Confused About Publishing? Got Writer’s Block? Let’s Fix That.

Confused About Publishing? Got Writer’s Block? Let’s Fix That.

Confused About Publishing? Got Writer’s Block? Let’s Fix That. 

Hey there, Writers and muse daters. Many dream of becoming a successful author. Few ever make it. So where do they go wrong?

In order to become an author–let alone a successful one– you have to do a whole lot more than write. The path to publication is long and there are many, many places to get lost.

That’s why our VIP programs are designed to walk you through the whole process–or just the part you’re stuck on, if that’s what you need. 

We give you the coaching, support, knowledge, and support you need to go from struggling writer to published author.

We work with writers at three different phases:

  • Write or finish a novel in eight weeks
  • Revise novel to publishable and find an agent
  • Expand author platform and sell their book

We’ve gotten many authors in different stages of the writing process, to published. 

Sounds like something you’re interested in?

The Writing Gym is accepting select writers to join our community of successful, published authors.

If you’re serious about publishing in 2020, let’s chat. Drop yourself into my calendar here to talk to a member of our team.

Until next time. Happy Writing. 

How To Overcome Self Doubt and Get Published

How To Overcome Self Doubt and Get Published

How to Overcome Self Doubt and Get Published

Hey there writers and muse daters. Today I want to talk about an extraordinary Writing Gym member, Lauren.

I met Lauren at a writing conference. She had been working on a novel for years, but kept getting caught up in destructive circles of doubt that prevented her from ever finishing. At times, these negative feelings were so overwhelming, just sitting down at the keyboard felt impossible. 

Weeks would go by where Lauren didn’t touch her writing at all. “I was afraid of my own writing at times,” she told me. “I felt like I was walking down a dark hallway without a flashlight. I had this story that I wanted to tell really, really badly, but I didn’t know how to do it. And I was scared of doing it wrong.”

Like many serious writers, Lauren was determined to overcome this fear so she could pursue her writing career. She tried various DIY solutions; she read what felt like a zillion articles and books on writing, and even tried a different writing program, but nothing seemed to be getting to the core of the problem. All she was getting was conflicting feedback which only left her more confused.

As you can imagine, this only led to more negative emotions, which only inhibited her writing even further.

“I was worrying myself to death, I was really getting in my own way and getting really frustrated.”

Lauren and I touched base a few times in the years after that conference. Every time we did, she would tell me about her latest effort–a writing class, a book on writing, another writing conference. Each time, she hoped she had finally found a solution to her writing problems. Yet months later, on our next call, Lauren was still stuck.

All that changed when Lauren decided to enroll in the Writing Gym. She began working her way through our instructive modules, which armed her with a new arsenal of writing techniques. She met weekly with our personal trainer, Gretchen, who helped Lauren to restructure her mental approach towards writing. I met with her weekly, took a close look at her writing and gave her personalized feedback.

But that wasn’t the only support she got. The weekly salons in the Writing Gym “transformed my writing,” Lauren says. Salon is a weekly writing workshop we hold among our Gym Rats, in which we spend an hour writing together in a supportive, fun, productive environment. Using neuroscientific principles, this activity rewires the brain to overcome the inner critic, and fall into creative flow.

Lauren summarized the value of her experience in the Writing Gym:

“The Writing Gym provides authors with knowledgeable, insider industry information, knowledgeable feedback and a true understanding of how the writing process works so that you can be your best writer.”

This robust combination of encouragement and the means to discover HER best writer was the secret to Lauren’s final breakthrough. She quickly transformed from a reluctant, self-doubting writer to a prolific and confident author.

She told me after just a few months:

“I didn’t realize the Writing Gym was going to so thoroughly revolutionize the way that I write. I don’t want to say that I didn’t love writing already, but the Writing Gym has made it so much more enjoyable to write. I didn’t expect that. I thought that writing is always scary and it’s always going to be scary. I had no idea that the Writing Gym would help me to get really, truly excited about writing again.” 

Lauren’s new attitude and approach to writing brought quick success. With her true creativity unlocked, she began to produce original, inspired work, and publishers took notice. Here are the results she began to see:

  • Lauren had a short story published in an anthology just months after joining the Writing Gym.
  • Lauren won a writing contest and her story is now featured on Alexa device.

