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How uncool isn’t the new cool – and why nobody will tell you some truths.

Greetings –
The end of the year draws nigh. As I take stock of the year that was, I see the few critical moments that shaped my year(always, a *tiny* number of inflection points that make all the difference, dont they?).
I’m going to share one of the most powerful of these shifts that I’ve had – because thisis also something that is pertinent it is to all creators and for the creative process. Something for you to mull over as you think about *your* own year that was – and your coming new year.
Here goes.
**
I was party to these two conversations within a week of each other.
Conversation #1
Friend: “You’re not wearing that jacket today?”
Me: “I had a feeling it looked uncool on me, so I wanted to try ditching it today.”
Friend: “That jacket *is* really uncool.”
Me: “DUDE. Why didnt you tell me before?”
Friend: <Shrugs> “I didnt think you wanted to hear it.”

 

Conversation #2
Mentor + teacher: “I don’t mean to be judgmental – but you really need to work on your style. That is really holding you back everywhere”
**

 

I had never paid a ton of attention to my style and clothes for much of my life. One part of that mindset came from my middle-class upbringing(“don’t buy any fancy clothes – because, y’know, they cost money. Like, a TON. You don’t want to be vain like those rich folks, do you?”). Another part of that mindset came from my recovering-overachiever-self(“if I do great work, that should be enough – why should I have to do shallowass things like dress up?”)
In mid-2013, I got to a financially comfortable place in my life – so I started to spend non-trivial amounts of money on clothing. Because, hey, I had the money now – so it was about time I graduated from homeless-chic.
Yet, these two conversations above from mid-2014 shook my world – because they suggested that just because I’d started spending money on clothes, it didnt mean I was wearing the *right* kind of clothes. All those years of skimping on my clothes had taught me ZILCH about style.
What could I do after the two conversations above shattered my delusions?
**

 

Two of my mentors talk a lot about how the best way to improve in an area where you are starting from scratch is to simply pay specialists like coaches to help you.
The idea is that if you don’t have a clue about where to begin, hire someone who knows their shit – and have them handhold you so you aren’t lost. That way, you make progress without floundering and doing random unproductive shit(like I’d been doing in spending money on clothing – but buying *wrong* types of clothes).
So this would have suggested I should just have hired a stylist – and ask them to help me get my style together. Cue multiple scripts going off in my head at the mere thought of hiring a stylist:
– “Ha. What a waste of money to hire someone. I can walk into Macy/Target and pick up great clothes.”
– “Stylist?! That is SO vain.”
– “Of course I’ve got my style handled. I don’t need help. COME ON. They don’t call me Giacomo Girolamo Casanova for nothing.”
**

 

Yet, after conversations #1 and #2, I realized I had no excuses.
After both these conversations, it hit me that I’d NO IDEA how much my lack-of-style might have been hurting me in my career, personal life and elsewhere.Maybe those folks at that party excused themselves to mingle elsewhere because my style made me look like a homeless person. Maybe that cute girl decided to totally avoid eye contact with me – and I might have missed out on meeting the love of my life.
And NOBODY would tell me. So many people would have shut up out of politeness instead of giving me candid feedback. Let’s face it, brutally honest feedback isn’t easy to give(or take).
So I bit the bullet. I hired a stylist to take me shopping. She started with questions for me – what did I want to convey/communicate with my style?
GASP. I had never even thought about what I wanted to convey. And when I met her for our shopping trip, I realized what I’d gotten ALL wrong.I’d worn playful/fun clothes in situations where I did NOT want to convey a playful/fun vibe(work, conferences). I’d worn serious-max clothes on hikes and parties. (To my relief, she also assured me I wasn’t so bad that I came across as a homeless person).
On our shopping trip, she came to my rescue. She laid out simple rules and frameworks for what clothes go well in what situation – and what kind of vibe each gives out.
I’d walk into and out of dressing rooms – and she’d give me a thumbs up-or-down sign. In a couple of hours, I not only had new clothes, but I also left with a very good understanding of what I should wear in different situations – and the message I’d convey with each type of clothing.

At the end of our 120 minutes together, I was shocked that I had been practically BLIND to all this all along. Here I was, seeing that I might not have been coming across as the suave, debonair man I thought I was for YEARS.

