Breaking Through Writers Block

breaking-blocksFor many of us Writers Block can be a devastating state of affairs. We sit and look at a blank screen or sheet of paper. We procrastinate. Check our messages. Cruise social media. Trying to find a spark somewhere.

The spark never comes. Or maybe it has and we just didn't see it because we are so stressed on what we need to do. Aha! That is the key there. You are stressed. When under stress our thinking  becomes narrowed. It's all black and white. No grey area. Either this way or that.

Did you know I offer Creative Thinking Workshops? Ideal for a group of 10-20 attendees. Click Here to Learn More!

Here is what I have learned from research and practice when I suffer from Writers Block:

  1. I do nothing. Yep, I acknowledge that I am in a block and do nothing. It's kinda like being caught in a rip-tide. You struggle and still get pushed out to sea. If you relax, then swim parallel to the shoreline, you will get out of the tide. Doing nothing gives you the opportunity to clear your mind of the stress you are under.
  2. Now I write. But I don't write for the assignment. I write my thoughts, what is happening in my head. The writing usually turns to the challenge at hand. So I keep writing, I am writing idea snippets. Nothing with structure. Just write. At this point I am brainstorming. No judgement of good idea or bad, just ideas.

Then, all of a sudden…

It happens. One of those snippets gives me an AHA! moment and I realize. This is where I will start, this is a great set-up for the hook at the end, this is what will engage the reader. I scurry to continue writing and writing and sooner rather than later, I have a finished manuscript. Sure editing will be required.

Have you ever noticed that writers block usually happens in STARTING a project. I don't recall getting blocked when it comes to editing.

The challenge is, we think we have to start at the beginning. We stress ourselves out to make it right the first time. But that is not necessarily the case. For example. This paragraph was initially written as the third paragraph. However, it fits better here.

I am sure this practice will help and if you are ever in trouble and need a creative spark, give me a ring. I would be happy to add fuel to your fire. 

  • Illustration from and old AC Spark Plugs advertisement.

Greatest Year in Automotive Design


I just finished listening to Kelly McEvers interview of David Hepworth about his bookNever a Dull Moment, 1971 The Year that Rock Exploded. Hepworth backed up his hypothesis that 1971 was the best year in rock and roll because in 1971 there were more musicians in their peak creative time (thank the baby boomer generation). The musicians were also not over produced. They would go in the recording studio and lay it down in only a couple of takes. David Bowie recorded 1 song short of three albums in 1971. Led Zepplin' fourth album, didn't even have the name of the band, album or record label on it. Only a photo of a guy carrying sticks! Fascinating.

Who would think? Well, it got me thinking about the relationship of music with the automobile. What is the best year in American automotive design? A contentious question for sure. 

There were key periods:

  • 1915 – Invention of the assembly line
  • 1932 – Ford introduces the V-8 – the quintessential hot rod.
  • 1940-41 – Height of streamline design.
  • 1950 – Fords and Mercury's built for customizers
  • 1955 – Chevrolet introduces the small block V-8
  • 1959 – Harley Earle bids adieu from GM with the biggest fins ever!
  • 1960's – The space race is on!

What about 1971 in American automotive design? Bigger is better? The muscle car was at it's peak with big block motors, wide bodies and longer wheelbases. All this just before the oil embargo and gas prices soar.

Here is where we see the difference between the musical artists and their automotive brethren. Maybe it is due to the systems in place for automotive design, because, 1971 is not recognized as a creative force.

Like all this talk about design? Take a look at our creative process

For the music industry, the creativity is measured with the artist. Without a huge machine behind them, they are much more willing to take chances and release statements of art. Whereas in the auto industry there are committees and shareholders that need their risk assured. So change is slow.

Marry the two, and It will not be until 1976 when Johnny Cash releases his automotive classic "One Piece at a Time."

Photo: Johnny Cash's "One Piece At A Time" Cadillac, Photographer: Unknown

Keith from my LinkedIn page commented, "Remember when cars didn't all look the same?" – 

My reply: YES! Sorry to say automotive designers (many coming from the same school) are all working under the common wind tunnel constraints. Either that or they are chained to copy "what has worked". This is a challenge that the auto makers most likely didn't think of, so now they only thing they can market is their badge and marque. Tesla, and many of the exotic super-car builders are the only ones with the guts to change the status quo.

