I hate you

“My eldest daughter told me she hated me when she was in the second grade.”

Bet that got your attention!

Which is the point.

Most articles, blogs and books start off with blah-blah preliminaries to “set the scene.”

Forget that.

Don’t set the scene. Jump into the scene.

That article could have started out predictably with, “This is a review of Sheryl’s Sandberg new book about women in the workplace.”

Yawn. Are you motivated to drop what you’re doing and keep reading?

I didn’t think so.

But instead, that first sentence popped off the page and motivated me to read the rest of this excellent article by Katharine Weymouth of the Washington Post entitled, How Can You LEAN IN If You Don’t Have Anyone to LEAN ON?

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/katharine-weymouth-how-do-you-lean-in-when-you-dont-have-someone-to-lean-on/2013/03/22/b117d730-8b24-11e2-b63f-f53fb9f2fcb4_story.html

What are you writing right now? A blog? Article? Report? Book chapter? Web copy? Marketing brochure?

Review your first sentence and paragraph.

Does it set the scene – or jump into the scene?

If you want to have readers at hello, pleasantly surprise them by JUMPING into a dialogue phrase pulled from the story that illustrates your point.

Readers will be intrigued, and they’ll want to know … the rest of your story.

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“You can become blind by seeing each day as a similar one. Each day is a different one, each day brings a miracle of its own. It’s just a matter of paying attention to this miracle.” – Paulo Coelho

In the beginning, clients often tell me they think writing is hard work.

I tell them, “Not if you write when you’re flush with ideas.”

Do you know how flush is defined?

“A rushing or overspreading flow.

A sudden rise of emotion or excitement.

Glowing freshness or vigor.”

Wow. What writer wouldn’t want that?

Writing is only a chore or a bore when you over-think it.

From now on, don’t write when you’re grinding; write when you’re glowing.

Writing is joyous when you’ve just observed or experienced something different, something intense – and you’re simply transferring the aha’s running through your mind onto paper.

The thing is, many of us are busy so we set aside a time to write. We sit down at the appointed hour and expect flow to show up, on command.

Flow doesn’t like to take orders.

It has a mind of its own.

It happens IN THE MOMENT.

It happens when we’re one with something that just happened and the miracle of it is filling our mind, soul and spirit.

That’s when we need to sit down and write.

When those exquisite moments happen, we need to GO WITH THAT FLOW or it disappears.

Next time, you see something, feel something, understand something as if for the first time … and your mind starts racing with epiphanies … honor them.

Sit down (even though you have ‘other things to do) and get those thoughts out of your head and onto the screen or notepad … as fast as you can.

Without editing or critiquing.

Let what wants to be said come out in a vigorous rush … because what’s coming out is alive.

It may not be grammatically perfect … but it will have a voice, a passion, a pithy purity that only results when we’re swept up in what wants to be said.

When we do that, when we get out of the way and facilitate what wants to be said along its way, we collaborate with the muse.

It may sound grandiose, but writing those thoughts down in the moment is a way to render them immortal.

When we are in that pure state of flow, we are simply the conduit for whatever insights are blossoming within us.

We are merely the messenger and our role is to get those thoughts out of our head (where they serve only us) and into the world (where they have the opportunity to serve many).

You know you’re getting this “right,” when you look at what you’ve written and it’s better than you know how.

So, if you want writing to be a blessing instead of a burden; if you want to be at your intriguing best, write in the FLUSH of the moment to free up FLOW.

They don’t call them fleeting thoughts for nothing.

Next time you experience something that gets your juices flowing, get going.

Actually, sit down and let what wants to be said …. get said.

I rediscovered an old friend today.

Reader’s Digest.

I’m visiting my sister and brother-in-law this weekend – Cheri and Joe Grimm – who have been running my business and website for the past 15 years.

They gifted me with a stay in a delightful bed and breakfast here in Los Osos, CA (on the coast 40 miles south of Hearst Castle).

I noticed a copy of Reader’s Digest on my night table, and impulsively took it with me this morning to read while enjoying my coffee and a fabulous view overlooking the bay.

After the first few pages, fond memories came flooding back.

I was first introduced to Reader’s Digest when my family and I would go to our Granny’s house in Eagle Rock, CA for Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

If the weather was good, my sister, brother and cousins and I would play outside.

