Category Archives: Writing

Crafting Things and Quiet Time

I have been trying to find my way back to writer mode.  Kitten is now 13 weeks old and the current challenges are normal kittenly concerns – don’t chew that electrical cord, not a good idea to pounce on a sleeping dog, unrolling the entire toilet paper roll is a bad idea.  (He has particular trouble with that last one as the unrolling makes him so gleeful.)  Now the vigilance is similar to parental, but not quite so intense.  Still, I am struggling with getting my mind into a fertile writing groove.

 

I have had time to think about creativity.  I always find it interesting to steer a conversation onto a person’s impression of their own creativity, especially if I consider that person to be creative in some manner.  It is rare for the person to define themselves as creative.  “Oh, no I am (fill in the blank with any number of adjectives)…”  Creative seems to be something reserved for the application of lofty projects and considerable talent.

 

Crafty is often the chosen adjective, more likely if my conversation companion is female.  Crafty seems to fall within the realm of hobbyist, putterer, occasional participant.  Somehow people are more comfortable identifying themselves as crafty – or some word that directly identifies their chosen mode of creative expression such as knitter, woodworker – than claiming to be creative.

 

Both of my parents were creative, crafty – dad with woodworking and mom with sewing.  I spent hours quietly watching each work on projects as a child.  Dad also painted, made models, and drew.  Mom also wrote, played the piano, and learned dozens of crafts over her lifetime.  I grew up expecting creativity to be a part of life.  Not only to admire what others did, but to participate in something creative of my own.

 

It takes time for quiet thought, this ability to create.  Melville said that a writer needs to be in a ‘quiet, grass growing’ mood to write and I think that applies to almost any other creative endeavor.  Time must be carved out of an overfull schedule, understanding of when the mind is most fertile for ideas to grow.  It should be a block of uninterrupted time.  Which is hard to arrange with a small creature in the house.

Egonforblog

I am eager to get my writing muscles back into shape, but fear I will not be a regular poster for some time unfortunately.

 

So, what about you – do you consider yourself creative?

 

© 2015 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Collaborative Writing

Writing is supposed to be done alone in a cold garret somewhere.  The writer tortured to some degree by the blank page.  Characters, storyline, theme development all taking up a great deal of space in the writer’s thoughts.  Is that still the image?

 

How about the place of the reader?  Should a writer develop ideas based solely on personal interest and preference, or in some consideration of the potential reader?  Particularly in this medium, which is so immediately public.  And yet, only so much so as the blog’s SEO commands.

 

public domain image

public domain image

I used to wonder about writing as part of a group.  I did take a play writing course in high school where we often worked in teams on pairs.  Sometimes this led to better pieces and sometimes to drivel. How does the division of labor work out?

 

I warmed to collaborative writing in the business environment.  It helped that I came across a writing partner with similar sensibilities and a more developed (at the time) methodology.  One or the other of us would usually take a first stab at writing the first draft after a brief discussion of need or intent and then we would sit together and hone it.  Move sections about, sharpen wording, tighten the message so that there was plenty of white space.  White space is very important in business writing.  In the early days, I thought that she spent too much time honing.  But I learned better editing.

 

I came to realize that my interest in fiction was actually useful in this writing environment.  Story is necessary here, too.  Not as in making something up, but in creating a clear arc; keeping the focus of the piece clean.  Every detail isn’t necessary, in fact too much detail is detrimental to keeping the reader engaged in the message.

 

We are writing about this issue.  This is a bit of the background for why we are writing.  This is the solution.  The adage to start in the middle has merit here, captures interest.  Keeps things moving.

 

A strong conclusion – with a call to action.  Here is what we want you to do with this information.  In business writing the reader is highly important, if not properly considered then the message may fail.  Collaboration of minds and writing styles can make the effort more effective.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Pursuing Ideas

I have trouble getting my mind to quiet down.  Tick, tick, tick it goes – all the time.  Sometimes it is a gibberish jumble and other times laser focused on a single topic.  I think that is part and parcel of writing since writing begins with the formulation of an idea.

