Smart Man Online: David St. Lawrence
May 26, 2005
Dear readers, Jane is all atwitter today. We have a celebrity on board (while we think of ALL our interviewees as celebrities, once in awhile, we catch a bona-fide celeb, one that qualifies by virtue of anyone's definition of the word). David St. Lawrence is one such person. Here, he shares his insights into one of Jane's favorite pasttimes: writing! We met David via the net, through mentions of his excellent blog, Ripples, on other people's blogs.
Once we got to know David, via his writings, we were mesmerized. He was writing a book on his blog -- on the Internet! And getting lots of valuable comments! Comments that included requests for the print version of the book. That was months ago. Danger Quicksand: Have a Nice Day was downloaded, for FREE, thousands of times while David prepared the print version, and now... now, Lip-sticking is so lucky to have this interview, which talks about the writing process, the value of blogging your book, and...offers a link to David's book --(watch this space for a book review in the not too distant future-- that means this year, we hope.)
Now, on with this week's Smart Man Online interview with David St. Lawrence:
Lip-sticking: It's a pleasure to have a chance to chat with you, David. I want to begin with your blog...as you know, my partner and I do a bit of blog consulting locally and we find that designing the blog for a small business can be a bit tricky. Many of them have a logo, but little else to distinguish themselves from competitors...or, so they think.
Your blog's header is so attractive -- did you design it, or have it designed? Additionally, we're so impressed with your tagline: Thoughts persist like ripples in time. No idea is ever completely lost. WOW! Did YOU write that? Do tell...
David: I did all of the design and I feel I still have room for improvement. The header image was shot on the South Coast of Crete when I was researching a historical fantasy.
Thanks for the response to my taglines. They are just a few of the things I have discovered over many years of studying life. As I wrote in my blog's Mission Statement, I've always noticed patterns in life and in the world around me. With this blog, I have found a vehicle which allows me to share my observations.
Lip-sticking: We also like your picture. Not everyone uses a picture. We have a caricature. How important do you think a personal picture is...in the blog-world of communication?
David: It depends on how open you wish to be. There are many good reasons a blogger may want to remain anonymous, but when you speak up and let people know who you are, you have a much better chance of establishing credibility. A picture conveys a lot about your character, so it needs to be a relatively good one. I chose an informal snapshot to convey a particular message. For some bloggers, a professional photo might be better.
Caricatures convey their own kind of message. You might say they provide a filtered set of characteristics to the viewer. Do they emphasize the characteristics that you and the reader consider to be important? That's the test.
For example, a writer I know uses a cartoon sort of header. It does not adequately convey her impressive writing skill and I skipped over her site many times before I finally took the time to look at her work. You wouldn't put a grungy cover on a book. Why put anything less than your best shot on your blog?
Lip-sticking: You've used your blog for a number of things...to work on your writing, to give great business advice, and to promote your book, Danger Quicksand: Have a Nice Day . In a recent post you noted that blogging is a good marketing tool...but that it's hard to do. We half-way agree -- it's a task, it takes time, and it requires attention, but... we think it's well worth it. Have you found blogging worthwhile?
David: I would say so. Blogging has given me a whole new circle of friends, dramatically increased my ability to write on cue, spawned one book, put several more in the chute, and made me into a local micro-celebrity.
Blogging is not a direct source of income and I don't ever expect it to be that. It seems to be more useful as a means to start conversations and establish relationships. In that respect, blogging is absolutely essential, especially for the underdog who seeks to level the promotional and PR playing field.
Lip-sticking: Let's leave blogging aside now and talk about Danger Quicksand: Have a Nice Day. As writers and publishers ourselves, in another place and time, we would like to tell you we think your book title is Outstanding! And your cover is Outstanding! Those are two vital parts of any book, and two parts some new authors don't spend enough time developing. Tell us how you came up with your title...and cover image.
David: The first iteration of the cover bore the title: "Employee Survival Guide" and variations on that theme. The Danger Quicksand sign was a design detail in the lower foreground. When I researched titles of books in the career field, there were too many titles that used Employee, Survival and Guide so I was looking at a title which declared my book to be an instant commodity.
The sign was a found object that actually triggered my desire to capture the insanity of corporate life in the first place. I had photographed it many months before I started writing the book. When the titles I was working with just didn't jell, I used an enlarged sign and the happy face as the title. I got such immediate negative reactions from trusted advisors, I knew I was onto something! (LOL)
Sure enough, that sign image pulls people to the book from ten feet away. The juxtaposition of warning and greeting snags their attention long enough for them to read it several times. Then they laugh, and reach for the book. My real job has been to give the book the same balance that is promised by the sign.
The building was an abandoned corporate headquarters in Southern California. It had been vacant for some time, but was being maintained to attract potential tenants. It represents the desirable corporate campus where we all wanted to work at one time. It's like a mirage in the distance being contrasted to the actuality represented by the sign.
Lip-sticking: We don't want to give away too much of the book (before we do our book review) but we managed to find a few places that hit home with us...and we'd like to mention them: pg. 99, where you say, "Consider yourself a long-term contractor, not an employee. The company will disgard you when it becomes expedient. You should be prepared to do the same."
