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Tell me — exactly who is “a writer”? And what makes someone “an author”? These questions continue to bob to the surface of personal and professional conversations.

By the way, I’m taking on this sometimes-touchy subject because 1) I meet far too many self-proclaimed writers/authors who aren’t writers *yet* — and could be, but don’t know that they need something more, and 2) I meet people who should call themselves writers and authors but don’t.)

Because people can call themselves anything in this digital day and age, I believe this is a critical conversation — for any field, and for every individual. Here are a few thoughts…

(Step in close, for a moment)…

Medical equipment
The Doctor, the Designer, and the 
Musician…

No, they didn’t all walk into a bar…

Seriously, in the world today, there is someone who places band-aids on owies, someone who knows and gives first aid, someone who’s an EMS specialist, and someone who’s a medical assistant.

And then there’s a Doctor (with a capital D).

There’s someone who decorates his or her own home, someone who has consulted informally with families to decorate their home, someone who works with realtors and stages homes, and someone who styles home interiors.

And then there’s an Interior Designer (with a capital I-D).

There’s someone who sings in the shower, someone who helps singers around the campfire, and someone who performs on a non-paying venue’s local stage… versus the person who has studied, performed over the years, and been paid for sharing his or her craft.

That’s the Musician (with a capital M).

happiness emotion relaxing time of asian younger woman with book and pen in summer park
The Dabbler vs. the Correctly Titled…

What makes a person truly hold the title of doctor, interior designer, or musician?

It’s in the study, the time, the practice, and the countless hours of learning under masters within the area of study — learning, growing, and performing within devotion to the craft.

Being a doctor, interior designer, or musician isn’t simply calling yourself a name or giving yourself a title. It’s about what you’ve learned before you claimed the title, what you’re learning now, and your continued devotion to the discipline.

The Doctor has devoted years of his or her life to gaining that title, with ultra-long hours in study, learning under masters, keeping the ungodly hours of residency with red-eyed devotion, and being mentored by other doctors, in order to understand, discern, and make good judgments for others’ lives.

The Interior Designer has devoted years of study with a numb bum in those hardwood university chairs, with countless hours of mock-ups, with sketches layered into those tall, flat, black-handled folders, and trial-and-error discernment of personal sketches and weak arrangements under the scrutiny of professionals. Or the designer has spent long hours, day after day poring over books and guides, then putting personal resources into the blood, sweat, and tears of building a business with daily work on the craft.

The Musician has performed regularly and been paid for it, especially those who have worked hard to gain degrees, performing under the scrutiny of professors and professionals — or those putting in long hours, year after year, on stages big and small, staying up late and getting up early to perform in paid venues.

The same is for writing. To give oneself the title of Writer or Author (with a capital W or A) comes with the ability to meet qualifications.

Man sitting at desk working from home on computerThe One Who Writes vs. the Writer…

Writing is a craft. It is a discipline. It is a career.

As a craft and area of study, there is an entire body of knowledge on “best practices” — from tired, old, beginner mistakes to vibrant, strong, practiced expertise and artistry.

You and I will often find someone who says, “I’m going to blog” or “I’m going to write a book”… with no background, no study, no understanding of the craft.

And he or she can write the blog or book. Putting words on a page is a physical act.

But until that individual has begun the study and practice of writing and authoring, to fully understand the craft and multiple layers within the skills — has he or she earned the title of writer or author?

I believe not.

And here’s why…

Pencil breaking
The True Writer and Author…

There are many levels of writing, and there are many kinds of “writers.”

There is someone who writes, and then there is a writer — a professional who has taken years, hours, and education to hone his or her craft.

There is someone who has published a book, and there is an author — again, someone who has taken the hours and education to hone his or her craft.

In coaching writers across North America and beyond, I often work with those who have written a book — but who have never read a single page from a how-to guide, never sat under a writer’s guidance at a conference or webinar, and hasn’t even tried to learn what’s below the top of the iceberg. This “writer” isn’t aware of plot and structure, internal character development, the story arc, creating a concrete or palpable setting, or dialogue. They person writing is void of the knowledge of tired tropes or typical errors… and their work shows it.

They simply don’t know what they don’t know.

One can have a physical book is in existence (because anyone can publish anything, with money and Amazon’s tools).

But is the first-timer’s nonfiction book with no chapter direction or interior chapter shape (the most common error in nonfiction writing) truly writing?

Is a novel with “floating” or “talking heads” (character conversation with little or no grounding in the setting) truly writing?

Is the YA novel with no concrete outer goal (the most foundational story structure need) truly writing?

Or does creating a middle grade novel “with  four main characters” (oops) truly give the individual the title of “writer”?

And does the picture book with formulaic, worn-out language or flat characters (typical to new writers) by the person who simply wrote the pages qualify the individual as a “writer” or “author”?

All of these people who have penned a work didn’t know what they didn’t know.

Because there has been no study, no mentorship, and little guidance, the person putting words on the page is a dabbler in the area of writing. To be a dabbler and to be a writer/author are two different things, for sure.

(Most importantly, to believe that the act of writing has made you a writer or author is like me calling myself an electrician because I fixed some outlets in my home.)

It’s critical to know, give, and honestly live the qualifications of our titles.

I truly do want you to be the writer-author. And I support you fully — as you do what true writers and authors do.

What a wonderful  beginningThe Valid Beginning…

Yes, you can call yourself a beginning writer and a new author — but to do so, you’ve met some criteria.

You can be a doctor who’s a resident, at the beginning of your professional career — and you’re still a doctor. You can be an interior designer who is at the start of a business of daily flipping homes (a la Joanna Gaines)…and you’re truly an interior designer. You can be a musician without a contract and record label, spending nights after your day job in local and regional venues…and you’re still a musician.

Because of the devotion to the craft combined with a level of competence that was gained through an accreditation and acknowledgment within the particular field of study, you’ve earned the title.

You’re simply at the start of your career.

