Category Archives for living life well

Political Lounge Lizards

Monday, 9:38pm
Reno, NV
“We better all hang together, or we’ll all hang separately.” — Ben Franklin


Here’s a question for ya.

What does politics have in common with marketing?

I’ll give you the answer in a moment… but first, a short rant from our sponsor (me):

There’s some stellar TV happening right now, and I’ll bet you’re missing it. HBO is doing a multi-part series on John Adams, the “forgotten” Founding Father of our little experiment in democracy here.

It’s just killer. The executive producer is Tom Hanks, who has become a national treasure by insisting on using his mojo in Hollywood to get “good” stuff made.

If you like history, you’ll go ga-ga over this series. They nailed the late 18th-century down to the nail, literally — showing the exact implements and tools and clothing details of the period. I mean, they researched how grape vines were held upright in gardens, and used real oxen to pull wooden sleds with real canon through real mud.

And if you like this country, you’ll be freakin’ Read more…

Weak-Ass John vs. Kick-Ass John

Thursday, 8:34pm
Reno, NV
“Bluto’s right. Psychotic, but absolutely right.” — Otter, rallying the frat.


Remember the scene in “Animal House” where Larry’s (nicknamed “Pinto”) date has passed out… and while he’s deciding what to do next, a little angel and a little devil appear on each shoulder, offering radically opposite advice?

That’s a funny scene… and yet the genesis of that image comes via thousands of years of intense intellectual thought about the duality of our nature.

The whole concept of good and evil… and how those dichotomies play out in the art-house theater of our soul… has obsessed us ever since our most remote ancestor had a greedy thought, and suddenly felt a twang of conscience over it.

That visual image of the devil and angel on each shoulder goes waaaaaay back, to the earliest cultures we know about. It’s a fundamental element of all religion, but also the foundation of all secular philosophical theory.

I’m thinking about all this high-minded shit, because I’m in the home stretch of my 21-Day Challenge. (For newbies, a few weeks ago I blogged on the concept that it takes 21 days to form new habits, and eliminate bad ones… and several folks joined me in tackling one habit over the next 3 weeks. We’re almost there.) (My personal challenge is to eliminate snack chips and crackers — I’m a carbo-freak, and all those Fritos and Saltines have jacked my cholesterol up to dizzy levels.) (Check the comments to see what others are attempting to face down.)

I’ve done this habit-change thing many times before, and I know the peculiar feeling that arrives when sweet victory is near. I know I’m “there”, because I almost slipped up last night (Michele had left a bag of tortilla chips on the counter, and they were whispering to me like evil little Sirens)… and I had a moment just like Larry.

On one shoulder was Weak-Ass John, dying to dive into that bag of chips and gorge. Oh, please, please, please, PLEASE! What harm could a few chips do, huh? Just one or two, c’mon, you wuss, you know you want it!

And on the other shoulder was Kick-Ass John, resolute and very adult about consequences and discipline and all that. Just move away slowly, dude. The craving will pass… and so what if it doesn’t? You took a vow to stay away from that shit, and you gain nothing by giving in…

Yeah, I’m a little schitzo like that. Conversations in my head that go on and on and on, arguing the finer points of righteousness versus indulgence.

Keeps things interesting, I’ll tell you what.

Anyway, early in my Challenge, I succumbed to Weak-Ass John’s dastardly desires, and ate a handful of carb-loaded crackers late one night. I was like a junkie who just scored. But I didn’t descend entirely into a carb orgy, like Weak-Ass was voting for… and I accepted my lapse, threw the rest of the offensive crackers away, and got back into resistance mode.

This time, last night, Weak-Ass literally got pounded by Kick-Ass John. The urge to gorge lit up my system like a flare, and the rationalizations for giving in swirled around my head like the most rational argument I’d ever heard. Of course it’s okay to eat chips. Carbs are good. Chips have gotta have some nutritional value, and there’s nothing else in the house that will quell these horrendous hunger pangs, and…

And it all melted away like vapor under a simple appearance by Kick-Ass. “Nope,” he said, snarling. “Not gonna give in. Not on my watch.”

Dude was scary.

And the craving left.

That’s how I know I’m in the home stretch. It hasn’t even been a full 21 days, and I’ve morphed into a guy who doesn’t eat chips. I left the bag on the counter, and just shined it on.

It’s a victory.

The last time I did this kind of challenge in a big way was decades ago, when I quit smoking (for the final time). The point of real change came when I stopped saying “I’m quitting smoking” to myself and others… and, instead, said “I don’t smoke.” And meant it.

There’s a difference. A guy who’s “quitting” (or, worse, “trying” to quit) is still in the act of “being” a smoker. He smokes, but he’s forcing himself to stop. It’s a battle.

Most people lose, too. That’s well known.

For me, that moment of Zen calm — when I realized I’d become a guy who didn’t smoke — was a watershed event. Trying to quit doing something is like “trying” to eat a sandwich — you’re either eating, or not. You’re either a guy with a mouthful of food, or you’re doing something else.

Cortez, the conquistador, knew this lesson well. He landed his mini-army on the Central American coast, and didn’t bother giving any big speeches about victory. He just burned the ships, so the only choice left for his men was to go forward and conquer, or die.

They weren’t fresh off the boat anymore, trying to get into the swing of being conquerors.

There weren’t any boats. Their identity was without mushy boundaries, very distinct and specific.

Whatever you think about the gruesome conquest of the Americas by Europe’s finest self-righteous butchers, the lesson is a good one. You kick ass, or you get kicked. (By your own weak-assed self, too. Humiliating.)

In my own case, the differences between the two John’s on my shoulders helps me understand a LOT about human nature and behavior.

Depending on who’s in charge, your world-view can go waaaaaay off-course.

Here’s how I map it out:

Weak-Ass is actually the stronger of the two, initially. He’s the default mode in the human system — untrained people will always go for the easy way out, the quick gratification, the instant satisfaction… and damn the consequences.

He thrives without obvious sustenance for the life of the host, too (kinda like cockroaches and weeds and viruses). And he cannot be killed — only wrestled into submission, where he will stay put only as long as you keep him nailed down.

He requires no invitation to take over any situation. He loves the absence of discipline.

Bottom line: He’s the worst sort of opportunist… waiting patiently until your defenses are down, and relentless about trying different and new ways of attacking your efforts to rise above zombie-behavior.

Kick-Ass, oddly, is almost a direct opposite. At peak power, he is a wonder to behold.

But he’s like a rare plant that requires constant nurturing and attention. He shrivels to nothing quickly and easily.

He will not do anything without a direct invitation. He needs constant monitering, and arrives almost as a blank slate requiring complete programming from scratch.

In short… he’s a hard dude to groom, and you can’t relax even after he’s wrested the controls away from Weak-Ass.

It’s no use wishing this situation were otherwise.

It is what it is.

And it’s the main plot in every good story you’ve ever heard. It’s the stuff of choices, opportunities lost, bad decisions, lucky breaks, chance encounters and all rollicking adventures.

This “always at risk of doing the wrong thing” element of being human isn’t something to rue. It’s just another tool in your belt as you strive to make better decisions, and recognize opportunity, and jump on lucky breaks, and embrace the never-ending adventure of a life well-lived.

Weak-Ass wants to slack off and zombie-out. Kick-Ass won’t get involved until you buck up and activate him.

