I heard this from a friend in Seattle this week: “I write with a question. After much dithering, hemming and hawing, I have found the key to my book… I would greatly appreciate your counsel on how to navigate the process of getting it published. Finding an agent, self-publishing, Amazon? This is a world about which I know nothing.” Here was my answer to her:
What an amazing place to be: right at the beginning of something new and exciting, feeling clueless, and wide open to learning! Lovely, lucky you. Take some deep breaths, find someone to celebrate, or commiserate, your current state with, and enjoy this moment. I’ll be self-publishing my eighth book this spring, and I’m still far from feeling like an expert. I think I know a few helpful things to share…
The question that you’re asking is a big one. My own short answer is this: center on who and what you love. If you love the process and the people, then you’ll be satisfied (and some days, thrilled) regardless of what happens or doesn’t happen. So part of your goal should be asking yourself these questions as you go: Do I love the process? Am I learning to say goodbye to and let go of what I don’t love? Am I making choices based at least in part on what I most love to do and who I most love to be with? How you choose to publish should reflect who you are: what you enjoy doing, what you’re good at, who you like to work with, who your community naturally is, how you and your community members/natural work mates like to work, and also, yes, at least here in the U.S. in 2018, how much money you can spend up front. I’m a present-moment person, so those are my questions. If you’re a future-leaning person, then maybe ask: Where do you see yourself and your book in 2 to 5 years? Who do you imagine will be your coworkers along the way to get there? Who will you read the book to? Where will you be? How much of a hand do you want to have in major decisions and in book promotion, distribution, and sales along the way? If you’re a learn-from-the-past person, then maybe questions like these are better questions: Who has created books or left a legacy that I respect and admire? What did they do and not do? I suggest that you talk to 4 or 5 people who have published books in the past 2 to 10 years (or longer, depending on you and your subject) related to your subject and genre so you can get a broader picture of why people choose to publish the way they do and get a clearer picture of what it takes to publish (the easier part) and to live an authoring life (the impossibly hard part if you’re not an author at heart).
If you want a really long answer, then here are some thoughts from my experience. There are hybrid approaches now, but these are your three basic choices:
- Big publishing houses. In 2009-2010, I spent about a year and a half thinking about publishing via traditional routes. That is, find an agent, shop a manuscript around, find a big publisher, work with that publisher to produce and promote the book, become J.K. Rowling, and then say whatever you want to say on Twitter without fear because the whole world has your back. In big publisher world, as a first-time author you need an agent to even be heard, unless you’re exceptionally famous or infamous. You also need a significant author platform already in place (this is all the ways you’re already listened to by the masses—such as your own blog, speaking gigs you already do, podcasts, classes you teach, programs you host, media coverage you’ve received, etc.) for your manuscript to even be considered, no matter how good it is. As the most forward-thinking and cutting edge big publishing house editor told me “In this space, we don’t start revolutions. We document revolutions that already happened, because we need to make that kind of money [big money] to survive.” So kind, he was, to say that to me, saving me years of wasted time and trouble! There are thick books of agents and publishing houses published every year to be up to date—you can ask at any bookstore for them, and start there. However, attending a few writer’s conferences is perhaps the simplest way to find an agent. You could try Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association’s (PNWA’s) next writers conference. Most big writer’s conferences set up pitch sessions that you can sign up for and then you get to pitch your book idea or manuscript to a few agents. After about 18 months of exploring this world, I decided that route wasn’t for me. I somehow knew back then that I wanted to be a full-time author: writing book after book after book regardless of what else I was doing. From my perspective back then, the big publisher world felt like choosing to spend my working life on the biggest, slowest (not to mention kind of elitist and wasteful) cruise ship on earth (where authors were deck scrubbers while others drove the ship, made the big decisions, and doled out the wages). I learned that what I enjoy is more like kayaking or sailing with a few friends—a place where everyone gets to be in charge sometimes and people adore and trust each other from the get go for their complementary skill sets. Other authors love the big publisher world. And I get it–I hate doing all the leg work for book promotions. Still, it just wasn’t for me. For one reason, even after you get an agent (which could take years, depending on how much time you have to devote to that), and then get your manuscript accepted by a big publisher (which could also take years), it can then still take an additional 1 to 3 years for the book itself to be published and reach store shelves—and this last part is on the publisher’s schedule, not yours.
