The most useful advice on writing I’ve ever received comes from Gil Rogin, who told me that he always uses his best thing in his lead, and his second best thing in his last paragraph; and from Dwight Macdonald, who wrote that the best advice he ever received was to put everything on the same subject in the same place. To these dictums I would add the advice to ask yourself repeatedly: what is this about?

THOMAS POWERS

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richardsala:

A variety of old sketchbook drawings ~ including some of “Mr. Murmur,” the character from my Dark Horse comic book one-shot Thirteen O’Clock (which was an affectionate homage to 1930s-era pulps & serials; it was later reprinted in the book Maniac Killer Strikes Again!).

Christine Kane, Upleveling, and an updated seminar

In July 2010, I’d made the big decision to leave the PhD program. I was back working part-time at my old job, turning over the strange things I’d experienced. And feeling a bit adrift. The PhD promised a roadmap of sorts, after all, and I’d just balled up that map and thrown it out the window. As i wondered what my next step would be, Christine Kane offered her Uplevel Your Life seminar (affiliate link). I can’t remember how I ran across her web site, but I had added her to my short list of RSS feeds and then signed up for her newsletter. I liked her story – she’d made herself into a singer/songwriter, then entrepreneur, then coach – and her blog posts struck me as sensible and sane bits of self-management advice.

I signed up for the course, enjoyed it, and still use some of her materials today. Christine is now launching an updated version of that seminar and as one of her alums, I'm happy to write about what I got out of her program and offer links to her new program.

Here are some of the things I remember about Christine’s course:

  • I liked receiving an email every day for the 49 days of the course. I always looked forward to what would come next. The daily anticipation definitely added to the positive excitement surrounding the workshop.
  • I liked the self-examination aspects. I’d lost touch with some basics about myself and while I can’t say I’m absolutely clear yet, this was the perfect time to ask those deeper questions.
  • She provides a bewildering number of exercises, questionnaires, and tools – including the Essential Leak Repair List and the Gratitudes, Gifts, and Gains practice – that if you make them a part of your daily/weekly/monthly habits, will certainly change how you think about your patterns and make you more mindful of what you’re creating or inviting in to your life.
  • Christine is great about giving you permission to do the workshop imperfectly. Many people called in worried that they were behind, how do they catch up, etc. And Christine was great about (repeatedly) telling us to breathe and relax. (The workshop’s emails were sent again after the 49 days were up, so you could re-experience and review what may have gone by too quickly the first time.)
  • Christine is always forward looking about the technology and she and her staff were quite well-organized. She provided the daily messages as emails, PDFs, and MP3 recordings for loading on an iPod. Her weekly calls were also recorded and downloadable. She had set up a Ning group for the participants (I expect it's Facebook now). She was also among the first gurus who started using video essays and instructionals extensively and they’re now an essential part of her marketing.
  • A bonus: the stuff I paid for I can still get access to, unlike some other programs where your access ends after the program is over.
  • The program had its analog aspects too. A couple of binders where you could print out and store emails, forms, and journal. There really is something different about writing your thoughts out by hand. I created my own index to the materials so I could find specific topics or exercises more quickly.
  • The workshop is a 7-stage “program” with each step forming the focus of a week’s readings. She says this is the process she used to heal herself from bulimia, and that it provides a foundation for the work she does today.
  • Christine packs a lot of wisdom in her readings for the course. I recognized some of her anecdotes and messages from other of her blog posts, but there was plenty of fresh material. Like many another guru, she has her own vocabulary for some concepts I recognized from other gurus’ material. But her spin was feminine, gentle, humorous, yet still challenging.
  • And memorable. I’m sure my mastermind partners are tired of my piping up, “Well, Christine Kane says this about that…”
  • I think I was one of the few males in her audience. As you can tell from her web site, women make up her target audience.
  • Because it’s a big group seminar, and there was only one group phone call a week, no one gets one-on-one time with Christine Kane. She’s running a business now, so if you want F2F time with her, you buy into one of her bigger programs where you pay for the chance to maybe interact with her in a smaller group or, for more money, more exclusive access. I wasn’t too bothered by this – a gal must eat and her business’s dollar targets must be reached. I got excellent value from the readings and the weekly calls (even talked to her on-air a few times), and it was worth what I paid.
  • She responded to emailed questions in separate recordings and took the time she needed to give very thoughtful answers. There were some weeks where she’d record an extra 2 or more hours of Q&A and that’s where many of my questions were addressed. I still enjoy relistening to those recordings on my iPod; she’s an empathetic listener and sympathetic advice-giver. I love studying how she responds to a question, breaks down its components, and responds with spot-on advice.
  • Yeah, she may be a bit woo-woo now and then (what’s your enneagram?), but she’s also pretty hard-headed. As she likes to point out, she’s now running a million-dollar business. So take what works for you and keep an open mind about the rest.

