Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Hitting Your Stride

Today, I interview Nan Russell, a writer I can definitely identify with as she also escaped the corporate cube to allow her inner writer to roam free - only she is in the mountains of Montana. Nan discusses her book, "Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way." Nan talks about writing a second book, her passion of helping others to find theirs - and of finding her own.

Tell us about yourself.
I write from the mountains of northwestern Montana, near Glacier National Park, with postcard views from a home office. But it hasn’t always been like this. Despite being born in Montana, I was raised in Southern California, college educated in Northern California, graduate school education in Michigan and career focused in Pennsylvania. Along the way of growing up, falling in love, raising a family and spending twenty-five years in the corporate arena, including as a Vice President with multi-billion dollar QVC, Montana was part of my life. In fact, when my husband and I fell in love in graduate school, we dreamed of moving here before we turned fifty. And we did. In July 2002, I left a successful career to pursue a dream to live in Montana and write. Fueled by twenty years in management and expertise in workplace cultures, my primary niche is career oriented, workplace, and business-life issues, although I write a life reflections column called, “In the Scheme of Things” and for fun am working on a psychological thriller.

Tell us about your book, "Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way."
Even a Stanford degree didn't protect me from being fired from my first professional job. Accepting a minimum wage position to pay the rent, I learned the hard way what it took to survive and thrive at work, eventually achieving sixteen promotions despite setbacks, failures, and missteps along the way. It is from that experience, and twenty years in management, that I recognized common sense but uncommon practices that impact futures and change results. The book offers insider tips, insights, and winning at working perspectives from one generation to the next, in the hopes that some may be helpful to those seeking “their work, their way” along with interesting work, personal growth, and financial gains. Sharing candid real-world, perspectives of what really does and doesn't work, Hitting Your Stride, helps you bring your uniqueness to your work, invent the future your want, and make a difference. More about the book at http://www.hittingyourstride.com/.

What made you decide to develop your writing business expertise in helping others with their careers?
My first writing goal post-corporate world, was to be a columnist. Little did I know that’s probably not the place to begin, but naïve sometimes works. Today, I write a life reflections column called “In the Scheme of Things,” as well as a career insights column, “Winning at Working.” It was this second column and the response from readers that led to Hitting Your Stride. The premise behind my messages is this: only when we’re all “winning” will we all “win.” But “winning” is not about climbing a corporate hierarchy. Rather “winning” means offering your unique talents and gifts through your work, whatever that work may be. My passion has always been helping others find and use their talents. Since my corporate work included management roles in human resources, human resource development, and communication, as well as senior line management positions with P & L accountabilities, I use those perspectives from both sides of the desk to help people within traditional workplaces find their voice and heart. And with a background which includes being the architect and influence leader for a culture transformation for 10,000 employees, I also focus energy through my company, MountainWorks Communications, to help organizations build winning cultures where individuals can be self-motivated and contribute their uniqueness at work, while achieving the organization’s vision or mission. In the process, my ultimate goal is to help change the workplace of today into a more soul-enhancing versus soul-depleting experience.

This is your second book. Was the process on the second book different from the first? Did you learn what to expect in the writing and editing process from the first?
I consider this my first book. This is how I learned to write a book proposal, find an agent, build a platform, understand a book contract, and work through the editing, publishing, and now promotion and marketing process. My other book was strategically self-published to leverage speaking engagements in order to build a bigger platform for the ultimate sale of Hitting Your Stride.

Were there things you did/didn't do during the writing or marketing of the first book that your learned from in the second book?
I joined a program called Quantum Leap, led by marketing gurus Steve and Bill Harrison (they do the National Publicity Summit, as well as Radio-TV Interview Report). It was Steve who suggested there be a self-published book, and who coached me to develop a speaking platform using the first book like a “business card.” With this impetus, I was able to develop over forty speaking engagements within a year. While my speaking platform enabled my agent to sell my "real" book, it also helped grow my biweekly e-zine, “Winning at Working,” along with my database and contacts. Now I’m lined up to speak at large conferences where my new book will be sold in the event bookstore or a book signing will follow a presentation. For example, last week, 200 people attended a signing for Hitting Your Stride after I spoke.