Like many writers, Lauren had always had talent and originality, it was just buried under her own limiting beliefs. Tragically, however, most of these writers don’t take the steps Lauren did to shed these beliefs and unlock their greatest writer. Neither themselves, nor the world ever gets to witness their full creative potential.

Lauren says her only regret is not joining the Writing Gym sooner.

“If there was a way for me to tiptoe back in time, to when I met you two years ago, I would show myself the reel of all the needless trouble I put myself through. That’s what it was–two years of pointless turmoil when what I really needed was already right there. I just didn’t realize it. I wish I could condense the two years between then and now.”

If you resonate with Lauren’s story, if you know that you possess deep creative potential, we can help you bring it to the surface. But a word of caution: this is only for serious writers, writers who are tired of solutions that don’t get them where they want to be, and are ready NOW for change. To go through the Writing Gym process, you need to be ready and determined to publish your work.

If that sounds like you, book a call with our team so we can talk about how to unleash your best writer, and help you to reach–finally– your publishing goals.

Until next time. Happy writing.

Don’t Waste Any More Time. Finish That Book Today.

Don’t Waste Any More Time. Finish That Book Today.

Don’t Waste Any More Time. Finish That Book Today.

Hey there writers and muse daters. I am super excited to be here today with Steve Cummins, a member of the Writing Gym. 

He has just completed the VIP Program where writers finish their novels, and I’m really excited to share so many of his amazing celebrations with all of you today.

Steve is working on a fantasy novel that is in a medieval setting that is not plot-driven. It’s more character-driven and touches on themes of sexual inequality and racial inequality, which is very relevant today. 

He began his journey with this book when he was 22, and he’s 48 now. He couldn’t sit long enough to write, and the novel sat neglected for a good decade before he picked it up again in his 30s. 

He got halfway through and set it aside for 5 more years. Until he and I started talking.

Steve is obviously very passionate about his novel, but why did it take him so long to finish his novel?

Time and fear. 

He got frustrated with that kind of experience that he was having. Spending hours trying to reacquaint himself with the characters, and trying to remember what the characters were doing in a particular section but then only getting 45 minutes of writing done.

 Setting aside time is hard, folks. You’ve got a lot more free time in your 20s and then you start to make bigger commitments as you move into your late 20s and 30s. And so, by the time we get to a certain age, we’ve got a lot of commitments.

Despite all his commitments, Steve found the time to write—which is a huge celebration. I want to commend him on that. How did he find the time? 

His personal life got so busy, and his friends he’d talked to about this novel were like, ”Please, you’re never going to finish.” And his parents knew that he had dreams of being an author but, they’re probably thinking, “Okay, we’re going to die without seeing that happen.”


So, he just had to do it. In terms of finding the time to write, he just told himself, “I’m going to do mornings all the time,” especially because his brain is clear in the mornings.



What he found was that he’s not getting that hour every morning like he thought he was, so if he only got a half hour this morning, he found 45 minutes in the evening to work on it later when he had time. He gave himself a weekly goal, and if he missed a day then that hour just carried over to the next day. 

What Steve utilized was the power of decision. We are always going to have moments where this and that’s happening. I mean, we’re in a pandemic. It is a unique time.

Something will always be happening like recessions, natural disasters, and other things in life that are beyond our control. Taking that power back for ourselves and making that decision, and standing with that power is really so important.



I asked Steve, “what are some of your experiences in some of the celebrations that you have, things that you were able to see or face that you hadn’t ever thought of before?”

He said that there is a theme with the mindset and it’s both relinquishing control and, thereby, taking control. There are circumstances and your best-laid plans don’t go quite the way you want it to go, because life gets in the way. 

Instead of letting that be what defeats him, he tries to recognize the parts that can’t be controlled and remember that it’s okay. 

“Instead I focus on, how am I going to respond? What am I going to do? I think about it, and then I move on and begin focusing on what I’m going to do in the present.”  

“It’s about getting rid of the resentment for the things that happened outside of my control, and just focusing on what I can control for my next steps.” Such an amazing philosophy.

Through joining the Writing Gym, Steve rediscovered the fun of writing, and also realized that his dream of writing a book was not just some dream he gave up on 15 years ago, but a dream he could actually fulfill.

But what else did Steve get out of the Writing Gym? He got a community and personalized help he needed to fully commit to writing his novel.

Writing is a solitary endeavor, but as an extrovert, Steve had a hard time on his writing journey alone. Through the Writing Gym Facebook page, he was able to see all the different celebrations on the page and feel a sense of camaraderie with his fellow writers.

