Archive for the ‘Writing advice’ Category

What a difference the location of a little “:” can make

THE ART OF TASTING PARKING:”

The subject header of the e-mail had it correctly placed “The Art of Tasting: Parking at lot 4A”

but I got a chuckle out of the rewrite in the body ( Are VWs sweeter than Subarus?)

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Until the advent of the telephone, communication was face-to-face (yes, there were letters, telegraph, smoke signals, drums, but here we are covering daily communications between regular people). It was one human being using spoken words to be received by another human’s ears. The important matters of businesses, town councils, and governments took place in meetings, where one not only received information but could also see the emotional state of the person speaking. The telephone changed that somewhat especially when the speakerphone (and later the video camera) was invented. However, people still gathered together in real time and space to discuss matters of importance. Then came text messaging and the internet.

Yes, live meetings became the bane of existence for business people. These meetings got the reputation of time wasters, where you were trapped in a room accomplishing little after spending a good chunk of time getting there. So with the creation of electronic devices accessed through high-speed connections, one can be anywhere on the planet and still participate. Cool, right? That’s if there is a video feed to the equation. Most of the time, people just “text” or “post”. So what you get, in essence, is an electronic letter to read which can be misinterpreted in its meaning. Sorry, but “e-moticons” do not count. As humans we need face-to-face communication not only to discern the speaker’s emotional state but also to be able to immediately ask a question to clarify something confusing.

A prime example of how this faceless communication not occurring in real time can go wrong, was recently when President-elect Trump sent his infamous tweet with the word “Nazi” in it. He knew why he was using that to backup a point of his but did anyone other than historians and Baby Boomers get what he was referring to? No. And since tweeting isn’t “real time” even if someone responded to his tweet asking for clarification, he didn’t have the time to send out another tweet to do so. That hardly happens in real time meetings and we saw this during the press conference when a reporter brought it up and Trump went on to explain himself. Bingo, the entire watching universe understood.

I’m not saying that tweeting or texting should be avoided. We can’t go back to the days before these devices and programs were available. However, like we all learned with the e-mail universe, once you hit the send button it’s out there for better or worse. With faceless communications, we all need to try very hard not to say things in a confusing manner or make references that only a certain portion of the population gets (hmm, like telling an in joke that can backfire on you when most of the listeners don’t get it!) It’s also great that now our chief executive can communicate instantly with the masses. Very few previous Presidents had either the technology or the skill to use it as he does.

Meetings have become the dinosaur of the 21st century and Twitter and Facebook have taken its place. It doesn’t matter if you are the President of the United States, or a 12 year old communicating with her best friend, what you say can become a disastrous opportunity to be misunderstood. Keep the message simple, avoid jargon or historical/political references, and you should be on safer ground as a 21st century communicator.

Yes, we can live on…forever…or at least as long as the internet exists. I’ve been cleaning up folders on my hard drive and came across a collection of some very strange but interesting articles on this topic of virtual immortality. Your cyberself now has the power to live on beyond your physical existence. We know we should be careful as to what we post, as our words might come back to haunt us, no pun intended. In the 4 articles listed below I will describe how.

Tweeting from the death bed – Capturing the last moments for eternity.

Virtual Mourning – Websites that let mourners reach out to family or to gather together virtually after someone dies.

Tweeting from beyond the grave – allowing a deceased to have a virtual avatar that continues to post, post-mortem.

Your words live on – Virtual Immortality through Facebook, blog posts, et al that never get taken off the Web.

My post today, “Tweeting from the death bed – Capturing the last moments for eternity.” references a posting by Art Caplan, who is from the Division of Medical Ethics at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. He posted it to Medscape, an online medical reference website. His question was “In this world of constant communication, real time updates, and the need to be ‘connected’ here is a twist on the use of Twitter: is it ethical to tweet from someone’s deathbed?”

