Tuesday, April 12, 2022

The Mind and Its Many Useless Gadgets

“The undisciplined mind is a constant assembly line that painstakingly produces thousands of useless gadgets every hour, and only rarely puts together something of value.”
Gavin deBecker, author of Just 2 Seconds

During my walk in the woods at Timucuan Preserve one morning, I had a useless gadget running through my mind. I was fantasizing about a conversation I’d like to have with a person who I may never see again. In the unlikely event that she and I do meet someday, I doubt that the conversation would go as I envisioned it. Running through that scenario was a useless gadget.

It would be so nice to simply tell my mind, “Shut up. Shut up. Shut, the hell, up.”

I’ve tried that in the past, but my mind has replied, “I never shut up. It’s simply not what I do. You really ought to know that by now. I think, and I think, and I think. I never stop thinking. Even when you’re asleep, I’m thinking. It’s so nice to be in the office when nobody else is here! I can get so much done.”

So, there’s no way to get my mind to simply stop running a useless gadget. The mind needs something else to run on. That morning in the woods, I said to myself, “I would prefer not to be running this useless gadget. I would prefer a useful gadget, preferably a business idea where I could use my skills to serve a particular market and to do so in a way that would produce substantial and ongoing revenues.”

I’ve had that in my programming since I finished the latest eBook, The Smiling Stoic: How Fortune Favors the Funny. This morning, when I tried to shift away from the useless gadget to something more useful, it happened. I got the best business idea I’ve had in a long time. A blog targeted to a very defined and growing group of people and one that advertisers would love to have access to.

This could work. Onward! 

Monday, November 1, 2021

Need help writing your book? Get a ghostwriter.

Anyone who is reasonably literate can crank out a 5,000 to 10,000 word ebook and put it out on Kindle or elsewhere. However, most writers who want to produce good books know that they are going to need some help. They may need a copy editor, a cover artist, a book designer, or some other specialist. They may also need an editor or ghostwriter to keep moving forward with the project.

When to consider hiring a ghostwriter.

You realize that you don’t have a clue on how to write a book.

You don’t have time to learn how to write a book.

You know that you will never get it done without help.

You have the resources to hire some help. 

What to look for in a ghostwriter.  

Experience. Hire a person who has actually ghost-written several books, or at least a few. Ghost-writing is more difficult than many other forms of writing. An experienced ghost-writer will know how to keep the project moving forward at a good pace. An inexperienced person may be an excellent writer, but may not be familiar at all with collaborating on a large project.   

Skills. Naturally, you will want someone who writes well. Take a good look at some of the writer’s work. If you don’t like it very much, look for someone whose writing you do like. Journalistic skills also come into play. A writer who can figure out the right questions to ask will keep your project moving forward. If you want to include photos in your book, hiring a person who knows how to take and edit pictures can help. 

Compatibility. You and your ghost-writer will be spending considerable time together. Look for someone you get along with, someone with similar values and temperament. 

Someone who can write in your voice. The final product should be in the voice of the author, not the ghostwriter. If the author doesn’t use lots of big words, the book should reflect that. If the author has an extensive vocabulary, that should be in the book. Toward the end of work on the second edition of How the Rubber Meets the Road by Dick Erickson, we engaged the services of an excellent copy-editor, Doug Filaroski. After he edited the book, he and I and Dick met for lunch. Doug hadn’t met Dick previously. Halfway through the lunch Doug told me, “You really got Dick’s voice right.” It was great to hear because ghostwriting is about getting the author’s voice right. 

My process for ghostwriting. 

My process involves weekly meetings with the client. I spend an hour or more preparing for the meetings, figuring out what we can accomplish in the sessions, and coming up with questions that will keep the discussion moving forward. Those meetings can be in person or by Zoom, and they can run from 30 minutes to 2 hours. I record the meetings with Otter.ai so I can get a transcript later. I also take notes of highlights that I want to get back to. 

The transcripts can run from 10,000 to 20,000 words, much of it gibberish. The software isn’t perfect, but it’s AI, so it’s getting better all the time. Shortly after a meeting, either that afternoon or early the next day, I review the transcript looking to dig out as much useable material as I can. By staying as close as possible to what the client said, the client’s own voice emerges. 

