Learning all the Time

In the last year, I have been on a journey of learning how to market my personal brand. It has been interesting and challenging, especially as I don't usually have as much time to devote to it as I would like.

Even though I have been a musician for, well, my whole life, and even though I took music in college, most of my business experience has been in fields not related to being an artist. When I went through Red Deer College, their business track was still separate from their other tracks, and I chose Composition. (Thankfully, they have since remedied that, and ALL music students now take a business class, which is as it should be.)

What bits and pieces I have picked up over the years for how to market myself (which eventually grew to include being a designer and author), and the changes implemented, were gained haphazardly and in pieces, without much rhyme nor reason behind them. Okay, so I needed a musician's website. I got one in 2010. Now what? I already had a family blog, which I maintained regularly, and maintaining a separate, "music-only" blog was a lot of work. In fact, by that time, I think I had four blogs on the go that were aimed at each of my different ventures, and the only one I could seem to update with any regularity (or garner much following on) was my personal, family blog. There was just too much to do!

And I needed a Facebook page, apparently. So I got one to go with every blog, plus one more for my Young Living business. Whew! That's a lot of work, too! (I still have all of those. I am seriously thinking of paring down.)

Last year, as I finally reached the lesson in Holly Lisle's "How to Think Sideways - Novel-Writing Course" about building your author platform, I realized that I was spread way too thin to actually have any time at all left to do what I really want to do to earn a living--namely, write books, music, and knitting patterns. So after thinking long and hard, I decided that all of those things were part of me, the creative me, and all of those things (plus my family blog, which I love, and other people seemed to like to read) could live and breathe in the same space on the web, just like they do in my head.

On any given day, I will spend time:

  • working on the revision or formatting of my upcoming story
  • thinking about and/or writing my next novel
  • thinking about and/or working on my next knitting design
  • blogging
  • thinking about and/or writing a song or arranging music I have already written
  • putting in volunteer hours for Heart4Children Canada

Now, granted, I only have SO much time. So those things do NOT all happen on the same day (or rarely.) Usually, 3-4 of those happen on any given day, and I try to make sure that all of them happen every single week.

So, that is why I redesigned my web presence last summer and created the new, improved Now, instead of maintaining nearly a dozen sites (plus associated social media) really, really poorly, I figured I would have a shot at doing a handful of things well, or at least better than I had been. So far, that's been working out pretty well, but there is still room for improvement.

It was also thanks to Holly Lisle that I started using Twitter for the first time ever. I kinda had to be dragged kicking and screaming, because I already had enough things taking up my time. And honestly, some days I wondered if the time invested in building a Twitter following would be worth it and pay off in the end.

But! It was because of someone's post on Twitter that I found the awesome website of Kristen Lamb, and started following her blog. Not to mention, I really have met some very cool and interesting people on Twitter, and have even met other musical theatre composers (which, strangely, there are not a lot of in the Peace Country!) Kristen Lamb's passion is to teach other writers how to succeed, and a good part of what she teaches is the effective use of social media.

I have lapped it up, in the small bites I have had the time to chew on it.

Then, I got asked to teach a class on Online Marketing. After my initial reaction of "I don't think I'm qualified", I thought about it and realized that even though I may not be an "expert" yet, I do know a lot. I definitely know a few things not to do. However, I thought it might be a good idea to gain a little more information from a real expert. So on Tuesday night, I bought Kristen Lamb's book and started reading.

WOW! The stuff in there is blowing my mind. On the one hand, it has been gratifying to know that some of the steps I have already taken (motivated by the desire to preserve my sanity) such as gathering all my different creative aspects into one place were the right thing to do. There are a few other things I have been doing right, too. Yay!

And I wouldn't say that I have been doing anything wrong, precisely, except maybe blundering around without much of a plan. I had vague notions of what I wanted to accomplish, but no real direction on how to get there, and not much evidence that what I was doing would get me there, either.

I am SO excited about what I am learning. The more I learn, and more experience I have, the more I can see how achievable my goals and dreams are, with consistent work and effort. I know, we hear that all the time, right? But doing the wrong kind of work will not get you what you want. Tinkering with the tractor all day, every day will not get the field plowed.

So often, young artists are willing to put in the work to achieve their dreams (I know I was, and still am), but have absolutely NO idea what that work should be. The advice one receives is often vague and hazy, because those who made it as musicians and writers using traditional models don't know how to do it in this brave new digital world (and they don't really need to), and the few runaway internet successes (like Justin Bieber) often seem to get there more through chance than actual work--but those are what young people look at and try to emulate as "the way to do it." With an actual plan, one knows what steps need to be taken to achieve the goal. Steps that have a track record of success for hundreds of other people. And suddenly, the work required does not seem so daunting, or the dream so frustrating.

Kristen's book is geared toward authors. However, as someone who writes more than just books, I think the advice is applicable to anyone whose brand is themselves. When she talks about selling books, substitute your own product. The advice she gives about how to use social media is applicable across the board--and in fact, I will be able to incorporate parts of that into my retail, investment-capital-business, too.

