Communication Made Easy — Speaking, Editing, Writing, Marketing, Networking Answers

A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but words themselves are at the basis of all communication. Whether we are communicating for business or personal reasons, our spoken and written words matter. These posts will address issues and answer questions related primarily to business communications, as they affect writing, credibility, marketing, and networking.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

On Becoming a Publishing Superstar...

An op-ed piece by Timothy Egan in today's New York Times complains bitterly about the fact that Joe the Plumber, that infamous nobody made famous by the McCain campaign, will release a book later this month. Also skyrocketing to fame with the same campaign, Sarah Palin apparently will be paid nearly 7 million if she can figure out how to capture her words for print.

The challenge for this particular commentator is a legitimate one:
Publishers: with all the grim news of layoffs and staff cuts at the venerable houses of American letters, can we set some ground rules for these hard times? Anyone who abuses the English language on such a regular basis should not be paid to put words in print.
And I agree that " every day, in obscurity and close to poverty, trying to say one thing well and true. Day in, day out, they labor to find their voice, to learn their trade, to understand nuance and pace." However, I thoroughly disagree that "Writing is hard, even for the best wordsmiths." Perhaps he meant making a living at writing is hard, even for the best wordsmiths?

I agree with Egan that if the world were fair, authors' pay would be merit based. Writers who had paid their dues would receive bigger advances and royalties than those who happened to stumble into the spotlight by accident. Fortunately or unfortunately, we live in a culture where popular sells. The funny thing is, there's no accounting for uberdreck like a Sarah Palin autobiography will likely do well, but so did Barck Obama's first two books.

That being said, Egan also is not wrong that bumblers and wannabes shouldn't necessarily warrant seven-figure advances, and the publishing industry could exhibit a little more discernment before throwing down a contract in front of someone like JTP. But just like all other corporate monoliths, they have dollar signs in their eyes. The problem, I believe, is that Egan's also correct when he says "the last seconds on [JTP's] 15 minutes are slipping away."

But Egan's whiny, petulant, poor-me commentary really addresses only part of the problem. The fact is that readers (more correctly, purchasers) still determine how well a book does...and last I checked, although George Bush certainly decimated large swaths of the Constitution, the First Amendment still gives anyone the right to say (or write) pretty much anything they want to. Who cares if JTP writes a book? How many people are actually going to buy/read it? I'm guessing the sales will limited to a fixed few. Sarah Palin, on the other hand, will likely hire a very well-paid ghostwriter and turn out something readable enough...and the legions of fans who made her a superstar will toss down their hard-earned bucks for a chance to "get to know her better." That thought makes me ill...but not because she will make money with her book.

As an editor and marketer in the self-publishing end of the arena, I often tell my clients and students that the good news is that anyone can write a book. But the bad news also is that anyone can write a book. Not everything bad, even if it's hyper-promoted, catches on like wildfire. Think back just a few short months to Jerome Corsi's Obama Nation, the book from the man who funded the Swift Boat attacks that sank John Kerry's presidential bid. I (needlessly) worried for a few minutes that it would gain traction and actually harm Obama's campaign. Wasted energy, my well as Corsi's efforts with his malicious book full of half-truths and innuendo. Not everything that's hyped sells.

In my humble opinion, Tim Egan's time would be better spent figuring out how to supercharge his own marketing, so that his work, too, will create the kind of demand he seems to so envy in these nonwriters. It's never really the best product (and a book is a product) that sells, or the worst product that bombs. More often than not, the product with the best marketing strategy and campaign behind it is the one that does well.

There's lots of room and a big enough audience in the world for all of our writing, Tim. When you hold JTP's and Sarah Palin's success against them, you don't harm them but you do diminish your own energy for creating great work of your own.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Pricing the Work of an Editor

Received an interesting query recently from a fellow freelance editor:
I am in the process of becoming a freelance editor.

In trying to determine how much to charge for editing, I came across your
web site.
Would you mind sharing with me how you determine how much to charge a client?

I am currently negotiating with a potential client. He has a fiction book and some web pages he would like for me to edit for spelling, grammar, word choice, sentence structure, and clarity. When trying to determine how long it would take me to edit each of his web pages, I believe it would take me between 20-30 minutes per page. Is this typical, or am I too slow? His writing is difficult to get through. 692 words of prose took me an hour.

Please could you give me your professional opinion regarding how you might handle pricing for a client like this? Your web site is beautiful and lends itself to giving you the appearance of being knowledgeable and professional.

I look forward to hearing from you!

The thing is, this query is neither unusual nor surprising. In fact, pricing is an issue that most editors – like many, if not most, service professionals – deal with on a regular basis. The challenge becomes making sure you price what you are worth.

I made this case strongly in my reply:
Your questions about how to price are at the heart of every freelance editor’s business – and survival. One thing I have learned through years of experience is that you only hurt yourself by trying to price low in order to make sure to get the client. I happen to be on the high end for fees, because I offer a great deal of consultative and marketing experience beyond the pure editing.

There are some industry standards you can use to guide your pricing structure. For one thing, you must know word count, as opposed to the number of pages in a document. The industry standard is 250 words per double-spaced page using a 12-point font. Given those parameters for a page, most qualified editors can manage to read between 5 and 10 pages an hour. Based on that description, your 20 to 30 minutes per page is quite slow – but, again, I am unsure of how many words are on the pages in this particular manuscript. Of course, it is customary to factor the degree of complication/difficulty into your pricing – and if it is dense work that is just harder to plow through, you should definitely price accordingly.

One of the biggest challenges I think most editors face is the fact that we are in a highl
y specialized business that requires a very specific skill set. No, it’s not brain surgery or rocket science, but it is important work for which we have been well trained and deserve to be well compensated. The bottom line is that you need to learn how to deal with the prospects who are just shopping price. Chances are these people will not ever become your clients, because they want the cheapest rate, seemingly in spite of quality.

My answer to these queries is always to remind the writer that they are not shopping for a commodity like tires or laundry soap. They are looking to hire someone to attend to their life’s work – presumably a project into which they have poured considerable time and energy. Why, then, would they be willing to shop it to the cheapest editor they can find?

Good editing is expensive – but good editing will make or break acceptance by an agent or publisher. Good editing can position the writer as a credible expert, while lack of editing can potentially present them as a quasi-illiterate, even though they may be brilliant within their field. Good editing is the aspect that turns otherwise decent writing into outstanding writing that will edge out any competition, whether that’s in the form of Web copy, a short story contest, or a book proposal.

My friend and former client, Jeremy Tuber, wrote an outstanding article titled, "What It Says About You if You Are Willing to Cut Your Prices." In it, he takes to task those clients and prospects who try to wedge you down on price before agreeing to do business with you.

