Archive for February, 2014

Playing with words means I go back to kindergarten. It’s like playing in a sandbox. So many choices. So many possibilities! But if you’re going to play in a sandbox, you’re going to need a structured space to hold the sand and to hold all of your wild, creative imaginings.

Having a writing space certainly brings familiarity and predictability, so all the words you have inside spill out like the bright sparkling grains of sand. Your writing space creates productivity even when circumstances change, and by necessity, you must change with them. You are able to come to that writing space time and time again to do the same natural process over and over again to get the same result: written words scrawled across the page.

Doing the same thing repetitively ingrains a habit. Good for writers, but bad for smokers and alcoholics. The tricky thing about writers is no one has the same methods for forcing yourself into your writing space, getting into the writing habit, and finding “The Zone.”

F or me, I do my writing in the early morning because I have work and night class. Mornings before the sun comes up are when I can plan what I’d like to accomplish without any distractions. My thinking is usually accompanied by a cup of coffee, a tasty bowl of cereal, and a fruit smoothie. I say to my brain, “Brain, what’s percolating? What’s cooking? What’s simmering on the back burner?” At this point I break out my mental pompoms and start cheering. “Let’s pump out some great words today. Let’s bash aside the critic. Let’s push the pen across the paper. Let’s let the fingers fly across the keyboard. Let’s write!”

Of course this is me on a good morning after I’ve had a solid eight hours of sleep. Most of the time, I’m half asleep when I try to arouse my brain into thinking coherent thoughts at 6 am.

If I can’t get my brain to function, I make a point to brainstorm during my errands or while I’m at work. Usually my brainstorming happens in the strangest places: near a housekeeping cart at the hospital, while driving in rush hour traffic, when standing in the shower, or during my daily walk.

No matter where I am though I try to be mindful of my bottom-line message by visualizing my audience. That is the only true writing habit I have. To be in tune with myself and my internal writing space, so I am able to write during any time or at any place.

As David Ebenbach advises in “The Portable Writer,” a writer must be flexible because “we are not who we are but what we do.”

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Posted in 2011, the entirety of this essay collection is available online but requires a paid Lit Reactor account for a tiny fee of $9 per month.

Essay #24 (Stocking Stuffers) was already summarized here: https://wordplay11.wordpress.com/2014/01/26/chuck-palahniuk. Once I read these 13 writing tips, I wanted to find out more as I’m sure you will too.

If you’re brand new to writing and do not have the finances to pursue a degree in creative/professional writing, I encourage you to use these essays to guide your writing process. If you’re busy with several part-time jobs to support your finances like me, #15 (When You Can’t Find a Writing Workshop) will be a great help to you if you want to pay the $9 fee. However, most of these tips–or similar ones–can be found around the interwebs.

If a tight budget doesn’t permit spending $9, save your money blog readers, and sign up for Lit Reactor by linking your Facebook account to the site. There are plenty of other how-to essays available for free on Lit Reactor.

Or you can read more of Palahniuk’s advice. Right now. Without signing up or even leaving this blog.

I’ve accessed one of Palahniuk’s 36 essays (#13 Nuts and Bolts — Punctuating with Gesture and Attribution) and summarized it here for your learning purposes. Happy reading!

Palahniuk forbids you to use thought verbs. What are thought verbs? Empty/weak/deadwood verbs. You know the ones.
  • Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Imagines, Desires
  • Loves, Hates, Forgets, Remembers

Original: Brenda knew she’d never make the deadline.

Revised: Brenda would never make the deadline.

“Thinking is abstract. Knowing and Believing are intangible,” Palahniuk writes. Allow the reader to feel smart by showing physical actions and placing details into context. Above all else, show instead of tell, which means you can’t use is or has either. Sorry, but Palahniuk forbids. You’ve got to find some other way to introduce smell, taste, sound, and feeling.
To do this, you’ve got to unpack the meaning behind these thought verbs. Write so the reader grasps the entirety of of the character’s actions, inner thoughts, behaviors. Stop taking stifling shortcuts, and instead use specifics that arouse the senses. Like a lawyer, you must use details to present your scene as you would a case.
Identify Thought Verbs: Thought verbs can often be found at the beginning of paragraphs. Find examples of thought verbs in published works and in your own writing. Figure out ways to revise them.