His article goes on to describe how it’s become common place for individuals related to the terminally ill person to send tweets and e-mails to update friends and relatives, with some going even farther by posting feeds to Youtube. Of course this is all possible because our devices have become small enough to take anywhere and Wifi connectivity is all pervasive. That wasn’t so even 5 years ago. But Caplan finds ethical problems with all this ability to document a person’s last hours in real time. Yes, he says, it is wonderful that family members not able to be there in person can be connected with a dying loved one. However, if the loved one is no longer able to make decisions, is that what the person would want? Hooked up to IVs and other devices, lying prone in a hospital or hospice bed, maybe not even conscious, is that how he or she wishes to be remembered?

He also states that it would be a good idea, in this technologically connected world, that everyone writes down directives as to what should be allowed and not allowed in those last days. My concern is not what family members see but that these photos, taken in the person’s most vulnerable moments are hardly a dignified representation of a human’s life. They then can become the final and eternal memory about that person. I surely wouldn’t want to be remembered by a picture of respirator tubing coming out of my mouth!

In my next post I’ll write about “Virtual Mourning”.

Let’s wrap up National Poetry Month with some quotes for poets. These quotes come from articles in the April Oprah magazine:

Why Poetry Matters

…it shows us ourselves by illuminating the interior lives of others. One cannot read a poem without being aware of the poet’s voice – whether loud or barely a whisper – speaking across the distances, time and space. Poems offer a form of refuge.

They can comfort us when we grieve or can celebrate joy. And poetry helps us remember – keeping alive the cultural legacy of a people.”
Natasha Trethewey – United States Poet Laureate from 2012 – 2014. 

It’s Not a Test

A peom is not a test. Readers of poetry can’t fail. When you read a poem, you can, if you like, cling stubbornly to a ‘wrong’ answer to the question, What does it mean?

Poems aren’t meant to express what can be expressed in everyday language. Like dreams, they come to offer us strange new experiences, or to remind us of those we thought we’d forgotten. They can be understood in the parts of our brain that appreciate sounds, or smell or the experience of awakening and feeling unaccountably anxious.

…Go out in search of poems you like, that can become yours. What they mean to anyone else is irrelevant. They mean what a leaf blowing across the freeway means. They mean what the open eye of a goldfish looking into your eye means. The limitless pleasures of poetry are yours for the taking.”
Laura Kasischke – 2012 recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry

Great advice: “The limitless pleasures of poetry are yours for the taking.” Don’t forget it throughout the rest of the year!

If you are a one-person writing crew, it can be a lonely place when it comes time to editing your work. We all know how a single undetected typo can destroy an entire document, set a client or boss into fits of rage, or even have the lawyers banging down your door. So what is ONE person to do?

When it all falls on your shoulders, the first thing you need to do is to put on your editor’s hat before you submit your copy. Here are the top editing tips to help you avoid those pesky mistakes and keep your copy clean:

Take your time. Speed is fine in a marathon, but not with first-rate writing. Settle in, read slowly, once for typos and once again for sense and flow. A slow initial editing helps capture the bulk of your mistakes.

Print is your pal. Onscreen proofing is okay for quick fixes, but if you really want to see the errors in their sharpest resolution, print it out.

Say it out loud. Reading writing aloud will often reveal holes in composition, grammar gone awry or convoluted sentence structure

Don’t be spellbound by the spellchecker. As we all know, software grammar and spellchecker tools are often real dummies, clueless about how humans write, offering corrections where none is needed. And they don’t flag homophones, e.g., “to,” “too” and “two,” nor see a “you” when a “your” is needed. Don’t give them your 100% trust.

Don’t assume anything. When it comes to dates, addresses, telephone numbers and peoples names, verify that you have the correct version, then check out that the version you have in your copy matches.

Stash it away. Now it’s time to give it a rest. If you can, put the document away for 24 hours. That way your “blind” spot, that is the familiarity you have with the text, will go away and a fresh look will have those undetected errors jumping off the page at you!

