Published!

GMSTTW COVERThis is my book. I wrote it because I had to put my self out. Be out. These are pieces of me (they’re always called pieces, whether a piece of music, art, or writing) that assure me I was here. I never thought of that before, but it’s true. Creatives leave these little breadcrumbs like Hansel and Gretel.  Do they (we) then have a way to find our way back to ourselves? Does an architect leave a piece? No. They leave big things. Whole things like buildings and subdivisions. Are those pieces? Maybe. Engineers leave bridges, waterways, and aqueducts and dams and things. Doesn’t matter. They see edifices in their minds and build them. Creatives see music and art, and we write it, paint, or draw it. Then, we share it. Sometimes we perform it.

I could say my kids “prove” I was here. Or that I have photos that say, “I was here.” But I’m not sure of that. Some of the photos were taken when I was too little to remember. Was I really there?

My family should be pleased to know I was here. Hah. And they may see themselves immortalized in these pages, too. While many of the stories are pure fiction, some are versions of events that happened with the names of the characters changed. I wonder if they will recognize themselves.

That’s it. The book is available from Outskirts Press, on Amazon, and also on Barnes & Noble.

Now on to the next creation. I do hope some other (not family!) people will read this book and like it. Themes, lessons, and laughter titter through the pages, yes. But mostly I’m glad I wrote it. And published it. Just. For. Me. In. The. Wind.

 

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.

You Need a Break

Hire a professional. Perhaps a professional writer, even.

Maybe you have too many projects for the writers on your staff. Maybe you’re the writer and the staffTaking a Break from Writingand you’re doing it all. Sometimes it’s just plain hard to come up with a new angle. Your writers and you have been writing about the company for years. It’s difficult to create spanking new content every time.  

“What are we going to write about today?” they plead, their eyes crossed from the sheer weight of the challenge. Perhaps Sisyphus, the mythological Greek king (whose punishment in hell was to push a rock up a mountain only to have it roll back down every time, again and again, and again) had it easier.

Take a break! Make it like the day a landscape architect comes to your home. Budget so you can afford it. The yard will look better, and fewer plants will die if the experts design, choose the correct plants, and set the automatic watering schedule for the best time of day and water requirements for healthy plants.

A “word architect” will likewise design a written project that will look better, will include the correct words for your audience and purpose, and will arrive with placement suggestions to deliver the (marketing) piece to the most effective promotional channels or media outlets.  Your feeling of relief is…priceless!

Find a way. Hire a professional. By hiring a landscape architect, or by indulging in, perhaps, an interior decorator or a writer, you will see that it’s good for the soul to take a break from the angst of Do-It-Yourself. It’s good for your head, too. It’s like taking a little vacation: you come back renewed and refreshed.

A freelance writer will let you take a break, and free your mind for other endeavors.

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.

 

 

 

“Perfect”

You’ve heard the word: Perfect. You’ll hear people saying it everywhere as you go through your day. Trust me. Everyone is saying the word. And quite frankly, it scares me.

I thought it was just a coincidence at first. Someone at a local store said it—then someone else. A little while after that, I asked a coworker if I had done something correctly, and she said yes, “Perfect.” Then in the next breath she said, “But you forgot to do this other part.”

It struck me at that moment as I replied to her, “Then, it was NOT perfect.” And it wasn’t.

I hear my kids say the word. I started to hear their friends say it. Still, I was in my own “backyard,” so it was continuing to be a local event. The next day, I was talking to someone toll free, back East. I heard THE WORD. “Perfect,” he said. And I knew the infection had spread.

The reason I call it an infection is exactly what happened when I had clearly made a mistake at my work, but was told what I had done was perfect. It wasn’t perfect, darn it. As I look at grade inflation in our schools, and as I continue to see that our California students are becoming less and less able to read and do math, and as our tax dollars to repair this damage become higher and higher, I wonder if the casual use of this simple word has caused the problem or if rather, it is a reflection of the problem. We are expecting less because our common perception of perfection has been tainted.

Webster’s II defines the word as follows:

Perfect (pûr′fikt) adj. 1. Lacking nothing essential to the whole: complete of its nature or kind. 2. Being in a state of undiminished or highest excellence: flawless 3. Completely adept or talented in a certain field or area; 4. Completely reproducing or corresponding to a type or original: exact; 5. Thorough: complete; 6. Undiluted, pure; 7. Excellent and delightful in all respects.

Evidently, I’m a traditionalist from the looks of Webster’s continuation:

usage: Traditionalists consider perfect to be an absolute term and therefore reject its use with modifiers of degree such as more or less. Nonetheless such usage is entirely acceptable, esp. when perfect is used in the sense of excellent in all respects.. . .as in A more perfect example could not be found.”

But I feel cheated. Am I missing something or do I see from the above that even Webster’s waffles on the concept?

The problem as I see it is that we think we see perfection every day. The media has made it possible for us to hear Pavarotti, see Tiger Woods, experience a clever movie like “Toy Story” or “Monsters, Inc.,” and make us believe that the end result, perfection, is within our reach, and easy to attain. The world experiences a shortened end-result kind of view, and it seems that especially kids of today have no concept of the hours, days, weeks, months and years of discipline and practice and work that it takes to approach, much less achieve, perfection. And the schools let kids believe that:

1)     … they are becoming closer to perfect. (Why wouldn’t they think that? Their grades are higher. How is it, then, that many kids are “dumber?”)

2 )    … if the children don’t achieve perfection, they can’t enjoy an activity. At a very young age, some kids are kept from playing sports if they aren’t “good.” Equally, they are not allowed to lose. In fact, soccer games are not scored these days for little kids, because someone didn’t want their child to experience losing. WHAT? Maybe if you don’t lose, then you can pretend you’re perfect? (!)

Here’s an example. A friend of mine attended an art seminar. He’s just learning and is not an artist by profession, but he wanted to enjoy it as a thoroughly escapist experience from his normal work. He was flanked at his worktable by professional artists. His work was clearly rudimentary in comparison, but it didn’t matter. He was enjoying the experience and was not expecting perfection. No one there said his work was perfect. It wasn’t. He knew it; they knew it. But in the vernacular of the day, someone might have said. “Wow!  That’s perfect!” Further, that he was there as a non-professional surprised everyone in the room. Can we enjoy things for what they are and not even strive for perfection?

There really is no such thing as perfection. Ask any artist, musician, athlete, writer, scientist or any professional you want. They will never have reached it if they are worth their salt. The artist could have always “painted those clouds to look just a little more real.” The musician, having not even missed a note, could have “played that passage just a tiny bit better.” A scratch golfer could always have “done a little better on that last hole.”   So there is no perfection in the world. Therefore, the word perfect is only an idea, a concept, a goal, an objective, an ethereal, wonderful target to strive to reach, but not to be used lightly in a casual, offhand manner as it is today. This article, as an example, is not perfect, but it says what I want to say, and is worth writing for that reason. It’s not perfect, dammit, but I felt strongly that society’s current notion of perfection had to be explored.

Next time you hear yourself say “perfect”(and I know you’ll do it), stop yourself and ask if it really is or not. Obviously, it can’t be, as there is no perfection. Instead substitute “That’s fine,” or “That’s sufficient, okay, adequate, or passable.” Or try:

“That works.”

“That’ll do.” (as in “That’ll do, Pig” from the movie Babe)

“That makes sense.”

“That works for me.”

“That’s good.”

Any of these makes the other person feel that although it (whatever “it” is) might be great, there is room for just a little bit more. Because there always is.