And yet, I was relieved that I was seeing the light now.
I was glad I not only had new clothes that worked for me, but also had knowledge that would help me continue shopping for myself in the future. To be clear, I’m still learning and figuring out the style that does work for me – and I sometimes still make style-gaffes – but I come across as far better than I would have if I hadn’t hired the stylist.
It has been an investment for life.
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(Hai Giacomo Girolamo)
**

 

WHY DOES THIS MATTER TO YOU AS A WRITER OR CREATOR?
We all have our blind spots – areas where we have NO IDEA that we suck in. Unless we reach out to folks who are wiser than us, there’s often no way we can even get a clue as to what we might be missing – and what we can do to improve.
Wondering if you’re doing your workouts right? Hire a personal trainer – or ask a friend who guzzles her protein shakes at work. Not sure if you’re deluding yourself about how well you write? Ask someone whose taste you trust(or reach out to me via my office hours).
Yes, this feedback might often be bitter – and brutal. You might not want to hear that everything you thought of as awesome about yourself has actually been shit – and that you’ve been deluding the fuck out of yourself.
But would you rather never ever find out – and have opportunities pass you by – or would you rather know now so you can make *some* progress in the next few months and years?
As you take stock of YOUR year that was, where would YOU rather be in the next one year?
**

 

Since it’s been a while since I’ve written in, I’ve some catching up to do in terms of sharing pieces from Mint Lounge. Here are some pieces from sometime ago that I’d like to share with you.
Sikkim, India – A new white rain – Amulya Shruthi
Mountain View, California – Geek History – J Ramanand
Nairobi, Kenya – The Old Curiosity Town – Supriya Dravid

Thasarak, Kerala – Inside A Village of Legend – Prathap Nair
Mysore, India – A Secret Muse – Shruthi Rao

**

 

PS – Here is some more wisdom that I read about how clothes maketh the man.
PPS – If you’d like to consult with my amazing(and shockingly affordable) stylist Adey Bell, hit me up and I’ll make an intro. She’s based in the SF Bay Area, but she does Skype consults as well.

PPPS – Want to speak with me? In the spirit of sharing, I’ve been hosting office hoursvia Skype. Because of this, I’ve had the chance to speak to a lot of folks, and learn and share lots of new/interesting stuff so far. If there’s anything you’d like to chat with me about – or share of what you know, just hit reply and propose some times.PPPPS – You’re receiving this email because you’ve subscribed to my email newsletter – or because you’ve written for me and I’d like you to be in touch. You can always unsubscribe via the button below. I’ll deal with it. 🙂

Life Lessons From Unspeakable Horrors

Greetings –

I spent much of my last week at the Burning Man festival – and had six mind-blowing days.

I biked around the desert. I gratefully sipped water in the afternoon blaze. I stared at Art Cars painted yellow and green and pink – clad in purple and orange and red lights. I biked in the darkness – with blue electric lights dangling from my vest.

I walked into camps where people gave me drinks and snacks(for you cannot sell or buy anything at the festival – it’s a no-commerce zone). I walked up to strangers, made conversations and traded hugs.

I marveled at how this temporary city of 60,000 people emerged out of nothingness – and wondered how people created something this beautiful knowing that it would all be dismantled in a week.

I experienced unspeakable horrors in this transient yet beautiful city. On my first morning, I and my friends waited at the gates of Black Rock City to drive in.

I had to pee. I stepped out of our car to the Porta Potties(temporary plastic chamber toilets). I yanked open the plastic door, and stepped into the mud covered floor of the interior.

The sight was gruesome. My innards spun like they’d been dropped into a blender. My stomach churned as I contemplated the unspeakable horror that confronted my eyes. I covered my eyes with my hands to evade the sight of the semi-solid carnage. I employed my other hand to plug my nose.

Unspeakable horror, yes. (Mind you, I do not use the phrase lightly – for I’ve seen horrors at Dadar Junction, on the Gwalior Barauni Mail – and other such dark corners of the Indian Railways).

I held my breath, and felt like I’d almost choke. Very soon, I stepped out into the fresh air of the outside. It was hot air, but boy, was it fresh – and soothing. I felt like I had been drowning – and I had just been rescued and I’d come up for fresh air.

Over the next 6 days, I slowly made my peace with this unmentionable horror of these Porta Potties that I had no choice but to use.

By day 6 though, it wasn’t such a big deal. By then, many other things I’d taken for granted before weren’t such a big deal. I hadn’t showered for 6 days. I had survived on frozen pre-cooked food – bland meat, often-hard tomatoes and potatoes. I’d walked into dust-storms and come out draped in white powder of dust. I’d slept in a dust-sprinkled hexayurt on a sleeping bag. I’d biked agonizingly across miles.

