044 The Profanity Princess on Finding Your Voice

Are you comfortable in your own skin? Or do you feel awkward and out of place? If the latter, then today’s episode is for you.

Whenever I talk about authenticity or finding your voice, Erika Napoletano is always my go-to person as someone who’s owned their personality with an unapologetic, straightforward flair.

Don’t let her blunt approach and love of swear words drive you away, though. She is utterly human — full of compassion, humor, and business wisdom.

But she wasn’t always that way.

Her story of getting there is one of heart break. And trust me when I say you will cry. I did.

And it’s there, with that story, that we open this episode.

In this 20-minute episode you’ll discover:

  • The important difference between change and transformation
  • 3 signs that someone will make a terrible client
  • The comedian’s secret to getting through difficult times
  • Where Erika learned how to swear
  • The single worst business sin you can commit
  • Whether she will teach beautiful children to swear
  • The historical importance of slur words

The Show Notes

The Profanity Princess on Finding Your Voice

Voiceover: This is Rainmaker.FM, the digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker Platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free 14-day trial at RainmakerPlatform.com.

Demian Farnworth: Welcome to yet another episode of Rough Draft, your daily dose of essential web writing advice. I am your host, Demian Farnworth, the Chief Content Writer for Copyblogger Media, and I thank you for sharing the next few minutes of your life with me.

Like I mentioned yesterday, this is a monumental week for Rough Draft. See, I’ve broken — for the first time — the traditional monologue mold for a bit of dialogue, dialogue between me and some of the smartest brains in web writing.

Yesterday you heard from James Chartrand and her odd story of overcoming obscurity. Today, you’ll hear from none other than The Princess of Profanity, Erika Napoletano.

Whenever I talk about authenticity or finding your voice, Erika is always my go-to person as someone who’s owned their personality with unapologetic, straightforward flair. Don’t let her blunt approach and love of swear words drive you away, though. She is utterly human, full of compassion, humor, and business wisdom, but she wasn’t always that way. Her story of getting there is one of heartbreak. Trust me, you will cry. I did.

It’s there with that story that we open this episode of Rough Draft. Okay, recording now. State your name.

Erika Napoletano: Erika Napoletano.

Demian Farnworth: Now, tell our listeners what you do.

Erika Napoletano: I get people and brands unstuck.

In 2010, I had the incredible gift of meeting this man named Jason, and out of nowhere, I slipped and fell in love with this guy who, every day, made me feel like a princess. And I’d never had somebody in my life before who was just like, “For all you are and all of your nerdiness and your geek and your whatever, you’re the woman I want to be with.” He died suddenly, on Halloween in 2010, following surgical complications from a surgery he never should have ever had to have at age 29.

After two heart attacks in two days, he departed. So that shredded my life for the next nearly two years and really screwed me up pretty bad.

Demian Farnworth: Here is why I brought that up. I’ve always admired you, and I’ve always admired your work, but that talk, that introduction, that story, changed something in me about you, how I felt toward you. Because I saw a side of Erika I’ve never seen before.
Erika Napoletano: You mean the human?

Demian Farnworth: Yes, right. Because your online persona is pretty tough. Would you agree?

Erika Napoletano: I wouldn’t necessarily classify it as ‘tough.’ I would say I’m very straightforward.

Demian Farnworth: Okay.

Erika Napoletano: I mean, some people call it ‘blunt,’ other people have called it bitchy. But there are plenty of people who confuse bluntness with bitchiness because it’s not a skill that they practice and that they’re familiar with and that they’re comfortable with, so I take that. I don’t take it as an insult at all.

Demian Farnworth: You have this segment or section on your blog up called ‘The Bitch Slap,’ and I know that you’re not abusing female dogs. Tell us a little bit about what that is.

Erika Napoletano: The Bitch Slap is a section where I take an issue that has been a challenge for me in my life or in my business to deal with. I turn that on myself, and I’m smacking myself around for going, “Seriously? You’re going to let this screw you up?” The bitch slap … when you talk about bitchslapping somebody, that’s an arresting move.

Demian Farnworth: Yes.