So… how’s your 21-Day Challenge going?

I’m pulling for you. The good part is… if you lose, just gather yourself and get back after it.

That’s what your Kick-Ass self wants to do. That’s what he’s built for. But he can’t do it alone.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. Wait — here’s another example.

Over a month ago, I began trying to get ahold of an old friend by phone. I’ve known this guy since kindergarten, and we’ve never been out of touch our entire lives… though we seldom talk more than once or twice a year.

This time, however, I had a reason to talk with him other than just to catch up. I had a pressing question that was right up his professional alley… and all I needed was five minutes on the phone with him.

So I left a message. Then another. And another. And then a new message with his secretary at work.

Weeks passed, and I knew he hadn’t died, because his secretary told me he was just “out” whenver I called.

I got pissed off. Started leaving forceful messages on his cell phone. Called a mutual friend, and whined that this could be the end of our friendship — if the dude couldn’t muster five minutes to call me back, then that was a deal-killer for the friendship in my book.

This was Weak-Ass John being out of control. Putting the worst possible spin on the situation, and ready to end a fifty-year friendship over a perceived slight.

Luckily, I finally tried email. And got a reply in less than an hour.

The dude had been in Khazakstan, for crying out loud, in December. Had a great time (no, he didn’t meet Borat), but picked up a bug, and was under doctor’s care while sprewing from every orifice. He was gonna live — it wasn’t anything too exotic for an intense program of fluids and rest and antibiotics to fix — but he hadn’t had the energy to check his phone messages for a month.

I felt like Mr. Dipshit. And I’d wasted how much energy being pissed off over the last few weeks?

In my email, in fact, Weak-Ass had written in a threat about ending the friendship. Kick-Ass, fortunately, deleted it before I sent the thing… I was giving it one last college try, in my mind. No need to be too pissy about it.

I’m not down on myself for this. It’s human nature to act like a freak half the time.

The trick is to learn to recognize it early, and have the tools to do better. Forgive yourself, but don’t let Weak-Ass slide. Lock the bastard back up, and pay a little focused attention to Kick-Ass, so he gets stronger.

It’s an ongoing battle. Devil versus angel.

What’s your take on all this? Any insight I missed?

Walk A Mile In A Jerk’s Shoes…

Sunday, 9:17 pm
Reno, NV
Methinks she doth protest too much…


Without the insights of good pop psychology, I cannot fathom how my neighbor isn’t wracked with shame every second of his miserable life.

Because he truly is a Grade A asshole.

It’s not just me. Six other neighbors, on all sides, hate this guy’s guts with varying levels of passion (cuz he harshes everyone’s mellow and disrupts the groove of the cul-de-sac). The Homeowner’s Association regularly slams him with fines (cuz he thinks he’s above the rules). And I’m never surprised to see cop cars parked in his driveway.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

The dude’s obviously a low-life scum, living among people who just want peace and quiet.

If I was him, I’d immediately sign up for industrial-strength therapy, and maybe start a brisk program of frequent self-flagellation as punishment.

But I’m not him.

I’m someone else, looking at him with utter bafflement, because I cannot understand how he can live with himself, being such an asshole.

Yet, using the simplest basics of psychology… I “get” it.

And “getting” it makes me both a better story-teller, and a better marketer.

It’s really very straightforward: In Mr. A-hole’s mind, he’s a great guy. Misunderstood, prone to accidents that could happen to anyone, a smidgen too quick to get angry about stuff that anyone would get pissed off about.

He has a whole menu of excellent reasons that — in his mind — explain everything he does in a way that makes him either totally forgiven and excused… or the victim of unpreventable circumstances.

He has rationalized his behavior so that he’s the good guy at the center of his world.

And no amount of incoming data that challenges that rationalization will change anything.

The dude is bottled up tight. Certain of his own righteousness.

Serial killers think like this. Politicians, too. Also thieves, social outcasts, actors, perverts and scamsters.

And you, too. And me. And everyone you market to.

It’s part of being human.

Now, you and I may also have some redeeming traits, like a code of behavior that prevents us from hurting other people or avoiding doing the right thing (or parking half on a neighbor’s lawn).

We are, in fact, a roiling pot of conflicting and battling emotions, urges, habits, learned behaviors and unconscious drives.

Every day, if we’re lucky, the mixture remains mostly balanced and doesn’t explode or morph into something toxic.

But it’s all in there. And it’s all fighting for supremacy.

The book ‘How To Win Friends And Influence People”, by Dale Carnegie, is called the salesman’s bible because of a simple tactic that works like crazy.

That tactic: Learn to walk a mile in another man’s shoes before judging him.

Or sizing him up.

This tactic does NOT come with our default settings as humans. You gotta learn it.

Once you’ve been around very small children, you realize how deeply ingrained our selfish desires are. We excuse them in kids, but strive to civilize the little terrors by corraling those desires into submission.

Takes a while.

People who grow up without that kind of mentoring can be hard to deal with. Some special cases — those blessed with an endless supply of sociopathic charm — can still make it work, and live lives of selfish abandon. Good for them.

But most of us realize that we gotta share the sandbox with others, and that means sublimating our greedy ape-urges most of the time.

Still, if you’re gonna be a great salesman, you gotta become a great student of human nature… and notice, catalog, understand, and USE insights like this.

So when you tell a story, it’s easy to figure out what the listener needs to hear to stay interested. When you sell something, it’s easy to know how to incite desire, because you know what people want (which is almost always NOT what you want them to want).

And when you’re approaching prospects cold — cuz they don’t know who you are — you are able to quickly discern who THEY are, and adjust your tactics accordingly.

But you cannot attain this state of understanding human behavior… without experiencing all the different parts of human behavior out there.

Okay, you don’t want to experience everything. People do some truly disgusting and repulsive stuff that is beyond the boudaries of acceptable experience for the rest of us.

But within reason, you at least need to learn how to walk in another person’s shoes for a mile. (That’s supposed to be an old American-Indian saying, a take-off on the Judeo-Christian “golden rule” of treating others as you would be treated yourself.)

It helps to understand basic psychology. It’s probably out of print, but the old best seller “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” (which is about transactional psychology, but never mind that part) lays out a pretty good start for rookies. Once you see a few examples of how your thinking on a matter may not jive with the other guy’s thinking… you’ll have the seeds of understanding how to delineate what those differences are, and how they affect your relationship.

It’s really not that tough, once you get wet.

Basically, the bottom line of understanding human behavior is all about accepting the reality of the situation.

Yes, he’s an asshole, according to your rules. But in his rule book, you’re probably the asshole. If you insist on not allowing his viewpoint to exist, there will be blood.

In marketing, if you don’t learn to understand how other people see you and your efforts to sell, there will be no sale.

It’s tough to walk in another dude’s shoes even if you LIKE him. Think of your best friend. His taste in clothes is abysmal, he insists on wearing his hair in a stupid style, he watches bad television shows, and eats horrible crap.

Yet, somehow you overlook these things, and get along.

The challenge, as a marketer, is to suck up your distaste for people who don’t share your worldview… and be a chameleon. That’s the lizard that blends in with any background (except plaid — we used to try to make the little lizards explode by placing psychedelic prints on the bottom of their cage). (Doesn’t work, in case you’re wondering.)