And none of these hardships were unmanageable. These werent a big deal. Amid the whole magic of the art cars, groovy music, funky camp-decorations, serendipitous conversations, salsa dances in the sand and free hugs, the whole physical hardship thing paled in comparison with the awesomeness around me. There were cooler, more fun things to do – so why worry about the painful, unpleasant parts that I had to endure no matter what?

I was actually getting used to this whole radical self-reliance thing.

And after I returned – last Sunday, as I thought back over those magical days at the Playa, I realized that I don’t necessarily need many things I take for granted.

After seeing rock-bottom in the luxury department like I did at Burning Man, it was a LOT easier to see that if I do lose the possessions and luxuries that I’ve gotten with me, it isn’t the end of the world.

As a writer and creator, sometimes I think I need more money, more time, fancier food, more productivity tools, a couple of million dollars to be happy and creative. Perfection sometimes simply seems to be a couple of expensive purchases and lots of time away.

One week at Burning Man showed me that all I need to truly enjoy and appreciate life is me. All I need is what I’ve got inside my head – and cool, fun people to enjoy and appreciate for who they are, not what they possess.

I left the Playa grateful for everything that I’ve got going in my little corner of the world – and knowing that I perhaps don’t need all that much to be happy.

Perhaps that is true for you too. As a writer or creator, it’s worth asking yourself this – what do you absolutely need to create? What can you let go of?

Cheers –

Shamanth

PS – Want to write for Mint Lounge/WSJ? Go here:
Travel writing: http://bit.ly/StoryPitchForm
Travel photo essays: http://bit.ly/PhotoEssayPitchForm

I read and respond to every pitch.

PPS – Want to speak with me? In the spirit of sharing, I’ve been hosting office hours for the last few months. Because of this, I’ve had the chance to speak to a lot of folks, and learn and share lots of new/interesting stuff so far. If there’s anything you’d like to chat with me about – or share of what you know, just hit reply and let me know.

PPPS – Mint is also looking for submissions for a special issue themed around luxury. Here’s a note from the issue editor: “I am seeking a travel piece for this edition connected with the idea of luxury— not the usual retro-modern luxury of Rajasthan hotels but luxury from a modern standpoint.” and “I’m looking for someone who can do a thoughtful piece on why luxury isn’t in the obviously luxurious.”

If you’ve got possible story ideas around luxury + travel, hit reply and email me your pitch – and I’ll forward your pitch across to the issue editor.

In Further Praise Of Shameless Theft

This stack of paper sits atop the table in my living room.

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The page on top of the pile contains an ad with the headline: Mississippi Man Discovers Long Lost Tapes Made By Elvis Presley Before He Became Famous! (here is a link to the ad)

I’ve handwritten this ad out in its entirety(and yes, I know, I know, my handwriting *sucks*). Every morning, for anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes a day, I write out ads by hand.

 

Why do I do this?
One of my goals for this year is to improve my copywriting skills(which is the skill of writing so as to sell or persuade people). When I asked experienced copywriters for advice, one of the most common recommendations that I got was that I should:

  1. Build a collection of ads that I like/admire(in other words, ads that have persuaded people, sold products and made money)
  2. Copy each of those ads in my own handwriting to “internalize” and absorb the style into your subconscious
  3. Do this every day, to “program” persuasive copywriting ability into my brain.

 

What you see on my table is the result of my following this process.

SO WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH YOUR WRITING?

As it turns out, this process of ‘hardwiring’ copywriting skills into your mind by shamelessly copying ads that work is also one of the best ways to improve your writing skills.

 

As Hunter S. Thompson would tell you, it really works.

 

It wasnt just drug-frenzy-driven inspiration that was the secret behind Thompson’s verb-packed prose. It turns out he used a much less fancy process to get better at writing.

 

In the 1950s, when working as a copy boy for Time, Thompson would shut himself up in a room. He’d sit down at a typewriter – and type out his favorite authors’ books in their entirety. Among the books he typed out were F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms.

 

His idea was to etch these writers’ style into his own mind. If the results are anything to judge by, it sure as hell worked.
And if you had to learn from him(to say nothing of the who’s who of the copywriting world, who’ve sworn by the same advice), this act of shamelessly copying writing that you admire can do wonders for your style.

 

As I’d said in the last edition of this newsletter, the best way to build a creative skill like writing is to model someone who is already great at it. All the better if you model them literally, and copy them exactly.

 

Like everything else that’s truly worth doing, it’s simple, but not easy. :). But because hardly anyone else will put in the work, this sort of shameless stealing might just be one of the fastest ways to improve your writing.