 

 

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Redefining Body Image offers 55 tips to take care of yourself when you are busy writing, working, or just doing day-to-day living. As a writer, you want to be at your physical, mental, and emotional best so you can create quality content quickly. This means doing the opposite of all the stereotypical writer vices such as smoking and drinking and illicit drugs. If you keep odd writing hours, at least make sure you get enough sleep to be at your peak performance. Don’t stay stuck in your writing position for too long. Get up;  move around; spend time with a friend; go for a walk; cook dinner, or do a load of laundry. Your writing brain will thank you for it.

Here is a list of my top 5 favorite healthy suggestions from Redefining Body Image

1. Take 5 minutes in the morning to just stretch and breathe

If you start your day in a stressful way, you’ll probably feel stressed for the rest of the day as well. Make sure your morning starts with 5 minutes of silence and ease. Stand up and stretch your body to make you as tall as you can be. Then bend over and touch the ground. Stretch again. Try to just feel your body and pay attention to your breath. Starting the day in a way like this will make you more relaxed as well.

2. Make a plan of everything that needs to be done

Instead of juggling all your to-do’s and must-remember’s, write them down on a piece of paper. Then make a plan of how you are going to manage everything before your deadline. You may have to schedule a lot of tasks on certain days, and it may seem like too much to do, but at least you’ll know that everything will get done. Make sure you stick to the plan, every single day. Don’t fall for the temptation to start on tomorrow’s tasks today, trust that the plan will take you there, and enjoy some free time on the days when you finish your tasks early.

3. Do something silly

Don’t forget to have fun! Who said you can’t laugh, even though you’re busy! Make jokes, engage with you co-workers, read comics and just allow yourself to be silly for a little while. I promise it will boost your mood, your co-workers’ moods and a little laughter every day will help you through a really challenging time.

4. Keep a tidy workspace, but accept a little clutter and mess.

A tidy workspace will make you more focused, relaxed and less overwhelmed. But if you fail to clean your apartment/house for one week, just let it be. Some dust and a little dirt has never hurt anyone. Focus on what’s important to you, and you can always clean up the mess later. Just don’t go around and feel bad about it on top of everything else!

5. Accept yourself as you are

Let yourself off the hook and accept that you are only human. You are doing your absolute best, and you are doing exactly what you need to do. Trust your instincts and keep doing whatever you’re doing. You don’t need to change anything about yourself – trust that you are perfect just the way you are.

On December 19, 2013, Target unveiled a press release regarding unauthorized access to payment card data that may have impacted certain guests making credit and debit card purchases in its U.S. stores. Approximately 40 million credit and debit card accounts may have been impacted between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15, 2013.

Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel delivered a message on December 20, 2013 stating:

We take this crime seriously. It was a crime against Target, our team members, and most importantly, our guests. We’re in this together, and in that spirit, we are extending a 10% discount – the same amount our team members receive – to guests who shop in U.S. stores on Dec. 21 and 22. Again, we recognize this issue has been confusing and disruptive during an already busy holiday season. We want to emphasize that the issue has been addressed and let guests know they can shop with confidence at their local Target stores.

Target released further media updates regarding the security breach from December 20, 23, 24, and 27 with a final update on January 10, 2014. The media updates surrounding Target’s security for credit card payments were both professional and timely. Both the media updates and the CEO’s statement reflects the emotions of his readers, which ranged from fearful, outraged and discomforted. The press releases all had language that reassured the reader that the issue was being addressed and would swiftly be resolved. Formatting for the press releases and released statement was easy for the eye to skim and the bottom line message was included within the first paragraph.

Then I received this email on January 15, 2014.

