73-year-old Red Hook resident who had it much, much worse than we did, put it best: “It’s just an inconvenience. Half the world does not have electricity,” he told The NY Times. Read the full article here; despite Ralph’s sangfroid, it describes what the week was really like – hellish, isolated, and frightening – for people who had real problems.

All that said, camping downtown, cut off from all power, cell, or 4G for 4 days, is an unusual experience. And so, for the curious, here’s the unedited story of how we spent the days and nights.

If it entertains you in the least, or even if it bores you to death, head to the Red Cross to make a relief donation, or if you’re local, sign up at https://lowereastside.recovers.org  or https://statenisland.recovers.org to see whether you can volunteer.

Day 0, Monday:

Around 4, we receive a vague voicemail warning from ConEd that at some point, power might be cut off in some parts of Manhattan.

I cockily drain our iphone and laptop batteries to provide evening entertainments.

Meanwhile, the hurricane blows. Occasionally we hear crashes and screams. At some point there’s the flash of light and boom of a giant explosion. We don’t know what to make of it. The lights dim.

Thirty minutes later the lights go out.

Day 1, Tuesday, no power:

Mental state: Fairly optimistic.
Boredom level: 1 – books to read, things to cook, novelties aplenty.
Personal Hygiene Level: 9 – still pretty clean.

As soon as I get up on Day 1, I leave the house to see what’s what. Streets have a dull quiet despite the fact that many are out as I am out, assessing the damage.

Immediately I see what made most of the crashing noises: Giant 12 x 8 wooden panels that had topped two nearby construction scaffolds. Four or five of them on two different blocks are down.

Chinatown, where I thought I might find some commercial activity, is totally shut down, other than a giant crustacean fire sale. Lobsters and crabs need to get sold, boiled, and eaten, but I’m not brave enough.

Back at home, we have a pot of stock and chicken from the roast I made the day before. Since the stove is working (though not the oven and the burners must be lit with matches) I turn it into soup, using a package of Chinese herbs – sea coconut, jujubes, ginseng, and mysterious other ingredients – that have been sitting on my shelf for months. It promises “efficiency” that ranges from clearing phlegm to curing insomnia to solving impacted bowel. In fact, we have none of these issues, but we’re sick of plain chicken, and so it goes.

During the first day, I actually work, my industrious self still intact. One of my projects involves me reading and note-taking from an actual hardcopy book. Intermittently, we listen to the transistor radio that I used to hate (it’s tinny, and Dan uses it to listen to sports broadcasts) and now love: It’s our one connection to media, news, information from the outside world. ConEd reps say we could have power as early as Wednesday.

We decide to set out north, to see if we can walk to power. It is strange to walk the streets in an area that usually whirs with energy, both human and electric. Now it is a dead zone, empty space with a few bodies shuffling through. It’s not bad, exactly, but it’s weird. As the days pass, it quickly sucks away my will to find some way to work on anything but finding food.

In the East Village, we pass a pizza shop that’s selling leftovers. At 6th and 2nd avenue, we can see that there are no lights on the horizon in any direction. Later the view from our roof confirms it: All of Lower Manhattan is still out.

We buy samosas from an Indian pop-up stand. They’re clearly selling off old inventory, but they’re lukewarm, at least, and we’re happy to have them. We go back to the pizza shop, but now they’ve run out. We need to shift to a war-time mentality: When there are rations, jump on them.

We’ve realized by now that ATMs don’t work when there’s no power, and so we spend the last of our cash on pitas from the Souvlaki GR truck, which is blasting music and cheer.

In the evening, I attempt to cook a pumpkin pie on the stovetop, since the oven won’t work. It is relatively successful.

As the sun sets on Night 1, we open the Italian “special occasion only” wine, bust out Abba and turn our living room into a candlelit dance hall. Just Dan and I, but it’s good and silly and romantic.

The cat seems somewhat concerned by our behavior, most especially all the small fires we’ve lit around the apartment. But he endures.

I pass out, tipsy and happy, around 9:30. The good times without power have reached their zenith.

