Dorothea Brande wrote “Becoming a Writer” in 1934. The book remains in print today, offering valuable tips for both writers and entrepreneurs.
I take a fair amount of inspiration from dreams, which I believe are a way for the mind to reprocess memories into new configurations, the same way that a mixmaster can beat eggs or potatoes into a smooth consistency. I think dreams are a way of reprocessing experiences and distilling additional insights and learning.
I had strong memory this morning of riding my bike down a hill on the street in front of our house. The air was skin warm and after the heat of the summer was a delightful caress, going downhill I did not have to pedal and it was like flying. It’s hard to recapture the freedom of a child biking on a empty road at the end of summer. I am not sure what triggered this childhood memory but it got me to thinking about growing up in St. Louis.
This is a republished version of a blog post I did originally on July-21-2008 on the FunMurphys.com blog. It’s a meditation on fighting terrorism and creating a common enemy to foster collaboration. Architect of fear has a dual meaning: both the terrorist (e.g. the Joker in the movie “The Dark Knight”) and the scientists in the Outer Limits episode “the Architects of Fear” who try and create a scare crow to stop the nations of Earth from going to war, possibly accidentally.
I started this blog in October of 2006–3 years after incorporating SKMurphy, Inc. in August of 2003–so this month represents the start of my tenth year of blogging. In the last nine years I have published 1552 posts, which total 871,535 words of writing or the rough equivalent of a dozen novels. What follows are some lessons learned from 9 years of blogging.
Q: How do you develop good content for blog posts and newsletters on a regular basis?
One rule of thumb for sources of good content for an e-mail newsletter is to revise something that you have already written that would be appropriate for your target audience.
David Morse left a detailed comment today on my Sep-26-2014 blog post “Lessons Learned Blogging 1400 Posts in 8 Years” that I thought I would promote to a guest post that offers some practical tips about how to add graphics and video to a blog. Here is his bio on B2BSalesVP:
David Morse helps startup founders and sales teams achieve revenue nirvana. He is President of consulting firm B2BSalesVP and CEO of SaaS company Kindoo which is like a private YouTube for sales teams and sales training and development.
This post is a retrospective look at my inaugural post in 2006 and lessons learned blogging 1400 posts over the 8 years since.
Nobody disputes how important “Call to Actions” are but sometimes I run out of ideas for good ones. Here is my list of favorite ones.
- Find out the latest
- Watch this short video for more information
- Check this out!
- See why we are excited!
- Learn more
- Read how we did it!
- Start saving
- Compare us to your current solution
Please suggest any that you have found effective in the comments and I will continue to update the list as they come to me.
“If you’re going to be a writer, the first essential is just to write. Do not wait for an idea. Start writing something and the ideas will come. You have to turn the faucet on before the water starts to flow.”
This is my 1,226th post since my “Welcome Entrepreneurs” on Oct 1, 2006. I started SKMurphy in March 2003 when I took a leave of absence from Cisco, fully committing when I incorporated in August and decided not to return to Cisco. This is not my ten year anniversary lessons learned from consulting and entrepreneurship post–and at my current rate of progress on finishing that one it may be titled “Eleven Years of Customer Development Consulting” unless I can finish sooner and come up with something more clever.
This is a “professional blog” not a lifestream or journal., although it is more personal from time to time.
“Authenticity is the new bullshit.”
I try to write as I speak and think, only better because I can revise. I still have over 700 drafts of partially complete posts, a testament to my commitment or quality, perfectionism, or inability to finish something beyond the initial rush of enthusiasm and distraction of newer and more alluring projects.
For the most part I write a blog in response to:
- a question from a client, or a prospective client
- a question in an on-line forum (and will often post my first draft as an answer there),
- a new insight into a past experience,
- a remark or conversation from a Bootstrapper Breakfast,
- another article or blog post (and will often post a comment there that serves as a first draft)
- a talk or event I attended.
I try and write from a perspective of a skeptical entrepreneur who has an engineering or scientific background and is looking to make sense of a situation that may recur, is trying to discern trends and forces at work they need to factor in to plans for the business, or is looking for a useful reference or practical how-to for skills that they need to hone (e.g. interviewing customers, selling, negotiating,…).
“This stuff is hard. That’s why it’s interesting.”
When I came home after my first year of college I told my father that I wanted to become a writer. I had written stories in high school, won a partial scholarship from Washington University for an essay “The Search for Reality and Identity in the Writings of Phillip K. Dick” (which I declined because I wanted to get out of St. Louis for college), worked as a reporter for my high school and college newspapers, and had a wall littered with rejections for short stories I had submitted to magazines ranging from Boys Life to Harpers.
