How I’ve STARTED WITH WHY and the times I LOST MY WHY

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Simon Sinek was able to take things we all think or have thought in the business world and world of creative leadership and make sense of it. He rationalized it all in a way that makes sense to us. I found myself nodding and giving him silent “Amens” as I read along, chapter by chapter, immersed in the question he started asking himself about successful leaders and organizations: How do they achieve the level of success? How do they begin?

They start with WHY.

As I read, I became more inspired with each story, example, and principle underscored and highlighted by Sinek. I haven’t read a book since Elizabeth Gilbert’s BIG MAGIC: CREATIVE LIVING BEYOND FEAR that has sparked my creative spirit, my entrepreneurial curiosity, and my desire to inspire others as much as START WITH WHY: HOW GREAT LEADERS INSPIRE EVERYONE TO TAKE ACTION.

Sinek took this notion of starting with WHY and theorized it to help him better understand leaders. He made a Golden Circle. He examined the Law of Diffusion of Innovators and the tipping point in companies—when an idea becomes a movement— such as what happened with the iPhone. He puts WHY in plain language for all to understand; he tells stories worth listening to; and, he inserts himself into the bigger picture thinking toward the end.

So powerful is his writing that I couldn’t put the book down, and I was wondering if my students in a new creative course I am teaching felt the same way. After our class discussion only minutes ago, I can tell you that I think they took away the key points beautifullly—those most worth noting—and some were wholeheartedly inspired to always start with WHY.

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The students brainstorming in our new collaborative course on campus.

As for me, I was intrigued and enamored by his connections from the second I started reading his book. During my own careers (and I do mean that, as I’ve had several), I always started with WHY. During my time at the Baltimore Orioles, believe me when I say I wasn’t getting rich there. I had a fantastic job—one that constantly inspired me—and I can tell you that what Sinek says is so true: if you are inspired by THE WORK, the money is secondary to what you are doing and the bigger picture of WHY you are doing it. When I left the Orioles and went to my next job, the WHY was much fuzzier; I went for the wrong reason–to make more money than I previously made. And while I did that, the WHY and inspiration was missing from the work. When I broached the subject of leaving that job while on vacation in London with my husband, I asked him this question: “Why can’t I do the two things I love: teach and have a writing/design business?” His answer was the best anyone could give: You can.

And so I did.

When I made the foray into full-time teaching, I knew my WHY. I had discovered it when I began as an adjunct teacher at a local community college back in 1993. I wanted to be a teacher because I was a born cheerleader—I wanted to inspire, coach, and help others with their education and prepare them for careers. I think I knew this my whole life—that this would be my chosen profession eventually—but it took me working in another profession to find out that the WHY for teaching was not to be ignored and it warranted serious consideration.

When I decided to become an author and write fictional books, I knew my WHY: I wanted to entertain and inspire others through storytelling. I chose to become a self-published author and wrote and produced three novels. I lost my WHY a little this summer when book promotion took hold and made me leery of WHY I was a writer in the first place. But then, upon being asked to give a talk about self-publishing at Stevenson University to faculty and staff, I remembered and was reconnected with my WHY. I write books because it is my PASSION, and I just LOVE the process. How many books I sell should be secondary to the task I adore so much—storytelling. And so, newly refocused, I will continue along my writing and publishing journey.

In 2013, along with my colleagues, Chip and Leeanne, we decided to write a textbook on event planning. After scouring the library and bookstores for a good text to share with our students that attached communication theory to event planning and coming up empty-handed, we decided to write our own textbook. So, what did we do?

We started with WHY and asked this question: What is the WHY behind what we do in event planning? And out of this question was born our book, EVENT PLANNING: COMMUNICATING THEORY AND PRACTICE, published by Kendall-Hunt Publishers.

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If you adopt Simon Sinek’s approach—that anything you do that is meaningful must start with WHY—you are more likely to find some meaning in it and grow from it. In turn, you will learn from it and maybe even have great success from it. And without even realizing it, you begin to inspire others.

START WITH WHY is a book you will not soon forget, and I will recommend it to anyone who wants to be an inspirational leader, as well as to anyone who has lost his or her way and needs to be reminded of their WHY.

 

 

Every One of My Books Has Killed Me a Little More

 

 

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In 5 years, I wrote three novels and a textbook while working full-time as a professor. I think that warranted a short respite.

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You see the title there, and maybe that’s why you clicked over to see what’s going on here.

If you did, please know I didn’t say that quote. It was said by the famous late writer, Norman Mailer. “Every one of my books has killed me a little more, ” he said.

I didn’t know the man. I’m not on par with him as a writer. I am not as prolific a writer as he was. And I certainly don’t earn my primary income as a writer as he did.

And yet, I can totally understand what he said.

