Sharisa Robertson recently chatted with M. Shannon Hernandez about writing, coaching and how words indeed make the world go ’round .
You are living the dream of most aspiring writers. I remember when I was younger, I allowed the “starving artist” mentality to deter me from actually following through on my passion and believing that I could make a living as a writer. Do you think that there is now more opportunity for people to become writers versus in the past? And what do you think attributes to the change or lack thereof?
I think that writing is…hard. Writing is hard and it’s on a lot of levels. There’s just days where you don’t want to write and I am sure that is true with any job. I have been a teacher in the past, and there were days where I just didn’t want to go in the school system. The internet has allowed writers to be able to network more, which I think is really important. I meet people who read my blog, or I go and read something on their blog, and all of a sudden we’re in a conversation, and then maybe we’re having a collaboration or a joint venture of some sort.
I definitely think that being a writer is hard work. You have to hustle. You have to find places that will accept your stuff. Some places pay, some don’t. That’s part of the game of exposure, and I am okay with that. The biggest takeaway is that if you use the internet and you have really good connections, you can take those offline. You can make a lot of really great connections and make your way as a writer today.
What is it about the written word do you love? What attracted you to wanting to be a writer?
What I love most about the written word is…I say this a lot for people that follow me and read my blogs: Words have the power to transform lives. They can either transform lives in a positive way—you know, if they are great words that are spoken from a place of love, uniting people and bringing people together—or they can really do a lot of destruction.
So one of the things that is really important with my company is that I am consistently talking about the power that words have and how the person has the power to choose how they are going to use those words, which will have an effect on others. So it’s this idea that allows you to express a simple thank you to somebody. You can write it on their Facebook wall. You can send it in the mail [via] snail mail. You can also send them an email, and that really has a profound effect on people.
You do all forms of writing in your business from coaching to content writing, word branding, etc. Which do you like the most?
Oh, that’s a tricky question. I don’t know if I could answer that.
Okay, how about this: Which one do people come to you the most to receive, as far as services?
So writing goes hand and hand, as far as your business goes, with branding, and that’s through words. That is really where the bulk of my work is right now. I really like that aspect of the work because a new company, or a company that wants to rebuild their brand, or a company that is just kind of stagnant and need a little help, comes in and we work one-on-one, looking at their brand from a standpoint of the words. How can they use words to promote their brand, solidify their brand, and make sure everyone is on board with what the brand stands for?
I became passionate about this because I learned very early on that I had a business, but I didn’t have a brand. When you have a brand, people are united around your mission and they’re with you every step of the way. They answer your newsletter— you know, you send out a newsletter and you get several replies and comments, and I love that part. I love being connected to the people who view the Writing Whisperer as a positive influence and a brand. One of the other things I want to say about this that is so meaningful is watching someone that I work with: watching their confidence grow, their brand grow, their social media presence grow, their blogging grow, and all of that means, in the end, a bigger voice in the online world. Not in a slimy, bullying way, but in a nice, authentic way. And that means that they are getting clients and sales. That’s what makes me happy.
When writing content or coaching with someone, what are some key things you need to know about them before getting started?
Good question. I have a client intake questionnaire. It’s about four pages long. Yes, it is really great. What it allows me to do is ask questions. I kind of divided it into your writing past, your writing present, and your writing future. So one thing I know from being a teacher in the past, and just from working with people, is in the realms of writing, it doesn’t matter if they are trying to author a book, blog, or trying to get the copyright on their website, we often carry a lot of baggage with us, regarding things that has happened in our writing.
So maybe a teacher in your past just completely blew your dream of being a writer with that red pen all over your paper and you just couldn’t get it right. That has happened to a lot of people. Just like you said, you had a dream of becoming a writer, but you always heard it was like the “starving artist.” It’s really funny that you said that. Because I saw my dad a few months ago and he asked, “Are you a starving artist as a writer?” I’m like, “No, everything is tugging along. My business is growing.”