He describes a situation in which an affluent client asked him to reduce his price by 25 percent:

Instead of defending my quote or caving to his demands, I asked him, “If I was immediately able to reduce my price by 25 percent to compete with your other offer, wouldn’t that suggest that my initial quote to you had not only been over-inflated, but that it was unfair?” As you might have guessed, the surprised owner didn’t have an answer.

Here's a quick tip: No matter what business you are in, never reduce the price without also reducing the value. If a prospect asks you to reduce your price, ask them which item in the proposal they are willing to do without.

That advice translates seamlessly for editors. If someone asks you to reduce your price, tell them if you agree to that, they'll have to let you know which chapter(s) they would like you not to edit.

Use your best judgment when pricing your work. You know how fast you are, how accurate you are, and how much you can improve any single piece of writing. Choose a price - and then stand by it. The right clients will come, and willingly pay your fee. Let the rest find someone who is a lot less sure of their value and worth.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Once an editor, always an editor

My personal trainer teases that I have a lousy job because I’m always on the lookout for mistakes. He tells me, “No wonder you’re cranky you spend all your time correcting things!” It’s true. As an editor, my job is to find mistakes and correct them . . . but I actually much prefer the description I offered a recent acquaintance on Tagged: "I make other peoples words work better for them.”

The problem my trainer alludes to, though, is that you can’t shut it off. This mistake-noticing part of my brain is always at work. I notice mistakes on signs, in newspapers and magazines, on product labels, in books, and in the close captioning on the cable TV in bars.

I also notice weird spacing issues. How often have you seen a sign like this?

Probably more than you realize – because it just didn’t catch your attention the way it would mine. This is not so much an issue of correct or incorrect as it is one of aesthetics.

Wouldn’t it just look better if it read ?

Friends and networking associates tell me they’re always intimidated (and extra careful) when they send me e-mail. I tell them I’d be lying if I said I didn’t notice almost every mistake, even when I’m not intentionally looking for them. But I don’t look down or think less of anyone for being a poor speller.

There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed when it comes to one’s grammar and/or spelling proficiency. No matter how bad the spelling or how egregious the grammar errors, none of that is representative of how smart a person is or how important the information she wants to share. In fact, it is widely reputed that Albert Einstein, the unquestionably genius physicist, was so bad at spelling that he was initially assumed to be retarded. According to the 1998 article, "Ten Obscure Factoids Concerning Albert Einstein," Factoid #3 is:

He Was a Rotten Speller. Although he lived for many years in the United States and was fully bilingual, Einstein claimed never to be able to write in English because of "the treacherous spelling." He never lost his distinctive German accent either, summed up by his catch-phrase "I vill a little t'ink."

Being a poor speller, however, is not an excuse for sloppy work, whether it’s Web copy, memos, or an eBook. People like me have jobs for a reason. And if paying for editing is beyond your budget, at least have the common sense to run your writing past someone a little more grammar-oriented than you.

It’s good to know I’m not alone in my peculiar pursuit of spelling and punctuation precision. Neil Neches, a writer for the New York City Transit Authority received a full write-up in The New York Times for his use of a semicolon on a subway placard. His handiwork? A sign reading: “Please put your newspaper in a trash can; that’s good news for everyone.”

My trainer may be right there does seem to be something just a little neurotic about a job that causes me to always be on the lookout for mistakes. I can shift that paradigm a bit, though, when I view it not as always looking for mistakes, but rather, as being consistently on the lookout for ways to improve the world, one word (or semicolon) at a time.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Blogs work...if you work them

So I jumped on the blog bandwagon pretty early on. I had a couple good mentors who told me blogging would be all the rage, why to blog, how to blog, that it would become an essential business tool, etc. Guess what - they were right. There's only one problem - although I've had my oldest blog since 2005, I still haven't mastered the art of regular posting!

And that, more than almost anything else, is the key to blogging success. Of course, it helps to write content that passes the 5 Cs of Quality Content* test...but presuming you can do that, you still must blog often.

Even knowing how important frequency is to my blogging efficacy, I somehow don't find time to do it. If I'm honest, one of the biggest reasons is the perfectionist in me. Meaning...I spend way too much time working on the last of the 5 Cs. But I've recently begun to adopt a little motto: Done is better than perfect. So I'm hoping - seriously, really, desperately hoping - to put that motto into practice here. Yes, as an editor it pains me to see mistakes in people's writing. But it's like whacking both elbows simultaneously to publish a post of my own and later see errors in it.

Done is better than perfect. Done is better than perfect. Done is better than perfect.

While I do not owe that little mantra specifically to Steven Pressfield, I do highly recommend his book, The War of Art, to anyone who needs a swift and very hard kick in the ass to let go of their excuses, silence their inner critic, and just get to work to get it done! Reading this book literally felt like someone grabbing me by the throat and holding me against the wall demanding, "What's your excuse? Really? That's all you got? Get over it and GET IT DONE!"

And that's what Done Is Better Than Perfect is all about.

You've heard the old joke: They had to postpone the meeting of Procrastinators Anonymous because everyone wanted to wait to do it tomorrow.

Procrastination sucks. As my brilliant personal trainer, Scott White pointed out to me, look at the play on words...simply remove the "in," move one little R, and suddenly you have "pro castration." Who wants that?? None of us! So why do we do it? Because we're perfectionists and we're hiding behind our excuses. Get that book. You'll get over the excuses.

Not blogging sucks. Being great at what you do but without the clients to show for it sucks. Worrying sucks. Struggling sucks. Disorganization sucks. I've experienced all of them. Right now - my goal is just to get blogging.

Catch you here again soon - I promise!


Send an e-mail to and I'll send you my full report explaining each of the 5 Cs in detail.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

It's Not a Bomb — It's Just My College Application

It's true that high school guidance counselors are busy folks, and they probably don't have time to teach their students every nuance about what it takes to get into college. However, this incident is a bit over the top, in terms of a student lacking appropriate knowledge. According to the Associated Press:
A poorly packaged college application prompted a call to the bomb squad at Eastern Illinois University. Emergency crews evacuated a campus building Friday, after a postal carrier discovered a disheveled-looking package heading for the college's admissions office. "There was no return address, it was poorly written, poorly addressed to the university, there were misspellings," school spokeswoman Vicki Woodard said Saturday. "There was some tape over it. Just the overall appearance was rather strange." Explosives investigators X-rayed the package and blocked off a nearby street before they discovered the envelope contained only an application to the 12,500-student school.
A school representative indicated that in spite of the scary look of the package, it would likely be processed like any other application.

OK - so here's the question. Did no one ever teach this kid that neatness counts? We all remember Pigpen from the Peanuts cartoons, right? And we probably all had someone in our high school graduating class who had that disheveled look about him (or her). But seriously, where were this kid's parents? Where was any adult guidance, whatsoever, to help him get the application completed and mailed with a modicum of professionalism? God bless him for getting it done at all, and I truly do hope he gets in and earns his degree. No one who wants it that badly should be denied the opportunity.

