On Writing Good - Christine Kane

Today’s episode is inspired by John David Mann – who I’m a huge fan of – and a little ebook he calls How to Write Good (Or At Least Gooder). I grabbed a copy one morning last week, and it’s one of those reads I just couldn’t put down once I started.

As I prepared for this episode I sat down to write, of course, and pondered the endless types of writing and lessons from my first writing coach.

So I present to you, a few fundamental truths about the process that I’ve discovered about the writing process itself.

You can take these and apply them to the next project you sit down to write – so you’re a lot less critical and overwhelmed by the writing process.

Soak in wisdom from a super cool author, hear about the common traps and patterns that hinder thoughts from flowing into the page, and I’ve even tossed a big secret no one ever talks about when it comes to organizing the content of your book. Enjoy.

Episode Transcript

Even if it’s your journal writing, even if it’s you writing the really crappiest first draft of anything writing teaches us how to be better at everything that we do

Welcome to The Soul-Sourced Podcast™, unconventional business advice for the highly creative, secretly sensitive and wildly ambitious entrepreneur. I’m your host, Christine Kane. Let’s do this.

Hey everyone. This is The Soul-Sourced™ Business Podcast, but sometimes I like to call it the Soul-Sourced™ Podcast. And this is episode number 37, and I’m going to do something a little different today, and that’s because, uh, my friend, John David Mann, who is a masterful writer and also was the first person to endorse my book, which was a huge honor for me. John emailed me over the weekend to ask me a question and then to share some of his news with me, his new book is coming out in July, and he also just let me know that he redid his website and I went over to his website and he had a free ebook on there and it’s got this great title and it’s called “How to Write Good or At Least Gooder.” And then that thing happened. I downloaded it and I started reading it, and then I was like, Oh, there goes my morning.

You know how that happens, where you’ll start reading something, and you’re just like, there’s no way I’m going back to work now because I want to sit and read this. And so I just went, filled up my giant mug of coffee and I just sat down and dove in like, it was that, Oh, the great snugly, good book feeling. And I dove into his ebook called “How to Write Good or At Least Gooder.” And it inspired me. It made me want to do a podcast on a few thoughts riffing off of his ebook, and by the way, his ebook is free. You can go get it at JohnDavidMann.Com And that’s MANN.com. You can go grab that. It’s very, very good for those of you who are writing.

But part of why I wanted to do this was because on my last coaching call, it was a group coaching call with some of my M club clients, Uh, two or three of the people were working on their eBooks, and one person wrote in and said, I can’t be on the call, but here’s my big question. It was all about my writing process. And then someone else on the call said, raised her hand and said, I want to talk about your writing process as well. And what really came out of this is that I think we all have this belief that writing should be easy and that writing should look a certain way. And I think some of my clients believe that I just sort of sat down and rolled up my sleeves and wrote my book. And that’s not at all how it happened. And I had to really walk them through some of this stuff as well. And so John is very honest and upfront about his process of writing 30 books, maybe even 31 with his new one, I’m not sure, but 30 bucks and several international best sellers. He’s had quite a history. I’ll let his book speak to you on that one. Um, he’s the, “Go-Giver” is his probably his best known book, but he’s had some other beautiful books, uh, including “The Recipe”, which is a personal favorite of mine, and I think is a delightful book, but he talks about the process. He talks about writer’s block. He talks about writing at all angles, and it’s just something that’s really good for each of us to know and learn as we are doing our own writing.

Now, before I go into my messy thoughts about writing based on being inspired by John’s book, I’m going to differentiate here between writing and between the whole concept of this idea called content. And I’m talking about writing here, and I’m talking about the depth that comes with writing and the creativity that comes with writing. We’ve gotten to a place in our marketing world where the word content is just bandied about like, just so much garbage. And I don’t even use that phrase anymore. I don’t talk about content writing. I don’t like content, because to me it conjures up this world view that basically says, throw a whole bunch of stuff out there and hope to God someone reads it and that Google catches it and you can make Facebook ads out of it. I think that even if you are generating content with your writing, that It should be true and it should have value. And that it’s not just you being a warehouse of jolting out content or hiring content writers and doing content marketing. I still believe that writing and podcasting anything you’re doing to add value should have some kind of depth and truth to it. And not just be dismissed as this idea, this nebulous idea of content.

