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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.
(Really.)

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.

Oy.

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
coffeeDec26-14

Stories are messy.
(on purpose. designed that way by the author.)

Life is messy.
(not on purpose. it happens TO us. ugh.)

We can make something good of the mess*
*in the story
*in life

(I “traveled” to the UK for this series. Come join me for a sec.)
Read part 3 of my guest blog with James Prescott right here.

* Thup

coffeeOct25-14

Retreat. The word brings up mental images and feelings.

You know, all words bring up mental images and feelings. Because words carry history. Whatever happened to us in the past influences how we interpret words in the present. (Our personal experiences surround words, giving them meaning.)

(Words are not benign.)

Negative connotations can hang on the word, retreat:
To retreat is to give in, move back, and raise the white flag.
Attacked, we fall back in a clashing rush, the sound of steel on steel still ringing in the air, wounds raw.

Positive connotations can also bob and buoy around the word, retreat:
To retreat is to regroup, protect, build up, enhance, and nourish.
Proactively moving in a good direction, we pull back and purposefully enhance our life.

In your craft [[and life]], a retreat can be exactly what you need. 

A day away.
Time in quiet thought. Designed. Focused.

Two thoughts:
1. Regular retreats (verbs) happen as a normal response to the intricacies of life. They’re involuntary, in response to bad stuff….retreats to stop the attack and care for the bloody [emotional] [personal] [relational] [business] [organizational] [pick one] wound.
2. Purposeful retreats (nouns) happen as a choice. Voluntary. Planned. Retreats as places, to proactively get direction, stay focused, and move forward.

Both are a part of living. Simply because of who we are (and what we want to do), the second kind might be good to put in the calendar today.

* Thup
coffeeOct19-14

Sometimes it’s the little changes that count.
When we look at the same thing, but slightly differently,
we find new.

New perspective.
New ideas.
New possibilities.

One degree makes a difference.

In your work of art today, whether it be
with words
or paint
or a lens,
[[or your life]],

take a new look. Try a new approach.

If the first angle doesn’t work, no worries. There are an infinite number of ways to make it happen.

Even the slightest change — the slightest difference in perspective — can make your work [[and your life]] not only different…but better.

(Turn your perspective around. Good waits for you.)

* Thup

coffee8-sept20coffee1-sept20coffee12-sept20coffee3-sept20 coffee2-sept20 coffee5-sept20 coffee6-sept20 coffee7-sept20  coffeelast-sept20

Well. I’m letting you (and me) off the hook.
This isn’t about our personal character. (You know, the interior part of us, the part where integrity sits.)

And I’m not going to ask you where you’re from — your physical geography — the point on the map where you lay your head at night (as in the state of Michigan, where I live in the US, called “the mitten state” because it looks like a mitten).
Michigan
This is about your story — your characters in that story.
Their personal, emotional states.
As in how we feel at any given moment.
(Emotions.)
(Feelings.)

Oh — and if you’re not a writer — keep reading, because
there’s something important here…
(it all makes sense when you read to the end).

There’s a not-so-secret secret to help you create compelling characters (and a compelling plot line, too).

(You ready?)

TRUTH:
State doesn’t come from outside influences
(what people say or do “to” you).
Your personal state comes from you.

That’s right.
You and I create our own states.
(And your character will create his or her state.)

Like this…
eat computer or this happy at the computer

You create state in three ways (and they’re very cool, by the way):

1. Your focus. Answer me this: At any given moment, what are you thinking about — and what are you doing? Wherever you place your thoughts and energy on feeds your state.

2. Your language. And answer me this: What do you say to yourself, day after day, in your mind and out your mouth? Words are uber-powerful. What you think and say to yourself, in your head, matters. What you say toward others around you matters. Even what you say to objects — things — in the world around you matters. It all feeds your state.

3. Your physiology. One more question: How are you moving your body? Are you slumped and breathing shallowly — or are you sitting tall and taking in deep, full breaths? How you sit, stand, walk, breathe — and how you look on your face — it all feeds your state.

Your focus, your language, and your physiology.
All three ascribe meaning to your life.

(how you interpret the world)
(what you believe in the world)
(what you do in the world)

The coolest thing is this: Master your emotional state, and you can master your life.

