Archives for category: Writing Rules

Last night on the big screen, once again, I saw the National Theater Live performance of the Shakespearean play Hamlet. My conclusion was the same:

Benedict Cumberbatch is brilliant. Forget the good looks, I’m serious: his acting, most assuredly, is at the top of his game.

Some don’t like Shakespeare because it’s “too hard to understand.” Fair enough. It takes focus and thought to slide into the old style and stay there — and even then, Shakespeare might not be to your taste. But a skilled actor using his eyes, face, body, and voice to punctuate the words with clear meaning — ah, now that makes taking in Shakespeare easy.

I’ll say it again: Drenching the familiar line “to be or not to be” with the nuance of varying pitch, a full range of tone, and with meticulously-timed pauses and pacing — with every shoulder raise and eyebrow twitch echoing the intent of the great master’s storyline — makes Shakespeare’s meaning full and understood.

Here’s the truth:

Small things, when added together, make brilliant communication. And we all know, to understand each other clearly is so, so key.

Which brings me to a pet peeve.
(This is for all of us.)

It’s the faux pas of not responding to someone’s communication. As in, you send an email and there’s no reply back — not even a two-second, “Thanks — got it!”

A deadly idea (and practice) has crept into our professional and personal lives — one that frustrates the receiver and kills relationships:

“To answer or not to answer — that is the question.”
(That’s not the question.)

Please. Respond.

When someone doesn’t reply, how do you feel? What do you think — about them, about the situation — when you’re left wondering if your words fell flat and went splat on the floor?

It’s never good.

Please. On email, have the wherewithal to take two seconds to say, got it — have to run — will send a full response later today. In person, have the internal state and emotional intelligence resources to say, great question — let me think about it… or, I hear you — let’s talk about it more… or even, hmm, I hear what you’re saying — let’s make sure we talk about that at x-time together, when I’m free and can give you my full attention.

To answer or not to answer —
That should never be the question.

* Thup

It’s time to talk about why nobody cares about what we write.
(Don’t get all offended. I said we.)

Really. It’s true. Most of the time,
people don’t read what you and I write.

They might skim the page. But they rarely
read the text from start to finish.

You skim, too, right?
(Thanks for being honest.)

Truth is, you and I go about writing all wrong.

We use too many words.
We think that more means better,
and that’s simply not so.

We’ve been fed a lie. We’re told to write a lot. To explain ourselves. To give example after example. To tell a story that makes our followers have warm fuzzies, so that they inhale our content like someone sitting back on the couch after an afternoon of hard work with drink in hand, focusing on our words with passionate commitment and a sweet depth of duty that leads to betrothing followership.


The Internet has drastically changed
the way we read.
 And in response, we need to
change the way we write, to connect with reality.

I’m not saying that longer articles don’t have a place.
Not at all.

What I’m saying is that as an entrepreneur and leader who owns your own business,  if you want to be heard more often — then write short. With power.

Intentionally use the five habits of strong, relevant, response-driven writers:

  1. Be Concise.
    No one has time for oodles of words. Eyes glaze over and fingers click away to the other guy’s site. In all that you write, get to the point.
  2. Assert bold ideas.
    The first line, the first paragraph, and every number in the list holds BAM ideas. They’re compact assertions. Clear. And direct. Stop taking around the bush. Compress ideas into power phrases.
  3. Be honest.
    Nobody wants to read sales BS. We want honest words with credible, non-puffed-up meanings. Use everyday language that doesn’t inflate.
  4. Keep ideas singular. 
    Give immediate take-away. Lists are great. Bullets are better. But writing the la-la-blah-blah-take-my-time text and filling five suitcases full of information makes nobody care. Write about one idea. Only one. And make it powerful.
  5. Make short visual pieces on the page.
    When readers see more than three lines (or, God forbid, whole paragraphs), brains freeze over. It’s shameful, but the truth. Look at this list. It has space, bolded words, and visual form. It’s visually organized. Do the same.

You have incredibly valuable ideas.
And people need what you have.
Isn’t it time to connect those people with your ideas?

Change your writing style.
Your ideas are worth it.


