Laurie Wagner: Author, Writing Instructor and Founder of 27 Powers

Ellen Fondiler | Pick My Brain

Ellen Fondiler | Pick My Brain: Laurie Wagner

Ever wish you could sit down with a super-accomplished person and ask, “What does it take to break into your industry? What’s it like to be you?”

With Pick My Brain, that’s exactly what we do.

Enjoy this new installment featuring my dear friend Laurie Wagner — author, writing instructor, creator of the Telling True Stories e-course, and founder of the 27 Powers writing center in California.


Lots of people stop themselves from writing because they think, “So many other people are much better writers than me! What could I possibly have to say that anyone would want to read?” 

Any words of advice for those people?

What would you like them to know?

[Laurie]: You know, the person who answered this question best was the dancer Martha Graham when she said:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”

I like this: “It’s not your business to determine how good it is.”

Your business, as someone who wants to write, is to get busy getting interested in the world around you.

Get curious. What do you think about? What are your obsessions? What do you find yourself talking about to friends? That’s what you might want to consider writing about because that’s what’s moving through you.

It’s really that simple. There’s nothing better to write about. And those writers who are “way more experienced,” they started with nothing but an idea for a story once too.

My writer friend Becky Ruiz Jenab is all about food. She’s an attentive chef and can mesmerize you with the details of sorting lentils or squeezing lemons for pie. When I asked Becky why she writes about food, she said, “By writing about your obsession, whatever it may be, that is where you ultimately discover where your sources of vitality come from.”

I love that: “sources of vitality.”

That means Becky doesn’t write about food because she thinks other people want to hear about food or because she might win a prize for it, but because sorting lentils or picking lemons from a tree fascinates her. She loses herself a little when she’s doing those things. She gets curious and she comes alive.

Becky went on:

“Anything you’re obsessed with or preoccupied by is worth writing about. No one will pay the same sort of devoted attention to it that you will; no one will bring it to life the way you can, because of that devotion; no one will see it the way you do, or live it or love it or feel it as you do. If it occupies that much space in your heart, it’s best to get it out, tell its story. It will resonate with others and have a life of its own.”

So what’s important here is not to ask yourself why others would care, but ask yourself why you care, and trust that.

Excellence comes in time after much practice. You might have to sort a lot of lentils to realize that, my goodness, they’re all different in size and color.

We live in a culture where everyone is supposed to rise to some superstar level immediately. We’re supposed to make a big splash if we’re any good. And we may, but it doesn’t happen because we’re special or have something more important than someone else to say: it happens because we get deeply interested in something so much that it wants to burst out of us. We want to share what we love.

So get busy loving.

I love racquetball. My friend Joel loves tennis, and my friend Lisa loves being a mother. That’s some of what we write about.

What do you want to write about? What do you love?

Ellen Fondiler | Pick My Brain: Laurie Wagner

Old Masters: After 80, some people don’t retire. They reign.

Ellen Fondiler | Grab Bag

Ellen Fondiler | Read Of The Week: Ellsworth Kelly

In GRAB BAG, I share extra stories, discoveries and gems that don’t quite “fit” anywhere else on my blog — but are too good not to share. Kind of like a piñata or a mystery box: you never know what’s going to be inside! Enjoy!

Portraits of men and women in their 80s and 90s, who have enjoyed substantial and celebrated careers are asked : why their love’s labor is not lost but still to be found. Why do they persist with their work and creative endeavors? To what end is the unceasing effort to discover or create something new? Why not just rest?

The answers show a hunger for knowledge, a passion for creativity, a feeling of ongoing youthfulness, and awareness that because time marches forward undaunted, one must keep seeking the joys of being alive.

This article was an inspiration — a breath of fresh air in this youth-infused culture and a sense that for everyone, the best years lie ahead.

Some of the profiles include:

• Carmen Herrera, painter, 99, in her Manhattan studio. Herrera sold her first painting at age 89. Today her work is in the permanent collections at the Museum of Modern Art and the Tate Modern.

• Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 81, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.

• Ginette Bedard, long-distance runner, 81. Bedard will run in her 12th consecutive New York City Marathon this year.

• Ellsworth Kelly, artist, 91.Last year, President Obama presented Kelly with the National Medal of Arts.

• Carl Reiner, actor, 92. Reiner published his second memoir, ‘‘I Just Remembered,’’ this year.

• Frank Gehry, architect, 85. Gehry’s latest project was the Foundation Louis Vuitton in Paris, an arts center sponsored by the LVMH Fashion Group.

• Betty White, actress, 92. White currently stars in the TV Land original sitcom ‘‘Hot in Cleveland.’’

Image: Erik Madigan Heck for the New York Times.

UNLOCKED Links: February 2015

Ellen Fondiler | UNLOCKED Links

Once a month, I curate the best links on how to find work that you love, be excellent at what you do, and unlock any door that stands in your way.

Here’s your list for February!


Ellen Fondiler | Unlocked Links: February 2015

Thinking of going to art school? Not sure if it is the right move? Many well-known designers say: go-go-go.

We have all heard of Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer. But they aren’t the only fierce women that are changing the face of tech. See here and here.