There are so many things we take for granted every day. The ability to read a map, follow a recipe, read AT ALL. Our kids cannot do it all on their own. Just because they can make their own PB&J and get themselves dressed and out the door to school on time does not mean they don't need us anymore. It's a funny story, on its face, this would-be bomb threat and the paranoia that led to an evacuation. But how sad is it that any person, by the time he's 17 or 18 years old, has not had enough coaching and help to know to do it any other way?

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

As Great as Harry's Been — It's Time to Move On...

In a post titled, "Harry Potter and the Web Disconnect," Just an Online Minute poses a great question, with regard the the much hallowed and even more anticipated arrival of the final book in the great Harry Potter series:

Could J.K. Rowling and her publisher have really believed that the eagerly awaited final book in the Harry Potter series would remain under wraps until its official release at 12:01 Saturday morning?

My response is this:

Yes, it’s sad that people want to ruin others’ enjoyment - but that behavior is not new and not inextricably linked to the Internet age! It may be easier and more viral today, but 25 years ago, two girls ran through the halls of my high school shouting, “ET lives! ET lives!” solely with the intent of ruining the ending for the masses.

To be outraged by the early release of something at this point is somewhat ludicrous. It is, in my opinion, not dissimilar to wanting a “retraction” from someone who’s uttered a comment not to my liking. What is said is said - there’s no “taking it back.” And what’s published/created is out there, whether according to the writer/publisher’s agenda, or earlier.

Those who want to dress up in capes and wizard hats to celebrate Harry’s sending off will do so

and they will AVOID Web sites where spoilers abound. You don’t like what’s on the TV, you change the channel, right? No one is forcing people to know the ending ahead of time. Where is our own active choice in this??

I think we need to spend less time worrying about protecting ourselves from cretins and more time creating the next dynasty of characters to populate a new story. Harry has no doubt joined Frodo and Dorothy as memorialized icons of “children’s literature,” but he’s done now. Next!

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Word Aware

Here are a few interesting word observations I've made over the last few days...

Is it "a broad" or "abroad"?

My interaction with Debbie Norwitz, new member of ABWA's Scottsdale Express Network and a travel agent specializing in volunteer vacations, had the whole room chuckling at our recent luncheon. A volunteer vacation offers you the opportunity to take a trip that combines service — teaching English, building homes, constructing sewer systems, working with AIDS orphans, etc. with a traditional vacation. As president of Scottsdale Express, I had just opened the floor for members to make announcements about upcoming events they wanted to promote. Debbie stood and announced that she would be hosting an evening for anyone who was interested in learning how to volunteer abroad. Even though I'm familiar with her business, when she said it out loud, I heard, "anyone who is interested in learning how to volunteer a broad." So I asked, pointing to myself, "Volunteer a broad, like a chick?" The room erupted, as she corrected, "No, like volunteering...overseas." I see.

Sometimes our diction can help these situations. Sometimes it's simply about paying more attention, as the listener.

Drummer needed.

Was sitting in a cool, trendy coffeehouse in central Phoenix the other night, waiting for someone who never showed up. Had the opportunity to notice a fellow patron, though, who was wearing a shirt that said DRUMMER NEEDED. My immediate thought was, "What a cool way to advertise."

However, I'm not sure it would work for all situations. I mean, I don't know many gals who would be very taken with a guy who wore a shirt that said GIRLFRIEND NEEDED, and I'm willing to bet homeless people wouldn't get a lot of offers if they wore shirts that said, FOOD AND/OR JOB NEEDED. But for this guy's needs, the advertising venue seemed perfect...depending, of course, on where he hangs out and wears the shirt.

I wonder how many inquiries he gets, and how long it takes him to find his perfect drummer...if, indeed, this is his only method of advertising.

Spelling, anyone?

Since it is impossible to write in a vacuum, it’s incumbent upon us to be conscientious about avoiding noticeable misspellings as we publicly issue relevant commentary. While I believe it is perhaps occasionally acceptable, and more likely unavoidable, to insert the odd occurrence of a weird spelling or grammar faux pas, I prefer my readers to be privileged to appreciate my commitment to humorous, indispensable, intelligent writing that supersedes that which can be acquired in the average library.

The link below contains a list of the 100 most commonly misspelled words. Peruse it at your leisure, understanding there is no judgment here of bad spellers (see There's No Shame in Being a Bad Speller/Poor Grammarian), but simply the recommendation that you immediately precede hitting “send” by using your SpellCheck function, as there generally is no excuse for embarrassing goofs which can accidentally make one appear to lack intelligence.

Your Dictionary - 100 Most Common Misspellings

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Finding the Need Beneath the Need

Had an interesting conversation with a man I’ll call “Client A” yesterday, which caused me to rethink a recent success with another individual I will call “Client B.” The discussion was about clarity . . . as service providers, whether we take the time to clarify the precise needs of our clients, to be exact.

Regardless of the business you’re in, a lot of what you’re selling has little to do with the product or service you supply; it has much more to do with the emotional and psychological effects achieved through those products or services. This is a tough thing for many business owners to grasp, but its impact is unbelievably significant to our overall success or failure. Although I’ve understood this concept theoretically for some time now, it was only recently that it came home to me, in real terms, just how important it is for me – and for all business owners – to understand this psychological component to our businesses.

Client A is a graphic designer who is writing a book in which he offers other designers insider tips on how to go from being “starving artists” to having thriving graphics businesses. The interesting thing is that two-thirds of his book is so universally applicable that it could be useful to people in almost any industry, the reason being that customer service drives the business. And Client A understands that as well as any business owner I have ever met.

Moreover, he gets that a significant component of customer service is understanding the client’s psychology. What is it that’s causing them to need your product or service right now? How big is their pain? And how much are you able to put yourself in their shoes to (a) truly understand their pain, and (b) be able to offer a customized solution that fits all their needs, both the readily apparent needs as well as the deep, dark, unspoken needs that neither you nor they may initially recognize at the outset of your relationship?

Client A said that in his explorations of existing texts, articles, and Web posts on the subject of running a successful graphic design firm, the one piece that seems to be consistently overlooked is the psychology behind an individual’s need to hire a designer in the first place. Whether the client’s goal is to build brand identity, find a more useful tool for connecting with their customers, or develop a unique way to truly set themselves apart from everyone else in their industry . . . there’s a psychological need driving their engagement of the graphic designer. And the same is true in virtually every industry.

Financial planning comes to mind as I think of this. Say a person decides they need professional advice as they begin to think about retirement and planning for their future. During the exploratory conversation, however, it turns out that they’re having a bitter battle with family members over their recently deceased father’s estate . . . and it was that battle that ultimately ignited their desire to get their own finances in order now. They didn’t make the connection when they called the planner; but once the planner begins asking questions and drilling down past the surface needs, the psychological components reveal themselves.

