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This Independence Day weekend, I hope you’re taking this opportunity to declare your own independence. Independence from want. Independence from fear. Independence from anything that prevents you from being the person you want to be.

And I hope you’re having fun! It’s summer, after all. Here’s some of what I’ve been up to this holiday weekend:

I saw a one-woman parade:

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I went to a Sounders game (they won!):

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I heard some music:

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I saw some fireworks:

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I had a close encounter with wildlife:

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Happy 4th of July, everyone!

All photos (c) David Alan Moore

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Today’s world of convenient, “I can type it and send it before I even think about it” messaging comes at a price: we lack the built-in delays that used to keep us from putting our feet in our mouths.

Back in the day, I remember thinking carefully about what I wrote or typed in a letter. Even in my most ungenerous moments, the threat of needing to rewrite or retype a stern diatribe was enough to make me consider what I was about to immortalize on paper. And if that bit of laziness wasn’t enough to keep me from doing irreparable harm to my reputation, then I had to find a stamp. Locate a mailbox. Get a snack or a cup of coffee on the way.

Now, however, I’m just as fallible as anyone. Recently, I was called “uninformed” by a non-business correspondent (and that was the nicest thing he had to say about me!) because I sent a message that was, at best, indelicate. (And let’s just agree that this really is the nicest thing that can be said about it!) Whether or not the points I raised in the message had any merit, or whether I said them with flair, was of no consequence.

This behavior isn’t news to anyone, I realize. I’m fairly certain that you, too, have clicked “Send” on an email or tapped “Post Comment” on a website — and then regretted that tiny finger twitch mere seconds after it happened.

And how about those horrible “So and so would like to recall the message…” emails we’ve all received? I cringe on behalf of the sender, every time I see one of these notes. It’s like speaking out of turn in a courtroom — the jury can’t unhear what you’ve just blurted out. Oops.

Since we can’t ask technology developers to create communication barriers for us (it’s sort of not what they do), let me humbly suggest we adopt a different technique: saying grace.

No, I’m not going to get into religion here. What I will point out, however, is that many, many philosophies and faith traditions include the practice of pausing to reflect before beginning a meal. Practitioners of saying grace (or of being mindful, or whatever you prefer to call it) take a moment before diving into the food to think about how fortunate we are to have something to eat at all. For just a few seconds, we consider how amazing it is to have nourishment. We take a short break in the rush, rush, rush, and think about the state of the world outside our own homes, offices, heads…

Whatever feelings or actions arise as a result of taking that moment, they are without doubt better than they otherwise might have been.

So, switching contexts: what should one think about before clicking “Send?” How about, “What will be the effect of this message on the reader, in terms of what I’m saying and how I’m saying it?” “Is there perhaps a better way I can make my point?” “Can I use this note to strengthen a relationship rather than weakening it?” “Will this message help push someone out of the way of a speeding bus?” If the answer to this last question is “No” — and it probably is — then perhaps we can tone things down just a notch.

(To be sure, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t sometimes make a point forcefully. If someone really is about to get hit by a bus, you’re probably not going to do much good by first clearing your throat and saying, “Pardon me…” But I honestly can’t remember the last time I needed to knock someone off his or her feet, particularly in a metaphorical or business context.)

So, in that same spirit, I am going to try to practice the art of saying grace before sending my next email. And the next. In fact, I’m even going re-read this blogpost before I hit “Publish.”

A few weeks ago, I was working with a client when he said this: “I hate words.”

Immediately, I had to suppress a chuckle. This comment was inserted into a conversation that was so lengthy that the printed transcript was more than 40 pages long — and almost all of the text came from the client’s own mouth.

Irony aside, once I spent some thinking not only about what he’d said, but also about what he meant, I realized this:

It wasn’t words he disliked. It was words offered for no apparent purpose.

In this conversation, which was about developing a website, he repeatedly referred to the Apple.com site as a paragon of maximum impact, minimal verbiage. He loved the fact that almost immediately upon looking at the images on any of the main landing pages, and after reading the short blurbs associated with each, you knew exactly what the message was. Even more, you came out of the experience with a feeling (there’s that “feel” word again), a call to action — hopefully, to buy more Apple products!

I couldn’t agree with my client more. As a writer, I take great pride in what I write. That said, I think almost every writer I know is looking for that One. Perfect. Word. As professional wordsmiths and phrasemongers — heck, even as amateurs — we all seek those moments when just a few short syllables will convey the greatest possible meaning. Most of the time we really don’t want to blather on simply for the sake of reaching some requisite word count.

That said, we shouldn’t forget that we humans communicate not just to exchange information and/or the bottom line, but to help each other understand how we’ve arrived at conclusions. To share experiences. To help people understand the context, the rationale, the sometimes-inexplicable-but-worth-considering reasons for the things we do or the products we’re trying to sell.

Think about your childhood for a moment (or your own children’s childhoods). Most people will remember that whenever they were told something (a “what” statement), they always followed up with a question (a “why” response).

“Daddy’s at the store.” “Why?” “The sky is blue.” “Why?” Remember how the answer, “Just because,” was never sufficient? As humans, we don’t generally like to be told that “that’s just the way it is.” We want to know why something is the way it is. And sometimes, it takes a few words, or even many words, to explain the why.