It is with this mindset that I look at each person I am working with. What’s happened in their past as a writer? I wonder because we carry that with us. So we look at their writing past. We also talk about their writing current, which is now. How are they writing? Are they setting aside time for writing? Are they struggling to generate ideas? All of those types of things. Then I ask them to project where they would like to be after one month of coaching, or three months of coaching, or six months of coaching. And they really give some thought as to where they want their brand to be, or where they want their nonfiction book to be. Those are the questions I use to customize each person’s coaching program because everyone is going to get what they want when they work with me. Not some cookie-cutter thing; I don’t really like that form of coaching at all.
I know you do journaling also. How do you use that to help another find freedom, healing, and their voice in their writing?
That’s a great question. The journaling came about—I will tell you this little personal story. It goes with the words. My father-in-law was diagnosed last year (in February or March) with a very progressive brain cancer. We were blindsided. We had no idea. They told him he had a few months to live and we didn’t believe them at that time because he just looked so well. And then they were right. So during that time, he was living and still feeling so well.
I organized a worldwide campaign on my blog to send kind words to a cancer patient. Those words changed his life. When he could get up and go to the mailbox, there would be random letters or postcards from people around the world, who he had never met, and they were wishing him well on the last leg of his journey. It changed his life! I still have those letters today. They’re in a nice Ziploc bag. There are about 90-100 of them. So I read them from time to time. It was really just a moving experience for the people that were involved. I mean there were people who wrote four or five letters over the few months, and they really got to know him as a person. And he did his best to write back and communicate. I thought that was really something: Strangers reaching out, sharing words with someone they never met and wow! Words can really heal!
So I came up with this idea that I was going to launch a journaling program, and I offer different ones. Next one coming up is all about releasing your fears. I have another one coming up later this year because I actually journaled my way out of a job. I took out my journal and I had to figure out which strengths I could go into business with. I wrote them down and I filled about six journals in the first few months. I was building my company. Journaling has the power to give you clarity and purpose in any aspect in your life.
I agree. I have so many journals, composition books, and notebooks from years and years and years ago. So I totally agree. I have to see what it is I am trying to say, or do, on paper. How do you refrain from pushing your voice and your words onto your clients and maintain their voice when writing for others?
If people come to me for copywriting, they get a one-on-one interview with me for each page of their website. The “about” page, for example, should be a pretty personal page, honestly. It should tell who you are as a business owner. What I do is, for every page of website copy, we sit down on the phone. I ask questions. What do they definitely want included? What might they want included if there is enough room? I write the copy using some of the words they said and the ideas they share and I send it to them. They get two revisions of that copy. So the first can be like, “Oh, wow! It is not at all what I thought,” which has never happened to me, thank goodness. They can send it back and we would start again with another interview, but that doesn’t happen. It’s really about getting personal with my clients and giving them the personal attention that they deserve for their brand, their business; taking time to talk to them and finding out what it is that they are about; and putting that into their voice and on their website.
What is your process when you have to get ready for a writing task? Do you have a ritual? What inspires you to write?
That was a great question for today, right before this interview. I have a newsletter that is due tomorrow, and well, I was honestly trying to do everything that I could to avoid writing. I went and did the dishes. The cat litter box needed to be change, and finally, I was like stop, stop! You just need to stop and you need to figure out why you don’t want to write this newsletter. I have to write the newsletter. It is due to my virtual assistant by 3 p.m. So, yes, when I know I don’t want to write, it’s because I don’t feel inspired and thankfully that doesn’t happen often.
The other thing that prevents me from writing is if am tired. I really just need to go to sleep for an hour and then get up and go tackle the project again. In today’s case, I was trying to work out an idea. In my brain, I wanted to relate the Olympics, because they are on—Olympic training, athletes, and how they must prepare their minds in building this one-time dream towards their career. So I finally sat down and really fleshed it out on paper and got my ideas down. The newsletter was done in 30 minutes, so I will make the deadline. That’s a good thing.