Original E-mail from Target received on January 15, 2014

Dear Target Guest,
As you may have heard or read, Target learned in mid-December that criminals forced their way into our systems and took guest information, including debit and credit card data. Late last week, as part of our ongoing investigation, we learned that additional information, including name, mailing address, phone number or email address, was also taken. I am writing to make you aware that your name, mailing address, phone number or email address may have been taken during the intrusion.
I am truly sorry this incident occurred and sincerely regret any inconvenience it may cause you. Because we value you as a guest and your trust is important to us, Target is offering one year of free credit monitoring to all Target guests who shopped in U.S. stores, through Experian’s® ProtectMyID® product which includes identity theft insurance where available. To receive your unique activation code for this service, please go to creditmonitoring.target.com and register before April 23, 2014. Activation codes must be redeemed by April 30, 2014.
In addition, to guard against possible scams, always be cautious about sharing personal information, such as Social Security numbers, passwords, user IDs and financial account information. Here are some tips that will help protect you:

  • Never share information with anyone over the phone, email or text, even if they claim to be someone you know or do business with. Instead, ask for a call-back number.
  • Delete texts immediately from numbers or names you don’t recognize.
  • Be wary of emails that ask for money or send you to suspicious websites. Don’t click links within emails you don’t recognize.
Target’s email communication regarding this incident will never ask you to provide personal or sensitive information.
Thank you for your patience and loyalty to Target. You can find additional information and FAQs about this incident at our Target.com/databreach website. If you have further questions, you may call us at 866-852-8680.
Gregg Steinhafel
Chairman, President and CEO

Rhetorical Analysis

“Should I be concerned?” was my first question. My original reading was that the situation was more serious. Taking the time to read this was a conscious effort on my part. I thought since it was a one page email with bullets I would have time to read this. I didn’t realize it would spawn an entire rhetorical analysis. Since it was addressed to me (I am a Target guest), I thought my personal information was a risk for being stolen. There was a sense of urgency in the language of this email. “Criminals forced their way into systems” immediately sets off red flags and fire alarms in my head. I figured this was especially urgent since the CEO (or the CEO’s ghostwriter) took the time to craft the email.

This topic had already been on my radar screen since both my sisters received letters from the credit union the three of us use. They were informed that they would be sent new debit cards because they had shopped at Target between November 27 thru December 15.  As for me, I had already checked my bank and credit card statements before receiving this email and nothing seemed amiss. My next question was, “Should I register for Experian’s Protect My Id product. Figuring it wasn’t necessary, I have instead chosen to be more cognizant and vigilant about the ways to protect myself from scams and identity theft.

After a close reading, I’ve determined that Target is still working on the investigation regarding the security system hacking that happened a month ago. I don’t have anything to be concerned about and can ignore the email, but not the rhetoric. Another reason why I wasn’t emotionally invested in taking the suggested action is that the idea wasn’t altogether sticky.

Made to Stick SUCCESs Analysis

(Click here to read more information on what makes an idea “sticky”).

I had to read this email several times to get a sense for the bottom-line message. Since this email raised more questions than answered them, I didn’t think the email was Simple. The email fulfilled the Unexpected category in a positive and negative way. I wasn’t expecting the security breach investigation to still be  ongoing. I also didn’t expect Target to provide a free identity protection service. A suggestion to make this email more Concrete would be to explain the process that forensic computer security investigators used to uncover what the hackers did. Since there weren’t any concrete details such as statistics on how many customers have been affected or helped, I didn’t think the email had much Credibility in terms of satisfying Target customers. The Emotional bent to the email was lost with business cliches such as “truly sorry” and “sincerely regret any inconvenience.” However the bulleted list does appeal to my self-interest to protect myself against identity theft. This email could have been a Story with a creativity plot that addressed the breakthrough needed to find out that Target’s security had been hacked. The opportunity to describe what was being done to solve the problem in an innovative way was also missed.

