Sunday, October 02, 2005

John McPhee in the garage

I've used the work of the great writer John McPhee to illustrate a previous point about the shipping grid.

When John McPhee writes about something, you don't need any advance knowledge of that subject. You don't have to have any prior interest in it. But rest assured, you'll come away from his writing not just informed but graced, embraced and made better by Mr. McPhee's immense talent

I've just read an amazingly informative interview/conversation John McPhee had with The New Yorker Online.

McPhee is a Pulitzer prize winner, author of 29 books, with awards and accolades from a zillion directions. He also continues to teach writing at Princeton, well into his 70s.

I was amazed at the open source descriptions John uses to describe his most extraordinary day job. He blocks out his bricks and mortar dance with creativity. It's putting one foot in front of the other. Planning. Executing. Step by step. Day in and day out. Sort of boring from the outside looking in.

However, just imagine being John McPhee looking out. Ooooohhhhh.

This is a person making valuable contributions omnidirectionally. And apparently having a grand life, in a hard working sort of way. He’s changing the world for the better, one 3 X 5 card at a time, one step at a time, one contribution at a time.

Making your own gig doesn't have to involve making widgets. It involves making contributions.

You can do it with your own unique talents and skills. You don't need Pulitzer prizes and neither does Mr. McPhee. You need a day job that brings you a little more control, a little more security, and a lot more peace of mind.

As the Q&A ended, Mr. McPhee was talking about all the pitches he'd made to The New Yorker over the course of 10 years, trying to break in. He'd wanted to write for them since he was a teenager. First ignored, then rejected. He kept pitching. That turned into rejections with notes attached. That's when he started closing in. He offered deals, like working on spec.

When the New Yorker finally started weakening, John McPhee didn't get cautious. McPhee broke the rules. He pitched an idea they specifically told him they did not want. McPhee not only pitched it but buried them in pitch. A 5,000 word letter telling his lifelong target customer why they were wrong and why his never-published-in-their-magazine ideas should prevail.

It finishes like this...

"So the executive editor said they would like to read this article. He said, No guarantees, of course. I wrote the thing, sent it to him, and it changed my existence—I ceased to be a commuter, forever; I went to work in my own garage. And I’m still doing it."

Friend, you're looking into the work of a great peddler. My highest compliment. Not an atom of negative in the term. I'm a peddler.

Whatever your enterprise, whatever you endeavor, whatever your contribution, there will be tough, difficult times. Planning and executing minimizes that stuff, but nothing substitutes for persistence and risk taking with honor.

Are you planning to start your or grow your enterprise? Do one of those athlete training exercises and picture your success in advance. Then build a plan to get there. Then execute. One foot in front of the other.

You'll have your own images of course. Yours will be better for you than anything I can suggest. I wish you the best getting there. You can do it.

But just to get you started, give a thought to John McPhee in his garage.

The New Yorker Online interview with John McPhee

John McPhee’s home page

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