You talked about building your business, but you didn’t have a brand. What was one step you did to build your brand to attract your clients, write for magazines, have a column in Huffington Post, etc? How were you able to go from a business to an actual brand?
One thing I did was get super clear on who I wanted to attract. This is something you always hear in business. Who is your target audience? Who do you want to attract? For my business, I needed to kind of attract two camps of people. I had a little bit more of a struggle because I had the dual thing going on. But regardless of that, I came up with a program called Branding Word Works. I sat down and I put this guide together. A lot of people have used this program. It’s really clarifying for your brand because it takes you through the process of determining how to make your brand human and how to get your brand word, which are the 7-10 brand words that you want to be known for in your business.
I think that was key to building my brand because I wanted to be known as the Word Ambassador, the person you can go to when you’re stuck with words and need help. I want to be known as the person who helps you write for healing or helps you write for clarity. So once I got super clear on who I was talking to, I then worked on my individual brand words. And all of those words are everywhere that I am. If I am posting on social media, they’re in my copy. If you’re reading my website, they’re in the copy. If you get a program for me, like a downloadable program or eBook, they’re in that copy. Overtime, people will identify you with the words that you are using.
You’re being consistent. You’re letting your audience know who you are, and at the same time, making sure that you stay aligned with what you envisioned and what you hope people pick up from you.
That’s right. And that brings up an important point that I am going to write about soon on my blog, which is, as business owners, sometimes we forget what our own mission and vision is. We get thrown opportunities that sound great, but are they really aligned with the current mission? That is something that I had to get super clear on coming into 2014. I wrote a blog post on how to build your branding mission statement. Everything that comes across my e-mail or my desk, I have the mission statement printed on. I look at what the opportunity is and if it doesn’t fit, I politely decline. Because you can get really sidetracked, and it is that shiny object syndrome that will take you right off of your course.
Do you have any hobbies outside of writing?
I am infatuated with the outdoors. So it is very likely that no matter the season, you will find me out and about, poking in the dirt, skipping stones across the pond, or running through the park. Exercise is a big part of my life as well, so I really enjoy cycling, yoga, and fitness challenges!
Do you have a hard time writing for fun or leisure since you do it for work?
I don’t have a hard time with it, but at times I struggle to find the time for it. I make a conscious effort to schedule fun writing projects for myself on my calendar.
Do you find yourself more expressive in written form, in person, or both?
I am a people person. I can talk to crowds or just one person all day long. I find people so interesting, and I’m always asking about their stories, struggles and successes. I love getting to know someone on a personal level. Writing allows people to get to know me, but nothing beats sitting down and having a cup of coffee, a sweet treat, and sharing kind words with another human being.
How do you keep your writing skills sharp?
By writing a lot! And…writers have to read. We can’t just be writing all of our own stuff because then we are all in our own head. There are some blogs that I follow. I also lead writing programs and, at the end of January, I realized that I need to not always lead, but to go and be a student in a writing program, too. That was one of the best things I did for myself. I went to a writing workshop. It was wonderful. I left there with many great ideas about things I wanted to write about. I was able to write in a creative way; sometimes copywriting isn’t so creative. It was pretty straightforward. It really worked a different side of my brain. I met other writers and I think that what’s really important, no matter what you do. If you work from home like I do, you’re a business owner, always wrapped up in your own thoughts, your own strategies. You have to get out and network with people, talk to other people, and share your passion with other people. That fuels me as a writer. It gives me ideas in and of itself.
How do you recommend writers stay relevant?
Relevant. That’s a great question. I think, like I said, maybe take a class, attend a workshop, and volunteer to write an article that you wouldn’t normally write. I’m really big on volunteering. I think it does a lot for your brand and builds connections. Maybe pick up a different genre than what you usually read, and read something new. If you love Entrepreneur Magazine, Connected Woman Magazine or whatever it is that you love, read it. But make sure you are reading other things as well.
Where do you believe people really struggle with their writing, from your experience?
