How to add a digital fingerprint to your email address

mobile web writing companyThis tip seems to amaze even my techiest of friends, so I’m going to share it here with you here.

You can easily create a unique digital fingerprint for your email address, for use when subscribing to newsletters.

When providing your email address in a signup form, add a plus sign followed by the name of the newsletter (or any other word of your choice).

Example: if your email was “yourname@provider.com” you’d subscribe to my newsletter as “yourname+creativeboost@provider.com

So why do this? Because you can create rules for specific subscriptions if you’re into that sort of thing. Or if you start receiving unwanted emails later from other sources, you’ll have a very good idea where they may have obtained your address.

I use this everywhere now (not just newsletters) and it works really well.

What you give away like the Elvis of Punk

Today, the business of being creative is a lot like the way things used to be in the making of punk music.

Behind what you do, there’s that raw sense of purpose. You burn with mission and conviction. Your work comes from that same Do-It-Yourself ethos that gave early punk acts the verve to plug-in and play from the heart.

“(It) remains one of punk’s singular achievements,” writes Warren Kinsella in his excellent book Fury’s Hour: A (Sort of) Punk Manifesto “It hasn’t been co-opted or compromised. Do It Yourself and change yourself. Change everything.”

It remains a pretty great way of putting a nice big dent in the universe.

But take it from Iggy Pop, the true Elvis of Punk: you also need to pay very careful attention to what you’re giving away.

Especially to what gets done for free.

“When it comes to art,” he says, “money is an unimportant detail.” But he also cautions “it just happens to be a huge, unimportant detail.”

There are two kinds of ways that work gets done for free.

The first is when you offer people something and don’t expect something in exchange (which otherwise typically takes the form of financial compensation).

This includes pro bono work, volunteering your time for a cause, or even in generating what some like to call content (but really it’s something more meaningful…it’s your material that you use to build your platform online). It also includes this post and my newsletter (hey have you signed up yet?)

There are many reasons why you might choose to do this, just like those early-era punk rock pioneers who cut their own recordings and sometimes even gave them away.

Whether as a gift, as a donation, or to serve some strategic end to your business or your career, what matters most is that it’s your call.

You own that choice.

The second way that work gets done for free is the one you have to watch out for.

That’s where the other party–be it a client, a prospect, or someone who says they dig what you do–expects you to work for nothing.

It often includes this classic invitation: “do the work and then I’ll pay you if I decide it’s any good.” This is what’s known as working for spec.

It’s commonplace. But that doesn’t mean it’s something you should do.

Recognize what compels most people to agree to such terms: fear. For example: “If I say no, I might miss my big break.”

This is one of the great lies that gets told by talented people who frankly would know better if they paid more attention to honing their craft than to what others are prepared to pay for to own it.

In a wider sense–if you include working for next to nothing in that equation–it’s a mistake that used to be perpetuated in the record industry by a surprisingly high number of artists.

And that includes Iggy Pop: “If I had to depend on what I actually get from sales I’d be tending bars between sets.”

That’s coming from a guy who has 20 records under his belt.

Being a professional starts by treating what you do as something of intrinsic value. Emphasis on intrinsic, as in it has a quality that is inherent, not assigned by outside forces.

Don’t ask the market “is this any good?”

Don’t ask “how much will you pay for this?”

Figure out what’s the problem the market has that you can solve with your work.

It does have real problems. You can very much solve those problems.

Be a punk with your talent but don’t let your talent get punked.

There are still many good reasons to engage that DIY spirit and to be generous with your talents and share what you know. Just make sure you do it with your eyes wide open.

Here are three tests that I use, and that you can apply to your work when deciding whether you want to give something away.

1) Whose idea is it to give it away?

Ask yourself: whose idea is it that I do this work for free (or for next-to-free)? If it’s yours, fine. But if the request originates elsewhere, proceed with caution. Yes, there are cases where this is entirely valid, particularly where volunteer work is concerned. But those are exceptions. Know the difference.

2) Who decides the value of your work?

Never make it someone else’s job to assign the value of your work. When you do this, you will wind up settling for less than your worth.

That doesn’t prevent you from negotiating on price and on what you will provide in exchange for an agreed upon price. Do not confuse that with the value of the work itself.

Even work that you choose to give away for free has an intrinsic value. But if you don’t know what that is, then how can you expect others to treat your efforts or your product the way you want it to be treated?

3) Who owns your idea?

No, I am not going to bore you here with a discussion on intellectual property rights. Instead, I invite you to think about this little anecdote about the other Elvis. The original one. Hear me out with this.