The Important Difference between Change and Transformation

Erika Napoletano: When I apply that arresting move to my life and my business, then it’s a transformation of behavior. I’m someone who’s not interested in change. I’m interested in transformation. Moving your sofa is change. Deciding that you shouldn’t be living in the house you’re living in because it makes you sick to go there every day and deciding to do something about it? That’s a transformation.

Demian Farnworth: Is that what you mean about getting people and organizations unstuck?

Erika Napoletano: Yeah. When people contact me, they have hit a point in their business, in their lives, in their careers, where what is going on is no longer acceptable. The way they feel is no longer acceptable. And when they reach out to me, that’s a huge step of trust. It’s also a very large effort to make to reach out for someone and go, “I am so good at what I do, but this thing? I can’t do it, and I need help with it.”

When people reach out to me that’s an incredible ask, and I don’t take that lightly, when I go through the process of getting a company or a person unstuck with the issue or issues that they’re bringing to me.

Demian Farnworth: Do you think that your persona, your nature, just who you are, that builds credibility for people? Because they know like, “Hey, she is blunt. She is to the point. She is the person who is going to get me. If there’s anybody out there who’s going to get me unstuck, it’s going to be Erika.”

Erika Napoletano: When people get to me, they know who I am and what I do. Then it’s just the conversation of, number one, I don’t have to sell myself, because it’s very plain. Number two, it’s our mutual discovery process to figure out, “Can I help you? Am I the best person to help you? And are we going to work well together?”

3 Signs That Someone Will Make a Terrible Client

Demian Farnworth: What kind of person do you turn down?

Erika Napoletano: People who take way too much time to make decisions. I also don’t work with people who want to haggle over price because the value that I offer is incomparable, and you’ve also probably been referred to me by someone who’s worked with me, which is how I get 90 percent of my business. They paid for it, why are you not willing to? The other big signal for me not to work with people, are people who are unwilling to listen to hard truths.

I have certain questions that I’ll ask on vetting calls with clients. Because I want to hear how they respond, and I also want to hear that they have a sense of humor about what we’re about to dive into. Because it’s hard, and it sucks, but the results out the other side are amazing. If you’re not willing to laugh as we go through a shitty process of figuring out what doesn’t work and how can we get it out of the way so we can get to the stuff that does, then ugh. Life is too short.

Demian Farnworth: It’d be like fighting another uphill battle, right?

Erika Napoletano: It is. It’s being a professional salmon, and that’s not my gig.

Demian Farnworth: I like that. You are my textbook example of someone who nails authenticity whenever I’m talking about that topic. Not as like, “This is what you should be, imitate,” but in the sense that you’ve owned your nature. You’re an unapologetic lover of who you are and of profanity, and it’s part of your nature. Most people can’t pull that off, because usually it comes in the context of talking like, “Authenticity — is there a line that can be crossed? ” It just depends on who you are.

I think it’s this personal thing, where I could never pull that off because it’s just not who I am. I would be a fake.

Erika Napoletano: If you have to pull it off, it’s not who you are.

Demian Farnworth: Right, that’s right. That’s good. Exactly.

Erika Napoletano: That’s a pretty good explanation of “Is it authentic or inauthentic?” Are you ‘pulling it off?’ It’s not authentic.

Demian Farnworth: Right. Great distinction. Would it be safe to say that this is or has become part of your brand?

The Single Worst Business Sin You Can Commit

Erika Napoletano: I’m the only asset that I have. I wrote a book a couple years ago, great — buy it, don’t, whatever. When people come to me, what I don’t want them to wonder is, “Why am I here, and is this going to waste my time?” I consider the biggest cardinal sin in this world to be wasting someone’s time because it’s the one thing we can’t make more of.

So if I show up on your website, and somebody said, “Oh my god, you’ve got to meet Demian.” I get there and I’m like, “What is he trying to say? I don’t … Who is … What is he … I’m hungry, I’m going to go get something to eat.” If that’s my process, then you haven’t done a good job of sharing with people who you are.

Demian Farnworth: Were you ever confused about who you are or who you were?

Erika Napoletano: Maybe a better way for me to answer that is, who I am today is not who I was seven years ago when I started my blog.

Demian Farnworth: Now, why is that?