This post part of a series called “Don’t Do This” aimed at helping you avoid bad writing habits, identify and steer clear of the pitfalls of poor writing, and become the writer-communicator that people want to follow. (Because no one has arrived. And all of us can use platinum ideas, to be better at the craft of writing.)

It’s like a book online. Free. Bite sized, motivating, practical bits. You’ll like it because it’s all about what works, the how-to for an immediate increase in your writing effectiveness.

Get every word, catch the take-away to apply, and become a sharper writer, right now…

“drive safe” and reasons.

It’s wintertime in Michigan. That means instead of saying, Have a great day! with a saccharine lilt, we say, Drive safe, with sober sincerity.

Michigan winters bring dangerous roads. Especially with the 193-car pile up yesterday on I-94 that killed people — a horrific event on both sides of the highway involving 76 semis, 117 cars, and a truck full of exploding fireworks. The phrase, drive safe, echoes everywhere.

Here’s the truth: Powerful moments motivate us. The crash-crazy event is on everyone’s mind. The reverberating WHOA, THAT WAS AWFUL skitters across social media.

Think writing, now.

Here’s the truth: Powerful moments motivate even the smallest phrases on the page. Everything you write must have a reason, a motivation, and a core to why it’s there. 

Because all quality, powerful, emotion-evoking and mind-changing words must exist for meaning’s sake. We simply cannot afford to use words for words’ sake. I know this sounds Duh! but we’re all guilty.

We’re in love with our own words. But we simply can’t be. You and I must Happily. Let. Go. No, I’m not going to burst into the Disney song, but I am going to say this:

For nonfiction writing,
the words you choose 
echo your
key intentions.
For fiction writing,
the words you choose 
be saturated with
your characters’

Think about it.

For anything nonfiction.
emails to blogs to books…
(Get this.)
Your goal is to write the most dynamic — and, yes, succinct — piece, with words chosen to equal the diamond of your idea. Forget the frills, the fluff, the foo — we need clear, purpose-filled words. Unless the words drive the reader to your point, you have to let them go (cue music). Edit. A lot. (Keep asking yourself, Do I really need this?) 

Wordsmith your ideas to get them to the bright, powerful meaning they deserve. Wordsmithing is a cool word, don’t you agree? Tell someone, I’m wordsmithing, and watch his or her face. Your wordsmithed ideas are the ones that  burn onto the page — and into the reader’s heart.


For all forms of fiction.
short stories to screenplays to epics…
(Get this.)

In every scene — every paragraph — your character’s motivation is at work. Her reasons surface in her words, her movements, her choices. If it’s not surely tied into her reasons, her internal drives, then rewrite. Edit. A lot.

Wordsmith your ideas to get your story to the enticing, powerful movement with meaning —  burning onto the page and into the reader’s heart.

Don’t do this:
Don’t fall in love with your words.
Be willing to toss words, lines, paragraphs, entire chapters with gusto.

Do this:
Be flexible — even joyous — at slicing, tossing, and shifting. Expect to reform your page with everything you write. Rarely — if ever — will you get the diamond the first time. Pros take heavy-duty machetes to the page.


Don’t do this:
Don’t start writing without thinking deeply. 
As in jumping into an idea prematurely. He who fails to plan plans to fail. And he who swims in the idea pool with shallow waters doesn’t swim far.

Do this:
Write out your motivation.
* In nonfiction writing,
what response do you want the reader to have, after reading your work? You need a powerful phrase that nails the reader’s reason to read your work. In marketing terms, that’s your reader’s benefit. Have a driving benefit in mind before you write.

But how do you get to the on-fire benefit? 

Here’s how: Before you start, write a guiding phrase that states WHY someone would read what you write. Then write the action that you want your reader to take, at the end of reading your piece. Use that guiding phrase in all that you write. Keep it in front of you. For every paragraph. Every word. Seriously. Everything you write must be tied into that phrase.

* In fiction writing, every living creature in your story must have a clear and guiding motivation. So before you start, write them down — what drives every person to feel what he or she feels, to do what he or she does. Use motivations to guide all that you write. A.L.L. Keep the motivation in front of you. For every page. Seriously. Everything that your character does must be tied into that motivation.