And, pg. 114, "There is life after corporate employment. You just have to be ready for it." We would like to know -- regarding the first quotation, do you think ALL employers are like that? We are striving NOT to be like that...though we have been at companies that are like that. Next, tell us what you mean by 'life after corporate employment'... do you mean starting your own business? Going into consulting? Retiring? And, how does one get ready for it?
David: In regard to your first question, smaller companies are more likely to treat employees as valued team members. You don't discard a team member unless the team (company) is in dire straits. However, an employee who views herself as a long-term contractor is actually setting herself up as an EQUAL to the employer. This is a much more pro-active position to be in. As a contractor dealing with equals, the employee is much more attuned to making sure that the work being done is what will keep the contract going. When an employee treats the company as an caring and protective mother, they are living in a dream world.
In regard to your second question, unless 21st century employment undergoes a major change in the next few years, you can expect that your years of corporate life are going to be limited. Like athletes playing in high-stakes sports, you have a few good years and you get phased out when you aren't generating enough revenue. In industry, companies are managing on the basis of quarterly results. A few bad quarters and your division gets outsourced or sold. Either way, you have little job stability.
Once you hit 40, you are often viewed as an expensive and increasingly truculent resource. (Jane relates!)
For your own piece of mind, you need to view your corporate experience as training for your eventual departure to self-employment of some kind. I spend some time covering this in the book.
Lip-sticking: We like your comment early on in the book that jobs are replaceable but families aren't. While that seems intuitive -- it's a hard concept to grasp when you have bills to pay and kids to feed and tuition to think about.
Do you see a change in the way Gen Xers and Gen Ys are looking at the work initiative? Are they choosing to accept your statement at face value -- after watching their parents struggle to pay for the big house, the big car, and all the extra-curricular 'stuff'?
David: Interestingly enough, I see some young Gen Ys who have made the hard decision to put family time ahead of career growth. I commend them for that. Gen Xers seem to have a harder time. Perhaps they are still steeped in the "competitive success at any price" mindset.
Lip-sticking: How long did it take you to write your book? What inspired you to keep at it, day after day? What was the hardest part of writing it?
David: The material for the book came out of my weblog. The posts were written over the course of a year. The writing of the book took less than two months. The hardest part was arranging the material so that it flowed properly, since it was not written in sequence.
Posts actually write themselves. I get an idea and it exerts pressure on me until I write it down and draw conclusions about. Then I am released from it as it no longer holds my attention. Once I discovered that writing these online essays allowed me to spin off ideas and concerns that blew away any barriers to writing posts.
Lip-sticking: Where do you think technology is taking us...let's focus on its communications' applications-- like blogs, wikis, podcasts, the Internet, and print-on-demand -- are we being inundated with TOO much information-- or, is the ability to reach out to other countries, via the net, a bonus we should be grateful for? We, you and Jane, come from a generation that remembers the advent of TV (black and white, no less!) and the VCR...then, this monstrous thing called the Internet and now, citizen publishing via P-O-D. Where is it all going to end?
David: I don't think we can expect it to end, except as a paradigm shift to the next level of enhanced communication. The next shift may be to a better means of reaching out and selecting the information we want. I see a continuing decline in the importance of broadcast media of all kinds, including unsolicited email. Newsletters will only survive as subscribed media.
You speak of too much information. There has always been information that was biased, falsified, or incorrect and that will continue. Main Stream Media (MSM) has been pumping this out for more then a century. We are just now beginning to see alternative sources for all news and this allows us to fact check stories in a matter of hours. The false Newsweek story of a week ago was uncovered immediately. The same is true for weblogs. If I publish something and it isn't correct, I get immediate feedback from my readers pointing out my error.
There is a phenomenon called the Long Tail which indicates that there is a huge market and interest in information and products that do not fall in the top ten percent of popular interest. With the internet, there is no absence of shelf space, or genres, or publishers. With the internet, you can write about very specialized subjects and the public that wants to know about that subject can find your work.
Lip-sticking: Share some personal stories with us: do you shop online? If so, when did you start? If not, what keeps you from doing so? We tell people women are the shoppers of the world...do you agree, or...are men as interested in shopping (online or off) as the ladies?
David: My first computer was an Amiga and I have been using the internet when there was only Bulletin Board Systems (BBS's) and we exchanged files and comments. Now, I spend 8 hours a day using the internet as a resource, a publishing tool, and as a shopping mall.
I shop online constantly. I buy machinery, tools, software of course, vitamins, books, clothes, even specialty foods that can't be found in local stores. I make travel arrangements online for domestic and international trips. The only things I buy locally are things which my wife Gretchen and I enjoy shopping for together.
Lip-sticking: We approve! What else would you like to share with our readers?
David: This interview has been an eye-opener for me. This type of interview has interesting potentials for communicating information. With this email exchange, I get a chance to give you my best shot at a thoughtful answer. Your readers get a clearer picture of how accurate or unreal my ideas are. If we miss anything on the first round, we can pick it up on the comments.
The end result is that you have shown me how I can improve the interviews I do for my blog and prompt me to offer you an interview in return. We'll just have to decide on a subject!
Thanks for this opportunity.
Thank you, David. This has been an eye-opener even for Jane!
Dear reader, what's not to like about that?
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