I enjoyed Christine’s program and I do recommend it for anyone who has questions about themselves and their lives and doesn’t know what to do first, wants to sort things out in a self-study format, at their own speed, and wants a sensible plan with an excellent guide. You’ll definitely finish the program with certain ideas and phrases floating in your mind that I guarantee you’ll access when you least expect them and most need them. Again, examine the Uplevel Your Life seminar material for yourself, if you’re interested.

I have continued to follow Christine’s rise and rise, and here a few things I’ve noticed. I don’t think these observations should stop anyone from signing up for her workshop. This is me reading between the lines:

  • The Uplevel Your Life program is the gateway drug for CK’s Uplevel Your Business program, where she teaches entrepreneurs systems and techniques for growing their businesses.
  • It’s pretty clear that Christine’s creativity is now finding its fruition in growing her business (as I said earlier, she frequently touts that she runs a million-dollar enterprise) and working with her students rather than expressing herself through music and art. (I haven’t heard of her producing any new songs or performing, anyway.)
  • Her miles-long marketing copy on the final landing pages for her programs look like all the other miles-long marketing landing pages I’ve seen for other programs: a blend of anecdote, marketing, testimonials, bonus offers (a $x value for only $y!), and calls to action. Christine is big on being authentic in your marketing, and I’m sure she is using authentic language to clothe her points, while using time-tested marketing and direct sale/copywriting techniques. Still – I instinctively resist being sold to and I have to kind of hold my nose as I read those pages. While her vocation is teaching and coaching, her business is getting new customers. And to stay on top of that million-dollar summit requires more assertive techniques. Hence, the landing pages, the free telecalls, etc.
  • She holds similar free phone calls for her business programs, and the information she gives away on those free calls is always top-notch and sensible. But starting a business has not been a priority for me, so I listened to the first one and then passed. If you don’t already have a business, then I don’t know how much value you’d find climbing CK’s ladder of commitments. I certainly felt left out of the excitement, but then, that seminar isn’t for middle-aged men who don’t have entrepreneurial ideas.
  • That said, if I had a business (and full disclosure: CK told me in one of the UYL calls that I should think about it), I don’t know how comfortable I’d feel at her business workshops, which include several in-person conference meetings. As I said, her focus is on women-owned businesses – I don’t know how many men attend or even if that’s an important aspect to consider. Or why that should hold me back, if I really wanted to go.
  • Although I don’t know who else is teaching the stuff that Christine is teaching, I know that she had to learn it from somewhere. She talks a lot about the coaching she has paid for over the course of her career, and I’m sure much of what she learned is probably well-known the higher up you go in those circles. Just as the information she shares in UYL is pretty well-known and traded if you read a lot of other gurus’ material and self-help content.

I think only a few rare people can improve themselves all on their own. I, for one, am someone who benefits from the coaching model: someone who will give me assignments, hold me accountable, and kick my ass when it needs kicking. Even in this self-directed, self-paced format, I think Christine Kane proves herself to be an excellent coach, and I find myself coming back to her materials often.

Click the banner below for more information on Christine's program. Full disclosure: these are affiliate links so if you sign up for Christine's program via the links on this page, then Christine's business sends a few bucks my way as a thank-you.

Uplevel Your Life 2013 banner

 

In September of 1968, in what he jokingly termed “E. Gorey’s Great Simple Theory About Art,” Gorey wrote these Yodaesque words:

“This is the theory… that anything that is art… is presumably about some certain thing, but is really always about something else, and it’s no good having one without the other, because if you just have the something it is boring and if you just have the something else it’s irritating.”

