7 Truths A-Waiting by Lara Britt

Today’s Monday Discovery brings you a guest post by Lara Britt, the entrepreneur of MNINBers who has encouraged and wrangled the group—she calls it “wrangling butterflies”—beyond Robert Lee Brewer‘s original My Name Is Not Bob April Platform Challenge.

Welcome to The Writerly Life, Lara!

Laura Britt

Lara Britt writes from her Honolulu home near Nu’uanu Stream. She enjoys morning strolls through Lili’uokalani Botanical Gardens and late night walks along the beach. Between times you will find her in her favorite Writerly Nooks which she catalogs in her blog, Writing Space.

Lara is the übermom to two fully-grown, adult daughters who heeded her advice: “Degrees, before children.” She is, therefore, without grandchildren, but will be celebrating the delivery of a doctoral dissertation in the very near future.

Community organizing, gardening, travel, music, art, food, and all things that give life meaning are common threads in Lara’s work. When she isn’t wrangling butterflies in her efforts to birth a community blog or raising her Klout score to stratospheric heights, Lara is working on two related mystery series and a memoir. And she still has two pairs of slip-resistant shoes in her closet.

7 Truths A-Waiting

Most writers have difficulty in pronouncing themselves authors. They usually couch self-description with softening words like “aspiring,” “up-and-coming,” and “break-out.”

You can bet these folks never worked a 14-hour shift in slip-resistant shoes.

Talk to many servers, and you will find that they are, in their real lives—whatever that means—in fact, an actress, a poet, a philosopher, a student, a singer, an artist, a creative [fill-in the blank with highest of aspirations]. Only temporarily are they inhabiting a Swiss-Miss uniform or donning a work-shirt only a Fauvist could love. The apron, only until they get their big break. The button blinking the day’s special, yeah, one day they won’t have to wear that either.

They are waiting tables waiting for their lives to begin.

You all know what it’s like to work in a restaurant. You’ve eaten at them hundreds if not thousands of times. You’ve imagined what it takes to be a server. Or perhaps for the briefest of stints, you put on the mandatory cap and asked customers if they wanted fries with that.

No, it’s not that.

The Naked Truth About Our Waitresses

You’ve seen it in the movies. How many thousands of reel feet have been devoted to the angry chef, the obnoxious customer, the hormone-crazed dishwasher or was it the busboy, the good-hearted hook…er…waitress, well, aren’t they the same thing?

No, no, no and no.

And no, in the 35 years I’ve been a part of the food industry, I have never witnessed a chase scene through the kitchen except on the silver screen.

If not that, then what?

Waiting tables is in actuality a highly skilled profession. Like teaching and parenting, there are a thousand ways to be terrible at the job and hundreds of ways to be terrific. Like many traditionally female occupations, it is underpaid and undervalued.

But it also has its benefits. Sure, schedules are flexible. Daily cash flow. But specifically, serving is ripe with benefits for writers and other artists dealing with the human condition.

Job Description: Welcoming customers, suggestive-selling of food and beverages, order-taking, order-inputing to computerized system, salad-making, food and beverage delivering, cash-handling…

Yes…technically correct…but…

Serving is live theater meets applied psychology.

And that is exactly what I tell the new servers after about a month of training when at the end of the night, after everyone is talking about tables that stiffed them, the ten-percenters, and the other horrors of the shift that just ended, I count up my 20+% tip average after tip-out.

Here is my not-so-secret recipe.

And why do I share? Because they are in my neighborhood; as the price of their real estate rises so does mine. A direct corollary applies to the blogosphere: better blogging raises all of our boats.

  • Learn Your Craft
    “Kill” the technical aspects of your job description. Carry that tray, high and fast. Learn how to multi-task. Learn how to pace the service. Learn how to manage your time. Exceed your guests’ expectations.
  • Sh*t Happens
    The more complicated the execution, the more opportunity for things to go awry. It is how you handle them that matters most. Don’t offer excuses; offer solutions.

  • Experience Rules
    Directly related to sh*t happens: People visit a restaurant, not because they are hungry. They visit for the total experience of the evening. Food is only part of it.

  • Servers Are Responsible for the Guests’ Experience
    It isn’t the kitchen’s fault. Food is only part of it. Develop that tool-bag so when sh*t happens––and it will––you can still give the guest an exceptional experience.

  • Understand the Guests’ Needs
    The guest has two sets of needs: 1) one he thinks he has, and 2) one he really has. Your job is to address the first and satisfy the latter. Sound insulting? Think different. Think Steve Jobs. He gave us want we always wanted, but didn’t know it. Great servers do this every day, all day.

  • Match-Make
    At the end of the evening, the guests should think that the person they are dining with is the most interesting person in the room, not their server. Help them be entertaining, do not make them dependent on your presence at table’s edge. No showboating.
  • End on a High Note
    No matter what went wrong, make sure the end of the night is pleasant. This is when they figure out your tip. But this is also when they make their final assessment on their choice in coming. Make them want to make that choice again, soon.

So whether you are delivering food for thought as a blogger who aspires to be an author or you deliver food from the kitchen as you await your big break, apply these seven basic tips from a seasoned professional. Stay in dialog with your guest, but stay confident in yourself. The outcome will be something you can take to the bank.

As you have guessed, these 7 tips also apply to blogging. Which one speaks to you and your experiences? What are you wrestling with? Tell us your stories in the comment section. Gerry and I are eager to hear all about it.

“If I could write the beauty of your eyes” —William Shakespeare

A few days ago, I launched my Writer Page on Facebook.