Steve also had a great time with our Writing Gym coaches, Gretchen and Jill, which allowed him to share his thoughts and ideas to other people and get personalized comments on his writing, while also creating room to build his creativity.

Steve loves the Writing Gym and would recommend joining as a solution to any writers out there who feel stuck. 

Why is the Writing Gym so helpful?


  1. Creates commitment to make the time to write, instead of using the excuse of “I don’t have enough time”
  2. The neuroscience used behind the writing process helps writers remove fear from their writing and embrace creativity
  3. Weekly writing sessions that focus on building creativity, and receiving personalized help on whatever he’s working on.
  4. A sense of community


All these reasons help Writing Gym members speed up the writing process, to get you to publishable fast. 

Steve has really grown so much as a writer during his time in the Writing Gym, and I can’t wait to continue working with him and help realize his dreams of becoming a published author. 

Don’t put your writing dreams on hold. Let’s work together to get to publishable. If you’re interested, let’s chat. I’m happy to help. 

Until next time, happy writing.


The REAL Cause of Writer’s Block? Probably Not What You Think

The REAL Cause of Writer’s Block? Probably Not What You Think

The REAL Cause of Writer’s Block? Probably Not What You Think

Hey, writers and music daters. Today, I want to talk to you about imagination.

So, many of you may know that I’m a little bit obsessed with the Middle Ages. I was sitting in this middle-aged “laverie,” which is where the people would come to wash their clothes. There’s a structure above and the river runs through it and people can wash their clothes here. And this is something that really captivates my imagination.

I feel as though I can see the people here, see them working, living, being human. 

We all get our inspiration and our imagination from different sources and different things.

One of the things that I’ve learned in my years of working with writers is that it’s really important to know how your brain works, and how you get inspiration. You may have seen some of the work that I’ve done with writers here in the group.

One of the things that I do is really tap into into my study of neuroscience to find out:

      1. what kind of thinker you are
  1. what kind of creator you are

This is really to optimize your creativity, and to tailor our methods to suit your individual needs.


 If you’ve ever participated in one of our salons, you know sometimes people talk about writer’s block. “I’m so stuck, I don’t know what to write next.” I’ve got a lot of strategies to help with that, through studying how the brain learns and creates. And I use that to really get you into a beautiful, expansive place of imagination. 

I’d love to talk about where you are with your writing,  where you’d like to go, and how you can get there and be successful in your writing career.

If this sounds like you, let’s chat. Until next time, happy writing.

Finding the Inspiration and Courage That Leads to Multiple Genre Success

Finding the Inspiration and Courage That Leads to Multiple Genre Success

Finding the Inspiration and Courage that leads to Multiple Genre Success

This is a transcript of the Writing Gym Podcast. To listen to the full episode, click here.

Today’s Writing Gym Podcast guest is Cristina Istrati. She writes in multiple genres–which is pretty amazing–and we asked her to share her writing process and inspiration with us.

Many writers have dreams of getting published. In Cristina’s case her dream came from a literal dream!

“I’d like to think it’s a bit unusual,” Cristina started, “How I started writing was actually through a dream that I had back in August 2007. ​I just dreamt myself writing books and that was it. The next day, I just grabbed a pen and some sheets and just started writing and the result of that was my first novel.​ I published it in 2009. This is how I started and like I said, I am working on my third novel in my series and I am so excited about it.”

It’s really a magical thing–to follow that impulse, that dream. And look where Cristina is now. She’s a published and award-winning writer. How did winning an award immediately after her debut novel impact her writing life? 

“I never expected it but I was very happy. The first thing is that it keeps you confident and it also stimulates you to keep going, to keep working on your stories, and to keep writing. Because at the end of the day this is what it is all about. Winning an award was a stimulation for me. I didn’t let it change me or anything a little bit close to arrogant or anything close to that, no, I kept working on my novels and I didn’t allow it to let it influence me in any negative way.”

I then asked Cristina about feedback. One of the things that I talk about a lot is the difference between the creative process and the revision process. They’re two very different functions. When we’re in the creative process, it’s really important not to let that feedback in or for that feedback to only be positive feedback. 

“When I was writing the first novel I didn’t get any feedback. I was so into writing; I was absorbed by the story and the characters and what I was doing there that it didn’t even cross my mind to actually ask a friend to read through it. I just went for it, wrote the book, and published it at the end. That was it. 