If the weather was bad, we were “banished” to the back porch.

And there, on the bookshelves, were stacks and stacks of Reader’s Digest.  On some particularly rainy weekends, we would work our way through years of issues.

I was once asked by a reporter where I got my “literary training.”  Did I study journalism in college, have an English degree or a Ph.D. in Communication?

No, no and no.

My teachers were Walter Farley (The Black Stallion series), Nancy Drew and Ed McBain (our librarian was a bit scandalized when this 12 year old kid checked out the racy 86th Precinct books from our small town, one-room library).

After delving into the May 2012 issue of RD,  laughing out loud at pithy one-liners , raising my eyebrows at “didn’t know that” insights, and tearing out article after article offering testimony to man’s HUMANITY to man … I am struck by the profound influence Reader’s Digest has had on my writing, speaking and approach to life.

For example, this My Most Unforgettable Character article entitled The Night I Met Einstein, (which RD notes is one of the most requested essays of the thousands in their archives), moved me with its timeless wisdom.

http://www.rd.com/true-stories/inspiring/the-night-i-met-einstein/

Take a few minutes to read it and you’ll easily understand why.  This was written more than 60 years ago (!) and is as powerful today as it was when Jerome Weidman first wrote it.

It is an illustration of why I loved reading Reader’s Digest growing up – and was profoundly shaped by its recurring themes of decency, honor, resourcefulness, bravery, adventure and gratitude.

I remember to this day reading a story about a mother standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes while watching her two kids outside flying kites on a windy spring day.

One of them saw her watching and called out to ask her to join them.

She waved them off and said she couldn’t because she had too many chores.

She reminisced that now that her kids were out of the house and on their own, she often thought about that windy spring day and wished she had said YES when they asked her to come out and play.

She realized, too late, her chores could have waited;  their precious, all too fleeting, childhood wouldn’t.

That article came to mind many times when my sons Tom and Andrew were growing up.  They would come up while I was writing and ask, “Let’s play ping pong” or “Let’s go to the beach.”

I would think of the presentations I had to prepare, the handouts I needed to create, or the calls I needed to be make … and then I would think of that article.

Remembering that mom’s remorse about not playing with her kids while she still could – and while they still wanted her presence – prompted me to say YES  instead of telling them I had work to do and was too busy.

Do yourself a favor.

Buy a copy of Reader’s Digest and read it cover-to-cover while sitting somewhere in the sunshine – in your favorite chair by the window, at a local park surrounded by nature or out on your back patio.

It will make you smile  … i.e., an article in the May issue from children’s book author and Simpsons writer Mike Reiss who says a publishing house called him in a panic because a superstar celebrity client had turned in an unusable, overdue manuscript.  They wanted Mike to re-write the book and have it ready – the next day.

Mike said huffily, “A children’s book is not a fast-food hamburger, and I am not McDonald’s.’

They told me, ‘We’ll pay you $10,000.’

I said, ‘You want fries with that?”

Reader’s Digest will get your eyebrows up with recent research.

This month’s issue features tidbits on Decision Fatigue, and the fact that,  just as we always suspected, Yawns Are Contagious,  which is why we often release one of our own when someone nearby opens wide.

It may even warm your heart and motivate you to be kinder to people you encounter.

It may remind you, as does the article about Einstein opening the eyes, ears, heart and mind of a musical neophyte, of what really matters – listening, learning, loving and marveling at this wondrous world of ours.

Mostly what Reader’s Digest will do is showcase that its editors understand that Carrie Fisher is right when she says, “Instant gratification takes too long.”

They are masters at condensing their content into intriguing  20 word, 50 word, 150 word insights that POP!

Their headlines,  “Cash Mob,” “Inspiring Minds Want to Know,” “We Couldn’t Make This Up,” and “50 Secrets Your Vet Won’t Tell You” create curiosity and compel you to keep reading because you want to know more.

Their visually accessible copy with short paragraphs and frequent boxed off graphics show they know people like to dip in and derive value even if they only have a few minutes to spare.  No dense, daunting text here.

In short, all of us communicators – speakers, writers, advertisers, journalists, ministers, professors and sales and marketing professionals – can learn from their example.

If you want to create intriguing headlines, insights and essays that pass Sam Horn’s Eyebrow Test®,  you can.