“Thank Goodness”


I heard the term listening to a report from a group of hurricane survivors who locked themselves in a walk-in cooler at a restaurant in the midwest. The right situation to Thank God, but the young lady said: "Thank goodness we are all alive."

Thank Goodness.

I like this term. Not that I am against God by any means. I am pro goodness. Goodness is something we all can achieve. I have been thinking a lot about goodness lately. I guess it is because of all the hateful rhetoric we see on the news and social media. The country is so divided. What we all have in common is goodness. Can't we all just look for the goodness within and share more of that?

Recently on my Facebook news feed there have been a great number of hateful, wrong and down-right disrespectful posts by "friends". So I decided to do some "un-following". My announcement on this was quite simple and it led to a lot of support and a couple of people got angry too. 

I use social media to stay up on current events both internationally and within my small network of "real" friends and family. These updates help me to craft my marketing for clients in a relevant way. My assumptions were proven correct that out of my 1,500 friends on my personal page, I only see a small portion of their posts. By eliminating (by unfollowing, not by blocking) the negative hateful posts, my feed is much brighter and positive. I am seeing people who have been friends but lost in the bombardment of armchair politicians. I am seeing what people are DOING rather than ranting. And it's made my life greater.

This small difference in my social media use has big benefits. The positivity has helped me stay focused, see the future better and generate more valuable ideas.

Photo: Lindy Sue with Don Chamber's '55 Chevy Nomad at Car Crazy, Inc. in Orange, CA

Let’s Hear YOUR Declaration!


We start every summer with a celebration of our Declaration of Independence. This got me thinking, what is my Declaration? I imagine the founding fathers creating a document with such passion and testament to what they believed was right.

240 years later, the Declaration continues to guide us through an uncertain future. A set of principles which we rely on in our day to day decision making. It is the guide to our values. We stand for it, we fight for it, we struggle for it. The Declaration is a map. A map for society, for community, for civilization.

Blacktop Branding's Strategic Marketing Map is designed to guide your company with purpose, unique value proposition, vision and theme. Essentially, it helps to define your Declaration. Request a copy here.

TC_1976I was a teenager 40 years ago, in 1976. The bicentennial was a huge thing for me. My room was decorated in red, white and blue. I was fortunate to travel the United States that summer with 100 other teenagers. We circled the continent stopping at all the historic landmarks we learned about in school. The Grand Canyon, Kennedy Space Center, Castillo de San Marcos, Monticello, Washington DC, and more. 22 States in about 6 weeks.

The trip made history real for me. It opened up my world. I truly believed that it allowed me to see more than just myself, it opened a door to self-awareness, to see my place in the world. It was a coming of age.

I declare to use my past experiences to build value for my clients and collaborators. "Allow Yourself To Be, A Vehicle of Creativity."

Work Hard and Be Good To People


I saw these words in a frame within a photo of a friends' post. It wasn't the subject of the post, but it sure grabbed my attention. 

I started to write a long dialog about my grandfather's work ethic, and the current political climate, when I found the statement's simplicity is best. I do though would like to describe the photo I chose for this article and how it relates. 

Meet Pinky Swear.

Pinky is a Southern California Pinup Model who recently won the "Pinups against Bullying" contest. Each of the 10 brave young ladies shared stories on how they overcame bullying in hopes to inspire those being bullied today. Each of these women have moved passed their challenges and are much stronger because of it.

How do you move pass your challenges? 
Is there a ritual or common practice you perform? Please share below.

It was an inspiring event that embodies the term: Work Hard and Be Good To People. Thank you ladies for sharing your stories. To learn more about their organizations go to:

What Is Your Greatest Moment?


Last week I was interviewed by Mark Greene from Cars Yeah! One of the questions he asked me was: "What was your proudest business moment?".

I really wanted to say this moment right here. And, that answer wouldn't be that far off. I was honored to be interviewed by Mark who has asked similar questions to many automotive icons.

I wouldn't be that far off because, many of my proudest moments are rather recent. I am sure, or hope that it is true for you as well. We all know the someone who goes on and on about their "glory days", usually as a high school sports champ. So what happened that they haven't continued to do remarkable things?