In my case, the issue arose when Client B was trying to decide between hiring me and another editor to work on her book about a subject that comes out her own intimate, personal experience. She underwent an excruciating ordeal that tried her marriage and made her question her own self-worth as a woman, and is now writing this book with a goal of helping others who may be experiencing something similar.

Client B forwarded to me some of the comments the other editor had made about her work, asking my opinion of both the other editor’s analysis, and whether or not I would be able to offer similar skills as a part of my editing service. The interesting part was that the other editor’s comments were technically very, very strong. In fact, I think I might in the future borrow a page from her playbook, with regard to the way she addressed certain aspects of my client’s writing. The problem was that her feedback sorely missed the mark when it came to addressing my client’s actual needs, which turned out to be deeply psychological in nature. Yes, my client wanted proof that the editor she would hire had the functional skills to do a good job with her prose. But it was far more important to her that this person also would be able to understand the human side of the brand-new-to-her process of sharing such an intimate personal experience in a book she would publish and make available for the
whole world to read.

It can feel like it would be easier to walk
down the street naked than to hang your words,
thoughts, and opinions out publicly.
If you’ve ever written a book – or even an article – you know what it’s like to put your words out there for other people to read, digest, dissect, comment on, and agree with or disagree with. And when you’re new at it, it can feel like it would be easier to walk down the street naked than to hang your words, thoughts, and opinions out publicly, for everyone to see . . . and, potentially, take a swing at. The good news is that it’s not all that often that people actually want to take a literal or figurative swing at you. Unless, of course, you write incendiary commentary, of the likes of Ann Coulter or Al Franken . . . but, generally speaking, such controversial writers have been at the game for a while.

It does get easier, as time goes on, although some writers will tell you they never entirely overcome that initial trepidation. And as many experienced writers will tell you, it’s a challenging thing to get over the desire for external validation about your work – which can come in the form of selling loads of books or having people Digg you or e-mail your blog posts around. However, the only way you can ever really begin to write true is by divesting yourself of that need for others’ approval so that you write strictly from your heart.

My client is still learning about writing true – and it was my recognition of this fact that landed me her gig. Can I do an equal job on the technical work that the other editor laid out for her? Sure. Was that the deciding factor in her choice to hire me? Not at all.

Whether you’re a carpet cleaner, a surgeon, a personal trainer, a wedding planner, a dog groomer, or an attorney . . . how well do you really understand the psychology behind your clients’ need to hire you? I have a suspicion that the deeper you can go, in terms of identifying the true, but often deeply buried need, the more value you will bring to your clients, the greater rapport they will feel with you, and the more likely they will be to both stay with you and recommend you to others.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Getting a Handle on the Truth

You can’t handle the truth!

What mildly informed filmgoer over the age of 25 doesn’t instantly recognize Jack Nicholson’s line from A Few Good Men? The fact is, however, that it’s more difficult than ever to know the truth, let alone handle the truth.

I was having a conversation the other night during a happy hour get-together for my Toastmasters club. One topic of discussion that frequently arises in our club, as a subject for prepared speeches and Table Topics* alike, is global warming. A member who has become a good friend of mine is firmly of the mindset that Al Gore and his cadre of followers, while seemingly well-intentioned, are oh-so-ever misinformed. Others, vocal environmentalists, believe we need to heed Al’s message and change our ways before we destroy ourselves. My feeling, personally, is that the truth lies somewhere in between.

During the happy hour conversation, I related my opinion that although we humans certainly have a huge impact on our dear planet, the climate cycles of our solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, and the universe en toto, are just that: cyclical. Temperatures continue to increase, and decrease, as they have for millions of years . . . and my intuitive response is that our impact is minimal, when you look at it from a cosmic perspective. This is not to say we should ignore the obvious and overt pollution our cars and factories are wreaking on the planet. Yes – humans are having an impact. It's about the degree – and the focus – of the impact where the conversation seems to get muddled.

The problem is that we don’t really know the answer, the truth. If the scientists themselves cannot agree – and when has science ever agreed 100 percent about anything? – how can we, the members of the General Public, expect to know the truth? Actually, we can’t know. And more to the point, we will never know. Not just about the greenhouse effect, but about almost anything, really. What causes cancer. Why some people are prone to diabetes. Whether a vegetarian diet is healthier than a meat-based diet. Whether salt actually increases cholesterol. Truisms about all of these abound . . . but the facts prove tricky to prove. Statistics are malleable. "Experts" are available for hire to the highest bidder. One lab test proves one thing, while the other has rock-solid evidence to the contrary.

And the funny thing is, in spite of all that, we actually have the hubris to believe we do know, can know, should know . . . about everything. From what kind of underwear the President wears to this athlete’s sexual preference to that minister’s financial profile. It’s the Information Age, for heaven’s sake – of course we can and should know the truth about everything! It’s not only our duty, it’s our right!!

“You can’t handle the truth.” I have to say, I don’t think a truer movie line has ever been uttered. Seriously. We can’t handle the truth. We think we want to know who, what, why, how the Iraq war was engineered. But do we, really? And what would it help if we knew that we truly are engaged in a war for oil? What if we knew Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code was more fact than fiction? What if the VP’s hunting “incident” and Pat Tillman’s friendly fire death are only tip of the iceberg, in terms of what the current administration has been covering up for the last six years? What if we knew that Flight 93 was really taken down by a ground-to-air missile? What if we knew that George Bush had really been “in on” the planning of 9/11?

They are all fantastic ideas, with smart, serious people who believe them. And I have to tell you that following the Y2K debacle – in which we spent between $200 and $600 BILLION worldwide to fix a problem we’d known was coming for 100 years – no conspiracy theory is truly too outrageous to be possible. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, mind you. But I don’t dismiss anyone because, at the outset, their theory seems implausible at best, or completely nuts at worst.

In a recent column describing his reaction to the death of journalist, David Halberstam, The New York Times’ Bob Herbert writes:

If there was one thing above all else that David taught us, it was to be skeptical of official accounts, to stay always on guard against the lies, fabrications, half-truths, misrepresentations, exaggerations and all other manifestations of falsehood that are fired at us like machine-gun bullets by government officials and others in high places, often with lethal results.

There it is from the horses’ mouths: Don’t believe everything you read. Don’t believe everything you see. Don’t believe everything you hear.

In this day and age of technoeverything, a picture may still be worth 1,000 words, but it’s no longer conclusive proof of anything. Fingerprints, voice data, government-issued IDs . . . all the things that used to represent proof now require our utmost scrutiny. And thinking this way can be a scary concept.