 

What makes a person a writer is the compulsion to write, to put that idea on paper (virtual or real) and pursue it, build it, launch it, nurture its growth.  Sometimes that idea that started out as a tangle of gibberish becomes a viable, wonderful thing.  And sometimes that laser clear idea collapses into useless mush.  For now.  (I don’t fully discard any post that I’ve started, it might have a seed for a future idea.)

 

Walking and driving distances are great for mulling ideas but lousy for capturing them.  I now try to remember to keep a recording device in the car on long trips, and can find myself chanting a couple of sentences when hurrying home from an amble.

more Jisco West

Waking up slowly is also fertile idea time.  My mind likes to tell me the things it has been pondering while asleep if I let it.

 

Sometimes repetitive tasks can bring forth a good thought or two that have been wandering in the back of my mind while my hands are busy.  It can be annoying when the thought gels in the morning when I’m getting ready for work so all I can do is jot it down on my way out the door.  And hope that I can pick it back up at the end of the day.

 

I like the discipline of posting regularly as a bit of pressure to complete an idea.  Although there are periods when too many ideas don’t pan out.  And nothing that I have previously completed appeals to me at the moment when I should post to meet my self-imposed deadline.  Sometimes my post meets the writer’s version of software developer’s minimum viable product.  And sometimes a post that I felt came together quite well is received with a thud or echoing silence.

 

What the writer writes isn’t always what the reader perceives.

 

Or maybe I am overthinking.  What is the right amount of thinking on any one topic, idea or issue?  My hat is off to the person who gets the answer to that one right more often than not.

 

Now that I am rounding up in a couple of months to completion of my second year blogging, I have been thinking about objectives.  (Different pursuit of ideas.)  My first objective was to set up a blog and see if I could sustain it past the average of 4 months.  Counting my first blog, I have certainly met that objective.  Then I thought a year was a fine goal.  Met, check.

 

As I became more familiar with the blogosphere, I realized that I wanted to find a community of bloggers, and I have managed to find or be found by others with similar interests.  Not quite a community since there is little cohesion beyond the fact that we are all blogging on WordPress.

 

Not being content with blogging for the sake of blogging, I have been wrestling with the open question of ‘now what?’.  I don’t have an answer for myself.  I will keep pursuing ideas to blog about while I pursue this larger idea.

 

Any suggestions?

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Things I did Instead

I have a post that I have been working on for the past couple of days, but it isn’t ready to show yet.  I have other half done posts that aren’t even that close and time says it is up, post time is at hand.  Crap.

 

How many others have sat down to write today’s blog post and noodled on one thing until it petered out, and then fiddled with another until it seemed garbled?  How often have you stared at the screen for a little bit and thought about how you got farther today than yesterday when you didn’t even bother to open up a new post and stare at the screen?

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public domain image

 

When writing isn’t happening, eventually I stand up and wander about the house and:

  • Clean the tracks on the shower stall and the tracks on the sliding door
  • Water the indoor plants
  • Take inventory of the kitchen and bathroom for a grocery list
  • Pull out the lambswool tool and get rid of cobwebs
  • Go for a walk (and I’m even nice enough to bring my son’s dog along)
  • Collect quotes cut out from various magazines that have appealed to me and put them in the book that I keep for that purpose
  • Go through the pile of mail, flyers and papers that breed on the table
  • Ponder what to make to use up the 2 overripe bananas on the counter
  • Watch Sneakers or other dated, but still entertaining movies
  • Thought about going out to get plants for my 2 hanging baskets but then realized that wouldn’t appear to be writing in the slightest

 

And this is the post that you get today.  What do you get done when you are ‘writing’?

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Why Write?

I was raised to think, not just do.  This thing happened to me, mom.  Why do you think it happened like that?  What can you do about it?  The balance is to think and then do, or you get analysis paralysis.

 

This is at least the third version of a piece that I revisit periodically ever since I stumbled upon this exercise.  The first version was read by me and the person at Poets and Writers magazine who rejected the submission.  The second was posted on my original blog as Why I Write.  It seems like every other person is a frustrated writer these days.  Some people are attracted by the potential for fast money, so it behooves those of us who persist at the craft to think about why we do what we do.  And since we are writers, thinking usually means writing.