As some of you who follow my blog may know, I hit a wall this summer. Exhaustion took over, and I needed a break from writing. While writing novels hasn’t killed me, the promotion of them was making me crazy. Every morning I thought to myself, “Just what do I need to do today to sell one book? How can I market my book today on social media? How can I spread the word about my novels? How can I post one more thing on social media without annoying my friends and supporters?”

img_1179These thoughts began to consume me, and I knew I had to tread lightly. Ruining friendships over book promotion is not worth it, but I needed to put a little distance between me (as a person and friend and mother and wife) and my writing and marketing. I could feel myself slipping into a sort of dark abyss and feeling quite down about things, and I didn’t want those feelings to affect me and my family.

Taking a respite from writing has been just what the doctor ordered. I am concentrating on my family, helping my son with his college applications, teaching at the university, planning a new course I am co-teaching, and exercising, something I had let slip as well.

The miraculous thing that happens when you put a little distance between you and your writing are these things called invigoration and inspiration. I find I am becoming inspired by things I’ve neglected to notice; I am invigorated by relationships I never knew I could have; and story ideas seem to be coming to me at a mile a minute.

It’s a good thing I keep a notebook. I jot down ideas that may be novel-worthy, and I’ll examine which stories I might like to tell next.

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I still keep a paper planner in which I jot down things, keep notes, make to-do lists, and write inspiring quotes. Still works for me as opposed to using my iPhone or Outlook calendar.
I’m not done writing novels, I’m just gearing up for something I can sink my teeth into to grab hold. The inspiration fairy, when given some room to breathe, seems to want to come to life and help out a weary writer and marketer.

And, moreover, because I do LOVE writing so much, I don’t ever want to utter the words Norman Mailer said.

I won’t ever let my creativity and need to tell stories kill me a little.

I absolutely refuse to allow that to happen.

 

Writing A Novel – The Speech I Gave Today

Today, I had the honor and privilege of being one of several faculty speakers sharing their passions at our Fall 2017 Faculty/Staff meeting at Stevenson University. Below you will find the speech I gave, which was about writing, being an author, and self-publishing.

After all, it is one of my passions…

Photo Credit: Chip Rouse

***  Writing A Novel  ***

I consider myself pretty lucky that I get the opportunity to do two things I love on a daily basis: teach and write. I’m a proud professor here at Stevenson University and also an independent author.

I’m an independent author and write novels for two main reasons: (1) because I believe it’s my duty to show my students that I actually practice what I preach and (2) because it’s an outlet for me and I simply love storytelling.

Since 2012, I’ve self-published three fiction books: Beneath the Mimosa Tree, Baseball Girl, and Inn Significant. I also co-authored one textbook on event planning along with my colleagues Chip Rouse and Leeanne Bell McManus which was published by Kendall-Hunt.

During my 13-year career working for the Baltimore Orioles, I was quite fortunate that my love of writing converged with my career where I served as the director of publishing, was the editor of Orioles magazine, and produced and edited the special book celebrating Cal Ripken breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games streak record in 1995. It was fun to tell Cal’s story.

Which brings me to the question I have for all of you. How many of you have a story in your head or finish a book and think, I could write something better than that?

If you’ve ever had this thought, and if you have a vision and can live in a make-believe world (for fiction) or tell a true story with colorful details (for nonfiction), you can write a book, too.

Today, I’m excited to share my love of novel writing and offer some advice using my own experiences to those of you who have a story swirling inside of you.

#1: First, do write your story. Just begin. My first fiction book, Beneath the Mimosa Tree, started as a short story I wrote while getting my first master’s degree. A professor of mine suggested it should become a novel. It only took me twenty years to write that novel during my MFA program in 2009.

My advice?

Don’t wait 20 years to write your story. Begin now. Just start writing.

#2: Have fun with your characters. The question I’m asked most often at book talks is: How much of the character is you, your family, or your friends? (If you only knew). That’s top secret, but it IS amazing how your friends and family are on their best behavior when they know you are writing. A tip I suggest is to make a list of each of your characters and write down all the things about them: what they like, dislike, look like, say, their dreams, the good and bad of them, etc. It definitely helps when writing.

#3: Enjoy the creativity of writing. Have fun crafting the story, the setting, and plot. Some folks like to outline, and some take a more organic approach. Research the methodology of some of your favorite writers. It’s fascinating to see how one writer’s approach differs from another’s.

#4-When writing, don’t agonize over every word. Do that later during the editing phase, which many of you already know can take longer than you think. It takes me far longer to edit a novel than it does to actually write one.

#5-It may be easier to start with something more personal. For instance, an assignment I give students in my magazine writing class is to write a chapter of their own memoir. Several students have told me that keeping their family histories alive helped them learn to enjoy writing.