- Small publishing houses. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of small publishers in the US. You can find them by asking your book nerdiest writer and reader friends (and their friends), by searching Google, and also at writer’s conferences. I suggest doing all three if you have the time. I recommend trying to find someone at a local (or emotionally local to you) small publishing house willing to talk to you about their process. Often editors from small publishing houses attend writer’s conferences where you can sign up to pitch a book idea or manuscript directly to them. You don’t necessarily need an agent with a small publisher, although you’ll most likely want an attorney to help review contracts and think about legal ramifications of some choices if you aren’t inclined to research legal questions yourself and don’t have a background in negotiations and/or mistrusting others. Artists, who tend to love and trust for a living, can be wise to partner with one kind person who mistrusts for a living. Not everyone who publishes a book is an artist, of course–you might also do fine on your own. I haven’t yet worked with a small publishing house yet, but I can now imagine doing so in the future. Likely because I’m old enough now that I have a few friends who run small publishing houses. People who run small publishing houses tend to be well, cool, from my perspective. People I enjoy spending time with. People whose passions and skills complement and stretch my own. Working with a small publisher is a far more intimate arrangement. Some small publishing houses publish just 3 to 12 books a year, so if you’re among the chosen, you are all in it to win it for your book–rising or sinking together.
- Self-publishing. This is the wild west of book publishing, and it’s where my own expertise lives. It’s still not simple, but it’s considerably simpler to self-publish in 2018 than it was 7 years ago when I started. Systems that tend toward getting simpler (not easier) with time are where I like to live, I’ve learned–likely because most of the human world is getting more complex right now. There are still emerging and new ways to work in the self-publishing space, and you can try different things with every book you publish (if that sounds like fun, this might be for you). In this space, you are the publisher/big decision maker and often the project manager while others—such as distributors, printers, editors, cover artists, indexers, etc.—essentially work for you. Getting a book to a published state can be much faster here. I self-published my first book in 2012, and I will be publishing my eighth book in March 2018. I chose to self-publish the first seven for many reasons: because a) I wanted to learn the process from end to end, b) I had the mindset (coming out of Microsoft and my doctoral program back then) of experimenting and learning at every stage as a fun thing and also confidence in my own skill set (as a dev editor I’d helped others get their books published via Microsoft Press), c) I wanted to publish some of the books quickly—for particular purposes or for particular people, in the same year I’d written them, d) I had community members with skill sets that complemented my own, e) an ability to ask for help and hire/barter skills and services with friends and friends of friends, and f) I was willing to manage the book as a project and try my hand at promotions/marketing/sales. I was lucky (and naturally inclined) to have people around me willing to learn along with me. For example, people who were editors, illustrators, publications, and manuscript to book and eBook conversion experimentors who were willing to learn along with me and work with me. I also got legal advice, as needed, from a group of attorneys that worked at the same coworking space where I worked–another place we traded services instead of paying for them. We used Amazon’s CreateSpace (book) and Kindle Direst Publishing (KDP) (eBook) for the first seven books because they were the easiest for us (back then) and we had so many other things to learn that we needed easy. They were essentially the printer and online distributor and I myself (with my spouse and closest friends) made the big decisions. We were the publisher.
Another upside to this approach is that it is a relatively inexpensive up front route. I needed that. I’d quit my day job to finish the last year of my doc program and I decided to try to write full time before pursuing another day job. Self-publishing is relatively inexpensive in that, for example, for some books I leaned on my closest friends or my spouse to do publications, formatting, and manuscript to PDF and MOBI file conversions to hand off files to Amazon (bartering their expertise on my projects for my expertise on their projects = free labor for everyone!). I’ve always paid for quality editing, but I’ve bartered my own skills and services for everything else at some point: for example, some of my cover art and promotional materials like postcards and bookmarks. The way CreateSpace and KDP (and many others) work, you pay nothing to them up front. Instead, they take a percentage of every book that’s sold, and the physical books are print-on-demand, which is invisible to anyone who purchases books online (well, except for big publishing company and other traditional purists and book makers who will notice the subtle-to-invisible quality differences). I’ve published several books for under $1,000 this way—paying only for editing and sometimes cover art up front. So this is a great way to start if you don’t have much money and want to experiment. The down side is that you are on the hook for ALL your own marketing and book promotion. Don’t quit your day job to try self publishing, unless you’re already famous somehow. We lost money on my first 3 books as we figured things out. We broke even on books 4 and 5. We made a little money on book 6 the first year. A little more on book 7. We have big plans for book 8! Another upside is that we can promote and sell these books forever (if that sounds like an upside to you, you might be a self publisher). All our books are residual income for us now. Tiny amounts trickle in each month, and more money shows up whenever we do book readings, teach workshops, give interviews, do online training, and so on (basically, whenever we show up in person we see bumps in book sales). With a traditional big publisher, to the best of my limited knowledge, your book might be promoted in a big way for just the first year (or a few years if you’re lucky). If it’s not selling well, they’ll pull it at some point.