“Beginning writers” and “beginning authors” have taken the initial steps to find out more about the discipline and skills of writing. Through intentional study and mentorship, they continue to reach for levels of competence — earning the title through time studying the craft and the field of writing.

I see and applaud these new writers and authors every day. 

  • You’ve come under the tutelage of professionals.
  • You are members of professional groups like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), the Authors Guild (AG), and the Romance Writers of America (RWA) — and you attend meetings, go to conferences, and attend online webinars to hone your craft.
  • You know what you don’t know, and you’re honest about it as you’re making moves forward in the academic discipline — with the guidance and mentorship of those who are professionals — as you learn and use best practices.

In fact, these true writers and authors are reluctant to call themselves by the title writer and author because they’re aware of and sensitive to their ignorance in the filed. That sensitivity and awarenesses — as you get coaching sessions, go to professional writer meetings, and watch webinars online — is part of what makes you truly a writer and author.

You are writers. You are authors.

Push pin on Truth  textTruth Telling…

If we met someone who called him or herself a doctor but didn’t go to (or finish) medical school, we’d call that person out. (We’d use a name that’s not flattering… something to do with feathers, a bill, and webbed feet.)

In fact, if we meet most anyone calling him or herself a specific career name without qualifications, we’re inclined call that person out, too.

Why? Because honesty is critical to competence, trust, and authenticity.

Though I’ve cared for medically fragile children, I would never purport to call myself a doctor — because caring for a child’s medical needs does not equal, I am a doctor. And though I’ve helped people decorate their homes, I would never call myself an interior designer — because helping decorate does not equal, I am an interior designer.

Be the writer and author who has earned the title. And if you have other skill areas, too — then tout your titles from your education, years of study, and years of practice that make you so good at what you do. 

Business woman with awardTrue writer, you’ve earned that title. 

Truth telling is something near to my heart. If we all took more time seeking the truth — asking questions, honestly listening without judgment, and finding out the true nature of circumstances and situations — then relationships would be healthy. Interactions would be positive. So much of our lives would be authentic and  honorable.

Truth telling about who we are is part of that. We all have skills and abilities. Let’s honor each and every one of our skills, abilities, and true accomplishments by honoring our hard-earned titles.

If you’re a true writer working on your craft right now, then call yourself writer. You’ve earned it.

And if you’re contemplating becoming a writer and author — by all means do so. Through study, mentoring, and learning… through reading, trying, and doing… through a commitment to find out what’s under the water by that little tip of an iceberg that’s poking out above the ripples… You’ll most likely be surprised and delighted at the tomes of how-to knowledge on how to really write that book with pizzazz and pride. 

Actively seek to know and better the craft of writing (and authoring) in an ongoing commitment to the field.
I applaud you. I am with you. And I am here for you.

Cheers,
Erin

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Erin M. Brown, MA, MFA, (aka EB Conroy/Erin Brown Conroy) is the author of 10 books, has been a university professor of writing and leadership at three universities, has been a professional content writer for over 25 years, has designed multiple online writing programs (including as the lead curriculum developer for writing at a major university), and is a professional writing coach for fiction and nonfiction writers across the world. A member of AG, SFWA, RWA, and SCBWI, she speaks at conferences, online webinars, and more — helping writers become confident and skilled in their craft, to produce great books and content they’re proud of.

My headline isn’t truthful. There are no secrets.

But there’s something better. Wisdom — those golden nuggets and tried-and-true practices for productivity — comes from the names we know, the authors we’re familiar with, and the historical personalities we admire.

Those who’ve gone before us, who’ve changed the world. Those who have left a path that, quite frankly, gets us there.

When it comes to productivity — the art of getting things done
action happens when you and I do these 10 well-known things:

1. Get up early.

“Early to bed and early to rise,
makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
— Benjamin Franklin

I know all about staying up late at night to watch one more episode, then hitting snooze in the morning. (Don’t we all do it?)

The truth is simple: Getting up is about simply sitting up, swinging our legs over the side of the bed, and moving. Boatloads of studies show how productivity rises when we rise early.

We say that it’s hard, but it’s really not. Decide, turn on the alarm, and do it.

2. Schedule it.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.”
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

I love this quote. Whether in a private coaching session or speaking at a conference, my number one recommendation for productivity to those who want to write a book is this: Use a calendar, and schedule the time to write. Then keep the schedule.

Want to finish your project? Learn something new? Have a better relationship with someone?

Schedule the time.

You and I control our calendars. Be your number one client. Put it in the calendar, and do it.

3. Break it down into small pieces.

Great acts are made up of small deeds.
— Lao Tzu

Breaking tasks down into manageable pieces, or segmenting, is a productivity “trick” in education. When it comes to work productivity, segmenting works, too.

Too much can be overwhelming. With too much in front of us, we freeze, push away the task, and avoid it.

Break the task down into visual and physical pieces that are small, segmented in like-content, and separate.

Tackle one piece at a time.

4. Work in a rhythm of intensity and rest.

“Step with care and great tact, and remember that
Life’s a Great Balancing Act.”
— Dr. Seuss

Productivity isn’t just about working like a dog.

For all of us, there comes a point when we’re tired and productivity goes down. And in order to actually do more, we need breaks.

In fact, research shows that when we know a break is coming, we push through “that little bit more” and get more accomplished. Research also shows that breaks of fresh air, movement, food, and water get our brains working smarter and harder.

So, hands down, taking a break can be a good idea.

We all know that high productivity has been linked to what’s called flow. From Mozart to Quincy Jones, musicians talk about flow — the state where you’re creating at your peak. How do we find our peak state of flow?

Work hard. Then take a break. Then work hard again. Be aware of the rhythm, find your flow, and use it to your advantage.

5. Prioritize and stay on track.

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule,
but to schedule your priorities.”
– Stephen Covey

We know the saying: We all have the same 24 hours.

