Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Show up!

Today it’s my privilege to have Ken Coffman as a guest Over Coffee. Professionally, Ken is a non-fiction author and an Engineer with Fairchild. Personally, he is a good friend, a bit of a philosopher, a gifted musician, a wonderful storyteller and author of a favorite character of mine, Glen Wilson.

You could say his topic today embodies the philosophy he lives by: Be bold. Take the lead. Show up.

80% of success is showing up.- Woody Allen

What is the right percentage? 80% of success is showing up? I’ve heard 90%, 95%, and even 100%. Let’s not quibble, my friends. Some high percentage of success comes from showing up. But, what the hell does that mean?

I feel like I understand the concept and it doesn’t mean success is easy. Showing up sounds easy, so what’s going on? Let’s suppose you’re sitting in a room with one hundred other people. If you have a question, the physical effort of raising your hand is nothing. You lift that heavy hand hundreds of times a day. But the courage to take the chance, to draw attention to yourself, to risk asking the stupidest question ever asked…that takes courage. Grit. Guts. In this case you gotta show up by raising that heavy hand.

Let me illustrate with an example from my life. Every few years when I can afford it and the mood strikes me, I will act as concert promoter. A while back, I booked a show with Patrick Moraz. Patrick is a world-renowned keyboardist and pianist who played with Yes and The Moody Blues. Truly, he is as close to a modern incarnation of Mozart that we will see in our lifetime. That sounds over-the-top and ludicrous, doesn’t it? But, check it out. You’ll see.

For an opening act, I decided to book a friend, Eric Dahl. Eric is a talented songwriter/storyteller, but I remember the day he told me he didn’t know how to play the guitar. I’d seen him perform and loved his songs…how could it be that he ‘knows not’ how to play? As it turns out, a guitar-playing friend tunes his acoustic guitar to an open chord and all Eric has to do is move his thumb and index finger up and down the neck to play simple patterns. As an aside, this is the way Glen Wilson (from my novel series, the continuing adventures of Glen Wilson, which starts with Steel Waters) also plays the guitar. This is in no way coincidental, but never mind that.

The concert was fun and the audience ate it up. Then, at the end, for an encore, a group of people wanted to hear Eric playing with Patrick. My heart sank. This would be a disaster… We can’t combine one of the premier pianists of the world with a fellow who does not know how to play the guitar. Sensing a meltdown, I sank into my seat and tried to disappear.Here’s what happened. Eric got on stage, grinned at the crowd and started playing and singing a simple, funky bluesy pattern. Genius that he is, Patrick joined in and played wild, creative and amazing accompaniment. It was great. Perfect. Beautiful. And taught me a valuable lesson. I have the recording. It’s cool.

The life lesson?

Be bold. Take the lead. Show up.

What does this mean to my fellow writers? We’ll have setbacks. The blank page will sit on our screen and mock us. We’ll get a bad review. Another rejection letter. We’ll lose a contest. It can be overwhelming, paralyzing and depressing. That’s life. What should we do? Work! Perfect your skill at creating characters, designing a story arc and executing your ideas with good grammar, vocabulary and syntax. No matter where you started and no matter where you are today, you can get better and inch closer to your goal. Step-by-step. Day-by-day.
And that’s what I’m doing. Thanks Eric.

Ken Coffman is the author of Steel Waters, Hartz String Theory and other mad novels available from and other online bookstores. He wrote a popular technical book called Real World FPGA Design with Verilog published by Pearson-Prentice Hall.

He is a Field Applications Engineer and Member of the Technical Staff at Fairchild Semiconductor.

He is the coauthor of six patents, a member of the standards association of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and a guitar player. He plays golf exactly the way his boss wants him to: very poorly.


~Sia McKye~ said...

I want to say, welcome, Ken!

For those of you who would like to see a review of Steel Waters you can vist Pat Bertram's Blog:

You'll have to copy and paste and I apologize for that, but Blogger was giving me fits to set it as a link.

I enjoyed your article, Ken. What a sight it would have been to see Eric and Patrick Moraz play together. Patrick is a professional who has perfected his craft. Something we need to keep in mind as writiers. :-)

Sherrie Super said...

Very inspiring and thought-provoking article, Ken. I like the way you think!

This was a great post, Sia!

aries18 said...

