This weekend I received another “Do better at marketing!” email from yet another lovely author talking about why self promotion is hard and how to make it easier. This author is far more successful than me from a book-sales perspective: thousands of people buy his books. I sold 10 last month and that was a great month for me. So I fell down the expert marketing advice rabbit hole. Again…

City Slicker Marketing

The advice centered on identifying your one WHY. Why do you get up in the morning? Why do you do this writing every day thing? According to him (and also, according to my husband, almost everyone else out there selling marketing ideas for a living), all you really need — to have more others show up for you and help promote your work — is yourself (a leader in something, he assumes), a tribe, and your one big WHY. Is anyone else out there tired of hearing the word tribe roll off the lips of white men selling marketing strategies or is it just me? Grrrr. But I digress…

Like most other artists I know, I am interested in having others help me with promotion. If I had just a little more help I could devote even more time to writing. Plus, the book promotion I’ve been trying this month isn’t working as well, or quickly, as I’d hoped. So although what this man was saying is way outside who I am and what I believe, I decided to play along, humor him, and work on identifying my Lori’s One Big Why. I devoted a whole day to this question: “Why do I get out of bed in the morning and write things that eventually become books?” Now that I see it in writing, it appears to be the exact same question Billy Crystal was asked to answer for himself in the movie City Slickers 25 years ago.

It goes against my nature to want to answer this question as an individual. I want to do this as a group with people and critters I love and live and work with! Would be far less constraining to have many reasons! But very grumpily, I spent 8 consecutive hours on this question: 12 hours if you count Daniel’s hours after I dragged him into my frustration-insight-more frustration spiral with me. After 12 hours, I/we came to several important conclusions:

  • Lori shouldn’t bother spending too much time trying to force herself into a question/box created by another successful author. Listening to a distant expert — especially one asking me to think from a lone-individual perspective — frustrates the crap out of me.
  • Lori should listen just a tiny little bit. As hard as this is to admit, I didn’t actually waste any time on this exercise. I learned a ton about myself, including the fact that I think the idea of One Big WHY is a terrible idea for me. I’m thrilled for you if it works for you. It’s just not me.
  • I am creating my own me/us-centered marketing approach. Because following the advice of others in this area doesn’t work well for me. If forced to give advice, mine would be this. Invent your own just-for-you model. Never stop experimenting with it. Share it with others doing the same. Work with those whose presence fills you with energy. When energy lags, move. If you’re reading this, I expect you already know this. I’m no expert. We are peers.

Behold the Large and Funky Why Matrix

 This is what I came up with answering the question about why I get up in the morning and write…

the large and funky WHY matrix 

Despite my deep grouchiness throughout the entire process, I re-learned that:

  • where and how are far more interesting to me than why. Most days. I like to dance among being lost, finding my way, and capturing a few “how this worked for me” clues in writing that could serve others (and me, later, when I forget what I learned). I want a larger-than-individual-me WHY to show up eventually, near the ends of things, where it’s as much of a surprise to me as it is to others. So we can all look at each other and go “Oh! So that was why!” It’s way more fun.
  • everything I write is a surprise, and a learning experience, for me. That’s a primary reason I love writing, why I self-publish, and why I write almost every day now. This is also why I write imaginative or creative non-fiction and poetry instead of fiction. If I wrote fiction, I’d need to know the end–the bigger why–before others do. Far more fun to have someone I adore show up and tell me that A Travel Guide for Transitions is a book entirely about finding and owning your identity. What? Really? Cool. I need to read it!
  • I have many, many whys for getting out of bed and writing every day. When pressed to do so by my own fears, I am able to narrow them down to 34 big WHYs (and feeding the cats and my husband made that list), but I flat out refuse to go fewer than that. To narrow further might mean I could sell more books faster, but it would make my life less interesting, which would make my books less interesting and the people I draw to me less interesting. The trade off isn’t worth it. As I get older, I keep finding new, deeper, and more surprising and interesting WHYs (and people), not fewer. These are gifts beyond measure and marketing.
  • my community (aka, tribe) is comprised of groups, people, animals, bugs, birds, rocks, and trees who show up more deeply curious to learn than as experts with a message. Whether that’s by natural inclination, chance, luck, circumstance, experience, serendipity, tragedy, wild imaginings, or the grace of God. These are the people I want to spend time/my life with: the deeply curious. People in my core community not only don’t mind that I write books on all sorts of apparently unrelated subjects — finding work you love and creating soul-satisfying work space and revealing community and turning your home into a free coworking space and receiving the gifts of dementia care partnering and poetry and the experience of becoming an artist and the writing life (spoilers) and Lord knows what next — my people expect nothing less of me. We live deeply curious lives, and we stubbornly refuse to believe (or demonstrate) that human beings are anything less than surprising, curious creatures right at home in our surprising, curious worlds.
  • I would rather grow slowly as an author, surrounded by the deeply curious, than grow quickly. And that’s what I’m actually already doing somehow. By hard work some days — by doing any work that allows me to keep my book writing routine — and by pure magic other days. The deeply curious insist on, and receive, both.

I Was Wrong: Words Are Never Wasted On Me

I learned this week that I’m not failing at self promotion and marketing like I suspected. I am growing slowly because I love hard work and magic, and I require both. And I consistently prioritize deep curiosity. And I love having 34 big WHYs and am disinterested in narrowing my focus to sell more books. I’m just not interested in doing promotion the way book marketing experts know/can prove it should be done. That would be dull as shit. Money is nice, but curiosity is better. Magic is better. Doing the work itself–getting to write each new day–is better. Surprise and delight and really cool humans showing up unexpectedly are better. So I’m apparently inventing a marketing approach  (more likely, finding a very old one, Ms. Ego-Maniac) that requires a curiosity-led, imagination-rich life, plus hard work, serendipity, magic, and meandering to the point. I’m a member of the Bigger-Than-Me-Whys-Show-Up-At-the-End club. From an individual perspective, it’s slower than the model marketing experts sell. It’s more How to Become Successful in 100 Long, Fascinating, Surprise-Filled, Well-Lived Years than How to Sell More Books in 6 Months. But I stand by it. I am devoting my whole life to this approach, entirely surrounded by others experimenting with variations on the deeply curious or life rocks! themes. This isn’t a marketing approach. It’s a curiosity + community-centered life approach.

So yep, expert marketing advice is wasted on me. Yet together we played with that advice, went deeper into it, changing it, and pulling it into our own life approach. Words, it seems, are never wasted on us. We do love them so.

And reimagination! Love it. One of the many magic powers of the deeply curious. 🙂