Day 2, Weds, no power:

Mental state: Cagey.
Boredom level: 3 – no more work to do, but still things to cook.
Personal Hygiene Level: 5 – starting to get concerning.

After 12 hours of sleep, we awake and eat more eggs. Eggs don’t require refrigeration, and it’s pretty much the only thing we feel safe eating from our fridge at this point. Having eaten soup all day yesterday, I’m completely grossed out by it, and it doesn’t help that it looks like swamp juice, courtesy of the Chinese herbs.

Now the ConEd guys are saying we likely won’t have power until Saturday. This is not good news. There’s not much to do about it. I think about making some kind of plan, but give up quickly. We can’t call anyone. Even if we could get somewhere with service, I don’t have any numbers since they’re all stored in my dead phone. Could we text someone? Tweet them?

Sending the cat with a message around his neck seems the only option. He declines.

We try to clean up the apartment. Starting to feel the restrained energy of cabin fever, we do prison-style exercises in the apartment: push ups, sit ups, running in place.

Next we head to Chinatown. The second roast chicken that was in the freezer is defrosted, and I’m going to use a recipe from the one hardback cookbook I have, for Coconut Curry Chicken. In Chinatown I find exactly what I need: Onion, cilantro, cauliflower, and ginger. I pay in quarters, from Dan’s coin jar, the only money we have left.

Dinner is delicious but its damned difficult to see what we’re eating, even with all our candles lit. I am finding myself sick of candlelight. I never thought the day would come. We finish the wine.

Bored, we change into nicer clothes and take our sack of quarters down to the bar downstairs. Casa Mezcal is one of the several bars nearby that are serving alcohol by candlelight. We ask if we can pay in quarters. They kick us out on our ears. We don’t protest.

Back upstairs, we pop popcorn and I burn it badly. We eat it anyway, while using the last of Dan’s iPod battery to watch Return of the King. It runs out of power just as Legolas slays the elephant – in other words, in the middle of the movie’s most intense battle scenes. Champagne problems, I realize.

I go to sleep.

Day 3, Thurs, no power:

Mental state: Isolated and craving light.
Boredom level: 10 – No charge left in anything, including Dan’s various devices.
Personal Hygiene Level: 2 – Dire straights, requiring action.

I wake up and laugh when I see how burned the popcorn pan is, and how covered the floor is with stray, burnt kernels.

I drink some black coffee, reheat the chicken that’s sat on the stove all night (discernable decrease in standards) and make the executive decision that we need to charge our devices and communicate with the world. Dan is groggy – he was up much later than me, listening to his little transistor, but game. We will go uptown.

I boil the giant soup pot full of water and add it to cold water to make a bath. It’s effective and I’m proud of my pioneer-like resourcefulness. We do the same for Dan.

Wetheaded but fresh-faced, we get a cab immediately, and make it to 47th street, the Diamond District, in record time. It’s surreal – all these people up here have power! It’s like nothing has happened! Coffees and food are sold everywhere, lights flash, horns honk. People are hurrying. Hurrying! Downtown doesn’t even know what time it is.

We’ve decided to start our adventure there so that I can finally get my ring resized. They are very kind and accommodating, and 30 minutes later, my engagement ring fits perfectly on my size 5 ¼ finger. They’ve buffed it up and I am temporarily blind to everything in midtown but my own sparkling finger.

Next stop: Five Guys. We both have orgasmically delicious burgers and for once, I eat my bun. Then to the bank, to pay rent and get CASH.

We head to a Starbuck’s that Dan thinks will be less crowded than everywhere else; every coffee shop is overrun with power-hungry downtowners. He’s right, and I set up shop on the floor next to a power strip that someone has cleverly brought from home.

I joyfully reconnect with the world through email and Facebook. My spirits are high.

We set off on foot, buy salads and pizza, and after some degree of trouble (shift change!), get a cab at around 28th and 3rd. Back in the ‘hood, I stop at September Wine, which has stayed open throughout. I revel in my newfound ability to participate in the cash economy.

We eat pizza and salad and drink wine. It is delicious. Now that we’re charged, we’re able to watch the last hour of Return of the King.