If we’re not getting it done, the hard truth is that it’s becauase it’s not a priority (whatever it is). Productivity is about decisions and actions. We decide. We act. No one else.

We’re accountable.

Abraham Lincoln has a tip on prioritizing: “Leave nothing for tomorrow which can be done today.” I like to call this the just one more thing practice. Before I finish, I do just one more thing. Like a bodybuilder getting in one more rep, it’s the push that gets you farther.

Lincoln also said, “It is best not to swap horses when crossing the river.” When in the middle of something, don’t change. Stay with it. (Don’t begin another project and spread yourself thin.)

Staying on track increases productivity.

6. Get inspired.

“Keep your eyes on the stars
and your feet on the ground.”
— Theodore Roosevelt

Inspiration is the avalanche of a fresh idea — buoyed with the feeling that nothing can stop us. It’s the state where amazing ideas pop in our minds and the stars feel close. Inspiration feels like the rope of hope has been flung around the future — bringing it close, where we’re holding every possibilty tight, with a smile on our face.

We are all people of heart. Inspiration and hope is at the heart of what it means to be human. And because of that, with inspiration, we move faster, go farther, and become more productive.

The root of inspiration is imagination — that ability to envision something as real as if you were holding it in the palm of your hand. Pablo Picasso said, “Everything you can imagine is real.”

When we take time to imagine, envision, and be inspired, we work with enthusiasm and a lightness in our entire being. It’s no wonder that when we get inspired, we are more productive.

Do you have regular “inspiration time” in your schedule? This might be a good time to start.

7. Have fun.

“Pleasure in the job
puts perfection in the work.”
— Aristotle

Fun is in the heart of the beholder.
(We decide if we’re having fun or not.)

And productivity is whole-lot easier when we’re having fun.

Ghandi said, “Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny.”

Our thoughts drive our feelings. (Check out the idea of self talk.) So we’re in charge of whether or not we’re having fun.

Why not be more productive (and, as Aristotle put it, gain “perfection”) by changing our thoughts, changing our minds, and having fun?

8. Have like-minded partners in crime.

“Friendship is born at that moment
when one person says to another,
‘What! You Too? I thought I was the only one.’”
— C.S. Lewis

Having like-minded partners in crime has two parts…

The first like-minded parners are those working with us — our community and friends who share our dreams and passions. Get with them. Side by side. Work craft together. Call or text each other. Share the challenges and triumphs.

Because working with like-minded people increases productivity.

The second like-minded parners are the masters who have gone before us. If you’re a painter, think of VanGogh, Monet, Ruben, daVinci, Rembrandt, Hopper, Cassat — these are your people. If you’re an architect, then Gaudi, Wright, Pei, and Bohm are your people. Whatever your experise, you have mentors, compatriots, and compeers who are your mates across the time and space of history.

Be familiar with their work. Copy their practices — not exactly, as in plagiarism, but as apprentices learning from mastery.

Matthew Kelly, author of The Rhythm of Life, said, “We all need people in our lives who raise our standards, remind us of our essential purpose, and challenge us to become the best version of ourselves.”

And being the best versions of ourselves includes productivity.

9. Know the true problem.

“The problem is not the problem.
The problem is your attitude about the problem.”
— Captain Jack Sparrow (screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio)

Okay, some would argue that Jack Sparrow isn’t a historical figure. (I beg to differ.)

Attitude is everything. Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” Our thoughts and attitudes influence and drive who we are at the deepest levels. Deciding to do a thing — really making the decision, intellectually and emotionally — influences whether or not it will be accomplished.

Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” If you tend to think something’s impossible, congratulations — you’re human.

But don’t let the impossibility thoughts influence your productivity. Put your nose down, and do.

10. Just do it.

“All growth depends upon activity.
There is no development
physically or intellectually
without effort, and effort means work.”
– Calvin Coolidge

Yep. Nike has it right. Just do it. And science backs up the slogan, because starting has a huge impact on whether or not we finish.

The Zeigarnik Effect is psychological construct that says that it’s human nature to finish what we start. If we don’t finish, we experience dissonance. No one likes dissonance. So we work to get rid of it.

To feel good, we’ll finish the job. We’ll produce more. So for nearly all humans, simply starting something increases productivity.

Whether we chant Nike’s creed or Julias Caesar’s “I came, I saw, I conquered,” the message is the same:

Start. Simply act. Stop saying “can’t” and do.

Be productive.

Cheers,
Erin
coffee 10-20-18 Erin M. Brown, MA, MFA (author Erin Brown Conroy/EB Conroy), is a professional writer/author/editor with an MFA in Creative Writing, Genre Fiction, and over 20 years as a professional creating, coaching, and speaking nationally and internationally. She’s the author of nine books; thousands of articles, marketing content and pages, and web pieces; multiple courses and curricula on writing, reading, leadership, and communication; and over 50 online courses (including how-to writing courses) created and used across the world. A former university professor of writing, research, leadership and management, and interpersonal communication, she’s currently the lead creative and technical content writer for a worldwide company all about entrepreneurial tools that help small companies thrive. Erin lives in and writes from Michigan, USA.

 

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The following article was originally written for a how-to-write website in India (March 2016). Here’s a new, updated version for you — today.


Dear Writer: Do This!

 

Neil Gaiman wisely once said, to write, one must sit down at the keyboard and “put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy and that hard.”

Another wise one—Master Yoda—once said, “Do or do not; there is no try.”

Neil and Yoda have the same idea: writers must simply sit and write. But there is more to writing than meets the chair.
chair

Readers are demanding. If you and I don’t produce in the first lines, the reader moves on. If we don’t produce in the middle, the reader leaves in a huff. If we don’t produce at the end, the reader complains and lets everyone know: That was disappointing. Don’t read it.

One must not simply sit and write (the easy part). One must also create exactly what readers want and need (the hard part). It’s that simple… and that abrupt.

As a reader, I want you to do five things for me:
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  1. Help me follow your ideas.

