Produce the Goods: a Free Guide for Mad Geniuses

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This fourth guide in the Career Masterplan for Mad Geniuses series has taken quite a while to get finished (somewhat ironically given the title).

That’s because it not only involved a lot of research, but plenty of real life experience during my first 18 months or so of full-time freelancing/blogging.

I’ll admit it did involve some procrastinating too (but there’s a pretty good reason for that which you’ll find out when you read it).

I’m really happy with the results and hope the guide will be helpful to anyone else who has ever struggled to get their creative projects finished.

It’s available to download for free for the next week, after which it will only be available to email subscribers:

Produce the Goods: Mad Genius Guide #4

(Click to view in your browser, or right click and save as to download).

There’s also a brand new Spotify Playlist to accompany the guide and help you get into a good rhythm with your creative work. (A few people might be relieved that unlike the Pimp Your Online Presence soundtrack, it’s not hip hop!)

If you enjoy the guide, I’d be VERY grateful if you could share it with at least one other person who might find it useful, or on social networks like Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus.

Get Yourself Some C.A.K.E. (and watch our live Google Hangout)

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 Last night I was honoured to be joined by my friends Michael Nobbs and Fabian Kruse live on Google Hangouts  (as well as a number of other friends and family from around the world who tuned in) for the momentous occasion of me drinking my first beer for a year (and celebrating my birthday).

We talked about what I’ve learnt from a year of being sober, which I also wrote about in an article for Medium called ‘A Year Without Booze‘ (in case you missed it!).

Given the relevance of tasty baked goods to birthdays, Fabian and I also took the opportunity to reveal all about our new course, The C.A.K.E. Method.

C.A.K.E: The Final Frontier (a Bite-Sized Course for Bloggers)

In ‘Getting Geeky’ (episode 8 of the Mountain Shores Podcast), Fabian Kruse, Michael Nobbs and myself talk about the advantages and disadvantages of getting lost in creative flow, how to delight customers with high quality ice-cream, and whether our mindsets can make a difference to our earning potential.

You can also hear a bit more about The C.A.K.E. method, a bite-sized course that Fabian and I are offering to bloggers who want to have (more) fun and get more done.

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Adventures in Self-Publishing

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Self-publishing still has a bad rap amongst some writers, who see it as ‘vanity publishing’.

That’s good news for the rest of us, who see it as a brilliant opportunity to get our work out there without having to wait for permission from traditional gatekeepers.

Obviously though, if you are self-publishing, it’s important to maintain high standards.

Artisan Authors

According to Guy Kawasaki, author of APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur (Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk), self-publishing at its best is akin to artisan producers such as makers cheese or craft beers. It might not be ‘hands on’ in the traditional sense, but done right, Kawasaki believes it’s an artform all of its own (listen to this great interview on Blogcast.fm to find out more).

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Are You Flying Too Low? Review of The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin

the.icarus.deceptionEarlier this week I described how Seth Godin used Kickstarter and his army of fans to fund The Icarus Deception.

Now, finally, it’s time to hear about what’s inside the book itself.

And when Godin asks “are you flying too low” he’s not talking about whether you’ve zipped up your jeans or not.

Taking the Myth

The Icarus Deception centres around the myth of Icarus, who ignored his father’s instructions not to fly too close to the sun, resulting in over-heating problems with his home-made wings and a fatal dip in the sea.

The Icarus myth is often used as an example of when hubris or over-confidence can go badly wrong.

However Godin points out that there is another part of the story – Icarus’s father Daedalus also told his son not to fly too low as the water could also damage his wings.

According to Godin;

“Society has altered the myth, encouraging us to forget the part about the sea, and created a culture where we constantly remind one another about the dangers of standing up, standing out, and making a ruckus.”

However, as Seth says, settling for too little is “a far more common failing”.

Fly Closer to the Sun

The crux of the book is this; We all have the potential to be artists and to do great work. However to do so, we need to leave our comfort zones – to fly closer to the sun. What this requires of us is to have the hubris to take bigger risks and create new things. this requires facing up to the pain involved in the creative process, and being open to possible failure and criticism.

The  beautifully produced video below is a great summary of what the book is all about (and inspiring in its own right):

God is a DJ (but not exclusively)

Godin challenges us to consider ourselves on a par with the gods of ancient myth in terms of our creative potential.

He believes we can each take on a godlike quality (please note the small ‘g’) by becoming shamelessly confident. To do this, we must refuse to accept the shame that others bestow onto us for having the audacity to believe in ourselves and our art, and the willingness to be vulnerable enough to share it with the world:

“While someone can attempt to shame you, shame must also be accepted to be effective”.

