MF 382 : Writing series : Cleve Mesidor ("The Clevolution")
Updated: Jun 16, 2022
Cleve is a returning guest who has taken a very different career trajectory since we last spoke on the podcast. Today, Cleve is a prominent influencer in the cryptocurrency and blockchain space and has written a new book, detailing her story. She has also recently been appointed executive director to an industry wide education movement, led by The Blockchain Foundation, a 501c-3 that focuses on educating the public at large.
Cleve’s life is filled with milestones, including a stint working in Congress and later in the Obama administration as an appointee. You can hear more about her early career on episode MF 155. Upon leaving the Obama administration in 2013, Cleve started learning about cryptocurrency through a Bitcoin project she was involved in. After getting sidetracked by several other projects, she returned to crypto in 2017, where she has been laser focused ever since.
Cleve penned a book called The Clevolution, which analyzes social impact, decentralization, and justice through blockchain and cryptocurrency. The book also encompasses a lot of Cleve’s personal story. As Cleve shares, the title came from a friend’s suggestion for a podcast that Cleve had recently launched. The branding stuck and carried over into her book, which like all of her projects centers around making an impact and changing the world one step at a time.
“The book is really about this journey; about my revolution and how it turned into an evolution.” -Cleve Mesidor
While Cleve spent many years in politics, she found that she could more easily drive change and awareness surrounding important issues in the private sector, and with projects like her book.
Cleve is originally from Haiti, having moved to the US at age 8, where she learned English and eventually became a citizen.
“I felt I had a unique voice because of some of the experiences I’ve been privileged to have and also, I felt I was conflicted.” -Cleve Mesidor
Cleve’s optimism was challenged during her time in Washington and she experienced a period of disillusionment. Cleve even started questioning her goals and aspirations. Upon deep reflection, Cleve brought herself back to her Haitian-American roots, which she credits for instilling a love and passion for freedom. Her heritage combined with her experience working in blockchain and cryptocurrency became the source material for her book.
“I am part of that story, part of that narrative and wanting to live up to the legacy.” -Cleve Mesidor
Cleve’s book is not simply a doctrinal piece on cryptocurrency and blockchain but an exploration of her history, and her personal story, including her time in Washington, DC. This was important because it helped her find a new community to grow and thrive in.
From aspiration to "birth"
With such a prolific career and background, naturally I was curious as to where the desire to write a book fit into her life. As it turns out, Cleve has wanted to write a book ever since she worked in Congress. While a staffer's life doesn't leave much room or space for extracurricular writing, Cleve shares a clever hack that has served her well: treat every written communication as if it's part of a book you’re writing. For Cleve, this meant many “drafts” of thoughts and ideas on paper and email. When you think about it, whether you decide to write a book or not, you are a writer. Most of us have some form of written communication that is part of our professional and daily lives. Use those moments to think of yourself as if you’re drafting part of a larger work. Cleve used this impromptu journaling technique during moments that emotionally impacted her. Over the years, she built up a collection of written thoughts and ideas, and began to see a common thread and theme within. This served as both a litmus test for writing a book and a way to identify the type of book she would write. Cleve describes this as a kind of “birthing” process.
“I’m analytical by nature and communication is my sweet spot.” -Cleve Mesidor
Cleve also shares that timing played a large role in writing her book. While in her mind, she wanted to write a book six years ago, it’s only with hindsight that she accepts that it wasn't the right time. As she explains, she needed to gain more experience, particularly in the crypto space, before penning her first manuscript. Moreover, by living her life to the fullest, Cleve has gained a lot more material for future books.
An untraditional process
As someone who is so busy, I wanted to take a peek into her process, particularly for this book. For Cleve, it started with chapter 1. While many authors start with an outline or map, Cleve had already documented so many thoughts and experiences over the years that the outline was already formed in her mind. Thus, it was about “birthing” the story, writing down the assembly of thoughts and anecdotes. I suspect this is why Cleve never experienced writer's block or that all too common intimidation from looking at a blank screen with a blinking cursor. By the time she sat down to pour out her thoughts, the words and ideas were bursting at the seams of her mind, ready to come out.
