Well Said Wednesday: Inspired.

While in New York last weekend, I spent an afternoon at the Brooklyn Museum taking in the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit.

I was in heaven.

If you can call a book a prized possession, my copy of “Georgia O’Keeffe: a Portrait by Alfred Stieglitz” is a prized possession. The photographs, especially those of her hands, have always mesmerized me. When I am feeling less than creative or just plain stuck, flipping through that book is a magic elixir. The images truly move me.

So you can imagine how thrilled I was when this exhibition included many of those Stieglitz photos! There I was, up close and personal with some of my favorite images. Talk about a rush.

Spending time with art I love – even though I am by no means an artist – provides a needed renewal when deadlines, content creation and business demands start to wear me down. I’ve been known to pop into Chicago’s famed Art Institute of Chicago for a quick fix between meetings. If there’s a stack of art books at an estate sale or resale shop, I take a look to see if anything catches my fancy.

Keeping up with the content demands of our businesses can be exhausting. The well of clever headlines and catchy Twitter posts will run dry some days. There’s no better replenishment than taking in someone else’s genius work at a gallery, a movie theatre, a garden, a designer showcase house or whatever creative pursuit sparks your curiosity and appreciation.

Give it a try. What have you got to lose?

Well Said Wednesday: Baby, You’re a Firework

Here in the States, the 4th of July means a day off work (for many), picnics, parades and fireworks. And today, the 5th of July, means back to work, possibly sunburned, likely a little tired from all the neighbors shooting off said fireworks way later than we wish they did.

I find fireworks fascinating and beautiful. They burst into patterns and colors we can’t predict and pulse with energy and light that feels like a cosmic high five. To me, fireworks equal celebration.

We need more fireworks in our life, especially if we’re traveling down that seemingly endless road of creating content for our businesses. Write the blog… write the newsletter…write the video script…write the sales letter…write the book chapter…write the email…write the sentence you don’t hate.

Do you celebrate those writing successes?

(Yes, getting it done is absolutely a success.)

Success deserves acknowledgment.

I’m not talking about crossing off writing tasks on your To Do list (although that will provide a level of satisfaction.) I mean pausing for a mini-celebration of what you’ve accomplished with your words. I mean giving yourself a pat on the back, doing a little happy dance in your chair, letting go a “woo-hoo, yay for me,” enjoying a virtual firework.

When you give yourself credit for sitting down and sticking with it until the thing was written (or sitting down a couple of times until the thing was written, either counts!) you are reinforcing habits and giving yourself a sense of closure and accomplishment. Those are rare commodities when we work for ourselves. Don’t skip an opportunity to experience them.

Because when you’re typing here, that last line of the blog post with a looming deadline, you need to celebrate the accomplishment.

Cue the fireworks!

Well Said Wednesday: [blank page, blinking cursor] Updated!

[insert clever opening here]

[insert compelling, actionable content here]

Ever had one of those days when the content just wouldn’t come? When you had no idea what to say? When you wondered why does your business require so…many…words?

We all do. The unspoke truth of being a business owner is that writing is a frequent, probably daily, task. There is a sale page to update, the blog entry to crank out, the emails to answer (so many emails to answer!), the clever social media post to craft.

So tell me, what stumps you most when it comes to writing for your business? Seriously, go over to the 423 Communication Facebook page and fill in the blank: Writing for my business is the worst when…

Go ahead and vent. It might just make you feel better and you’ll be helping me help you. Decades spent developing corporate communication strategies means I’ve got quite a few tricks and tips up my sleeve for getting good content done quickly. So let me know what areas you need to most help with.*

*Pro Tip: Yes, you can end a sentence with a preposition**. But only if you want to sound like an actual human being.

**With. “With” is a preposition. Old school grammar books would tell you it’s incorrect usage and I should have written that sentence as “So let me know the areas with which you need the most help.” Pro Tip Two: Robot-speak is never in style.

Edited 6.23.17 to add: See? Even the Oxford Dictionaries blog agrees on the whole preposition mess. 

Well Said Wednesday: You Are Not the Boss of Me, Roger Ebert

Type, type, type, type, type.
Backspace, backspace, backspace.
Type.
Delete.
Ty…surf the web for “research.”
Scroll through Nordstrom’s Half Yearly Sale.
Text to accountability partner, “Oops, didn’t have a chance to write my blog this week.”