And with that said, I will say that, yes, John David Mann has 30 books under his belt, and I am not nearly the giant he is when it comes to talking about writing. But what I can say is that one of the concepts he brings to light in his book is that it doesn’t matter how successful or not successful you are, it’s just that writers write. And when I look at my life since the day I quit my cubicle job at Ogilvy and Mather and was terrified that I would, you know, be in poverty, crawling through the streets, begging for scraps of food. I have, after three years of waitressing, made every single last dime of my income from writing, whether that’s songwriting or whether that’s copywriting or whether that is writing in the programs I do. But writing is at the core of all of it. And while I don’t believe that everyone has to be writers, I do believe that writing adds value to us as entrepreneurs and that some of my messy thoughts here are geared toward those kinds of people, even though I think everyone would love John’s book. And I think I said this, but it’s free. So you can go to JohnDavidMann.Com and grab his ebook. I’m not going to go too deep into his ebook, but I am going to start with my first messy thought by quoting one of the early points he makes in his book. And the point is that writing teaches us how to think.

And what he says is “I believe you work to make your writing better because it makes your thinking better. The point of writing is to clarify your thoughts and feelings and transfer them to others. The act itself not only communicates ideas, but also improves those ideas. Good writing is good thinking. Bad writing is lazy thinking. Lazy thinking leads to unnecessary suffering.” And he also closes out that section by quoting Joan Didion. And he says, “Joan Didion, one of the sharpest writers of the 20th century, once said, I write to find out what I think.” And I love this. And I love it because I have assigned my clients the task of writing down all of their program offerings of writing down their, like writing out their entire sales page, of writing things down to get them out of their heads and onto paper. My very first writing coach when I was lost in a quagmire of my own pages and pages and pages of writing said something really beautiful to me.

And she said, Christine writing a book is, you’re going to find is radically different from you standing on stage and talking to people or doing a program like Uplevel Your Life and sharing it with people. And that’s because you’re crafting it in a different way that’s going to require that you learn how to think about what you teach differently.

Now I’m paraphrasing what she said, but that was the gist of it. And the point being the point that John David Mann is making the point that Mary Carol Moore was making the point that Joan Didion was making and the point that I’m making is that writing teaches us how to think, it makes our thoughts more clear. And for that reason, it can get very messy. It can get very bad, it can feel like you’re being obsessive. But what I can tell you is that when you write through to the point where you understand what you’re trying to say, it is just an absolute eye-opener to you, the leader, to you, the entrepreneur, to you, the teacher, whatever it is you’re trying to do.

And even when I think of the last episode, I just did, um, episode 36, it was all about believing you’re worth what you charge. And as I sat down with that title, I don’t just like turn on the switch and start my podcasts. I write out my podcasts and I really write out what I’m going to think, which in the world of content marketing would mean that I’m being too obsessive and I can’t scale my business, et cetera, et cetera, and whatever. But when I sat to write that down, it was starting to be a mindset episode about self-worth, and then I realized this has nothing to do with self worth, which is the direction then that podcast took, but it wouldn’t have gotten there. If I hadn’t started writing the stories and the, you know, recalling me stepping on stage the first time at my very first open mic night, or Michelle going from charging $75 an hour to 35,000 a year, you know, for her VIP packages, I sat there and just sort of collected these stories. And when I go into the stories, even though I didn’t like tell the big, long stories on the podcast, they began to shape my thinking, because Michelle did not get herself worth all intact before she started charging more money. I did not lose my fear before I stepped on stage. And that became evident in those stories.

And that brings me to the second messy thought, I wanted to say that that John David Mann teaches in this book. And that was that his, his whole focus on stories. And that is that stories are how we teach. It’s why I tell my clients to remember their clients stories, to teach with their client’s stories. And John says it this way. He says focus on the story. Principles don’t tell him a story. The story reveals the principles. Put another way people don’t learn through explanation. They learn through emotion.

