This insightful essay was written by Rachael Rifkin, a client who worked with me as an intern for the past month:
This is not my first attempt at writing this “what I learned” essay. My first draft seemed to be going well. I had about a page written in a second person narrative voice and was feeling quite clever. I was feeling so clever that it took me awhile to notice how tangential and pretentious the essay was becoming. Instead of trying to make it work (like I usually do), I took a moment and let myself consider an alternative—deleting what I had and starting over in a frank, first-person, not-trying-so-hard voice. And so far, I’m much happier with the essay. (Of course, this is just the first paragraph, so we’ll see how it goes.)
Learning to reevaluate preconceived notions we’ve formed about our ideas—how they should look, their format, etc.—can be extraordinarily difficult. So it’s easy to get stuck, floundering about. That is, until you allow yourself to let go and re-imagine the problem.
For instance, let’s say you (and by you, I mean me) want to transition from freelance journalism to memoir ghostwriting (writing other people’s memoirs, not yours). You might think authoring a book is a good idea (but it’s probably not), so you find a book consultant. Her name may or may not be Janet Goldstein (it is), and she may or may not help you decide that you really aren’t ready to write a book (she does).
After some deliberation, you realize that you’d prefer to just focus on your business. You had gotten caught up in book mode, thinking that it would “sell” your business to people, when really it should be the other way around. And that’s when you take a leap, re-imagine your ideas and ask Janet Goldstein if she’s looking for an intern (she is, and you can stay for a month). After all, you’ve always learned best through in-person interaction and example.
So, before I (or should I say you?) even made the trek to New York, Janet was teaching me to look at my project as it was and could be, not as it “should” be. This is something she stresses a lot with her clients, who often see books as the first step, not the last. Ms. Goldstein calls books “souvenirs” (well, Seth Godin said it first, but Janet says it too) because they are something you pick up during the journey; they aren’t the journey itself.
Janet makes it clear in her interactions with clients and the materials she created (the Publishing Reset Program, and 7 Steps to Take Your Book or Project to the Next Level) that the publishing journey is about developing your idea and putting it into concrete action. It’s about looking at your project anew and testing it out with feedback. It’s about finding an audience/client/niche, creating an online presence, belonging to a community, and getting yourself and your project out there. Most importantly, it’s about discovering what you really want, where you are, and where you want to go, and then developing a plan that enables you to do it.
In addition, working with Janet (assisting her with her projects and observing her publishing and strategy consultations) showed me exactly how much patience, commitment, creativity, and uncertainty it takes to set things in motion. Logically, I could envision the steps it would take, but actually seeing someone else run a small business and develop their own projects day after day was what I needed to bridge the gap between advice and action.
When I applied for this internship, I was feeling lost. Basically, I knew I could use some guidance. Now I realize that I was beginning to identify what I needed in order to move forward with my project, which is an important part of the development process. I needed to find some sort of framework for my own projects and business before I could be confident doing them on my own. Ultimately, I think I needed to see that it really could be done. In the end, not only did Janet provide a framework, she also taught me that project development is an imperfect process that requires a balance of both inward reflection and outward action in order to be successful.
As I write this, I am back home, still somewhat uncertain, but more confident and definitely better equipped to begin.