In the darkness, I become tortured by fear of my eventual nonexistence. Is it all this darkness and quiet weighing down on me? No longer distracted by life’s minutia, am I finally facing the bleak truth? I don’t know, but I distract myself by being dismayed and annoyed that we still may not have power tomorrow and fall asleep relatively quickly.

Day 4, no power:

Mental state: Listless and disempowered (literally).
Boredom level: 11 – we don’t bother getting out of bed for much longer than is healthy.
Personal Hygiene Level: 10 – we’ve mastered boiled-water bathing.

The radio is constantly chattering about New Yorkers’ uncanny ability to bounce back quickly. It’s true, but as I listen to stories of people waiting hours for packed buses from Queens, I think that it’s less inspirational than just miserably hard. People bounce back because they have to. They have to get to work to continue to scrape together the means for a life here.

It’s been a cold few days, with a lot of creamless coffee and boiled-water whore’s baths. We’re getting pretty sick of it.

Concerned by my mental low and tired of feeling cold, I suit up for a run. I almost give up after 5 minutes, but get a kick of energy when I find that Randolph’s, a bar at Broome and Bowery, has a generator set up and is cooking hamburgers and hotdogs on a grill setup on the sidewalk. We’ll be back.

At Randolph’s later, I have my second delicious burger of the week, and once again, I eat the bun. I have a beer. It means nothing to me that it’s noon on a Friday. We wander around the neighborhood and buy a second meal to take home from a coffee shop @Grand and Lafayette grilling sausages on the street, using charcoal. This coffee shop normally just does bagels, but has gone the distance to feed people when everyone else is closed.

Back at home, with the sky gray and windy whipping through 45 degree air, our apartment has gone very cold. Dan and I crawl into bed to read, and form a giant huddle with the cat, who wedges himself next to me. Occasionally he gets up for water or food, but jumps directly back into bed every time.

We are still in our huddle when, just before 5, suddenly our apartment is full of light.

LIGHT!!

We leap from bed and join an audible cheer rising from the streets! I plug in and the 5 minutes it takes my cell phone to charge enough to use seems endless. I relish the fact that time once again has meaning, now that we are reconnected to the world of the Busy.

If my Facebook status update hadn’t made it official enough, the call from ConEd five minutes later sealed it:

“Power has been restored to Lower Manhattan. Thank you for your patience.”

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What It Feels Like to Self-Publish

On September 15, Runner’s Discovery Journal, my hybrid memoir/interactive inspirational self-discovery journal (yes, I’m reinventing multiple genres here), will be available on Amazon.

So when readers can click “buy” on Amazon, will I be a published author?

The word has become indistinct, and lost distinction. We need new words (or meanings) for this new landscape, but it needs to settle first.

For now, I’ll say no. Publishing has never just been about the economics of distribution. It has always been about imprimatur, and about creating a polished, quality product to live up to the commendation. If your book got published, someone had decided your work was worth investing in and sharing, and helped you make it better. I chose to do this book alone (almost: I hired partners for design and proofing) because I wanted to learn. And like a two-year-old, I wanted it to be all mine. That made it “safe.” Next time, I’ll grow up (and man up) and enlist others in the vision.

That said…

As small-scale or even arbitrary as my ambition was with this, when I held my galley in my hand for the first time a few days ago, I felt a surge of pride and emotion, so much so that I shared that photo up there on FB. It wasn’t the pride of having arrived – there was no imprimatur, no paycheck. (And since I’ve been paid for writing and editing at pretty much every job I’ve had, that’s not really what I’m hungry for.)

This was truly and purely the pride of authorship. I was frankly knocked over by what it meant to me. If you have even the inkling of the notion that authorship would make you proud, I strongly encourage you to GO FOR IT.

The book I held in my hand was truly a creation of my work, my inspiration, my perspiration. I had had the vision and the determination to carry it through to the end—a struggle with myself that I had lost during earlier creative solo projects.

Pride also has a flipside: Vulnerability. But having to work through those feelings means I’m out of my comfort zone – something else I wouldn’t have expected. And that’s a good thing.

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