Do you have any great resources for online marketing that you would recommend? What are your top five favourite social media platforms for your own online marketing?

Happy Thursday, friends!

Reality Check

It was an innocent enough comment, I thought.

I "followed" successful New York Musical Theatre composer and lyricist Timothy Huang on Twitter. When he "followed" me back, I sent the thank you message I send to everyone, with the added comment "I dream of writing Broadway musicals."

And he called my bluff. He wrote me back. And he said, "May I ask what steps you are taking towards realizing your dream?"


I don't know why he asked that... With further exploration of his web presence, I found out he seems to be a bit of a coach at heart. Maybe even a teacher. And he might have heard a hopeful dreamer whispering in the dark, and wanted to see just how serious she was.

Maybe not. But as soon as I read it, I knew it for what it was--a question that required an honest answer. A question that I had been avoiding the answer to for myself. The spotlight was suddenly on my excuses, and I couldn't hide them from myself any more.

I got angry with myself. Because Candace and I have been working on Queen of Persia for FOURTEEN YEARS--but not really. We worked on it for short, concentrated bursts over a span of fourteen years. And had those bursts been "concentrated" not only in effort, but in time elapsed from each other, we could possibly have not only one published play, but several by now.

Thus rang the thoughts of self-condemnation in my head. Followed quickly by the well-practised excuses. "... The kids were too young... I've been too busy... I was home schooling... I've been learning how to write music/tell stories/write musicals better.. I've been too busy investing time into my 'investment capital' business, which leaves no time for the creative stuff..." And on and on.

But "what steps am I taking towards realizing my dream?"

Not enough. That's all I could come up with.

Several years ago, when I had gotten tired of constantly being frustrated at the slow pace I was advancing in each of my various activities and projects, but knowing that I really couldn't give up much more than I already had at the time, I had an epiphany:

A sweater gets knit one stitch at a time. As long as you keep making stitches, the sweater will eventually be finished. Dresses get sewn one step at a time. And novels get written one page at a time. Or one sentence. Or word.

Progress may be slow. But as long as progress is being made, things will eventually be accomplished.

But have I been making steps towards getting Queen of Persia onto a stage? Not really. Not for about four years, now. If that sweater only got one stitch every four years, or even a few rows in that time, it would take a lifetime to complete.

And getting a musical finished and produced takes a lot more effort than knitting a sweater.

"What steps am I taking towards realizing my dream?"

It's funny, because for the last week or so, a voice has been niggling in my brain that it is time to finish. It's time to move forward with this dream, to really begin the career that I have dreamed of since I was in college. Yesterday, I emailed Candace and asked her about a possible next step, and told her a couple things I was thinking of doing, just kind of testing the waters. Testing, because I'm still a little afraid--not of the work, but of my own lack of resolve. Will this be the time that I will follow it to the end? We are SO. CLOSE. Kind of. Not really. Where do we even go from here?

This morning, with that simple question asked by a complete stranger, the lid was blown off the container of my fears. I sat down and composed an email to Mr. Huang that actually did outline the steps that I have known to do but have been avoiding for four years. When I was done, the anger at myself was gone.

In its place is resolve. It IS time. If my pastor and church elders could give me their blessing to sacrifice an entire winter of going to church in 2010 so that I could compose from morning to night that day (at the time, the ONLY niche I could carve out of my schedule to do so), holed up in my freezing cold bedroom (which is where the piano was then), then I owe it to them to finish it. If my husband was willing to sacrifice his Sundays with me, taking over sole responsibility for child care so I could compose undisturbed for one day a week for six months, then I know (for this reason and so many others) that he is behind me 100% on this project. I owe it to him to finish it. If my co-writer can keep reminding me and encouraging me and being passionate about this project, after fourteen years and eight kids between us and moves and misunderstandings and remaining friends through it all, I owe it to her to finish it.

And if, after fourteen years, I still want this so badly that when I allow myself to think about it, to dream it, to feel that flame in my heart that I try to ignore most of the time because the heat would burn and bring me to tears (like right now), then I owe it to myself to finish it.

There is no other dream I have (with the exception of seeing a world where the poor and orphans are cared for properly) that brings me to tears. I don't lose sleep over what knitting patterns I will write in the next year. I don't burn with frustration that my next novel isn't progressing as quickly as I would like. The only dream I have yet to accomplish that leaves my gut twisted with unrequited desire for it is to write music for a living. And specifically, to get Queen of Persia to the stage.

What steps am I taking towards realizing my dream?

Starting tonight, I will be working on the revision Candace and I started in 2012. And continuing on my list of steps from there.

With one step at a time, the journey will finally reach completion. I can't see the end of the road right now, but at least I'm finally walking on it again.

Thank you, Mr. Huang. It was an innocent enough question. But it was exactly what I needed.