As a child, one of my very first dreams was to author a book. I remember writing a chapter book in elementary school on an actual typewriter.
I can’t imagine now what that book was about, but I can say, almost without reservation, that it was probably more of a diary entry than a work of fiction.
But the thing about writing a book is it’s hard. I’ve had the same 200 pages of a fiction novel for years and I just can’t figure it out. I also have a finished nonfiction book I can’t bring myself to design because I worry it’s lesson isn’t valuable.
Insecurity is a real cool emotion.
So, when I started out working for Charlie Hoehn as his assistant for a coffee table book idea he had, I figured I could fulfill my desire to create a book without having to actually put my words out there for people to read or judge.
It was clear almost immediately that this was going to be a quick project that Charlie didn’t have many expectations for (great for someone worried about meeting expectations).
I thought it would be a 6 month project during which I could learn by observation from a published author and celebrated speaker and maybe use him as a reference somewhere down the line. It all seemed very low risk and an awesome side project to work on for a summer.
This was in April of 2015.
Now, we’re closing in on April of 2017 and Play for a Living is finally done. It’s big and it’s beautiful and it’s completely different than what I was expecting when I started work two years ago. And I am better for it.
See the original plan for the book was to compile a list of quotes about play, find existing images of the people who spoke the quote, throw them together in a book and offer it to anyone who might have been a fan of Play It Away - Charlie’s original book about play.
A few Google searches and a call with a helpful lawyer later, I realized that was never going to happen.
So, we switched to Plan B. Our new plan was to contact as many artists as we possibly could who specialized in portraits and ask them to contribute their time and talents to our small side project. The catch? We had literally no budget.
I wasn’t getting paid for this, the artists we recruited weren’t going to be paid for their efforts and any profit made from the book would go directly to charity.
This was an endeavor strictly for people who believed in the cause.
The other roadblock was that I am a nobody. I don’t have any connections to any important artists, I don’t have a recognizable name and I certainly don’t give anyone reason to respond to my cold-call email, much less collaborate with me
I figured I’d have to send a couple thousand emails and I certainly didn't plan on getting the attention of any professional artists.
To the first point, I was mostly right.
The project has taken a couple thousand emails, but only to 500 individuals*.
I couldn’t have been more wrong about the second point, though. Professional artists from all over the world were happy to collaborate with us. Their interest, generosity and enthusiasm for the project was overwhelming.
Truthfully, it was the artists who made the process of creating this book sustainable, enjoyable and inspiring.
Making this book proved to me that it doesn’t take much to create something incredible. It doesn’t take a best-seller to make you feel accomplished. And it doesn’t take a recognizable name to change someone’s perspective. Great things are possible for anyone.
All you need is persistence, authenticity and a mission that people can connect with**.
And despite my writing for this book and it’s marketing materials will amount to about 3,000 words (including the rough drafts), I have my name on a book and an invaluable lesson — that although things may not happen the way you thought they would, they will always happen the way they should for you.
So, thank you, to Charlie, and every artist we worked with, for teaching me a truth I will carry for the rest of my career.
I hope you readers will take away an equally important message on April 4th when the book is launched.
* A pleasant surprise retrospectively, but past-Mckenna would like me to mention that the whole thing felt impossible right around artist 300.
** Gratitude and fun also help. A lot.