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Boo: The Scaredy Halloweenie Cat

Boo, the little black cat, poked her head around the corner of the barn. The night was dark and spooky. Winds howled.  The moon hid behind some clouds.

Boo trembled.

“Hissss”, said the snake in the yard.

Boo tiptoed forward. It was just a garden hose spitting water.

“Caw, caw,” cackled from the top of a tree. A dark shape swooped down.

Boo trembled.

Swoosh. Something flew past, scooping up a treat to eat.  It was only a bird.

Boo trembled, as she dashed into the house.

“Boo!” Emilie said, as she picked her up. “Boo! My little scaredy halloweenie cat!”

 

And that was my entry for a fun Halloween writing contest. 100 words (Yes, or 101) and making perfect use of the words cackle (or some other variation) black cat and spooky.

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Nerds Get Ready – Web Hosting for Dummies is Here!

By now I’m sure most of the planet is aware of the yellow and black For Dummies franchise of books. If you’re like me you own one or two or ten. I’m not going to lie, I’m a nerd and I embrace my nerdiness and overwhelming need or burning desire to delve into all things techie. There…I’ve said it.

My techno-need appetite can frequently be satisfied by plucking one of these gold and black treasures off of the bookshelf and devouring a chapter or two or ten. Of course, when a new title in this series comes out I find it hard to resist purchasing it. Okay, maybe that’s not 100% true. I think I just saw a Vampires for Dummies book and I had no problem not buying it. Nothing against you vampires out there, it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

So, you can imagine my delight when I received a brand new, advance copy of Web Hosting for Dummies written by Peter Pollock. That was probably a squeal of joy heard around the world.

Not only was it a For Dummies book, which we’ve already established that I love, but it was Web Hosting for Dummies and our graphic and web design company provides web hosting. Life just doesn’t get any better than this. (Unless Wiley Publishing were to hire me to write one of yellow and black books and then I’d probably think I’d died and gone to heaven. Did you hear that Wiley?)

Well anyway, back to the book. Since I’m no dummy about web hosting I decided NOT to fall into instant love with this book. The plan was to read it from cover to cover and rip it into small shreds, looking for every tiny little error within its pages.

Darn you, Peter Pollock! Between your unique laid-back, easy to read and understand writing style and your in depth technical knowledge my evil plan was foiled. The more I read the more I loved the book. Seriously, I carried the book around the house with me ranting and raving loudly as I read the chapters.

“This is what I was trying to explain to a client last week! It’s perfect,” or “Ah ha! Even a dummy could understand it if I explained it that way.” (No offense to any of my clients with that last comment, of course.)

This book will not going on my bookshelf – absolutely not. This yellow and black gem is going to have a special place of honor on my desk as a quick reference. Peter Pollock has written a brilliant book overflowing with invaluable information for newbies and seasoned professionals alike. I’m certain that Peter Pollock’s daytime disguise as a writer is really masking his alter ego. He’s a web hosting superhero. Step aside Spiderman – here comes WebMan!

Come back and read my next blog and I’ll share some individual nuggets of information that I gleaned from Web Hosting for Dummies.

Balancing Act

As a business owner running a successful enterprise I can’t afford to have an employee mentality. There’s no such thing as punching the time clock and working 8:00 to 5:00. It seems like my work day is never done,always emails to answer, billing to catch up on, bills to pay, office supplies to purchase and an assortment of little things that just need to be done.

Add to that the last minute emergency projects that always seem to crop up, pushing aside what I had planned and my life could easily revolve around work, work and more work. I think like most business owners I want to project an image of the woman who can do it all, balancing work, family and leisure activities. Sometimes though, its the family and leisure activities that suffer. I really try not to let that happen.

There are times that my phone rings as early as 7:00 a.m. and as late as 11:00 p.m. Why? I’m not really sure. Maybe its because people know I work a lot – seemingly all the time. Maybe they just assume that I want to be be woke up early to answer a question that could easily wait until regular business hours. I don’t know. I did really question the new client who called at 1:00 a.m. to order business cards. Did they really expect any business to answer at that hour of the night? So I’ll be honest, there are times that I don’t answer my phone. I don’t answer when I’m in a meeting, when I’m on a crunch project that I need to finish and I don’t answer when I’m watching my son’s school performance. Then I’m an engaged in the moment.

I even schedule days off. Fun, adventure days to go and explore the world, recharge my creative batteries, take photos, people watch (great for a writer!) or just hang out at the movies with my son. I think those moments are important too. They help to make up for working until 1:00 a.m. and setting my alarm for 3:00 a.m. to finish a project that my client ‘forgot’ they needed until the day before a big presentation.