Back in the early 1970s, a young songwriter got what she thought was her big break. Elvis Presley wanted to cover one of her songs. And then came this from his manager: ‘You know, we have a rule that Elvis doesn’t record anything unless we take half the publishing.’

She refused.

She said no to Elvis.

No to the money.

And the opportunity to get that song in front of millions of listeners.

But she retained full publishing rights to her song.

Things worked out okay for her.

Okay so that’s not a punk story for a closer.
But it ought to be.

Recognize that whatever talents you have in you–whether it’s being able to paint a masterpiece or being able to mange people or to balance a budget–these are things that lead to outputs that are uniquely yours.

You are a maker of things. Protect your right to set the value and the price of your work. Own your choices.

Be ready to say no to the real Elvis if the deal is not a good one for you.

Be generous like the Elvis of Punk.

Burn with purpose.

But learn from his experience, too.

Ten for Fifteen

I don’t know about you, but I’m not a fan of new year’s resolutions.

I tell you that upfront, knowing that it may be entirely reasonable of you to conclude by midway through this post that I’ve contradicted myself.

There are two problems with the concept of making resolutions.

First, the start a new calendar year is just an arbitrary measure of change.

And not a particularly good one at that.

Other than the change of a few digits in the calendar, not a whole lot feels new on January 1st. It bookends a week-long holiday, and takes place well after the start of winter (especially here in Ottawa).

In many ways, I’ve long felt that the real new year begins in early September. Summer fades. School resumes.

There is a noticeable switching of gears at work. Having said that, I would get funny looks from people if I wished them a happy new year around Labour Day weekend. So I keep that to myself. Probably for best.

Then there is the second problem: resolutions tend to be “to do” lists: vague promises we make to ourselves to take action, and then fail on the execution of the task.

I could talk at length about that. But I’m not going to.
Sometimes you have to look at the pattern of decisions you make in life–even the ones that are rooted in deep conviction–and ask yourself if maybe it’s time to make a different choice.

So I’m going to try something different.

My good friend, Chris Brogan, started an interesting meme a few years ago in which he picks three words and works hard to make them the central focus of the calendar year ahead.

What I like about his exercise is that instead of generating yet another to do list, it’s a snapshot of ideas. In other words, it’s a to be list.

With that in mind, here are my three ideas for 2015.

1) Chatai Hatou

This is a kissaten, a traditional Japanese tearoom and coffee house located on an almost hidden side street in Tokyo’s Shibuya district. It has survived the onslaught of Western coffee chains, fast food outlets and even the grinding hardships of decades-long stagflation in the Japanese economy.

Still, it teems with customers.

The owners of this humble, enduring shop did not react to changing market conditions. They did not resort to making a cheaper product. Nor did they move to a better location.

In fact, nothing about Chatai Hatou has changed in any meaningful way in over 25 years.

Instead they remain focused on two things that matter to them and to their customers: patience and discipline.

Order a pour-over coffee here and you are treated to a 20-minute ritual that you cannot experience anywhere else. As one writer describes it: “the coffee is prepared with such intensity and grace that it feels as if time has stopped.”

The owners of this kissaten made a choice. They said no to chasing the easy money of delivering a commodity to a large audience. They are as selective as the customers they serve, and remain dedicated to creating something memorable and meaningful for that select group of people. I like that idea a lot.

Okay so you might be thinking, “Hey, Pat, that’s a swell start to your list…but it’s two words.”

Well I’m a bit of contrarian. And if you say it fast, it sounds like one fancy word.

2) Paulinus

Very few facts about Paulinus have resisted the wear of time. We know that somewhere around 50 AD, he took on responsibility for managing Rome’s grain supply, so he was a person of considerable authority in his time. He may also have been a near relative of Seneca, the great stoic thinker. And Seneca thought enough of him to write him a letter, containing advice that has survived the ages.

He says ‘Dear Paulinus’ (and I am paraphrasing) ‘there is a far worse thing we can do in life than to be bitter about how short it is. It is not that we have a short life but that we waste a lot of it.’

There are two reasons I share this.

First, I like to think that Paulinus took Seneca’s wise advice to heart. We have no way of know that for sure, of course.

But 2,000 year old advice doesn’t survive by accident.

The work we do and the choices we make: this is what gives our lives definition. It’s what survives.

Just as important, Paulinus reminds us of another smart bit of advice, that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Being choosy about whom we break bread with has a way of shaping our choices, our thinking and even the opportunities we create for ourselves.

Most of us can’t be a Seneca, but we each can be a Paulinus if we want to.