 

Writing is permanence in a disposable world.  Committing words to paper – electronic or actual – requires a bit of thought beyond letting them spill from your mouth and moving on.  Which doesn’t mean that a writer can’t do the written version of misspeaking, mind you.  That’s why we need editors.

 

For every attempted act of communication there is equal opportunity for misunderstanding and discord as there is for understanding and agreement.  Written communication allows the opportunity for more deliberate consideration of intent and word choice to appeal to the ideal audience.

 

We learn very early, probably as our first conscious thought, that we have to figure out how to communicate.  Our needs are simple but urgent – food, sleep, a fresh diaper.  But babies have little means to get their point across and then they start to decode the sounds that they hear as words with attached generally accepted meanings.  Ah, communication begins.

 

We spend the rest of our lives communicating, whether we actively think about it or not.  Most often through oral communication, but we have to learn that pesky written part too.  (It is fascinating that for as many people who claim interest in writing, a large number of people groan at the idea of using writing as a means to communicate in business.)

 

Spoken words can fade in the memory, or morph into something entirely else than originally intended but written down they can become information that can be referenced again and again.  Imagine being given multi-step instructions verbally and then having to recall step 6 or so, some time later.  If you have this ability, I applaud you.  I can create a mental list of 4-5 things that I need at the store, recite it all the way and only manage to remember that there were supposed to be 4-5 things in my basket when I actually get to the store.

 

The act of writing, itself, helps the brain to remember the point more clearly.  This is why we are taught to take notes in school.  Typing the thing has some power, but not nearly the power as picking up a pencil or pen and putting it to paper.

 

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public domain image

Written communication reaches more people with exactly the same message than through word of mouth.  (Remember the game of telephone?)  This doesn’t mean that the message will be interpreted the same by all recipients, but at least it was the same message at the beginning.

 

I wasn’t sure what would come out when I decided to revisit this topic today, it appears to be more general and less personal than the other efforts.  Who knows how it will turn out next time.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Do the Lady and the Tiger Still have Power?

Certain events and experiences have a powerful impact far beyond the time that they take to occur.  I think that is a safe assertion to make.  We all know someone who still brings up their glory moment from their distant past every chance that they get.

 

I won’t bore you with a long ago glory moment.  But story moments, now those are worth bringing up again.  In some cases I have let the author (shame on me as someone so interested in writing) or the title fade but the storyline comes back fresh as the day that I read it.  There are many stories from my early teens that have this resonating factor to this day.  Some I read in a classroom and some I stumbled upon in a library.

 

Frank Stockton’s “The Lady or the Tiger” is one such story.  I read it in Mr. Bruno’s 7th grade class which would make me about 12 I think.  We read some great stuff in Mr. Bruno’s class – I’m sure that I have mentioned him here before.  (The search function in WordPress declares my memory to be faulty, I wrote about him on my old blog – Take it for Your Share and Go On)

 

public domain image

public domain image

Mr. Bruno gave us a writing assignment to determine the end of the story because crafty Frank Stockton left the reader hanging.  Well, I couldn’t settle on a convincing argument for either resolution so I got crafty myself, got into the main character’s head while he pondered his choices and just as he reached for the door he had chosen, my essay ended.  Mr. Bruno loved my piece and gave me an A.  And I learned a great deal about decision making and storytelling.

 

Now I have come home with a new book – bought from the clearance table (double bonus) – that is an anthology of stories where the writer leaves it up to the reader to tie up all the ends.  Guess what story is in the book?  Yes, my old favorite.  Plus it seems Frank Stockton wrote a follow up story and I just adore the title already, “The Discourager of Hesitancy”.  I hope the story lives up to that fabulous title.

 

First, I will have to read “The Lady or the Tiger” again.  And I am a bit hesitant because Thomas Wolfe famously told us You Can’t Go Home Again.  What if the Lady and the Tiger have lost their power over me?

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Not an Optimal Time to Think

If we were to be asked, we would say that we should always think about what’s going on, what we are doing because it cuts down on mistakes.  And then there is reality, often a far cry from what is best practice.  Well, to err is human.