There are times it feels like walking a tightrope trying to keep it all in balance. I just end up weighing what’s important in my life and what has to be done right now. Like today. I have a list of projects to get done and my son really wants me to take a break and watch his dress rehearsal. I’m lucky. Lunch is now scheduled for 2:00 so that I can be there. Yeah, the lunch that I don’t normally take because I’m working. Like I said, it’s all about balance.

I am an addict…

Okay, I admit it. I have an addiction, a serious addiction. And I’m not going to do anything about it. That’s just the way it is. No apologies. No excuses. I like the way it feels when I do it. I’ve been doing it for years and there are times when I don’t do the things I should do because I’m doing it.

I fed my addiction today and I feel so much better. I just can’t help it. I went to the bookstore to pick up a book on origami for an art class that I’m teaching on Saturday and to have on hand for my regular art students and there, right in front of me…I was too weak to resist. I picked up one and then quickly snatched up another and by then I didn’t care, when I saw the third and fourth ones I tucked them under my arm and sauntered in to find my origami book. Finally I found it but not before I’d put a fifth one in my hands….books.

Now, before you get upset and think I should have used some control and not over-indulged, in my own defense, four of them were buy one get one free, so really, was it that bad? I knew when I went there it would be almost impossible to resist getting some for myself. I could barely contain myself, I wanted to read them all at once. I wanted to devour the words, savoring the smells and feel of the pages, the delectable words waiting to dance around in my head.

I am a book addict. I’ve been one since I learned to read. I read when I’m getting dressed. I read when I’m cooking dinner. I read in the restroom. I read in stolen minutes waiting in the car to pick up a child, at the doctor’s office and when I should be sleeping late at night. I am intoxicated by the places and the people (they ARE people, not characters!) that inhabit the books and my mind when I read them.

I am an addict. My addiction doesn’t hurt anyone, right? As long as its only me that suffers with this problem then I see no need to get help. So what if I read product packages? Its okay, right? I speed read so I can read more, so much more quickly. I need to read. I have to read. I will read..

I have to go now. There are five new uncracked book spines in my house, books waiting for me to read them. Blogs online asking for me to read them.

My name is Debby. I am an addict….

Thank Goodness for a System

I may have mentioned as this new year began that I have been working on a new system and organization for 2011. The best intentions seem to always be followed by chaos and client emergencies that derail my plans, turning my business into something different than I’d thought when I wrote out my business plan at the end of the previous year. Well, this year I was determined that would not happen to me. I’ve logged things in my calendar, like blogging, scheduling time and making that time important, not something that can be bumped and rearranged and finally forgotten falling by the wayside.

Thank goodness for this system or I’d be off-track already. The sad truth is I’m already running behind on what I’ve calendared, but the good news is the reason I’m behind is that the work is coming in quicker than I can keep up. Yeah, I’ll have to work double-time to catch up but that’s possible. I know what I have to do thanks to my trusty new work log. It’s easy to keep up and definitely keeping me on track.

And my calendar? Oh, my gosh! Its my new best friend. I can see that I need to make sure I check it before I schedule any meeting or event. It can be overwhelming to look at the week in advance and realize that there just might not be a free second for much of anything else but the good news is I can also see at a glance what needs to be done, what my client’s needs are and I am so much more proactive with marketing ideas for them.

Letting history repeat itself is usually looked at with disdain. Not for me this year! I’m evaluating what works and I’m certainly going to repeat it. That’s actually the advice I give my clients as well and is the thing they overlook and don’t maintain during the year.

Tracking their marketing campaigns, how many people responded and how many they converted to customers. I had someone tell me just the other day that the campaigns we ran last year packed their business but “they didn’t work as we didn’t retain that many of them.” When I suggested that the campaigns fulfilled their function and might be a good idea for us to look at their closing techniques they looked at me blankly. “But the marketing didn’t work,” they repeated. Learning to evaluate what works and what doesn’t can be a challenge. Be honest with yourself if its not the marketing collateral but something else within your business.

The history that you want to repeat is what works. I’m so lucky since I get to see lots of campaigns, for all kinds of different business types. What works for a pest control company will work for a karate dojo, you’ve just got to change the message, the call to action, but the campaign basics are still the same.

Like blogging – it works across all types of businesses and business models. Are you blogging for your business? It works. You just have to be consistent. Interested in having a regular blog and don’t have time. Let me know. I’m happy to be your ghost blogger.