You don’t have to compromise your cherished beliefs, or alter your own worldview. (Unless you discover you should.)

Just understand that there are more complex personality tweaks in the people around you than there are stars in the sky.

And your job, as a marketer, is to understand that the person you’re selling stuff to may need all sorts of weird, twisted info or soothing advice or whatever to make a buying decision.

It’s not hard, once you learn how to walk a mile in other people’s shoes… and then DO it, on a regular basis.

And you gotta do it even with the assholes around you.

I still loathe my neighbor, but I can’t really hate him. He’s infuriating, but the real reason he pisses everyone off… is that he’s just not good at social interaction. HE cannot walk three feet in someone else’s shoes, has no clue what that would accomplish anyway, and lives in such a tight little box that he’s really just a walking prison of discomfort and exitential anguish.

I still wish he’d move, though.


Here’s a little task for you: Identify a trait in someone around you… that irks you no end. (Maybe humming off-key, or always being late, or telling boring stories.)

And spend a few minutes seeing that behavior from the inside.

Become, for a moment, that guy. Walk a mile in his shoes, and rationalize how you feel.

You don’t need to adopt the trait, or learn to “like” it.

Just understand it. Get hip to the way the other guy has come to terms with himself.

This is powerful knowledge.

This is how top marketers move through the world, with deep personal insight to how other humans get through their day.

I’d love to hear, in the comments section, what you discover when you do this task.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

How To Survive Excessive Recession Hand-Wringing

Thursday, 10:03pm
Reno, NV
Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of economic nastiness…


I’m gonna want your opinion here in a minute.

But first, I have a very relevant question for you: Has the looming recession got you scared yet?

The mainstream media sure hopes so. Sells more newspapers, boosts cable ratings on CNN and Fox and MSNBC, makes the populace hyper-aware (like jittery squirrels gathering nuts in a dog park), and gives advertisers a tidy little narrative to help position product.

An audience with frayed nerves is an audience paying attention.

They like that.

Entrepreneurs and small biz owners can be especially vulnerable to economic downturns.

Or even talk of an economic downturn.

Frequent news stories about financial doom tend to bring on the “Yikes, we’re all gonna die!” response. Even in people who should know better.

My pal Perry Marshall reminded me of the “should know better” part today, when he sent out a blog-alert email titled “My rant about this so-called recession”. Damn good rant, too.

Basically, he noticed that his list seemed to self-select themselves into two distinct categories: (1) The whiny 95%, who seem to almost welcome economic disaster (as definitive relief from the anxiety of waiting for the hammer, so they can blame any pending failure on “outside circumstances”)… and (2) the “Alpha Warriors”, who barely acknowledge anything the mainstream media say about the economy.

Perry thought the Alpha Warrior segment of his list hovered around 5%. After I called him (to congratulate him on an insightful post), we both immediately agreed that it’s really probably closer to 1%.

In other words, in a room of 100 people, the folks ready to latch onto recession fears as an excuse to crawl into a fetal position and suck their thumb would dominate the discussion, the physical space, and the mindset.

There would be one lone dude, in the corner, ignoring them and getting on with business.

This is an important observation.

The narrative of your world-view can deeply affect how you act.

I hear from entrepreneurs all the time who were shocked, saddened, and even discouraged by the cacophony of negative voices around them when they decided to try their hand at marketing. If the opinion of your family, friends, co-workers and even future colleagues matters to you… just skip starting your own biz.

Cuz you will rarely hear an encouraging word. Most folks don’t like change, and resent the turbulence you cause by ignoring obstacles and overcoming problems to go after a goal.

Consider how many people around you base their world-view on the idea that “you can’t fight city hall”, or “The Man controls everything”, or “The little guy doesn’t stand a chance”. No dream of independence or getting rich can survive that kind of negativity. If they HAD a dream, it’s gone now.

And you’re kind of throwing that sad fact back in their face by going after your dream.

Not everyone is like that. But do not be shocked when you hear about even close friends secretly rooting for your collapse, or taking delight in the struggles you encounter. If you fail, they are proven right — you never really stood a chance. What a fool you were for even trying.

Worse, if you succeed, you very likely will drift away from the slacker world they are so comfy residing in. You’ll force them to come up with new excuses for their own lack of movement.

And that’s a horrible thing to do to friends. You naughty person, you.

The media loves a recession, because it means no slow news days for a while. Every utterance from the Fed is a headline, weekly columns write themselves (just pick two recession cliches from your cliche file and rub ’em together), and “man in the street” interviews will always yield some nice emotional sound bites.

Great marketers see a recession as something else: An economic burp that may or may not affect them. If it does, then you adjust accordingly. If it doesn’t, then it’s full speed ahead.

No hand-wringing allowed.

As Perry pointed out, it’s now a global market, dude. The dollar’s fade is the euro’s goose (and, if you’re exporting, the best news you could ever hear). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs doesn’t vanish just because the Gross Domestic Product does a prat fall.

People still need to eat, still need a roof over their heads, still demand luxury.

And still need advice. Maybe more than ever.

Many will need new jobs. A recession isn’t fun by any means, and neither is it a joke.

However, neither is it an excuse to fold up shop and go hide.

I happen to know the number one real estate broker in town here. The Reno market went from being one of the top five hottest housing booms just a year or so ago… to becoming one of the worst in the nation. Prices, values and capital are plummeting.

Yet, people still need houses. They move away, or move here from somewhere else. Or move up, or down, as the nest requires more or less space. Many still see the cheap loans (as the Fed lowers rates to almost ridiculous levels) and distressed sales available as excellent reasons to buy or sell, or both.

Sure, the easy days of the boom are gone. Have a good cry, wipe your nose, and get back to the job at hand. Adjust your strategy to meet the challenge.

This guy was the top realtor during the boom, and he’s the top realtor now that the market has lapsed into a fever. He just adjusted.

It’s the same with every other market I have hooks in. The smart guys note the nuances of how things have changed, and redirect their energies to what works NOW.

The not-so-smart guys shriek and lose sleep and curse cruel Fate. And pine for the good old days, when their limited bag of tactics was effective.

There’s a saying in the financial world: Never confuse genius with a bull market.

That concept holds for everything else, too. I remember an obscure comedy show where Gilbert Gottfried (the shrimpy little guy with the scrunched-up face) asked a couple of buffed-out GQ male models for tips on picking up women. Their first piece of advice: Never acknowledge a woman the first time she approaches you and begs for your attention. Just keep talking to all the women who come up to you and…

“Wait a minute,” yells Gottfried. “I’ve never had a woman approach me in my life.”

The two studs looked baffled. And had no further advice.

Dan Kennedy and I have often joked with each other about what will happen to the youngest part of the online entrepreneurial world the first time the economy has a fit. There are gazillionaires out there (Mark Cuban comes to mind) who barely sweated earning their mint, because they stumbled blindly into virgin groves of low-hanging fruit, and gorged without effort or competition (sometimes for years).

Taking advice from them would be like asking a Vanderbilt how to cook a steak. (“Just ring for the downstairs maid”, of course.)

Take it from a guy who’s weathered multiple recessions, the collapse of entire financial institutions (I was a rookie copywriter writing financial direct mail packages when the S&L crisis lopped an entire arm from the banking community), and the meltdown of more hot markets than I can count (from Pet Rocks to McMansions).

