Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: Kitchen Nightmares

Okay, last week we started a series to teach about blogging. Yes, I am going to teach you how to write a blog. Contrary to popular belief, we are not instant writers the second we eek through high school English and make an A on that drivel we cut and pasted together with note cards, ballpoint pen and sadness. Yes, I am old enough to have used index cards for my high school…*cough* okay college papers.

Journalism is a specific kind of writing and gasp people even go to college to learn Journalism. The insanity! Guess what? Writing a novel is a specific craft, with skills that must be learned with much crying, drinking and gnashing of teeth. Would we all love to be that person who knows this crap instinctively and rockets to the top of the best-selling list with the novel he wrote on cocktail napkins while waiting tables and selling pirated DVDs? YES! But I assume most of us wish we were born with Gates or Kennedy as a last name, too.

Hey, if wishes were fishes, we’d all cast a net.

Here’s the deal. Wishing we were born instant geniuses is about as productive as wishing we were born into royalty. What does this mean? It means put on the grungy pants. It’s time to do some work.

Blogging is a totally different kind of writing. I see a lot of great “writing” on crappy blogs. Blogging is different.

Think Journalism. When you want to know about the nuclear reactor in Japan, do you want to open the paper to…?:

The sun crept over the eastern mountains and glittered across the wreckage below. People, dying and wounded threaded the streets, their eyes unfocused and mouths limp. The tsunami had dragged hope and loved ones back into the dark churning belly of the sea. The reactor belched black death into air already thick with fear.

NO! That is creative writing, not journalism. We want the FACTS. We want to first know how we can help our Japanese friends FAST and then, we ultimately want to know how and if and when it might affect US.

When we blog, it is a very specific kind of writing that is meant to be fast, easy, and portable. Like journalism, blogging has to capture the attention of readers with the attention span of a squirrel with severe ADD that is high off Thin Mints and crack cocaine.

Many writers are not approaching their blog with the appropriate style of writing, and frankly, that is why you are exhausted and covered in strange bruises.

A couple weeks ago, I referenced Chef Gordon Ramsay. I LOVE Kitchen Nightmares. Gordon Ramsay ROCKS. What I really, really love about this show, is that there are so many lessons that cross-apply to writers.

There is one particular episode I saw 2 years ago that comes to mind. This owner loved to cook and so he opened a restaurant and pretty soon he was chin-deep in debt and sinking fast. The owner/chef happened to be a huge fan of Ramsay, and when Gordon showed, the owner proudly displayed the shelves of Gordon Ramsay cookbooks that he had been using for the menu at the restaurant.

Ramsay nearly fell over. Want to know why? Those recipes were too complex for a restaurant. They were written for someone cooking at home for a family or a party. No chef would ever be able to turn out quality food in a timely fashion using recipes so intricate.

The owner-chef needed recipes that fit his needs…serving large groups of people tasty food in a timely manner.

Our blogs are the same. If we approach blogging with the care and intricacy of our novel or even our NF work, we are setting ourselves up to fail.

Blogging is like fast food we get through a drive-thru window. People (readers) need to be able to keep moving and still ingest and digest. If we take a moment to think about how many people read blogs, this makes sense. With the rise of PDAs, many people are reading their blogs on their phones on stolen breaks at the workplace. If we make people work too hard for our content, they are likely to pass or put off our blogs for later.

Neither is good.

So here are some general rules about good blogs:

Blogs preferably should be short. Oh how I suck at following this rule. You can break this rule if you break it well.

Many of you guys are probably getting heart palpitations thinking you need to churn out some 1000-2000 word tome. You don’t.

My blogs are generally longer because I assume many of you want to learn this stuff before it is obsolete. Unlike me, however, most of you will not have content that you are running after like a dog chasing a car he will never catch. Thus, your posts can be shorter…like 400-800 words.

Blogs need to be portable (simple). Again, think fast food. Burgers, tacos, pizza. There are no drive-thrus serving Steak au Poivre  or roasted duck with an orange reduction. THOSE DISHES AREN’T PORTABLE.