    In both non-fiction and fiction writing, good ideas flow linearly. Readers want to travel a reasonable, plausible, rational path with a beginning, middle, and end.

Practical Writing Hint: At the very beginning, when imagining what in the world to write, bullet point ideas (brainstorm in a list). Next, place the ideas in 1-2-3 order. Then, and only then (with a clear path before you), write. And don’t stray. Stick to the path. Readers want you on the path.

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  1. Move me forward.

    Just like music, good writing has a physical sound and pace. First, single words hook up together to carry the clicking drive of consonance and the mellow, singing sounds of assonance. The sounds of language create rollicking puppy-dog leaps and bounds or hushed, swaying, lulling boats to carry our ideas. Second, sentence length adds to—or takes away from—movement. Short is strong. Long carries the reader along for the ride and doesn’t let her sit and mull. (Read the sentences above again.) And finally, where we place our punctuation—whether in full-stop periods or a series of catchy, clickety-clack commas—completely changes the writing’s pace and feel, too.

Practical Writing Hint: Read your work aloud. Listen to the sounds. Change words that don’t sound right. Change up sentence lengths, using both short and long sentences. If a word sounds awkward, change it. If it feels like something is missing, fill in the gaps. Rewrite.

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  1. Engage me.

    Engaging the reader means we must touch the reader’s mind and emotions. The mind loves to find answers, and writing with breadcrumb ideas—unfolding information little by little—keeps the mind happy. (Curiosity not only killed the cat, it kept the reader reading.) Emotion pleases, allures, rivets, or horrifies. Emotional engagement can incite terror or pleasure, feed rage or inspire contentment. You and I are drawn to emotional engagement.

    Similarly, the emotions in our words must also move us. Nonfiction moves us to act; a story moves us to feel (and often act, too). Well-written words shift us, drive us, and pull us forward.

Practical Writing Hint: Even in nonfiction, tell me a step-by-step story that I can relate to. Leave the reader with a poignant idea. And always give the reader with an action to do. In fiction, after a period of character action, give the hero a time to reflect—so that the reader can reflect and feel the emotion, too.

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  1. Show me something powerful.

    Even in academic settings, a writer’s goal is to unleash the power of words. Powerful writing takes the breath from our lips, makes our heart race, and creates desire. The power of writing lies in our ability to choose single words as well as smoothing and stacking words into phrases that elicit powerful feelings.

Practical Writing Hint: Use the right-click thesaurus or Thesaurus.com to find more powerful, specific words to elicit feelings. Match ideas to word pictures: create an analogy carrying deeper power than simply stating the original idea.

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  1. Make it clear.

    Clear writing gives complete understanding. The footsteps of a writer’s thoughts and intentions must be followed completely, or our reader looses the way.

    What is most critical to know? Write it. What is the point? Get there quicker. I tell university students and professional writers the same mantra: the delete key is my friend. Clarity reigns supreme.

    Practical Writing Hint: Make your point in the least number of words to carry the strong idea, forward movement, engagement, and power.

     

Yes, to write is to sit there on the chair.

But American novelist Philip Roth rightly said that to write is to “turn sentences around…and turn it around again.” When we write again, and again, and again, the art and skill of writing pours itself over our shoulders as an enchanting perfume, attracting and captivating readers.
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Writing is about sculpting, re-working, and turning.
And it’s in the turning that we become better writers.

  • Cheers!
    Erin

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    Erin M. Brown (author Erin Brown Conroy/EB Conroy), is a professional writer/author/editor with a terminal degree in Creative Writing (MFA) and over 20 years as a professional writer. She’s the author of nine books; thousands of articles, marketing, and web pieces; multiple courses and curricula on writing, reading, leadership, and communication; and over 50 online courses created and used across the world. A former university professor of writing, research, leadership and management, and interpersonal communications, Erin writes, coaches, and speaks internationally.

Sometimes a concept is so basic,
so fundamental, so key,
that it escapes us.

One of those concepts is “truth.”

(Warning: Philosophical ideas ahead.)
(Note: The application is awesome.)

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Not all that we hear is true.

Unfortunately, the human race has a history of bending the past, shading the present, and predicting negative for the future — all in order to match out-of-truth personal beliefs. Think about it.

We engage in quite a few mental gymnastics, in order to make ourselves look and feel good. We grab an idea that flies by. We jump to conclusions. And we, quite honestly, take on a boatload of ideas without thinking much about them. (Notice the “we” verbiage, as in you, me, and all of the human race.)

We decide, “This must be true,” and so it is.

(It’s the ol’, “Oh, yes — I believe it!” followed by the subconscious, “So now I’ll go out and find the ‘facts’ to support my belief.” Hm.)

bias

Bias is real.

The truth is, 

  • We underestimate our biases.
  • We underestimate the fact that our history taints our present.
  • We underestimate the power of how set beliefs influence our thinking.
Unrecognizable businessman with luggage waiting at the airport

The truth is,

  • Each of us carries the blessing and baggage of perception (negative and positive).
  • Each of us is (most of the time) unaware that we’re filtering, making decisions, and speaking to others a “truth” held tightly in our perception.
  • Now we act. Wrongly. Because we’re responding to a false belief.

False beliefs >> lead to >>
Misperceptions >> lead to >>
Spoken ideas and physical actions that are not true.

Hang with me here. Because it’s important to note…

Spoken false beliefs >> lead to >>
Mistruths >> can (and most likely will) lead to >>
Hurting others, by omission or by action.

We need to be people of discernment.
Not suspicious. Just wise.
Because…

Facts/info/truth >> leads to >>
Clearer perceptions >> leads to >>
Closer-to-reality beliefs… words… and actions.

And that’s positive.
It leads to understanding.

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Even if Truth exposes a negative, it’s okay. We now understand and can respond well to it.