No doubt, it was easier when we could believe every word uttered by the likes of Walter Cronkite . . . but those days are long gone. Almost all media is in some way now beholden to advertisers – and when money’s at stake, truth inevitably gets compromised. It remains debatable whether our government officials ever really had the people’s best interests at heart, but the optimist in me wants to hold onto the idea that our Founding Fathers truly did believe in a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. They just didn’t have the crystal ball to see where we would be today, when trying to implement such a rustic, holistic, seemingly clear-cut concept.

Knowing the “truth” comes down to one simple thing: you. My friend Vickie Champion once said that we all know everything. It’s a radical concept – but I believe it’s correct. When we get still, turn off the noise that is the TV, the cell phone, the Internet, the newspaper, the iPod, the chatter at Starbucks, we really do have an innate knowing that can guide us in all things. Whether it’s the big, big stuff, in terms of the future of our planet; whether it’s about a personal situation, like paying attention to the clues that our mate is cheating; or whether it’s the simple things, like deciding what to eat for dinner, we all know the truth. It remains up to each one of us, though, to decide if we want to listen – and what we will do, once we hear the answer.

*Table Topics is the portion of a Toastmasters meeting where participants take turns answering questions posed by one member on a given theme or subject. The purpose is to practice one’s impromptu speaking skills, as the participant must form an intelligible answer of the top of his/her head and speak for somewhere between 45 seconds and two minutes.

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Monday, April 30, 2007

Bad Spelling: Not Always a Laughing Matter

­WARNING: The following post is not PC. If black humor offends you, stop reading now and click over to Reader’s Digest or Garrison Keillor.

To appreciate this story, you really have to know Todd. He is a Certified Financial Planner™, but he’s unlike any financial advisor you’ve ever met. He is, of course, smart, charming, and well-versed in financial matters, but his approach is holistic, educational . . . spiritual, even. And what’s more, he’s funny.

He jokes that in the year since we met, my sense of humor has increased noticeably and measurably, just due to his humorous influence and subsequent, if unintended, tutelage in the art of funniness.

Being an unconventional planner, we figured Todd's company, Azmyth Financial, should keep unconventional hours: 10 a.m. to 2 a.m., 6 days a week, sounded pretty good. Don’t try to schedule an early a.m. session, though – that is the time he specifically reserves for rest, rejuvenation, and the challenging dreamwork and visioning that enables him to serve his clients with a more intuitive, spiritual, nonjudgmental, holistic approach than any other financial planning service in the galaxy. Lately, though, he’s been choosing to close up shop by midnight – a tad on the early side.

“But if a client needed you – you know, in a financial emergency – you’d stay open, right?” I asked the other night.

“Oh, sure,” he said agreeably.

“You’d be there to talk them down if they were ready to jump off a bridge at 2 a.m.?” I asked further, for clarification.

“Don’t joke about that. That’s serious. It’s really happened,” came his quick response.
“To you? You’ve actually had to talk someone off a ledge?” I asked, incredulous. He’d never mentioned such an act of bravery and heroism.

“Well, no, not to me personally. But it has happened,” he explained. “And it’s much more likely to happen in my industry than in yours,” he quipped. “I can just see it now:

‘It's obvious. I’ve always been a rotten speller, and I'm always going to be a rotten speller. I can’t go on. I must end it now.’

‘No, no - you’re a good speller, really – and a great writer. Please come down
from that ledge.”

‘I can’t. I never know whether it’s a comma, colon, semicolon, or a dash. And the its . . . forget the its. Is it it’s or its? Who knows? How can I ever hope to keep it all straight? It’s no use . . . I’m jumping.’

‘No please. Don't jump . . . we can work this out. It’s not so bad. We can fix it. There are tutors. Editors. SpellCheck!!’"
OK – so it turns out Todd’s right – again. I’m much less likely to find myself facing such a dramatic, life-or-death scenario...although I did have a client once who called me at 11:30 p.m. to ask if a particular comma on page 83 of the 27th draft of her book was really necessary.

Now, I realize that jumping to one’s death – whether over their, they’re, and there, or a pending lawsuit and potential financial ruin – is really never funny. I get that. But Todd truly is a gifted planner who can help virtually anyone in any financial circumstance, whether it’s getting out from under a mountain of debt or handling assets in excess of several million dollars. And if you called him with a 2 a.m. emergency, I have not doubt that he really would help you.
In the meantime, you can call me 24/7 if you ever need help figuring out whether it’s affect or effect.
On balance, I’d say it’s a tossup as to whose work is more valuable in a civilized society such as our own: a sound recommendation for appropriate asset allocation or help spelling recommendation. You decide. And let me know. There's a Starbucks latte riding on the outcome of your decision.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Communicating Compassion

Have you ever been so fed up with the poor customer service at an establishment that you left, even if it meant inconveniencing yourself by having to drive an extra mile or two to visit another location of the same company, or one of their competitors? I have, many times in the past, in fact. I am getting better about it lately, however – mostly, I believe, because I am attracting fewer unruly or unsatisfactory experiences, overall.

I had one occur yesterday, though – the first in quite some time. This was interesting, too, because although I did leave the store without making a purchase, it was not because the proprietor was rude to me. Rather, it had to do with the way he behaved toward other customers.

I won’t pretend this is an easy situation. In fact, having just posted a blog about judgment at Dangerous Tea Party, I am trying to figure out how to utilize this episode as a learning experience without sliding down that slippery slope into judgment.

The Details

As I walked into the FoodMart at a Chevron gas station, the proprietor was shouting angrily at a woman that she needed to “get off his property!” He yelled that he’d already told her to leave once, and she hadn’t left – now he needed her to leave IMMEDIATELY. In my effort to understand, I assessed the woman. She didn’t appear drunk. She had no shopping cart or even a bag with her. She wasn’t dirty or unkempt. Do I have any idea what preceded his angry outburst? No – because I wasn't there to see the precipitating incidient. Perhaps she had tried to steal something from the store. Maybe she’d had an altercation with someone in the shop. Fact is, this angry man might have had a very good reason for his obviously outraged reaction to this woman.

Until he resumed his position behind the counter, that is, to continue collecting payment from the line that had grown while he was outside throwing the woman off his property. He challenged a man in the line, “And you know I don’t want her here, but you bring her here anyway.”

The guy replied, “Hey, I’m just trying to pay for my drink.”

But Mr. Angry Chevron Proprietor was not done. He continued loudly, “No. I said, ‘Don’t bring her here,’ but you did. You brought her back on my property. You know – I want you out, too.” And he started screaming again. “You get out of here – get off my property, NOW!”

My Response

At which point I decided I didn’t need to buy gas or anything else at this particular gas station, so I took my money and went out those front doors, thinking to myself, “I will never do business here again.” But I’m not sure that’s the proper answer either. I find myself struggling with this idea of judging the proprietor – and that certainly is what I am doing, by deciding his behavior was so over-the-top, in my estimation, that I will never shop there again, particularly as I still don’t know what exactly led up to his banning the woman from his property.

