3-2-1… Liftoff!

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January 7th, 2016

On Monday morning I got up and went to work. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years as a Team Manager and PR Rep in the world on NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing, but this particular Monday was different. It even felt different. It was the start of a new week at the start of a new year, and for me it was the start of a new career. Now, I’m a writer.

I don’t know why I expected it to be vastly different. After all, a majority of what work I’ve done over the past two decades was centered on writing, whether it was press releases, feature stories, magazine columns, or simple social media. It’s not like I’ve just wrapped up 20 years as a pipe fitter and on Monday I joined a rock band. But, it was different.

After all that time writing about other people (and publicizing other people) I sat down at this computer and realized that in 2016 I’d only be writing about myself. And, after feeling quite squeamish about publicizing myself at first, I knew I had to get over that. Writing a book is one thing (a very big thing) but getting it edited, published, and printed is another entire universe of hefty expenses, despite how far self-publishing has come in recent years. I had also consciously chosen the classic “double-whammy” of quitting my job and therefore losing my salary while also undertaking this expensive proposition. Take that, bank account!

It’s impossible to overstate how wonderful my wife Barbara is, especially in terms of this endeavor. She’s backed me, prodded me, pushed me, and motivated me to make “Bats, Balls, and Burnouts” a reality. She’s accepted the fact that I walked away from a dream job and its compensation, but like most dream jobs I was doing it for reasons other than money. Dream jobs don’t always pay that well in terms of massive amounts of dollars but they reward you richly with the experience. Still, my monthly check did go a long way in terms of pesky little details like the mortgage, insurance, and even an IRA (think ahead!).

So, to say goodbye to my friends at NHRA and Team Wilkerson, and to kiss my final paycheck goodbye, was a true turning point. At first, I had no desire to do any crowdfunding because it seemed an awful lot like asking for a handout with a cardboard sign on a cyber street corner, but just thinking of the largesse of my wife and then thinking “Okay, so I’m not making any money and now I’m going to spend a ton to print this book” made me realize that the Kickstarter campaign was the right thing to do. And that required me to get over my trepidation and to completely get over my fear of self-promotion.

The Kickstarter deal has to be promoted, and I can’t allow myself to hide in the corner and just hope other people do that for me. It’s going well, and we still have more than three weeks to go while we’re on the doorstep of being halfway to the goal, but I can’t let my foot off the gas now, and I’ll be pushing and prodding and pleading right to the finish line. I think we’ll make it. I’m an optimist who sees his glass is in the other room, but it’s two-thirds full wherever it is

So, if you’re active in social media and want to lend a hand through links and comments, you can send as many people as you want right here:

Meanwhile, I’ve now spent four entire days as a writer. It’s an interesting pursuit and I’m already feeling like I’ve been doing this my whole life. I have been doing this for much of my life, and I’ve been destined to do this since I was born. To be honest, it’s pretty fun. I’m two chapters into it, and have a mountain left to climb, but I think I’ll have the first draft of it done by midsummer, and then I’ll be on track to be holding a printed copy of it in my well-worn hands before 2016 is in the books (pun intended).

What’s going to take some additional discipline is this blog. I’m doing hours of writing every day now, but it’s important to take a day and stay focused on this. I’ve been blogging for more than 10 years and I owe it to my readers (all of you!) to keep it up. So maybe Thursday is the day, each week. I’ll write Monday through Wednesday, and I need to have what I’ve done each week into my editor’s hands (or more precisely, on his computer) every Friday, so Thursday seems like a good day to blog. And here I am.

Looking back over the last few weeks, it’s been a blur and a riot, all at the same time. First Kauai and all of that amazing fun, then we were home just a couple of nights before heading to Minnesota to spend New Year’s Eve with some of the best friends anyone could have. Plus, that’s our anniversary so it’s double the fun.

The gang's all here! What a fun party.
The gang’s all here! What a fun party.

Terry and Lynn Blake hosted this year’s bash, and it will join the lengthy pantheon of other such soirees as an epic night of friendship, laughter, celebration, and (yes) some imbibing of various beverages. That’s why we walk from Dave and Nichol Jacobsen’s house for the party, and then walk back there after midnight. Barb and I get the great joy of having the Jacobsen’s lower level at our disposal (The Jacobsen’s Bed & Breakfast) as well, and much fun is had by all. Plus, we all managed to sleep in a little late the next morning. Yay for us.

After we watch the ball drop in Time’s Square, the party really ramps up and the merriment goes to a whole new level. Yes. We dance. And laugh. and have a time as great as any party provided in our youth, because for that night we’re all young again. This get-together was just as spectacular as any, and I actually think we get better at this party thing with each passing year.