Let’s wrap up with some cases that will have you laughing or cringing but illustrate just how frustrating it can be to produce “perfect” copy”

Typo Tales & Tactics courtesy of  Marcia Yudkin, weekly email newsletter, The Marketing Minute.  (Subscribe to it, free, now.  Copyright 2004-2015 Marcia Yudkin.  All rights reserved.)

Typos are not just a 21st century plague. In 1631, English royal printers Robert Barker and Martin Lucas reproduced the 783,137 words of the King James Bible with only one typo.  For this achievement, they had their business license yanked and had to pay a fine of £300 (equivalent to about $50,000 today). Why? They printed the seventh commandment as “Thou shalt commit adultery.” Only 11 copies of the so-called Wicked Bible survive today. Most were burned.

“To be or to be.” That’s how one of the most famous sentences in the English language began several years ago in a new edition of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” Six professional proofreaders failed to catch the mistake, which received national publicity and gave the publishing company a red face. (Great example of the “blind spot”:  you’ve seen that phrase so often, the wrongly written one appears to your eyes as you always see it.)

In late March 2008, Arkansas governor Mike Beebe called the state assembly into special session partly to deal with a typo in a 2007 law that had mistakenly allowed girls of any age (even infants) to marry with their parents’ consent. A special session costs taxpayers about $25,000 a day.

Here is a comment Marsha made and I see this on websites from amateur personal ones to corporate big ones:

“Occasionally I encounter marketers who insist spelling or typos don’t matter. ‘No one really cares,’ their argument goes. ‘It humanizes the copy, and besides, everyone knows what we mean.’

Oh, really? A spell-check service whose motto is ‘no more embarrassing errors’ itself uses ‘then’ where ‘than’ is correct. Will potential clients really laugh this off?”

Indeed, it isn’t easy to proofread your own copy. But if you can’t engage a “second pair of eyes” apply these tips to achieve at least 99% accuracy. To err is human so be aware that an error will slip in eventually. Just make sure it isn’t someone’s name, corporation, phone number, or an amount of money!

10 Tips on writing a business continuity/disaster recover plan that will keep your business alive 

We just passed the second anniversary of the biggest disaster of the century, Hurricane Sandy. Some businesses, and individuals still haven’t recovered.

Disasters…yes, what usually comes to mind are hurricanes, blackouts, and massive computer hacker attacks. True, they can clobber your business by demolishing your building or destroying your data. However, smaller disasters can wreck just as much havoc. You can lose not only time and money but also your customers! Many businesses suffered no physical damage to their offices after hurricane Sandy but due to lack of electricity, had only 2 options: go elsewhere or shut down.

Disasters that bring your business to a halt usually cannot be avoided. However, they can be planned for, and instructions for continuation and recovery written down. As a writer it always irks me how “word of mouth” is the operative term when disaster strikes. It is the writing down the instructions that is as important as the planning.

You don’t need an overly complex plan just a detailed, clearly written document. It should include information on what will keep your business running: primary business functions, information systems, corporate support functions, voice and data communications, names and phone numbers of employees and vendors. Here are 10 tips for creating your plan:

  1. Take the time to think about likely scenarios. Ones that you have experienced or are very likely to occur require more detailed plans than those that have a less likely chance to happen.
  2. Talk to those who are vital to your plan’s execution and the running of your business. You have two types of individuals to consider: those who will help you execute the plan, and those who carry out your various daily business functions.
  3. Talk to your outside support people, especially your vendors. They can play an important part in providing you with the necessary supplies to continue operations when you do not have access to your own.
  4. After you have collected all the important information, write down the steps you would need to take to execute your plan, but keep it simple (outline format is a good start).
  5. Flesh in the plan by adding details. Depending on the size and complexity of your business, you might need one general plan and individual ones for each of your departments such as Sales, or Information Technology.
  6. Have everyone involved read the draft and give input. Make sure your plan accurately reflects how your business will run during the disruption, after you vacate (if need be) and when you return. Be sure you have a section dealing with contacting your customers along with storing and having access to any computer databases and phone numbers.
  7. Format your documents so they are easy to follow. Stay away from cryptic terms and industry jargon. Someone not familiar with such terms might have to carry out the plan! Be sure you have multiple copies (both paper and electronic) stored not only at your business location but elsewhere off site.
  8. Do a “dry run”. Call everyone involved together and talk through the scenarios.
  9. For those situations most likely to occur consider doing an actual run through. Large corporations do this to insure that the plan, as written, really works.
  10. Consider hiring a professional business writer to craft your plan. Professional writers are skilled at taking information and structuring it so that it is easy to follow and execute.