You never know–maybe somebody would’ve told me they didn’t like the story or it’s boring, or something like that and that might have discouraged me​ a bit. So, I’m happy that I didn’t ask for feedback from anybody. I just did it on my own.”

This is a really valuable tip for writers–like Cristina, writers must know when it’s time to let that feedback in or when it’s time to just really be in that creative zone. 

But what about after winning her award–did it change her writing process? 

“I had some fellow writers read my second novel but, somehow, I didn’t like their feedback. I didn’t take it personally because f​eedback is not about that. You just listen to what the other person is saying and if something resonates with you then you take it. That’s pretty much it. A writer should never take it personally.​ It’s not about the writer; it’s about the work itself. Feedback should only be looked at as pure feedback.

“What I didn’t like about their feedback was that they were too general. It was like they were talking about a different novel. I realized I just needed to follow my own intuition and to not give anyone the manuscript anymore, before it gets published. I wanted to follow my own gut feeling–both in writing and when it comes to feedback as well.”

Cristina’s talk about intuition resonated the most with me. Many writers get so wrapped up in what they’re writing and many get into this self-doubt, always asking themselves: “Is this right? I don’t know.” It makes such a difference when they start to believe in themselves and their writing. When writers get feedback, they mustn’t take it personally–much like what Cristina shared. 

As writers, we must be confident about the message we are putting out into the world. I know what is right for my book and I know that’s what I’m doing. How did Cristina develop her strong sense of writing intuition? 

“This may sound arrogant–and I totally understand if that’s the way it comes across–but when I see what I am writing, when I see the product of my work, I just feel confident about it and I don’t know where this confidence comes from. When there is something so, so strong and so,so beautiful about the story, it cannot be something random. That keeps me confident.”

“A writer’s story and characters are one. The minute the writer enters their room and starts writing, they become one with the novel and with everything else that is inside the novel. It’s like a universe. When you create something so strong and you feel like it is a part of you, and a part of your soul and heart, how can you not be confident and know? It’s twisting, I cannot understand this but this is what I feel.”

Definitely a unique perspective but one that I appreciate very much. There’s a different type of confidence that comes from the power of our piece–different from when we win awards and other things. Where we are writing has its own life, its own energy, and its own confidence. If writers are really listening to their piece and have faith in their piece, then there is a different kind of confidence that can overcome their impostor syndrome. 

“I think one of the reasons why writers aren’t so confident in themselves is because the media created many limiting concepts about the writing industry and one of of them is that you can’t make a living as a writer,” Cristina shared, “From my point of view, as long as the writers is 1000% committed, there is nothing they cannot achieve in terms of the writing career. There is no limit to what a writer can achieve as long as they are themselves, their journey, and their writing.” 

Resonating and true is something that I also believe in. At the Writing Gym, we have created a group of wonderful writers who are committed to their craft, who get feedback from published and award-winning authors like Cristina. I asked Cristina if a program like this had been available when she was just starting out, would it have been something she was interested in doing? 

“Any help is more than welcome–especially at the beginning. At the beginning every writer should get as much help as possible. That’s a bit of a critical point when the writer just starts out, the confidence is not so big. But if the passion–a really burning passion, the kind that wakes you up at night and compels you to write–is there then that is enough. If this confidence is not there, my advice for writers is to follow the passion, to make their passion a substitute for the confidence. As they hold on to that passion they have for writing, the confidence will make its way, too.”

Some people are born writers in the same way that some are born musicians or basketball players. But the rest of us humans on Earth, we have to work at the process over time, unless we are a true prodigy–and that’s okay. It’s part of the process to learn and to get quality feedback and to learn the skills that we need. 

Yet, even those naturally born writers, musicians, athletes all have to show up and do the work too. It goes for any kind of gift that people have.

As I mentioned before, Cristina writes in multiple genres. “It was very interesting for me to see that I could actually switch from romance to children’s stories and then I wrote mystery stories. I think it is a good thing for a writer to play with genres if they have the ability to, because then they wouldn’t be caged into one particular genre. I highly recommend that other writers try to write in other genres. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a masterpiece, it’s an exercise to see what will work and it’s helped me polish my writing skills and gave me that extra confidence.


“Another great benefit is that it nourishes your imagination. For me, at least, I get bored writing in one genre. I want more excitement, adventure, and switching from one genre to another really keeps things exciting for me.”