So. Writers.
We want our characters to struggle, right?
If you want your character to wrestle with demons big time, then have him or her…

  • focus on past mistakes and hurts
  • focus on how they’ve been wronged, whether imagined or real
  • focus on impending doom in the future, whether imagined or real
  • focus on how someone will supposedly hurt them (imagine the worst)
  • focus on how everything will be bad, or go wrong, or have no solutions in the future (pessimism)
  • speak out negative imaginings
  • speak angrily, with disdain
  • curse people, things, and events
  • rehearse what went wrong — and what could go wrong
  • imagine the worst case scenario, then make decisions based on fear
  • sit still — don’t move
  • breathe shallowly
  • slump, hunch, slouch, drag, look down, sigh, frown, be static, stare, and stay in one spot

And if you want your character to gain momentum and grasp onto triumph, then have him or her…

  • focus on the present
  • focus on personal responsibility and personal growth
  • focus on the positive possibilities
  • focus on responding well him- or herself, not on how others are responding
  • focus on a faith-filled vision
  • speak out positive outcomes
  • speak with kindness, from though-based discernment
  • speak words of hope and faith over other people
  • rehearse what will go right in the future
  • imagine the best outcome — and all the other positive possibilities
  • move — act — get up and go
  • take deep breaths, with their eyes upward and smiling
  • stand tall, stride, grasp the sword, bound, be alert and quick, grin, be active, meet others’ eyes, and get going

Hmm.
Maybe this isn’t just about the characters on the page, after all.

* Thup
coffeeSept13-14

PS. Thank you to my dad (Hugh Brown) and Tony Robbins (who I’ve followed since he and I were young) for bringing these ever-so-cool life truths to my attention at an early age. Sure has made life easier and more enjoyable — and helped get through life’s ever-changing story arc. hugs to you both.

Space. The Final Frontier.
(Trekkie here.)

Okay, not the final frontier. But, at the least,
for your best productivity,
it’s a frontier to think about.

Watch my Tuesday Vlog Minute..
Click here.

* 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
CoffeeAug16-14

 

Note: This post is for business-minded, entrepreneurial,
creative types.
If you want to make a living at your art, you’ve most likely heard the term audience.
(Be forewarned: This post isn’t the usual “identify your audience” banter.)
____________________________________________

Regarding your audience, a well-known speaker said to me recently,
“Too many writers make blogs for other writers. That’s bad.
You need to write to the audience you want to sell to —
those who will buy your stuff.

Hm. 
I’ve thought about this quite a bit —
and I don’t believe the audience thing (or the whole social media thing) is that cut and dry.

Yes, as an artist of any kind, it’s important to build a social media platform.
People need to know you — who you are and what you do —
in order to like you, follow you, and buy from you.
(Buying is good. As we all know, this starving artist thing is real.
And I like to eat, don’t you?)

But there are many reasons to interact within social media.
Just think of the different social media outlets —
from Pinterest to LinkedIn,
Facebook to Instagram,
blogging to tweeting…

It’s not all about money.
(Thank God.)

Okay, I know —
Some blogs are clearly money-seeking ventures bleeding insincerity.
(Uhyeah, there’s enough insincerity and manipulation out there to
choke a dinosaur.)

Warning:
Social media, once it becomes only money-and-sales-driven drivel,
turns us into takers
(and alienates people).
(we know this. we’re turned off by this. we need to avoid this. big. time.)

If we’re not careful, this Audience #1 — those who we intend our message to grip, grab, and bless the socks off — can become the Target Market that we hunt for the sale, with little regard for sincerity.

How does a healthy Audience #1 work? 
* Passion. We have something we’re passionate about.
* Benefit. Audience #1 benefits from what we share.
* Follow. Because they benefit, they follow. We now have a Tribe.
* Connect. Tribes like your stuff. But they mostly like us. They keep coming back because of us — the authenticity, the passion, and the willingness to be real while sharing the transaction.
(so, yeah. be authentic, passionate, and willing to be real.)
* Buy-Sell Transactions. Yes, interacting with Audience #1 involves selling something. A book. A work of art. A film. Audience #1 is willing to pay for that benefit, follow, and connection — in a transaction.

