Happy Anniversary and the Difference a Year or Five Makes

“There are two great days in a person’s life – the day we are born and the day we discover why.” – William Barclay

Sadly neither of those days is today. However, I did receive a message informing me that yet another year has come and gone since I started down this whole blogging thing. I decided to celebrate by reflecting on my original goals and how life (and what I post about) has changed since then.

Happy Anniversary - what a difference a year or five makes - www.alliepottswrites.com

quotes provided by http://www.brainyquote.com

When I originally started out, my intent was to establish a platform in support of my novel, An Uncertain Faith, which is a women’s fiction / cozy mystery mashup (and its sequel is now officially out as well). As it was my first attempt at publishing a book, I knew I was in no position to proclaim myself an expert on either the writing or publishing process, but at the same time, I didn’t want to come across as someone who was simply winging it without a plan by sharing ALL the things I didn’t know.

“It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt” – various sources, but often attributed to Mark Twain

In the end, I thought the better strategy was to rule out writing as a focus as many other authors tend to do. However, I still liked the idea of sharing tips or tricks, or weekly takeaways I’d picked up along the way, which, over time, proved to mostly center on the lessons I was learning from my kids. Some were sweet lessons, while others were more akin to the following:

“Never have more children than you have car windows.” – Erma Bombeck

This strategy worked for me, though family anecdotes rarely go viral, and when they do, it is usually for the worst sort of things. Nonetheless, the content itself was easy enough to generate. All I had to do was look out my window or down the hall. My weekly posts became a sort of happiness journal – a reminder of all the things I was grateful for, and all the reasons I had to celebrate.

At some point, without intending it, this blog had stopped being a way to promote my books and my writing to a general audience but instead evolved into a way to promote myself to the internal me. I guess that is the magic of writing. You never really know what the end result will be until you first start trying.

“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” – E.L. Doctorow

However, my kids started to grow up. They started to read. Even worse, they started having lives and personalities of their own. Unfortunately, a nagging thought began to take hold in the back of my brain: I’m their mom, and they’re still my kids, but was that really enough to give me the right to share their stories (beyond the basic funny thing they’ve said) with the general public, even if I am doing my best to protect things like their faces or their names?

For a time, I thought so, but now I’m not quite so sure.

“Always be nice to those younger than you, because they are the ones who will be writing about you.” – Cyril Connolly

And so, I’ve found myself scaling their stories back, though they remain ever at the forefront of my mind. At the same time, I’ve grown older evolved too. I’ve moved on from that earlier version of me, the one who didn’t know how much she needed the weekly written reminders of the small joys as much, if not more than, public acknowledgment of the major accomplishments.

I say this because I was able to keep a promise to myself. I took a risk and made a change. I’m now working full-time in the world of online publishing, which in some ways is completely new for me, but in other ways strangely reminiscent of the world of consumer tech, sales, and project management I left behind. Overall, it has been a positive experience, but if I thought I didn’t know a lot about publishing back then… well let’s just say:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

As a result, I’m continuing to give myself permission to mix things up from the way I’ve done them before. Therefore, while this post may have been prompted by a celebration of my blogging longevity, I’ve decided to relax my self-imposed rules for the balance of the year if not a few weeks longer. It’s not a hiatus per se, as I’m going to still try to post as I am inspired, but if life takes precedence over the written word some weeks, so be it.

However, I am also considering posting on a different day or at a different hour, testing, and refining until I find the combination that works within my new normal. (I may also ask my boys to sign a waiver allowing their mother to post with their permission). Who knows what changes life may bring in the coming year? I sure don’t, and that’s okay. Thus far, not having all the answers has worked out for me far better than I could have ever imagined.

“Sometimes it’s the smallest decisions that can change your life forever.” – Keri Russell

I know this small decision might cause additional ripples of change in my future, however, I’m not worried. Because, while I might love consistency and know too well the benefits of having a set schedule can bring, of all the things I’ve learned over the years, appreciating the value of the small things (both the good and the bad) as much as the big things, is the one lesson this blog has taught me how to do best.