Cristina shared another amazing takeaway–the energy of the writer comes through the book and becomes absorbed by the reader. “The writer needs to be at his best. When he is writing, he needs to be bubbling with creative energy. That will be felt in his things.”

Lastly, I asked Cristina if she had one piece of advice for writers just starting out writing and struggling with it.

“Firstly, identify what you love to write about. It’s important to play with genres a bit in the beginning and see which one first you best. Without that certainty, you cannot write. And from here comes the lack of confidence. Figure out what genre first for you like a glove and just off and follow that. The more you write, the more you want to write and the more the passion will grow. This will give you confidence and you’ll want to keep doing that.” 

Well, there you go–the lovely advice for aspiring authors. Just identify what you love to write about and follow your intuition. Take the time to play with genres, figure it out, find your niche, and your calling, and all doubts will fade away. 

Until next time. Happy writing.

This is a transcript of the Writing Gym Podcast. To listen to the full episode, click here

How to Change your Interior Dialogue

How to Change your Interior Dialogue

How to Change your Interior Dialogue

This is a transcript of the Writing Gym Podcast. To listen to the full episode, go to:

Annalisa: Well, hello Brandon. I am so happy to be speaking with you about your book, Mastering Fear, which you co-authored with John David Mann.

I am really interested, you know, this is obviously a writing podcast. We talk with a lot of prominent authors. John’s been on the podcast several times, and he and Bob Burg have talked about how they worked together to co-author a book. I’m really interested to hear what your process was with John to co-author a book. Because that’s a really interesting process. It’s different than writing your own book.

Brandon: Yeah. You know, John and I work extremely well together, I gotta say.

I mean, we’ve done eight or nine books together. I lost count. Him and I have worked multiple ways. We don’t have a set format. When I was first introduced to John back in 2011 by my agent, Margaret McBride, I had turned in a pretty much finished manuscript for The Red Circle. And she said, “hey, look, this is really good, but I think, especially ‘cause it’s a memoir, having somebody else ask questions and dig stuff out of you that you probably think is boring but other people would probably find interesting.”

So I took Margaret’s advice. I met John. And she was right. I mean, John on his own is an incredible writer. He makes everything I do better. And he’s just a good kind of right-hand man in that way. But in that case, I gave him 80,000 words and he just rewrote and then made questions and really captured my voice perfectly. And so that was The Red Circle.

Then Among Heroes, for example, was a book about me losing friends and comrades and kind of dealing with that, but also as a way to honor their memory. John and I, our big struggle there was how do we write a book about four guys dying, that’s positive? Not make it a downer.

So we focused on kind of the good pieces of the friendship that I took away and how that made me a better person. It highlighted those traits for other people to identify with as well.

I’d set up interviews with the families, we would co-interview. John would record our conversations and then he went in and wrote that book. And usually I like to outline throughout the story arc.

In another case, John and I would kind of riff off each other.  I spent 4 and a half years chipping away at a novel that we’re just about to finish together. Finally, this year, I said, “John, I’m 60,000 words into this thing and I just want to get it finished.” It’s a novel. The working title is Steel Fear. It’s about a serial killer on an aircraft carrier. It’s based on true events.

When I was a search-and-rescue swimmer in helicopters, before I became a SEAL, I was deployed on the Abraham Lincoln, which is this massive, nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Like, almost 6,000 people on board. And they had just integrated women onto the ship. And had a sexual predator on the boat. He assaulted, I think, seven or eight women and they never caught the guy.

Annalisa: Oh boy.

Brandon: For people that never served on an aircraft carrier, even though it’s a city, it has a police force, but these are really more like security guards. They’re really not equipped to deal with, you know, complicated crime. And that was a case of it, right? Like, how does a guy who’s using the same M.O. go to the women’s shower and assault seven or eight women and not get caught? I mean, it’s crazy.

Annalisa: Wow.

Brandon: And it created terror on the ship. These women were terrified to shower. They were showering in partners. So that, again, this is an example of how John and I worked together, right? I just dumped this manuscript on him and said “please help me finish.”

He didn’t change any characters, but he just made them more complicated and wrote these profiles and I think it’s going to be a great book. And I’m happy. John and I will share equal credit for that one.

Writing a novel is very different than nonfiction. I can write nonfiction in my sleep, just about. I mean, I started my business out of the blog space. My first website I launched, in 2012, I must have wrote two articles a day for almost two years. You get good at writing after a while that way.