I think people struggle with their writing in that they don’t set a schedule. I coach people. We set the goals, we set the schedule, and more often than not, if they haven’t met their goals, it’s because they haven’t sat down to write for x-amount of minutes that day or whatever it was. I also think another reason that people struggle most is by letting that evil roommate in their brain talk them out of their good ideas. You have to kind of get over that. As business owners and writers, it doesn’t matter what you do. If someone is occupying your brain and it’s that voice of doubt or uncertainty, it’s going to hurt you long-term. So it is believing in yourself and making the time to sit down and do the work that needs to be done in written format.
Fun question: If you had a chance to sit down with any one person to help them pen their autobiography who would you choose?
I want to sit with The Delhi Llama. He is like the ultimate person I could just sit down with and talk to about everything—his experiences, his vision for the world, and how he uses words to unite people. I find him fascinating. I know he has already written his autobiography, and I am sure thousands of people have written biographies, but just to be able to sit down and have a conversation with him, I think that would be absolutely life changing and monumental.
Are writers born or created?
Oh, wow! I have to think for second. I taught, I still teach college, but I taught writing for 15 years in public schools. I can honestly say that I think it is like anything else. If you work at it, I think you can become a writer. If you work at it and if you want it, I mean that’s the other piece. I have students who claim to never want to be a writer. “I can just do math.” Okay, that is fine. They can just do math. That’s why we have a world where it takes a lot of people to make the world go ‘round.
But for those that really don’t know how to write, there are resources; there are teachers; there are coaches; there are programs; there are free clinics. You can be anything that you want to be. I am a firm believer in that. You can be anything that you want to be and you can create the life that you want to have. And the reality is in your brain. I know all of that is true because I’ve done it. So my final answer is that writers can be created.
Where do you see yourself taking your business five years from now?
Oh, this is an exciting question! When I launched my business, I had a vision of being certified to teach yoga and being able to take people on amazing tours around the world and being able to do what I’m calling “writing expeditions,” experiences where you’re actually in the moment, hiking through what, the Himalayas? I don’t know, riding on the back of an elephant in India. Doing yoga by the ocean and actually being able to sit down and write about it in whatever capacity that may be. Maybe it’s learning how to a write a travel writing piece or a memoir based on your experience during that week or the following two weeks—out and about, traveling around in some foreign place with your journal. But really, just really connecting people through experiences, and writing is the goal of my company. I’m well on the way.
I’m planning an east coast tour as we speak. It’s lined up. I’ve launched some writing expeditors in New York City. The first one [has already] happened. It was writing around the Chinese New Year. We went down to Chinatown and watched the lunar parade with all of the dancing dragons and lions. We went ate dim sum and really had a wonderful day and an experience to write from.
So that’s where I see this company in about five years. And possibly on the branding front, for the other side, really becoming like the leader with branding your business with words because I don’t think it’s spoken about enough at all.
Who are some of your favorite writers/authors?
I have been out of the loop for fiction writing for awhile because it is just not what I am reading. I am reading The Book Thief right now and I know the movie is out now, but I have yet to go see the movie. The author, Zusak, may become a favorite. I need to see what else he has written. What’s intriguing about this book, to me, is: 1) it’s fiction, which I don’t read a lot of. 2) I am on page 180 and I still have not quite figured out who the narrator is.
You’ll be reading, and you’re in the girl’s story of how she is stealing these books from Nazi Germany so she can continue to learn to read and further her education. Then all of a sudden, right from the page, in this bold print, it’s almost like it is God or an outside person that hasn’t been named yet who’s given you parts of the story that she’s not telling. It’s quite fascinating.
I really like Walt Whitman, too. I like the poetry. For nonfiction writers, I read a lot of business books. I really like Melinda Emerson. She wrote a book about ending small business failures and becoming your own boss. It was key in me getting rid of my job in under six months. I put that book to work. Jason Womack writes a lot about productivity. I use a lot of his stuff in workshops, really teaching writers how to be more productive with their time, so that they can get their writing done.