That’s why all good public speakers are master storytellers. Stories move people. And that’s when learning happens. If you don’t touch, you can’t teach. And I’ve told this, uh, a bunch of times before, but even with songs, I learned this on stage. I wrote a song called “Right Out of Nowhere” and I would tell, uh, the story of a, it’s in my book, actually, of a woman who told me she listened to that song over and over again, and wanted me to pay her tax bill at the end of that year, because she took so many chances because of that song, that she ended up paying more taxes, because she made so much more money that year, all because of that song. And I happened to tell that story on stage at one point, and at the end of that night, people kept coming up to the CD table to buy that CD. And they were like, I want this, I want the song about the woman who makes, saw the money. And it occurred to me that your mind could only remember that song, I mean, they could only remember the story about the song, not the song itself. Cause the song is not about the woman who makes all the money, not even a little bit, the song is called “Right Out of Nowhere” And it’s a story about someone setting off to follow her dreams, but that’s the story they and stories are so important.

And so with that said, one of the things that struck me as I was reading John David Mann’s book, was this huge lesson I got when I was writing “The Soul-Sourced™ Entrepreneur”, now granted, this is my first published book. I’ve written a lot of eBooks, but it was my first book where I really, really, really put my heart and soul into taking, you know, the five years to write it. And I did always write the stories I needed to write. Like I just, I have so many stories of working with clients, but what struck me was how, if a story, as I was writing, it didn’t fit into one section or I realized it needed to be in another section teaching an entirely different point, I then would go back to shape that story to illustrate the other point I was trying to make. It was still a good story, but it wasn’t the exact same layout or structure. The truth of the story was still there, but I had to rewrite the structure to match what I was saying. And it made me realize the power of the writer and the power of the, you know, the creative process to be able to shift a story in that way. And just to give you an example, the story I just told you of the woman who wanted me to pay her taxes, that’s in my book and it’s in my book in a small little section, uh, called paying attention to delight.

It’s a tiny little tiny segment. That story was, when I first started writing the book and when I wrote the book proposal, that was the whole entire intro of the book. And the more I wrote the book, the more I realized that that story was like, it was kind of self-serving as the intro, it didn’t really show any vulnerability and then I just kept not liking it, and I almost ditched it. And is that I was writing the very last, I mean, final, final draft of the book. I got to that part about delights. And I just added it in there because it was my own feeling of delight, when I started realizing I was going to become a business coach and that story illustrated that, and it fits so beautifully in there. And one of the things that John does in his book is he that he speaks to this really undefinable thing of when you keep showing up, you start to know when things move and when they get shaped and where they get placed. And it’s not something that comes because you wrote an outline. Now he does write outlines, but that the process starts to move things around for you. Even if you start with an outline, but you have to start by doing the writing and that’s where the wisdom comes. And it’s just this weird organic thing that I can’t really define for you, but you know, it when you’ve done it. And it, it was surprising as hell to me as I wrote this book at how much shifting happened in the final drafts and edits of that book and how many times I had to rewrite certain stories and certain segments.

And this brings me to the last thing I want to say, and John has an entire section on his, in his book about writer’s block and six things to do when you’re blocked and that kind of, that kind of thing. And I’ve heard people say that there’s no such thing as writer’s block and people get all on their horse on it. And you know, it is what it is. There are times when you’re going to feel stuck with your writing. And it brings me a little bit into the Enneagram because how you get stuck depends on your own patterns and where you go. I tend to get into the drama queen, overly emotional, Oh, just so completely fraught with sadness and shame and all kinds of other stuff with writing. And so it’s getting stuck is not an uncommon occurrence or wasn’t with this book. As I wrote songs, I will say that didn’t happen quite like I would get stuck, but I also knew that there was a way out because if you write enough, there’s always a way out.