I revisit whatever parts of the manuscript are already in place and figure out where to plug in the new material. When I feel like I’ve got a chapter or topic far enough along for the client to review, I’ll send it by email, load it on Dropbox, or deliver it in whatever way is convenient for the client. 

A few days prior to an upcoming meeting, I will send a reminder to the client. Usually, I will have a few questions that need to be addressed. Facts might need to be verified, or I might want more information about something we’ve discussed. Also, I ask the client what he or she wants to cover in the next session. If the client has something on his or her mind, I certainly want to get into that. As a writer and as a ghost-writer, I believe in going where the energy leads. Then I start planning for the session, writing out the questions, etc. 

Getting a ghost-writer doesn’t mean there won’t be much work for the client. In fact, I think a good ghostwriter will push a client to do the necessary work on his or her end. Shortly after a session, I usually have something for the client to review, questions to be answered, or information that the client needs to dig up. There’s some coaching involved.

“I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes at 9:00 a.m. every morning.” This quote has been attributed to William Faulkner, Somerset Maugham, and several others. 

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Deadliest Yak: The Legend of Moby Danny

This is not a fish story. This is a true account of events that took place in the environs of Vilano Beach on June 12, 2021, verifiable by numerous eyewitnesses including men, women, and one extraterrestrial of impeccable character.

Dozens of adventurous kayakers gathered on the south side of the Guana River Dam, the launch site for the voyage. There was champagne and caviar and dancing. Oh, the dancing! The mood was jovial as the group prepared to embark on a great adventure together, with all of the hopes and dreams that human beings can have.

The sky was clear when we set out, and although the breeze was against us at times, the tide was with us. After paddling for three miles, which seemed more like ten, we all gathered at a small beach to swim and socialize. The storm clouds to the west seemed distant.

Upon putting out to sea for the second time, I started out in the middle of the group. While others were gliding over the water in their fancy touring kayaks, I was plowing through in my fishing kayak. I did my best to keep up, but, after a while, I was trailing the group. I lost sight of any human presence for several hours.

The breeze stiffened and became a howling wind! Before long, the swells got deeper and deeper, well over ten feet at times. They were breaking over the bow, the stern, and both sides, sometimes simultaneously. I was blinded by the sea spray! Somehow, knowing that my life might be at stake, I kept paddling, paddling, paddling, like a mad man.

When my strength was gone, the beastly fish showed himself. I looked into his vacant eyes. In all my days, I have never seen a fish so angry. He bumped the kayak, over, and over, and over. After I was tossed from the yak, I could hear bagpipes! “Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling…”

The ferocious fish bared his teeth as he came toward me. The end seemed to be very near. Then a dolphin bumped the evil thing. When I floated to the surface, all was peaceful. The water was smooth as glass! It seemed as if I had found my way to the eye of the storm.

The kayak was nearby. Aside from a few dents, it was intact. One of the hatches had opened up somehow, and there were two reds in there. I’m telling the truth, officer. I don’t have a fishing license, but the fact is I didn’t catch those fish. They gave themselves up for me. True story!

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Right Place, Right Time, and Humility

When I was a boy playing PeeWee hockey, I had one season, where, for a while, I was consistently in the right place at the right time. I scored a goal in every game for about two months. The best skater in the league was on my team, and I was, somehow, outscoring him. I should note that I only remember one goal that was unassisted. All the others were set up by nice passes from teammates. I was chubby, and when I found my spot in front of the opponents' net, it was hard for the defenders to move me out of it.

I sometimes look back at that time as one of the best times of my life. I’ve often wished that the rest of my life could be similar, that I would consistently be in the right place at the right time, scoring goals of one sort or another. However, one of my frequent ruminations has been that I haven’t been in the right place at the right time very often. I’ve even whined about it in my prayer life.

On Easter Weekend, I was inspired to share on Facebook some of the interesting sunrises and sunsets I’ve photographed. My eye was on a period, 2012 through 2014, when I was interested in the interactions between the sun and manmade structures. (I was shooting with  a Nikon D80, a really good camera that I, eventually, wore out.) I posted several pictures that I regard as some of my best.