What words describe you and what you value to the core?
Some of my brand words are “Word Ambassador” and “down to earth.” I am really down to earth. I just love to sit and talk to somebody over coffee, tea, wine, or whatever the case may be.
My brand is positive. You will not see me post things that are controversial. I may talk about them in my home. If there is some news story that is controversial or there’s somebody who’s made me angry, you will not see that come across my personal pages or my brand page because my brand is all about using words to inspire people. A couple of my other brand words are “your words matter”, “writing heals”, and “branding word works.” Those are the big ones, I think. Those are the big ones.
I would add on happy. You’re very happy. I can tell through your posts that you are.
Oh, thank you! I am very happy! I’m glad. I get a lot of comments on this. [It] kind of blows me away, but this goes back to what I shared before that; your words really have an effect on people. I always get people hopping over to my personal Facebook message and they’re like, “I come to your page every morning to get your ‘good morning’ welcome because you’re always so happy.” That makes me feel good, you know, because somebody needs that. They just need a little pump up in the morning so they can do whatever it is they were going to tackle that day. I’m glad I can provide that for people.
What makes you a Connected Woman?
What makes me a Connected Woman is that I use my words to connect people. What’s relatable, I think, is that I am authentic. I am genuine. I really want to help people with whatever they need and however I can. I reach out and go the extra mile. So don’t be scared.
If there was an unauthorized book about your life, what do you think it would be called?
ShanLion: Courage Took Her to the Ends of the Earth and Back
What topics in today’s news would you love to write about?
I am pleading the Fifth here. 🙂
How can readers get in contact with you?
Sure. You can find me at www.thewritingwhisperer.com. Facebook is The Writing Whisperer or M. Shannon Hernandez. I friend a lot of people, so I’m cool with that. Also on twitter @writingwhisperer, and I will even give you my email firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope that I hear from anyone who was inspired in any way, or who has questions based on this interview.
What are some of your upcoming events, book releases, etc.?
Well, I have a Captive Journaling Series. This was a journaling program that I dreamed up while on my yoga mat. Because of my frustration with meditation, every time I sat down to meditate, I got the most amazing ideas for my business. You know what they teach you right: to push that stuff out of your brain. So, I was like no! I am not pushing anymore of this out of my brain.
Captive Journal Insights to the Soul is always happening on the odd-numbered months of the year. It’s a lot of fun. It’s for women only. We come together one evening, virtually. We journal around a topic and we share that. And of course, there’s The Unleash Your Brand Group Program. There’s some other stuff that is going to be rolling out after this program launches, which is in a couple of weeks. There will always be something for business owners, especially if they want to work on their branding. Just check my website for the upcoming events.
Any additional advice for the readers?
Sure. I wanted to talk about how building a brand takes a lot of work. I call it heartwork, headwork, and gutwork. It also means you are investing in yourself and investing in your business. February 9th was the one year anniversary for my business. The reason I have been able to grow this brand so fast is because I worked with people who also invested in my brand. That means I have to pay them. I have a business coach. I have a virtual assistant. I have a website designer. I think the pitfalls that I see so much that makes me so sad and frustrated, as a fellow business owner, is that people aren’t taking the time to invest in their business and their brand. Overtime, you can’t do it all by yourself. You can go where you want to go if you’re not getting help on the backend, getting the structure and systems in place. So that would be my big takeaway for anyone who wants a successful brand and business; it’s that you have to reach out. You have to invest in your business. You have to ask for help in order for you to grow. Want to hear this interview live? Click here.
Phone Interview Facilitated by Sharisa Robertson in February 2014. We are happy to present this corrected Interview from our original 4th issue. (see the blog for details). CWM apologizes for any typos and errors presented via transcription from the live interview. The irony of this happening considering the subject matter is not lost on us believe me! It has now been re-edited per request of feature and we hope you enjoy. For more information on Sharisa visit http://sharisarobertson.com/ Listen to the interview live here.
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