My thought, is that they put their triumph on such a pedestal it would be difficult to imagine, or achieve anything better. When most likely they did many things. Many things which, they just cannot see, because, they are living in the past.

The photo above is from one of my proud moments in business. We created a content development program for our clients. Check it out here.

I turn the question around a bit. What IS your greatest moment in business? With this question we automatically think in the present with a nod to the future. This simple change facilitates forward thinking and creating a path to more great moments.

I would assume for many of you, like me, your greatest moment in business is centered around your passion. Something you believe highly in. Something that excites and challenges you. Something that is difficult and full of discovery.

Please, share with me.
What is your greatest moment in business?

The Secret to Getting Ahead is to Get Started

Get There


I saw this post from Elaina, a student of mine, on social media the other day. I felt proud that this young lady is wise beyond years and inspires so many people with her social media posts.

The other day I was making a presentation at her alma mater. The topic was Idea Generation. We were discussing breaking through blocks. Writers block in particular. Most of the time blocks are put up right from the beginning. I remember writing reports for school, and getting started was always the hardest part. Then I figured it out. You don't have to start at the beginning. Just start writing, extemporaneously, as you are quickly scribbling down notes, there comes the AHA! moment. "That is where I should start this!" and continue writing. Editing as you go along. 

It's sorta like building a jig-saw puzzle. You can't start by taking the first piece out of the box and putting it in the right place. You have to dump the box on the table and start moving around all the pieces, till you find that one that you can start from.

I introduced the students to Roger Von Oech's "Whack Pack" cards which accompany his hit book "Whack On The Side Of The Head". In each example of thinking differently in problem solving, I shared examples of his Four Roles of the Creative Process

Download a FREE copy of the Four Roles of the Creative Process Here.

The roles are diagrammed as a circle with the four roles split in two main areas: Play and Work. This is one circle where you may go back and forward as you become the Explorer, Artist, Judge and Warrior.

The first two roles (Explorer and Artist) are in the play-time. The final two roles (Judge and Warrior) are in work-time. It is most important to PLAY when being the Explorer and Artist. In PLAY we do not make judgements, ideas are neither good or bad, but ideas. A very Zen way of thinking. You gather ideas as the Explorer, and you manipulate the ideas as the Artist. Without any judgement as to what you are doing.

"Impossible!" You say.

True. We are human.

The key is to question those judgements. Recognize when you are making an assumption. Ask the opposite. Change the rules. PLAY. 

At some point you will have the manipulated ideas figured out. We move to work and play the Judge role. You review the manipulated ideas and ask how they are solving the problem at hand. You make a case for the outcome. When the ideas are completely justified, we play the Warrior Role. We fight for the idea, no matter what it takes, we battle on. Without question. We are confident because we used the process that this idea is the best solution for the challenge. We create a paradigm shift. We WORKED.

And it all happened because we started.

When you are ready to get started. I am here to add the fuel. 
Tony Colombini • 949-584-5669 •

Profit with a Purpose

This article is NOT about Cause Marketing.


I was at the Ellermeyer Connect Breakfast the other morning and Sudhir Chadalavada was talking about how the mix of Capitalism with Democracy has raised our standard of living and innovation but it comes at a price. For businesses, it is all about the capitalism, the bottom-line, profit to shareholders, etcetera. The social quality of democracy is set aside, as companies build on that bottom-line, causes tension in the workforce which relates to less productivity. The disgruntled workforce starts to question why they are there. What are they getting out of the time they spend other than a static paycheck. How has the their quality of life increasing? 

"What's In It For Me" is murmured around the water-cooler.

Savvy business leaders use their compassion with collaboration and activities to involve the work force with social democracy. Maybe it's community beautification projects, or charitable activities. They gain this compassion usually through a tragic event or adversity. Sudhir would like to point out that creating an engaging, inspiring and purposeful work environment is the greatest contribution we can make to the community and to the world.

If you are looking for ideas to increase productivity while building community relations give Blacktop Branding a visit.

Personal transformation allows us to think differently and allows for the paradigm shift to a collaborative environment. When this social democracy is introduced into a strict workplace, employees feel empowered, energized, and the result is increased productivity. They make the common-sense, common practice as the company evolves from shareholder return to stakeholder return. 