Purchase a copy of POP! and discover for yourself why it’s been sold around the world, featured on MSNBC, FastCompany and Business Week and hailed as the best source for crafting content that captures and keeps interest in what you have to say.

http://www.amazon.com/POP-Create-Perfect-Tagline-Anything/dp/0399533613/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1335718015&sr=8-1

Do you have any favorite Readers Digest memories?  Let’s hear them . . .

“Never allow a person to tell you no who doesn’t have the power to say yes.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

It happened again.

A consulting client sent me an essay she’d written – and it was packed with track changes from her editor on what she was doing wrong.

There were no specific suggestions on how to make it stronger – just cryptic notes about what she should fix.

This type of punitive editing saps our spirit.

Our author self esteem goes right (write?) out the window.

What’s worse – there wasn’t ONE positive comment from her editor.

Not one, “Well done!”

Not one, “Compelling opening sentence. You had me at hello.”

Not one, “Kudos on this real-life example with dialogue that put me in the scene so I could SEE what you were saying. Do this with the example on page 8 so it’s equally vivid and visually specific.”

It was all critique.

“Change this comma to a semi-colon.” “This paragraph is too long.”

I understand.

Many editors think that’s what they’re getting paid to do. It’s what they were taught, and it’s what their editors have done to their work.

However; this type of negative-focused editing hurts more than it helps.

It’s time for editing to evolve – and it is up to us authors to catalyze the change we wish to see.

I suggest we follow Jack Canfield’s advice.

Jack says, “People treat us the way we teach them to treat us.”

If you have an editor who’s making you feel you can’t do anything right; teach your editor to be a coach not a critic.

Ask that editor to comment on what you did well – so you can do more of it.

Ask your editor to point out examples of sentences in your work that sing – so you feel encouraged instead of discouraged and can’t wait to get back to work.

Ask your editor to be a “yes” editor instead of a “no” editor.

Ask, “Instead of making me feel like I’m a bad writer; please show me how I can be a better writer.”

And yes, (smile), you are welcome to share this with your editor.

People today don’t want more how-to’s.

They want more human experience.

They can find anything they want to know in seconds for free on the web.

They don’t need more information; they need epiphanies.

They aren’t hungry for how-to’s; they’re hungry for heartfelt insights.

I was talking about this with my colleague Matt Leedham, co-founder (with Jaime Willis) of Velocity Consulting and a Director for Entrepreneurs Organization.

Matt just wrote a really honest blog about his “meltdown” while competing in the Luray Sprint Triathlon.

Matt leedham completes the Austin Marathon under 4 hours

Austin Marathon under 4 hours


Matt’s a jock. He told me it wasn’t easy to talk about the unexpected challenges he had during the swim portion of the race. He had walked up to the starting line with confidence, feeling on top of the world. Things didn’t turn out quite the way he planned.

However, in our conversation, Matt and I shared our mutual discovery that when we “dare to share” what REALLY happened – as opposed to what we wish happened – we get visceral responses from our readers, audiences and clients.

It’s like they’re saying, “Finally, someone with the courage to tell the truth.”

Telling the truth often means taking ourselves off a pedestal we may have put ourselves up on.

But pedestals are precarious.

We really don’t serve people when we pretend to be perfect.

In today’s world, we serve ourselves and others when we speak from our heart (not just our head); when we tell it like it is – not like we wish it was.

Go a sentence deeper

Go a sentence deeper

I just had an ultimate compliment from a consulting client.

We’ve been working on his book and he said, “You’re my muse. You always encourage me to go a sentence deeper.”

What he meant by that is that we often gloss over an idea or experience.

When we stay on the surface, people read or hear what we said and move on.

That means it had no enduring impact.

If we want an idea or experience to truly reach our listeners/readers and resonate with them on a visceral/emotional level, we must “go a sentence deeper.”

For example:

How did you FEEL about what happened?

What did you SAY to yourself or others when this happened?

What were the exact words of what they said in response?

How did that impact you, exactly?

Put us there in the scene so we see and feel it right along with you.

Now you are creating interactive communication about the human experience that transcends the page and stage.

What you have written or said just made time and distance a non-issue because we are experiencing what you experienced as if we were “there.”

What are you writing right now? What presentation are you preparing? Go back over it. Did you stay on the surface?

If so, go back and go a sentence deeper.

Everyone will benefit – including you.