But one of the things that John talks about is having written 30 books, even when he gets into the drama of saying this isn’t working and I’m, you know, I’m terrible, this will never get anywhere, he would remember that writing always breaks through and my friend and client, and also I was her client, Beth Brand. Beth Brand is a ghost writer. And I actually invited Beth to do a very untraditional arrangement with me where I asked her to be my catcher’s mitt, and even though she didn’t ghost write my book, she helped me deeply as I was writing my book, keep the structure, keep my thoughts in line, helped me with stuck spots. And there was one point or many points where I wrote to her, and I was like, this is not going to go anywhere. This doesn’t have this, isn’t getting anywhere something’s wrong. And Beth would always come back to what John said was, yeah, it’s just writing, just keep writing and you’ll get through it. And it’s always the truth, always the truth.

This brings me around to the question I got asked on the Q and A, about being stuck and being in process and what do you do when things get messy? And this isn’t something that John wrote about in his book, but it’s something that I would add to one of the things that he talked about in terms of writer’s block. One of the tactics that I used in writing my book is that if something felt daunting, like I was beginning a section about decision-making and decisions just felt like the hardest thing in the world to write about. And I didn’t even know what story I was going to begin with or whatever it was.

What I would do would I would start writing by writing about what I was going to write about, if that makes sense. So I wouldn’t just sit down and try to write lofty prose about decisions. I would start my little section, I would say, okay, so this section is going to be about decisions and the different things I want to get across are. And I would talk as if I was talking to a friend about what this section was going to be about. And if you do know my book and you do know the opening of the decision section, that story, which was called The Play Big Zone, is a true story. I’d written about it before. But when I sat down to write it, I actually sat down and I said, I want to write about that first time in my mastermind that was in Tucson, where everybody got really angry with me and they got really, you know, they weren’t really committed and how I wrote that thing about the Play Big Zone and how it made everybody come back the next day, you know?

And I just wrote like that and it’s terrible writing, but it’s, it, it at least makes you not feel stuck. And what I can tell you, is that, as I wrote about that, what happened was I wrote the line, “It was like a mutiny of meh.” And when I wrote that line, I suddenly was no longer writing about what I wanted to write about, that started to shift me into the writing itself. Then that’s what often happens with me with writing is when I write about what I’m going to write about, I will just keep writing and then a line will come and it’ll sort of make me tilt my head like a border Collie, and I’ll be like, Oh, that’s interesting. And then I’ll start writing more. And then before I know it, I’m not writing about what I’m going to write about. I’m actually doing the writing and then it’s just, it’s messy as hell, of course. But it’s part of what my process is with getting over writer’s block.

And John has a bunch of really great thoughts of, of what he has done in terms of when he starts with writer’s block, but one of the things that I really realized with how he writes is that this is a seasoned writer, who’s written 30 books, and sometimes he’s working on five different things at once. And I cannot even imagine what that’s like, but he describes his process and where he goes back and forth and what it, how it starts to just really become about the work and the heart and the process of his writing. And I just, I share all that because I believe that writing is a profound act that it’s not just content and that even if you are an entrepreneur or as my client who has worked with me for eight years now, she’s a lawyer she’s writing her first ebook and she’s realizing how messy it is.

This is someone who can think on her feet and has done amazing things with her business and her work. And now she’s sitting down to really teach it. And she’s going through that really wonderful, messy process of really getting her thoughts organized and learning how she thinks, and it is such a beautiful thing when we can do that. And all I can tell you and why I even made this episode, how I did is that writing, even if it’s your journal writing, even if it’s you writing the really crappiest first draft of anything, writing teaches us how to be better at everything that we do. And my hope for you is that just by doing this episode, it will make you consider a more dedicated and committed practice to your own writing and to stop looking at it as just content that you’re putting out there and really looking at it as a value and challenging yourself to go deep with this thing you do, because that’s how ultimately we serve other people.

And so with that said, I’m just going to let you guys know, you can go to JohnDavidMann.com get his ebook. I encourage you to do it. I think you’ll really enjoy it. And if you want to get my book, it’s The Soul-Sourced™ Entrepreneur. It’s at Amazon. And you can find all of John’s books there as well. And, uh, hope you guys have a great day. I will see you on our next episode.