This is why I break everything down into baby food particulates you can smear in your hair and fling at the wall should you desire. Hey, novel structure makes me want to fling things at the wall. Might as well be something orange that is easy to see and clean up, right? Simple is better. If you make points, illustrate with easy, visual examples which brings me to my next point.

Let me get this straight–an antagonist is not always a villain?

Blogs need to be visual.

Humans are story people. Stories resonate with our soul. We have enjoyed stories since we were sporting the latest Saber-Tooth fashions. People dig stories. Stories stick. If we are writers, then stories should not be that hard.

My blogs are so simple a…yes I am going there…so simple a caveman could get them. Why? Not only is it good blogging to keep things simple, but I have to be blunt. Writers are notorious for overcomplicating things. Yes! You! I know how you think, and it really is this simple. Stop making it harder than it needs to be.

Visual examples and illustrations help people grasp material and retain it. When they retain they return.

Blogs need to generate community.

Blogs do not have to be article after article. That is a formula to wear out fast and hate your blog, hate me, and end up drinking straight from a margarita machine.

Blogs are a way to just get people talking. Humans bond by giving opinions and advice. Don’t believe me? Call your mother. Like now.  We’ll wait.

*taps toe and hums*

I bet it took her less than 30 seconds to give you unsolicited advice or an opinion. Tell her Kristen says “Hi.”

Why do our mothers freely offer unsolicited therapy and opinions? Because that is how humans (including mothers) show LOVE and CARE and COMMUNITY. They give advice and opinions whether we want it or not.

Sweetie, I know you like it but that belly ring makes you look like a tramp.

If we write blogs that encourage others to give opinions and advice, that activates the warm fluffy feeling in their collective little souls. Hey, I know it does mine. I DIG giving advice. Why do you think I write a blog four days a week when I could be doing other things like dusting or paying bills or leveling up on Bejeweled?

I love telling you guys how to live your lives. It makes me feel special. But you know what? I love hearing the advice you guys come up with, especially when it involves candy, alcohol or shooting guns in the air with wild abandon.

In the coming weeks, we are going to explore many ways that you guys can blog and still have time for things like eating, sleeping and GASP writing your novel.

What are some problems you guys have been having? Setbacks? What do you love about blogging? What scares you? Do you have any advice? Recommendations? 

I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for the month of March, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end on March I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

Happy writing!

Until next time…

In the meantime, if you don’t already own a copy, my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.

This Week’s Mash-Up of Awesomeness

Literary Agent Laurie McLean has a writer MUST-READ about making a Digital Marketing Plan

For the NF authors. Competing in a World Where Information is Free

The Power of Peer Recommendation and Reviews by talented Jody Hedlund

Author Voice vs. Character Voice–Finding Both by Roni Loren

Roasting Chestnuts: In Which This Writing Heretic Tackles Common Writing Advice by Chuck Wendig

How Much Bling Does a Writer Need? by Jennifer Holbrook-Talty

Story Engineering–An Interview with Larry Brooks over at the AWESOME Writer Unboxed

Welcome to WANA Wednesday, the day I dedicate to teaching you guys how to rock it hard when it comes to social media and is based off my best-selling book We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. My methods not only help you build a platform that can grow with your career, but they also leave time to write more books.

Speaking of writing more books, today I want to make something clear. I have always stated that I am a writer first, social media expert second. Why is that? Because the product is the most important. No social media platform can help us if our product is crap.

This past weekend I taught at the DFW Writers Workshop Conference, and I happened to sit in on a class with Colleen Lindsay who works in the business development department for Penguin Group (USA). She said something that really caught my attention, and, I must admit, she convicted me.

Blogging is probably THE best way to build a platform, but we must always be vigilant that it does not take over our main job…writing books. Blogging is instant gratification, whereas a novel or even a NF book might not give us warm fuzzies for months or even years. It is very easy to get so focused on the blogging, that the real writing never happens.