SUCCESs RATING: F

This post is a sneak peak of an Examiner post that will be published on 2/12/2014. Be sure to check out Examiner.com on that day to find out how to make your  cover letters and resumes stand out with memorable writing.

Making yourself and your writing memorable

Malcom Gladwell’s Tipping Point: How little things can make a big difference and Dan and Chip Heath’s Made to Stick: Why some ideas survive and others die take a look at the concept of “sticky ideas.” Sticky ideas are so memorable and powerful they change people’s behavior and are triggered by an overall feeling of pleasure at the initial encounter. The best way to describe a sticky idea is an incredibly effective slogan. Sticky ideas are a kind of word of mouth epidemic that is as catchy as Paul Revere’s “The redcoats are coming!” It was the right message delivered at the right time to the right people by packaging it in a relevant, contagious, and irresistible way.

Gladwell describes a tipping point as a sudden and radical change brought on by a critical moment of absolute certainty that it will stick. The Heath brothers define a sticky idea as being a simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, and emotional story. Sticky ideas are understood, remembered, and retold because they leave a lasting impact. Strip down (not dumb down) to the core. The essence of your main message should have a clear purpose to prevent the reader from suffering decision paralysis–the inability to move forward because excessive ambiguity produces irrational anxiety.

To construct an effective sticky idea consider the following questions:

  1. Find the message’s essential core. What selling point do you want people to remember?
  2. Make the audience to pay attention and maintain their interest.
  3. Get the audience to believe what you say. How can you build credibility?
  4. How can you get people to care about your selling point?
  5. Stay away from statistics. What story will make the audience take action?

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For a formal rhetorical analysis using in the Made to Stick SUCCESs model visit: https://wordplay11.wordpress.com/2013/12/10/disney-press-release-revisions/.

To view the original Disney press release visit: http://thewaltdisneycompany.com/disney-news/press-releases/2012/06/walt-disney-company-sets-new-standards-food-advertising-kids.

To view the revised Disney press release visit: https://wordplay11.wordpress.com/2013/12/10/original-disney-press-release/.

Watch to find more advice on making your writing stick

Camellia sinensis is a white-flowering evergreen shrub that produces the many varieties of tea, a beverage that has been a rich component of history, an instrumental part of long-standing traditions, and the creator of popular trends. Tea equates to refinement and elegance, and the association is only natural. Like a fine wine, tea is a beverage with class.

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Drinking tea began in China in the 5th century and Japan in the 9th century, and the method became popular in Britain in the 17th century. Tea arrived in England in 1645, and in 1721, it conquered the world through Britain’s expanse as a global superpower when the East India Trading company became a monopoly on tea trade. In England during the early 1700s, tea was a sign of a wealthy household, and the special instruments needed to brew the drink were associated with gentility. At the start of the Industrial Revolution situated at the end of the 1700s, however, tea also fueled British factory workers, and it provided a palatable supplement to lower class families’ bread-and-butter diet. Throughout the late 1760s and into the mid-1800s, “afternoon tea” for the higher classes and “tea break” for the working classes mimicked the tea ceremonies begun in ancient China and Japan.

The history of the murky, aromatic beverage is also a rebellious one. In 1773, American colonists dumped loose leaf tea into Boston Harbor as a form of protest against Great Britain’s heavy taxation laws. This revolutionary act helped spark the Revolutionary War in 1775. The Tea Party, the American grassroots political movement, began in 2009 and took its name from this protest as a model for its conservative stance advocating for the reduction of government spending thus reducing the national debt and deficit in the federal budget. The relationship between the United States and England in terms of tea continued in 1904 when British tea merchant, Richard Blechynden, sold iced tea during the sweltering heat of the St. Louis World’s Trade Fair. Since then, the southern United States culture has popularized heavily-sugared iced tea that is occasionally served with lemon. Americans who make iced will typically reach for either Lipton (an American tea brand) or Twinings.

