Christine Whitmarsh: “Owning your narrative voice and using it to create content regularly, is EVERYTHING!”

By high school graduation, I had convinced myself I “should” be a nurse. Sure, I had been a writer for most of my life and that’s what my family, friends and most of our small town assumed I would become. But in my anxious teenage mind, made even more so by guidance counselors telling us […]

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By high school graduation, I had convinced myself I “should” be a nurse. Sure, I had been a writer for most of my life and that’s what my family, friends and most of our small town assumed I would become. But in my anxious teenage mind, made even more so by guidance counselors telling us to choose the thing we would be doing for the rest of our lives (really??), nursing had job security. People would always get sick. I was set for life.


Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.

How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?

In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christine Whitmarsh

Christine “Ink” Whitmarsh is a memoir expert who helps authors write life-changing books, taking them through book development, coaching, and ghostwriting services. She is also a bestselling author of five books, most recently the memoir “The Power of the Curve” has been described as an “Inspirational story about a curved journey to personal and professional success!” Christine hosts the podcast, “Your Daily Writing Habit.”


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I am the product of entrepreneur/inventors (the French fry machine you see in fast food restaurants) on my mom’s side and Boston sportswriters on my dad’s side. Naturally, I blended those backgrounds into a writing agency where I make up clever inventions to help people write books.

The pivotal moment of my childhood, smack dab amid school newspaper, marching band, and being too socially awkward for a social life, came at the age of 16. My spine began curving, as my father’s spine had and by age 19, I have a combined spinal curvature of 116 degrees. Suddenly I was facing major surgery with even odds of death, paralysis, and coming out okay. I remember looking at my orthopedic surgeon in the eye with a blissfully ignorant cockiness only a teenager can pull off and declaring, “I’ll be fine.” Even so, the moment I was rolled into the operating room on the chilly metal gurney under the blinding overhead light, was the moment my childhood ended. There would be no more blissful ignorance.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The question isn’t who is going to let me, it’s who is going to stop me.” -Ayn Rand.

Ever since Ayn Rand novels were assigned as part of our A.P. English curriculum in high school, Rand had a major impact on me as an intellectual and strong literary female role model.

As for the quote, it relates directly to me dating back to the age of 4 when I switched my family’s religion from Methodist to Lutheran (not exactly the Grand Canyon of chasms between two religions, I know). True story and my mom told me it was all in the way I worded the request, after coming home from nursery school at the local Lutheran church: “Is there any reason we can’t go to church there instead?” That was the beginning of me rarely asking for permission to do anything, jumping first, and building my wings on the way down (another favorite quote).

There are countless other examples of moments in my life and career where innate confidence made me leap first, inspiring those around me to believe that “I must know what I’m doing” and quickly step out of my way. And as I learned when converting my family to Lutheranism, sometimes it is all in the way you word the request — the assumptive close.

You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

Perseverance, Communication, and Habits.

Perseverance

I don’t see dead ends. Everything is a cul de sac in my mind. Problem solving is the quality within the quality here — my ability to find a solution no matter what, is my perseverance secret. It is my method of continuing on forward with a “no matter what” attitude.

In December of 2014, up to my eyeballs in credit card debt, with a bloated business full of expenses I could not afford, I had to let go of most of my team members, in one agonizing phone call at a time. That was the most emotional part, but the hardest part was digging myself out of the hole that was my failing business. Many entrepreneurs in my position would have said — “I had a good run (11 years at that point) but this isn’t working out” and closed the doors. Driven by my mission to help as many people as possible write their books, however, I push on, made some even more painful decisions, and ultimately found my way around the cul de sac and came back stronger and smarter than ever.

Communication

Being able to affect people with words, especially the written word, allows me to maximize the impact I make on others, especially in business. It also adds ease to all aspects of doing business. Overall, strong communication skills create a better impression. The quality within a quality here, is storytelling skills.

In 2015, I gave a speech in Hermosa Beach, California to a small audience. The speech went off the rails rapidly, from my original plan of “mostly” teaching useful things about book writing with a little bit of personal story thrown in. It was 95% personal story and 5% useful things. It was also the most successful speech I’d ever given — because of basic communication and storytelling abilities (and a lifetime practicing both). I was still receiving client referrals from that speech 2 years later.