The previous scenario may or may not be based on true events. But if you’re an entrepreneur who struggles to keep up with the content your business demands, it may ring true.

I know. Because I used to struggle to keep up with the content my business demands. And I am a content strategist whose been working with words my entire career!

It happens. Sometimes when we write, Roger Ebert shows up and mucks everything up.

“Roger Ebert” is what I call my inner critic, named for the late, prolific movie critic. It’s that voice in your head dedicated to convincing you that everything you are writing is a steaming pile of sh*t. Your inner critic will tell you plainly that you’re about to embarrass yourself or that you can’t say that. It’s a shifty, narrow-minded, unhappy entity that entices you to backspace, delete and max out your credit cards at Nordstrom.

Don’t let it.

It’s just fear speaking. Putting yourself and your words out there takes courage. Uncovering and being true to the voice of your business requires bravery. Your inner critic is trying to protect you from being you. Not cool, inner critic. Not cool at all.

Unfortunately, you can’t wish away your inner critic, but you can find ways to peacefully co-exist with it.

  • Lighten Up
    Don’t give your inner critic extra power by taking it too seriously. Just the term “inner critic” is harsh, so I gave mine a name. Now when it’s flaring up I say, “I hear ya, Roger, but it’s not your turn.” Find a way to be playful with it.
  • Redirect
    My friend, herbalist and autoimmune specialist Lisa Akers, once suggested I send my inner critic “out for tea and then write like crazy while she’s was gone.” Others put theirs in “time out.” Another writes her inner critic’s complaints on a scrap of paper and promptly throws it away.
  • Tell it Off
    It’s hard to beat the advice of author Elizabeth Gilbert who said she deals with her inner critic the same way she deals with real life critics, saying to them “very, very quietly, but very firmly, ‘If you don’t like what I’m doing, go write your own f***king book.’”
  • Consult Teddy Roosevelt
    I read Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” excerpt from his “Citizenship In A Republic” speech* so often, I should hang it on my wall.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Inner critics are cold and timid souls. Take a deep breath. Remind your inner critic that you’ve got this and nudge him aside. Then create the great content that will propel your business forward.

*Interesting side note. Roosevelt gave this speech on April 23, 1910. That’s 4.23.
Which is also a hint at some exciting updates coming to this space. Stay tuned.

Well Said Wednesday: Don’t Be Too Precious About Your Words

crumpled paper

Confession: This week, Stephanie at Blue Elephant Creative reminded me that not all of my great ideas and words need to see the light of day.

She was right. I was being very precious about my words. I was treating every half-baked idea and dashed off sentence as if they were gold and couldn’t possibly be parted with.

So not true.

And I know this. I nudge my clients all the time to pare back the gunk, cut out the word flab, delete a well-written phrase if it doesn’t serve the bigger message. I even wrote a guest blog post a few years back on this very topic.

Clearly, I needed to reread it. Maybe you do, too, so here it is:

One of the dangers of writing is that we can fall in love with our words. Even the wrong words. And like a bad boyfriend, these ill-suited words are clung to even though they do us no good and our friends can’t figure out what the heck we’re doing with them.

I know I am guilty. Some of my drafts have included phrases that made me beam with pride at how clever I could be. That pride stayed even as I was editing and could see that I was letting cleverness win over clarity.

Sometimes even the good stuff needs to get cut from our work. If we want to write well, we can’t be too precious about our words.

Bernie Taupin understands this. He has written the lyrics to some of the most enduring songs of the last 40+ years. If his name doesn’t ring a bell, perhaps you know his main songwriting partner, Elton John? Maybe you’ve heard the songs “Candle In the Wind,” “Tiny Dancer” or “Rocket Man?”

The list of songs he’s written is huge, yet those words that we’ve memorized and sing along to remain just words to him.

He said in an interview that he has a “really bad memory of my own work” then proved it by telling the story of watching a TV quiz show where one of the question categories was his own lyrics. “I believe there were five questions,” Bernie said, “and I got four of them wrong.”

That is the epitome of not being too precious about your words.