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Twinings is a master tea blending company that began in 1706 with Thomas Twining opening his shop on The Strand in London, and the company still remains there today. In 1717, Twinings Tea Company was the first beverage shop that opened to women because coffeehouses were for men only. Women could sit and drink a cup of tea at Twinings or take their self-selected blend home with them. In 1787, Twinings Tea Company designed a sign for the shop that also serves as a label for the tea, and to this day, the logo has claim to as the oldest commercial logo in continuous use. The Twinings’ name in bolded serif font represents everything a cup of tea should be: simple, classy, and timeless. Recently in 2006, Twinings celebrated 300 years of blending fine quality teas (such as its popular blends of Earl Grey and English Breakfast) that fit every mood and promise to get the tea consumer reconnected with himself or herself.

In recent years, the pomposity demonstrated by tea purveyors and purchasers alike in regard to their tea blend collections and tea paraphernalia has increased due to highly-acclaimed British television shows aired in the United States. These shows create an option for escapism from the worldwide economic recession. Instead of facing reality, the viewer can retreat to the idealized vision of the doings of a country manor house, which revolve around wealth and sophisticated tea services. Shows such as Downton Abbey, Doctor Who, and Sherlock have romanticized the idea of “high tea,” which is typically served with cups and saucers, fruits and sandwiches, cookies and scones, and daintiness and elegance. Downton Abbey has its own line of “English Rose Tea” and “Grantham Breakfast Blend Tea” on The Republic of Tea website. For Doctor Who fans, a TARDIS (a time machine in the shape of a blue telephone box) tea infuser and teapot and heat-changing mug are featured on ThinkGeek.com. Sherlock Holmes fans have used Adagio.com to sell their own tea blends that are related to both the hit show written by Stephen Moffat and the original stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

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Tea was made popular in England during the 1700s because the lower-class population depended more and more on commercial producers rather than their own home-created goods. When they went to buy their bread and butter, they also bought the tea, the drink associated with respectability and high society. Additionally, sellers hawked its economical and medicinal properties, and as more people bought tea, it became more easily available and more widely advertised than coffee or beer. Before long, tea became England’s drink of choice. Tea is even in the 21st century due to its representation of Britain’s national identity, America’s rebellious spirit, and Asia’s soothing tea ceremonies.

To discover if the bitter, astringent taste of tea is a preferred choice, a lesson in preparing it is required. A cup of tea can be created by dunking a tea bag in hot water for three to five minutes. This method was made popular by Lipton Teas, a United States tea brand, which patented the first four-sided tea bag in 1952 to reduce the time required for the brewing process. Another option is for a Keurig machine brings the water to a boil then spurts the water through a K-cup, and ready-made tea dribbles down into the cup waiting below the Keurig machine. For an even faster method, a powdered mix can be stirred into eight ounces of water. These three production methods makes the tea drinker inclined to gulp down the beverage instead of savoring the aroma or taking deep, relaxing breaths between delicate sips. These three methods are for hurried, busy people, but they are not the only methods for making tea.

The long-standing tradition of brewing loose leaves is craft for connoisseurs dedicated to taking the time to create a high quality beverage with high quality blends. Loose leaf tea is stored in air-tight, dark-colored tins to preserve the taste and quality of the leaves, which come in black, white, green, and oolong. Fermentation, the treatment process to preserve tea leaves, determines the different styles of tea and the brewing time. Over-brewing can create a foul-tasting beverage while under-brewing results in a weak flavor. The attention to detail is also necessary for the temperature of the boiling water used to make the tea. An average temperature for most teas is between 150 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, which take about two minutes on high heat to achieve. The water is first boiled in a tea kettle on a stove and then transferred to the tea pot. To warm the tea pot, the water should remain there for about three minutes and then be transferred to a sink.

A level tablespoon of loose leaf tea produces about one cup. Once this amount is poured into the warmed tea pot, the boiled water should be poured over top of the tea leaves. There is no need to stir the leaves or disturb the pot while the tea is brewing. Next, time the brewing to suit the style of tea. On average, the recommended time is three to five minutes. While the tea is brewing, an infuser should be placed over a mug. An infuser is made of a fine mesh and functions as a strainer for the loose tea leaves. The tea is poured over the infuser and into the mug. Depending on the drinker’s preference, sugar, milk, lemon, or honey can be added and stirred into the tea.