 

What’s something you’ve improved dramatically by modeling something that works? Reply to this email and let me know. I read every response – and reply to most comments.
Cheers,

 

Shamanth
**

….and here are the pieces from Mint Lounge from the last few weeks.

 

One Wild Night

Jayaditya Gupta

Surviving a night in an Amazonian jungle in the company of tarantula nests, crickets, and unmentionable insects

 

**

 

Debris of an Odyssey

Shruthi Rao
In George Everest’s 19th century residence, only broken walls, burnt remains and wandering cows remain.

This was a piece that Shruthi wrote after reading this piece of mine from a few months ago.

 

**

Almora

Heavy Metal Thunder

Prachi Joshi

In this neighbourhood that is home to an ancient art form, the clangs of metal hammering metal grow fainter by the day

 

**

PS – Want to write for Mint Lounge/WSJ? Go here:

 

Travel writing: http://bit.ly/StoryPitchForm

Travel photo essays: http://bit.ly/PhotoEssayPitchForm

 

I read and respond to every pitch.

 

PPS – Want to speak with me? In the spirit of sharing, I’ve been hosting office hours for the last few months. Because of this, I’ve had the chance to speak to a lot of folks, and learn and share lots of new/interesting stuff so far. If there’s anything you’d like to chat with me about – or share of what you know, just hit reply and let me know.

PPPS – A ghetto version of the site http://TheThinkingWriter.com is up and live. This week, it’s going to be on its way to becoming fancy. Watch that space. =).

How Google and Facebook are only following radio & TV’s footsteps & ‘selling out’.

How Google and Facebook are only following radio & TV’s footsteps & ‘selling out’.

Google is killing organic search, write the folks at Tutorspree. And elsewhere, Facebook is killing its newsfeed.

Google and Facebook were supposed to symbolize a utopian world where information and connections would be free and ‘unbiased’. How could they do this to us?

Of course, we should have seen this coming. It’s not that this hasn’t happened before.

Advertising time on TV has shot up from 15% of total time in the 60s to as much as 40% of total time now. Radio advertising time has skyrocketed. Magazines have filled up with ads – many filling anywhere from 30 to 40% of their space with advertising.

When the first TVs, radios and magazines began, they carried hardly any advertising, and nearly 100% content. As they grew, advertising started seeping in. Slowly, slowly, advertising became the engine that kept these industries humming, not content.

As they generated more and more dollars, it became more important to please Wall Street than to please their users.

What happened with TV and radio and print is happening to the web. And this is precisely what will happen to mobile, and people will wring their hands when the Instagrams and WhatsApps and Snapchats of the world monetize themselves and ‘sell out’.

Every medium has to feed the beast of monetization as it grows, even if it means biting the hand of the consumers who helped it grow.

Clickers and gawkers wont buy. What I learnt from a failed stall and wasted days.

Clickers and gawkers wont buy. What I learnt from a failed stall and wasted days.Some years ago, I was running a digital ad agency, and we had a chance to put up a stall at a fete in in the heart of a tourist district.I went ahead and put up a stall because a.) it was cheap(INR 10,000/$200). b.) I knew the fete was really well attended.The hall was packed with people, to be sure. Other stalls sold shirts, herbs, spices, and food which got lapped up by locals who were there for a weekend evening out. Yet, these same locals would walk by our stall, gawk curiously(digital ads? what’s that?) – and move on to the popcorn stall next to ours.We’d bet money and time on finding resort owners in the tourist district whom we could sell to. “Even if we get ONE client, we’ll recover our investment,” I’d said. Only, we didn’t get a single resort owner in the throng of thousands.Gawkers after gawkers – not a single prospect. A couple of hours into the fest, I realized there was no point talking and explaining to passers by what we were about – for these guys were so obviously not our prospects.I learnt my lesson.This of course, doesn’t have to do with just trade fairs. Ever so often, it is so easy to target gawkers, not buyers. Footfalls and a full house are easy temptations to fall for – for me, just having a stall up in a fete was a symbol that *felt* good – after all it was a sign I’d done something, even as I fought the sobering reality that what I was doing was making me zilch money.**That of course happens in advertising too. So many campaigns that I see optimize ads based on which creatives have higher click throughs, and not which have higher conversions.This is more insidious on platforms where creative-wise CTRs aren’t easily available unless you do put in work to excavate that data(which unfortunately is the case on most platforms – Adwords, as you see below makes it really clear and easy to see).Screenshot-ads1

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