You know, I was supposed to be on I-94 yesterday. Yes, at that exact time, in the exact place where the 193-car pile-up happened. Because of the poor weather, I changed my plans. I took drive safe as a serious, action-inducing motivation — a motivation that changed my behavior. And, boy, am I’m glad that I did.

Find your motivations. Use them.

Oh. And drive safe. Please.
Life is precious.

* Thup

This is the first in a series, “Don’t Do This” — posts aimed at helping you avoid bad writing habits, identify and steer clear of the pitfalls of poor writing, and become the writer-communicator that people want to follow.

It’s like a book online. Free. Bite sized, motivating, practical bits. I believe you’ll like it — because it’s all about what works, the how-to for an immediate increase in your writing effectiveness. 

This first post is an easy read, every bit worth its tad-bit-longer length. Subsequent series posts will be pointed, brief, direct — with a strong take-away to apply right then and there. So you become a sharper writer, right now.

Get every word in this first post, so that you’re in the know for what’s to come.
(It’s worth it.)


When we hear the words, don’t do this, we sit up and listen — because we know that something important is coming: knowledge with the palpating power to save us from heartache and pain.

Entrepreneur. CEO. Leader. Forward thinker…
Creative. Writer. Artist. Musician. Passionate expresser of life…
Above-average thinker who cares…

Because you matter — your passion, your ideas — and because you want to make a difference…this is for you.

To communicate effectively with words, the how-to skill must be in place. For no matter how much heart or passion we feel and exude — get this — without the vital how-to help that your writing needs, the heart of your communication will collapse.

Seriously. Your ideas, passions, and hopes go into cardiac arrest and threaten to die.

But they don’t have to. When it comes to effectively getting your ideas to others, there are external defibrillators (AEDs) that can save you from some heartache and pain. AEDs analyze the heart’s electrical activity and give life-saving electric shocks to the chest of a person who has collapsed from cardiac arrest. Even if your writing is in cardiac arrest (if you know it…or can admit it…or are willing to do something with it because you get it), the info here gives the life-saving shocks needed, to breathe and fully live.

Because deep down, you know that your words matter,
and because you have a message that people need
and a skill to share…

Read on.

Fact 1: Every word you write has a purpose. You know this.

Making a list, writing an article or post, writing a book — each has a reason for its existence.

You know the adage:
* Know the target, know the direction to shoot the arrow.
(It applies here.)
* Know the purpose of your writing, and you’ll understand what kinds of words, phrases, tone, style, length of sentence (and other tools) to use.

Because purpose directs and informs everything we write. Everything.

Here’s the super-simple action I want you to do…
(Trust me on this one.)

Ask the questions:
Who’s going to read this, and why?
What does he or she expect?

In the entire piece.
On this particular page.
In this paragraph.
In this sentence.

And, yes, keep asking yourself the questions — while you’re smack-dab in the center of your click-press-pop-clack fingers on the keys or press-flow-move pen on the page.

(Any and every time you write.)

These questions should be soaring, swooping, circling in your brain above the target, like a mighty falcon with gleaming-sun-feather brilliance. The questions are ever present — ever casting shadows on the red-and-white circled target of your writing.

We want powerful writing — zinging and smacking into the target. So we’d better understand our writing’s purpose.

Fact 2: Your writing has a goal: to express, to inform, or to persuade. 

Expression is just for you and me so, hey, we can put anything we want on the page. But information and persuasion, ah, now we’re in different territory. Information and persuasion are for others.

So. We’re stuck.

Because when we write for others, we have to do it their way. We have to follow the guidelines that meet the reader’s needs. If we don’t, then we end up with no one reading what we wrote. Ugh.

Hm. In order to satisfy the reader, we’d better understand the goal of each little scrap that we write.

Ask the questions:
What benefit is my reader looking for?
What does he/she want to feel and experience?
What do they want to know, to walk away with?
Am I giving the reader exactly what’s wanted?

In the entire piece.
On this particular page.
In this paragraph.
In this sentence.

We want satisfied readers — full of good feelings toward what we wrote, full of good memories and understandings that bring them back for more. So we’d better understand the goal of each little bit that we write.

Fact 3: Engagement rules. Gone are the days of readers hanging around to read writing that doesn’t engage.