Things have evolved quite a bit in the self-publishing world since 2012. Personally, I find working with small organizations more fun and interesting, so I’ve been looking at For my eighth book, here in 2018, I’m using BookBaby. They can handle cover art, publications/formatting, editing, conversion to ebooks, and getting it out onto all the major online booksellers and into the hands of the publishing house that makes it possible for bookstores to order and stock your book (Ingram). (Basically, all the things I’ve learned I don’t love doing or managing myself.) You can pick and choose services too: for example, I used my own editor, not theirs, since as a former editor I have dozens of editor friends–from proof readers to copy editors to dev editors. And BookBaby can connect you with book marketing/promotions consultants that charge by the hour to give you advice about how to focus your efforts and best market and promote your book. (I would have killed for that back in 2011 and 2012 and 2013–back when I was trying dozens of things and failing at almost all of them.) I’ll let you know how it goes with them. See, even after eight books, there’s still much to learn and experiment with here in self-publishing land! There are other end-to-end self-publishing services companies like BookBaby out there now, too. There’s a more local one in Portland that someone suggested to me recently: Luminare, I believe their name was. I may check them out for the next book. BookBaby is based in New Jersey.
I love self-publishing because as the publisher I automatically own all the content and can do whatever I want with it, when ever I want. There are no complicated negotiations that require an agent and few (typically) that require an attorney. BookBaby’s staff work with me: I don’t work for them. For my latest book, which is twice as long (120,000 words) as any other book I’ve written, I paid ~$1,300 for editing (which is low, thanks to my connections and friendships) and I expect to pay ~$1,500 to BookBaby for covers, publication/formatting/proofing, and getting the book to the dozen or so distributors. I now work with my husband from our own work/home studio space, Silly Dog Studios. We promote our books via an email mailing list, social media, friends, prereaders (who get a free book for providing reviews online, even bad reviews–I’m not Trump), local booksellers, in-person book readings at places that make the most sense for each particular book, as part of workshops and classes we teach here at Silly Dog Studios, and at the two big Whidbey Island farmer’s markets April-October. I’m looking into Indiebound right now to move future marketing to a space I more naturally fit than giant Amazon (who is too big to care, for example, that another Lori Kane writing 5-page terrible erotica “books” shows up in searches for me–the people may empathize, but the organization can’t, it’s just too big to make changes for one author). We also have many artist, writer, neighbor, and other small business owner friends who naturally promote books for us, too. Here in very small business land, we all promote each other’s work. That’s how we survive. More importantly, that’s how we like it and how we thrive. (I’m far better at promoting group work/community-level work and other’s work than my own individual work, which actually works just fine here in self-publishing land–I don’t have to change who I am in ways that feel unnatural to me. Daniel and I also plan to make the individual chapters of book 8 available on my website, so I can also sell individual chapters to people who don’t want the whole big book, too. My latest book is creative non-fiction and the chapters stand alone well. It’s a busy world. My audience may want just two of the 9 chapters–that’s perfectly fine with me. We’re planning to host workshops here that use the book’s content as the base. We make all our books available for sale to those who come to workshops and events here. FYI, [person-specific suggestion for my friend who asked the question] are terrific places for book readings and book sales about [your subject]! Just remember to bring cash/change, since many people there don’t want to swipe their credit card into a device on somebody else’s smart phone to buy a book!
In my professional opinion, the process to have a great-selling book, become a well-known author, or to make a full-time living as an author takes between 8 and 20 years of dedicated hard work and learning to ask for and accept community help at every turn, regardless of which publishing route you take. If you’re not an author at heart, you will fail regardless of which approach you try because your heart won’t be in it. If you are an author at heart, you will succeed regardless of which approach you try because you won’t give up no matter how many failures and rejections you encounter and you will draw people to you who will support you in your efforts and you’ll support them in theirs. You have to grow through the process of publishing and becoming an author and that growth takes time—it can’t be rushed by mere humans. I know a few exceptions who got there faster than 8 years, but those exceptions work their BUTTS off night and day, almost round the clock, 365-days per year to make that “exception” happen. As a secondary caregiver for one parent with Alzheimer’s disease and a primary care partner for the other parent (who is exhausted from 15 years of caregiving), not to mention as someone who needs a well-rounded life outside of constant book promotion to create great books in the first place, I haven’t had that kind of time to become exceptional quickly. 😉 Today, that’s fine with me. Exceptional isn’t a thing I aspire to anymore. Here in Lori Land, exceptional is a thing we all naturally are when we slow down long enough to notice.