Habits

Improvised habits equals improvised results. Habits unlock creativity, consistent results, and create freedom to put the things you need done, on autopilot, so you can focus on bigger goals and ambitions. Year ago I was only investing in the internal functions of my writing agency when I had “extra time” (one of the most deceiving entrepreneurial myths). Things like blogging, email newsletters, consistent marketing outreach, brand building, and other non-billable tasks, were not habits, they were wishes. And I had the improvised results to prove it. Once I made business development a daily habit — everything changed (in a good way). Content habits are what finally built the big brand spotlight I’d been chasing for SO many years!

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?

By high school graduation, I had convinced myself I “should” be a nurse. Sure, I had been a writer for most of my life and that’s what my family, friends and most of our small town assumed I would become. But in my anxious teenage mind, made even more so by guidance counselors telling us to choose the thing we would be doing for the rest of our lives (really??), nursing had job security. People would always get sick. I was set for life.

Also factoring into my decision, as I later realized in 20/20 hindsight, was how years of being a medical record number attached to an x-ray of a crooked spine, created an urgent need for me to take back control of my body, by exerting some control over the medical system.

Neither reason was sticky enough to hold together a nursing career for longer than my four-and-a-half-year BSN education followed by my year and half on the job as an RN. Nursing, like writing, is a career you need to love to stick with it. The science education was fascinating. Project managing 8–10 patients for 12 hours at a time appealed to my innate love of problem solving. Hearing my patients’ life stories brought joy to my storyteller self. But I did not love — or even like — being a nurse. I quit Chapter 1 of my adult career at age 24.

And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?

I reinvented myself by reincarnating the person I was in the first place — a writer. I did this via a roundabout path of being a movie and TV extra, an actress, director, screenwriter, and finally a book ghostwriter, and — voila! — reinvented. It’s just that easy.

But in all seriousness, I have learned to embrace the many curves of my life and find the power in every last one of the suckers. I have learned to see every new life event as an opportunity, a bridge to the next chapter. That’s why the phrase “second chapter” is so interesting to me. I think — which second chapter? Since quitting nursing at age 24, there have been many.

Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?

The short answer is — I was terrifically unhappy as a nurse. But then there was the night that my unhappiness became pure terror, and I knew my time was up as a nurse.

It was only a few hours into my shift, but my list of patient tasks that needed to be accomplished was already making my stomach turn. I’d only been a “new grad” nurse for a year and a half, and I still had no idea how “real” nurses juggled all this, shift after shift, without having daily panic attacks. Burning through my list, I was walking quickly down the hall to a patient room with a syringe of heart medication, patient to-do’s cluttering my mind, when something stopped me. Something made me stop in my tracks, turn around, return to the medication cart, and redo my math on the potent medicine in the syringe. My heart dropped when I saw the numbers on the page — I was off by a full decimal point! If I had emptied the syringe into that patient’s vein, it likely would have short circuited his heart, or worse. I drew up a new syringe and somehow carried on with my night but at that point there was no doubt in my mind — I needed to leave nursing. Immediately.

Unfortunately, I had no idea what I would do post-nursing. The curvy road between Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of my career story would last for four years until 2001 when I was finally paid to be a writer.

What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?

Once again, a roundabout curvy road brought me back to where I was meant to be. In 2001, making ends meet via temp office and waitressing jobs, but not yet as a writer, my mother (the daughter of my super successful businessman grandfather), suggested that I place an ad in the local university student newspapers in L.A. to type student term papers. In a moment of divine timing, the father of a UCLA student happened to see my classified ad in a copy of the paper his son brought home. Dad happened to be looking for someone to type up notes for his “future book.” A typing job became an editing job which then became my first book ghostwriting job. My Chapter 2 career was born.

That client was the first to see a talent in me that I had failed to see in myself. He believed I could solve his book writing problem and gave me the opportunity to do so. Over time, and one client job, one project, one ghostwritten book at a time, I finally got it — I am a writer and people find monetary value in that. Eventually, my lifelong talent, gift, hobby, became my lifelong career.

I overcome barriers of self-doubt by doing, by writing, by producing, by taking action. I do this over and over, even with self-doubt hovering in the background, nagging. I find that focused action quiets nagging.