#6-Self-publishing takes grit, commitment, and imagination. So why do I choose to self-publish? Because I like owning every step of the process. It sharpens all of my skills: creativity, writing, storytelling, editing, design, and then, the most challenging of all, marketing. As an independent author, it’s all on you. There’s no one to blame and all decisions are yours. It’s fiercely competitive out there, and the odds of massive success are slim. You just have to manage your own expectations.

Some writers may choose to go the agent route or connect with a small press. Do be leery of small presses that want to take your money and have you pay for the start up of your book, sometimes in the neighborhood of $5,000. My start-up costs were minimal. I paid $100 each for the ISBN number for each of my books (a total of $300), then an additional $25 per book for expanded distribution through Amazon. All total it was $375, or $125 per book. That’s it.

#7-Enlist the help of others. When your novel is done, find beta readers who will offer feedback on your draft. Join a writer’s group, either in person or online. Design your own cover or get someone to help you. Ask trustworthy people you know to edit. Chip Rouse over here and my mother, a long-time English teacher, edited my novels. Enter independent author contests. Remember: the project is yours, so you can give to it as much or as little as you like.

#8-Connect with local libraries, media, and the community. They will be good first supporters. In June, I kicked off the summer reading program in Anne Arundel County with a book talk; over the last month, I’ve attended three book clubs for Inn Significant, my latest novel, and I just attended a book signing in Oxford, MD, where the book is set. Enjoy meeting people and networking.

#9-Set up a blog and get a base of readers. Write about your writing, and get personal with your readers. It’s the best way to begin.

And finally,

#10-Remember, writing books is your love and not the way you make your living. While I would love be on the New York Times Bestseller list (who wouldn’t?), there are thousands of us out there hoping for the same thing. I have to remind myself of why I do this sometimes. The other day when I was struggling with new and innovative ways to promote my book, a friend asked me this question: He said, Do you write to sell or do you write to tell a good story?

I write to tell a good story.

If you have a love of storytelling, then just do it. Tell your story. If you make 10 people happy or thousands, remember why you do it in the first place.

Stephanie

20841993_10155523297888954_3655226197486168242_nStephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

 

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Inn Significant Named Finalist in National Indie Excellence Awards

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It’s what every writer dreams of — a little recognition for the work you slaved over for a year and a half. Just a little nod to let you know your work was not done in vain.

As I have chosen my own path of writing and publishing as an independent author, whereby I do all the work on the book myself—from writing it to editing it to designing the cover and laying it out for print and for digital media to uploading it and publishing it via my hub Mimosa Publishing—being a finalist in the National Indie Excellence Awards really means something to me. I am so grateful and thankful to those who read and reviewed Inn Significant at NIEA in order for it to earn a place in the contest. Thank you so much for this honor.

Two years ago, Beneath the Mimosa Tree was also a finalist in this same contest. I was tickled pink then, and I’m tickled pink now.

Being an independent author is not really all that glamorous, as you can surmise from the grunt work I just shared that we must do; there is no one else who does it for us. We get down and dirty. We have people help us edit. We write, revise, write some more, and revise some more. We spend hours on a book—and trust me, it’s not for the money. We do it for the sheer love of the craft: of writing, of storytelling, and of making those who read our books happy they picked it up.

That’s the very simple answer as to why I continue to write and be an independent author.

It’s not easy to break into the publishing world, and years ago, writers did not have the means by which to publish ourselves. Places like Amazon and Barnes & Noble make it easy for people like me who have the knowledge of publishing books (and magazines, as I also have the experience as editor of Orioles Magazine) and are not afraid to tackle this process. For that, I am thankful. We didn’t have this avenue 15 years ago. Just as musicians and YouTubers have independent avenues, so do we, as writers.

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The finalist medal.

To the people who actually read my books and tell me they like them, thank you. You all push me to want to tell you even better stories each time I sit down to write.

So, thank you EVERYONE. Thank you to readers of Steph’s Scribe, thank you to those who have written reviews of my books, thank you to readers of my books, and especially, today, thank you to NIEA for this recognition.

You made my weekend.

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About Inn Significant: A Novel

Two years after receiving the horrifying news of her husband Gil’s death, Milly Foster continues to struggle to find her way out of a state of depression. As a last-ditch effort and means of intervention, Milly’s parents convince her to run their successful Inn during their absence as they help a friend establish a new bed and breakfast in Ireland. Milly reluctantly agrees; when she arrives at the picturesque, waterfront Inn Significant, her colleague, John, discovers a journal written by her late grandmother that contains a secret her grandmother kept from the family. Reading her grandmother’s words, and being able to identify with her Nana’s own feelings of loss, sparks the beginning of Milly’s climb out of the darkness and back to the land of the living.

Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

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Answering the Question: How Many Books Have You Sold?