Most of us cringe at the volume of words bombarding our inbox, crowding into our web searches, bumping across our Facebook pages, and even ambling across the bottom of our television programs with the ad for the next-up program.

We’re way beyond information overload. We’re in information repel mode.

Engagement is critical.

Failure to follow the rules of engagement makes readers push away in disappointment, apathy, or even upset mode. Disappointed, apathetic, upset readers leave, let alone even begin to engage (as in, let’s click away in three seconds flat).

That simply won’t do.

Ask the questions:
Where are the repetitive words to axe and toss down the hill?
How can I change up words, to make the writing concise, pointed, powerful?
What am I doing in my writing that repels the reader?

In the entire piece.
On this particular page.
In this paragraph.
In this sentence.

We want readers to stay. So we’d better understand the rules of engagement for writing. (This series is all about helping you identify exactly what you’re doing…so stay with me.)

Fact 4: Rules of engagement are blood red critical. Writing lives or dies on the rules of engagement.

But we have a serious problem. We don’t know what we don’t know. (Ignorance is not bliss. It’s deadly.)

No lie: I believe that most bad writing is for lack of knowledge. Cluelessness. Not intentional, mind you — it’s simply the I-just-never-learned-this-stuff ignorance.

And without knowing it’s even happening, you’re sending the reader away apathetic or screaming.


At the turn of the New Year, ask questions:
Am I keeping myself back by simply living in a closed-door mentality, a self-focus?
Am I willing to open myself up to learning?
Am I humble enough to listen?
Am I willing to be thirsty for understanding, so that I can move forward?

It’s time:
Get better at the craft of written communication.
Don’t mess up due to ignorance.

<<Make what you write matter.>>

Have nothing stand in the way of your clear, vibrating, resonating, connecting communication.

Be willing. Willing to cultivate an open, listening, seeking heart. Willing to listen. Willing to absorb.

Willing to work.

Next time, we’ll get practical. We’ll talk about how not to end your piece. (How to give your reader something to hold onto, a smooth stone in the hand — a promise. It’s good.)

See you then.
(I can’t wait.)

* Thup

Exposition kills story.
In your book. And in life.
(Read to the end. It’s not too long, and
this is important…)

There are three kinds of yada-yada words with high potential to turn people off to your story — and your life:

1. Backstory. Backstory fills in the cracks of the past — it’s the words that move backward in the story.

With backstory, we describe what already happened. It’s not about the future; it’s not about the present; it’s about the former.

Characters mull over what happened, rehashing events and recounting feelings. It doesn’t have to be in excess, but often backstory floods into excess — because the character is me-focused. The author is, too — writing from a personal agenda, trying to get more info out in the text than is needed. Most often, backstory serves the writer, not the reader.

Readers want to move forward.

2. Small talk. Small talk is dialogue (inner and outer) that doesn’t go anywhere — words lacking purpose.

Small talk dialogue runs on with weak, unimportant yada-yada. The character isn’t focused, direct, and active. The writer drinking the pablum of small talk isn’t necessarily me-focused; he or she simply isn’t aware, or is inattentive, unknowing, passive, and even careless with the words (ouch).

Writers who have too much small talk in the story need two things: either they need to learn more about how to write with power (learn! grow! get what you need!) — or the writer needs have the self discipline to cut text (practice… a focus on economy). Writing small talk serves the writer, not the reader.

Readers want crisp, forward-moving text.

3. Lack of plot. Lack of plot is the absence of dynamic movement…the deficit of conflict clarity and conflict resolution — in an action plan.

With lack of plot, the reader is served words upon words upon words — all without action. Characters sit with a drink, rather than get up and move.

Writers lacking plot haven’t spent the time developing a story plan — so because the plot doesn’t exist, the writer can’t carry it out. Then there’s the issue of actually doing the plan. Once the plot is crafted, there’s only so much time permissible in the War Room. We have to step onto the battlefield. Action is critical.

Readers want a pressed-forward plot, intensifying with swift, sure movement.

Okay. Here’s the deal.

If you don’t cut backstory, eradicate the small talk, and dig into a forward-moving plot, your story dies. Readers leave.

It’s that serious.

Now. In real life. This applies.
And it’s that serious, too.