I love to watch Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, and have used his show as a parallel for the world of writing in numerous blogs. Every episode begins the same. A new restaurateur sits eagerly awaiting the great Chef Ramsay. Keep in mind that this restaurateur is only on the show in the first place because he sits on the verge of losing everything—business, house, car, kidneys, etc.

Most restaurant owners who participate have waited until the situation is so dire that Vinnie the Crowbar is only kept at bay because of the presence of Gordon’s camera crew. Gordon is there to sample the food, take a look around. Once he has enough information. Gordon then offers his professional opinion and a plan to turn things around (if that is even possible).

I’ve watched at least eight seasons of shows and almost every time, the problem is simple. The food sucks. No matter how pretty the décor or how clever the promotionals, all that matters in the end is good food. Not rocket science. Yet, time after time, Chef Ramsay discovers the chefs are serving frozen, old and even rotten food.

The owners have no idea why the dining room is empty, no clue that it might have to do with the spoiled crab and rancid chicken they are serving the customers. In 50 or so episodes I cannot recall a single episode where the restaurant was serving quality food. The problem always came back to the core…the food.

Good news spreads fast, but bad news spreads faster. Same with our books. This past weekend, one of my favorite quotes was from PR expert Rusty Shelton. He said, “Social media helps bad books fail faster.” One of the biggest reasons I blog about writing on Monday, is that the single best thing we can do for our image and to sell books is to write great stuff. That simple. No magic formula.

The best thing we can all do for our social media platform is to focus on the product—our writing—FIRST. Everything else is a supporting goal.

But back to blogging. Blogging is a two-edged sword. To a degree we need a little instant gratification. It keeps us encouraged and makes us work harder. It could be years before we get any sense of fulfillment from our novel. It is hard to stay on track without a little boost, and blogging is definitely good for that. We get rewarded almost instantly for good behavior, and blogging offers the validation and the encouragement we need.

Be careful.

Blogging can be masking our fear. I love to blog. You guys are the highlight of my day and you have no idea how your comments uplift my spirit. Yet, I have to make a deliberate effort to get back to the writing you guys can’t see (yet). Since I don’t get that instant validation on the other work, it is easy to become fearful of failure and use blogging as busy-work. I can be “productive” without being productive.

In Kitchen Nightmares it is very common for Gordon Ramsay to inspect the walk-in refrigerators and find something out of a horror movie—buckets of decaying meat and crates of vegetables that have rotted to ooze. In some cases, I find it amazing these establishments haven’t killed their customers.

Yet, despite the hot zone in the fridge, the owner is ordering more and more and more food. Crates of fresh food are perched on top of the putrid slime that once was chicken. Why? Because the owner is so afraid and so overwhelmed that all he knows to do is order more food. He is throwing away thousands of dollars to “feel” productive, and is too overwhelmed and terrified to get to the heart of the problem.

Blogging, if we aren’t careful, can be our way of throwing fresh food on top of rotten product. Writing is scary. Admitting we don’t know everything or even facing that we might not be as talented as our family thinks we are can be terrifying. But in the end, if we want to succeed at this writing thing, then the tough work must be done. We have to get rid of the rotten—the bad habits, the info dump, the POV problems—and that will take hard work.

Sometimes it will even require professional help. Ramsay has had restaurants with kitchens and refrigerators so filthy that he had to call in professional cleaning crews to handle the bio-hazards correctly. The owner was so overwhelmed that he simply could not dig himself out.

Our first novel might be that bad. Hey, we’re learning! I know my first novel (years ago) required professionals to properly dispose of the remains. My book just couldn’t be saved, and there I was, putting a halt to my writing future by holding on to something rotten.

I would love everyone to blog. I love blogs. But I want to make it clear that it is easier to be a great blogger if our bad novel isn’t clawing at the inside of our computer screen trying to escape and bite others.

Blogging can be a short-term high that can sabotage long-term success. There are few things that will make you feel better about your career than watching your following grow on your blog. But the point of all of this social media stuff is to eventually sell our books. Otherwise we are working for free and then we are right back where we started. We are hobbyists and not true professionals.