Tried and true promo ideas from Danielle LaPorte. Here’s one of my favorites: Talk publicly about what you’re working on: “I’m writing this book”, “I’m researching a cure for…” You never know who’s listening.

Steve Jobs left behind a larger than life legacy. This great article gathers the memories from those who had close encounters with him.

One sure fire way to success is to act in ways that make people like and respect you. Here are 42 ways to make that happen.

There’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat. Then there are the actual people that we surround ourselves with. How many friends do you really have?

The amazingly inspiring story of the nonprofit Charity:Water is just one example of how millennials are reshaping charity online giving.

Feel like you get stuck at the office every night? Here is one answer: a disappearing workplace!

Coffee-naps. It may sound counter-intuitive: but drinking a cup of coffee right before your afternoon nap will make you more alert when you wake up.

Do you wake up with your brain filled with thoughts, worries, anxieties and to-do lists? Here is a much better way to start your day. Morning pages: filling three-sides of paper with words, stream of consciousness-style, first thing every day. It could change your life!

And all that creative writing can get you in the groove to write the perfect cover letter! Here are 31 tips you need to know.

Find great work. Do great work. And have a great weekend!


Image: Willie Franklin

How Can I Make My Side Passion Into A Business?

Ellen Fondiler | Advice

Dear Ellen,

About six months ago, I was laid off from the tech job I have had for the past 15 years.

I’ve been job-hunting, but not with much luck. My heart is just not in it.

As you can imagine, being unemployed has given me a lot of free time — and I have been using the extra time to do something I’ve always loved: fixing up cars.

I am so much happier working with my hands in the garage instead of sitting in front of a screen all day long.

I would love to find out a way to make my “side passion” into a business.

I have been doing small repair and restoration projects for people in my local community — mostly family and friends — but I know that I’m going to need a steadier stream of clients if this is going to become a viable business.

Do you have any “marketing” ideas that won’t make me feel sick to my stomach?

Please don’t tell me to go to “meet-ups” or “conferences.” Been there. Done that. Are there any other ways to expand my circle and move my dream forward? Please help.

Would Rather Be A Grease Monkey Than A Geek

Ellen Fondiler | Ask Ellen: How Can I Make My Side Passion Into A Business?

Dear Grease Monkey,

Transitioning into a totally new career is not easy. It requires patience, dedication and a willingness to put yourself out there.

But you have the biggest advantage on your side:

You have genuine passion.

You asked for “marketing” ideas that aren’t sleazy or boring. I am completely happy to help. In fact, I’ve got one that I’m almost certain you will love…

What if I told you that you could build relationships with hundreds of potential clients… just by sending out three emails a day?
Not pushy, salesy emails.

Gratitude emails.

It’s totally true.

I first learned about the “three emails a day” technique at a workshop led by a personal hero of mine, Lynne Twist.

Lynne is a woman who knows a thing or two about turning big dreams into realities. She’s a philanthropist and fundraising genius who’s raised millions for non-profits like The Hunger Project, The Pachamama Alliance and many others.
During one of her seminars, which I attended, she said:

“If you want to feel energized about your work, open new doors and bring more money into your life, it all begins with just three emails a day.”

Here’s how it works:

Step 1. Every morning, write down three people that you’d like to say “hello” to.

They might be family members, friends, neighbors, colleagues, teachers, mentors, writers, speakers, local TV personalities, CEOs, celebrities — anybody that you’d like to connect (or re-connect) with, that day.

Step 2. Craft a short email — think: three to five sentences — to each person on your “hello” list.

You don’t have to “pitch” yourself, “sell” yourself, or make any big demands. In fact, it’s better if you don’t! 
Instead, just offer a few words of praise, a heartfelt “thank you,” a helpful resource, a piece of inspiration, or an idea that might tickle their brain.

You could even make a generous offer or proposition.

If you’re writing to your favorite author, for example, you could say, “I’d love to give your car a tune-up before you head out on your next book tour. No charge. You’ve inspired me so much. It’s a gift!”

Whatever you choose to write, remember: you’re not aggressively “pushing” or “selling.” Your only job is to say “hello,” introduce yourself, briefly mention where you live and what you do… and then pump a little gratitude into their world.

Step 3. Hit “send.”

… and that’s it!
No need to “circle back” or “follow up” — unless you feel inspired to.
Just keep pumping out three doses of gratitude — to three different people — every day.

If you write three gratitude emails a day — every day for one month — that’s nearly 100 emails.

You’re practically guaranteed to make a few new connections.

The kinds of connections that lead to coffee dates, dinner party invitations, media interviews, new (or renewed) friendships, life-changing invitations, and yes… new clients!

Try this technique for one month, or maybe two… and see where it leads you.

I am betting it will lead to some very surprising connections.

“There is only one success — to be able to spend your life in your own way.” Christopher Morley

You will find a way… to spend your life in your own way.

I believe in you.



Image: Willie Franklin

Gala Darling: Lifestyle Blogger and Co-founder of The Blogcademy

Ellen Fondiler | Pick My Brain

Ellen Fondiler | Pick My Brain: Gala Darling

Ever wish you could sit down with a super-accomplished person and ask, “What does it take to break into your industry? What’s it like to be you?”