There comes a time when words fail.
Talking only goes so far.
Action is critical.

The three Story Killers are also Relationship Killers.

* Focusing on the past kills forward movement in a relationship. Going backward only goes so far. There comes a point — sooner than later — where we have to get out of me-focused recounting and craft forward-moving life story.

* Excessive small talk saps the power of forward movement in a relationship. Small talk can be (no, often is) avoidance. Small talk lacks power, dynamism, and passion for life. There comes a point where we have to get out of yada-yada conversation and dig into life with passion.

* Lack of a planned plot with specific action points — a dynamic plan for life that’s lived out — ruins a relationship. I know I’m being strong here. But it’s the ignored, the neglected, and the head-in-the-sand day-by-day plodding that takes people to the proverbial end of life, death-bed moment that says, Why didn’t I do more? Lack of a plan — and of action — is the father of regret.

So if we want our story to be a good one (whether on the page or in life), it’s time to take action.

Get out of the past. (Focus on crafting a beautiful present.)
Kill the small talk. (Use powerful words.)
Make a plan. (Take action.)

* Thup


My friend and mentor, Russell, recounts the story of sitting in a bar with George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones guru-author). Russell asked, What’s your secret?

Martin’s answer?
“I don’t give the characters a meal. I give them a banquet.”

My first thought was, Oh! I get it! Make it “big”!

But then I realized…
it’s not just about big.
It’s about making it memorable.
And memorable doesn’t come only in one size.

Decidedly different can be memorable, too.
Something so different, it shakes us out of our complacency.
Or so different, its desirability draws us in.

A character’s incessant quirk. (memorable)
A dash of yellow in a key area on the canvas. (memorable)
An unexpected light source in the photograph. (memorable)
A bold line on the Manga character’s hair. (memorable)
A shift in scene through one unexpected line in the dialogue (memorable).
(you get it)

(And if you’re a motivator, speaker, instructor/teacher, or leader of any kind, you see how this applies.)

Be purposeful. Make it memorable.
If it works for George, it just might work for you and me.

* Thup


(For writers.)

A good breezeful of comments came in on the “three editing types” post,
so on request, here are some off-beat yet effective ways to edit your piece for content, sound, and cadence.

1. First, I’m not going to mention reading your words aloud. And I won’t utter a word about using another person to read your work to you. Far be it from me to mention the power of hearing your words’ layout and cadence, through speech.
(Inside paralipsis joke for English maniacs.)

2. Read “Back to Front” First. For a paragraph or a short piece, read the text backward. Word for word. Then read it forward (normally). There’s something about reading backward first that makes the eyes and brain see the words differently — catching flat-out errors and exposing uncomfortable word/sentence choices. I know — it sounds bizarre when you do it, but reading backwards first works. (Say that ten times.)

3. Use the “Read to Me” Function on your computer. Sure, the cadence won’t be perfect. But errors do pop out with ease — even within the robo-voice imperfection. (If you don’t know how to make read-to-me-robo-voice work, get the how-to instructions here.) Personally, I like Mr. Australian voice. (Let’s leave it at that.)

4. For Deeper Editing, Read to Answer these Three Questions:

QUESTION 1: What’s the point?

For a nonfiction chapter,
that’s does my reader walk away with one idea that moves him or her to action? Nonfiction is all about motivating the reader to feel, think, or act. Know the response you’re trying to elicit, and you’ll be able to focus your words to get your target response.

For nonfiction, on the margin of the every page, write the main point (main idea/action). If you can’t come up with a clear point, then you need to edit more, for focus.

For a fiction chapter, that’s does the reader walk away with 1) a feeling and 2) a plot question? Fiction is all about relationships — and the plot points that move those relationships forward. In order to capture the reader, in each chapter, we need to know the emotional/relational response that we’re trying to elicit from the reader. Then we need to know what actions (the plot) bring out the emotions the best. It’s like riding on the back of an alligator. The alligator’s the plot point. The “Whheeeeeeee!” is the emotion. (Fun picture, eh?)

For fiction, on the margin of every page, write the relationship feeling you’re trying to elicit and the plot point that you’re moving within. If you can’t come up with either, edit for emotional focus.