The Comedian’s Secret to Getting through Difficult Times

Erika Napoletano: Because human beings change. We learn things. I think the biggest evolution I’ve gone through, and I know one of the things you want to talk to me about is profanity — is I used to think that everything I published had to have incredible import attached to it. I took writing in a public forum with a great amount of responsibility. I was also — seven years or eight years ago — a much angrier person than I am now.

Somebody you love dying on you shifts the hell out of that, and pretty fast. But I was a much angrier person, and if you compare a lot of my earlier writing to the work that I publish today, I would say that — or what my audience said — is the work that I publish now, whether it’s business or personal, has a lot more humanity and compassion to it. It’s still just as funny and sweary and entertaining, but it has a lot more human to it and a lot less persona.

I know that that’s a process that many writers go through, whether they’re novelists or columnists. It’s coming into your own, and it takes trying a lot of things to figure out what works. We all as artists, whatever medium you practice in, start off as imitators and mimicking because it’s what we see. We’re taught to do that in school: “Okay, we want you to write a humor essay. Okay, we want you to write this. We want you to write a haiku.”

You’re given all these tools to write, and then you figure out that, “I can write a sentence fragment and not get thwacked with a ruler?” I can do that. You can. For me, the journey of finding and continuously honing my voice has been about giving myself permission to fail and giving myself permission to not always be right and giving myself permission to share with people that I don’t have all the answers. The journey that I’ve gone through to try to figure some of these things out is pretty hilarious, and I’ve got a sense of humor about it.

Demian Farnworth: Who taught you how to swear?

Where Erika Learned How to Swear

Erika Napoletano: I don’t know. Maybe it was Richard Pryor’s stand-up. Maybe it was Eddie Murphy. These are the things that I watched when I was growing up. Sometimes there is no other word that I can think to use other than the F-word. I had a teacher in junior high that said, “Vulgarity is the feeble mind’s way of expressing itself,” and today I’m like, “Bitch, do you know how much I make using the F-bomb?”

I would call that pretty goddamn enterprising. But oh dear, how can I say this succinctly? There is the gratuitous overuse of profanity. Then there is the well-timed insertion of a profane phrase that, if it is who you are, then that brings home a point like no one else. There are people who can make that point without ever using profanity. It’s a matter of going to the mall, and that’s why there are 50 clothing stores there. All of them probably sell black pants. But are they the black pants you want to wear?

For me, profanity and that learning curve of using it — I find new ways to use profanity weekly, and it’s an adventure. I think yesterday I heard the word ‘doucheweasel,’ and I would love to see that animal. Can somebody draw that for me?

Demian Farnworth: That’s good.

Erika Napoletano: Sometimes, when you create a word like that that people haven’t seen before, they sit up, and they take attention, and they’re like, “What is that? But that’s funny, and it makes me think of something.” They pay attention, and — they don’t lean in — they lean forward, and they get to the edge of their seat, and they pay attention.

Demian Farnworth: You have no fear that you will dilute the catalogue of swear words?

Erika Napoletano: No. My god, the English language is ever-evolving. If we can add ‘Instagram’ and ‘selfie’ to the dictionary. The weird thing is that there are English speakers in general. We operate with such a limited lexicon as it is, and there’s this vast lexicon that exists beyond the words that we use every day. My challenge to myself is to go what can I learn, how can I use what I know to raise the bar?

I never consciously think about, “How can I raise the bar on how profanity is used?” but I think, “How can I have a better conversation about an issue and still be myself in that conversation?” Most of the time, profanity comes into that, because it’s glorious.

Demian Farnworth: Is it to shock? Is it to entertain? Is it all of the above?

Erika Napoletano: I don’t even think about that. I just sit down and write. I don’t know what your writing process is, Demian, but I know you’re prolific as well as a writer. When I sit down to write, it’s keyboard vomit. There’s no drafting. There’s no nothing. My readers know, and I get shit for this all the time. People are like, “How can I take her seriously when there’s typos in her work?” Because I’m a human being. Please tell me the last time you didn’t make a typo.

It’s easy for me to go in and fix. If you’re saying this 1200-word post is diminished because I used a ‘your’ instead of a ‘you’re’ when you fully know that I have a mental capacity to have a grasp of the English language … just **** you.

