Do Over

One simple way to figure out which criticism to listen to.

Criticism sticks.

Compliments slide right off our backs like water off a puffin. (Ducks have had their day.)

It’s a sticky substance, like great wads of gum that will bond you to the street if you’re not careful, preventing you from moving forward.

It would be easy to say, “Screw the haters!” or “Ignore all criticism!”

That’s the type of rhetoric that helps you build an Instagram account with motivational photos, but it’s not great advice.

Not everyone who disagrees with you is a hater. Sometimes they are just someone with a different opinion. Discourse in our country died the day we decided that if I disagree with you it means I hate you.

And not all criticism is toxic. Some of it is actually good for you. Some feedback is extremely healthy. How do you tell the difference between the poisons and the vitamins?

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The 3 ways I write.

When I write, I start by creating an “honest draft.”

That means I suspend that part of myself that is desperately thinking, “Will people like this? Will people like me? Will they be mad or happy with this sentence?” I struggle with wanting everyone on the planet to like me and that affliction can lead to weak, watered down writing. (Trying to make everyone like you is also the quickest way to hate yourself.)


Being honest, also means I have to watch out for unnecessary mic drop moments. As a writer it’s tempting to say things that are dramatic but not necessarily true. You’re not lying when you do this, you’re just performing for an audience that isn’t even there yet. That changes what you write in a negative way.

An example of that was a line I was going to put in my new book Do Over until my wife told me it was a lie. The line was, “People never forget your generosity and always remember your greed.” That one would have received a billion retweets because it has that tricky “say two things but in opposite way” hustle and flow to it.

The problem is that it’s only half true. People forget your generosity all the time. That’s the concept of taking things for granted. The second half is true though. When you’re greedy to someone, when you burn a relationship, people remember that for a long time. I took the part about generosity out and focused on the true statement about greed.

Once I have written a draft that is honest, I read it and immediately get depressed.

The words that flow out of me naturally are in the vein of Counting Crows.

I’m a pretty melancholy person at heart and what erupts at first is usually pretty grey.

But I’m hopeful, too. I have a bedrock of joy and I have to dig through the first draft to find it. I must crawl through the murky for the light at the end of the tunnel as it were.

So the second draft is the “hope draft.”

It is not sugar coated. It’s honestly hopeful, not falsely optimistic. You can say hard things and still be hopeful. I can go too far in this draft with the positivity if I am not careful. I can end up promising things that are fake, adding too many roses to a garden that does have tigers in it.

Once I’m satisfied that I’ve been honest and hopeful, I start on the “hilarious draft.”

I like to laugh. I like making other people laugh. It also differentiates me from a lot of the people in my space because they’re not funny. Humor is a strength of mine and like all strengths, I tend to ignore it if I am not careful.

When writing, I often slip into “serious author mode.” This usually involves a tweed coat with elbow patches and a pipe that harkens to a day when people still carried caramels in their pockets.

After I read the first two drafts, I usually realize they are completely devoid of humor. Movie studios hire comedians to “punch up” scripts by adding jokes to them and that is essentially what I do.

The challenge is to not get lazy with this third draft.

If I try to take shortcuts I end up adding tired jokes to my prose that have very little tread left on them. If I throw in a random mention of queso for instance, that is usually me being lazy.




That’s my writing process.

What’s yours?

Do Over

The kind of story that stops you in your tracks

In one of my first visits to Thistle Farms, a non-profit organization in Nashville, a woman in the program told our group a story.

When she was 12, her mom trafficked her to her drug dealer. She traded her for drugs and for the next two decades she was prostituted across the country.

Geranium pouringI have an 11-year-old daughter. Hearing stories like that is overwhelming.

How do you not respond when you bump into something like that?

The problem is that the issues seem so complex and impossible to solve. We’re talking about homelessness, drug addiction and prostitution. Where do you even start? Can one person even make a difference?

But then you meet Becca Stevens, the founder of Thistle Farms. Then you see a Thistle Farms product at Whole Foods that the women in the program have made with a label that says “Love Heals.” Then you hear the 12-year-old girl who is now in her 30s tell a different story. A story of hope. A story of handmade candles. A story of healing. And you realize it’s not impossible. For 18 years this organization has been giving women new stories, new jobs and new homes.

Hope like that is contagious and the first time I went to Thistle Farms, I knew we were going to do something awesome together someday.

Well, now it’s time.

On Friday, August 14th, I’m holding an event at Thistle Farms in Nashville called, “Brighter!”

I’ll be sharing about how we all get Do Over moments in life. (You may have noticed a tweet or 1,000 about how keen I am on the idea of starting over.) I’ll be talking about the time I lost my creative voice and what it took to get it back. And I’ll be challenging you to use your voice, too. I’ll also be giving you a sneak peek at a project I’ll be launching this fall.

Hope CandlesThere will be music, food and a lot of fun. Best of all, all the proceeds will go to Thistle Farms.

Space at the beautiful Thistle Stop Café is limited, so don’t wait to buy tickets.

Buy yours right here!

On Saturday, August 15, from 8AM – 12PM Jenny and I will also be making candles with the Thistle Farms team. Our goal is to finish 2,000 candles. I’m pretty sure I can do 500 an hour by myself, but I’m terrible at estimating things. It would probably be better if you were there too. If you’d like to join us there are a few volunteer spots open. Email Stacye to RSVP!