An up side to self-publishing is that you can get a published book in your hands much faster than the big and small publisher routes. The down side is that if you’re not interested in doing ongoing community building, personal growth, marketing/promotions, and even sales some days, then you can end up with a finished book that almost nobody knows about or cares about outside of your own family (I have several of those). The biggest up side to self-publishing is that you are clearly the primary decision maker. As such, you naturally focus on what you love about the process, you learn to readily ask for help (or you get nowhere fast), in regularly asking for help in your community, you fluidly pull people to you who you need to work with next (and they need you), and you end up naturally spending quite a lot of time with people you love and respect. So if you keep at it through all the failures and second-guessing yourself and kicking yourself for trying things that you knew in your gut wouldn’t work for you, then you will one day find yourself surprised–as you type the words to your friend–that you now have a custom-made-by-you, for you, totally unique to you and kick ass author platform (aka, author’s life, aka, the life you truly want).
Loving the process and loving all (ok, almost all) of the people you work with doesn’t just makes all of your books (even the money losers) meaningful and worthwhile endeavors. It also lands you where you truly want to be, doing what you really want to be doing, wearing what you really want to be wearing, and creating the work that you are on this earth to create. Surrounded by people doing the same. Most days. Huh, wow–I think that’s where I already am.
Thank you for the big question. I hope something in there helps!
In late February 2017 before the gray skies here on Whidbey became blue, I looked out the window and saw a poem, about a dead tree, in the middle of the just-barely-beginning-to-bud forest. I called the poem Life 101. I eventually saw it for what it was: a poem for my friend Bernie DeKoven.
Six weeks later, in still-gray early April, my long-time friend and mentor Bernie DeKoven—the very friend who I was dedicating my new and most playful book to—shared with us that he has been diagnosed with the kind of cancer that ends your body’s time on earth, no matter how ridiculously cool and very much needed by everyone you are. He has a year to live, at most, the doctors’ say. The moment I heard, I got so angry. I cursed the universe, and life herself, as I wept and wondered how I would manage to honor his request. This request:
What I need is for you to continue your play/work however you can. Play games. Play the kind of games I like to teach – you know, those “funny games” – harmlessly intimate, vaguely physical games of the semi-planned, spontaneous, just-for-fun ilk, basically without equipment, or goal, or score or reason, even.
Teach those games to everyone. Play them outside, these games. In public. With friends. And strangers. As many as want to play with you.
Make up your own games. Make them up together with the people who play them. Play. Teach. Invent. Play some more.
Also especially – look into this playfulness thing too. Deeply. Because we’re not talking just games here. We’re talking about how you can let yourself be as playful as you’ve always been, how you can be playful almost anywhere with almost anyone, how you can invite people to be playful with you, in school and office and in the checkout line: all kinds of people with all kinds of abilities from all kinds of backgrounds.
Maybe download a free copy of A Playful Path, even.
But I wasn’t quite done being angry.
Jesus, Bernie, I thought. Really?
Be playful? Right here in this moment? In THIS year?! In this terrible, horrible, pain-in-the-ass, this-totally-sucks, you-give-us-f#$&ing-Trump-but-take-our-beloved-Bernie year? The year my mom’s Alzheimer’s disease will likely land my father in the hospital and her in a memory care facility? It’s like 2017 was specifically designed to make me give up, defeated, shouting “Screw you, universe!” from under the bed.
But then, there you are my dear, wonderful, stupid-head Bernie.
There you are: already being playful.
Still doing your daily play/work in the world, plus bringing in more playful swings to your local park. Still being my playful muse/mentor/friend. And doing the same for so many, many others, too. You’re just, just… what?
You’re just so damn beautiful.
The love and kindness that you share with Rocky, your kids and grandkids, neighbors, old friends, and new friends? The play/work you share with us? The videos. The talks. The games. The websites. The blog posts. All of it.
It’s just so beautiful.
God dammit, Bernie. How am I supposed to be the playful being that I want to be without you here?
Without you around, who am I going to bounce ideas across our country to as if the country is just a giant ping-pong table, with a Rocky Mountains net, and our ideas just giant bouncing balls to play with?
Or wait, no. Rubber chickens.
Ooo, yeah! Giant Free-Range Rubber Chicken Idea Ping Pong.
How fun would that be? No. That’s not quite right, is it?
How fun it’s been! How lucky we have been. You and I have been playing Giant Free-Range Rubber Chicken Idea Ping Pong for more than six years now. I remember the first time that you commented on my blog. Remember blushing to my roots when I realized who you were. It was like Elvis giving advice to his most star-struck, teenage fan (well, an older Elvis and a very old teenage fan). 😉
And I remember the day you told us that you’d turned down a professorship so that you could just keep on doing what you do–the writing and the playing and the speaking and the wandering. I did that once too, about 8 years back. I didn’t fully know why then, but now, my friend, I do. It was saying no to them that allowed me to play this game with you. What a gift. What a solid choice based on nothing much more than intuition. Hmmm…
Bernie, wherever you go and whenever you go, I’ll still come meet you in the warm evening sun. Right here, within the field of imagination, on our country-sized ping-pong table with our playful ideas flying in directions both silly and profound, and sometimes going in wholly unexpected directions like so many rubber chicken balls. Just ask Mahatma Gandhi. I’ve been playing ping pong with him since I was 11 years old. He’s been dead the whole time, and he still kicks my ass regularly.