It’s not to shock. It’s not to entertain. It’s because the words that show up on the page are the only way that I know how to tell that story in my voice.

Whether She Will Teach Beautiful Children to Swear

Demian Farnworth: You strike me as someone who will have beautiful children.

Erika Napoletano: I’m 42. I don’t necessarily think that’s going to happen. I also went into early menopause this year. My ovaries went to Tahiti without me.

Demian Farnworth: Let’s just say you adopt hypothetically very beautiful children, okay. Do you plan on teaching them how to cuss?

Erika Napoletano: I will teach them the value of the words. I don’t want them to be afraid of words. Slurs are hugely important to have from an education standpoint. I think our current wave of children doesn’t have the proper education on what used to be slurs, why they used to be slurs, what might have been a slur but is no longer a slur, why cultural appropriation is a huge conversation in current society. Why is it okay for someone to use a word that someone else can’t?

Continue that dialogue. It falls along the realm of what somebody would consider to be profane or vulgar, and you can educate people to make a better decision about empowering themselves to choose the words that they use daily. I can walk into a room and not swear. I mean, I didn’t for the better part of this, until we got on the topic swearing.

Demian Farnworth: I was going to ask if something is wrong with you.

Erika Napoletano: I’m capable of having that kind of conversation, but when I feel profanity is necessary or when it just comes out, it comes out.

Demian Farnworth: Sure.

The Historical Importance of Slur Words

Erika Napoletano: I think that educational aspect is really missing today because I hear young people using slurs. I live in a very urban part of Chicago. I walk down the street, and I hear people using words that never have come out of mouth, and I have a pretty dirty mouth. And they aren’t even considered profanity. I’m like, “Do you know what that word means?”

Demian Farnworth: Does it shock you when they say those things?

Erika Napoletano: It does, because they have no reverence for the history behind that word. I consider myself to be an ongoing student of humanity and history. My visual porn isn’t pulling up girl-on-girl action on RedTube. It’s going on the History Channel or Netflix and watching these amazing documentaries about the world before I ever came into it. I would love to see a shift back to people appreciating and having a continued regard for what came before them.

Getting to the Point of Being Yourself

Demian Farnworth: Let’s close with this. So, like I mentioned before, you are a textbook, classic example of someone who’s being themselves naturally, very fit, very comfortable in your own skin. What would you tell somebody who’s not at that point yet needs to get to that point?

Erika Napoletano: Just swing the bat. Ball comes at you, swing the bat. Don’t be afraid to miss. For anybody who’s still trying to find their voice, the one piece of advice I’ll give you is that there is nobody in this world out there like you. It is a lot easier to wake up in the morning and be you than it is to be someone else.

Demian Farnworth: There’s clearly a difference between ranting, and then having a purpose behind a rant I guess?

Erika Napoletano: Absolutely. I’m so glad you said that, because this is what I have no time for. If you want to have a blog out there, God bless you. Now your job is to stand out. What is not going to make you stand out is being more of the noise. People don’t open their computer every morning to hear noise. What they do want to hear is, “Hey, I have a problem, and here’s how I solved it. And by the way, in between the problem I had and how I solved it, hilarity ensues.”

That’s what people want to read. If you want to build a community of ranters following you, great. Have at it. There are plenty of people out there. If you want to build a community that continuously comes back for the humanity of the ride that you’re going through on this wild amusement park called life, that’s a better choice.

Demian Farnworth: So friend, are you making the better choice of being who you are, of owning your personality, of being comfortable in your skin, all the while being a lover of humanity? Are you making the choice? I hope so, because if not, I just might send Erika over to your house to kick your teeth in.

You can follow Erika on Twitter @ErikaNapo or visit her website ErikaNapoletano.com. Also check out the show notes for Erika’s Ted Talk.

And by the way, if you are getting any value from this podcast, any value at all, do me a favor and jump over to iTunes and leave me a rating, and leave me a review. Let me know how I’m doing. I love hearing from you. It always makes me want to work harder.

Finally, in tomorrow’s show, I’ll introduce you to Stefanie Flaxman, Copyblogger’s Editor-in-Chief. Among other things, you’ll discover an easy trick to solving most of your proofreading problems. This is for anyone with limited time and limited grammar skills like me. Until then, take care.