I am not a shop owner, so I can only imagine what it must be like to deal with drunks, homeless, addicts, and panhandlers, particularly as they so often meander outside convenience stores and gas stations, accosting patrons and making people generally uncomfortable. These unsightly, unseemly people no doubt have a financial impact on business establishments, as well as influencing the caliber of clientele, and the shop-owners are fully within their right to protect their businesses and their customers.

Poor decision-making never robs
an individual of his or her humanity.

I suppose what I’m hoping for, though, is a little bit of compassion. Having seen many a belligerent shop owner's response to a vagrant, my heart instinctively empathizes with the transient. Now, I am not denying that their choices led these individuals to the place where they are in their lives. They have volition, and responsibility for their decisions. But poor decision-making never robs an individual of his or her humanity. These shop owners have reached such a level of frustration, though, that they no longer can view the drunk, homeless, panhandling addict as a person; they see them only as a problem that needs correcting. And the obvious solution is to hurl them off the property as quickly as possible. I can’t help but think that for some, if erecting a moat or a wall with a sentry on duty wouldn’t adversely affect sales, they would jump right on it.

As I said before, there’s no easy answer here. I must keep in mind the Chevron guy’s desire to preserve a business he likely worked hard to build. But what I also wish is that he could keep in mind the effect his shouting has on both the individual he is confronting, and all the rest of us who must witness the confrontation.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Writing as Catharsis

I was reading the AP newswire again today, about Lauren Terrazzano, a reporter for the Long Island newspaper, Newsday, who writes a column called "Life, With Cancer." She was diagnosed with lung cancer two years ago at the age of 36, and began her column in October 2006. Terrazzano recently was informed that she has perhaps 2 or 3 months to live.

With her writing, she is accomplishing two things ... well, many more than two things, surely, but two significant things. She is giving outlet to all the myriad emotions surrounding what I can only imagine is a most intense experience - but she also is giving a voice to all the others who share that experience but do not have the venue, perceived talent, or ability to hang their cancer stories out for the world to see.

Terrazzano comments on every facet of the disease. She discusses Elizabeth Edwards' most public battle, sharing her first wedding anniversary with her husband, the insensitive comments people make everyday to those living so gracefully with this insidious disease. I cringed to realize that I, too, had at one time made such a comment. It's just so easy to be flip - or insensitive - when you're not in someone else's position.

Writing is, for Terrazzano, no doubt therapeutic. As it is for many who write.

My dear friend, Rebecca Joy, shared with me a blog in January by Christine Kloser, about her miscarriage experience. In it, she talks about the excitement of expecting her second baby ... and the utter devastation that accompanied losing that child. In a marketing column, no less!

And I have personally seen writing work to help people heal. For the last two years, I have hosted an event called "The Birthmother You Know." It is a spoken word event during which birthmothers, women who have placed their children for adoption, come together to share their stories. Some have written poems, short stories, essays, stage plays ... letters they never sent. We will reprise the event again this year - but are still working out the details. Last year, though, we had a gal who shared her story publicly for the first time since giving up her son more than five years ago. She talked, rather than read, and as she talked, she cried. And the entire audience cried with her ... because even though our stories were all so enormously different, she captured in her raw honesty the element of adoption that rings true for every birthmom I have ever met ... the agony of saying goodbye, even if it is the "right" thing to do.

Interestingly, all of these examples involve women.

Certainly, men also use writing as a healing tool. Lynn Nelson, an Arizona State professor of English, in a talk about the pen truly being mightier than the sword, reads and speaks of his own personal childhood traumas and violence. Soldiers returning from battle often use writing to try to release, categorize, and understand their wartime experiences. Convicted criminals often write for a similar release, whether it's owning up to what they've done, or dealing with the ever-present violence they experience within so many prison walls. People who have survived every kind of trauma use - or could use - writing as a means to reconnect with their souls.

There's a fallacy that's been circulating for a long time, now - that in order to be creative, one must have experienced drama, tragedy, poverty, mental illness, or some other equally epic societal ill. This certainly is not the case. Happy people can be just as creative as those who live in a chronically depressed state. Writing, however - and all forms of art, for that matter - can have a dramatic and healing influence.
Whether we write to share, or squirrel our scribblings away in journals never to be seen by any other than our own eyes, the process of getting the words out of our heads and onto paper helps us dissociate from them. It makes the words, memories, images slightly less powerful, because they now live on paper, so they need not live so vividly in our minds. It's as though once we take the action of putting the thoughts, feelings, memories into actual words - whether in a journal book, a blog, an online journal, articles, a novel, or any written form - we give ourselves permission to release those words from our memory banks. We free ourselves to feel, see, do, and experience new things.

Writing can help us heal, if we let it. All we need to do is pick up the pen or sit at the keyboard during an unencumbered time, and allow the words to flow through us.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Imus, Hip-Hop, and Our Right to Speak Freely

According to an AP newswire story released yesterday, a team of high-powered music industry executives met privately to discuss sexist and misogynistic rap lyrics” in the wake of the Don Imus firing for his recent incendiary racist comments. Now, I in no way want to be perceived as endorsing Imus’ comments. The fact is that anyone with a large public platform is responsible for remaining within the bounds of decency, whether that is a talk radio host, an actor, a sports figure, a supermodel, or a politician.

As James Poniewozik writes in "The Imus Fallout: Who Can Say What?" for the April 12 issue of Time:

A reasonable person could ask, What was the big deal? And I don't mean the lots-of-black-rappers-say-"hos" argument, though we'll get to that. Rather, I mean, what celebrity isn't slurring some group nowadays?

I exaggerate slightly. But our culture has experienced an almost psychotic outburst of -isms in the past year. Michael Richards and "nigger." Isaiah Washington and "faggot." Senator George Allen and "macaca." Mel Gibson and "fucking Jews."

The problem, for me, arises when we begin splitting hairs about what is decent and right and proper and what has “crossed the line.” One thing I’d love to understand is why this comment that Imus made “crossed the line” and none of the other bile he’s spewed during his nearly 30 years on the air was considered quite so offensive. Here’s the thing: like beauty, offense is in the eye of the beholder.

So why this time? Why this incident? What makes this particular inappropriate phrase so much more inappropriate than all the other garbage that has ever issued forth from this man’s mouth – or any other person of similar stature? When you look at the list of groups he’s insulted, he really appears to be an equal-opportunity jackass – and the fact is, he has a following. There would have been absolutely no way for him to have stayed on the air for as long as he did if people weren’t tuning in to listen. Isn’t it possible it was all for show?