But John and I, don’t have this set formula. We’ve done over the phone. He’s given me stuff back that I’ll smooth over. A lot of times John counts on me for a lot of the technical details that he just doesn’t have the background for. And actually, another project I’ll share with you, I haven’t really shared this with anybody on the podcast world.

I wanted to explore other areas of fiction. I had an MBA student do a study on the most under-served markets in fiction, and it came back military romance was a huge under-served category. So I sold a project to St. Martin’s Press, a three-book romance deal. And I directed the book. I basically directed a romance writer. The book is called The Military Wife. It publishes in February.

Annalisa: Oh, neat.

Brandon: It’s interesting because when I did that study, I was hoping it would come back with like, special ops in space, you know? I was like, “that would be great!” I’m like, “military romance, are you kidding me?”

Ironically my mom named me after a romance book called The Flame and the Flower. Some pirate captain in the book. And here I am directing this romance series.

But, it was funny because when the report came back, I was getting hit up on social media by all these established woman authors that were trying to break into this space, but they didn’t have the background. They were asking me questions about training, how long is boot camp, what’s Navy SEAL like, what’s the structure, and I was like, “oh they’re probably getting pressure for this type of content because the publishers know that there’s a gap.”

But anyway, I’m excited about that series. And again, I worked with the writer and just directed. I said, “Here’s the story arc. Here’s all the kind of juicy details. Some real-world experiences. Go nuts.” And she did a great job.

Annalisa: Oooh. Oh, that’s great.

Brandon: Yeah, I’m excited about it. I just like to create stuff, I think is what it comes down to. I don’t mind sharing credit where credit is due.

Annalisa: Yeah. Well, and that’s really beautiful. John is certainly a great partner to have, right?

I want to get into the content of your newest book with John David Mann, Mastering Fear: A Navy SEAL’s Guide and talk a little bit about the content. Because there’s a lot of overlap between what you’re presenting here and how we work with writers. And I thought that was really fascinating.

Over in the writing Gym we also talk about changing your “interior dialogue” is the phrase that you use. We say, “getting into write relationship with the inner critic”. So, tell me more about changing your interior dialogue and what that means for you and how you talk about it in the book.

Brandon: I think self-talk is a big thing. We walk around having these conversations with ourselves. And they’re not always positive to our benefit. We say, “I’m not good enough for this,” and, “I’m not good enough for that”.

And an example I would give you, I remember I was dating a girl and she made a comment, not to me, it was actually to my mom. I had had a couple New York Times bestsellers with John and she’s like, “oh, Brandon’s never written on his own a New York Times bestseller.”

That really, stuck in my head. And I started having this conversation. I was like, “oh, maybe I’m not good enough. Maybe I can’t make it on my own.” It’s a perfect example of how you can get stuck in that loop. And then, fortunately, I was like, “No, I have what it takes.” Then a couple years later I wrote a book with Jack Murphy. In this case, Jack is an amazing writer. He runs the news site part of my media company. NewsRep is what the site is called now. Jack is a brilliant writer.

In that case, him and I just said, “Hey, I’m gonna take six chapters, you take six.” We had a copy editor re-do it, and then we wrote about the whole Benghazi event. Beause we had a lot of insider access. And that made the New York Times list as a nonfiction ebook, which is really tough to make, as an ebook.

But, I had to change that conversation in my head, that I’m not good enough. Because if you let that affect you, it can really do damage to your career, to relationships.

The first time I learned the importance of self-talk was when I was in the military. I was about to take over the sniper program as course manager. We were running a pilot program to overhaul the Navy SEAL sniper course. It was a mediocre course before 2001. After 9/11, we had budget to overhaul and we said, “How do we make this into one of the most premiere courses in the world?”

So we were able to bring in all these consultants. One of them, who is a close friend of mine today, was Lanny Bassham. Lanny is a gold medalist and really was a pioneer in mental management for athletics in the ‘70s because he went, expected to win gold. He was a competitive shooter, was a world champion, went to the Olympics in Germany, won silver ‘cause he let a couple of Russian guys get into his head on the bus to the final event. Came back, at the time the sports psychology world…they weren’t focused on performance. Everyone Lanny went to said, “Oh, it’s okay, we’re going to make you okay with being #2 in the world.”