 

Ask a person how something went wrong – a car accident, a work mistake, hurt feelings after a callous comment – and the answer most likely boils down to ‘I didn’t think’.  Too much was going on in that person’s mind at that moment and the most immediate task became the casualty of the overtaxed thinking process.

thinking

This is why we practice things, why we drill something over and over, so that the activity creates a sort of groove in our brain and that memory kicks in every time we take up that activity.  (Think of the times that you have been tired and pulled into your driveway and realized you don’t remember the trip at all.)  All that practice makes it more possible that we’ll do the right thing even if we might be fighting panic or illness or something else entirely.  But it isn’t foolproof.

 

I have tacked up bits and scraps of paper near my writing desk (which I rarely use now that I have a laptop…), these scraps hold advice on writing from past well-known writers.  One is apropos for today, because it can be applied to thinking as well as writing.  It is Herman Melville who said it, but it comes to us through Sarah Paretsky; a writer must be in a ‘silent grass growing mood’ in order to write.

 

Think of all the times that you know a thing but it just won’t crystalize in that moment.  Most likely because that moment isn’t an optimal time to think – there is noise, distraction, pressure coming from somewhere and clouding your thought process.

 

I equate this to my math difficulties.  My brain shuts down on any math when I am in a group.  This goes back to a horrid game that was suddenly introduced to me on a steel gray February morning in 2nd or 3rd grade.  I had just moved to the school, so my classmates had been practicing this game for months.  To this day my brain simply says no if I have to do math when there is any attention on me.

 

I needed a silent grass growing mood to get a firm grasp on math concepts and then practice to gain speed before I played that stupid game.  Even understanding the root of my math anxiety, it is rarely an optimal time for me to think in mathematical concepts when I’m in public.

 

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

The Power of the Right Word

We learn to speak without understanding the power of language.  We just know that we start to associate specific combinations of sounds to the result that we want – combining sounds to produce ‘juice’ gets us a sweet, cold beverage that slakes our thirst.  So we say it again when our mouth is dry and we need liquid.  Other sound combinations get results too – uttering ‘mommy’ or ‘daddy’ gets lots of wonderful attention, hugs and kisses.  Score!

 

Somewhere along the line we experience the pain of words too.  A casually repeated word like ‘dummy’ gains a lecture about not hurting others perhaps.  But do we really understand the power of words yet?

 

Learning that certain words have specific associations to a place – the playground has looser rules than the classroom – teaches us a level of appropriateness, but not necessarily understanding.  We have just enough to know how to be hurtful without knowing why we might be hurtful.

 

I love words – their sound, combining them for just the right effect – I love to read them and to write them.  I want to understand them, not just use them.  When I am trying to make a point with people who don’t have the same intense relationship to words I like to use an example.  If you need a group to listen you can say different things – examples run from ‘Be quiet’ to ‘Shut up’.  These are essentially the same command but they have very different connotations for the listeners.  If you would like to show authority, but not disrespect toward the group, then your option is clearly ‘be quiet’, ‘quiet, please’ or something along that line.

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I know that I cannot expect others to love words as I do.  But this example usually helps to gain understanding.  In English, we have many options to say something, to get our point across – all valid – which makes choosing the right option for the circumstance an important step.  What do we intend to convey?  Who is our audience?  What is important within the message that is also important to the audience?

 

There is so much that should go into word choice, too much for one blog post.  I need a reminder now and then that words have alternate meanings, even regional meanings sometimes, and that the point of combining sounds into words and words into sentences and paragraphs is to communicate.  Communicating isn’t just about what I want to say, but about how the person or group who will receive the message will perceive it.  The right word has great power, and the wrong word – well, there is usually a long list of trending social media topics about the famous folks who chose the wrong word at the wrong time.

 

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Dis-orientingly Familiar

I have lived in many places in my life – sometimes you can pass through a place, even live there for a good chunk of time, without the place grabbing much of a hold on your memory and other places dig deep roots into your heart, even in a short stay.  And the place that prompted me to write is one that dug deep.  It was nice to get a chance to go back recently, even briefly, and check how the town and some of the people that I know are faring.