Whether you’re shooting events, which I did plenty of, or news, which I also did plenty of, you have to be in the right places at the right times to get good shots. I’m not a world-renowned photographer, and I didn’t earn much taking pictures. Still, I’ve taken a few shots that were good enough to get in newspapers, magazines, and elsewhere.

On the Saturday before Easter, I made plans to hike on some nature trails with a new friend. (I got a nice phone shot of a full rainbow near those trails last year.) While I was driving out there, something hit me right between the eyes. Although I can’t remember a time of my life where I was in the right place at the right time for an extended period the way I was in PeeWees, I have actually been in the right place at the right time many times. I’m not referring only to photography. In other areas of life, I have often been in the right place at the right time. Not all the time, but enough. However, more often than not, I've taken those moments for granted.

I concluded my little project on Easter Sunday. The last picture I posted was of the Jacksonville Beach Pier with the sun coming up on the other side from where I was shooting. The sun was beautiful coming through all that lumber! I don’t remember being blown away by the beauty of that moment. I think I was probably just taking a nice picture.

Looking at the picture all these years later, I realized several things. I didn’t make that sun, didn’t make that ocean, didn’t make that beach, didn’t mill any of the lumber, and didn’t even screw in a single one of the bolts holding it together. I didn’t even create my ability to recognize that it was a beautiful scene. I didn’t create that moment, but, by the grace of God, I had the privilege to be in the right place at the right time that morning. For me, it's a very humbling thought.


Friday, March 5, 2021

Habitual Optimism - What my dog taught me about positive thinking.

habitual optimism
Sparky likes to run!
Whenever I get ready to let my dog, Sparky, out to the backyard, she is ready to move the moment the door opens. She's always optimistic and seems to be thinking, “There could be something out there that’s going to be fun to chase. Maybe a cat! Maybe a squirrel! Something could be out there!” She never seems concerned that the big dog next door might have gotten over the fence again and could be out there waiting for her.

When that door opens, she is gone, almost instantly, to the back fence to take a look. Most of the time there isn’t anything back there. Still, she knows that every time the door opens, there just might be. And, when she comes back in the house, she always checks the front door, just in case someone might have left it open so she could go for an exhilarating run off the leash. She’s a whippet/Jack Russell mix, and would never pass up a chance to run at full throttle.

Is some fantastic opportunity going to present itself to me every time I go out my front door? Probably not. However, if I go through the day thinking something great might be just around the corner, which is the way Sparky thinks, I’m going to be ready when opportunities do arise.

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Who has inspired you with a positive attitude? How can you develop a similar outlook on life? Leave a comment.

Related reading on positive thinking. 

Switching from negative to positive thinking. 

Positive Assumptions. 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Dick Erickson, Founder of Sun Tire, talks about profit-sharing at Wise Counsel 2020 Boot Camp.

Dick Erickson (left) and Skip Alcorn.
Dick Erickson, Founder of Sun Tire, has some interesting insights about profit-sharing. He shared some of them at the 2020 Wise Counsel Boot Camp in Jacksonville, Fl.

Why share profits with all employees?

Some companies share profits with leaders and managers. Other companies provide profit-sharing after an employee has been at the job for a designated period of time or has been promoted to management. Very few have policies to share profits with all employees. A defined profit-sharing plan can set a company apart from its competitors.

How does a company benefit from sharing profits?

The speakers at the 2020 Wise Counsel Boot Camp.
Employees are more engaged and have a better focus on customer service and making customers happy. Happy customers come back, and they also provide referrals and recommendations.

Employees put more effort into their personal appearance and the way they come across to customers. They are also more conscientious about the appearance of the storefront or workplace.

Employees want fellow employees to be productive. If someone is lazy, other employees won’t be happy about that.

Employees take better care of equipment because they know that helps profitability.

Shrinkage is reduced because employees know that if they steal, it comes out of the profit-sharing.

Employee turnover is reduced because employees are getting something they may not be able to find elsewhere.

Employees at every level think more like managers. For that reason, there is a reduced need for oversight and/or middle management. Employees really want to do a good job for the good of the company and because it will improve their bottom lines.

You can get more information about Dick Erickson's approach to profit-sharing from his book, which is available in paperback or on Kindle through Amazon.