When I teach literature I always tell them, these would-be writers (we don’t do workshops, we just read great books), I say, “When you read Pride and Prejudice, don’t if you’re a girl identify with Elizabeth Bennet, if you’re a boy with Darcy. Identify with the author, not with the characters.” All good readers do that automatically, but I think it’s helpful to make that clear. Your affinity is not with the characters, always with the writer.

You should always be asking yourself, if you want to become an expert reader or perhaps a writer, you should always say, “How is this being achieved?” “How is this scene being managed?” “How is this being brought off?” Because the characters are artifacts. They’re not real people with real destinies and I know that feeling, when you’re reading Pride and Prejudice even for the fourth time, you feel definite anxiety about whether they’re going to get married, even though you know perfectly well that they do. There’s a slight sort of, “Come on, kiss her!”

MARTIN AMIS

You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.

MARGARET ATWOOD

richardsala:

From the RIP card set of strange phenomena ~ (1) Rain of fish (2) Psychic detective (3) Spontaneous combustion (4) Real life vampire (5) Fire ghost (6) Ghost hunter

Something Should Remain Unsaid

Narrative art must be clear, but it must also be mysterious. Something should remain unsaid, something just beyond our understanding, a secret. If it’s only clear, it’s kitsch; if it’s only mysterious (a much easier path), it’s condescending and pretentious and soon monotonous.

STEPHEN SONDHEIM


Something Should Remain Unsaid

Red carpets, interviews and social networking are all alien to him. When a friend told him that he was trending on Twitter following his debut as Moriarty, he made a rare foray online. “So terrifying,” he says burying his head in his hands. “I would never go on it again. Oh God, it just made me want to go to sleep for three weeks. People said lovely things but then people also said the most vicious, horrible things. It’s an outlet for the angry. It’s like going into a room and being punched, then kissed, then hugged, then kicked, then complimented and then slated.”

If you use willpower only to deny yourself pleasures, it becomes a grim, thankless form of defense. But when you use it to gain something, you can wring pleasure out of the dreariest tasks. Young people who seem hopelessly undisciplined in school or on the job will concentrate for hour after hour on video games because there’s a steady series of prizes. That’s the feeling to aim for in the real world.

In order to move up the scale of emotions and become more
attractive to the things you want in life, all you need to do is
let go of your story - the idea that having what you want will
in any way change your life for the better or for the worse.

When you recognize that you don’t need what you want, you’re
free to have it - and freedom is perhaps the ultimate goal…

The second secret, what they never tell you, is that yes, anyone can become a writer. Merely consider any novel by Judith Krantz and you’ll know it’s true. The trick is not to become a writer, it is to stay a writer. Day after day, year after year, book after book. And for that, you must keep working, even when it seems beyond you. In the words-to-live-by of Thomas Carlyle, “Produce! Produce! Were it but the pitifullest infinitesimal fraction of a Product, produce it in God’s name! ‘Tis the utmost thou has in thee: out with it, then. Up, up! Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy whole might. Work while it is called Today; for the Night cometh, wherein no man can work.”

“Everyone thinks that Beethoven had his string quartets completely in his head—they somehow formed in his head—and all he had to do was write them down, and they would kind of be manifest to the world. But what I think is so interesting, and what would really be a lesson that everybody should learn, is that things come out of nothing. Things evolve out of nothing. You know, that the tiniest seed in the right situation turns into the most beautiful forest. And then the most promising seed in the wrong situation turns into nothing. And I think this would be important for people to understand, because it gives people confidence in their own lives that that’s how things work.

If you walk around with the idea that there are some people who are so gifted—they have these wonderful things in their head but you’re not one of them, you’re just sort of a normal person, you could never do anything like that—then you live a different kind of life. You could have another kind of life, where you say, well, I know that things come from nothing very much, and start from unpromising beginnings. And I’m an unpromising beginning, and I could start something.”

Brian Eno
quoted in Brian Eno’s Another Green World by Geeta Dayal (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2009), 31.

Be Daring

Be daring, take on anything. Don’t labor over little cameo works in which every word is to be perfect. Technique holds a reader from sentence to sentence, but only content will stay in his mind.

JOYCE CAROL OATES


Be Daring