Be like Bernie. Don’t get too invested in your every word, especially the ones you suspect (or know but don’t want to admit) don’t really belong. The delete key is your friend. If that seems too painful, create a separate file where all the bits you’ve edited out can live.

Those “golden” words aren’t really gold if they are blocking your message clarity.

Delete.

Be brave.

Delete.

Well Said Wednesday: Ready, Set, Write

Regardless of what we do for our clients, all of us write for our businesses. A blog post, a sales letter, the Chamber of Commerce presentation, the email to an underperforming vendor; we need to be good with words.

Yet, so many of my clients groan at the thought of sitting down to write.

Part of the problem is they think writing goes like this:

  • Sit down at the laptop.
  • Beautiful, compelling words begin to flow effortlessly.
  • Fifteen minutes later, the business content they’ve created is so persuasive that the phone rings before they’ve hit “post.”
  • Birds sing and world peace ensues.

They are mightily disappointed and think they’re lousy writers when a more common writing scenario ensures:

  • Stare at the blank screen.
  • Type and delete the opening line over and over.
  • Stare out the window.
  • Scroll through dozens of pictures of outfits worn to the Met Gala (or so I’ve heard)
  • Give in and decide maybe tomorrow will be a better writing day.

The thing is, the second scenario isn’t about being a lousy writer, it’s about having a lousy approach.

How you set yourself up to work on content can make a big difference in how effective and efficient that time is. (A solid communication strategy and crystal clear messaging help, too, but that’s another post.)

Here are eight ways to set yourself up for a successful writing session.

Block Time On Your Calendar
Give yourself a specific chunk of time for writing. Make it a repeating calendar item if you have regular content to create like blog entries or newsletters.

Turn Off Distractions
Shut down everything but what you need to write. Put your phone on airplane mode, turn reminders off on your computer, turn off Wi-Fi if you can.

Turn On Focus
Instrumental background music, nature sounds or white noise can improve your ability to focus and establish a creative environment. I like Spotify’s “Focus” playlists in their Moods & Genres category.

Give Yourself A Cue
I always sit down to the keyboard with a cup of coffee. That consistency means the coffee triggers an “it’s writing time!” response in my brain. Plus it smells good and tastes delicious. What cues can you create for yourself? A whiff of an essential oil? Light a candle? Put a picture of your ideal client on your desk? Listen to a certain song?

Take A Few Deep Breaths & Set Your Intention
Some days, I do a full-on meditation before I start writing. Some days, it’s just a few deep breaths to settle in and focus my energy. Then I make a declaration, silently or out loud, of what I need to work on, It might sound like “Right now, I’m going to work on this week’s blog post.” It helps clear the remnants of previous phone calls or lingering to-dos out of my head.

Set A Timer
How long you set the timer for is less important than setting the timer and staying on the writing task until the alarm goes off. If you’re really resisting getting started, give yourself 10 or 15 minutes on the clock. You can do anything for 10 or 15 minutes. You’re likely to find yourself in a groove and want to restart the timer. If not, at least you’ve made a start.

Go!
This is the part where you sit down and write.

Celebrate
When that timer goes off and you’ve completed your writing, celebrate a little. A fist pump, telling yourself “you rock,” a little square of dark chocolate, whatever feels like recognition to you. Stop and acknowledge your accomplishment before you go off to your next task.

Creating a consistent ritual (my business coach Christine Kane calls them “on ramps and off ramps”) around writing will get you into the work faster with better focus. The more you do it, the better it will work, the better a writer you’ll be.

Well Said Wednesday: Do You Haiku?

April is “National Poetry Month” in the U.S.

I enjoy poetry and a long, long, long time ago I used to write poetry*. It was well before I started focusing on more practical applications of writing — marketing content, content coaching, speechwriting, corporate communication planning.

In 2013, I decided to write a couple of “work-related” haikus in honor of National Poetry Month and post them on the 423 Communication Facebook page. At the time, I did it “because I could.” I mean, why have your own business if you can’t loosen up and have a little fun with words, right?

Editors are not
A necessary evil.
Just necessary.

 

The next year, I did it again. And then the next year. And the next.

When you work at home,
Formality falls away.
See ya later, pants.

 

This year was no different. I looked forward to coming up with compact little stories, contained within five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables.