In the end, this is a tough job. There are many, many reasons this career is not for everyone. We are much like the restaurant owner. We must focus on content that is fresh, new, inviting and tasty. But, until we are an established name, good food will only take us so far. We need to market as well. It will take years of producing a great product (books) balanced with great marketing to give us a reputation that needs no introduction.

What do you guys think? Do you find your blogging distracting or does it help you focus? What are some things you struggle with? Tips? Suggestions? I love to hear from you. Here is a quick clip of Gordon at work. If you have a weak stomach, don’t watch. But think of this video every time you try to put off those edits ;). Details on how to win a free critique from moi below.

I love hearing from you guys, and to prove it and show my love, for the month of March, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention WANA in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end on March I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Mash-Up of Awesomeness will resume next Wednesday.

Happy writing!

Until next time…

In the meantime, if you don’t already own a copy, my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.

I have had the unique privilege of experiencing Warrior Writer now on three levels—as an individual, as part of a group, and now as part of on-line training.  The Warrior-Writer concept is so life altering, so mind-blowing and unique that I find it a real challenge to put its essence into words, but I’m going to give it a try.

One of my favorite shows is “Kitchen Nightmares” with Chef Gordon Ramsay (Series Premiere tonight 1-29 on Fox).  Why? Because it is amazing how much the culinary world and the world of writing have in common. Opening a restaurant is, by and large, an emotional thing, fueled by ego and unfulfilled dreams, often attempted by amateurs with no real professional training for success. The restaurant business is brutal, with a standard failure rate of almost 62% in the first year. And while many will chalk up this shocking rate of failure to the “ways of the industry,” Chef Ramsay certainly provides us all with “food for thought.”

Bob Mayer, with Warrior Writer, is doing something very similar. Most of us didn’t become writers to make money, much like most independent restauranteurs. We write because we have to. It fulfills, releases, or validates something inside. For many, writing is the reward for living a responsible life of working a “real job” for others. Likewise, watch “Kitchen Nightmares” and I guarantee that, within three episodes, you will meet the retired police officer or the former construction worker, or the mom who wanted a family business, all of whom opened a restaurant for very emotional reasons…yet they are dying because they didn’t understand that one must possess more than passion to succeed.

These eager, well-intending individuals remind me of so many writers I’ve known over my career (including myself). Many writers dive head-first into the publishing world with little to no training, and struggle to thrive in an industry that doesn’t properly value the talent it depends upon. In one of my earlier blogs, I stated, “To believe college English constitutes proper schooling for commercial fiction is like saying Home Economics is proper training for a chef.”  This is true when it comes to the writing, but it is much truer when it comes to the mentality of the professional author. This is where Warrior Writer comes in.

The publishing industry may or may not change, but with Warrior Writer, thankfully, we authors can.

Until now, there has been no real formal training on what it means to be a professional author. It is highly complex. Thus, I have decided to dedicate a new series to exploring it. As Bob will tell you, we writers are in the entertainment business, which is an oxymoron. Entertainment is emotional, while business is rational. The two have a tough time coexisting.

 And I will be blunt here. Part of what hurts most writers (especially new ones) is that they fail to understand you cannot separate entertainment from business or vice versa. Thus, many writers tend to either focus all their energies on the writing, or they scope-lock on the business. Both have to coexist.  What good is a brilliant novel if we don’t learn the business well enough to survive, let alone thrive? Similarly, what good does learning about finding an agent or even great marketing serve us if our product is crap?

For the sake of brevity, I have chosen to tackle only one half of this today. I believe one has to let this part of Warrior Writer sink in for the others to make sense. So today, we will address the entertainment part of the entertainment business, because these two words alone lend to internal conflict that will translate into external conflict if not understood and handled properly.

Writing is something all of us love, ergo why we became writers. Yet, after going through the Warrior Writer training, my eyes were opened to something key. As an editor for going on ten years, I had a hard time understanding why writers simply came undone if their work was criticized, sometimes violently so. I mean, this is a business, and that isn’t being very professional. We are critiquing the writing, not the writer. WRONG.

