Samantha Bennett and Start Right Where You Are
Seth Godin called Samantha Bennett’s first book, Get it Done, “an instant classic.”
With her second book, Start Right Where You Are, book coach Lisa Tener says, “Sam has firmly established herself as a guru of living the creative, fruitful and expansive life you were meant to live. Sam teaches you how to break through any bad habits of mind or action so that you can truly step into your creative power. She is an advocate for your inspired, productive and most wonderful self, and – in all her work – shares proven tools for you to live from that place. And she does it all with a grace and humor that is uniquely Sam Bennett.”
Samantha Bennett’s Inspiration Behind the Book
Charlotte: What inspired you to write Start Right Where You Are? Had you been planning to write the book for a while or did the idea come in a moment of inspiration?
Samantha: The book is based on a workshop I started teaching a few years ago, and when I began to think about writing a second book, that material seemed worth diving into. So, like many creative ideas, it was both a moment of inspiration and a long gestation.
Charlotte: How did your previous book, Get It Done, inform this next book?
Samantha: Start Right Where You Are is sort of a prequel to Get It Done, as it’s less about project management and more about creating a peaceful, productive life. Get It Done is all about how to get your creative work out into the world, but if you don’t believe that it’s OK for you to do that, or if you’re too stressed out to even begin, all the tips and techniques in the world aren’t going to help you. Start Right Where You Are is about creating the mindset and habits that lead to a more joyful existence.
Steps to Writing the Book
Charlotte: What were some of the first steps you took to start writing the book, Start Right Where You Are? What did your process of writing this book look like? Can you describe what this looked like both in your everyday process and your long-term writing process?
Samantha: The first decision I made was that the book needed to be a lot of very short chapters, so that message of the book (that little changes can make a big difference) was mirrored in the structure of the book itself. So I started with a long list of chapter summaries. Thanks to Scrivener (I love Scrivener!) I was able to work on all the bits and pieces while still keeping an eye on the shape of the whole thing.
The Moment of Insecurity
Charlotte: Whom did you envision as your specific target audience? What are some of the things you did in your writing to target and engage that audience, such as use a particular voice, vocabulary, structure, etc.?
Samantha: I had a real moment of insecurity when I realized that I wasn’t just writing for “creatives” anymore. I mean, I’ll boss around a bunch of artists all day long. But this book was designed for a larger audience. So while I knew some of my readers would be familiar with some of the self-help concepts I was discussing, there was a possibility that this was their very first self-help book. Writing in such a way that would educate the newcomers while not boring the experts was a bit of a magic trick.
I tried to keep the tone light and conversational, and I tell quite a few more personal stories about myself in this book. Which also required some inner work – to become comfortable being more self-disclosing.
Exercises and Practices to Start Right Where Your Are
Charlotte: Start Right Where You Are includes quite a few exercises and practices for the reader to do, such as the “Little Changes Action Step.” How did you develop these exercises? What effect do you hope they have on your readers? Are these exercises and the habits you advise – like keeping cell phones out of the bedroom or writing everything in a calendar – things you practiced yourself first and then applied to clients or did they sometimes come directly out of your work with clients and classes first?
Samantha: I always like to make things practical. It annoys me when good advice is not accompanied by a strategy. For example, it’s one thing to tell people they should relax, but I think it’s much more useful to give them a breathing technique like 4:7:8 (inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 7, exhale for a count of 8 – repeat as desired).
That breathing rhythm is one I’ve been doing for nearly 30 years, and I open all my classes with it. And yes – I do not have any electronics in the bedroom, and always write everything down in my calendar. Heck, I’m so old school that I actually keep a date book. (I also have a Google calendar so my team can keep track of me, but I use the paper one for myself.)
There are other strategies that evolved out of my work with clients and the problems they were facing. The “Middle Way” exercise is one of those. I would hear so often that someone would want to do something, but didn’t want to be misjudged for it. For example, “I want to publish my book, but I don’t want anyone to think I’m selfish.” OK, but you don’t want to be completely self-sacrificing, either, right? So what’s in between selfish and self-sacrificing? What’s the middle way? Maybe “loving everyone, including myself and my book,” or the idea that “writing is an act of generosity.”
I love turning problems into provocative questions.
Making it Personal
Charlotte: Did most of the advice and information in the book come from personal experience? Did you have to do any additional research? If so, what did this research process look like?
Samantha: As a confirmed self-help junkie, I’ve been researching this book my whole life. So other than that, no there wasn’t too much digging to do.
Charlotte: How did your personal experiences inform your writing process? You mention the inner work required to include the personal stories. Can you say a bit more about that challenge?
Samantha: The earliest draft of the book did not have as many stories from my own life, but luckily I had a friend who kind of grabbed me by the shoulders and said, “it’s time to stop hiding.” And I know from my own experience as a reader and as a student that it’s the personal stories that stay with you. So I took a deep breath and dove in. It was nerve-wracking to expose myself, especially around the more spiritual teaching, but I knew that my fear was just an invitation to go deeper.
Charlotte: One of the most engaging aspects of the book is the humor and natural tone of the writing. It feels like you are really speaking directly to me! Did you find yourself writing this book in a style similar to how you would speak in your webinars, at conferences or in daily life? Or how did you find your “voice” for this particular book?
Samantha: Thank you! I think the tone of this book is pretty much my tone across the board. I like to be as natural and straightforward as I can be in my writing, teaching and speaking. And I’m always looking for ways to be funny – or at least light-hearted. It’s a lot easier for people to learn and change and grow when they are laughing.