It takes a thoughtful mind and open heart to discern the truth of what we hear: who those we meet really are, what they’re really like, and how they’re really interacting in the world, near and far.

neagives

It behooves all of us
to not have
hook-line-and-sinker
thinking.

 

To measure what we hear.
To weigh out.
To think clearly.
To discern.

To understand that the person speaking is filtering the information through tainted thoughts, experiences, miscalculations, off-base ideas, defensiveness, projection, misunderstanding, and even fear  — and that history isn’t always perceived in truth.

(The truth will set us free. John 8:32, The Bible)

Here’s the positive:
application
  • As a leader, when we keep in mind “baggage” and “bias,” we interact more wisely with those we lead, especially in crisis or challenge.
  • As a business owner, when we keep in mind “miscalculation,” we gather more information and measure our direction before we take off with an unfortunate goose-chase program or product.
  • As a communicator, when we keep in mind “misunderstanding” and “defensiveness,” we listen and respond differently.
  • As a fiction writer, when we understand “history” and “fear,” we write rich characters with goals, motivations, and conflict making story believable, memorable, and powerful for the reader.
  • As a nonfiction writer, when we understand “past negative experience,” we write spot-on, targeted information that moves people to action.

Let’s be individuals who understand bias, listen openly, and seek Truth.

Because Truth is oh-so healthy.
Truth builds.
Truth moves forward.
(Truth wins.)

  • Cheers!
    Erin
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Erin M. Brown, MA/MFA (aka author Erin Brown Conroy/EB Conroy), is a professional writer/author/editor with a terminal degree in writing and over 20 years of experience, including as the author of eight books; thousands of articles and professional materials; marketing and web writing; multiple curricula on writing, reading, leadership, and communication; and over 50 online courses created and used across the world. A former professor of writing, research, leadership and management, and interpersonal communications at two different universities, Erin writes, coaches, and speaks internationally.

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If your inbox and Internet pages are like mine,
they’re flooded with messages from self-proclaimed experts.

Woman in computer room with many cups of empty coffee around her
A self-proclaimed expert (SPE)
 is…

  • a speaker on a topic for which he or she has little or no education or experience
  • a self-published author of a book for which he or she has little or no education or experience
  • a coach with little or no education or experience on the topic
  • a fill-in-the-blank/you-name-it person — again, with little or no education or experience on the topic

In other words, you can call yourself anything.
And people will believe you.

Young pensive business man in eyeglasses sitting on a chair

Granted, there are “degrees of knowledge.” Someone who has been there done that to any degree before you does have something to share… perhaps in a conversation, over coffee. But to stand and speak before a crowd, charge money, and publicize “professional services”…

Um. No. And ugh. And sigh.

(Most early-on-ers, myself included, thought we knew what we knew, but we didn’t really know… you know? It’s the downfall of many — if not all — SPEs.)

I know true professionals and experts, don’t you? 
True experts worked hard to get where they stand. They didn’t (intentionally or mistakenly) buff up reality and create a belief system proclaiming expertise. They did the work to get where they are.

architect on construction site

They’ve put in the down-and-dirty hours of brain-building, learning wisdom from those who’ve successfully gone before and practiced that knowledge within guided education, eventually earning certificates and degrees to show their commitment to their skills and craft. (It’s true, you don’t have to have a degree — but education is condensed experience and, by its nature, takes a person towards wisdom and skill.)

True experts have spent hours and hours in the trenches of doing the work in multiple jobs, communicating with numerous people in all kinds of levels of challenge. They’ve encountered so many experiences on the job that they can spot the issues, fix the problems, and give hard-core, powerful answers that make a difference. And this work isn’t solo; it’s through professionally interacting with many others, being accountable for your work quality and personal, professional growth — to someone else (many others) besides one’s self.

These are the true experts.

These are the people I want to reach out to, engage with, and learn from. These people, I’ll spend money on. I’ll spend time with those who invested and already made the mistakes. I’ll look to their failures and successes as a pattern for my own learning, growing, and becoming.
Pretty cheerful young woman drinking coffee.

This is the age of self-proclaim. You can self-publish a blog and a book, create social media accounts that look and feel professional, and hire a marketer. So much is said online, with people nodding heads and believing words that have no base in reality, little significance to help to those who need it, and off-kilter advice that takes dreamers and doers down meandering, even wrong, paths — away from healthy results and learned-it, earned-it satisfaction.

We’re truly being pushed and tossed by a flood of incompetence. And in that flood, the SPEs wave arms and reel in unsuspecting clients — when they should be taking their time to grow expertise, through education and experience: coming alongside the true experts to be mentored, sitting at their feet (as it were), soaking in their understandings. Putting in the hours learning. Earning the title, earning the trust. And becoming, so that at the right time, they can wear the badge, with honor and truth.

Good newsThe good news is this: Like the single boy with his finger in the dam, it only takes one true expert to block the flood and build solid competence in our personal and professional lives.

Let’s go for the experts.

*Thup
coffeeJune10-17
Erin M. Brown, MA/MFA (aka author Erin Brown Conroy/EB Conroy), is a professional writer/author/editor with a terminal degree in writing and over 20 years of experience, including as the author of eight books; thousands of articles and professional materials; marketing and web writing; multiple curricula on writing, reading, leadership, and communication; and over 50 online courses created and used across the world. A former professor of writing, research, leadership and management, and interpersonal communications at two different universities, Erin writes, coaches, and speaks internationally.

As an author, I’m obsessed with narrative. And maybe, just maybe, you could benefit from being obsessed with narrative, too.

Not because of the thrills of story writing– but because understanding narrative and its influence on you (and me) will make life easier, happier, and all around better.

 Honestly.

open book of family story

 A narrative is simply a story. People love story, and story is infused within all of life, externally and internally.

We live and breathe narratives.

