Thursday, February 26, 2015

Discovery through Writing: What Stephen King and Joan Didion Said

“I write to find out what I think.” Stephen King*


“I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. 

What I want and what I fear.”   Joan Didion**  


Writers enjoy reading quotes from writers about writing. The same way, I imagine, any artist enjoys quotes about their art. Quotes are entertaining, meaningful, inspiring. Sometimes quotes can make you uncomfortable, though. 

As a writer—a non-famous, mostly unpublished, but I-love-to-do-it writer—I often read a quote from a writer and wonder, Is that what I believe too? Is that how I feel? Is that what I think?

These quotes from Stephen King and Joan Didion keep coming back to me because, post by post—even sometimes as I write for clients—I have realized how often I am working out what I think, what I believe, as I write. What I think shows up not in just what I say but in how I say it, how I cast the message, with the exact words I choose. 

Not every piece I write has personal gravitas, of course. Do I truly care about how my wardrobe compares to novel characters’ clothing? No. And yet I wrote about that on this blog almost as if I did. Some writing, after all, can be just for fun, or for the discipline, or because some voice inside says, “Go ahead. It's not rocket science or necessarily unique or earthshaking, but write about this.” Today the voice said to write about discovery through writing.

We can all agree that reading shapes what we think, and we can all agree that writers write what they—or at least their characters in fiction—think. But this idea that some writers (or is it all writers?) write to discover what they think as they write is intriguing. And I have decided, yes, for me, this is mostly true.

Sometimes I write about writing and then think, well, yes. Or sometimes I write about spiritual matters and then confirm, well, yes. More new yeses or confirmed yeses have showed up in this decidedly unfocused blog than you might imagine. Sometimes I write what turns out to be a maybe or a no or an I don't know and that writing devolves into taking up space in my "maybe this will see the light of day and maybe it won't" folder. Sometimes, though, the maybe and the no and the I don't know get published for all to see.

All this to say, I appreciate the opportunity to write to find out what I think . . . I think. After all, any reader might hate what I think, disagree with what I think, be bored by what I think.

But what if I, The Writer, in the writing, discover I hate, disagree with, or am bored by what I think? Ah, now there is something to think about. And maybe, someday, to write about. 

I am sure entire books could be written about this idea. Maybe those entire books already exist; I haven't looked. In the meantime, thanks Stephen and Joan, for sparking these thoughts about discovery through writing. (You might just have a chance for some success.)

Writers, how have you realized you discover what you think as you write?


Monday, February 23, 2015

Avoiding Typo Embarrassment: 4 Easy Ways to Try

If you type “embarrassing typos” into any Internet search engine, opportunities to read some doozies will pop up. Some are hilarious, some are cringe-worthy, with reader responses ranging from "Ouch!” to "Wow, I wonder if someone will get fired for that one!" 

Not every typo or error is a doozy; plain, ordinary mistakes . . . happen. (And by the way, I give those writers who have to develop TV news crawls on the fly a pass.) But here is a fact: If readers notice an error it at least momentarily halts their absorption of whatever message is being put out there. (Click to Tweet)

Yet those mistakes can also most often be avoided if only someone would . . . try. 

I am not saying anyone has to go nuts ensuring everything they post on Facebook and Twitter is perfect (though memes are especially hard hit, if you ask me!). You can use any or all of the four steps below if you want, but don’t slave over perfection on social media as an otherwise sane and smart and educated and careful person. 

I am saying, however, it is a good idea for anyone who communicates professionally with the written word—including those producing material in marketing, PR, and sales endeavors and those who manage professional websites—to consider the value of making an effort before pushing Post or Publish.