Living now in the Chicago area, there isn’t much contour to our prairie, but this area has plenty of hills and valleys.  Some of the state routes and other roads connecting towns used to be 2 lane back roads with character including twists and turns – but over time through government investment, need due to heavy use, and hard work of construction workers these routes and roads have become 4 lane highways and therefore been straightened out and lost character.  It is now faster to get from one place to another, and you don’t have fear what might be taking that next curve wide, but the scenery is blander.

more Jisco West

Progress seems to smooth out personality.

I’ve noticed that this seems true with clothing and buildings as well.  Look at items that were made painstakingly by hand in previous centuries and you will see intricate work that we don’t see in many of our modern items – straighter lines, more uniform.

I know this thing, if not clearly anymore, I know it viscerally.  This is where the old road went that way.  This is where the door used to be.  Even if you haven’t lived many places I bet you can identify – think about when you have visited some place and found that they have similar street names.  Which makes you think twice as hard to get from A to B – is it your usual A to B, or a different one that should not overlay existing information?  Names are the same, but contours and results are quite different.

We know it, but we don’t and it is disorienting.  Our brains stutter to gain certainty – this, no that, um.  Breathe, not panic.  Familiar, why?  What fits with what?  Set aside the unknown for a moment, focus on the known – even vague misty known.  And click.  Understanding starts, disorientation recedes.  I am here, now.  Whew.

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Go For It and Carry a Hello Kitty™ Lunchbox

There is a constant yin-yang between wanting to fit in and expressing individuality.  We somehow think that we will leave this behind when we cross the threshold to adulthood and finally be comfortable, but find soon enough – drat it all – that this balance is a life-long pursuit in our personal and professional lives.  And balance is probably not the best word because how few of us ever feel that we have found just the right weighting of each element?  (Or even in those sweet moments that we do, how quickly something changes again.)

 

We progress through life attempting to figure out how to fit in within ourselves and also within various groups.  Do I?  Should I?  How was that?  Validation is sweet.  Small set-backs in one area can ripple through our impression of placement in other areas painfully and quickly.  Seismic moments of uncertainty can make us want to jump in bed, pull the covers up and figure out how to be a hermit.

 

I have been able to find my way through life, so far, in a manner that has allowed me to sample many geographic areas, various groups – formal and informal, and provided latitude to explore different ideas.  I have soared and I have stumbled, mostly plodded along at a fairly steady pace.  It has helped that my mom shared her infinite curiosity and my dad shared his determination.  These traits have served me well and stand in place of confidence and assuredness when necessary, plus make room for all sorts of adjustments here and there.

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About that Hello Kitty™ lunchbox – I am drawn to her calm, serene thoroughly pleased countenance.  But I was too old when she first came into popularity because she was marketed to girls several years younger than me.  Purportedly then, I was much too old when she came back to prominence a few years ago.  But a funny thing had happened in the years between.  I got comfortable enough with my sense of self that I could indulge in the whimsy that Hello Kitty™ offered, despite my advanced age.

 

When I received said lunchbox as a gift my practical side said, this will be more useful and less wasteful than paper bags; and my creative self said, what a great thing to give me a smile every day.  I was firmly on the leadership track at work by then, but I have never believed that professionalism leaves no room for personal – even quirky – expression.   I am possibly in the minority in this belief.

 

People from senior management down to entry level didn’t quite know how to react to my new possession.  Even the person who gave it to me might have been surprised that I used it at work.  (I never asked and she never said.)  Some people tried to make me feel embarrassed about carrying such a ‘childish’ item into an office.  ‘About that lunchbox of yours’ they would start and I would jump in, ‘doesn’t she just brighten up your day?’.   They didn’t know where to go after that.

 

I carried that lunchbox for about 6ish years.  Until she was looking a bit worn and tired.  Another friend gave me a new bag, also with personality, but this time more ‘grown-up’.  The Hello Kitty™ lunchbox was retired.  But she is still in my heart, rooting for self-expression.

 

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

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