I suspect that you and I will be playing Giant Free-Range Rubber Chicken Idea Ping Pong as long as it’s fun for us. Which—given our skill level, general love of play, and abiding love and faith in each other—will be long after both of our bodies are gone.
We may have to give up the body when the body says it’s done, but we don’t have to give up playing, player.
Not now. Not ever.
Because you and I—playing together—are what the universe herself wants to be.
- Right to lose our way often. Creators have the right to wander, wend, and get lost as often as possible. To support each other in being lost, we listen first and at least as twice as long as we speak, and we share each other’s work and stories with the world. If we are asked to speak by another creator or world citizen who is struggling with being lost (not all do), we offer clues—not answers—as gifts for each other to find. Answers aren’t as interesting or useful as clues. Most days. We deeply love getting lost, finding our way, and offering clues for other wanders to find.
- Right to play. Creators can play whenever, wherever, however, and with whomever we choose, as long as we accept the responsibility to 1) invite all those that we impact to join us and 2) change the game together, on the fly, to suit the players and neighbors present with us. As Bernie says, “The players are more important than the game.” Earthlings deeply love play and improvisation and imagination and experimenting. All our children know this.
- Right to bask within difference. Creators are encouraged and supported in celebrating the different, the odd, the strange, the weird, the curious, the queer, the unexplainable, the horrible, the unshaken wonder within, and the outcast within ourselves and each other. We creators succeed in life in direct proportion to our ever-expanding and contracting ability to do this, and most of us set up daily and weekly rituals to practice doing just this. We deeply love curiosity and difference and outcasts and oddness, because we are all of that. As we stay with it, together, we come to love all of it. All of us.
- Right to trust humanity. Creators assume the best of humans and offer the benefit of the doubt to other humans without fear of being lied to, injured, taken advantage of, or killed. When we find that we cannot do this on our own, then we ask for help, accept help, and we help each other find people among whom we can try again. And we keep on practicing. We deeply love feeling safe in the presence of other human beings—particularly with those remarkably different from us—because this helps us feel safe when we’re alone and when we create and more confident and humble wherever we go.
- Right to be yourself and be celebrated. Earthlings are celebrated for being here, and being exactly who we are, from birth to death and in all the spaces in between. This is true whether we can see it and feel it yet or not and whether the humans physically present around us opt to participate or not. Trees, birds, soil, wind, stars, ancestors, and elders, for example, celebrate us all. When we aren’t able to be ourselves and feel celebrated, we tend to move and go get lost for a while. Or, to celebrate others to learn celebration skills. We deeply love to celebrate and be celebrated. Celebration eases the pain of loss, loneliness, illness, and death that are part of this beautiful life too. We deeply love all forms of celebration, even those that look and sound nothing like our own, and we love finding new holidays and learning new ways to celebrate.
- Right to receive an almost overwhelming amount of help from the place you live. Creators listen to the voice of a whole place before taking action. This means listening to the sounds and beings that your ears can hear when you’re outside, ideally walking or sitting on the ground, or inside with several windows open. For example, to change your part of town, listen to the people who show up; the birds, insects, and animals that show up; the sounds of the wind, plants, buildings, bodies of water, stars, vehicles, music, and any other sounds present; the ancestors now part of the ground and the sky; and then listen to the interactions between these things. Strive to be connected enough to learn from other whole places and beings taking or considering similar action. We deeply love this place we call home. She loves us back: which we can only figure out fully when we slow down and listen fully.
- Right to be a complete mess. It is not uncommon to see creators making complete fools of ourselves. We learn to proudly, openly share our works in progress, work that didn’t quite work, work that REALLY didn’t work, and work we’re stuck on and cannot proceed further on without help. We visibly ask for forgiveness when our fear accidentally hurts others. Proudly, openly ask for other perspectives and help. Proudly, openly share our difficulties, and our gifts, with our world, no matter how different or painful or odd they seem to ourselves or others. Proudly, openly weep and laugh. We deeply love earthlings, being earthlings, and all the messiness that attends us. Feeling broken? Emotional? Completely lost? Bring it on, baby! Creators can handle the mess because we love the mess and share the load as friends and community. We learn young here: there is so much art within the mess!