With Audience #1, the benefit goes both ways.
It’s both a hard and soft transaction.
(Hard = money; soft = benefit sharing)

But your Audience #2 has a different kind of transaction happening. 
Audience #2 is only about the soft transaction.
(We both benefit, and the benefit is intangible.)

How does Audience #2 work?
* Sharing Art. We create (make our art) and share it.
* Feedback and Support. By sharing our art, we receive feedback and support. while they receive positives from our art, too. Those with like minds cheer us on, keep us on our toes, and keep us sane. By sharing our art with those who wholeheartedly resonate, we form an intangible — yet highly beneficial — bond. And there’s something wonderful about resonating with a group, isn’t there?
* Personal Growth. Finally, that support feeds our spirit. Especially among artists, like-minded banter sharpens our thoughts and, ultimately, sharpens our craft.

So.
What kind of audiences do you cultivate?
<<I contend that we need both.>>

Because
I believe
when we aim ONLY for the target-market transaction,
the arrow may hit the mark, but we lose a bit of humanity.

(Not everything we do is about getting.)
(Balance your audiences.)
(We need a Clan, not just a Tribe.)

A Clan is your like-minded, life-minded people-group
bound by intangibles that matter.

Don’t think it’s a waste of time, to give freely to your like-minded peeps.)

* Thup
coffeecupAug3-14

In fiction, to truncate time is to jump — or skip over — time in the story.

Authors truncate time because we readers don’t need to know every single minute in the character’s life.

Or every single hour. Or every single day. What the heck, we can skip whole months and years, if we want to, and the story goes on.

For example…

* The wet ropes kept slipping, so it took him about five minutes to wrap them around the ship’s metal bars…
* Within five hours, we’d broken down the sprawling camp and packed the two jeeps full…
* The next morning, even after the sun rose, it was still dark as the rain continued
* After five days of driving the reluctant horses across the dusty plains, we rested…
* It took five weeks for the party of twelve to cross the range…

(Okay, you might not get away with five weeks… but if you’re writing/reading a War-and-Peace-type-of-story-thingy, hey, it might happen.)

Truncating time is tricky.
You have to pick and choose the place of your time loss with thought. You have to choose your amount time loss with care.
(It has to make sense.)

In our personal lives, though, truncating time doesn’t make sense.

We have to go through things, good and bad.
We can’t skip the hard parts (even though we’d like to).

(Oh, how we’d like to.)

Pain happens.
Rejection.
Loss.
Death.

And it never comes at a time that’s convenient.

Instead of truncating the time, we go through it.
Minute by minute.
Hour by hour.
Day by day.
Week by week.
Month by month.
Until the bad has passed, and we are okay again, in a new now.

Yes.
We do get through.
The pain gets to be less.
We do find a new path, a new way.
(And it’s good.)

But in the middle, we wish for truncated time.

Think about those around you.
I bet you can be there for someone who wishes for truncated time.

And if you’re in the middle this,
of time you wish could be skipped,
reach upward and outward.
Find a way to give love. Because love, on any level, heals.
And healing takes time.

* Thup
coffeeJul7-14

At its base, art is about the complexity of life.

For example.
Sometimes, we as people are just not enough. We miss the mark of someone’s expectations. Always. At some point.
It’s the way it goes.

And when we’re not enough for someone.
They may ignore us.
They may turn on us.
(They may do both.)
Oh, people. So human. So flawed. So completely uugh sometimes.
(All of us.)

A few may extend grace. But that’s rare.
(unfortunately. so unfortunately. rare.)

Writers, in your story, your hero has to get to the place where he or she is not enough. He doesn’t meet expectations. He gives up.

In other words.
Nothing works.
Nothing matters.
(A moment of death.)

It’s the hero’s decisions at that point that make your story run its fingertip along the sand of humanity.

Story is complicated.
(So is life.)

Artists draw or paint it.
Photographers capture it.
Dancers express it.
Writers write it.

Perhaps that’s the way we, as a people, can deal.
As in understanding.
As in catharsis.
As in simply being human.
Through art. Creativity. Expression.

Humanity.

* Thup
coffeeJune21-14

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