Barb’s sister Kitty came up from Florida to join us, so that just added to the fun. I wasn’t sure how she’d take our adult goofiness, but Kitty has known most of our friends for a while and she fit right in. She’s now full-fledged member of the group.

Barb and Kitty, embracing that Minnesota winter
Barb and Kitty, embracing that Minnesota winter

It was pretty cold back there, but by the time we left at the end of the weekend it was warming up enough for us to take a great walk all around Powers Lake, a gorgeous body of water (currently in the form of ice) with a paved trail all the way around it. I’m guessing it’s a two-mile walk, and we bundled up and enjoyed every step of it. Kitty gets a special sort of joy out of being in Minnesota because she’s lived in Florida for a very long time and rarely gets the chance to enjoy the brisk crispy air and the snow. We provided that just for her. Because we’re givers.

On another front, two of my former PR colleagues and I have formed the “Writer’s Accountability Team” (yes, that’s WAT as in “WAT in the world have I gotten myself into?”) and we have been sharing notes over the past couple of days. Kelly Topolinski also hung up her PR spurs at the end of last year, and she’s diving into the authoring world just like I am. She’s absolutely brilliant, and I can’t wait to read what she produces (it’s a fiction novel!). Elon Werner, who works for John Force Racing and who is roundly considered a PR icon in the racing world, has plans to follow in our tiny footsteps in the future, even if he has to do it in what little spare time he has. He is also absolutely brilliant, and some of the outlines he’s shared with me make me want to kidnap him and lock him in a room until he’s done. Again, can’t wait to see what he produces and hands to the reading world. I’m incredibly lucky to have such talented friends. They’re inspiring.

We keep each other posted on what we’re doing, and let each other know what we’re planning. And, since we attack our work days independently while we’re all doing something very similar, it’s a benefit to share ideas on how we outline and how we write. Everyone is different, but we’re all trying to get to the same place.

One big thing I’ve noticed in this process is what might be my biggest weakness. I don’t have enough patience. I want to write 395 pages RIGHT NOW, but my capacity seems to be about 2,500 to 4,000 words in any given day. I just want my fingers to go on Auto-Pilot and see the words magically appear, but they don’t do that and it doesn’t work that way. So, I’m going to have to learn when to walk away from time to time, clear my head for a bit, and take on the writing in manageable chunks. Editing and fixing typos also counts as a head-clearing thing, but it isn’t the same as a walk around the golf course or a drive in the hills. Stay focused, Wilber. Stay on task. But be patient. It will all happen in due time.

Buster, taking me for a walk…

Here in Liberty Lake, they had more snow while we were back in Minnesota and even though it’s been in the high 30s the last couple of days here, there’s still a lot of it on the ground. The boyz get cabin fever a little in the winter, because we can’t put their hut up outside or take them for walks in their stroller when there’s ice and snow everywhere, and we really can’t even open the sliding door for very long, just to give them some fresh air.

When we bought the stroller, we had been “training” Buster and Boofus to go for walks on a leash, and they were getting the hang of it in a cat sort of way. Unlike dogs, who get the whole concept of “going for a walk” and who enjoy just strolling around with their humans, the boyz really only see it as a way to escape the house, and they (in effect) see it as taking us for a walk. They lead and we follow. But where they want to go is totally based on things they want. They want grass.

We’ve taken Buster out twice this week (Boofus is not a big fan of the snow) and really all he does is make a beeline for a dried plant that’s still in a planter on the patio, and then he wants to go under the pine trees to see if there’s any green grass under there, away from the snow. Then he finds it but discovers it’s frozen into something along the lines of grass-cicles and he can’t eat it. At that point, with very little appreciation for walking through snow that’s up to his shoulders, he’s over it. We’ll all be happy when spring returns and they can go outside sans leash. Counting the days.

And finally…  This one had me speechless and I’m still shaking my head. Stunned, honored, flabbergasted, and humbled are words that come to mind.

Just wow. Humbled and honored and stunned.
Just wow. Humbled and honored and stunned.

Yesterday, the UPS guy knocked on the door and handed me a box. I noticed on the shipping label  that it was from “Mail Room – LRS, Inc” in good old Springfield, Illinois. Hmmm. I truly had no idea what was in this nondescript package. And then I opened it. And my jaw dropped open while my eyes grew big. It was the most beautiful clock I’d ever seen, with an inscription that reads “Bob Wilber – Thank You For Your Dedication to Team Wilkerson and to LRS”. Stunned. Frankly, no one has ever done anything like that for me in my entire career. Just wow.

I sent a note of huge thanks to both Dick Levi and Shannon Heisler (who heads up marketing for LRS) and Shannon said “We wanted you to have something pretty to look at while you write…”  Again, just wow.

So that’s a heck of a way to cap off my first few days as a writer. It will remain a treasured memento forever.

Back next week…  See you then.

Bob Wilber, at your service.

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