Novel note card, April 2011

Over the last six weeks or so, I have gone places I’ve never gone before—on the Internet, that is. No, I have not been visiting naughty websites. I’ve been doing something the publishing industry calls “Building a Platform.” Note the caps, a signifier of importance. It seems a platform is important for writers. Even those of us without a published book are encouraged to go ahead and start putting ourselves “out there.” So that’s what I’ve been doing under the fabulous leadership of one Not-Bob, or Robert Lee Brewer, who led the My Name Is Not Bob April Platform Challenge.

April, you say? Yes, the challenge ended when April did, but the momentum continues.

I was already a Facebook person, and I “did” LinkedIn. I had signed up for Twitter, added Google+ and Red Room, and I’ve been visiting my fellow platformers’ blogs like crazy, with great admiration for their ability to write posts (daily, some of them; wow), juggle jobs and kids and lives and still write their novels or poetry or memoirs or whatever is dearest to their hearts.

My final goal was to create the Facebook Writer Page. Did I dare call myself a writer and make it a public declaration? When I finally held my nose and dived in, it wasn’t all that bad. In fact, it was fun, and many friends and fellow writers dropped by quickly and “liked” the page, so it’s gotten off to a good start.

Something interesting surfaced in the midst of all that. When I started to create the page, I had to choose a category from among businesses, organizations, nonprofits, brands, and such. I considered all the options and decided on Artist, Band, or Public Figure. I’m not an Artist (well, that one’s close; I like to think I am, with words); I’m not a Band; and I’m certainly not a Public Figure. (Notice those caps again.) The ah-ha moment came when I held my breath and clicked on Artist and saw I had choices there, too.

What kind of person am I? What’s my identity?

Two of the options were “author” and “writer.” Hmmm. Author sounds a little stilted, I thought, so instinctively, I went with writer. After all, that’s what I call myself these days.

It started me thinking. I’m a former English teacher. I should know the distinction between those two words. Writer is more generic? An author is someone . . . more established? I finally gave in and looked them up. Here’s some of what I found.

(If you hate it when people quote the dictionary, you should maybe stop here.)

According to Merriam Webster: an author is “one that originates or creates; the writer of a literary work (as a book). Author originates from the Middle English auctour, from Anglo-French auctor, autor, from Latin auctor promoter, originator, author, from augēre to increase.” The word dates from the 14th century.

A writer is “one that writes [refers to the definition of write] as a: author [one and the same? Really?] and b: one who writes stock options.”  The word traces to the 12th century.

So the word writer pre-dates author, but it doesn’t have the fancy pedigree.

My Dashboard dictionary on the Mac defines author as “someone who writes books as a profession” and writer as “a person who writes books, stories, or articles as a job or regular occupation.”

Are we splitting hairs here?

Let’s look at the word write. Merriam Webster begins with the simplest definition—to “form characters or symbols on a surface with an instrument (as a pen)”—and progresses  to “to set down in writing; to be the author of; to express in literary form.” Ah, getting closer. The example that follows is a line from Shakespeare: “if I could write the beauty of your eyes . . .”

So which am I? I think I’ll stick with writer.

A writer puts marks on a page, yes. She makes words, yes, and symbols, sentences, paragraphs, pages, chapters. Stories, memoirs, novels, poetry. She records the world as she sees it. She creates people and places and worlds that didn’t exist before.

A writer makes her mark on the world. That’s what I’d like to do. So call me writer, please. That’s the word for me.

Here’s a question for you: how do you see yourself? Do you call yourself a writer or an author? Is there a distinction in your mind? I expect there’ll be different opinions. I’d love to hear yours.

Change of Plans

Wow! A Liebster Blog Award has come my way, courtesy of Michelle Reynoso at My Writing Life. Thanks so much, Michelle!

I had a post ready to go today, but in light of the award, I feel compelled to write about something else: community. Yes. Bear with me . . .

Turns out that community has a range of definitions. Maybe a neighborhood first comes to mind—a group of people living together in one place, in harmony and good will. Community also means people bound together by race, religion, profession, or common interest. That one’s closer to what I have in mind. (These are coming from my dashboard dictionary, so you may come up with others.)

The third and most striking definition is this: a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

This definition best fits a community of writers like the MNINBers, literally scattered across the globe. Proximity doesn’t bind us. Our common “profession” does, but we also share interests, goals, and a spirit of fellowship that transcends boundaries of time and place. (Mightn’t we also add space here, since our connections are mostly in cyberspace?)

Before the April MNINB platform challenge, maybe some of us were acquaintances or friends, or we were familiar with each other’s blogs or writing projects. For the most part, though, I suspect we were a bunch of strangers thrown together by a common goal: to build community, not just among our writerly selves but among readers, as well. It seems to me that friendships begun in the context of completing our tasks during the APC strengthened even after the challenge ended. We continue to cheer each other on.

As we share, we learn more about each other. And as we learn, we share on a deeper level. We’re happy when one of us succeeds, and we’re sad when rejections come along. Regardless, we are there, and our little community of writers will survive and make a difference.

In that spirit, I get to pass on the Liebster Blog Award! Here are the rules.

1. Thank the one who nominated you by linking back (done, above).

2. Nominate five blogs with less than 200 followers (below).

3. Let the nominees know by leaving a comment at their sites (in process).

4. Add the award image to your site (done, with pleasure).

Here are my nominees for the Liebster Blog Award:

Joy Weese Moll     Joy’s Book Blog

Veronica Roth    Veronica Roth: Well then…this is a life moment…isn’t it

Kim Bussey     Purrfect Tale

E. B. Pike    Writerlious     

Kasey Whitener    Life on Clemson Road

So fellow bloggers, I know we’re beyond the challenge, but here’s your call to action: Perform one small act today that extends your writing or artist community in some way. There. Doesn’t that feel good?