July 16, 2010

Imparting wisdom, or something like it

Mark Victor Hansen’s seminars for writers are usually pricy, so I readily accepted a colleague’s invitation to attend a three-hour session free. The seminar was held in a hotel dining room packed with a diverse crowd, all ready to take visions from thought to print.

Some of them seemed like Hansen groupies. They laughed excessively at every stale joke (e.g, “I slept like a baby…woke up every two hours crying.”) and recited statements along with him. I felt a little creepy, like an investigative journalist infiltrating a cult of personality.

Free seminars usually conclude with sales pitches. I was prepared to consider buying a book, but I expected to pick up a few how-to pointers from the free part first. I was disappointed.

The best part of Hansen’s talk concerned the future of publishing: audiobooks, e-books, vooks, and mobile distribution, for starters. His proposition that the Livescribe Pulse Smartpen (pictured), which was developed as a note-taking device, could be a medium for interactive audiovisual books is fabulous. Hansen admits to being an investor in Livescribe.

Halfway through the session, I was still waiting for some how-tos.

Hansen offered inspirational aphorisms (“When you are your authentic self you are unstoppable”) and loads of anecdotes about traveling to exotic locales with his high-powered buddies.

He started to lose me early on by dragging out that moldy old legend about Walt Disney being cryogenically frozen, a doozy debunked by the best.

That he got the story about the Princess of Wales being assassinated by the land-mine cartel straight from Mohamed Al-Fayed did not diminish my skepticism.

And his offhand remark that one of his pals “owns the Yankees,” coming so soon after George Steinbrenner’s death, was shocking. (The buddy’s name was not Steinbrenner.) Perhaps he meant his friend was part of the group that bought the Yankees back in the ’70s. But the late Mr. Steinbrenner bought out the other investors years ago.

As the misstatements mounted, my confidence eroded. By the time the sales pitch came, there was little left. That the pitch was high-priced and “one-time only” made it easy to pass.

One of my notes says, “If you know the ‘why,’ the ‘how’ will come.” As Hansen said that, its seemed to make sense, or I wouldn’t have written it down. But now it seems inaccurate. I know why I want the lawn to look nice: so the homeowners’ association will stop leaving those notes on my door. But the hows of lawn-growing have yet to come.

That’s what teachers are for: imparting the how. But Hansen’s free speeches, it seems, contain only motivation. To get instruction, you must buy his products. But here’s the problem: If I can’t trust what he says, and his free talk doesn’t demonstrate an ability to instruct me in my weak areas, why should I buy the product? Maybe there are better ways to invest that money in my business.

As I walked to my car, I recalled a comment Hope Clark recently made in Total Funds for Writers: “…many people who take time away from the day job and family to attend a conference, won’t necessarily invest that same time in the writing itself.”

Those three hours would probably have been better invested in my writing. Ah, well, at least I got a blog post out of it.

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