- Right to forgiveness. Creators make mistakes, try again, make amends, and receive forgiveness everywhere we go. We love spending time with new people and trying new things: both result in mistakes being made. Mistakes are part of our process. We learn to love being wrong or partly wrong as much as we love being right, because we—and those touched by our work and our selves—learn more (or perhaps we just remember better and longer?) when we’re wrong than when we’re right. This wouldn’t be possible without forgiveness and strong, generous, connected, wise, and wildly different communities. We deeply love living in a world so committed to experimenting, learning, growing, community, celebration of difference, and forgiveness.
- Right to not feel the need to receive apologies. Creators rarely expect others to apologize for being themselves, because we have the ability to move away (and we love to move), to imagine ourselves as others (and we love to imagine), and to create and believe rich, complex back stories (and we love to create). See #5. Creators prefer to focus on our creations and ourselves—looking inward to ourselves, our muses, our work, our nature (hello tree, my old friend), and our creator groups for solace and sense-making most days. We also know that we’ll mess up on this one because we’re human (fortunately, see #6, #7, and #8). Humans have expectations of others, and it often takes much of an individual lifetime of practice to let go of that need. Plants, animals, birds, insects, plants, stars, and soil are all far better at this one. Watch and listen to them to learn this. To show our respect for world citizens who differ from us on this, we apologize to those who need our apologies to feel whole. We seek to learn from those who differ from us on this.
- Right of shared space and home space. Creators respect our shared spaces, including the field of imagination, by treating them as our home: welcoming, comfortable, natural, and sacred within their messiness. Over time, we tend to blend what we believe to be shared (what citizens call public) space—blurring boundaries every chance we get—and what we believe to be home (what citizens call private) space for ourselves. And even when they overlap entirely, we honor both. We respect other people’s private space as private and our own need sometimes to return home. Just because we often experience this whole planet and universe as shared, and also as home, doesn’t mean all other earthlings can, or do, or want to, or even that we want to all the time. See #16 and #17. We deeply love our shared space and home spaces.
- Right to pilot your own friend ship. Creator friendships cross all imagined boundaries and last beyond individual lifetimes. Creators don’t attempt to be whole on their own (most days) and instead draw friends to them whose ways of being and skills and talents and lifestyles and struggles complement and stretch/expand their own. With certain people, our mutual energy expands exponentially. These are the friends we typically create with. Creation requires ample energy, so we move away from people when an energy drain is felt—even away from people we love, aware that movement back is always a possibility. Today, many of us are accustomed to being told that this way of being is wrong, so it’s become a right of passage into maturity for a creator to find peace with being who they are and contentment within being considered wrong by many world citizens. Friendships teach us to honor all energy. We deeply love friendships.
- Responsibility to own and evolve our own labels and titles. Creators have a right to experience ourselves as creators and co-creators instead of as a consumer, user, customer, planet destroyer, deplorable, snowflake, troll, wuss, woo woo, or any other lame-ass label human fear tries to force onto us. And. We have the responsibility to visibly live the labels and titles that we create. For example, creators create, barter, trade, swap, repurpose, recycle, grow, make, share, patch, mend, fix, gift, learn to love the old and the broken, forage, find, and live without what we don’t really need anyway, first. Then, we create some more for good measure. Only then do we buy. When we buy, we respect the seasons, respect the place we live, respect the earthlings around us, respect our bodies, and give thanks for what we’ve purchased and to all the makers who made it possible. As we can, we buy and sell with people who live nearby, with kind people, and directly with other creators, makers, artists, neighbors, small farmers, and other close community members who could use our support. Before we buy physical goods from a long distance, creators get a second opinion: we talk to an old tree or old animal first. We listen. If the tree/animal thinks it’s a good idea, then we proceed. Sometimes we get a second tree or animal’s opinion, but usually just for the fun of it. When our labels and titles lose energy, we have the responsibility to experiment, change, and create new ones as visibly as possible. Because we can, and so many others can’t, we accept this responsibility gratefully and we take it seriously in the way a two-year-old takes a toy seriously.
- Responsibility to walk in wonder, silliness, and gratitude. Earthlings are living, breathing, adorable, fluffy balls of gratitude, wonder, and silliness when we’re are born. Creators become more so as we gain experience and as we age. We are utterly surrounded by these things as we enter, as we walk in, and as we leave this world. We deeply love gratitude, wonder, and silliness—at all stages of life. Our responsibility is to learn how to stay with these core earthling traits no matter what (animals, creator ancestors, children, and true human elders are the ones to watch) and then to demonstrate them to others, particularly when people’s lives and worlds are falling apart.
