At the recent Writer’s Digest Annual Conference, Tim Grahl, author and book marketer for well-known authors like Dan Pink, spoke about building platform and connecting authentically with readers. He advised his listeners to not confuse the tools of social media with being the rules.
I straightened in my seat when I heard that because several years ago I had been doing just that, confusing the tools with the rules. As a member of a entrepreneurial group coaching program, I was attending a retreat and had just listened to success stories from some members who had been asked to share their results with the 60 or more attendees.
Unfortunately, instead of feeling inspired, I felt frustrated and depressed. Why wasn’t I making money in my business? Why didn’t I have any clients? Why was I a failure? At one point during some group work, I actually banged my head on the table because I was so frustrated with not being able to get it “right”.
As I flew home afterwards, I watched the clouds pass by below me pondering on what I was doing wrong. Suddenly I realized…
The tools are NOT the rules!
I repeated that several times in my head (not wanting to disturb the passenger next to me). The tools are not the rules; the tools are not the rules. How freeing!
Somehow I had tangled myself up by turning those very helpful business tools into rules, rules that felt restrictive and not useful.
My oh-so-talented husband, Bob, does carpentry and cabinetry. When he decides to build a cabinet or a stairway, he first determines the scope and style of his project,takes measurements and draws up a plan. Then he purchases materials and chooses tools appropriate for constructing that cabinet or stairway.
What he doesn’t do is pick up a hammer and then start hammering nails randomly expecting that if he handles the hammer properly, he’ll get results. Even though it is a good tool and he uses it properly.
In the same way, you and I shouldn’t pick up Pinterest or a blog or a podcast (the latest must-do), or a publicist and then go looking for a way to use it.
Nor should you feel forced into creating an outline, or laying out a three-act structure for your book if that approach blocks you instead of frees you for your writing.
Can you imagine the results if Jackson Pollack had believed that he could only use a brush or palette knife to apply oils to canvas, if he had seen the tool as the rule?
Not unexpectedly, I recently tangled up tools with rules while working on my novel. Trying to force my story into the three-act structure that is taught at so many workshops, my story sputtered and stalled. I was blocked. Arrggh! I help clients get unblocked all the time. Why couldn’t I help myself?
Then, while reading a book by Steven James, Story Trumps Structure, I realized I had done it again. I had turned tools into rules.
When we confuse tools with rules, creative blocks are the likely result.
So the next time you are feeling bogged down in your work or are ready to bang your head on the nearest table…
Save yourself from a headache and ask, “Have I confused a tool with a rule? If so, can I morph it back into a tool? Or, can I find a way to break the ‘rule’?”
See if that gets your creative energy flowing again.
And make this your mantra, “The tools are NOT the rules.”