And he’s like, “No, that’s not what I’m after here. Something happened to me in my self-image, my self-talk. I need to figure out what this is.”

So, what Lanny did was go to all the gold medalists and interview them. Anyone he could get a hold of. And he was an Olympic team member, so he ended up interviewing I think over 100 gold medalists. And found that, fundamentally, they all had certain similar characteristics and traits. They all had positive self-talk. They would write these mantras on sticky pads. They wanted and welcomed the competition. They knew that the competition was necessary to stimulate them to a level of performance that doesn’t come in practice. Like, nobody breaks world records in practice. You need that competitive environment or the stressors of the situation.

Think about public speaking, right? When I started public speaking, it was nerve-wracking. I think it’s one of the biggest fears people have. Once you do it enough times, you realize, “Oh, this feeling.” You can harness the kind of nervous energy and fear to make you elevate your performance to a higher level.

So I met this guy Lanny. I could talk for hours on what he did with us, but the short version is he gave us this incredible toolkit to use in how we train snipers: self-talk, visualization, visualizing performance, even if you’re nervous.

Say you’re giving a talk for the first time in public. You can close your eyes and imagine yourself being nervous, and sweating giving that speech over and over again, and your brain doesn’t know the difference between reality and you just practicing in your head. You can train yourself to get better in those types of situations.

So, we applied this to our sniper students. The big thing Lanny said also was, “There’s a time and a place for negative teaching style.”

For instance, maybe it’s a tough financial internship. Like, “I know this guy’s good.” Treated like men and women who go to Goldman Sachs. They’re put into this negative environment to just see how they react. And if they’re able to overcome the same way as a Navy SEAL candidate, very negative environment, you know? They’re talking down to you daily. But they want to see, do you have what it takes up here to deal with that.

But in the case were there are certain instances, like kids learning subjects in school, beginners and kids in sports. Even as an adult, I just recently took my first dance class, and the instructor was great. It’s a very positive environment. If he was yelling at me, telling me I sucked, I have two left feet — I wouldn’t learn as fast in that environment.

The thing, when we were teaching snipers, we had a very negative attitude and teaching style. Lanny said, “time out, guys. There’s no need for this style of teaching. You need to switch to positive. Don’t point out the mistakes that these guys are making. Just tell them the positive corrective things to do properly.”

‘Cause when you’re pointing out mistakes, like when you’re beginning to write, you’re just hammering on all the mistakes they’re making, instead of saying, “Hey, this is what you need to fix it.” Grammatically or structurally move things around. You can just tell them what to do properly. A beginner in those situations are sponges. If you’re pointing out the mistakes you’re programming them for bad habits, is what it boils down to.

So we changed from negative to positive teaching style. We implemented visualization techniques. All this stuff from Lanny and a bunch of consultants. And overnight we took a course that was failing over 30% of the sniper students and we started passing everybody. And the standards got even more difficult.

So to me, that was the first time I experienced positive psychology in action. I was like, blown away. I was like, “this is crazy.” And it works.

And I’ve applied it multiple times. I went through what was to me a pretty traumatic divorce. Going from a dad coaching Little League to divorcing my wife and she took the kids away to her parents out of county. It was very tough because I had to change the style of parent I was. I was no longer the kind of father that could coach Little League and could see the kids on a daily basis. And on top of that I just lost my first business and all my life savings. It was a tough period in my life.

But I caught myself going negative and said, “Woah, wait a minute. I need to focus on the positives here.”

For one, thankfully my ex-wife and I were getting along. We chose to really work hard for the kids’ sake to get along and have a good divorce.

And I looked at, okay, I lost my life savings and my first business, but I basically had two years that I’d put myself through business school. I had a real-world business MBA. Like, doing my first business, raising money. I had all these valuable tools to either buy a business or start another one.

So I started focusing on the positive self-talk in my head. To finish a very long answer to your question about self-talk. It’s just so important, ‘cause if I had got caught up in this thing, like, “I failed. I’m a failure.” I would have not started again. I would not have my business today. I have a great media/e-commerice business that employs 100 people today. And I would not have had it had I fallen into this negative self-talk.

I see people do it in relationships all the time as well. I have friends that are successful in other areas of life, but they can’t let go of certain things. And I talk about it in the book, the Coconut Story. There were these monkeys in the jungle, they trap ‘em by digging a hole in the ground with spikes and they put a coconut in there. And the monkey reaches in and he grabs the coconut with both arms and he tries to pull it out but the sticks are preventing his arms from getting out. All he has to do is let go of the coconut and he can run away. But they don’t. They just hold onto the coconut.