He told me,”It’s time you stopped having these illusions about yourself: devote yourself full time to writing this summer and see what you learn.” Mixed encouragement but for six weeks I woke up every morning, went down to the basement (much cooler in the St. Louis summer down there) and wrote using an electric typewriter. I still have some of the drafts I produced from my efforts. I got a job as a cook’s helper and another as a furniture mover and kept busy moving heavy, hot, or sharp objects without getting hurt for the rest of the summer. In hindsight I think I am better at analyzing and making sense of real events and situations than writing fiction and I didn’t have enough of a stock of experiences I could draw on to sustain my effort.
But in a very real sense I continue to work as a writer. I make my living writing for our clients, often either by giving them the first “bad version” that unlocks their ability to revise (or scrap and restart) or helping them to craft e-mails or presentations. Writing about a topic allows me to be more fluent improvising remarks in negotiations or in response to questions. I think if you approach it with that in mind then the revising allows you to clarify your thoughts in a way that can be harder in a conversation.
“A man of genius may sometimes suffer a miserable sterility; but at other times he will feel himself the magician of thought. Luminous ideas will dart from the intellectual firmament, just as if the stars were falling around him; sometimes he must think by mental moonlight, but sometimes his ideas reflect the solar splendour.”
John Foster Journal
It has not gotten any easier, in the sense that some posts come quickly in a rush and most take a while to percolate. Deadlines help in this regard, as do collaborators. When I write a few hundred words in fifteen or twenty minutes I feel like a genius. Often the last hour before a deadline (or the first hour after a deadline–preliminary deadlines help in this regard) releases a flow of insight. Other times I need to write using the “morning pages” technique just to unlock a post. Drafting it as a e-mail to a particular client can help.
I jot down phrases, sentences, and passages I find well written and insightful and use them as points of departure or closing quotes for posts.
One of the significant differences between my blog posts and a conversation is that I will often sketch one or more diagrams to model a situation or elaborate on a point or concept. I have not found an easy way to do this with my blog posts…yet.
It’s helpful sometimes to give a blog post as a talk first, and then transcribe and refine. The act of speaking forces a level of coherence and organization that is sometimes difficult to achieve facing a blank screen.
I am inspired by authors like George Higgins, William Feather, Raymond Chandler, Peter Drucker, Gary Klein, James Lileks, Gerald Weinberg, Glenn Reynolds, Clayton Christensen, and Seth Godin, to name a few. I enjoy the sensation of reading an author who is trying to make sense of a situation by looking at data and historical precedent, informed by their experience and expertise, and who maintain their intellectual integrity by acknowledging facts that contradict their suggestions or conclusions.
“We do not write because we want to; we write because we have to.”
If you have a topic or question related to entrepreneurship you would like to see me address, or better to collaborate on, please contact me directly.
Update Nov-25-2013 Steve Wasiura commented “One doesn’t realize how difficult it is to write a blog post, especially a good one, until you try it, and find yourself staring into the glaring pixels of a blank white form. It can be even more depressing when you look at your visitor statistics and realize no one is reading your painfully crafted blog posts, especially in the early days. I’ll refer back to this when I need motivation to continue.”
I think the trick is to make blogging a follow on from other activities: e-mails that you are writing, forum responses, notes from a conversation. This way a post flows from time and thinking already invested in problems you know that you are wrestling with or that energize you.
I have been really encouraged by some of the great comments I have received on some recent blog posts.
Prospects gain an appreciation for your expertise and ability to understand and to solve their problems through what you write, what you say, and what your customers’ say about you. You should have a plan for developing referrals and testimonials, but I want to focus writing and public speaking as opportunities to demonstrate your expertise and give prospects a reason to believe that you can assist them. These outbound messaging strategies will complement your referral program and are essential to attracting new customers and cultivating valuable long-term business relationships.
Here are some suggestions for practices that will help you routinely refine and curate your thoughts.
- Collect Good Questions & Your Good Answers: When you get a good question from a prospect or a customer take the time to write up a succinct answer in a follow up e-mail (even if you have answered it in a phone call or face to face meeting).
- Refine & Generalize Your Good Answers: save your e-mail in a special folder for “good answers” and set aside time every week or month to reviewing and refining it so that it becomes a more general answer that’s applicable to more than just the person you initially answered it for.
- Start a FAQ on your website: If you don’t have one it’s worth considering starting a “Frequently Asked Questions” list. If a particular question indicates you have a defect in our standard presentation or marketing materials it’s more appropriate to fix the source of the question instead.
- Reformat Your Generalized Good Answers: Convert good answers into articles or blog posts.
- Make the Time to Rehearse: Always leave time to rehearse in front of at least one other person before you give the live talk.
- Record Your Talks: Record at least the audio for your talks and listen to both your presentation and any Q&A. Listen to it again a few days later and a month or two later.