So now, record execs are getting together to discuss the violence and misogynistic lyrics that have filled rap music for lo these last . . . 30 years. Say what? Now, because it’s a hot-button issue, we want to talk about it? Where were we, in terms of this conversation when the gangsta rappers were killing each other in the late 90s? Where have we been as “ho” entered the lexicon as an acceptable moniker for women of every race?

Oh, right, people are watching us now. So it must be the proper time to call a meeting to investigate whether or not we need to think about changes in our unbelievably lucrative industry. According to the AP story, “After the meeting ended, it was unclear whether there would be another one. [Hip-hop mogul Russell] Simmons' publicist released a short statement that described the topic [of the meeting] as a ‘complex issue that involves gender, race, culture and artistic expression. Everyone assembled today takes this issue very seriously.’”

You bet it’s complex. And we are now headed down a very slippery slope.

To reiterate an earlier point, anyone with a large public platform is responsible for remaining within the bounds of decency, whether that is a talk radio host, an actor, a sports figure, a supermodel, or a politician. If we’re going to live on this planet together in a civilized society, we all need to take ownership for how we treat each other. And something many people seem utterly aware of is that words ARE things. Words can incent violence or rally the masses for peace and goodwill. Words can cut to the quick or words can lift our spirits and touch our souls. Twenty-six little characters . . . more than 500,000 words (according to Wikipedia about the number of headwords in the Oxford English Dictionary). It is up to each individual what we do with the words we have. How well we own them. How many we use. What we choose to do with the ones we do own and use.

Legislating appropriate behavior is a tough sell, for me. I know that all laws essentially are designed to “protect” the greater good. But when it comes to free speech, one of the single most important principles upon which our nation was founded, this desire for control, the urge to legislate what people can say and where and when they can say it is distasteful at best, and dangerous at the worst.

Frankly, I would rather let guys like Imus, Tom Leykis, and Howard Stern spew out loud and in public – and for a very simple reason. At least then I know where they stand. And being that we do live in a free country, I have the ability, everyday and all day long, to change the channel if I don’t like what I am hearing. Given our freedom to write uncensored letters, I can write or e-mail anyone my opinion of their on-air musings. I can write letters to the editor or contribute an Op-Ed piece that calls attention to and/or dissects the scurrilous comments. I can blog my agreement or dissent. As long as we retain our freedom of expression, I have the equal opportunity to make my thoughts and opinions heard.

However, the minute we start exploring ways to limit what people can say on air or write in their song lyrics, we begin to limit our own freedom to dissent, comment, argue, and grow as a result of the ensuing conversation.

Color me liberal – or libertarian – but I don’t ever want to see that freedom impinged upon. The American principle of free speech promotes dialogue on public issues, but is most significantly relevant to words that are unpopular at the time the speaker utters them. Speak up now, or forever hold your piece.

Freedom of speech which is limited to freedom to say whatever a majority of the Pennsylvania legislature agrees with is not real freedom of speech.
– Pennsylvania state legislator, Rep. Mark B. Cohen

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Even the Bigshots Get Spanked When It Comes to Stealing Material

An April 11, 2007 AP news report out of New York details the firing of a CBS News producer for plagiarizing a story from The Wall Street Journal. It was for a Katie Couric piece about libraries. I don’t know about you, but my first inclination is to quote Homer Simpson: “D’oh!”

One might be tempted to ask “Why?” but the sad part is that it happens all the time. People get busy. They feel pressured. It’s more or less for the same reason students cheat. And, boy, do our students cheat.

According to information on the Caveon Test Security Web site, a recent survey of more than 36,000 students by the Josephson Institute illustrates the problem of cheating among students in that the majority (60%) cheated on a test during the past year, and one in three (33%) said they used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment.

Don Sorenson, Caveon’s Vice President of Marketing, writes:
According to Michael Josephson, president and founder of Josephson Institute, "The good news is that things aren’t getting any worse — the 2006 results are almost identical to those reported in 2004. The bad news is that unacceptably high rates of dishonesty have become the norm. It doesn’t bode well for the future that so many kids are entering the workforce to become the next generation of corporate executives and cops, politicians and parents, journalists, teachers, and coaches with the dispositions and skills of liars, cheaters and thieves."
See the correlation here . . . journalists are mentioned by name!
So in spite of our inclination to ask “Why?” the more important and interesting question is, “How do they expect to get away with it?!?”
Cheating takes many forms. Managers who steal ideas from their staff and take credit for them. Students who pay for others to write their papers and then pass them off as their own. People from every industry who liberally utilize the vast information available on the Web in their promo materials, articles, books, and white papers and fail to credit the sources. Authors and reporters who create fictitious stories and pass them off as “memoirs” or “news.”
People who feign injury and disability and then file pricey insurance claims – and the doctors who sign off for them.

The most obvious, though, and seemingly easy to spot, are those who plagiarize – because (a) the plagiarizers, seeming not to be the sharpest knives in the drawer, somehow tend to forget that people who watch TV also read. Or people who read one book are quite likely to read another; and (b) with easy access to the Internet, it’s only a matter of typing a few keys and tapping a few buttons before you can find out if the material has been borrowed, stolen, or pilfered.

There are those in the info products industry who feel that it’s completely kosher to pay for “public domain” articles and repackage them into your own reports, eBooks, home study courses. This is not exactly the same as plagiarizing – as public domain means no one owns the rights to the materials.
However, I always suggest to my clients that they go for original. Honestly, there are no new ideas. I’ve said this before. Unless you’re performing cutting-edge scientific or medical research or are hot on the trail of the biography of the most up-to-the-minute celeb-to-be, there will be other material out there on your subject. And depending on the subject, possibly a LOT more material. But that doesn’t mean you still shouldn’t write your own stuff, and it definitely does not mean you should take someone else's ideas and call them your own. You were blessed with a brilliant brain. You’ve got insights and instincts and a perspective that are all your own.

Does the mere fact that a search on for “marketing” yields 224,868 titles mean you should not write a book about marketing? Not at all. But it does up the ante somewhat, in terms of the necessity for you to make your book stand out from the rest. New characters. A new strategy or concept. A new spin on an old strategy or concept. A very specialized and underserved niche. A creative teaching concept.
The most important thing is that you make it yours! That’s what the CBS producer forgot to do. He/she thought the borrowed story was a good idea . . . but forgot to find a new angle or a different perspective about the piece. Hell, he/she could even have taken the OPPOSITE perspective of The Wall Street Journal and created some controversy . . . good controversy . . . about libraries, no less.

Remember: it’s OK to borrow liberally if you ask permission (where necessary) and always credit your sources. Otherwise, simply look to others' concepts for inspiration, ulitmately making the final product your own. And if you have others doing research for you, be sure to double-check their matter how much you trust them. Regardless of how CBS decides to handle this situation, if YOUR name goes on a piece – whether it's writing, music, video, or visual art – if you're honest, you will admit that you've got some liability in the process that creates it.