I see people with their own version of coconuts. Relationships, where maybe they’ve been cheated on or had a bad experience, maybe mental abuse, physical abuse, and they just can’t let that go. They’re just bringing it into a new relationship. And a lot of times they just attract the same people because they can’t.

I can tell you, I’ve been on enough bad first dates, living in New York City, I can sense the negative immediately. And people in a very good place in their lives sense that and run for the hills when they see it. I can see it over and over. In business as well. But anyway, sorry to go on and on.

Annalisa: No, that’s all really good information.

And I’m so glad that you brought that up, Brandon, because the work that we do in the Writing Gym is based on neuroscience, and it’s really interesting as you talk about positive psychology, there’s a direct correlation to the application of neuroscience to how we learn and create best. So you’re absolutely right.

In the Writing Gym we’re really focusing on the positive when it’s time to focus on the positive and really only bringing in that critical eye only when it’s time to bring in that critical eye. And bring that manuscript to absolutely publishable. And I’m sure you know all about what that process looks like, having been through it several times now.

Brandon: Yeah. Yeah, and again, I see some writers, they get in this—it’s hard to chase perfection, right? It’s never as good as you hope it’s going to be.

You’ve gotta realize, especially in the world of books, you’ve gotta realize that there’s people that have good input, right? Your editor, hopefully you have a good one, at a publishing house, is going to want to give input to the manuscript. Sometimes structurally, sometimes it’s, “Hey, something’s missing, I think you could do more work here.”

I think people get hung up and they’re like, “Oh, I don’t want to turn it in yet.” I’m like “You turn it in, it’s gonna get chopped anyway.”

Annalisa: You can’t publish it until it’s finished, right?

Brandon: Don’t let perfection get in the way of good enough, basically.

Annalisa: Absolutely.

So, I’ve never gotten to ask this question before, Andi always gets to ask this question. So I’m kind of excited, this is a big moment.

But, if you had once piece of advice to give the aspiring writer, what would it be?

Brandon: The aspiring writer…I would say there’s no substitute for practice. And learning. We’re always learning.

I read Stephen King’s On Writing book, because I’d never written fiction before. It was a huge eye-opener for me. It was totally against my method of writing non-fiction, where I create a story arc and an outline and I write to that.

So I would say practice, practice, practice, and continually learn, listen to podcasts like yours, read books, talk to other writers and just work on the craft. Because I don’t know anybody that just wakes up one day and is a brilliant writer. All the best people I know in the business from the screenplays, from a guy like Allan Loeb, who wrote Collateral Beauty, is an amazing screenplay writer. My friend Kamal Ravikant, is a great writer and inspiration behind Mastering Fear. They’ve all written for years and years and years. It’s not like they just all of a sudden had success.

I look at some of my stuff that I wrote for magazines and some of the blog posts, and I’m just like, “Oh, God.”

But I just recognize that, it’s kind of neat, ‘cause I’m like, “Oh, I was just kind of putting it out there.” You’ve gotta do that. You’ve gotta put it out there.

I think blogging especially is a great format. Even if you have an audience of one. If it’s just yourself or your friends. If you blog every day, it’s like journaling, you just get better and better and better. I’m thankful my mom made me and my sister journal as kids.

But anyway, that would be the advice. Practice, and go out there and put yourself out there. Take classes, listen to podcasts, read books, just constantly, I mean I’m always in a state of self-improvement.

And I’ll tell you this, it’s easy to get arrogant. I’m in a group called YPO, the Young Presidents Organization. My business was scaling. We had a year we grew 300%. My YPO group hosted this mini-Harvard University. I had this prejudice. I’m like, “What the hell are these Harvard MBA professors gonna tell me about business? I’ve been through it all. I’ve lost it. I’ve built it back.”

And they blew my mind. I went through this week like, “What an arrogant prick I was,” to really—I just proved to myself, I gotta reset. ‘Cause I learned so much in that one week course that I actually signed up for their Business Owner MBA program. I start in May. ‘Cause I was just, like, “Okay, I need to go. I don’t know it all.”

Annalisa: That’s great. Well, thank you for sharing that with us, Brandon. I really appreciate it. And thanks for being on the Writing Gym Podcast.

Brandon: Thanks for having me.

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