- Consider Writing an Article: either as a leave behind instead of your slides or as another blog post.
- Never Give a Talk Only Once: Considering the cost in time to develop and rehearse a good talk, you want to find at least three opportunities to give a talk or variations on it.
- Videotape A Good Talk In Front Of An Audience: Once you have given a talk two or three times live either do a video recording of it or arrange to have later versions videotaped. You will look and sound much better in front of a live audience with a talk you are comfortable giving and this will come through on the video. Consider editing it into a couple of 5-10 minute chunks if you can to use as teasers, summaries, or good stand-alone content.
|FREE recorded discussion on Seth’s blog article. The panelist share how they manage their tasks and make sure they are focused the important items that differentiates their offering.
Texting while working
by Seth Godin
A thought provoking blog article by one of our must read bloggers, Seth Godin. We will discuss topic Seth raises like being “in flow” and raising the stakes.
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Additional Book Reviews
In my “Maiden Voyage” post on Jul-30-2010 for my Entrepreneurial Engineer blog on EE Times I said that I would focus on innovation and entrepreneurship in the broader electronic systems design ecosystem. I hoped to provide insights in the following areas:
- Perspective on technology innovation.
- Analysis of business strategy for emerging markets.
- New models for global teams and multi-firm collaboration that are predicated on incessant collaboration among experts.
- Perspective on the impact of communication and pervasive connectivity in creating new business models.
- Insights from pioneering engineers on how new computing paradigms are enabling new models for how they invent.
- Interviews with entrepreneurs sharing lessons learned from their successes and their setbacks.
I am going to continue to focus on these areas for 2011 as well.
I have another ten posts in various stages of completion and plan to post one a week at least for the first quarter of 2011. If you would like to be interviewed or have some insights you would like to share about areas 3 and 4 in particular please contact me.
“Little by little, one travels far”
Theresa Shafer, one of my partners in SKMurphy, advised me recently that “most powerful insights are simple.” It was by way of encouragement to simplify and focus my blog posts.
She continued her critique: “If you can’t get your point across in a hundred or two hundred words why do you think another thousand and a half dozen hyperlinks is going to make it any clearer?”
You have to take your inspiration where you can find it. I plan to keep my blog posts more succinct in 2011 than years past.
Writing a blog takes time and can be difficult as you get busy. We often invite guest writers to contribute content. Besides giving us a break from having to write everything ourselves, they also:
- Bring fresh content
- Bring fresh perspective
- Infuse their passion
- Build trust
- Bring new audiences
So thank you to our guest writers. We love you.
Sometimes people approach us about being a guest blogger but we also actively look. A couple of places we look for guest authors
- Thought leaders (anyone with something interesting to say)
- Potential Partners
We welcome contributed content that’s appropriate for an audience of entrepreneurs either on the SKMurphy blog or the Bootstrapper Breakfast blog.
We’re all born late. We’re born into history that is well under way. We’re born into cultures, nations and languages that we didn’t choose.
Among all the things we don’t control, we do have some control over our stories. We do have a conscious say in selecting the narrative we will use to make sense of the world. Individual responsibility is contained in the act of selecting and constantly revising the master narrative we tell about ourselves.
David Brooks “The Rush to Therapy“
I have blogged before that you need to be careful how you tell yourself “the story so far.” I was reminded of it as I spent time today editing some interviews for my “Entrepreneurial Engineer” column in EE Times. I think a good story has key components that can be presented in several different sequences:
- The Past: where you have come from, what led you to start your company and what about your background prepared you to be effective at solving this particular problem for your customers.
- The Present: what have you accomplished to date and more importantly, what have you learned from your journey so far.
- The Near Future: what you are actively working on, what you plan to accomplish in the near term, how you will demonstrate traction if your audience asks you “how is it going” in three to six months.
- Who You Are: why do you have an interest in the problem or field that you are focused on, what are the values and the passions that you bring to working on it.
- The Future: what you ultimately hope to accomplish, a vision of a better world you are working to bring about.
Pay close attention the next time you tell someone you have just met the story of your entrepreneurial journey.
“The time will come when Winter will ask you what you were doing all Summer.”
I took the extra hour I had today and made a list of a few key things I want to accomplish before the end of the year. Many of these I can use your help or feedback on, please feel free to contact me.
- Schedule a “Getting More Customers” workshop in December; please contact me if you are interested in taking part. Done: you can learn more here “Getting More Customers in 90 days Wed-Dec-8-2010“
- Run two special Bootstrapper Breakfasts the week between Christmas and New Years.