Debby is a working writer, designer, artist, photographer and guest lecturer in Southern California. If you are interested in hiring her she is available for ghost blogging, strategic marketing planning, graphic and web design, photo shoots and more. You can email her at djohnson@debrongraphics.com

So, I’ve been thinking…

I realized something as I got my year-end paperwork finished up, reviewed my invoices, both paid and outstanding, and just generally looked at the year as a whole. I spend a lot of time giving my clients marketing advice, helping them to market smarter and more efficiently but I don’t do the same thing for my business.

That always gets the leftover time that I have. Whatever energy and ideas are left at the end of a day for a week, that’s what flows into my business. Now, that’s not necessarily bad, as it means I don’t have that much time for my own marketing because I’m busy, which is the point of marketing anyway. But as I was evaluating a client’s business practices and building a 2011 marketing strategies plan for them I realized that taking the time to do that for myself would actually save me time in the long run, help me keep on track, working more efficiently and putting more fun time into my life. That seemed like a good idea.

So, no marketing resolutions this year. Only promises that I keep to myself and goals that I set for my business. The first goal? Develop my own strategic marketing plan. I’ll know every month what my marketing strategies are, my email campaigns will be scheduled and go out on time, I’ll keep in closer contact with my customers by being proactive and my evenings and weekends just might be empty enough to devote more time to my other creative pursuits.

I’ve joked about putting more hours in my day, well, this really does. Interested in a strategic marketing plan for your own business let me know. I’ll be glad to help you as well.

You can email me at djohnson@debrongraphics.com

And the Light Goes On

Isn’t it funny how things sometimes just happen? I had just finished reading Julia Cameron’s newest book, The Creative Life: True Tales of Inspiration: Finding Your True North (you can read my review about that if you’d like) and had a real ‘light goes on’ moment. It was amazing. It was completely out of the blue, caught me off guard, amazing. And it was so simple. Why exactly hadn’t I thought about this before????

There I was making my bed (yes, right in the middle of the afternoon) and it struck me. It struck me hard! The book that Ms. Cameron had written portrayed her as a real live human being.  She wasn’t  ‘an author’. She wasn’t a super hero. She was a person. A real person. I felt like I got to know her, her likes and dislikes, an inside glimpse of her as just an ordinary person who happens to write.  That is when I made the connection.

I guess I’d been percolating an idea for a story for a while and it melded together with the things that I was thinking about Julia Cameron’s book and before I knew it I’d brewed up a solution to why most of my stories fall flat. The characters just aren’t real.

Let me explain it this way. You know how when someone dies, an ordinary person, the loved ones left behind suddenly sanctify them as Saint ‘Insert Name Here’.  Miraculously they have no flaws. They were perfect. Gods who walked amongst us without whom we will now flounder and live an empty hollow existence. Half the time you don’t recognize the person that they are talking about. “Uncle Phil?” you’ll ask as you hear Aunt Martha sing her praises for her recently departed saint of a husband. Yes. Uncle Phil.

Well, that’s been part of the problem with my characters I think. They are all perfect, even the non-perfect characters. The non-perfect characters are PERFECT at being the villain so they are of course perfect. Well, except to the reader of course to whom they are merely a caricature of a character. Let’s face it, if you don’t have good characters you’re not going to have a good story.  Now, here I’ve almost diverted you away from my lights on, brilliant, I finally get it moment. Almost but not quite.

So, what was it? Remember, I told you it was simple. I just need to make my characters human.  You know, like the rest of us. Let’s face it, I’m a pretty normal, regular kind of person. (No do NOT read boring here!) I try and do the right things and stay out of trouble. But, confession time, sometimes I speed. Not terrible 120 m.p.h. speeding, more like the if I get caught I’m getting a ticket maybe speeding. So why is my main character a goody-toe shoes that doesn’t speed? Or peek in her kids dresser drawers. Or sometimes walks right past litter and doesn’t pick it up. Why does she bear a huge resemblance to Uncle Phil.

And why does my bad guy have to be evil to the core? Sometimes I think if we closed our eyes and listened to stories about not so perfect characters we’d see cartoon characters flying around in our heads. Even ‘bad guys’ can have a good side. Maybe they always pick up litter, who knows?

All of this enlightenment struck me while I made my bed, stewing over the things I’d read in that little book by Julia Cameron. The story that I thought merely gave me a look into her life and had nothing to do with writing sure had an enormous impact on my writing.

Thank you Ms. Cameron, where ever you are. Here’s one writer who loved learning a lesson when she didn’t even realize she was. And here’s a special thanks from the character who got rescued by you when she didn’t realize that she needed it.