Ignore the doomsayers. Focus on the fundamentals — good product, good value in your offer, good traffic generation, and the dedicated nurturing of your list. If it feels right to downsize (either in your life, by living debt-free, or in your biz, by trimming the fat), then do so. If your old way of doing things isn’t producing the results you need, try something else. Test more diligently. Study your market for pain that needs attention, and attend to it.

I like that term of Perry’s, “Alpha Warriors”.

But in my mind, you’re really just the Adult In The Room when you continue to take care of biz when everyone else is freaking out.

You may be the only adult in the room, too… and you may be trashed for your refusal to panic… but when you know a fresh game is afoot, you gather your resources and engage anyway. To succeed as an entrepreneur, you gotta be your own best friend.

Seems like obvious advice, doesn’t it.


Takes a little courage, a little faith in your skills and ability to face unpredictable obstacles and overcome them, and a lot of M*A*S*H style humor. Because things can get gruesome, and the media will make sure everyone feels the pain from every obscure corner of the economy.

I actually increase my charitable donations during downturns, even when my income may be flat-lining a bit.

Just to remind myself that true success is the ability to make a difference. In your own life, and in the lives of people you share this hunk of wet rock with.

So please don’t panic. Take a deep breath, and know that the media will continue to treat things like an ongoing George Romero “Night Of The Living Dead” sequel.

And I’d really like to know…

What do YOU think about the talk of recession?

Are you doing anything differently? Are you losing sleep?

Any additional advice, either from experience or from a mentor or advisor?

Blogs like this are the “antidote” to the ravings of the mainstream media, you know. If you’ve got insight to living through roller coaster Dow rides and market busts, let’s hear it.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. Over half-way to the 21-day habit challenge finish line.

I’m holding my own. How’re you doing?

The Goal Of Goals

Thursday, 8:37pm
Reno, NV
Coyotes in the distance, making sweet music to the snowfall…


How’re you doing with your 21-day habit change challenge?

I almost screwed up last night. Walked by the kitchen around midnight, and I swear the last box of crackers in there was calling my name.

Bastard carbohydrates.

First sign you’re gonna win is when you just shrug, acknowledge that giving in would be glorious and tasty and, you know, worth it in a way… and then don’t give in.

It’s not even a sign of strength, really. It’s just adult management of the ancient, murky, often self-destructive parts of your mind. The ape-brain wants, gimme, gimme, gimme. Ape-brain must have.

Ape-brain not happy when denied.

And yet the sky doesn’t cave in when you shoo the beast back into the shadows.

Day by day, your old habit goes from struggle, to weak impulse, to vanquished behavior pattern. It’s a grind… but results are incremental.

Heck, I’ve got to go through SuperBowl weekend without eating chips and dip.

You gotta feel for me, dude.

Still, the little victories mount quickly. Several years ago, in antipation of doing a full weekend seminar (where I would be on stage, on my feet, needing to be super-sharp and on the ball the entire time), I hired a trainer and started working out twice a week.

I loathe working out. I’d rather play tennis, or pick-up round-ball, or raquetball, or do anything other than schlump my ass back into the gym… but those sports, while exhausting, will not give you a thorough workout.

I knew I needed the whole shebang… and I knew from past experience that hiring a trainer was the best way to “trick” myself into following through.

See, you can join a gym, figure out a routine, and even schedule workouts for yourself, and not need a trainer. Read up on specific workout strategies, write out plans, do it all on your own.

But I knew I needed that extra condition — the very real tactic of having to pay the trainer for his time whether I showed up or not.

That works for me. Just knowing I’m screwing up, by not working out during my appointed hour… and knowing that someone else is also privy to my shame… is enough to kick my butt into gear.

I hate it.

But I go.

And I’ve been going for around four years now. Same trainer, too. I see him more than I see most of my friends, and it’s a relatively pleasant way to suffer twice a week.

It’s a habit. When I travel, and miss more than a couple of workouts, I get uncomfortable… and I like that. I’m more uncomfortable NOT working out, than going through the hassle of actually working out.

I’m in that groove where I crave the burn. Nice.

It’s a drag getting in shape, especially after a few years of slacking. It hurts, it’s annoying, and I don’t wanna have to do it. Been there, done that.

But once you’re there, it’s easy to see the benefits. Obvious health, energy and well-being advantages up the yin-yang, in fact.

Last time I was out-of-shape, I had chronic back pain, I strained muscles easily, and I had the energy level of a wounded slug.

Still, I have to gear up to attack each workout, week after week. I resent the time it takes to get to the gym, I resent having to change clothes, I resent gasping for air during aerobic training… I’m just a resentful pig all the way around.

But it’s a habit now. I don’t have to rearrange my day to workout — the scheduled workouts are already there, built-in, week after week. I plan biz stuff around them, and it’s EASY. Once you’re in the habit, and you make it a priority.

And that small victory — just showing up for my workouts regularly and grunting through them without thought of quitting — gives me a foundation to build other victories.

There’s an old standard goal I used to put on my weekly list I called “The Nasty Bit”. My task was — every time I sat at my desk to start my workday — to choose the ONE thing I really, really, really did NOT want to do… and then do that first.

Usually, it was a phone call fraught with dread. Or reading some long, dull report for a client. Or finalizing the death knell for a relationship.

Neurosis, basically, is the built-up mire of ignored tasks. If you have a problem in life, then you have a task: Face that problem, and resolve it (even if resolution simply means making your peace with it).

You do that, you get to move on. There will be new problems, new tasks, and more down the line when you plow through those. But you will be moving… and gaining strength as you roll.

If you don’t engage the task laid out for you… then the problem festers, and the lack of resolution creates an anchor around your soul.

You stop moving. Instead of engaging life’s new problems, you are stuck in neutral, unable to leave the rut that gets deeper each day you ignore your duty.

And it IS a duty. You have the option of crawling into a rut and going to sleep for the rest of your days, just like the zombie hordes that stumble around you. It’s a tempting decision, because it’s “easy” (if you can live with the self-loathing shame) (which an alarming number of people seem content to do).

So here’s the bottom line: Attaining happiness isn’t easy.

It’s a task, just like potty training. Do it, move on, engage life fully. Don’t do it, and… well, you get the picture.

What I’m saying is that the goal of goal setting… is to get good at attaining goals. Not just having them… but attaining them. Mastering difficult tasks, embracing the joy of victory… and then asking for more.

The small victory of attaining your goal — of either establishing a new, “good” habit, or ditching a “bad” one — is very much like that first step on a fresh path that leads to exciting places.

So… how’re you doing with your 21-challenge?

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

Story Mop-Up Duty… and Another Challenge

Sunday, 6:23pm
Reno, NV
The street’s become one big damn dirt-flavored slushie…


Hey — great job on the stories, guys (and gals).

I just grabbed a few, totally at random, for comment here:

Ian, one of the last to post, nailed it. As a dog lover, I laughed out loud about his short, vivid tale of the dog who didn’t know what to do with the squirrel — after a lifetime of chasing them, she’d never caught one before. And so it got away.

Weak segue into a product, but definitely the right idea. Nice work, Ian.

Karen, Dean, Jason — nice work. Especially Karen — vivid, funny, poignant finish.