Check it out:

  • Your day has a beginning, middle, and end. Like a story.
  • Your meals have a beginning (getting ready), middle (enjoying or not enjoying the food), and end (cleanup). Meals exist in a storyline.
  • Your work has places to go, things to do, people to meet. As in a storyline.
  • Your personal perspective makes you the hero. Your friends are the supporting characters. Those milling on the street or sitting next to you in the coffee shop are extras.

Narratives are cool. Storylines are exciting. They make us think, feel, and (ultimately), consider our own lives.

We translate and make sense of our lives through storyline.

WonderWoman
Watching the latest Marvel or DC blockbuster, we vicariously live the story, translating the hero’s feelings to ourselves, subconsciously asking, how would I respond?

Couple in a Serious Conversation

Listening and nodding when a friend recounts her day, we translate the feelings through our histories, subconsciously asking, what does this mean to me?

Personal narratives—what we tell ourselves about our experience—help us logically unfold what’s happening around us, decipher the challenges, and construe meaning from circumstances.

But the truth is, the internal story gets us into trouble.
Let me say that again.

The internal stories we tell ourselves get us into trouble.

Here’s why:

 Rubbing temples

You and I interpret the narrative wrongly, creating false stories. We don’t fully understand what’s going on, miss what someone means, and misconstrue the meaning of entire situations. For whatever reason, we fail to check for details, fail to check for understanding, and don’t have the perspective that will create positive meaning.

We jump to conclusions. Oy.
And the conclusions we tell ourselves can be quite off.

In fact—because we can only interpret the narrative from our “hero” point of view—our internal narrative, unless checked, is always skewed. Always. It’s skewed toward our biases. Skewed away from our prejudices. Twisted ever-so-slightly by our preconceived notions. Pushed back by our lack of knowledge or lack of experience with a topic or situation. Nudged away by our assumptions, bumped away by our history whispering its influence, and thrown away by our hurts.

false-rubber-stamp-print-vector-illustration_MyhjxG_u_L

We create false narratives: gap-filling parts of the story that are our own creations. They aren’t Truth. But we believe them as Truth. (As a human race, jumping to conclusions is our forte.)

And now the trouble begins. 

depressed business man
We act on the false narratives.
What we’ve said so many times in our heads becomes our Plastic Truth.  Over time, these fake parts of the story—the pieces that we’ve made up—actually cement into the gaps between Truth.

They feel real. We treat them as real. We call them real. And we don’t check for any other reality (true reality, not our created reality) because we’ve closed that door—it’s a done deal. We’ve turned the page and moved on to a new part of the story.

But we don’t see it. To our story-seeking minds, it doesn’t matter that the story parts are made up. Not at all. Our story-seeking, narrative-loving selves can’t be bothered with Truth.

blindfold

We believe the lies. And lies are destructive.

They just are.

3D man with red check mark

False narratives create negative thinking patterns, interrupt positive momentum, and destroy relationships. Yes, it’s that bad.

False narratives become a crutch. We tell ourselves internal stories to avoid facing mistakes. We create stories about others to pass the blame for our errors and to avoid the responsibility of changing. It’s oh-so-much easier to create a story where someone else is to blame than to confront tough things of life.

But the destruction of false narratives doesn’t stop there.

Teenager Fishing

False narratives grow. They simply don’t stay the same size. They expand, becoming the fish story of the one that got away, bigger and bigger, until Truth isn’t recognizable.

habits
False narratives become habits.
Filling in those gaps with story is, again, so much easier than engaging in conversation, seeking Truth, and dropping bias, prejudice, presumption, and preconceived notion. We slide toward what’s easy, and it’s a slippery slope.

Life doesn’t operate well when immersed in false narratives. Plans deteriorate. Projects fail. Relationships are lost, for the false stories we’ve crafted and rehearsed to ourselves and others. And for those reasons, Truth is our friend; false narratives are our worse enemy.

What’s the answer to fighting false narratives?

light bulb

Truth seeking. Opening minds to possibilities. Conversations. Admitting that we’ve fallen into authoring a filled-in narrative of our own making. Dropping anger. Admitting you may be approaching the situation without all of the information. Believing another story.

It takes a big person to seek true narratives. Big thoughts. A big amount of energy. And an even bigger amount of humility, openness, and kindness.

To “get it done” and make an impact, to be healthy in our work and play, and to be creating relationships instead of destroying them, true narratives are a must-have.

Here’s to being big.

  • Cheers!
    Erin

coffeeFeb5-14

Erin M. Brown, MA/MFA (aka author Erin Brown Conroy/EB Conroy), is a professional writer/author/editor with over 20 years of experience, including eight books; hundreds of articles and professional materials; marketing and web writing; multiple curricula on writing, reading, leadership, and communication; and over 50 online courses created and used across the world. A  former professor of writing, research, leadership and management, and interpersonal communication at two different universities, Erin writes and speaks internationally.

This is short. Fast. Easy to read.
And it’s important.
(Because if you want people to read what you wrote,
what’s here can help.)

Fact:
Whether it’s a web page, blog post, or article,
most people won’t read what you write.  

Seriously. Think about it.

Your long Facebook post.
Your blog page.
Your article.
Your web pages.

Web pages?
Yep. Most visitors read only 20% of your web page.

alseep at computer.jpg
“What?! 
All that time, energy, and money that I put into my site…and you’re telling me people are snoozing at the keys?” They’re doing more than that. They’re not even starting to read your words.

Truth. 

Bored at computer.jpgJust like this guy, people are bored, overworked, and bombarded by messages.

They want something meaningful — and they want it fast.

NOTE: If a person does share your words, most will share without reading them. People skim, smile/gasp/react, and share. Trust me. It’s true.

Even for fancy-schmancy academic stuff.
Only half of academic papers are read by someone
other than the author him/herself.

So. Here we are. And the question screams:
“What do I do, to make someone read my stuff?”

