WRITING Is Not Easy

We are inundated with content all day long. We are buried in promotions. Suffocating from inbound. Struggling to create outbound. So because writing is all around us, it seems that it is an easy thing to do. But it’s not. WRITING is not easy. Good writing is really, really hard.

  • People write emails all day long. They’re writing. Right? No. It’s not WRITING. On the other hand…
  • Writing is not surgery. Good writing isn’t either. But writing is important. (Examples: The U.S. Constitution, The Bible, The Koran, etc.). And it may save lives as in well-written checklists like those in Atul Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto or an instruction manual for electrical wiring.

Writing may save lives.

  • You need a license to practice surgery. And while you do not need one to write, you do need a license to drive a car and to be officially married.
  • Did you think about the fact that you do not need a license to have a child?

Having a license sets people apart. It denotes a level of proficiency. Yet, even after obtaining a license, people practice what they have learned to become good at it. Doctors, dentists, and lawyers have “practices.” Professional musicians practice. Dancers, actors and other people who are not licensed practice long hours to attain the level for which they can be paid… as a professional. Writers do, too.

People struggle to write well. Professional writers struggle more. Tennis players strive to play well. Professional tennis players strive harder and longer. Professional golfers and painters (or anyone who needs the Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours of practice to be really good) do not have licenses but compete to be deemed the best at what they do. Writers that write for 10,000 hours do not always get their books published by one of the big publishing houses. That also takes luck. (And luck is also a Malcolm Gladwell Outlier ingredient for success.)

Good writing is not easy. We can try to write more because we think more is better. However, practicing long hours is only helpful if it’s correct practice. Because so many people write all day long, they may think they will become better at it. Yes. Better.  But to be a really good writer, people can take a class. Buy a book on writing. Enter contests, and seek legitimate publishing venues. Or they can hire a professional writer to write with them.

Bottom line:  Really good writing is extremely hard to do. There is no license to be a writer. Masters and Doctorate degrees—yes. Otherwise, the proof is in the publishing. In clarity and voice and tone. However, the real proof: the pleasure of reading good writing of any kind.

Exclamation Points!!!

Has anyone noticed besides me? When I first started writing professionally, the rule was “only one exclamation point on a page.” What happened? The little devils sneak into so many places, they’re like ants, crawling through paragraphs carrying their dead and dropping them here and there, I guess. I don’t know. Exclamation pointDefining Your Projects are everywhere. (I had to restrain from an exclamation point on that last sentence because it’s all too easy to fall in the trap, the habit of it.)

The writer F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.” Do not use even one of these marks unless you’re convinced it is justified. Here’s the problem:

If everything is important, nothing is important.

In business writing and journalism, the exclamation point is not appropriate. So…what do you do? Make your writing provocative without the use of the little buggers. Using great verbs helps.

What else? Use exclamation points sparingly, one per page (like they said in the old days) so that when the mark appears, it means something.  Whatever the subject, the single mark on the page will stand out… not shout, but  speak loudly for readers that are paying attention. Even for those that aren’t aware of it consciously, they will sense it.

In writing as in many endeavors, it’s the little things that make a difference. The professional writer knows. We share. People grow. It’s good.

More to the point (pun intended) what does it say about society that we have to make everything astonishing? It says we have too much content and everyone wants theirs to be the best, the newest, the “mostest.” So we rely on this lowly mark, this unassuming line/dot that has suddenly found its way into the limelight, like the people who have recently died (Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, et al) who have become even more famous from a Social Media blitz that elevates these two, albeit already-famous personae, to demigoddesses. Over the top. Trop. Excess. It’s a way of life, and the exclamation point is but a symptom of the malaise. It seems we simply can’t leave things alone to stand on their own two feet. I am contributing content here, but at least I am not going to try to escalate the importance of this rant by inserting an exclamation mark somewhere to prove the point, so to speak. For the record, it seems that more exclamation points would be the next step… as in the title. But when does it stop?????

I’m done now. I think.

 

 

 

A Little Science to the Rescue

Below is my list of a few things for which I would just as soon have someone or something come to me in the middle of the night and handle, so I don’t have to make an appointment for it, panic myself with the anticipation of it, suffer the pain of it, or take the time for it.

1.     Pap Smears

2.     Mammograms

3.     Colonoscopies

4.     Teeth cleaning

5.     Bikini waxing

6.     Shaving

7.     Manicures

8.     Pedicures

9.     Eyebrow tweezing

10.  Mustache bleaching

11.  Chin hair plucking

12.  Eye appointments

13.  Breast reduction

14.  Breast enhancement

15.  Liposuction

16.  Dental work

17.  Haircuts

18.  Wrinkle Removal

19.  Lasik Eye Surgery

20.  Nose jobs

21.  Appendectomies

 

For men we can add:

1.     Face Shaving

2.     Vasectomies

3.     Prostate exams

 

My idea is to have a work crew of nanobots who get off their collective tiny little asses and take care of this stuff for me. So what is a nanobot? The prefix “nano” means one billionth. When referring to size, a nanometer, then, is one billionth of a meter. Still need help? A human hair is 50,000 nanometers in diameter. The smallest thing one can see with the unaided human eye is 10,000 nanometers across. The measurement of the dot above the letter “i” in this sentence is approximately one million nanometers.