Bill went long with his story about slacking his way into college while his poor brother struggled for good grades and failed… but it’s just damn good storytelling. Human interest, compelling narrative, an opening wide enough to begin a truly killer sales pitch. Kudos.

There were two very short posts, by Kris and Udo, that illustrate the lesson. I suggest everyone dig in and read them.

Kris relayed the old “3 men went out, only 2 came back” saw. I appreciate the thinking behind it, but it’s not a story. An opening line for a story, perhaps…but it’s totally unmoored, with no plot elements, no punch line, no action.

This is best illustrated by Udo’s submission about the 300 Trojans stopping 200,000 at Thermopylae (subject of the recent movie based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel), coupled with the modern idea of a single “Trojan” now stopping half a million. I’ll let you, the reader, fill in the details… but I “got” it immediately. Maybe a little too cute, but good — set up, plot elements, coy twist, punch line.

Two extremely sparse submissions, both trying for pithy delivery. One connected, the other fell into the trap of not completing the process of set-up/action/punch-line.

This is not a knock on you, Kris. Thousands of people read this blog, and you had the guts to sit down and give the task a whirl. You are already ahead of everyone else who didn’t lock into “think hard” mode… and your next effort (if you take the lesson to heart) will put you even further ahead.

This is how writers get good.

I’ve been studying writing since I was a kid (when I tried to figure out how Bradbury and Asimov were able to suck me into their novellas). And, as an adult, I’ve dug deep into the “art”, shelling out big bucks to attend fancy-ass writer’s workshops in various states (like the famous annual events in Swannee, TN, and Squaw Valley, CA).

And I discovered two very important things:

1) Writer’s write. It’s that simple.

Almost every accomplished writer I have ever met started out struggling…. and even after becoming successful, continued to drive to get even better.

Not a single one was “born” into it. Their early stories were garbled garbage… but they kept after it, learning the craft by making mistakes, and then absorbing the lesson.

2) Most of the people running around those workshops were not writers… nor did they ever intend to become one.

No. They shelled out the thousands and thousands of bucks required to attend these week-long workshops… because they wanted to have already written something, and enjoy the imagined self-respect and glory of “being” a writer.

The one thing they had in common: They seldom actually sat down and wrote.

They complained of “writer’s block” (which doesn’t exist), they knew how to talk a good game, they even set up meetings with publishers.

But since the only way to get a book written is to… um, excuse me if I shock you here… is to WRITE IT, these pathetic wannabe’s were just shit outa luck in their desire to be seen as writers.

They are the worst kind of poseur. (Unfortunately, the workshops can’t survive without them. The “real” writers — a definite, tiny minority — need the wannabe’s to fund the events.) (Though, after attending five or six, I’ve concluded they’re mostly a waste of time. If you want to become a writer, write. And find successful writers to study. Oh, and take advantage of free blogs like this one.)

I’m relaying this tale specifically because many people who posted their stories here did something that a HUGE part of the population simply cannot bring themselves to do: Face the blank screen, and then write.

For every marketer out there writing his own copy — and learning from his mistakes and testing and inter-acting with guys like me — there are a hundred more who are frozen just by the thought of putting their fingers on a keyboard and engaging their brains.

The invention of email — which wasn’t all that long ago — has been a godsend for many people… simply because it forces you to grab a coherent thought, wiggle it down through your body from brain to fingers, and type it out.

I’m sure you’ve experienced this same situation: My father (who, at 86, may be one of the oldest dudes alive who knows how to surf online), at first could barely peck out a single sentence in an email. He was so terse, it was hardly communication at all.

Quickly, however, by repetition, he got the hang of it. And now pens emails easily and unself-consciously.

He got better… by doing it.

Believe it or not… the essentials of killer storytelling require nothing more than the few specifics I handed out in the past few blog posts… combined with your continued effort to see the world around you, and translate it into a pithy, concise, well-told tale that meets the simple requirements of set-up/action/punch line.

If you’re doing it badly now, you soon won’t be. Just keep after it.


Here’s another challenge for y’all.

It ties in neatly with the idea of keeping after it.

Harken: Most folks know the “science” behind forming a habit.

I can’t quote you the research, but the standard anecdote is that it takes 21 days to create a habit… whether it’s a good habit, or a bad one.

You gotta get up every day, for three weeks in a row, uninterrupted… and do your thing in a proscribed way that eventually gets set into muscle memory and into your brain.

The bad habits are easy.

The good ones… not so much.

My trainer, Bryan, reminded of how important it is to focus on creating good habits last week. He’s forcing all his clients — he’s a sadist, the man is — to think about a good habit they want to cultivate… and he’s not shutting up about it once you make the committment.

This is great stuff.

Think how quickly your life could change if you had a slave standing behind you at your desk… and every time you did whatever it is you’re trying to change (like slouching in your chair, or obsessively checking email, or downloading porn) the slave would whack you upside the head until you stopped.

Well, what Bryan’s doing is pretty close. I see him three times a week for punishment (okay, for a workout)… and he is relentless about getting into my face about my goals.

Heck — I PAY him to do this to me.

I highly recommend it.

But even if you’re on your own right now… the whole 21-day challenge thing is worthwhile.

Just pick a single good habit you want to instill. And use the next 3 weeks as your “forge” to make it stick.

At the recent Altitude “check up” event, there were dozens of rich marketers who talked about this very thing — changing your life in increments, habit by habit. (The necessity for “being a good animal” ranks up there with “earn another million bucks” for the most successful guys in the game. Often enough, it ranks even higher.)

What could you accomplish in your life by, say… getting up an hour earlier every day?

Or forming a morning ritual that allows you to efficiently meet the day pumped full of good nutrients, clean, alert and already exercised?

Or setting up a single day each week to take the phone off the hook, and just write all day long without interruption?

Or, heck, even the old standby’s: Is it time to quit smoking? Time to get serious about mentoring your kids? Time to start reading a novel every month?

As humans, we are all woefully inept at creating our “movies” in any perfect way. I would never strive for perfection, anyway — sounds boring to me.

Still, there are ways I want to live that I cannot access until I create better habits. Incremental changes, made permanent, can quickly form the foundation for amazing transformation.

I’ll tell you what my little 21-day challenge is. I’m addicted to carbohydrates — bread, cereal, chips, all that good stuff. And so, despite being in excellent over-all shape and health (cuz, you know, I work out)… my cholesterol isn’t cooperating.

So I’m simply jettisoning all the crap from my diet. (The beer stays, though. I’m not a monk.)

It’s not tough. I’ve done it before. In fact, last year I got into the habit of NOT eating so many carbs… but over the holidays, I dedicated myself to perversely destroying that habit.

Such is life. Constant vigilance is required.

However, without an actual deadline, it might take me years to even attempt to readjust my diet. (I swear, I bought a big damn bag of tortilla chips in a trance last week. I told myself “Don’t do it, man” as I watched my hand reach out and toss the bag into the grocery cart. Carbs are great zombie fuel.)

So here I am, a week into it. And already thinking twice every time I walk into the kitchen. And just waving hello to the Cheeto’s at the deli when I grab a sandwich, and not buying them.

Because I set a simple, very reachable goal: Just do it for 21 days, and see what happens.

It’s cheating, of course. I know full well that, after 21 days, I will have replaced the old habits with a new one: Eating healthy.


Wanna come along?