Happy businesswomen working late at night with office computer

Here are 4 simple ways to get people to read your page.
beach.jpg

  1. Get rid of visual noise.
    If pages had sound, most of our pages would be unbearably noisy.Like the beach picture here — with a strong focus and no distractions — make your words focus.* Bold, too-large, and all-cap letters yell at the reader.
    * Long paragraphs are hands waving in our faces to stop before starting.
    * Long lines, long phrases, long ideas are as background noise in a coffee shop:
    Soothing, perhaps, but not meaningful…and certainly not memorable.Think visual clarity.

    DO THIS:
    * Give yourself white space.
    * Make form clear and singular.
    * Write text narrow and simple.
    * Use bullet points, indents, and visual shape for clarity.

    boxing gloves.jpg

  2. Write short. Punchy. Powerful.
    Write fewer words: less is more.
    Choose words carefully; take time creating text.Get to the point faster.Enough said.

    white-men-holding-sign-one_zkgldv5O.jpg

  3. Stick to one point. Just one.
    Think benefit-action.What is the benefit your reader came for?
    Make sure it’s on the page first.

    Answer the reader’s nagging question, Should I stay?
    with, Yes. Here’s a benefit. Let me tell you about it. And
    now here’s what to do with it.

    googlemagnifyingglass.jpg

  4. Use competitive intelligence.Notice which pages you read and why you keep reading. Pattern your pages after successful existing pages.Big name companies, such as this one and this one, usually have concise, powerful pages. News sites like this one and this one show great headline writing. No need to reinvent the wheel. Pattern.

    * Note the lack of text on major company home pages.
    Note the easy click-through text directions.
    On secondary click-through pages, note the short, powerful text.

    Use the pros as guides.

    On this page — what you’re reading right now — what’s the point?
    Change the way you’re writing, and you’ll
    get more readers.

    It’s the way things are. Don’t fight it.
    More people will read your work, take action, and engage.

    * Cheers!
    Erin
    coffee.jpg

    Erin M. Brown, MA/MFA (aka author Erin Brown Conroy/EB Conroy), is a professional writer/author/editor with over 20 years of experience, including eight books; hundreds of articles and professional materials; marketing and web writing; multiple curricula on writing, reading, leadership, and communication; and over 50 online courses created and used across the world. A  former university professor of writing, research, leadership/management, and interpersonal communication, Erin writes and speaks internationally.

This warning needs to be plastered high and low, all over the Internet.

I admit it: I’m angry. So this post will be strong. If you don’t mind it, read on.

There’s no way to say this nicely, but there are people everywhere calling themselves qualified writing coaches — who simply aren’t. These days, anyone can call themselves anything. Aspiring writers, beware!

Just saying you’re a coach simply doesn’t make you qualified.

Training and success concept
As a professional writer who has spent years and money perfecting the craft, the idea that someone is telling others what to do when they themselves truly don’t know but a surface knowledge — it creates more than an ew feeling — it leads to wha…? and oy! and argh! and grrr. 

Yes, I get upset over the arrogance and thievery. Leading others into falsity and lacking the moral integrity by doing so is just wrong. (And I hate it when unsuspecting people are “taken.”)

Please. Don’t be taken.

close-up-of-a-business-mans-hand-hiding-money-in-his-suit-jacket-pocket_SYVzguPRHj.jpgNews flash: Writing a blog does not make you a book-writing (or article writing) coach.  Writing basics — punctuation, grammar, sentence and paragraph structure — can be likely lacking…big time. Focus, style, and so on are VERY different from professional, published writing. And the know-how to write books that are publishable (keywords, are publishable) is special and learned over time and experience with education and training.

Blog writers calling themselves book writing coaches aren’t qualified and are wrongfully taking your money.

And another news flash: Writing or publishing one book does not make you a book-writing coach. Far from it. Qualified professional editors have coached that so-called coach/writer’s often bad writing into good text, and the manuscript has gone through significant editing multiple times — making the meandering, unfocused text into something linear and believable. The “coach” with the first-time published book had help. TONS of it. They do not know what they do not know. And now they THINK they know. They don’t. Again, this “coach” is wrongfully taking your money and most likely giving “advice” that’s off — simply trying to copy-cat the real coaching and professional skills that he/she has received (but lacks the experience to wield correctly).

There are basic guidelines in EVERY field for EVERY kind of coaching and consulting. And writing is one of them.

consulting_zJY8Z8Pd.jpg
So to help us all become grounded in reality (said with tongue in cheek) — and to be able to find a real, accomplished, capable, competent, equipped, knowledgeable, experienced, proficient, talented writing coach — here are eight critical questions and tips for choosing that QUALIFIED writing coach:

1. How many books or articles are published by the “coach” — books or articles that have been commissioned/hired out/they’ve been paid for the writing? (Note, again: We’re not talking about writing a personal blog.) Does this person have more than one…or two…seven or eight books published? Now it’s time to hire that coach.

2. Assuming the person has a number of published books, how are their sales? A couple hundred books sold does not make for a credible coach. And the sales should be stretched over time…as in years. Is he/she published with many years of sales? Hire that coach.

3. Is this person published by others or only self-published? Self-publishing is fine for those with a large professional platform — people who have been speaking or working in the professional realm and have a ready audience to buy the book (and has sold thousands of books at their speaking engagements). And those who have sold self-published books are approached by paying audiences for more. Note: If someone isn’t a seasoned speaker or educator with a ready audience, and they’re not selling their books at speaking engagements regularly, the self-publishing doesn’t count. Look for the coach who has had multiple books published by a reputable publishing company and has regular speaking engagements on how to write.

4.  How long has this person been writing professionally — actually being paid for their work in professional environments? True, people can write for years (and call themselves a writer), but to be paid to write, hired by others to write, is another matter. I’m not talking about being paid as a coach because you call yourself a coach and people may believe it and, unfortunately for the unsuspecting young writer, pay as an innocent, unknowing, trusting — but duped — “client.” Qualifications include being hired professionally as someone who knows and can wield the craft of writing. Has this coach been paid for his/her writing for years? Yep. Hire that coach.