QUESTION 2: Is it linear?

In other words, does my writing hold the reader’s hand from one thought to the next? No skips. No bumps. Nothing left out.

There’s an easy way to find lapses in the linear construction: You hold one copy of your page, pen in hand. Your friend then holds the exact same page and begins reading your work to you. Every single time your friend pauses, hesitates, stops, restarts, squints his eyes, cocks his head, makes a face, does a double take, or even takes a breath and licks his lips, mark the page. Exactly where the hiccup happened, mark it.

There’s a reason for every hiccup. Something is wrong. Something needs to be changed. (Oh. And the deep breath/lip licking is usually a mark of a run on sentence or too many ideas/too much info at once.)

QUESTION 3: Is the sensory detail balanced? 
Sight, sound, touch, taste, smell — Do I have all of the senses on the page? Even nonfiction needs sensory writing.

To check your sensory writing (to see if there’s too little or too much sensory description), print just one page. Then circle every sensory word. Note what kind of word it is (which sense is being used). Check to see if you use one sense over the others…or if you’re completely missing a sense…or if your use of the senses is so overkill, you’re drowning the reader in mushwords, slogging the reader into boredom (“Get on with the story!”).

Well, speaking of slogging… that’s enough to sip on.

(Insert long drink of coffee here.)

Don’t leave the job of editing to others. The more deeply you edit, the better your work — and the more readers will stick around.

(Go forth and edit.)
* Thup

PS. Yes, this is my cup today. I’m impressed, Miss Barista. Bravo.

I’m in the middle of an editing project, and editing is popcorning all over my brain cells. So if you’re serious about editing your written work well, then this one’s for you.

Here we go.

editor graphic
And editing takes form in three ways:
And rhythm & sound.

If you want to be a fabulous self editor, then you’ll need to know all three.

1. Details…
Just about anyone who knows punctuation and grammar well can edit for details.
A period here, a comma there. No, a semicolon does not work there. Yes, in this case, the question mark goes outside the quotation marks. No, you can’t put the words not only in your sentence without but also. The style guide says so, and we follow the rules.

So many people believe that they know the rules. They even charge money for “professional editing” but, in reality, don’t know what they’re doing.

Yeah, this is a pet peeve of mine.

I’m currently editing work that another “editor” did already, and I’m horrified — because the details that this person missed are details that I teach middle schoolers. I’m setting my own record for how many times I cringe in one sitting. GAH.

Please. Do yourself a favor that lasts for years to come. Learn the rules. They’re finite.

And please. If you don’t know the rules really well, then don’t call yourself an editor. Polish your ability, first. Then take on the job.

2. Content…

Editing for content is much harder than editing for details. It’s harder to take a run-on sentence and make it concise. It’s even harder to realize when something’s missing and ask the author to add details.

In order to write well, you have to know what I call reader questions.

Reader questions are those questions that pop into the reader’s mind — the next-step info that the reader naturally wants to know, from sentence to sentence.

If I said, “I had a fabulous day,” your reader question is, “Yeah? What made it so fabulous?” So the next sentence that I write needs to answer the question and tell you what made it fabulous.


If I said, “We went to the beach,” you might want to know, “What beach? How long were you there? What kind of things did you do?” Each of these questions is valid — and each one comes in rapid-fire response.

The good writer answers these questions linearly, in the order that they pop into the reader’s mind. (Yes, writers have to be mind-readers.)

Most authors and writers (of all kinds) miss info. They skip important stuff. Since the idea is clear in your own mind, you think that the readers get it, too.

But they don’t.

Editing for content is knowing reader questions, identifying what’s missing, seeing what’s out of order, and identifying what’s too much info (the infamous rabbit trails).

The best editors can take text, assess content needs right away, and understand what parts of the puzzle need to be arranged, removed, and added.

3. Rhythm & Sound…
Editing for rhythm and sound is, I believe, the hardest editing of all. Poets, I think you know more about editing for rhythm and sound than anyone.

It’s all about what you feel and hear.

* The word choice matters. (A new “flavor” of a word might be stronger.)
* The sounds of words matter. (One word’s assonance, consonance, or percussiveness might sound better, next to another.)
* The lengths of words matter. (One word might feel better, next to another, because it stops the sound with a /p/ or moves the reader forward with an /m/.)