How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.

The new initiative that is Chapter 2, filled with many small chapters along the way, is now about 20 years old so I would say it’s going quite well — 5 of my own books, 20 ghostwritten for clients, dozens more created with my influence, 700 episodes of a daily podcast for authors, hundreds of issues of my #WriterWednesday newsletter, and many other examples of helping authors write their books.

A recent highlight came this past summer when I finally published my own memoir, “The Power of the Curve.” Finally, after decades of working with memoir authors, I got to walk in their shoes and truly understand how powerful it is to vulnerably share your life story in the name of helping others. It is the fan mail from my fellow scoliosis warriors that bring tears to my eyes the most. There was a message from the young woman who was having a rough time, having had the same spinal surgery I did as a teenager. She said reading my book was “the highlight of her year” and gave her hope that things could improve. After nearly two decades, I finally understood the power of a memoir. I doubled down on my Chapter 2 mission in every possible way.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

So many people have influenced my journey! One constant, however, has been my mom who, no matter when, how and what new direction the new chapters of my life went in, always said without missing a beat — “you go do that, you’ll be great at it!” In addition to encouraging me to place the serendipitous typing ad she even named my company and eventual personal brand — “Christine Ink” by saying in 2003 — “You’re writing so many things for people, you’re like a company, you should call yourself Christine Inc.” I changed the “Inc” to “Ink” and Christine Ink was born!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

I get to write books for celebrities and other uber successful, uber motivated people. I was sitting across the desk from one client when she got the greenlight to star in a TV show that would eventually earn her 3 Emmy Awards and be internationally syndicated for years. During a “VIP Day” with a music industry client, I found myself, en route to the bathroom, walking down a hall past gold and platinum framed albums he had earned during his illustrious career. But those are the glamorous interesting stories — the ones you would expect from a celebrity ghostwriter.

The real interesting stories happen as I sit at my desk every day in leggings and hoodies, trying to remember to eat meals, and generally in desperate need of a shower. I get to sit listening through my headset, as my clients, normally ordinary people, share their innermost thoughts, insights, lessons, and life stories. My most interesting story happens literally on every single client phone call.

Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?

Yes, and I occasionally still do. I can’t believe this is my life sometimes. I overcome that limiting belief by remembering that I do what I do in service to others. I remember my mission to inspire and help as many people as possible write their books, tell their life stories. Limiting beliefs have extremely limited power against a sense of service and powerful, driving mission bigger than any job.

It’s always more than the job. In December I found myself in a tearful book launch video chat with my client, the author of a children’s book about death and dying that was already impacting families experiencing COVID related loss. As my client tearfully talked about the experience of being a first-time author, I teared up right with her. Turning people into authors so they can impact lives, is the greatest joy and honor of my life.

In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?

I unfortunately was neither mature nor self-aware enough to realize that having a support system would have been a wise idea. Instead, when I quit my Chapter 1 career, nursing, my “best friend” was my troubled, drug addicted, acting class boyfriend, not much of a support system at all. Within a couple of years though, I was blessed to find a real friend, a fellow creative and true support system who would end up saving my life when Hollywood threatened to send me over the edge. He also created my first company logo and instilled in me the early confidence I would need to succeed.

I am thrilled to hear that you encourage your clients to ask for support! I would not recommend going it alone — ever.

Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?

I do not think I was a nurse for long enough to consider it my comfort zone. In fact, I think writing has always been my comfort zone and nursing was a departure from it. I never felt comfortable in that world. I never fit in. I have wondered if I’ve ever lived in a comfort zone. Maybe it was my life before my scoliosis diagnosis at age 16, where I had a clear and specific plan for my adult future. Maybe that was my comfort zone. And once that plan disintegrated before my eyes, in the orthopedic surgeon’s office, I have never found myself in a comfort zone ever again.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

5 things I wish someone had told me before starting my business/brand:

#1: The strong financials are the foundation of the entire entrepreneurial house of cards. 11 years into my business, and quite inexplicably, I had an executive administrative assistant, a business coach, a bookkeeper, and a CPA yet somehow it did not occur to any of them to tell me to stop spending money because I was in a financial hole. The point of sharing this is not to lay blame, but rather to convey the lesson to my fellow business owners that it is your business, your financials and really, no matter how much you pay others to manage them, there’s not enough money in the world to make them care about the financial state of your business. Bad financials came perilously close to sinking all the positives I was building in other areas of my business. Without solid financials, the other areas of your business are nothing but mirages in the desert.

