Category Archives: Writing

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

Education and Learning

Academie des Sciences c1671 (photo credit Wikipedia)

Academie des Sciences c1671 (photo credit Wikipedia)

There is a great deal in life to learn, to be taught.

 

“Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing worth knowing can be taught.”

~ Oscar Wilde, “The Critic as Artist”

 

Education can introduce us to previously unknown topics, and willingness to learn will be the key to gaining knowledge.

 

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Formal Writing Habits

A friend called the other day to offer a suggestion for a blog post.  (I love it when they do.)  And we ended up in a bit of a debate.  Well, half of one anyway since we agreed that there is still a place for formal writing styles.  But disagreed whether the upcoming generations will consider this to be a truth.  Millennials now in the workplace, and those upcoming generations still in school. 

 

Cursive writing seems to be a dying art, saved now for posh invitations.  I’m ok with that, a lot of people say that they can’t read my writing anyway.  So too will it be for formal letter templates?  The salutation, indentation of a new paragraph – or my preferred extra carriage space – full sentences, grammar and punctuation?  (Do these younger people who’ve only known typing on a computer even know what I mean by carriage space?)

public domain image

public domain image

 

I am betting on the continuation of business letter formatting.  It is not a just because sort of thing, there is logic behind these rules.  Formal address is respectful and the format helps the eyes and the mind absorb the message where big blocks of unpunctuated text make the eyes and brain balk.

 

Everything old is new again – this has been rediscovered over and over as humans have evolved on this planet.  Formal styling in writing will see a resurgence.  The content of a message must be packaged carefully, in order to retain its meaning. 

 

Your turn – what say you?  Don’t let your younger self that struggled with all the little rules speak here; think about reading comprehension, eye strain, possibility of misunderstanding.  (Hey, if we could maintain this strict formatting using a typewriter doing it on computers is a breeze…  My friend isn’t here to push her side of the debate…)

 

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Success Over Failure

Success and failure could be seen as two ends of the same continuum.

 

“In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.”

~ Bill Cosby

 

Of course, you need to make certain that you know what your success is supposed to look like.

 

© 2013 BAReed Consulting | Business Writing Coach, All rights reserved

Making Things Happen

We all start out with dreams of our adult lives.

 

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.”

~ Henry David Thoreau

 

We need to remember that advancing in the direction of our dreams looks very different at various stages of our lives, but we shouldn’t stop advancing.

 

© 2013 BAReed Consulting | Business Writing Coach, All rights reserved

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