I've found having a business background has been very helpful in developing a freelance business. What lessons did you learn from your business background that you've incorporated into your freelance business?
Understanding the inner workings and protocols traditionally found in large organizations helped me maneuver quickly, accept layers of decision makers, recognize the importance of building relationships, and not take rejection personally. Writing is a business like any business. I also knew to apply the parallel path approach, i.e. several balls in the air at all times, at various stages. Plus a business background taught me that what appears simple, rarely is. Building a platform and becoming an author confirmed that. Beyond the persistence and determination and discipline, I found myself in unexpected arenas where resourcefulness was the critical skill. When I became a writer, I never expected I’d spend half my time as a marketer, but I do. Like any business, you must evolve to survive.

How did you find your agent/publisher?
Finding my current agent, Lisa Hagan, was a potholed path. I started by attending writer conferences where there were agent panels and reading books on the subject. Since I heard how difficult finding an agent was, I was surprised in just six weeks to receive an offer of representation. What I didn’t realize was it’s not difficult to find an agent; it’s difficult to find a good one. Fast-forward four months, and a few submissions and rejections from publishers later, and that agent announced in an email she was leaving the publishing business. My second agent search took six months and included three offers of representation, but this time I choose wisely. Lisa has been my agent now for two plus years, and is currently shopping my next proposal.

You say in your bio you always had the dream of living in the mountains of Montana as a writer. Is writing about business your dream writing goal, or do you have some secret aspiration of fiction - or something else?
The possibility seeds of being a writer were planted early by a teacher who helped me discover that a shy, spectator-in-life-child could find her voice through words. It is more who I am that what I do. Writing is how I find my thoughts (and my soul). I believe words can help change the world, can ignite the vision of possibility, and can be a catalyst for change. Much needs to be changed in the workplaces of today for businesses to thrive, ideas to flourish, and people to bring the best of who they are to their work, whatever that work may be. I hope my words can be an impetus to help. Having said all that, some day when I “retire” I hope to write a few novels and am slowly nibbling at one in hobby-mode. More about me at http://www.nanrussell.com/.

What value do you place on professional writing organizations/networking groups and how do you use them?
Before I ever traded my corporate role for a Montana wilderness one, I attended ASJA conferences for two springs in NYC, devouring the business of writing, enhancing my skill-set, and tapping into numerous resources. It was there that I heard about FLX (freelancesuccess.com), and through that resource took an online class to sketch my first book proposal. I continue to attend ASJA every other year, augmented by regional conferences every year since I’m always looking for ways to develop my craft, learn about the business of writing, and connect with writers who know a lot more than I do how to do the things I want to do. Attending writers’ conferences or workshops, or being involved in select online discussion boards are all personal development investments I find essential. By the way, speaking of networking, I host a weekly radio show on http://www.webtalkradio.net/content/view/58/30/ called “Work Matters,” so if you’re a workplace author or expert who’d like to be a guest on my show, just let me know.

Many people who have the souls of writers, but are stuck in corporate cubes or labs or wherever, have this fantasy of living on a beach, in the mountains or in a villa in Italy and writing. You and I have both achieved our dream lives in the mountains - what one piece of advice would you give someone with that dream?
Whether the fantasies of beaches, mountains, or villas are actualized, the soul-passion of writing can be. And there begins the question for each of us. Is it the idyllic writing life we seek (which I’m not sure actually exists), or is it the contribute through writing as a talent we may have that drives our dream? Writing is work. Building a writing business is work. I love my work, but I don’t write because I live in these amazing Montana mountains. I write because I’m a writer, and I wrote in all my corporate jobs, too. I didn’t start writing because I came to Montana. I came to Montana because the mountains nourish my soul, and I wanted in the second half of my life to make my work my writing. But I would never be doing the writing I’m doing now without the experiences, knowledge, and expertise I had before. As Oprah would say, here is what I know - my Montana dream was chunked into existence one step at a time over twenty-five years. So whether your dream is beaches or books or maybe a bit of both, take at least one step a year that moves you toward your dream, because as the line in FlashDance reminds us, “When you give up your dream, you die.”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love this interview, Kerri. Even though the view from my home office is not a postcard - just a redbud tree in bloom - it reinforces the kindred, independent nature of writers. Good job for providing inspiration to us all!

10:40 AM CDT  

Post a Comment

<< Home