If you’ve ever been to one of my events before you know how fun they are. If you haven’t, this is the perfect one to check one out. Grab your ticket right here!

Sometimes, the world feels dark, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s not impossible to make it brighter. All it takes is a candle and a little bit of hope.


Our calendars call us on the lies we all tell.

“I’d rather binge watch Netflix than see a book I wrote on a shelf in a store.”

“I’d rather follow the plots of seven different television shows than cut the grand opening ribbon at a store I own.”

“I’d rather play Candy Crush than get in shape.”

“I’d rather stare at my phone until I get lost in a digital haze than build a relationship with the people I’m actually in the same room with.”

No one ever says horrible things like this.

No one ever makes such proclamations.

At least not with our mouths.

Most of us declare things like that with hands though.

Most of us proclaim things like that with our calendars.

Most of us shout things like that with our phones.

Most of us would cringe if we were honest for 30 seconds about the things we donate our time to.

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Do Over

Exciting news about the release of the Do Over audio book!

“When is the audio book for Do Over coming out?”

I’ve had a handful of people ask me that question at live events this spring and summer, and it always sounds a little anti-climactic when I respond because the answer isn’t, “this Tuesday!” or “in two weeks, but I can hardly wait because I had so much fun recording it!”

The answer is, “It’s already out! It came out when the book did, on April 7th.”

See, wasn’t that a little underwhelming?

But wait, how about if I let you hear what the first few minutes of the book sounds like for the first time ever? That’s exciting news, right?

Here you go, the first four minutes of Chapter One, in which I tell you about what a terrible mailman I was:

(If you’re reading this blog post in an email, you might have to click here to listen to the audio on my site.)

The clip sounds a little tinny because we had to MacGyver it to put it on this blog, but I assure you the real thing is silky smooth like Jodeci. (Keeping relevant with my modern pop culture references!)

Why should you listen to the audiobook?

1.I read it myself and it’s a lot of fun!

2. I added bonus material that’s not in the printed book.

3. It’s perfect for a long commute, work out or summer road trip.

So yeah, the exciting news is that the Do Over audio book is available today! The catch is, it has been for three months.

You can get your copy on Amazon as an Audible download or in CD format.


How to look good on the Internet.

Last Wednesday, my wife and I took our daughters to the new American Girl Doll store in Nashville.

My kids had gift cards from a friend and were eager to snatch a doll from the cold hands of the grave. That sentence took a dark turn but American Girl Doll will “archive” dolls, taking them off the market for years if not forever. My kids have decided this marketing method is akin to killing the doll. Occasionally they will say chilling sentences like this to me: “They killed Samantha but now they brought her back, so she’s like zombie Samantha.”


While we were in the store, I took a photo of my daughters and was going to post it on Instagram. I was planning to caption it with this:

“How do you balance business travel and home life? You take your kids to the American Girl Doll store at 10:45AM on a Wednesday.”

That’s a true idea. I’ve learned in the last two years that part of the key to travel is that when you’re home you need to really be home. I need to take time during the week to be present with my family. Morning daddy/daughter dates, early afternoon adventures and summer Fridays when I stop working early help offset the days I travel. It helps with parenting and it helps with marriage, too.

Right before I posted the photo, I asked myself in the middle of the mall, “Why am I really doing this?”

I wasn’t posting the photo to help other business travelers with an idea that worked for me.

I wasn’t posting the photo to share a fun family moment.

I wasn’t posting the photo so that years later I could dig back through digital archives and remember that time at the store.

I was posting that photo because I wanted strangers to think I was a good dad.

I was posting that photo because I was worried that strangers thought I traveled all the time and was a bad dad.

I might not have vocalized it, but what was really going on in my head was this:

“I bet some people think I’m never home. I post photos of my travels, but not a lot of my home life so it probably feels out of balance. If I share this photo of the American Girl Doll store, maybe people will think I’m a good dad.”

That thought in itself is ridiculous, but here’s where it gets super stupid.

I was ignoring my kids to write a caption for a photo I was sharing in order to convince people I was a good dad.

In summary, I was being a bad dad in real life in order to look like a good dad on social media.

Hitting pause before I hit publish gave me a second to realize a few things.

1. No one online has ever said I’m a bad dad.
2. Even if strangers online said I was a bad dad, who cares? They don’t really know me.
3. Sometimes I miss moments in my attempt to document them.

That third one is a bit of an epidemic right now and the reason is that a significant shift happened in social media a few years ago.

We used to use social media to document moments we experienced. Now we use it to create moments so that we can document them.

We stage our lives because the whole world is a stage.

Instead of being present to a moment with my kids, I tried to use the moment to create a message about who I was as a dad.

Don’t do that.

It’s dumb.

Post lots of photos. Share lots of updates. Have a ton of fun on social media. I love it and will continue to use it in healthy ways. I am going to wear out the Acuff family hashtag, #WickedAwesomeAcuffSummer but only when my motives are honest.

Hit pause before you publish.

Don’t perform for strangers you’ll never meet. Be present to the people you’re actually with.