How to quickly add some serious credibility to your business or your brand

How to quickly add some serious credibility to your business or your brand - www.alliepottwrites.comI love quotes. I love reading them. I love using them in my posts as a way to flavor my thoughts with another voice. The trouble is it sometimes takes me ages to find the perfect complement to whatever topic I happen to be writing on at the time.

Then there are the follow-up problems.

How to determine whether a quote is legitimate or not and who really said it? Take for instance the story about the valedictorian in Kentucky who attributed a quote in his commencement speech to one US president only to change its source moments later as a joke that wasn’t viewed as funny by some members of the crowd.

Stories like that prove that no matter how meaningful, empowering, or thought-provoking a quote’s message is, the quote’s mouthpiece also matters. So I try to be careful how I use them.

“With great power, comes great responsibility” – Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben (or was it?)

Up until now, my go-to source has been sites like www.brainyquotes.com and www.tinybuddha.com for when I am need of some additional zen. Both sites have nice keyword searching functions and I’ve created more than one post based entirely on a quote of the day, but there is no way of knowing for sure that the person cited is the first person (on record) to have ever said it. Hence the follow-up homework problem.

I have since found a new way to incorporate direct quotes straight from the source into the world of my other writing jobHARO. HARO stands for Help A Reporter Out (www.helpareporter.com) and it is a free tool for journalists (bloggers, podcasters, and authors too) that helps you find potential sources for upcoming articles.

The rules for journalists, bloggers, and podcasters are pretty stringent as they require your website or media outlet have an Alexa (yes, Amazon’s Alexa – because she’s EVERYWHERE) rating of 1 million or less. This score based on your site’s traffic. However, authors can use the tool to find sources for their books without a media outlet, but it can only be a request for less than 300 words and you must have an estimated publication date as well as a publisher (though I didn’t see anything that said it couldn’t be self) to be considered.

Sadly though, there is no “student” reporter program.

However, if you do meet their guidelines all you do is submit a query outlining your question, what you are looking for in a source, and when you need a response back. You need to be as specific as possible when describing your preferred expert to ensure you get the best sort of response for your platform or outlet. Once your query is approved by HARO, it is then sent out as part of several email blasts that go out throughout the day.

Help Wanted

image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com

But guess what, you don’t have to be a rockstar journalist or multimedia darling.  To use HARO to earn some extra cred for your book, business or brand, all you have to do is sign up as a source.

“And so it became that the quote lover became that which she loved: the quoted.” – so say I, from the book of me

The downside of signing up for the service as either a journalist or a source is the number of emails. There are so many emails. Three per day, and opting out is a frowned upon. But all those emails are filled with reporters just begging for potential interviewees, which are then broken out into various categories. HARO also offers paid plans to help filter by keyword if the emails start to get to you.

While you, as a source, can’t pitch your book, blog, or business outright, you can position yourself as an expert in your field based on how you answer the reporter’s questions. Then if your answer, or pitch, is accepted, you can get featured giving you access to a much larger media outlet, and access to your potential target audience without having to know a guy who knows a guy who knows a gal who used to babysit for the local section’s current editor.

Oh, and at a maximum of 300 words, it is a lot easier (and faster) to do than guest posting.

Though, seriously if you want to write a guest post sometime, that’s cool too.

Fly robin fly – taking a chance in a whole new direction

People talk about kids leaving the nest all the time, but what they don’t always mention is how the momma bird occasionally has to leave the nest too.

Her babies are hatched, though because they not self-sufficient, it is critical that she spread her wings and brave the unknown in order to ensure everyone, herself included, reach their full potential. Baby birds have to eat, but also they need to be shown how to be the best sort of birds, which means, eventually, Momma bird has to get over her fears, remember how to fly, and lead by example.

“Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.” – Robert Fulghum

People aren’t all that different. More specifically, I’m not that different.

My nest, however, isn’t made of sticks or straw. My nest is a series of jobs I managed to pick up over the years and a career I built up along the way. And I’m not complaining about my nest. The people I’ve met along the way have been great. I’ve traveled the world and got to see first hand how things were made. It gave me opportunities I might never have imagined for myself. I am as proud of what I built as I am of my other accomplishments.

However, my nest no longer fit like it once did. While it still kept the cold out, the straw I’d grown so comfortable in over the years no longer provided the same amount of cushioning. The sticks I’d woven together itched my feathers in ways I couldn’t fully explain and the gaps in my nest’s construction were no longer something I could ignore.