If ever required, your business continuity/disaster recovery plan will enable you to respond in a systematic and organized fashion. It will guide your organization, step-by-step, from responding to the actual event all the way through to returning to normal. Take the time to write a plan now so that you don’t get caught in the dark when the lights go out.

Business writing normally is not an emotionally charged task for a writer. It’s all about aligning facts and creating a story that generates emotions in the reader with the goal to inform or lead to action. However, we write for many different purposes and sometimes, with non-business writing, you as the writer must deal with an emotionally charged topic. This can be the most difficult writing to undertake. 

Writing about emotionally charged topics has two sides to it. First you have to deal with your emotions in having to write the piece, and second, you must find the proper words and voice to craft the piece.

The types of projects that can be difficult to write range from having to create copy for something you don’t like or is opposite your point of view, contacting companies that you’re not satisfied with their services, recommendations for terminated employees, a blog post to get your point of view across for something you feel passionate about but might offend someone, or crafting a letter to a friend in difficulty. As a poet I also have to craft poems for specific occasions and to express intimate sentiments to individuals. Hardly as easy as writing one about the delights of summer!

Here are 10 tips on how to make the task easier: 

1. Write out what you want the piece to accomplish. This will help you stay on topic and not digress.

2. Know your audience. Is it one person? Then your job is easier. Try to get some information on that person and his/her’s orientation to the subject matter. If not an individual, than think as to who would be your readership, what are their points of view, likes, dislikes.

3. Make a list of “hot” words. Ones that you want to use to trip off emotions and ones you must avoid. 

4. Come from an objective, not a subject point of view. Even if you are writing to a friend, starting from the topic’s “big picture” will help you most.

5. Revise, revise, revise. This is the type of writing that takes many passes and revisions. So start with a “brain dump” before you even consider writing the “draft”.

6. If the going is really difficult, you could be dealing with a blocked emotion. Separately write out what you are feeling, either about the topic or the piece.

7. As you reread a version, ask yourself if this is the emotional tone you want to get across.

8. Read it out loud, than read it to someone else to for feedback. What you think it is saying, when someone else is reading it might pick up an entirely different emotion.

9. All of the above are especially important if this is going to be an e-mail or internet posting. Be doubly sure you have crafted it the best way possible before you hit the send button. Remember, cyberspace is unforgiving! 

10. If you are stuck, talk to someone about it. Or read other similar pieces that you’ve written in the past. I sometimes reread a lot of my old poems to get inspired.

I  have written poems about 9/11 and Ground Zero (view my writings in my World Trade Center Journal and I can tell you they were some of the most difficult pieces to do. Each year I also have to write a poem to read at my town’s 9/11 ceremony. How, after 13 years do you keep that emotionally fresh? And how do you make it specific to the 2001 event and yet not “beat a dead horse”? But my most difficult one was to write about an artist friend of mine who passed away. This poem was to be posted on a gallery’s website AND given to his grieving family. All emotionally heavy duty stuff that you will probably never have to deal with. But the method of attacking the topic, getting through the writing, and producing an excellent piece of writing that’s spot on is still the same. I hope these 10 tips will help you the next time you are faced with this type of writing.