This is clearly inspired by the message Brene Brown shares in her book Daring Greatly.

Crystallising Existing Concepts About Creativity

Indeed, the book could be seen as the distillation of all of Godin’s previous work as well as a raft of recent literature such as Brown’s book, into a powerful manifesto on the urgent need to be more creative.

Godin also echoes Dan Pink’s 2005 book A Whole New Mind, which argued that creative people were going to be the cornerstones of the new economy as their skills would be most in demand.

Godin believes that, as Pink predicted, we are currently in the midst of the ‘Connection Economy’, which demands we become artists and share more of ourselves with the world in order to succeed.

He also refers to Steven Pressfield’s War of Art and his concept of resistance as something we must battle each day in order to create. For Godin, the resistance is something to be embraced, because if you feel that sense of fear, uncertainty and pain when you come to make art, then you’re probably on the right track.

Getting to the Crux

A few people have commented that The Icarus Deception doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Godin even concedes in the acknowledgements that he has already tried out some of the ideas in the book on his blog – Indeed, it’s written in the same style – short, snappy segments which deal with one small element of the overall argument at a time.

It seems to me that Godin uses his blog and books as a way of digging down to the crux of how the digital revolution has changed both the economy and our lives. Each post, each short section of a book, each Sethism, is Godin’s method of chipping away at an underlying truth, in the same way that a sculptor brings to life a figure from a block of marble.

The Icarus Deception is a compelling and persuasive read that has really motivated me to create more and embrace the pain involved in creating new things as a necessary and integral part of the process.

And because it contains the most up-to-date distillation of Godin’s philosophy about creativity and the digital/connected world we live in, it’s a great book for both those unfamiliar with his previous work and those who have enjoyed following along as his outlook has evolved.

Buy on Amazon.co.uk| Amazon.com (affiliate links). Read We Are All Artists Now (a free summary of the book)

Win by Creating!

I’ve got four copies of The Icarus Deception to give away and one signed copy of the accompanying picture book, V is for Vulnerable, illustrated by Hugh MacLeod. To win you simply need to help me spread Sethisms.

The more you spread, and the closer you follow the competition guidelines, the more likely you are to win! More details here.

Please note that the closing date has been extended until midnight on Monday 21st January.

Don’t Be Another HMV – Wake Up to What Your Business Needs – NOW

Vintage-Advertising-His-masters-Voice-10705HMV*, the UK’s biggest high street retailer of entertainment products – music, games, electronics (more recently) and DVDs, has gone into administration as of yesterday, meaning 4500 jobs are at risk.

As a former employee (I graduated to the giddy heights of ‘chart buyer’) I feel truly gutted for the staff, and hope that the company are able to survive.**

People are blaming Amazon, Play.com, Spotify, Netflix, the major supermarkets (who sell the most mainstream entertainment products at a loss to tempt people into their stores), and of course illegal downloading.

But perhaps HMV themselves are to blame.

Philip Beeching worked on HMV’s advertising account and he shares a damning account of how he tried to tell them about the triple threat of “online retailers, downloadable music and supermarkets discounting loss leader product” (thanks to my pal Baxter for sharing).

He says in the article that

“Throughout the late 90’s and right up until today HMV’s single biggest mistake has been a lack of investment in their online offering.”

This is backed up with a quote from the founders of online store Play.com who waited for HMV to come after them – but were surprised when it never happened. It also chimes with my own opinion and many others online.

The same thing has happened with many people as the digital revolution has taken hold, including most of the newspaper industry who thought they were selling papers when really they were selling news (and therefore the medium is less important than the content).

Some people however have seen the writing on the wall early enough to adapt, including Beeching’s own creative agency who saw digital coming and adapted in good time.

Appropriately enough, given my current #Sethisms theme on this blog, Seth Godin has a very apt quote about this:

“Our preconceptions and our fear conspire to make it difficult to see the world as it is.

Buddhists call it prajna – accepting reality as it occurs instead of interpreting it as part of our ongoing narrative.

The trick isn’t coming up with an interpretation of events that allows you to maintain your worldview; it is to accept what happens without stopping to interpret it according to your biases.” #Sethisms

This is something the bosses at HMV clearly failed to do.

Here’s where you need to ask yourself honestly – are you doing something similar with your business right now?