What a great way to turn around a disgruntled workforce from a recent layoff schedule, or minimal bonus structure. Get ideas from your employees who are in touch with their community, church or schools. It's a great way to build a lasting bond and help ease their fears of being "next".

What tragic event or adversity did you overcome that changed your management style? How does your company contribute to the growth of your community?

(Photo shot at TRM Manufacturing)

How Long Till The Grandeur Goes Away?


On a recent trip to Sedona Arizona, I was thinking about how long it would take before the grandeur goes away. How long does it take, until you don't even notice the incredible landscape around you?

At the end of our trip, I asked a local this question. His reply was that with the ever changing light, the scenery for him, is still a blessing. 

Of course, I turn this thought into my clients work. At Blacktop Branding we are experts at sparking new ideas. How long does it take for those new ideas to become the norm? How can I be that new light on their canyon wall?

One way I like to show new grandeur is to evaluate what we have done. I use theStrategic Design Triad I developed nearly 25 years ago. Take a look at it here.

The Strategic Design Triad came out of a discussion with a sculpture professor while attending the Laguna College of Art and Design. I use it nearly everyday and shared it with countless students since.

These trips get me thinking so much about my business. How I interact with my clients and how I can improve that interaction.

Here's a confession:

I wait for my clients to contact me for new ideas, new projects. Instead, I should be more proactive and send them the next big idea. That's my job, isn't it? They get busy running their business, and forget that there are new ways of doing things, new ways to find new markets, new processes in marketing. NEW GRANDEUR. 

So if you are a current or past client. Be forewarned. I will be contacting you with new ideas. That is how I light their dark canyons. 

How are you being the light? How do you present your grandeur?

A Quiet Pause On Our Hectic Highway


This thought all started as I was watching the popular ABC television show "The Middle". The opening credits show a long straight road through the cornfields of the Midwest. I pause the DVR and think about what it would be like to ride down that road. The quiet, peaceful serenity. Am I rolling down the road on my Harley? Am I cruisin' down the road in my Fairlane? Or am I pedalling down with my vintage Schwinn? I wonder how it might look different at dawn or dusk, or in the middle of a moon-lit evening? What does it sound like, smell like. I just want to soak it all in. Just then, Tracy asks if I am going to push the play button.

Of course, my mind starts to wander about how this pause can help my clients and my business. My Strategic Marketing Map has been a great resource in defining a modern content driven in-bound marketing program.

The Road
What does the road look like for your business? I highly doubt it is a straight smooth highway rolling past the horizon. At times, I'm sure it's got some pot holes, treacherous turns or soft shoulders. Hopefully not all at once.

The Vehicle
What is the vehicle you are riding in? At times I am sure it feels like a beat-up jalopy that is about to break down at any moment, and I hope it is more like a modern exotic sports car more often than not. Some cars tend to drive themselves. Ride in a swanky Cadillac and your ride is smooth no matter the quality of the road. Get in a tiny sports car and you feel every bump and pebble. Sometimes it is important to feel the bumps, and other times they distract you from what is important. It's best to know when you need a certain vehicle. 

The Company
Who is with on this trip? Is your team comprised of great travel companions? The explorer, navigator, sergeant, and mechanic. We need each of these characters to have a fulfilling trip. The Explorer plots an uncharted course to find new opportunities. The Navigator sees what is immediately up ahead and can help smooth the turns. The Sergeant manages the activities to stay on course. And, the Mechanic is there to solve any problems that may arise. 

The Experience
How are you experiencing this expedition? Are you able to take time to reflect on its grandeur? Is the journey happening so fast that you can't see what's around the next turn, or see the forest through the trees? When you are able to pause and reflect, you have moved from reactionary mode to proactive mode, which allows you to work smarter rather than harder.

The Destination
I found in a recent vacation that my attitude is different on my way to our vacation as on the way home. Not better or worse, just different. On the way TO my vacation spot, the uncertainty is exhilarating, challenging and calming. Not knowing exactly what the amenities will be like, or the availability of activities is scary for someone who likes to be in control. On the way HOME, my mind is clear from the time away and I can think differently to help solve any problems that come about.

So now, the show is about half over and the dialog is a calming drone with occasional bursts of laughter. 

I'd sure like to know how you take pause in your hectic life. Share your thoughts below, and let's start a refreshing dialog.