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Word For Word

August 6, 2007

 

Anyone whose motto is “Good enough never is” has my attention from the get go.

 

And that’s exactly what Debbi Fields, founder of Mrs. Fields stressed during her appearance at a recent Pittsburgh BusinessTimes luncheon.  As many of you already know, I always try to apply everything I hear to writing; admittedly sometimes it’s a stretch.  In this case, it wasn’t.  Everything Debbi Fields shared about her background, philosophy and early struggle to get into business could be morphed into our lives as writers.

 

Mrs. Fields didn’t come from a famous family.  Her last name didn’t open any special doors.   Her dad was a welder for the U.S. Navy and Debbi was the youngest of five girls.  She felt she had no special talent or niche as she grew up; in fact, the only thing she felt passionate about was baking.  She loved to bake; however, with little money, she had to make do with imitation vanilla, margarine instead of butter and ersatz chocolate.  When she was 13, she had her first job and with her first paycheck bought real vanilla instead of the fake stuff, butter instead of margarine spread and genuine chocolate chips rather than the waxy substitute.  The lesson she took away from this was one she already suspected—the real thing is always better than the fake.

 

In 1977, Mrs. Fields was a  housewife (which I like to refer to as “The H Word”)—and for those of us who have described ourselves at one time or another with this word, know well the reaction we’d receive.  Everyone in her family predicted she’d fail; their definition of failure being she wouldn’t sell a single cookie.  In fact, her husband bet her she wouldn’t even make $50.  He was right...in a way.  She made $75 that first day, some of which was made by standing outside her location, stopping people on the Palo Alto street and asking them to try her cookies.  She was 20 years old.

 

Fast forward 30 years to 2007.  Debbi Fields has gone from managing one store to the role of supervising operations, managing her very-famous brand name, public relations and new product development for her company’s now 600+ company-owned and franchise stores in the U.S. and ten foreign countries.  If you’ve been to a mall, you’ve seen a Mrs. Fields.

 

So what are some of the ingredients for her tremendous motivation and success (sorry, I couldn’t resist the “ingredients” thing)?  For starters, says Debbie Fields, “Everyday you re-create yourself.”   The top five bits of advice that followed are:

 

1.  True wealth comes from family, real friends and a passion for what you do.

2.  Everyone deserves to feel important and touch customers’ hearts.

3.  “No” is an unacceptable answer.

4.  Good enough never is.

5.  The greatest failure is to not try.

 

It’s obvious how each of these tenets can be applied just as easily to writing as to baking cookies.  If you plan to be busy as a freelance writer, you have to re-create yourself—wear many different hats.  You’ll start out, for example, reviewing books, an editor will like your work and ask if you’d consider interviewing the author for an expanded feature.  Afraid of interviewing?  Never done it before?  So what.  If you want the assignment, exposure, paycheck and possible future assignments, you’d better recreate your vision.

 

Saying true wealth comes from family and friends is something of a cliché and as such, we sometimes overlook it.  But look again and see the word “real.”  Real friends, especially in one’s own professional field, won’t undercut your success, won’t ask for leads when doing so would put your own career in jeopardy and above all, won’t plagiarize anything you’ve done.  Loving the written word and taking sheer joy in its manipulation in your writing to bring out the truest, most direct meaning is part of the passion you must bring to your work.

 

As far as feeling important, that first byline and paycheck for words you’ve written just about covers it.  And when you get that first email telling you someone has drawn inspiration from what you’ve written…that you’ve touched a reader’s heart?  Well, it doesn’t get any better.

 

Just saying no is great for the war on drugs, but use it sparingly in your writing life.  Don’t overbook as assignments come in, but don’t let fear of the unknown paralyze you either.  Balance your writing by interacting with other writers and absorbing their horror stories, as well as their successes.

 

Let me rephrase that fourth point in current lingo...”Good enough SO never is.”  Reread what you’ve written, rewrite what you’ve written, edit, edit, edit.  (Start by crossing out 90% of all “that’s” [that—see, you don’t need this second that] you’ve written.  Don’t ever make it “good enough.”  Make it better than most and strive toward the highest ground you can without falling.

 

And, as I tell my writing students constantly...”if you don’t send it in, you can’t ever sell it.”  There’s dignity in failing because it means you got out there and tried.  Granted, there’s even more dignity in succeeding because it means you got out there, tried and your efforts worked.

 

My favorite Mrs. Fields’ quote, however, was one she said in passing, one that wasn’t really part of any list.  “Whether you say you can or can’t,” observed Debbi Fields, “you’re right.”

 

People will always give you 99 “great” reasons why you cannot succeed in something.  It’s your responsibility to act on the one unspoken reason—I can and I will.

 

And that’s my Word For Word.

 

Interviews and consultations seem to be the trend of the day lately and I’ve been swamped by both.  I’ve secured a couple of major books for reviewing (more on that in a future Word for Word) and am busy placing these reviews where they can reach a large, receptive audience.  Being a writer, I also know many working writers and have pitched a series of interviews on them and their respective works to writing newsletters and journals.  Coming up with questions means doing background research.  Years ago when I interviewed a mother/daughter artist team, they graciously told me I was the best interviewer they’d ever experienced.  The art of interviewing is one I’m still learning; I really enjoy sharing another’s story and insights through my questions. 

 

Four new card companies—or soon-to-be card companies—have contacted me for consultation and we’re working through the process of developing looks, characters, occasions and all the incidentals that go along with “birthing” a new line of greeting cards (I feel a little like a midwife).  This goes to the heart of Debbi Fields’ observation about re-creating oneself.  As many of you know, I started writing greeting cards in 1986, using my Smith-Corona typewriter on the dining room table.  Consultation and line-planning never even entered into my thinking; I wanted to write and one of my greatest pleasures was writing and creating verses.  Today, I still do that, of course, but my re-creation has slowly and subtly morphed into all sorts of different facets within the industry.

 

The Book Reviewing booklet is at the printers and ready to roll off the press.  I’m also adding new titles to the NFBB series and since at least once a week, I receive the question “But What If They Steal My Work?”, I thought it was about time to tackle that question honestly and thoroughly.  I touch on it in my best-selling greeting card book, but will now expand my advice and insights on dealing with this difficult and unpleasant situation.

 

I’ve had some computer problems lately, mostly with my email.  I think it’s fixed now, but of course, playing catch-up is time-consuming and never fun.  I’ll be in touch if you have an unanswered email hanging in the balance.  I enjoy your personal stories and how and why being a successful greeting card writer is part of your life’s goal.

 

We’re in the process of adding new affiliates and thank you, thank you, thank you for your purchases through my site.  I also order from my affiliates and have been well pleased by their unique products and services.

 

August is here and luckily the humidity in Somerset County is the lowest of any place I’ve ever lived.  The flip side of that is it’s also the snowiest come December.  But no sense in worrying about that now, is there?  Enjoy the rest of the summer and remember, school is just around the corner.  (Now, wipe that smile off your face!)

 

Sandra

 
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