Pick a goal. For the next 21 days, engage in your chosen new behavior. Just 3 short weeks.

A cakewalk. (Unless it’s cake you’re trying to get away from.)

If you’ve done this before, then you know how powerful it is. If you’ve never done it, you’re in for a treat.

Start simple, if you like. Take a long walk every day. Start brushing your teeth more effectively. Meditate for twenty minutes in the afternoon. Be nice to your mate, no matter how aggravating they are to you.

Or… keep a journal, and every evening, write down a short story of what you observed during your day. Take ten minutes, and tell yourself a little tale.

Heck… post your new goal here in the comments section, if you like. It’ll be there for God and everybody to see… and that will help you breeze through the 3 weeks.

Twenty-one days is not an eternity (unless you’re quitting smoking, which is one of those big damn deal goals) (which you need to get to at some point).

It goes quick. (Think back to your New Year’s Even celebrating. That was FOUR weeks ago. A mere blink.)

And, at the end of your 21 days, you’ll have your new good habit.

C’mon, let us know what you’re eager to instill. We all need good ideas for the next challenge, you know. And I’ll remind you, each time I blog, about it. I’ll keep you aprised of my progress, and you can post yours.

This could be the year for you. The big breakthrough year, where it all comes together.

And it can start with just a little focus and dedication to change…

Don’t be a putz. Let’s change things around…

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. Speaking of turning things around, the Simple Writing System has changed the life of thousands of marketers, business owners and copywriters and has helped launch countless careers.

Could it do the same for you?

It wouldn’t hurt to check things out now, would it?

Bring Your Badass Story Home To Your Reader

Thursday, 5:34pm
Reno, NV
Okay, I’m tired of snow now…


Let’s take a deep dive into storytelling, what d’ya say?

And, if you’re still up for it, let’s do another exercise to get our chops honed to dangerous “street-wise salesmanship” levels.

If your final goal is to sell stuff, then you need to be able to bring your story home to a reader.

And before anyone starts huffing about how “crass” that sounds, let’s get straight on something right here:

Most of the stories in our modern culture are about selling.

Movies sell stars, and sell themselves.

Television stories are just attention place-holders for commercials. (You think actors get the big bucks because they’re “good”? No way. It’s because they connect with a paying audience. Bob Hope was one of the richest actors to hit the stage, and he never even tried to “really” act — he just goofed his way through a stunningly-lucrative career. But people identified with him, and he cashed in on that identity.)

If you think stories should be “pure”, then move away from society.

Even your weird Uncle Whazoo has an agenda with most of his stories.

He wants attention, he wants to shock and entertain, or maybe he just feels family gatherings would kill the young-un’s with boredom if he didn’t retell the adventure behind his filthy hula dancer tatoo.

So, just to refresh: If you offer something that your prospect needs or wants… then shame on you if you don’t use every tactic available to get your sales message across so the poor guy can justify buying it.

And stories are a killer way to set that situation up.



So… back to the lesson.

Limiting your stories to just 3 lines will help you become more concise.

Even the most rollicking tale can put people to sleep if it’s too long, and has too many tangents.

And most people are not natural storytellers… so they ramble off on quirky paths, repeating themselves, unable to clearly explain plots, and bombarding the listener with irrelevant bullshit.

Like this:

“Did I tell you about the UFO that attacked us? No? It was Tuesday last week… no, wait, it was Wednesday. Yeah, it must have been Wednesday, because I was headed to IHOP to meet Suzy for waffles — you know they have specials every Wednesday, don’t you…”

↑ That there is how people get strangled.↑

In my long experience trying to force people to tell better stories, the first task is nearly always trimming the excess verbiage and fluff.

The outline to follow is:

  • Set up (the tease of the payoff to come)
  • Plot elementsaction (the fulfillment of the tease)…
  • The moral. Which doesn’t have to actually be “moral” in any righteous sense — it’s just the punch line of the story.

You have a reason to tell your story. It could vary from pure entertainment, to pure desire to sell lots of stuff.

When you’re done, you want your listener or reader to FEEL something.

  • Happiness (aww, the puppy got rescued)…
  • Alarm (my God, I’m gonna keep a loaded gun by my bedside from here on out)…
  • Astonishment (my neighbors are doing what at night?)…
  • Or, yes, even greed (hey! I want that kind of deal, too!)

To be more biological about it… the process can also be described like this: Foreplay… climax… resolution.

Stories, like sex, benefit from a focus on the goal. The less extraneous interruption, the better.

In other words: It’s not about you at all, even if you’re the star of the story.

Rollicking stories are always about your reader.

Do you really want to master the ability to tell stories that sell? It’s way more fun than writing about features all day, and more profitable. That’s why I devoted an entire lesson to the topic in the Simple Writing System. Get all the details right here.

Ideally, your reader will “see” himself in your story. Or feel like he’s temporarily “in” the world you create with your words.

Have you ever read a story to a kid? Once they get the taste for it, just saying “Once upon a time…” will glaze their eyes over, as they eagerly prepare themselves to be transported to a world far different than their own.

(Side rant: I think it’s a friggin’ travesty that kids today are being shielded from the violence and chaotic messages of such wild tales as the Brothers Grimm laid out. I had zero idea what life was like in the Middle Ages, but I readily suspended all disbelief because I craved the story so badly. If everyone was wearing lederhosen and eating gruel — whatever that was — then fine. Just make sure the wicked witch or headless horseman scared the bejesus out of me.) (And I grew up fine. The real world, and all the people in it, is not some Kumbaya fantasy… and the often morbid lessons of classic children’s tales are damn good preparation for living amonst the deceit, the unfairness, the unpredictability, and the raw unbridled terror of reality. So there.)

This concept of “transporting” is critical, by the way.

You’re driving the story, and it’s your responsibility to keep it on the road. Your reader will abandon you at the first hint you don’t know where we’re going… and he’ll despise you for getting his hopes up for a good tale, if you then dash them with a feeble punch line.

That’s why striving for pithy, concise stories is so important for writers. Set up… action… punch line.

This 3-line classic is one of the best: 

“I’ve been poor. And I’ve been rich. Rich is better.”

No need for any other detail. In this example, the words “rich” and “poor” are Power Words.

They carry their own payload of emotional backstory with them, because in this context nearly everyone will have a feeling about the concept of being rich, and a feeling (probably very personal and visceral) about being poor.

No one needs a long-winded rant about HOW poor you were, or HOW rich you were.

Concise, memorable stories pack a punch.

Even better, there is a segue into the life of the reader in that 3-line beauty. “Rich is better” may seem like an obvious statement, but coupled with the set-up lines, it delivers a strong message that smacks of truth.

Now, the classical “rags to riches” sales pitch requires more detail, of course. But not so much that you lose the flow of a quick story, told with feeling, ripe with implications for the reader.

However, good ad copy doesn’t rest on implications.

It’s got to move quickly to specifics.

So here’s a simple tactic from my Bag of Tricks that has helped me bring many a story “home” to readers:

  1. First, you tell your story, and you aim for the kind of breathless prose that makes your prospect afraid to exhale, for fear of missing a delicious detail.
  2. Then, you tidy it up. Deliver the punch line, or the moral, or just the ending. Don’t try any clever transitions back into your sales pitch.