#2: Owning your narrative voice and using it to create content regularly, is EVERYTHING! Creating and communicating with your audience consistently, not in your spare time outside of client work, determines visibility and ensures the long-term survivability of your business. You might be doing “fine” now but that is a lifeline that will only last for so long before your lack of visibility catches up with you and people forget about you. Also, be prepared to be cranking out content for a good amount of time before your visibility takes hold. But when it does — wowza! It seemed like overnight that my top source of new business switched from referrals (from people who knew me), to total strangers spotting me based on the strength of my content. Making content creation a daily habit is one of the smartest decisions I’ve made in my business. Content is the battery powering my brand spotlight!

#3: Scaling, hiring a team, and rapid growth is not the only business model to choose from. One of the contributing factors to the financial sinkhole I created and had to dig myself out of, was getting too enthusiastically caught up in the “Scale, scale, this way to the millions and billions!” anthems all too common in entrepreneur land. To be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that model if your business and CEO temperament support it. I could have saved myself a lot of time, money, and frustration had I simply stopped to assess whether I even wanted to “scale my way to a 7-figure business.” The takeaway here is to deploy vigilant self-awareness of yourself and your business so you build the model that is a fit for you!

#4: If you have a rare, highly sought-after talent — charge accordingly! One of the most frequent things we hear as entrepreneurs is — “raise your rates” and “you’re not charging enough.” But how often do such messages fall on deaf ears because of all the limiting self-talk convincing us that we will lose business, people won’t be able to afford us, or we are not worth it? I know that personally, every time I have raised my rates and new customers paid them without batting an eyelash, I have said to myself — “Okay what was I worried about?” Unfortunately, and the lesson here, is that it took me far too long to realize this and start acting on it! This includes recently when, reviewing my business one Sunday night, I decided to raise my rates and I did so with very minimal mental fuss about it. I made a sale with the new rates the very next morning at 9:15 a.m. If you are hearing an entrepreneurial drumbeat over and over — it’s for good reason. Listen up.

#5: Listen to experts but at the end of the day, do not forget to trust yourself. For years I gave away so much of my power in business by believing that everyone else “must” know more about me, even in areas where I had accumulated years of experience and expertise. This imposter syndrome, that everyone knows more than me and if I state otherwise, I will be “found out” — this trusting the peanut gallery over yourself — is a dangerous form of entrepreneurial self-sabotage. The kicker is, working from the belief that others must know more than me, there were times when I referred clients to subpar or unreliable outside vendors, ultimately making me look bad. Limiting beliefs can create toxic domino effects in your business. Trust yourself — you know more than you think you do, and you are better than you think you are!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

My mission to inspire as many people as possible to write a book! To do it for themselves, therapeutically, to work out their “stuff” so they don’t get it all over others, to positively impact lives, one story at a time, to preserve and propagate the written word and language in all its beauty, and to leave a written legacy of lessons and wisdoms for future generations (so they literally don’t have to reinvent the wheels of civilization). Writing a book is infinitely more than that, I have seen it for myself. My movement would be to get as many people as possible to have this experience at least once in their lifetime.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂

Reese Witherspoon. During my Hollywood years, through a client, I met Fred Ward, a successful veteran actor who played Reese’s dad in the movie Sweet Home Alabama. During our conversation, Fred told me that I reminded him of Reese in many ways, mostly along the lines of (paraphrasing my recollection) “you’re both extremely driven, successful, passionate young women.” In addition to being a fan of her work as an actor, I also have a ton of respect for what Reese has done as an entrepreneur, a leader, an empowered woman, and as an author and avid reader, I LOVE her book club selections! I think she and I would have a fantastically interesting and thought-provoking conversation. Also, Fred struck me as a rather good judge of character, so if he thinks Reese and I would get along, I trust him.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

My website is the hub of all the things “Christine Ink” as I’m known online: https://www.christine-ink.com/

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Thank YOU!!!

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