* Sentence lengths matter. (Short, medium-length, or long — each sentence has a feel to it.)
* Sentence sound matters. (Sentences are like music. Really.)

* The way that sentences are arranged in the paragraph matter. (The combination of sentence lengths can increase, decrease, or keep steady the reader’s momentum.)

The best editors focus on rhythm and sound. And if you want to be a great self-editor, then focusing on rhythm and sound will make it happen for you.

Read John Gardner‘s works. He’s brilliant with these kinds of things.

Become an editor in all three ways, for your own work —
in details, content, and rhythm & sound.

It matters.
(And I want you to be successful.)

* Thup


In the creative process, importing is faster.

Let me explain.

When I create an online course, I import a previous course’s outline, to use as a guide. Using the same form, I create the new course around the placeholders of the old one. Importing makes life oh-so-much easier.

When I create a beat sheet for a screenplay, I import a previous beat sheet, to use as a quick guide. Using the same form, I create the new beat sheet within the same headings. Doing so speeds it up — and even gives me ideas, based on the old ideas’ categories and form.

When I create a new book’s outline — or build a new world — the same thing applies: I import a previous outline, creating the new around the form by my handy-dandy highlight-delete-write over function.

Do you do the same? Because everything that we do has form, or format. And if we use a previously-successful format as a guide, it saves time and energy.

The same thing, for ideas. Now, I’m not advocating stealing ideas. But form for ideas is everywhere — and able to be used as a guide, too.

Think about your favorite authors. What is his or her “form,” when introducing a character? Just for fun (and learning), go to your favorite author’s most recent book and look at the first sentences each and every time a new character arrives on the page. Do you see any patterns? Oftentimes, as in character introductions or the first time we are dropped into a setting, successful authors employ form in elements of story.

What’s cool is this: Any form can be copied. Not the content — the form. (Repeat after me: Plagiarism is b.a.d.) Content — the exact words chosen — is off limits. But form is not.

You can even take a super-cool sentence and, breaking it down into its form of verbs, nouns, and adjectives, create a sentence in the same form. If the adjective is a cross-sensory word, you can create a cross-sensory word in its place (e.g., smooth melody is a combination of senses: smooth is tactile/touch and melody is sound). This kind of word form copying is a great way to learn to create your own unique style and content.

Cool fact: Importing is a technique that can be used in just about any field or endeavor. Think about it. I bet that, today, you’re going to interact with form that you can import and use, to make life smoother.

Successful form is everywhere.

* Thup

Decisions, decisions.

They’re everywhere, on micro and macro levels. Hundreds and thousands and millions of decisions are made by our brains over time, most of them split second and off-the-cuff.

I always wonder: What if an off-the-cuff decision has far-reaching implications? And what if, in the moment, I don’t get it? I don’t understand the impact. And then. Then something veers the micro degree in a way that, years down the road, leaves me stranded, far off course. Or, at the least, missing a mark that could have been hit.

It happens.

Now, I don’t worry. I’m not an obsessive person. But sometimes I do wonder.

As I stood at the coffee counter pondering whether or not ceramic or paper would do, I doubted if my choice mattered. But what if? What if I chose paper, and after I sat down at my table, I bumped the tall, thin container, and it splashed (a small splash) right onto my laptop’s keys. And my computer went POP and quit. And $800 and two weeks and seventy-five headaches later, I had my new computer innards again. Far fetched? Three months ago, this happened to me.

I now choose ceramic. Fat, squat, and non-tippy ceramic.
(Little decisions matter.)

It’s your character’s little decisions early on that can expand into great plot — and show up in a plot twist later.

It’s your first lines early on that can expand into new, crisp form.

It’s your frame’s slight tilt that makes the viewer’s eye move exactly to where you want it to go.

It’s that plosive or swish of assonance that gives your line bite or melted music.

It’s that clean foot that makes the leap exquisite.

No matter how small, they can make a difference.

What’s the best way to not miss the significance of a decision? Perhaps it’s to be fully present. Aware. In the moment. Alive.

* Thup
coffeeMar 26 14

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