Instead, you merely say:

“And here’s what that means for YOU…”

When reading fables to kids, any such attempt to explain the moral would ruin the transcendant pleasure of listening to stories. Ideally, you’d want the end of the story to rattle around in their heads, while they mulled over the ethical implications and came up with their own (right) conclusion. (Kids hate it when adults wag fingers and try to force lessons on them.)

But when writing to adults, you can’t assume anything.

Adults are so numb to incoming data, they will suck up even a great story, absorb it, and move on to the next volley of arriving stimuli without coming to any conclusion whatsoever.

So, as the copywriter, it’s your job to complete the thought.

Not in any condescending way, of course. You just continue the thread, going deeper into your sales message.

“I’ve been poor. And I’ve been rich. Rich is better. And here’s what that means for you:”

You can continue on with your life believing that ‘money can’t buy happiness’ if that makes you feel better… but I’m here to tell you that having a pile of extra cash is actually a fabulous feeling… and your life will get better almost immediately. Plus, since I’ve already done the hard work of going from clean broke to filthy rich, I know all the shortcuts… and I’ll share them with you…

Et cetera.

Ready for your assignment?

Tell a short, 3-line story (using the concept of set up, plot, action and punch line)… and then write a one or two line segue bringing your story home to your reader.

You’re allowed to be non-sensical for this exercise. In other words, you don’t actually have to be selling anything. You can make it all up.

Just think — really, really hard — about how the moral or punch line of your story MIGHT lead to a sales message.

(Another side rant: If you read all the stories in the comments section of my previous posts, you probably noticed the frequency of “we met, we kissed, something went wrong” stories in the submission pile. That’s great — to get good at story telling, you first want to practice (a LOT) with telling tales that have emotional impact or meaning to you. Everyone remembers their first legitimate kiss. (Those sloppy pecks from Auntie Mame don’t count./End rant)

Most people’s stories tend to be pretty typical, but if they’re told right, they can still be funny, or shocking, or even corny in a way that gets the reader nodding in agreement.

And while it may not seem obvious that you could possibly sell anything, after sharing the humorous story of your first fumbling efforts at romance in junior high… just reflect on all the commercials and ads you’ve seen that blatantly couple sex and product.

Heck, they sell laundry detergent with sex.

And while Warren Buffett might put you to sleep with his theories on compound interest, a real entrepreneur would explain the exact same concept from the deck of his yacht, surrounded by bikini-clad beauties. And get more attention, too.

Be concise, and bring it home to the reader.

You cannot “fail” at this exercise, because you’re just warming up your chops.

And, as a number of commenters noted, these are MEGA-important exercises if you want to get good. You COULD have been honing your storytelling chops all along, every day of your life. But you didn’t, did you.

Because no one challenged you to do it.

So, here is an excuse to engage that scary brain of yours, and force it to work for you, for once.

You don’t learn to ride without hopping into the saddle. And it’s okay to fall off, as long as you climb back on.

Stay frosty…

John Carlton

P.S. Stories sell. It’s just that simple… That’s why honing your storytelling chops can change the game for anyone who is an entrepreneur or copywriter…

You’ll find a lot more about storytelling and other pro copywriting tactics here… 

You, The Movie Version

Sunday, 6:35pm
Reno, NV
Crispy clear evening, with a canopy of stars twinkling like lighters during a Neil Young encore…


I’m gonna ask you to write a little mini-script here in a minute. For your “inner” home movie.

You did know your life is a movie, right?

Okay, maybe you’re no DiCaprio or Clooney or Scarlett… or even Giametti… but you’re the star of your own show just the same.

There’s a script, which you have enormous sway with. You don’t like the way things are going, do a rewrite.

There’s direction, and even lighting. You want something flashy or big to happen… well, you can arrange it. Whatever you want, as long as you’ve got the cojones to get after it. (No, you’re not guaranteed to get what you want… but if that’s how you want your movie to go, you can at least call for it in your script. Run for prez, dude, if that floats your boat. Heck, if the current crop thinks they’re worthy, then most of the rest of us are, too.)

Lighting, by the way, plays a bigger role in your life than you might realize. Most of us live under ridiculously harsh wattage, both at work and at home… and it’s like blasting angry music into your head all the time. It can change the way you see yourself, and act in the world. Heck — bright lights are used as “extreme interrogation” methods by the CIA. So is Barry Manilow music, as well as thrash metal. Because relentless use of it hurts.

As a side note: Experiment with the subtle elements of your life. Get some indirect lighting for your office, use non-white bulbs or even candles… you don’t have to go for any kind of gaudy bordello-style mood, but just try lighting your stage differently for a little while. See how it affects the way you do things.

Same with music — get out of your rut, for sure, but also stretch a bit. My iPod is crammed with rock and roll, but also lots of classical and acid jazz and country and folk and alternative stuff. And I carefully plan out hour-long playlists that create a mood, and keep it going.

When you live like you’re a star, you pay attention to these kinds of details.

The benefits: Time slows down… routines become exercises in pleasurable rites rather than zombie habits… and your awareness level kicks up a notch.

All are excellent tools for living well… and being a better marketer.

Especially the “awareness” part.

Have you ever wondered where the knack for finding stories and hooks — the main ingredient of any great copywriter’s bag of tricks — comes from?

It’s a direct result of being hyper-aware. Of living life like the greatest movie ever filmed.

Think about your life.

No, seriously. Think about it.

Most people have trouble “seeing” themselves in the world at all. Without a mirror, they’re not even sure they exist. Their daily experiences are like watching a “monkey cam” — the filmed result of attaching a camera to the back of a chimp and letting him wander off.

It’s not a smooth, thought-out, coherent narrative. Instead, it’s jerky, chaotic, and (unless there are “happy accidents”) mostly boring.

There. I’ve said it.

Most people lead boring lives.

And do you know why?

It’s because they refuse to believe they have any control over the script, plot, or action of their life. And, if you don’t believe you do, then you don’t. That’s the way it works, most of the time.

I’m not talking about adopting a selfish attitude of “it’s all about me”. No way. Most of the really savvy people you know — the ones who have their personal and biz lives put together well — are not selfish weasels. And yet, they live like they’re the center of the action, because they are.

Doesn’t have to be a “movie” metaphor, either. Think of yourself as the protaganist in a great novel, or the hero of the best video game ever created. (Don’t be that guy who dresses like a Wookie, though. When you finally kick your life into high gear, it will be part action, part comedy, part drama, part tragedy, and yes, part fantasy… but try to think in well-rounded terms. It’s a mistake to get hung up on any one thing, because it’s so limiting. Expand. Live large.)

Whatever works for you, works. It may take you a little time to get clear on what kind of script you really want — most novice goal-seekers screw it up the first few times (like thinking they really, really, really want something… and then being disappointed when they get it).

But you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly, if you just realize this gift of consciousness you’ve been given. The natural tendency of any human being who has attained some measure of creature comfort, is to sleep-walk through the rest of his days.

And that’s not living. That’s zombie city.

Living your life like a movie means that you are constantly aware of the ROLE you play. It can change, or mutate, or solidify… but all of that can be your choice. Part of the plot twist, if you want.

You can never control EVERYTHING, of course. No one’s ever said you can. Every second of your existence is fraught with unpredictable events, from earthquakes and heart attacks to stalkers and food poisoning. Or an unexpected call from the ex. Or a hacker discovering your bank password.