The writing is a key indicator of the person producing the product, both strengths and weaknesses. When Chef Ramsay is invited to help save a restaurant that is on the verge of disaster, what is the first thing he does? Does he look at the location? The menu? The management? The advertising? No. That all comes later. The very first thing he wants to see and taste is the food, and there is a very good reason.

Food, like writing, is interminably linked to emotion. Ramsay often can tell virtually everything about the restaurant that needs to be fixed by the food he is served that first day. Does the chef have pride in the food? Is the dish far too fancy with 20,000 ingredients and more garnish than substance? Is the food rotten, raw? Did the chef focus more on the presentation than quality of the food? Does the chef have focus, or is he making Mexican Irish Spring Rolls with a Curry Chutney?

This is a direct parallel to writing, and a lot of what Warrior Writer teaches us to see. What is the quality of the “food” we are serving up? And, more importantly, what is CAUSING us to do what we do? If you read Who Dares Wins (used in Warrior Writer), the first question Bob asks is, “WHO?” for a very good reason. We have to define who we are before we can find what we fear. Warrior Writer’s FIRST goal is to kick our FEARS out of the driver’s seat to our careers, and replace those fears with something more positive…like talent.

No writing class will fix this. I will give you an example. Last summer, I sat in the Warrior Writer class very dutifully, near the front with my laptop. Bob instructed us to write down our big goal for writing. Right away, I typed in, “My goal is to become a best-selling author in five years.” For a second I felt very proud and daring, then I looked closer (remember I had already run through an individual Warrior Writer, so I had new eyes).  I swear I literally heard the tumblers in my mind falling into place. A best-selling author of what? Romance? Suspense? Origami cookbooks? Here I thought I was making a specific goal, yet I was miles off base. But here is the strange part. Up until that point, I had been taking classes and reading books on structure, structure, plot, structure, plot. I was going crazy on why my novels kept breaking down over the long haul. Why could I fix it in others, but kept screwing it up myself? This one-sentence goal revealed my answer. If I, the author, had no clear direction or focus, why would my writing or my characters? No wonder I was serving up Mexican Irish Spring Rolls with Curry Chutney.

I have to say that after Bob’s Warrior Writer class, after understanding my critical flaw, I was able to finally see my own unwitting sabotage, and am now almost half finished with a fast-paced action thriller. Unlike all my other works, this one was well-planned ahead of time, was clearly outlined and now has focus. All the characters have a specific role, are no longer randomly created to force my unplanned plot in a needed direction.

The truth is, everything we put on that page is a part of who we are. For those who read my blog “Facing down the Beast,” http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2009/06/26/what-is-warrior-writer-facing-down-the-beast/ we can end up sabotaging ourselves by not digging deep enough, not putting enough out there and thus failing to deeply resonate with the reader. If we the writer are not genuine and vulnerable, how can our characters ever hope to be? The plain fact of the matter is that we cannot separate who we are from what we write. Thus, we must become the best to write the best. Bob always says, “To become is hard; to be is even harder.”

And later, I will explore how this translates into how we handle the business part of the entertainment business because I guarantee you that the same fears that hindering our writing are going to, at the very least, be kissing cousins with the fears that will hold us back in the business part of the equation.

So, in the meantime, think about what food you are serving up as your signature dish.

Until next time…


I highly recommend visiting Bob Mayer’s site for more information on Warrior Writer training near you www.bobmayer.org. He also offers WARRIOR WRITER ON-LINE! Wow! So nothing stands in the way of the writing career of your dreams. Sign up TODAY!

If you miss Gordon tonight on Fox, then just make it a point to catch his show. Or, for instant gratification, you can also get familiar with Chef Gordon Ramsay via this link http://www.hulu.com/kitchen-nightmares. Episode 5 “Olde Stone Mill” is a great one to watch to better understand Warrior Writer.