“Don’t get too comfortable with who you are at any given time – you may miss the opportunity to become who you want to be” – Jon Bon Jovi

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Just another normal day at the office.

I was left with two options: rebuild it by re-weaving together bits and pieces of my existing nest, hopeful that the results would prove adequate for my needs, or I could take a chance, stretch my wings, and try something new.

An opportunity appeared and I took it.

This month, I am starting a new job with a company I’ve never worked with before. It is the first time I’ve been able to say that in more than fifteen years.

I am frankly terrified. What if I am making a mistake? What if it doesn’t work out? What if I fall?

“Too often, the opportunity knocks, but by the time you push back the chain, push back the bolt, unhook the two locks and shut off the burglar alarm, it’s too late.” – Rita Coolidge

I don’t know how these new sticks will fit together or how well they’ll prove to keep out the rain, but I’m excited to say that I’ve tried.

When people ask me what I do, I will be able to say I’m a full-time writer (though I’ll always be an author, engineer, project manager, designer and a self-professed geek too – once you have the knack, it never leaves you).

What will this mean for my blog?

Hopefully nothing other than my blog becoming an on-going example of someone who chose to take a chance on themselves, which in a way was the point of me starting in the first place and why I’ve always been drawn to topics about goals, and risk, and determination.

But that’s the thing about chances – only time will tell which way they’ll go. You have to take them anyway if you ever want to grow. One thing’s for sure though:

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” – Wayne Gretzky

I will be taking next week off to give myself time to say my goodbyes in and around the office while preparing for my next step forward, but I hope to report back from the other side very soon.


quotes provided by http://www.brainyquote.com

 

2 things kids pick up in seconds which many grown-ups haven’t learned in years

2 things kids pick up in seconds which many grown-ups haven't learned in years - www.alliepottswrites.com #Dr Seuss #children #quote

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I’d been booked for a reading, but not just any reading. No, this would not be some open mic style event at the nearby coffee shop, nor would I be reading to empty chairs at the local bookstore. I would be reading to a packed room, made up by the most discerning of audiences. An audience, I should add who isn’t afraid to tell you as well as their friends and family exactly how you failed to live up to their expectations in excruciating detail.

I would be reading to my son’s kindergarten class.

It was Dr. Seuss week at his elementary school and guest readers were invited to come in and share their love of reading with the next generation.

I arrived early armed with not one, but two books (affiliate links are included in this post): The Sneetches and Other Stories, by Dr. Seuss himself, as well as Dragon Was Terrible by Kelly DiPucchio. I was only expected to read one story but felt the need to ensure I had a backup plan if the room turned on my selection.

I waited in the hall, eager to start, but hesitant to spoil the surprise (we hadn’t told our son I would visit the class that day) or interrupt the lesson at hand. The school principal saw me in the hallway and smiled.

Then I was waved in and invited to sit in front of a group of smiling faces.

I made my choice. It was Dr. Seuss week after all. I held up The Sneetches for all the children to see.

“I have that.”

“I’ve heard it before.”

“My dad reads that to me too.”

Had I made the wrong choice? I wondered. Too late now!

I opened the book to the story of The Zax, which is a tale of two creatures called Zax – one north going, one south going – who meet one day in the prairie of Prax and neither Zax will budge from the direction of his tracks.

And so they stay stuck there, unbudging, for years while the rest of the world grows and leaves them behind.

The kids laughed at how silly both Zax had been, but they also pointed out the dangerous situation the Zax found themselves in. An overpass had been built around those stubborn Zax and fast-moving cars now surrounded them. They couldn’t have gotten to where either of them was going at this point, even if they tried. It was an aspect of the story I hadn’t previously considered.

Afterward, I asked the children what the Zax should have done. Hands shot up.

“They should have gone around each other.”

“One Zax should duck and roll forward so the other could jump over its top.”

“One Zax could split in two so the other could go through the middle.”

Admittedly that last suggestion is a little more problematic than the other two, but I’d like to point out that at no time did a child suggest one Zax push the other out of the way, knock one to the ground to be stomped over, or otherwise use brute force to get where they were going. Instead, all they came up with were creative compromises.