The time-sensitive steps of brewing tea are meant to bring about calm joy, natural grace, and internal quietude. The process of creating the perfect cup of tea requires the presence of mind to stay in the moment, and the clarity to enjoy all aspects of life. From boiling the water to finishing the last drop of tea, satisfaction can be found in the way that tea offers solace from life’s changes. The whistle of a tea kettle, the rustle of bitter tea leaves scraping against each other as they are scooped up, the trickle of hot water into the teapot: these are all sounds associated with a spiritual ritual of making tea. These long-standing traditions create a rare moment of slow, mindful, meditative stillness that comforts and energizes.

In addition to being a wholesome refresher for the spirit, tea adapts itself to the drinker’s needs because it is capable of absorbing different cultures and different trends. Modern-day tea drinkers have demonstrated a demand for ethics in their beverage. They wish to see that tea cultivation is done organically and that tea is grown for sustainability and that tea is traded fairly. Tea is also a time-respected, commonly-known medicinal and therapeutic remedy. Tea contains catechin antioxidants that help regulate food intake and can help with weight loss. Tea is a safe substitute for coffee because it not only reduces fatigue and enhances concentration, but provides calming effects and delivers energy. Tea also boosts the immune system, rehydrates the body despite its caffeine content, and supports the heart by activating circulation and fighting hypertension.

The very act of drinking tea means to adore the beautiful amidst the bland or sordid moments of everyday existence. Those who imbibe tea must show humility and gratitude for the harmony, purity, and tranquility it provides. It gives the body vigor; the mind, contentment. It allows the drinker to become one with his or her true nature. It offers rich simplicity and abundant stillness, which leads to reflective contemplation on life, the universe, and everything. Reverence must be shown for the way it refreshes and revitalizes the body and spirit. It must be respected for the way sustains the drinker from the inside by providing diligence to one’s purpose and by maintaining tranquility in the center. Tea allows a person to set aside self-interest, embrace the genuine elements of life, and possess the underlying natural order of the universe. Tea, therefore, is sacrosanct.

Lessons in Business Writing, Part 1

Posted: February 1, 2014 in Editing

Quality Business Writing

In business writing, usefulness and readability are key to helping readers. Questions the reader might have must be addressed in the way the message is structured, so think in terms of dialogue rather than a monologue. Your dialogue should be a roadmap that meets implied expectations so skimming and scanning are easy for the eye to follow. To accomplish this strategy, a deductive style should place the bottom-line message first to answer the following questions.

  1. What is this?
  2. Who is it from?
  3. Why should I care?
  4. What should I do with this?

Ultimately your message should leave no unanswered questions. Strive for communication rather than confusion. Here are some tips to create a bottom-line message using Plain English.

  • Break the document into logical easy to grasp components such as headings, paragraphs, bullets, lists, or even font choice.
  • Be aware of your language usage. Vary your sentence length with subordinate and coordinate structures.
  • Eliminate redundancy, vague pronoun reference, excessive prepositional phrases, and nominalization.
  • Use active/passive sentence effectively.
  • Avoid business cliches: valued customer, we regret any inconvenience, we appreciate your patronage, etc.
  • Under no circumstances should negative language be used. This is especially difficult when delivering bad news to a customer or employee.

Bad News Letter

A bad news letter should begin with a buffer statement, which respectfully considers the reader’s feelings and emotions. Define your purpose for writing, but avoid words or apologies that convey unpleasant facts. Get the tone right by accentuating the positive: stress what something is or what a product can do versus any negative qualities.

The buffer statement has positive connotations and is followed by a reason statement to offer background for why the bad news must be delivered.

Logically, the bad news statement follows the reason statement because negative information should be embedded in a secondary position.

Conclude by ensuring that the message that you cannot grant the request is clear.