Hopefully you have heard of the serious field of study called nanoscience, which researches the fundamental principles of molecules and structures with a size of between one and one hundred nanometers. The nanobot falls more under the related field of microelectromechanical (cool word, huh?!) systems, which we can thankfully shorten to MEMS. The scientists (they’re full-sized people by the way) who are developing this phase of the research strive to manufacture tiny robots that can flow through the bloodstream, delivering drugs and repairing tissue. These structures are usually between 1,000 and 1,000,000 nanometers in size. This is not science fiction. To wit, L’Oréal and Lancôme are already using nanoparticles in skin creams and hair conditioners. IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Lucent (they’re out of business today) were using nanotechnology in their computers. AND WHO HASN’T HEARD OF THE NANOPOD – a very small IPOD that holds 1000 tunes? (How cool to see “nano” was so forward-thinking back when this was penned.)

magnifying-glassOne of the goals of the MEMS scientists is to teach the robots to build more robots! This may present problems if the robots get out of control (as in the novel PREY by Michael Crichton), but novels aside, there is genuine science already proceeding with nanotechnology, nanostructures, and MEMS. This little science lesson is now over. If you’re interested, here are two of many references on the subject: The Next Big Thing is Really Small (© 2003) by Jack Uldrich with Deb Newberry, and Nanotechnology, A Gentle Introduction to the Next Big Idea (© 2003) by Mark and Daniel Ratner.

Now, back to my list. I know there are people out there who actually LIKE to have some of these things done. However, as I look at the bulk of the items on my list, I’d have to assume the nanobot idea will take hold, and some entrepreneur with very tiny offices and very good eyesight will figure out how to rally these miniature non-unionized workers and make a million dollars in the first few weeks of business.

In general, these tasks are things that I would just as soon not be there for at all, and in fact, if a nanobot did it VERY QUIETLY and VERY GENTLY whilst I was sleeping VERY DEEPLY, it would be awesome. They could do it all at once, as far as I am concerned. I’d wake up in the morning and it would be handled. It’s tantamount to the pure joy of coming in from working all day; the house is clean and spotless, dinner is made, candles are lit throughout the house, soft music is playing, and a well-toned, mute, scantily clad person of choice is waiting to pass out foot rubs and bring beverages of any variety, perfectly made, quickly without nagging, begging, or bickering.

Does this sound outlandish? The idea of a washing machine for women in the old days sounded impossible to them, didn’t it? Well, why can’t we expect to have a future that holds really cool stuff for us? I haven’t figured out a way to leave my head at the hairdresser’s, my hands and feet at the manicurist’s, and other body parts at other places to be poked, probed and handled, as it were. More importantly, I don’t like being awake to feel some of these invasions.

Don’t get me wrong. There are sometimes, many times, when having manicures and pedicures, as an example, are just delightful. They are a break in the action. They let us feel pampered, fawned over, and special. It’s when there really is no time, deadlines loom heavy, the “fit has hit the shan,” and you’re just not able to fit it in. Your nails look like crap, your hair badly needs a cut or color, your teeth need cleaning because your breath catches fire when near a heat source, and you wish the twenty-four hour day would expand to thirty, and your need-for-sleep factor would reduce to zero. We’ve all been there.

MY idea of nanobots are those that would be fitted with little microchips and trained to roam the body eating cuticles, handling your pap smear, ridding your teeth of plaque, checking for cavities, and dragging huge (for them) razors across body parts, like ants carrying a hot dog bun, to rid you of unwanted hair. But, until the next huge, or should I say tiny, breakthrough in nanotechnology, I guess I’ll have to continue to do all of my icky things by and to myself and with myself present.

At the moment, though, my clothes are washing themselves in the washing machine.

 

© Kathryn Atkins, 2005

The Sky Is Falling!

Chicken Little was sure of it. I am too. I felt it. Didn’t you? Bang. There goes another one. I especially feel this way when I look at news — or read a newspaper (yes I still do that, although I’m not sure why).

Here’s the deal: Chicken Little attracted ATTENTION when she said the sky was falling. But even though she is wrong, that doesn’t stop her from alarming those around her.

Today’s media has a “Sky Is Falling” mentality.  While they’re not usually wrong, they’re rarely telling us about something good that’s happened. It’s probably a good idea to ignore the news. If we don’t know the sky is falling, we don’t worry about it nearly as much, and are able to accomplish more because of it. When something REAL happens, then we can engage.

I like to think about the two main variations on the ending of the Chicken Little story, each providing a strong moral or takeaway (which is what fables are supposed to do). (1) In the happy ending, the story makes a case for standing up for whatever you believe in. It’s okay to be different and a little weird. Spoiler alert for ending #1 . Chicken Little and her friends don’t get eaten by the fox. (2) In the unhappy ending, the moral has to do with the consequences of believing everything you hear, no matter how ridiculous. Spoiler alert for ending #2. Chicken Little and her friends are all eaten by the fox.

I like the happy ending. I want today’s children to understand that being different is a good thing. Yes, you might get eaten, but if getting eaten is only failing, what’s to worry about? Lots of people fail and then rise like a Phoenix from the ashes of their defeat, stronger and more prepared for the next battle. On the other hand, I am very tired of the Media trying to outdo each other with the worst story du jour. The trouble is, there are too many pieces of ugly sky falling about our head and shoulders these days.

Here’s what: I say make today a good day. If you choose to watch the news and see that the sky is falling, decide if there’s anything you can do about it. If not, keep doing what you’re doing, and dare to be different. Be the weird Chicken Little. Run around with feathers flying. Squawk a little. Better yet, make the sky fall. Carve a Steve Jobs ding in your universe and then eat the fox.