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Saturday, March 31, 2007

There's No Shame in Being a Bad Speller/Poor Grammarian

IThe following is the transcript of a recent voicemail I received from a client:

Hi, Laura. It's Elizabeth*. I really hope I caught you in time. You know that article I sent you to edit? Don't open it! I mean, I hope you didn't look at it yet. I just reread it, and realized it's terrible. I need to rework it. I'll see what I can do with it later this afternoon, and send you my improved version tonight or tomorrow. Thanks.

Unfortunately, Elizabeth still has not sent me the revision.

It's a funny thing about writing. Many people have absolutely no confidence at all in their ability. Thing is, they are often more skilled than they give themselves credit for. And for those whose ability is less than stellar, that's the whole reason they hire an editor, isn't it?

What I'd like to convince my client, Elizabeth, though — and everyone else out there who feels like she does — is that there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed about, with regard to her writing skills. No matter how bad the spelling or how egregious the grammar errors, none of that is representative of how smart she is or how important the information she wants to share with her audience.

In a 2000 article, "What Does Your Spelling Say About You Behind Your Back?" Sandra Linville references Marilyn Vos Savant's book, The Art of Spelling: The Madness and the Method. Vos Savant wrote her book after conducting a 1998 survey in her Parade Magazine column, in which she asked, "What does your spelling really say about you? Is spelling ability a measure of your education, intelligence, desire, or none of the above?"

In her article, Linville explains, "The survey garnered more than 42,000 responses, indicating that better organizational skills benefit spelling ability, rather than intelligence. However, Vos Savant realizes that inept spellers can look inept in other ways. A misspelled word can kill a job offer or result in a rejected proposal. She also states that an English-speaking perfect speller doesn't exist."

Corresponding with Vos Savant's theory, it is widely reputed that Albert Einstein, the unquestionable genius physicist, was so bad at spelling that he was initially assumed to be retarded. In fact, according to the 1998 article, "Ten Obscure Factoids Concerning Albert Einstein," Factoid #3 is:

He Was a Rotten Speller. Although he lived for many years in the United States and was fully bilingual, Einstein claimed never to be able to write in English because of "the treacherous spelling." He never lost his distinctive German accent either, summed up by his catch-phrase "I vill a little t'ink."

Renowned social scientist Howard Gardner has done much research on the concept of multiple intelligences. Essentially, although each of us has many ways in which we learn and perceive information, we generally have one primary area where we excel.

Although Gardner originally determined seven different intelligences, an eighth one, naturalistic intelligence, has recently been added to the list. Brief descriptions of each intelligence are:

Verbal/Linguistic — This intelligence is related to words and language, both written and spoken. It dominates most educational systems in the United States.

Logical/Mathematical — Often called “scientific thinking,” this intelligence is related to inductive and deductive thinking and reasoning, numbers, and the recognition of abstract patterns.

Visual/Spatial — This intelligence relies on the sense of sight and being able to visualize an object, including the ability to create internal mental images/pictures. People who enjoy mediation and guided imagery or hypnosis are commonly very visual or spatial learners.

Intrapersonal — This intelligence relates to inner states of being, self-reflection, metacognition (i.e., thinking about thinking), and awareness of spiritual realities.

Interpersonal — This intelligence operates primarily through person-to-person relationships and communication.

Bodily/Kinesthetic — This intelligence is related to physical movement and the knowing/wisdom of the body, including the brain’s motor cortex, which controls bodily motion.

Musical/Rhythmic — This intelligence is based on the recognition of tonal patterns, including various environmental sounds, and on sensitivity to rhythm and beats.

Naturalistic — This intelligence is based on the sensing of patterns in and making connections to elements in nature.

So although verbal and linguistic may arguably be perceived as the most commonly emphasized of the eight intelligences, it is far from the only one. The fact is that each us has special skills — and it's not always spelling and grammar. Those may be my personal strengths, but just ask my niece about my fiasco as a sub, teaching math to her 6th grade Montessori class.

My client who said she needed to rewrite her article before she sent it to me reminded me of those people who feel they have to clean their houses before the housekeeper arrives. That one also baffles me. If we could all just get past our shame about our deficiencies and focus on the things we do well, life would be so much easier.

* This name has been changed to protect my client's identity.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

You Don't Have to Be a GREAT Writer to Communicate Well

My particular literary gift is making other people's words sound better, clearer, more professional, funnier, more interesting, more persuasive. "Better" takes on all shapes and sizes because I work with all shapes and sizes of writers, each with varying degrees of skill.

Regarding the specifics of writing skills, a recent conversation comes to mind. I was talking with a woman from a networking group I belong to. She has an interesting product, and an even more compelling personal reason for promoting the product. Such seems to be the case for many in the direct marketing field, as those in other segments of sales. More often than not, people sell products or services they believe in. It just makes marketing easier if you are enthusiastic and engaged in the product or service you're promoting.

As a marketing advisor who enables my clients to use their writing to promote their goods and services, my natural first question to my friend was, "Have you ever considered writing an article about your involvement with products that promote a healthy environment for kids?" Her response to me was one I hear again and again – and the very reason I have a thriving practice:

"I can't write at all."

Let me offer various translations of that for you:

  • "It's been a long time since I've written anything and I'm just terribly out of practice as a writer."

  • "A long time ago, someone told me my writing wasn't very good."

  • "For a long laundry list of reasons, I lack confidence about my writing."

  • "I have great ideas, but it's impossible to get them out of my head, down onto paper."

  • "I always get writers' block every time I try to write something, even an e-mail."

Almost anything but, "I'm atually just a terrible writer."

And even terrible writers can still have fantastic messages. One of my longest-term clients is one of the worst writers I've ever known. But he's brilliant and has an amazing amount of information to share. Most importantly, though, he recognizes his weakness and hires someone (moi) to compensate for his deficiency in the area of written communication.

The truth is that most people just need more confidence and more practice to become better writers. Writing is like most skills: if you don't use it, you lose it – at least to a certain degree.

Another way to become a better writer is to become a better reader. Study writing that appeals to you, paying attention to sentence structure, word choices, cadence, tone, etc. Practice mimicking that author's style with your own writing.

There are hundreds of books and tools out there to help you, as well. Just Google "book" and "become a better writer" and you will almost immediately have more resource choices than you could ever hope to read in a lifetime.

One last way to make writing easier for you, if it's the writing part that has always been a struggle for you, is to dictate – speak instead of write. Services like and offer unbelievable steals on dictation services that arrive in your e-mailbox like magic. So think about talking your next book or article, instead of being fearful of that blank page.

Whatever you do, make sure you share your message with the world. You were blessed with talents and skills, and part of honoring your human contract is by using them as widely as possible.

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