  • Are you aware that you need a strong online presence, which involves clearly communicating why you do what you do?
  • Are you publishing engaging and valuable content consistently in order to drive traffic to your site?
  • Are you taking specific, strategic actions to grow a tribe of people who are interested in what you have to say?
  • Are you aware of how to use the latest social media and multimedia tools to help you do this?

Yes, you probably are aware. So, are you doing it yet? 

How I Can Help

If you’re interested in finding out more I’m going to be volunteering at a series of free social media surgeries beginning this coming Monday at Leith McDonald Road Library. These surgeries are primarily aimed at “local voluntary or community organisations, local charities, clubs or societies who are interested in making the most of the web and social media.” (Download event poster in PDF format.)

I’m also about to hold a number of workshops on how to Pimp Your Online Presence at various events around Scotland.

And, whilst I’m in the process of revamping my freelance copywriting business, I will be available for both consulting and content production from the beginning of February.

Get in touch if you’d like to have a chat about how I can help you.

Don’t be another HMV.

*HMV of course, stands for His Master’s Voice because the company sold gramophones in the early days (that picture of their dog Nipper is pretty iconic. I met Nipper once, when the Edinburgh Princes Street store re-opened. Well, it wasn’t the original Nipper, it was probably the 10th reincarnation. Meatloaf also made an appearance at the opening, as did his biggest fan, Pete Loaf).

**I also feel for the staff of Fopp, which was a great indie record store which HMV bought out to save it from going under a few years back. I’d hate to see Fopp disappear altogether, especially because they used to sell my band Swivel Chair’s CDs back in the day.

Seth Godin Spectacular!

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This coming week on Clear-Minded Creative will be a Seth Godin spectacular, to mark the release of 3 new books by the influential blogger and bestselling author: The Icarus Deception, V is for Vulnerable (with cartoonist Hugh MacLeod) and Watcha Gonna Do With That Duck?

I’ve got 4 copies of The Icarus Deception to give away, and one person will also get a special copy of V is for Vulnerable signed by Seth himself. But you’ve got to be in it to win it, so to find out how to enter you’ll need to stay tuned. You can subscribe to the newsletter (make sure you tick the ‘every post’ option), like the Facebook page, or follow me on Twitter.

I’ll also be sharing carefully-crafted and inspiring quotes each day, or ‘Sethisms’ which have become Godin’s trademark. I’ll leave you with an excellent ‘Sethism’ from the Icarus Deception:

“The door to art and connection is open, but we have no idea for how long.

Every day on the other side of the door is better than a day on this side.

Every moment that we wait, biding our time, waiting for the perfect opportunity, is a moment wasted, and worse, a door that closes, possibly not to open again for a long time to come.”

p.s. I’ve updated the Clear-Minded Creative About Page with a new Mission Statement on why creative people should ignore doubters and critics, which was in no small part inspired by Seth Godin’s work.

4 Things That Make Instagram Special

Have Instagram signed their suicide note?

There’s a big hoo-ha today because Instagram have decided to change their terms and conditions from the 16th January 2013, giving them free reign to sell users’ content & activity within the app to third party advertisers.

And I’ll admit, I’m pretty upset. Like, I could kill a zombie scarecrow upset (see obligatory Instagram picture).

After all, I just wrote about Instagram in the Pimp Your Online Presence Microguide, and now I’ll have to update it already.

More than that, I really like using Instagram. But judging by some comments I’ve seen on Twitter and Facebook a lot of people have a negative perception of it.

In the same way that Twitter is seen by non-users as a place where people only share trivial details like what they had for breakfast, Instagram has become misconstrued as a place for hipsters to share what they had for lunch.

However I believe that as with any social network, the users are what make it. I get a lot out of the posts by people I follow on Instagram, and here are the three things which I think made it great prior to them deciding to shaft their users.

1. Immediacy

Instagram is incredibly easy to use from a smartphone, meaning you can share a moment while it’s happening or not long after. This makes for a much more compelling experience as a follower than being hit by 100 photos all at once on Facebook or Twitter. It also means you must choose photos more carefully. No one wants to see 15 photos from the same person in their Instagram feed.

2. Beauty

A lot of people turn their noses up at what’s been termed ‘iPhoneography’, as if it’s not possible to take great photos with a cameraphone. I say bullshit to that. Every day I see incredible pictures on Instagram.

Some people are also sick of seeing so many pictures with Instagram’s signature filters. They think that it’s somehow dishonest to change an original photo, or that the filters make all the photos posted look the same.