I wound up reading the second book, Dragon was Terrible, too. It was a story the majority of kids hadn’t heard before.

A dragon, who is terrible, of course, performs a series of, you guessed it, terrible acts around a kingdom (like taking candy away from a baby unicorn). The King announces he’s had enough of the dragon’s shenanigans and issues a challenge to his knights to do something about the beast. They aren’t instructed to kill it but tame it. Their attempts to beat the dragon into submission only serve to make it more terrible. Then one day a small boy arrives and he does something no one else in the kingdom has ever thought of – he gives the dragon a chance to be a hero.

Once again, I asked the kids at the end what the story had been about. Hands shot up. Although the story was new, they immediately understood its subtle theme about the power of inclusion.

Either this next generation is super smart or I’m starting to think more grown-ups should celebrate Dr. Seuss week too.

We forget too many of these lessons.

 

You Should Experience Change At Least Once In Your Lifetime And Here’s Why

I don’t know how you choose to celebrate the new year, but at my house, we watch the Rose Parade. It is an event which takes place in Pasadena, California each year. Similar to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in terms of network coverage and national tradition, the parade features marching bands and the occasional musical act, but unlike its northeastern relation, this parade relies on drivable “floats” decorated using only botanicals rather than on the same reusable balloons.

As I watch the parade coverage, I am constantly amazed by the amount of detailing that goes into each of these floats. Groups spend a year or more designing these displays, planning the look to the last petal. There might be a dragon that can bat its eye or a giant bicyclist who can tip his hat. You never know what you are going to see until it makes its way down the boulevard. Which is why I’ve gotten frustrated over the years with the trend in network coverage to skip floats in order to have more time to promote their Spring line-up or break for the millionth commercial.

So this year, I decided to do something different. I decided to watch the Funny or Die / Amazon Prime’s coverage (affiliate link) of the event hosted by Will Ferrell and Molly Shannon under the guise of their fake personalities, Cord Hosenbeck and Tish Cattigan.

The coverage was a satire, though the joke was on hosts like themselves rather than parade participants and what made me chuckle the most was a bit they did on New Years Resolutions.

At the beginning of the parade, they talked about the resolutions they’d set for themselves for 2017. Tish’s, for example, was to “put herself out there and let the universe be her guide.” They talked about their relative success. Tish’s felt she’d really taken that risk and grown as a person by attending a wine class. Then at the end, they announced their resolutions for 2018.

They were EXACTLY the same, delivered in a blissfully unaware deadpan voice.

Were Amazon to bring these characters back next year, you can imagine only too well they would be discussing the same resolutions as well as the same results year after year. We can imagine it because when it comes to New Year’s resolutions, that’s the sort of thing so many of us in real life do too.

We resolve to lose the same 15 pounds or eat less of the same junk. We resolve to spend more time on our personal interests or travel more as if by the stroke of midnight on Jan 1st, we can suddenly invent more hours in the day or money in the bank. We tell ourselves it didn’t work last year, but it would this time because this year was different – we were different.

It’s not entirely a lie either. We ARE different. However, the difference usually comes down to one thing – we are older. The rest is pretty much the same. Thus ensuring that the next time the end of the year comes around we will find ourselves in the exact same place we are at its beginning.

Which brings me to my point. In order to truly be anything other than simply an older version of ourselves, we have to be willing to make a significant change at least once in our lifetimes.

I’m not talking about a change in hairstyle or taking a new route to the job. Something significant. Something that challenges what you’ve done before and what you think you know. Something that involves a risk and is guaranteed to make an impact.

Whether that impact will prove to be good or bad, only time will tell, but one thing is certain – you will not just be older after trying, you’ll be wiser too.

To that end, I’m making a few changes of my own this year.

For example, this year, I am inviting other to occasionally add their stories to this site and have added a page under my About menu detailing my instructions for those interested in participating as guest writers. It is my way of saying thanks to those who have similarly helped me by way of paying it forward.

If you have a story in you about a risk taken, a new venture, or an event that set you on the path you find yourself on today, I would encourage you to reach out in the coming weeks.

Because big changes aren’t as scary when we resolve to make them together.

So here’s to trying new things as well as a happy new year.