- Responsibility of bees to make honey. Creators make things, grow things, and create their art or craft as if the whole world depended on it and as if their whole self does. We have the right to create/make/grow without explanation or apology for who we are, when we listen to the whole place we’re in and feel at our core that being who we really are is vitally important—even when we don’t know why yet (which, frankly, is most of the time). Deeply listening humans can trust their intuition. We are allowed to tell anyone who questions our value, including ourselves, to walk out into a field or the woods, find a bee hive, and talk directly to the bees about why they make honey. The bees will explain it better. We deeply love to make, grow, and create and to share our creations with others. That deep love of creation, and others, is enough. As with all these rights, to fully claim this right as our own, creators must experience this right as an innate right of all earthlings, not just humans. And of all world citizens, not just creators.
- Responsibility to work on your own—and walk away from others’—total bullshit. We stay present, listen, fight fairly, and fight for each other, instead of against one another. If this is our thing to work on, this is what we do. We are far too connected, and practical, for that work-against-each-other bullshit that some world citizen humans try. For creators, fighting against each other means fighting against ourselves—this flat out doesn’t work for creators. Ask literally any creator ancestor living or dead, human, plant, insect, or animal. Fighting yourself can be a teacher, yes. And still it’s one that you have to let go of to create interesting, new, or curiosity peaking work. Becoming a creator means letting go of the violence and the silencing within us in favor of creating. Again and again and again: this is a life-long daily practice. Humans who believe and do otherwise—who believe in violence and silencing as useful answers—are free to leave our presence as they wish: with our blessings. And we are free to leave their presence: as groups and as individuals. We commit to staying when we can stay—when it is our fight to fight—and to moving away or asking for more help before contempt builds a nest and sets up home within us. We move to regroup and rest and learn and grow and often because we see that it’s not our fight to fight to fight anymore or that with the help of others a fight can be reimagined into a spark and into flow. Those who allow violence and silencing of others to grow and fester within themselves cannot be recognized as leaders by creators. The violence and the silencing plugs their ears so they can’t hear the whole place that they’re in. Cut off from the world herself, they become isolated, predictable, and unable to move in interesting new ways, let alone in wise old ways, with others. Don’t be that guy. 😉 And when you are, forgive yourself, ask for forgiveness, and move on together.
- Right to cede your power to a government or organization and still be respected and loved. At the moment, world citizens who don’t claim these inalienable creators’ rights for themselves and their closest others—and who don’t own the responsibilities that attend this much freedom—cede their innate power to their national and state government constitutions and to their employers’ Human Resources policies. Creators who do accept these rights have the responsibility to treat world citizens with kindness and respect even when we don’t receive it in return. Especially when we don’t receive it in return. Because we don’t need to receive kindness and respect to have it—it lives within our communities, our work, our selves, and our home neighborhood, planet, and universe. Some believe that our art is for world citizens more than it is for ourselves. Whether that’s true for you or not (it doesn’t have to be), respecting the place we live means respecting those around us who don’t live, love, work, move, act, think, and worship like we do. We deeply love this place we live, which means loving all people here with us, even those who piss us off to no end, and not just other creators. Respect and kindness is how we demonstrate our love of this place. Many of us most enjoy the presence of other creators, because they allow us to be our whole weird and wild selves. The freest creators among us—elder creators—learn how to learn as much from world citizens who aren’t creators as those who are. Fully free creators can find the creator, and the citizen, in all earthlings. And love us all.
- Right to impact the whole world in a positive, lasting way. When we fully enjoy these rights ourselves, we dedicate our lives and our work to supporting those who want to, but can’t, fully enjoy them yet. We deeply love unleashing new creators and new work on the world. If we seek to impact the whole world in a positive way, then this is the direction we creators take. It’s not just about creating new work. Creators create more creators. Creator groups create more creator groups. Creator communities create more creator communities. Now try saying or singing that fast three times. 😉
- Responsibility to learn from everyone. This doesn’t mean you have to listen to everyone: we learn a lot by reflecting on who we listen to, who we don’t listen to, and why. This instead reflects the fact that creators can cross more imagined boundaries than other world citizens because of our deep love of doing so. We know that we are as likely to make our next vital connection and breakthrough talking with the woman driving the bus in The Netherlands or dancing with the man who washes dishes in Nigeria or playing with the local street musician on the road side as we are by talking to the tuxedo-wearing keynote speaker at a prestigious event or putting a resume into the hands of “the right people.” Those who can cross old, imagined boundaries to learn have a responsibility to do so. When we do, we open new possibility doors in our world. Creators deeply love the possibility of learning something new, or finding nuance within the known, from everyone.
- Right to receive what we need. From ourselves. Creators don’t require others’ minds to be open, for example, before moving forward. The question we typically ask ourselves is this: “Is my mind open?” We don’t require others to be creative, for example, either. Instead we ask ourselves: “Am I being as creative as I can be right now?” This tendency of ours supports internally felt freedom regardless of where we are or who we are or what is happening. That said, our experience of “self” is fluid. We are co-creators. Our self might be an individual, a small group, a community, a forest, flock of birds, or an ocean, for example, at any given point. Because the limits of our imagination rarely stop at our individual selves, our rights—and the responsibilities of deep listening, deep kindness, deep fun, and deep respect—rarely stop at our individual selves. Huh. Wow. This is so cool! Damn it feels good to be a creator.