Personally I think they’re a great way to improve the look of my photos and add a certain amount of timelessness to them. It works for me aesthetically anyway, and it saves messing around with settings when your priority is to share something in the moment.

3. Community

On Instagram you don’t have to read a lot of nonsense to find out what your friends or the people you follow are up to. You can get a stronger sense of how their day is going from a well-chosen picture. There’s very little negativity or rehashing of tired internet memes either – just people taking a moment out of their day to be observant and a little creative.

4. Continuity

I personally use Instagram as a photo diary, sharing moments which I want to have a record of, and that I think might interest other people. I also use it to keep up with other people’s lives as they unfold. It’s a great way of telling a story over time.

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It’s Facebook’s Fault

Ok, I’ll admit, the writing was on the wall the minute Instagram was acquired by Facebook. But these terms and conditions are even worse than those on Facebook as there appears to be no way to opt-out. On Facebook you can adjust your privacy settings to stop them taking too much advantage of your personal data – but this doesn’t seem to be the case with Instagram as it currently stands.

What I’m hoping is enough people will complain that it will force Facebook/Instagram to back down, as has happened in the past with Facebook itself. If that’s the case, maybe I can justify keeping my Instagram account past the 16th January. I will use it until then but will probably look for alternatives (though I don’t think there are any that would provide the same community/continuity aspects).

The worst part of this is it proves just how bad Zuckerberg and Co’s attitude towards our personal data really is – and it’s likely Facebook will keep pushing us in this direction on all of their platforms.

What about you? Will you boycott Instagram and/or Facebook or are you still convinced Instagram was just a place for hipster posturing?

Update: 

Instagram have responded to the outcry from users and begun to ‘clarify’ what they really meant by the terms and conditions (thanks to Tim for the heads up!). Hopefully they will make it crystal clear so that I and others can continue to enjoy Instagram without worrying about our content being misused.

 

Pimp Your Online Presence in Six Steps

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Today I’m releasing the 3rd Microguide in the Career Masterplan for Mad Geniuses series. it’s packed with 58 phat pages making it the biggest and juiciest guide so far. And it’s completely free to download until Wednesday 12th December, after which it will only be available for subscribers. To get your free copy, subscribe to the Clear-Minded Creative Newsletter.

Not only that, but you can also listen to the Pimp Your Online Presence Official Soundtrack on Spotify. It’s Hip Hop through and through, so if you’re easily offended by that sort of thing, you might want to pass. It features the likes of cover star Snoop Doggy Dogg (or whatever he’s calling himself these days), Kanye West and er.. Betty Boo. Of course.

There’s loads in the guide, but basically it boils down to six key steps:

1. Determining Your Digital Identity

Choosing what domain name to use and who your audience will be, as well as personal branding.

2. Planning Your Platform

Which software will you use? WordPress comes out the winner, but will it be WordPress.com or WordPress.org?

3. All is Not What it Themes

Choosing a decent theme for your blog

4. Go Postal

Setting up an email newsletter

5. Social Media Smack-Down

Getting started with social media (and avoiding over-whelm)

6. Planning Your Publishing Strategy

Putting some thought into what you’ll be posting online and how often.

So if you want to know more, subscribe to the Clear-Minded Creative Newsletter.

If you like it, share it!

And let me know what you think in the comments, especially if I’ve missed anything.

p.s. Problogger currently has a great sale on blogging ebooks (all of them are just $10) if you want to get really serious about this schizzle (affiliate link) (sale ended Dec 2012).

 

Headspace

It’s a No-Brainer: Headspace is the Easiest Way to Start Meditating

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Meditation. What does that word mean to you?

To some it will be a bit too airy fairy, and only something for hippies or weirdos. Or you might have heard a lot about it, but are unsure how to even go about getting started.

Well if you’re willing to look past your preconceptions or fears around meditation, you might want to try Headspace’s free Take Ten programme, which offers ten guided meditations lasting ten minutes.

Headspace takes a very modern approach, using great web and mobile design to help people establish a daily meditation habit. Each day you are guided through the process by Andy Puddicombe. Puddicombe is a former Buddhist monk, so he knows his stuff!

Update: I’ve now completed the full Headspace program. I speak a little bit more about it, and the differences between mindfulness meditation and transcendental meditation in this podcast:

Why is Meditation Useful for Creative People?

I’m sure a lot of people reading this are attracted to the idea of taking some time out of their day in order to calm their mind. After all, with all the ideas and thoughts floating around our minds, us creative types probably need it more than most.

In fact, given the title of this blog, it’s perhaps surprising that I haven’t discussed meditation in depth before now.