With Pick My Brain, that’s exactly what we do.

Enjoy this week’s installment featuring a professional blogger whose unique spin on style and self-confidence has been featured in publications like The New York Times, Teen Vogue, Elle and Cosmopolitan, and who has been called “the oracle of all things mystically glam.” Allow me to introduce… Gala Darling!

Ellen Fondiler | Pick My Brain: Gala Darling


You’ve built a formidable online empire with close to 1 million blog visitors each month. Being a “professional blogger” is a delicious dream for many people, but there’s a lot of mystery about how it’s actually done. As a pro-blogger, what are the top 3 ways that you actually make money?

[Gala]: I love that you asked this question, because there’s a lot of “mystery” about how professional bloggers actually make money… and I love having a chance to lift back the veil and explain how it’s done!

(This is one of the reasons why I co-founded a program called The Blogcademy, where — along with my friends Kat and Shauna — I teach bloggers how to start blogging at a “pro” level, and generating an income!)

If we’re talking about “the top 3 ways” that you can make money as a blogger, I would have to say:


In other words: selling advertising spots on your blog.

Product sales.

In other words: selling digital or handheld products through a “shop” on your blog.

Events & services.

In other words: using your blog as a platform to promote other things that you do, whether it’s copywriting, graphic design, personal styling, pet training, life coaching, leading writing workshops… whatever you do!

It took me several years to find the combination of “income streams” that was going to work for me and my business.

It’s definitely been an interesting road, with lots of experimentation along the way!

I started my blog in 2006, back when there weren’t a lot of blogs around.

After a few months in game, I started to sell ads, and subsisted on those for a while…

But soon, the economy crashed and businesses had to tighten their belts. No one wanted to spend hundreds (or thousands) of dollars a month advertising on a blog, which left me in a sticky situation!

So, I tried something new. I started to write a book about style, self-confidence, travel and manifesting the magical life of your dreams… and I released the book in a digital format on my blog: one chapter per month.

Investing hundreds of hours of my time into a book project was a big risk for me… but it was also one of the most successful projects I’ve ever done. It taught me that when you take big risks, you can get big pay-offs.

Today, I still make the majority of my income through selling digital products — primarily online courses that help women to grow their self-esteem, increase their confidence, and destroy their perfectionistic tendencies.

I also make a good portion of my living from live events, whether it’s The Blogcademy, a two-day course where we teach women the ins & outs of professional blogging, or my radical self love events.

The rest of my income comes from little bits and pieces: advertising, sponsored posts, sales of my jewelry line, and special collaborations that come up from time to time.

So, to sum it up:

There are definitely a few “classic” ways to make money as a blogger:

1. Advertising.
2. Product sales.
3. Events & services.

But everyone’s blog is unique and different.

You never know what’s going to work for you unless you try something… so start anywhere and just get going!

Ellen Fondiler | Pick My Brain: Gala Darling

Images: Made U Look and Corey Sleap.

UNLOCKED Links: January 2015

Ellen Fondiler | UNLOCKED Links

Once a month, I curate the best links on how to find work that you love, be excellent at what you do, and unlock any door that stands in your way.

Here’s a big, epic list to begin this New Year!


Ellen Fondiler | Unlocked Links: January 2015

Do you wonder if you have the credentials to do what you are doing? In this fascinating talk, James Altucher tells you not to let that stop you from moving forward. His advice: Choose Yourself!!

Some more good advice. Don’t ask important people to go have a cup of coffee with you. Ask them instead if you can do a podcast interview. It’s a win-win situation for you, your guest and your audience!

So you’re super serious about your site. You bought the domain name, you’ve got social media on lockdown, and you’re ready to buy ad space so you can piggyback off someone else’s traffic. Sarah Von Bargen’s advice on how to buy the best ad space and make the most of it.

Do you want to get the most out of your money? Buy experiences — not things. Research shows you will forget the thrill of that new car — but you will never forget the vacation where you hiked in Nepal.

Composing emails can be a draining time suck on your day. Here are 27 pre-written templates for your toughest work emails.

Sometimes the most unlikely things end up being the key to your future success. This CEO- spent his years at Stanford taking dance classes and they changed his life — and view of the world.

Two South African entrepreneurs started an amazing company called Rethaka that makes Repurpose Schoolbags for kids that live in remote areas. The beautiful bags include: an outside flap that is also a pocket for a solar panel, which charges on the long walk to and from school. That screws onto a Consol glass jar that the kids use as a lamp at home when doing homework in the evenings. The bag is also reflective because many of these kids wake up at the crack of dawn and walk in the dark to get to school on time.

In need of some good advice? Here are 7 pieces of wisdom that will change the way you work! My favorite from choreographer Twyla Tharp: Build your solid routine!

You send an important email to someone. The problem: her in-box is flooded with emails every day. Here are 6 secrets to help insure that yours will be seen AND that you will get an answer back.

Find great work. Do great work. And have a great weekend!


Image: Willie Franklin