“You Are a Terrible Judge of Your Own Work”
Charlotte: Did you find yourself using your own methods and teachings while writing and publishing the book? Has writing this book given you a particular insight or changed the way you see your own practice?
Samantha: Absolutely. One thing I say a lot to clients is, “You are a terrible judge of your own work. It’s not your job to judge – it’s your job to create.” And the whole time I was writing I was very concerned about the book. I wasn’t confident in the material, I wasn’t sure I was really the right person to be writing this book, I wasn’t enjoying the writing as much as I thought I should be…but the whole time I just kept reminding myself that it wasn’t up to me to judge the quality of the work. That job belonged to my editor and copy editor. So I just kept breathing (4:7:8) and trusted the process.
I now know – you don’t have to love the work as you’re creating it. You don’t even have to like it. You just have to do it.
The Business Behind the Books: Synergy and Storytelling
Charlotte: That’s a powerful insight. Can you tell us a little about The Organized Artist Company? Why did you choose to focus on helping artists and creative people in your business?
Samantha: As an artist myself, I’ve always been fascinated by how creative people make decisions. After all, when your work is, by definition, self-expression, you can’t do things the way everyone else does them. There’s no checklist on how to be successful. I wanted to find ways to help creative people get out of their own way and share their work. Because art matters.
I started teaching workshops in 1999, and in 2009 I decided to make The Organized Artist Company my full-time gig. I learned as much about marketing and entrepreneurship as fast as I could – I even became an Infusionsoft Certified Consultant – and we’ve grown by leaps and bounds every year.
Charlotte: You have quite a few roles to your name – you’re an author, speaker, teacher, actor, and consultant to name a few! Do you find that these roles work together to facilitate your work – for example, if your experience with writing helps your work as a speaker? Do you find that any of these roles can hinder or have a negative impact on the other? In particular, how does being an actor affect your writing?
Samantha: I think using multiple skill sets makes my work more fun. I suspect that my experience as an actor makes me more empathic and emotional in my writing, and certainly the twenty years I spent as an improviser helps me feel very comfortable and at ease on stage – even when the slides don’t work or things go haywire, as they so often do.
Most significantly, I think my creative background makes me a better marketer. After all, good marketing is just good storytelling. The willingness to be open and sincere and not-boring can lead to some pretty great copy writing, you know?
Both a career in the arts and being an entrepreneur require a high tolerance for risk and uncertainty, but whether that’s a blessing or a curse is highly debatable.
How to Write a Book in 9 Weeks!
Charlotte: You’ve authored quite a few books, including the bestselling Get It Done: From Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 Minutes a Day. What are some of the differences you experienced between your previous books and Start Right Where You Are when it comes to aspects like the writing process, the publishing process, the decisions you made of who to work with, promotion, etc?
Samantha: The biggest difference has been the speed – the book was bought in December and I turned in my manuscript at the end of February. So I wrote it in about 9 weeks, and of course I was still running my business full time, too. So that was a whirlwind.
Now that we’re launched, I’m much more relaxed this time around. I feel less ego attachment. I want Start Right Where You Are to do well, of course, but I’m not all tied up in knots about it.
Charlotte: What are some things you learned from writing and publishing Get It Done that helped with the writing and publishing process of Start Right Where You Are?
Samantha: That writing a book can be both easy and fun. Which is not to say that it’s not also arduous and challenging and occasionally terrifying. But I had so many lovely things happen as a result of writing Get It Done that it felt like a pretty good gamble to invest the time and energy into another book. But it’s always a crapshoot, you know? I have no idea what might come from this.
The Path to Publishing: Easy Peasy
Charlotte: Did you consider other publishers for your second book, or what drew you back to your previous publisher, New World Library?
Samantha: I have been fortunate to find such a happy home with New World Library. I had a wonderful experience with Get It Done, and so it was a no-brainer to do Start Right Where You Are with them, too. And because we’re so lovey-dovey, I didn’t even have to write a book proposal this time. I just sent them the chapter summaries and they made me an offer.
This book happened so quickly – from offer to pub date was only 11 months – and I don’t know that we could have done that without the trust and good working relationship we had already developed.
New World Library is a small house, but they are smart and lovely and responsive and they have a wonderful reputation. Their commitment to ethical business, recycling, green printing and just being decent people has made me a fan for life.
Still Not Over Seth Godin
Charlotte: What are some of the positive results or responses you have received since writing and publishing Get it Done? What are some of the initial responses from beta readers of Start Right Where You Are?
Samantha: The biggest deal was getting an endorsement from my hero, Seth Godin. I’m still not over that. I’ve gotten keynote offers and speaking gigs, and overall, just an enormous amount of street cred. Really – writing a book is like putting on a doctor’s coat. Everyone just assumes you know stuff. It’s great.
Start Right Where You Are has attracted some more mainstream media attention, which is fun. There’s an article in Self Magazine, and The Daily Word has asked me to write an article. One reader told me that she thought this book had some fairly radical spiritual ideas that might put me in “sainthood territory,” so I’m considering changing my name to Saint Sam. I think it has a nice ring to it, don’t you?
Originally from Chicago, Samantha Bennett is a writer, actor, teacher and creativity/productivity specialist. She is the creator of both The Organized Entrepreneur Company and The Organized Artist Company, organizations that are each, in their own way, dedicated to helping creative people get unstuck from whatever way they’re stuck, especially by helping them focus and move forward on their goals. Contact Samantha at TheOrganizedArtistCompany.com or StartRightWhereYouAre.com. And you can buy a copy of “Start Right Where You Are” on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.