- Responsibility to move through ideas and beliefs as a community and to let go of things—including our old ideas and selves—when they no longer serve the greater good. Without our creators’ love of doing this, and our love of continuing to learn to do this better with friends and community members, future humanity will be uniform, dry, depressed, and dull as shit. Not that I believe that will happen. Not with Mother Earth at our backs and more people waking up every day now. Just be aware that doing this work often pisses off other creators, not only other world citizens. Evolving beliefs and ideas and selves isn’t easy for most humans. At this moment. But that’s going to change in this century. Watch for it. Practice it. Dance it. Paint it. Draw it. Play it. And you’ll see.
After 20. This space has been intentionally blank for the purposes of creation. Please finish this list for your community, as often as is needed by the community as a whole…
 This is known as the Bernie DeKoven Principle.
 If you’re a creator committed to a particular human, social justice, or environmental cause, partner with a few world citizens who you create energy with and who don’t define themselves primarily as creators like you do—people interested in (and who are dedicating their lives and careers to) social amends, conflict resolution, pulling forth awareness or heart-felt apologies, and social or environmental justice. Creators aren’t experts on justice: we’re experts at falling deeply in love with the world/ourselves/simply what is. So we need to partner with world citizens such as wonderful and open-minded attorneys, judges, social workers, cops, activists, educators, conflict specialists, librarians, community-center employees, scientists, government employees, spiritual directors, and even the best politicians—not just animals, birds, fish, and trees—to foster change in human culture if we want to witness culture changes in our lifetimes. Well-informed citizens like these tend to have strong answers and cross-community connections. Creators tend to ask new and forgotten questions and arrive with a presence, and with work, that helps citizens imagine themselves as part of something larger than they previously imagined. Partnering with these people is a good match, because we teach each other and help each other not take ourselves too seriously. We remind each other of our core-deep curiosity and core-deep abilities to shift, reimagine, and play.
I got this idea from my friend Bayo who teaches me daily that we are so much more than we imagined yesterday. Thank you, Bayo. This is his list.
These are my current irreverent and unapologetically odd resolutions. In 2017, I am somewhat inclined to:
- Accept life advice only from birds, animals, and the strangest of the strange humans I know or meet.
- More thoroughly enjoy mom’s Alzheimer’s disease.
- Write odes (aka, poems/songs of praise) to everyday people and items on good days and to people/things I am angered by on bad days.
- Watch for dragons in the woods behind our new house. Talk to them only when we’re both ready and then mostly about magic.
- March peacefully in protest to 1) show solidarity with those most hurt by standard prejudices and practices, 2) make protests safer by my presence, 3) make new friends, 4) get more exercise, and 5) fall back in love with the world.
- Dance, sing, draw, swim, daydream, or write poetry every day. See that these take priority on days when I or nearby earthlings are especially frustrated, sad, or angry.
- Hold funerals or say prayers for lost socks, buttons, and other small things that disappear unexpectedly.
- Follow the examples of Americans with disabilities and mental illnesses, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, and LGBTQ+ Americans, as well as braver-than-me artists/poets/musicians, in their demonstration of what it means to be fully present and listen really well to those present. Here in my country this will be a year of remembering what it is to be a true friend, fully human, a beautiful earthling, and a strong community. A year of reminding ourselves and our institutions of our amazingly weird and wonderful nature.
- Get even more lost. Open even more space and time for purposelessness, pondering, poetry, parks, play, and pancakes.
- Take spontaneous road trips with my sweetie, my dog, and possibly, my three cats, if nobody volunteers to come watch them for us. Hint, hint.
- Enjoy dirt under my feet and fingernails. Enjoy dust, dust bunnies, stains, hairballs, and all their kin. Not just alone but with friends.
- Learn from those who unexpectedly thrive within resistance. Learn from strangely endearing scientists, off-the-charts kind religious leaders, and awkward-and-beautiful-and-trying grassroots organizers around the world.
- Financially support local poets and artists, the Standing Rock Medic and Healers Council, the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Planned Parenthood, and my two favorite media outlets.
- Recognize that both our home and our town wants to be a refuge for people more threatened by hatred and discriminatory policies than we are. Allow our home and our town to live to their full potential.
- Write a book that surprises me.
- Learn what it takes to remove a hate-filled demagogue from government office. Take an active part in the process of learning.
- Plant trees and shrubs selected by birds, bunnies, bugs, deer, and at least one dragon for their suitability to the place and time.