How many books have you sold?

It’s the question people like to ask me about my recently released novel entitled Inn Significant. It seems to be the question people have on their minds as the marker that indicates how successful the book has been thus far.

The funny thing is, I liken the question to someone asking me about my age, how much I make, or how robust my sex life is.

Sometimes we are focused too much on the results and not on the process. At least that’s what my husband and I try to teach our kids. The most important aspect revolves around the process that helps us achieve our goals; the results are often secondary (and yes, at times, can be quite important).

As for Inn Significant, I didn’t set out to write a bestseller. That thought is not based in reality; I like to think more realistically. When I began writing the novel, I set out to start the process, see the process through, and complete a project. A writing project. Do you know how many people start something and never finish it? My goal is always to complete it. Writing has been in my blood since I was about 13 years old. I feel compelled to tell stories, and I’m more concerned with the process of that storytelling journey than I am with the results of that journey.

Moreover, I find myself echoing the sentiments of writer Elizabeth Gilbert when she says, “…if I am not actively creating something, then I am probably actively destroying something (myself, a relationship, or my own peace of mind).” Well said, Ms. Gilbert.

If you have the creative inspiration to redecorate a room, you do it, don’t you? If you have the urge to build a spectacular garden with a fountain in your back yard, you take it on, right? If you sit at a blank canvas and paint something that moves you, you don’t tell your inspiration to run away and hide, do you?

No, you don’t; nor do I. If I have the inspiration—if it happens to bless me with a story I think I can piece together in a meaningful way—I write it. Why would I tell my creativity to take a flying leap?

As for book sales, I do my best to try to promote the book, talk up the book, market the book, and sell the book where I can. Just this week, I entered two independent author book contests, and I’m about to enter more. I sent my book off to people who may be able to help promote it. I mailed out press releases. I was booked to talk at a library and a book signing is in the works at a bookstore. I do what I can.

But this is not why I write.

I write, once again, to quote Elizabeth Gilbert, because of this one, main reason: “…at the end of your creative adventure, you have a souvenir—something that you made, something to remind you forever of your brief but transformative encounter with inspiration.”

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 11.07.47 AMTo put it simply, I just like to be able to say that I welcomed inspiration and “I did it.”

I also love the fact that my kids see their mom be fearless about putting her creativity out there.

That’s a process worth teaching.

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15781589_865992106837911_1585157622209528074_nStephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of the newly released Inn SignificantBaseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree.  Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt. 
To visit Stephanie’s Amazon Author page and see her books, click here.

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Baseball, An Airplane, And A Writer=”One Summer”

BillBrysonOn the eve of the release of Bill Bryson’s latest book, he stood before a crowd at Stevenson University—humbled, excited, and pleased—to talk to students, faculty, and staff members about his works, of which there are many. So gracious was he, that he didn’t even begin his talk by speaking about himself; after being introduced, he simply opened up the floor for questions. The audience had many.

The anticipation for his new book entitled “One Summer: America 1927” is something that readers of history, sports, and discoveries will more than likely relish. The discussion of this book harkens back to the summer of 1927, when things were changing. What brought him to write the book? Two gentlemen in particular: Babe Ruth and Charles Lindbergh. In fact, Babe Ruth hit his 60th milestone homerun on today’s date in September of 1927 (September 30). That year was also when Charles Lindbergh took his solo, non-stop flight across the Atlantic. The idea for the book started with baseball and an airplane. However, Bryson soon discovered there was more to the summer of 1927. There was also gangster Al Capone, the carving of Mount Rushmore, and the invention of the television by Philo Farnsworth, among others.OneSummer

With enthusiasm, knowledge, and a great curiosity, Bryson engaged his audience with candor, humor, and a splash of brilliance. You see, he doesn’t believe he is a brilliant writer, even when he was complimented as such by an audience member.

“I take brilliant and clever things people say and put them into my writing,” he claimed.

When asked about his craft, something that I and fellow writers and writing students took a keen interest in, he said he has only two things that guide him: curiosity and enthusiasm. He grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, where his parents worked at the newspaper, The Des Moines Register. “English was the only subject I was good at—it’s what we talked about at dinner.” From Des Moines, he went to England, where he worked at a hospital, met a nurse (and married her—they are still married today), and began to freelance (he still resides in England today). When National Geographic wanted him to do a piece on Provence or anywhere else, he attributed his success as a journalist to his intense curiosity, and his interest in researching and uncovering truths. He has no set way he goes about his work, except that he reads and researches and allows interesting things to pique his curiosity.

The release of his book is set for tomorrow, and I know I am curious enough to want to read more about that era of the 1920s, especially as someone who loves baseball. I always enjoy reading another take on The Babe, as well as other fascinating stories that will take me back in time to the roaring twenties.