- Mon-Dec-27 9am-10:30am at Red Rock Coffee in Mountain View
- Thu-Dec-30 9am-10:30am at Coco’s in Sunnyvale
- Publish four more posts for my Entrepreneurial Engineer blog at EE Times, please contact me if you would like to be interviewed. My most recent post was “Docea Power Successfully Bootstraps as a New EDA Player” on Nov-4-2010.
- Dec-6-2010 “Plunify Launches SaaS Platform that Integrates FPGA Design Tools“
- Dec-13-2010 “Ten Quotes To Help Bring Order Out Of Chaos At Your Company“
- Dec-20-2010 “Eric Deal Bounces Back From a Startup Shutdown to Establish Cyclic Design“
- Dec-27-2010 miss
- I gave five talks in the last seven weeks that I need to get documented (my apologies to folks for taking so long to get the slides and transcripts published):
- Sep-13-2010: “Ten Tips for Choosing a Business Partner” at WIC
- Sep-23-2010 “Feed Readers De-Mystified / Tips for Keeping Informed” a People on the Go webinar
- Oct-10-2010 “Will Work For Equity Panel” at Silicon Valley Code Camp
- Oct-21-2010 “Forming and Leading Teams of Experts” at SDForum Engineering Leadership SIG
- Nov-2-2010 “Assessing Your Market Opportunity” at SDForum Kickstart Your Startup
- Explore a mastermind group for bootstrapping technology startups that would complement the Bootstrapper Breakfasts in Silicon Valley. Please contact me if you are interested in taking part, we will likely start one in January 2011.
Warning Dates in Calendar Are Closer Than They Appear
There are slightly less than eight weeks left in 2010–given that Thanksgiving and Christmas take place in two of them it’s more like six work weeks–so it’s time for a kick finish if you need to catch up.
Mark Zimmerman’s Zhurnaly (“Russian for Journal”) ) is food for the soul. The wiki format allows him to blend a journal, a runner’s diary, a commonplace book, and short essays. I enjoy his insights and his exploration Zen and ongoing self-improvement. It’s worth reading whenever you want to renew your gumption.
“I recommend it wholeheartedly for entrepreneurs even though it’s written by a physicist with a Zen frame of mind who has taken up marathon running in his 50’s. He is thoroughly committed to mindfulness and self-improvement, two goals any entrepreneur should strive for.”
Here he is on “How To Succeed”
- Help other people help you. Don’t struggle alone; we’re all in this together. Did somebody assign you an impossible mission? Maybe they meant to request something different. The situation may have changed since you began. You may have taken a wrong turn. Ask early and often for clarification, suggestions, feedback, …
- Fail for a good reason. It’s OK to crash and burn if you took a well-calculated risk and it didn’t work out. It’s fine to let a higher priority (e.g., family, health, spiritual obligation, etc.) preempt a task. But there’s no honor in “I forgot” or “The time just slipped away from me” or …
And “On Failure”
“Fail. Fail again. Fail better.”
This advice was reportedly posted on Samuel Beckett’s wall beside his desk. Any worthwhile pursuit — gardening, cooking, drawing, writing, thinking, teaching, learning, … — is never done to perfection. There is always room for improvement, a shortfall to correct, an error to identify and fix.
That’s precisely what makes something worthwhile: inevitable failure, plus the golden chance to try again, and to do better next time. Living is like that.
And finally two excerpts from “Arnold Bennett on Life” that has a number of thought provoking passages from the 1923 Arnold Bennett book “How to Make the Best of Life” (Gutenberg has many of his works but not this one.)
- “I am far off old age, but old age is approaching daily. The terrors of old age are solitude, neglect, boredom, lack of suitable activity, utter dependence on others, and the consciousness of wasted opportunities, of having achieved less than one might have achieved. What am I doing now to destroy those terrors, or even to minimise them? Am I sufficiently providing for the final years? Am I keeping my old friendships in repair and constructing new ones? Am I, in the intervals of satisfying my greatest interest, creating minor interests which will serve me later? Am I digging my groove so deep that I shall never be able to climb out of it? Am I slacking?”
- “No corner of the field is too small to occupy. No effort is too humble to produce an effect worth producing. No effort is wasted. And there will never be any millennium, you know! The millennium is a chimera. A millennium involves perfection. A hundred centuries hence the citizens of those days-to-come, regarding us of the twentieth century somewhat as we regard the inhabitants of the stone age, will still be yearning towards the millennium and still be shocked by the scandalous imperfections of their humanity and the inefficiency of their communities. There can be no finality except death. The dream of a millennium is a device of nature’s, and a very effective and agreeable device, for encouraging us to be persistent.”
See also these posts for other quotes from Mark Zimmerman’s Zhurnaly
- “Quotes For Entrepreneurs–June 2010“
- “Quotes For Entrepreneurs–November 2009“
- “Quotes For Entrepreneurs–January 2009“
For more on gumption (and sisu) see