I love the life lesson you shared with us, Ken. Showing up is so much more than we think it is. Right now I'm in front of that blank screen and nothing comes. I've been close to giving the whole thing up and taking up knitting. But... I'll give it another try. I'll show up again tomorrow and see what happens. Thanks, Ken.

Thanks Sia for providing another inspiring guest!

Judi Fennell said...

As Churchill said, "Never, never, never give up."

The ONE way to ensure you'll never be published/make the NYT/run a marathon/whatever is by giving up.

Great article, Sia and Ken!

Jamie C. said...

I showed up. Now what?

Inspiring piece of writing, Ken.

And thanks for posting it to your blog, Sia.

Anonymous said...

Jamie, that was going to be my comment: "I showed up. Now what?" It just goes to show that showing up isn't the only criterium. You also need to show up at the right time.

I was never bold, so now I embrace boldness as a credo, though one that I don't always follow. To remind me, I plaster a Goethe quote on my profiles: "What you can do, or dream you can, begin it; boldness has genius, power and magic in it."

The entire quote is:
"Then indecision brings its own delays,
And days are lost lamenting o'er lost days.
Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute;
What you can do, or dream you can, begin it;
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it."

I like your take on life, writing, and music, Ken. It's a privilege to have met you.

Gina Robinson said...

Inspiring article and attitude, Ken. A concert promoter--wow! What an interesting life you've led.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken. I agree with the sentiment. Taking a shot at pushing to a new level is the only way a creative artist improves and you won't know the outcome unless you try. But the first step is showing up and choosing to play the game.

James Rafferty

Sheila Deeth said...

A great article. Lovely story and lovely theme. And what a fascinating life you lead Ken.

Anonymous said...
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Kat Sheridan said...

OMG, Ken, I recognize that exact scene from one of your books! And by any chance, is the name of your character "Raz" a tribute to Patrick?

Anyway, you are the man who said to me, "Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid". And they did. Over and over and in ways I never imagined. To quote one of your books again, "I didn't know how to dream big enough". Now I do, thanks in large part to your inspiration. I love your Glen Wilson character, and the wild, daring imagination in your works. I'm glad to call you friend.

And make that ten sales, more than some will ever know, and a dedicated, admiring fan base, that just keeps growing.

~Sia McKye~ said...

First off, I must apologize my guests. I appear to have a rather nasty troll that loves to come by and stirs up trouble periodically. I wasn't around much of today so I didn't notice it until now.

~Sia McKye~ said...


One of my favorite sayings is dream big, if that doesn't work, revise and bigger.

Glen is a wonderful character and one you shake your head a,t for some of his choices, but he has a good heart and you find yourself firmly on his side cheering him on.

Anonymous said...

Hey Sia!!! I really enjoy your posts, thank you so much for all that you share with us. TAke care my friend,
Julian :)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Julian, glad to hear it, :-) Seeing you stop by always brings a smile to my face!

Jill Lynn said...

Ken, as well as being a concert promoter, a patent holder, an engineer, and a novelist, I bet you've done some motivational speaking, too.

Thanks Sia and Ken.

Ken Coffman said...

Jill, I couldn't help but think of the classic Chris Farley routine. "And I live in a van by the river..."

Or Litle Miss Sunshine...


SueO said...

Inspiring article, Ken! I had never heard the quote, but it's in "the notebook" for future reference now!

Regarding the limited guitarist and the excellent pianist; they (whoever 'they' are) say the true master musician is the one that doesn't dwell on how complex or how intricate a piece of music is but instead the one who does whatever is necessary to make that music the very best it can be. The result is more important than the process (or the ego).


~Sia McKye~ said...

Sue, Ken has lots of interesting tidbits to offer, lol! Actually he is very encouraging to writers. He encourages them to stretch and try new things. You should see some of the contests he runs.

But you're right, the master musician always has the ability to compensate and make the an adequate player seem even better. It's the love of the craft, the joy of making music.

~Sia McKye~ said...

I want to thank Ken for being my guest Over Coffee and for sharing such an inspirational topic with us!

Thank you to all that stopped by to comment.

Ken Coffman said...

I second that emotion...

Other Lisa said...

Oops, I'm late to the party as usual. Ken, your sentiments remind me somewhat of a book I read a few years ago called "the War of Art" - it's a cool little volume - and his number one rule was "show up."

Vivian A said...

I was following Lisa,she's the reason I'm late. Ha! Okay...great lesson Ken. Just great. Wonderful postings Sia. Thanks for putting it all together.