Here are the four easy steps anyone can take, with material that is professional or not:

1.     Really, run spell check. The fact that you know it will not catch 100 percent of errors is not a good excuse to skip using this tool. Spell check catches too much to dismiss it. And if you send professional emails, consider setting your preferences to spell check before a message will send.
2.      Look up proper names on the Internet.  Not everyone realizes her name is spelled Mother Teresa, not Theresa, and his name is spelled Gandhi, not Ghandi. Or that Cincinnati has only one t. But the Internet knows, which means you don't have to depend on your own memory!
3.     Reread what you wrote after at least a short break. Errors are more likely to jump out at you when you allow distractions between writing and rereading. If you can, read out loud. Your cat or dog will enjoy it, and it will especially help you notice missing or repeated words.
4.     Ask someone else to read what you wrote. Even anyone over the age of maybe eight (as long as the material is suitable for all ages) can help if you have someone like that around. Fresh eyes can make an amazing difference! (No, your pet cannot read no matter how much you wish he could!) 

Depending on how professional what you put out there needs to be, consider having someone with proven editorial skills review every piece. Not everyone knows when to use the word compose versus the word comprise. Not everyone gets each subject and verb agreement right. But an editorial professional should know or, if necessary, look it up.

Yes, I know there is never enough time. Yes, I know even these simple steps sound like a pain. Yes, I know you have a hundred other places to spend money if the only people with editorial skills you know use them to make a living. But sometimes “no pain, no gain” could have as much validity for your written communications as the pain of visits to the gym. 

And there is that embarrassment issue. Don’t believe me? Again, ask Google for “embarrassing typos.” See? 

As long as it is clean, feel free to share a funny typo you have seen lately. Typos provide some great laughs as long as they are not at the expense of someone who only goofed!


Thursday, February 19, 2015

All Things Considered: On Sorrow and Joy

It's a cold, cold day in Central Indiana. But safe and warm here in my home office, I feel a different  kind of cold after the morning newscasts that are so full of the sorrow and trouble in the world, as I become aware of those in my circle who are struggling as well. I thought of this post I wrote on a former blog in July 2012, which has been only slightly edited for today.  


My oldest son sometimes comments on how our family has dinner conversations about words as opposed to, say, the more popular topics: sports, world events, or politics. And just the other day, I used the phrase "all things being equal," which prompted a several-minute discussion with my youngest son about what that phrase means, when to use it, and how it may or may not relate to the phrase "all things considered."

I know this is parsingly weird rather than so much spiritually intriguing. But stick with me. You see, I have been thinking about the phrase "all things considered" for the last week because those movie-goers in Aurora, Colorado, did not know there was a shooter on the loose when they went out for a good time. My friend did not know her young husband would suddenly die from a pulmonary embolism Tuesday morning when they went to sleep on Monday night. A former colleague did not know she would die from a massive heart attack on Thursday night. An innocent man I did not know from a nearby community was unaware that he would be shot and killed when in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I cannot speak for any of these people. And some sorrow is not about death but about great disappointments in life. Yet, I wonder, had everyone in these times of sorrow—both those who lost their lives and those left behind—known what only God knew, would they have lived differently? How would considering all things have made a difference? And what are all the things, anyway?

Of course, blessings and joys come our way as well as sorrow. Big joys like marriage and births and jobs . . . and smaller-packaged joys like standing beside magnificent oceans. Or a thrilling promotion. Or a good blueberry season. Or a gorgeous outdoor wedding without the predicted rain. Or your favorite ice cream being the flavor of the week. Or breakfast with a friend who made you laugh. Or your spouse doing for you that thing you hate to do for yourself. Or rain during drought. Or so many other good-life gifts big and small that people write whole books about them.

Life can be hard, disappointing. Sorrow, hellish. But all things we know considered, so many of us are still in it for the long haul, staking our lives on the One who is in charge of all things. We are loving the joys. We are grateful for the joys. But all the while, we know sorrow will come in this life too. And so we trust in all things even when we do not know all things. Even when it's so difficult to do. Even when we stumble and would rather go our own way. Even as He beckons us over and over to remember His own sorrow and better-than-life gift to us. Even when we don't know what only God knows.

My friend posted this on her Facebook wall just after her husband died: "God is good and He is faithful." Thanks for the reminder, dear friend, even during your unspeakable pain, a gift to us even at the beginning of your hard road. You're telling us that all that matters can be considered, after all—if sometimes fuzzy before a time of sorrow, then gratefully as a great, clear comfort in our sorrow. God is good. God is faithful.

"From him and through him and for him are all things" (Romans 11:36 NIV).

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