The fact is that both anecdotal and scientific evidence have shown that there are widespread benefits to meditating regularly. I’m already feeling the benefits! The Headspace site has loads more info on this.

Why now?

You might want to try it now in order to help calm your mind at a busy and often stressful time of year. Or you may want to start doing it in the New Year. Thankfully, 10 minutes a day for 10 days is very manageable.

The truth is that whilst I’ve tried different meditation techniques in the past, I’ve never made it a regular habit.

And having given up drinking alcohol for what I’m calling ‘a Year of Clarity’ it made sense to try and establish a new, positive habit of meditating to take advantage of those mornings without a hangover.

Here are some of the positives and a few drawbacks of the Headspace approach. Bear in mind that the main Headspace programme takes a full year and there is a charge for it, so this free programme is obviously designed to get you to sign up to the full programme. However whilst you need to sign up with an email address, there is no charge for Take Ten itself.

Headspace phonePositives

  • Beautiful and useful design of both the website and mobile apps.
  • Very well designed apps for both iPhone and Android mean if you have a smartphone, you can access the Take Ten programme for free anywhere with a 3G connection.
  • The Take Ten programme is an extremely simple ‘taster’. Each meditation is guided so you can’t really go wrong.
  • It’s free!
  • You can set up reminders in the app so that you don’t forget to take part
  • There are videos which help you to approach the meditation including the best way to sit, and the best time to do the practice. Puddecombe suggests first thing in the morning, and I’ve found that repeating it a second time each day works really well.
I only found a few, very minor niggles about the Headspace system. Nothing’s perfect, after all and I’m sure these are things they could improve in future.

Negatives

  • You need to give your email address and you will be sent about 3 emails prompting you to sign up to the full programme. I would have preferred to only receive one email at the end, but perhaps the repetition helps people remember and you do get offered a decent discount on the normal annual fee which helps. The ‘from’ field in the email also says ‘lapsed’ which was a bit off-putting.
  • On one of the days there was some downtime on the Headspace server, meaning I couldn’t access the meditation recording on the phone app. However this does seem to be a rare occurrence as I have now signed up to the full year and done 10 more days without any problems.
  • There are videos in the app, but annoyingly they can’t be watched in landscape mode on my iPhone so they are very small. Apart from this, the app is very well designed, but this does irritate me every time a video pops up (some of the recordings have an additional video intro from Andy).

If you do sign up for the full year, you’ll get guided meditations for every single day of that year, which go through a number of different themes. The first programme once you sign up is Take Fifteen. Things do gradually become a little more complex as the days go by, but it’s manageable so far. Also by the end of the year you will have received guidance on how to meditate on your own.

Of course you could just as easily learn how to meditate from someone you know who is already doing it, or from a book, but I love the Headspace approach because it is making establishing a daily habit extremely easy and pleasurable. As the title of this review suggests, as far as I’m concerned, signing up was a no-brainer.

Here’s a good intro video if you want to find out a bit more.

Sign up here: www.getsomeheadspace.com

Let me know in the comments if you are going to try the Take Ten programme. Or, if you already meditate, let us know what benefits you’ve experienced from your practice.

If you found this post useful, you might also enjoy my free ebook ‘Refresh Your Mindset’ which is available free when you subscribe. (You can read an extract here).

Design Your Own Curriculum Micro-Guide

To get Design Your Own Curriculum (and the other micro-guides when they’re published), sign up to the newsletter now!

This free micro-guide is all about how formal education may no longer be necessary in order to achieve our creative and career goals.

Why? Chiefly because of the online education revolution.

That’s why I’ve included a handy list of amazing online resources for Clear-Minded Creative Types.

Of course as you can tell from the Clear-Minded Classics series, I’m still a big fan of that old favourite, books – whether of the dead tree variety or on a new fangled fancy e-reader or tablet device thingy. I talk about the benefits of those too.

And I also include various approaches to deciding what to learn and ways to actually fit your self-directed learning into your life, including the concept of ‘Beducation’ (TM) which I think you might like..

It’s arrived a little later than originally planned because I wasn’t happy with the first version, so I went back and added a lot more content and tweaked what was already there. I hope you’ll find it even more useful!

This is the third free guide in a seven part series. The first part is completely free (no sign up required):

The Career Masterplan for Mad Geniuses (Micro-Manifesto)

To get Design Your Own Curriculum (and the other micro-guides when they’re published), sign up to the newsletter now!

Cover photo by Dospaz

Resources photo by Johan Larsson