“I was so pregnant with the story that different chapters just started coming together.” -Cleve Mesidor
A publishing choice that embodies the themes of the book
Cleve admits her process is unconventional. Rather than see her book as a structured document, she saw it as slices of her life, starting with a period disillusionment from her time in Washington, then backtracking to her childhood in Haiti, and progressing towards her formative years in the US. She also made the bold choice to be very candid, detailing areas of her love life, including failed past relationships, which traditional editors were unsure about putting into a book about crypto. However, as Cleve shares, this candor and vulnerability was key to telling her story of reinvention, revolution, and evolution.
Not surprisingly, this is also why she decided to self-publish rather than go the traditional publishing route. As a prominent figure with an impressive resume, Cleve could have easily signed a book deal with a major publisher. But in speaking with her, it's clear that she valued the freedom to tell the story the way she needed to.
“For me, I wanted to tell this story my way.” -Cleve Mesidor
Additionally, and practically speaking, Cleve discovered that most first-time authors made up of former staffers didn’t get paid much going the traditional route. Another consideration was that traditionally published books could take months, if not years to hit the shelves. Thus, self-publishing allowed her to get the book done on her timetable and take home more of the proceeds. On a philosophical level, Cleve felt that writing a book about crypto keyed ito themes of freedom, decentralization, and bypassing traditional norms wasn’t a good fit with traditional publishing. Her process and deliberate choice to self-publish reflected the values of her as an author and as a thought leader in the subject matter.
Treat all writing as if it's part of a larger book
Cleve is one of the busiest people I know, even among the authors I’ve spoken to for this series. For anyone who thinks they can’t find the time to write a book, Cleve is proof positive that it can be done. Partly, this is due to her approach of treating every small writing, be it email or jotting down notes on paper, as part of a larger manuscript. By the time she formally decided to start the manuscript, Cleve had material for four chapters, albeit in different parts and scattered among different places (for more on the virtual “trunk,” see episode 381 with Megan Prikhodko). Second, like many of the authors I’ve spoken to, she found herself with greater time during the pandemic. This allowed her the space to “birth” the full manuscript.
“I’m a digital packrat!” -Cleve Mesidor
With respect to the past two years, it wasn’t simply about having more time at home. Cleve shares that the pandemic was a moment for all of us to reflect on what’s important, reassess priorities, and make different choices. She reminds us that tomorrow is not guaranteed. This experience is something Cleve has taken to heart and today, she continues to make writing priority, even if not for a specific manuscript or book. For those who don’t have the time, apply Cleve's hack from her days on capitol hill: treat small pockets of time as opportunities to write, even if it doesn’t make sense or is in a very rough form. Eventually, all of that effort will accumulate and you will see larger themes as you build up your work over time. For now, concentrate on building a database of ideas.
When you finally pull all of your notes and thoughts together, give yourself a hard deadline and bring in people to stay accountable to, whether it’s close friends or relatives. Share chapters with them as you make progress. This will not only give you accountability but you may discover stories you forgot about. Cleve shares this happened when one of her cousins reminded her of a story she long forgot, which ended up going in the book. Having a trusted circle can act as a resource and an accountability measure to get your work done.
"I included other people in the process so I had to get things done.” -Cleve Mesidor
Additionally, having a hard deadline gives you extra incentive to cross the finish line as you inch closer to it. This is usually when you get into a flow state, in which you'll become so engrossed with the work that you naturally stay up late or wake up early without having to force yourself to do so.
Next, as Cleve shares, don’t be afraid to be a little personal with your story, even for books on technical subjects like cryptocurrency. Remember, part of understanding any topic is connecting with how an author learned it and why. The more a reader can relate to you, the more they'll invested they'll be in the subject matter.
“We all have a story to tell.” -Cleve Mesidor
Finally, remember that being an author shouldn’t be simply about becoming rich or selling a million copies. If you decide to write a book, have another motivation beyond those since the means to write and publish a book are more accessible than before. As Cleve puts it, “just think about your community, your five people, your fifty people. Think of them.” As Cleve's story illustrates, writing a book is for two people: 1) for you to tell your story, and 2) those who are like you.
Connect with Cleve:
Watch the video of our conversation on Facebook
Listen to our prior conversation on Cleve's past career highlights
Check out the Moving Forward mini-series collection
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