3) Thompson

Beware faulty definitions of living well.

These are most often found in the assumption that we have in the need to grow larger and to accumulate material things.

Experience has taught me that those are pointless pursuits because they only measure in units of more.

Never satisficing. Only collecting.

On that point, I’m reminded that Hunter S. Thompson was just 20 years old when he wrote this deeply insightful letter to a friend who was looking for some direction.

My favourite part of Thompson’s advice: “look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living within that way of life.”

It is easy to become directionless and to become a collector of things, rather than a seeker of experience and wisdom. I remind myself of this–and will do so again as often as I need to in 2015.

In finding a way, I find The Way.

I hope you do too, in the manner that means the most to you.

Writing advice: what to do when you’re stuck

ideas that pop with passion icon[Updated] Anyone can be a writer, it’s true. But sometimes—whether you’re writing for the web, crafting an article, a direct marketing piece or a book—you’re going to get stuck and it can seem as if no amount of rewriting is going to fix your copy.

Don’t wait for that sinking feeling to set in.

Here’s the first thing you must do.

Keep writing.

Don’t give in to that feeling that says you need to walk away.

Giving in is easy. It’s what many people do.

There are cases where you need to shift gears for a bit (and I’ll come back to that). But unless you keep working at your craft and your ideas, you’re going to lose any momentum you started with.

There’s an even bigger danger.

Unless you’re in the deadlines business like I am, there is also a good chance that if you put that writing project away, you might not come back to it. Ever.

Stop with the Point-A-to-Point-B thinking. Be more abstract.

Ideas and the business of writing them down is not a linear practice. In fact, it’s rare to be struck by a fully formed thought that’s ready to share. That’s just the low-hanging fruit, my friends. The rest takes time to ripen. And often it’s going to take you in directions that may surprise you as much as your reader.

Here are a few methods I use when I get stuck. You can use any of these, too.

The tangential method

Find a good quote about the subject you are writing about. Don’t just slap that quote into your copy.

The writer’s first devotion is curiosity and you feed it by asking questions.

Who is the speaker behind the quote? Are there any articles posted online about this person? Book reviews?

How might what they have to say about one thing relate to another thing in an entirely unexpected way?

A few minutes of satisfied curiosity can provide you with an entirely new angle on what you’re writing about.

Here’s a secret: it’s one of my most reliable ways of coming up with new topics for my newsletter.

The switching gears method

I said earlier that you have to keep on writing when you’re stuck. But that doesn’t mean you have to keep bashing your head against the wall and wishing for a different result. Some ideas need to simmer. In the meantime, write something else.

Creativity is a weird visitor (click to tweet). It often walks into your house, puts its feet up on the sofa, grabs pen and paper and tells you it’s working on something. Let it do its job. Just don’t let it switch on the TV.

Switching gears means that you might not be working on the thing you started on in the first place, but you’re still producing.

Practice and discipline. These are your best teachers.

The backstory method

This one applies to fiction writing. Having trouble making a character believable? Invent a backstory and write it down. Need help asking the right questions? Go to one of those free online dating sites and look at the questions they ask of people when creating a dating profile. Fill it in. The answers you’re being asked are meant to help other people decide if you’re likeable and compatible. This is a good resource if you’re stumped.

With a fact-filled backstory (okay, made up facts, but I’m sure you get where I’m going with this), you have new ways to approach your subject and write convincingly. After all, you totally know this guy now.

The undoing method

Some ideas are just not ready for primetime. Some are just crappy ideas. A good way to test yours is to turn them inside out. Play devil’s advocate. Write a short piece arguing the opposing point of view.

One of my business lines is speechwriting. I sometimes use this method when I’m finding the copy isn’t as persuasive as I need it to be.

Undo your arguments.

You’ll quickly reveal the cut line that separates the facts you know are true from the rest of the points that you simply feel are true.

Want to be a better speechwriter and public speaker? Think like a spy.

You’re wondering about that spycraft hook, aren’t you? I’ll get to that. It’ll all make sense once I’ve shared with you a bit of context.

Ottawa speechwriter bubblesSpeechwriting is where I first cut my teeth in this trade. From the range of writing services I offer today, it remains among my most demanding work. I say this because a successful speech hinges, in a sense, on thousands of tiny moving parts—each having to function flawlessly every time. It’s not enough to research your subject exhaustively and to spend large chunks of time drafting your text. Nor is it enough to take the time to refine every key phrase so each one resonates with authenticity for your speaker.

You can do everything properly on the writing side of things and still completely bomb out there. Why is that? [Read more…]