Now, I hold no illusions that haikus are going to catapult my business to the stratosphere. They are unlikely to gain new clients for me. But they give friends and clients of 423 a smile. They give me an avenue to share a bit of my personality — the word-nerd, amused part.

Perhaps most importantly, they let me flex a different kind of writing muscle and that keeps my words from getting stale. It’s like cross-training. It helps break up the muscle memory by providing new challenges.

Do you ever find yourself in a content rut? Out of ideas? Not sure where the words are going to come from? Try writing in a different form. Channel your inner Dr. Seuss. Write a marketing rap. Pen lyrics to a Broadway-worthy show tune. Or try haiku.

You don’t have to post it anywhere or share it with anyone. And you certainly don’t have to commit to writing a month’s worth of silly little poems. Just try a different format. See what it can break free for you.

Where is my coffee?
How can I be a genius
Uncaffeinated?

Tell me how it goes.

*Recently, a friend from high school shared with me a poem I wrote for her that she had kept al these years. Yikes!

Well Said Wednesday: Abridged

…and some weeks the blog post just doesn’t happen.

See, it happens to the best of us even if we’re totally organized, have a content plan for the month, have writing dates in our calendars, and all the other best practices.

Sometimes life intervenes.

That’s okay.

You can always pop over to the 423 Communication Facebook page to catch the latest work haikus if you need some fresh content.

Well Said Wednesday: Write From the Heart

Last week, Richard Branson posted a heartfelt “Dear Virgin America” letter on his blog after it was announced that the airline brand would be phased out by its new owner Alaska Air.

Having worked in executive and internal communications for eons, I’m always happy to see this kind of prose from a business leader. It’s engaging, it’s human and it’s on point. It praises the wins, addresses the losses and acknowledges mixed emotions. That’s a rare combo.

I have no idea if this is the work of Sir Richard himself or a team that gets, and is given the freedom to use, his voice. But I do know that in a sea of corporate speak, gobbledygook, stay positive messages from corporations, entrepreneurs and small business owners, this one is a nice example of speaking from the heart.

There simply isn’t enough of that in business communication, regardless of what business you’re in.

Now, it takes a bit of bravery to come out from behind the curtain of happy talk and lingo.

Content written from the heart might not be expected or appreciated by all. Some people may sniff that using the word “gobbledygook” is in itself gobbledygook. That’s okay.

You can’t possibly contort your message and words to be all things to all people. All you can do is use your right words for your authentic message. It will resonate with the right people.

Will you give it a go and write from the heart next time you sit down at the keyboard?

Well Said Wednesday: Really Excited Edition!!! (Again!!!)

Last week, my friend Jen posted on Facebook about her company’s policy on using exclamation points. She is being limited to one per email and it’s kind of a drag for her. To me, it’s sound grammatical policy that I applaud heartily. (Heartily!)

Yes, I kind of discriminate against exclamation marks.

Of course, I use them. But more often than not, when I am editing or commenting on clients’ content, it’s delete, delete, delete. Especially multiples. (See headline. Don’t do that.)

I’ve climbed on this particular soap box before, in an earlier iteration of this blog. So enjoy this flashback to a Well Said Wednesday from 2010:

My dear friend and content coaching client Andrea Herran sent me a link to a blog post about exclamation points. I was fond of striking them from her text as I edited her Focus HR website content.

The essential questions in the Authentic Organizations blog post were this: are exclamation points unprofessional, do they corrode the credibility of women and did the writer really care or not? You can read it here.

I don’t have a problem with exclamation points in general. They serve a purpose and give writers the ability to use their authentic voice when writing, which I always advocate for myself and all the business owners and content makers I work with.

However, I do have an issue with exclamation points used in bulk (and I believe that ending three out of four sentences that way is the very definition of “bulk.”) It makes your writing start to sound breathless and vaguely like an infomercial. Act now! Limited time offer! Operators are waiting! The blanket that has sleeves!

So go ahead and use an exclamation point now and then. Moderation is the key here, just as it annoyingly is in all good things. Just don’t use multiples. There is no excuse for ending any sentence or headline with !!!! unless you are a fourteen-year-old girl trying to convey just how cute that boy in your homeroom is and you agree to dotting all your I’s with hearts.