Nevertheless, there remains a HUGE portion of your moment-to-moment life that you CAN control. If you choose.

And getting into the swing of writing your own script as much as you can, will redirect your life in ways that please you. You become the captain of your ship.

The OTHER advantage of living this way… is that the STORIES of your life become more vivid.

And the best copywriters and marketers and salesmen in the universe… are all great storytellers. Without exception.

Again, think about your life.

Consider how it has progressed in actual chapters, or acts. Maybe it’s as straightforward as childhood, adulthood, starting a biz, getting married. Or maybe it’s more nuanced, in peculiar ways that make sense to you but may sound fuzzy to outsiders. (I know guys who have sectioned thier past under the heading of whichever female was in their life at the time: Jo (junior high), Nancy (freshman year), Roberta (summer he got his license), Yolanda (first part-time job),etc. They will fry your ear with great stories, too.)

The more precise you can be, the better your stories will become. And the better your OWN parcel of stories are, the better you can spot — and use — stories from the world around you when you’re writing to influence and persuade.

I was really lucky to grow up in a family of storytellers. And since I was the youngest by 8 years, I learned quickly to be pithy and interesting… or to lose the floor (because few people have the patience for meandering stories with no punch line, especially from kids).

My auto-biography is already written, you know. In my head. It’s been a work in progress since the day I first realized I was alive… and I remember vivid, interesting stories from every minor period of my life.

Stories aid memory, and retention, you know. Every ancient culture on earth was based on stories until writing came along. They HAD to be short, fascinating and memorable, too… because any story not retained, was lost forever.

Even if this “consider the movie of your life” concept is new to you… you should be able to look back and see how certain periods of your life evolved. You don’t have to get it all organized right away… take your time. Focus on some pleasant period, and re-gather the stories from that period into a mental file cabinet.

I also urge you to write these stories down. In short, well-thought-out vinettes that pass the “won’t bore your buddies” test.

In other words… leave out the dull parts. You can write up the longer version — the “director’s cut” that only you will truly appreciate — for personal indulgence… but while you’re honing your storytelling chops for the outside world, focus on short, crisp, rollicking tales that get to the point quickly.

The best stories are concise little mini-movies. With a beginning, a middle, and an end. Or, like a good joke, with a premise, a set-up, and a punch line.

They can be serious, or funny, or rueful, or just “hmmm” inducing.

But they must be complete stories. Remember Suzy, your first real relationship? Sure, it went on for a long time, and any day-to-day explanation would put even someone tweaked on speed to sleep.

So start editing, with an audience in mind. For example, to strut your credentials for understanding young love: “Suzy, the first love of my life. Teenagers, convinced we would live forever, and no one had ever felt a love so strong before. We spent most of our time in the back seat, or in secluded spots, fumbling with biological imperatives and hormone dumps. Torrid affair. Shocking heartache when her biology shifted away from me. Sad, sad boy, convinced no one had ever felt such pain before…”

Or, something more mundane: “Interviewed for my first real job right out of college. Cinched up my tie, answered every jack-ass question seriously, shook hands like a candidate. Got the job. Hated every second of my life for six months, never quite caught my breath, and then got fired. Joy, again.”

Or, here’s a tidbit from my own biography: “We were vandals as kids, mostly ineffective and innocent, but occasionally stunning models of terrorism. Asked an engineer how many railroad ties his cow-catcher could handle… and the next day, put all those plus one on the tracks. Derailed the train, and our genuine horror of success was deepened by the realization we better watch our asses if we were gonna engage with the adult world like that.”

Three sentences. Yeah, long ones, but three coherent, correct sentences. A complete story, with entry point, action, and quasi-moral ending.

Consider how looooooooooooong I could have dragged that tale out, and been absolutely justified in doing so. Because, hey, the thing took place over a couple of days, and there are details of our gang and the neighborhood and the derailment that are fascinating.

Just friggin’ fascinating.

But longer stories should only be told if you’re invited to tell them. As in, writing your thousand-page biography, and selling it. Anyone buys, it’s a tacit agreement to put up with every long-winded tale you’ve got up your sleeve.

Watch a bad movie tonight. Not a good one, or even a cult sleazoid one, appreciated for being bad.

No, watch a dull, plodding, no-thumbs-up disaster. You’ll discover that it has nothing to do the stars in the cast, the money in the budget, the director, the studio, or even the script. (People have screwed up Shakespeare, you know.)

Watch it critically. Consider WHY it’s boring you. And think of ways it could speed up the pace, nudge your attention, be better. The culprit will almost always be the storytelling.

Now, it’s your turn.

Leave a 3-sentence story from your life in the comments section. Don’t be shy — we’re all trying new stuff this year (or should be). Trashing old limitations, stretching new boundaries, waking up and engaging the world on new terms.

I promise to read every one. I’ll even toss in a few comments myself, when warranted.

This is a SAFE forum, you know. We’re all friends, or at least cohorts in the quest for better living and finer biz results.

Honing your storytelling chops requires releasing your shy restrictions, and just doing it. Get comfy with the concept, and get better with the details each time you try again.

I won’t mock anyone, and I’ll read every submission. Some of you are already damn good, others can use a lot of work… but we ALL need a kick in the butt once in a while to continue getting better at storytelling.

C’mon. Three lines. That forces you to be concise, to consider every single word carefully, and to crunch large chaotic experiences into tidy little narratives with a point.

I’m not looking for funny. Not looking for tears. Not looking for anything profound.

Just a story.

For some writers, this will be a true test, because you aren’t used to pushing yourself like this. However, the best already do.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

How Professional Writers Procrastinate

Thursday, 10:54pm
Reno, NV


I was gonna write this post last week, but I put it off and forgot about it.

Okay, that’s a bad joke.

But it could have been the truth. Humans have a lot of belligerent, wicked-clever demons lurking inside… and procrastination is one of the nastiest.

Often, during one of my ridiculously expensive consultations, I’ll hear all kinds of excuses from the client concering why he can’t “get” anywhere in business.

Disorganization and time management get the blame a lot… but really, I know it’s nearly always just a virulent case of procrastination.

Oh, it’s bad stuff. People have all kind of different names for it — writer’s block, stress-induced catatonia, frozen nerves, lack of inspiration…

But it all really just comes down to being a lazy S.O.B.

We choose to Read more…

The Drunkard’s View

Sunday, 8:06pm
Reno, NV


Let’s talk about boozing it up, shall we?

I mean, tomorrow is Amateur Drunk Night, after all. The streets will be an obstacle course of big damn SUVs and expensive sedans driven by people who have just discovered — just tonight, at the big New Year’s Eve party — that they love Irish whiskey or Mai Tais or Mad Dog 20-20 or whatever… and look! it doesn’t affect their ability to drive even one li’l teensy li’l tiny bit, buddy, and whadya gon’ do ‘bou it, huh, mishter? Shime da bescht der-river inna worl! Hey! Where’d da tree come fum, huh? He he he he…

Don’t do it, man.

Don’t drink and drive. And don’t even drink a lot, if you’re not used to it.

Especially if you’re around friends or co-workers.

Bad, nasty, evil mis-adventures will befall you, and haunt you for decades.

I know.

I’ve been there.

And no, I’m not gonna Read more…