5. Who has this person coached over the years (operative word, years), and has his/her coached clients’ results been noted publicly? Those with credible coaching experience have clients with paid-product results. Those under the tutelage of a credible coach have successes for all to see.

6. What is the person’s education — with the how-to’s of writing? Does he/she have any degrees or high-level training in the craft? Does he/she regularly travel and engage in professional how-to-write activities for writers (conferences, training). Is he/she a member of professional writing organizations? In writing, degrees, professional training, and being plugged into credible professionals counts. Does he/she have four years in English (or a related field such as education or literature), a master’s degree, or a terminal degree in writing? Hire that coach.

7. Does he/she professionally edit others’ work, and if so, how long has he/she done so? Editing is another skill set that takes years of training for excellence. If hired by reputable companies, institutions of higher learning, and high-level professionals for editing services — and they recommend the coach — then hire that coach.

8. Has this person designed or taught courses in the craft of writing (again, professionally, as in actually being paid for their teaching of writing)? Better yet, has a professional company or educational institution hired him/her to share the skills of writing with others? If reputable companies and educational institutions put their faith in — and money toward — that person, then hire that coach.

If you can’t answer more than one or two of these questions with multiple experiences as a paid professional writer, steer clear of the “coach.” Please. Check qualifications carefully. Don’t be taken. Save your money for those who really know what they’re doing — and have the experience, pay, and backing to prove it.

I care about you getting the BEST coaching — the TRUE coaching — that can actually help you become the writer you want to be.

Always my best,
Erin

  • Cheers!
    CoffeeApril19-17.jpg (Yes, this is my real coffee cup today. I don’t allow my coffee cup to pose as something it’s not. )

P.S. And to those of you reading this who are calling yourself a coach and you’re not qualified (you know who you are). . .  Please. Embrace integrity. Stop stealing people’s money and (if giving away “free coaching” deals) leading people astray. If you want to be a true, qualified coach, then keep writing, build your skills, and get the qualifications listed here. But don’t pass yourself off as something you’re not. Bad form.

P.P.S. This is not an advertisement for my coaching — although, I have to admit, the issue of unqualified “coaches” lying to the public about their abilities and taking people’s money drives me to want to get REAL information out there. I don’t care which qualified coach you use — simply (please) do the homework and avoid those newbies posing as qualified coaches. That’ll help me sleep well at night. Thanks, friend.

You’ve heard it said, fail to plan, plan to fail.
A strategic plan gets us places.

Or does it?

That can’t be, we say.
Our parents, teachers, and mentors taught us: without a plan, we’re ruined.

Before you (and I) get all depressed over the list of doomsday declarations on planning, let’s yell SPOILER ALERT and cut to the heart of the authors’ meaning:

It’s about action.

You (and I) can write business plans from here to kingdom come. In the end, you (and I) must act.

It’s a simple checklist:

  1. Focus on a viable idea.
    Do you have an idea that fills a need? That solves a problem? That goes where no man or woman has gone before, making something uniquely familiar accessible and enjoyable? Good. Go with it.
  2. Create a direction and first steps. 
    Plans change. Always. So let’s not spend all that time on details into infinity and beyond. In focused, quality time with focused, quality thoughts, frame the blueprint and pick up the hammer.
  3. Act. Move. Do.
    Stop making maps and scribbling sentences. Ask key questions. Think clearly. Make that frame and go.
  4. Tweak.
    In writing, in any creative endeavor, and in business — hands down, tweak is my favorite word… because tweak is code for regular assessment. It’s in the tweaking, the adjusting, that we keep the ship on course.

    To think, to plan, to do.
    Always tweaking.
    Always acting.
    Moving.
    Producing.

    May the chant of ACT! ACT! ACT! be a rally-cry to us all.

    *Thup
    coffee-mar-5-17
    Erin M. Brown, MA, MFA (aka author Erin Brown Conroy/EB Conroy), is the author of eight books; the owner of Celtic Cross Communications, a small media publishing group; a former university professor on writing, interpersonal communication, leadership and management, and strategic management; and a speaker on the ground and online. Contact Erin here.

Traditionally, the New Year is all about goal setting. We all know: Goals are standard, healthy, and good for us — both individually and as organizations. As entrepreneurs, creators, writers, and people of thought and action, we plan and set goals regularly. But sometimes life gets in the way, even at the start of the New Year, and we find ourselves not creating or revisiting solid goals.

Goal concept


Have you set goals recently?

No worries.
Today’s a good day to do it.

Even one goal is worth your time, this week.

As you set a date with yourself to create New Year’s goals, consider:  To set deep, meaningful, accomplishable goals, we need quiet. Quiet is where our minds speak the clearest. The place of being aware. Of listening. Of uncovering what’s holding us back. Because we all have things holding us back. And quiet can be hard to come by.

Enjoying life

Right now, I can’t sit on a beach like the person in the photo is doing. Michigan’s snow and ice takes me to a place like this:

coffee-shops
The coffee shop. 
It’s not quiet. It’s not private. But it’ll do, for now, until I can get to the beach or the woods or wherever my soul can listen. You and I can blur out the coffee shop’s surroundings and focus for a short time. We make it work.

Within quiet, you and I feel, hear, and see things we don’t usually feel, hear, and see. Through quiet, we’re able to open and examine whatever’s blocking our ability to act on our hopes and passions. Quiet has the power to lay bare the ropes entangling our souls.
fiber-rope_mjfxaiou
We all have ropes. History. Emotions. False beliefs. Each of these ropes causes confusion, not clarity.

To focus, create, and repeat,
we must have clarity.  


So as you get into your place of quiet for clarity’s sake, know that I and others who are reading these are doing the same, this week.
Because getting to healthy places, with goals and dreams and desires — and actions — is what we do.

Raising my mug to you,
Happy New Year and may it be highly successful
for you and yours,
* Thup
coffee-jan-1-2017

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