I’m thinking now of Twitter tweets and novels, and how the value of the one doesn’t discount the value of the other. Sometimes a pithy tweet is like a picture: 140 characters equalling a thousand words. But at other times, it’s just not enough. We need context, we need information, we need to know how things and ideas and concepts and issues and problems and solutions fit together, we need to know more than how many people have “liked” or “retweeted” a particular blurb. We need to know what it means.

My advice? Don’t throw babies, ideas or context out with the bathwater. Words are your friends, whether they come as captions to an image, in 140-character bursts or in 100,000-word novels. Match the need with the medium and the message, and you’ll be fine.

Even with people you know who supposedly hate words.

UPDATE: The site referenced in my opening anecdote has launched. The pictures are beautiful. The words are great. There aren’t too many of either. The client is happy.

It’s been a while since I was last online here. Nearly three years, as a matter of fact.

Yikes.

That said, let me reassure everyone who’s been anxiously tapping at the door of my blog, but failing to get a response, that my absence has been for very good reasons. Positive life changes; a freelance writing practice that, nearly 20 years after I started this “You mean, I can write for a living?!” gig, continues to grow by leaps and bounds (even during the dark recession years, knock wood); a move across the country from Chicago to Seattle; huge leaps in my non-writing creative output…

…well, most days I simply ran out of time to do everything on my list. And even if I did have the energy or desire to write even more than the amount I typically do every day, there’s a lot of clamor out there in the blogosphere (most of it of the “look at me” type). I wasn’t sure I had anything new to say.

Until I read this. Anxious for a mental break and looking for a movie to see this fine early summer evening, I came across this synopsis of a new release playing at my local cinema:

This is the story of the relationship between two characters, Bunny and Naina, at two separate but defining times in their lives… first, when they are just out of college and standing on the crossroads of multiple decisions that will shape who and what they become… and then later on, in their late-twenties when they meet again, holding on to certain fulfilled and certain unfulfilled dreams, at a crossroads of another nature this time… how these two characters affect, change, befriend and eventually fall in love with each other is the journey the film aspires to take us on…

To be fair, this is clearly a translation into English. It’s possibly even an automated Google translation. But really, even if you imagine what must have been in the source language — could there be any greater lesson in how to say nothing in 100 words or more?

Friends, I implore you: When you write, have something to say, and say it. Say it funny, say it sad, say it fast, say it slow… but please, say something!

This week’s LMA conference in Denver has been notable for many things, not the least of which was the incredible spike in attendance. Over 800 marketing professionals swarmed the venue this week, as compared to the 500 or so who attended last year’s conference.

For many of us who couldn’t make it to the conference this year, it was the explosive growth in the use of Twitter that was most fascinating. From right inside the conference room, dozens of attendees posted tweets in real time, sharing what was happening and what was being said, from the announcements of the “Your Honor” awards to descriptions of the slides being used by the presenters.

While it must have been annoying for the speakers and panelists to see all these people in the audience with their heads down, pecking away at their smartphones, for those of us observing from thousands of miles away it was pretty cool to get the play by play. To follow along, all you had to do was set up and save a Twitter search using any combination of the hashtags #lma, #lma10 or #lmasocial, and voila!: an almost-live feed from the main and breakout sessions.

However, as my colleage Sonny Cohen pointed out, much of the tweeting was reportage at best, repetition at worst. Every time someone tweeted something, a dozen other people re-tweeted that same message, forcing one to scan quickly through piles of… well, piles of stuff in order to glean some very salient points.

In one of his tweets, Sonny made this request: “Tweeters: consider[] going the extra mile and adding opinion and not merely regurgitation of speakers. What do YOU think?” In essence, he was pointing out that those of us using Twitter to participate in the conference weren’t making full use of the tool’s potential for two-way communication.

(My suggestion for next year is that a few people be assigned the task of reporting, using agreed-upon hashtags, and that everyone else limit their comments to new, add-on or expanded ideas. It’s like running an efficient meeting — after a while, you have to ask people whose hands are raised, “Do you have something new to say, or do you simply want to express your support for a point that has already been made? If it’s the latter, thank you — and let’s move on.” All said very politely, of course…)

Sonny’s request got me to thinking: How often do we, in our various communications with clients — whether through newsletters, practice group descriptions or blogs — spend our time talking at our audience rather than with our audience? And do we risk oversaturation when we send post after announcement after release about relatively minor things that most people are already aware of?

It’s a fair question, and it’s not a new debate: quality vs. quantity. I think I can safely say that I come down on the side of quality. Sure, during periods of great activity or breaking news, quantity is absolutely appropriate. But in the day-to-day world of communications give-and-take, isn’t it better to keep people wanting more?

It’s said that experience is the best teacher. Today, I can vouch for the truth of that statement. And in the spirit of another great saying, “Learn from the mistakes of others,” let me take my recent experience and apply it more broadly.

About a month ago, I launched this blog. Before I did so, I created a story list — a group of articles-slash-blogposts, with titles and topics. The still-good idea was that I would write a number of posts ahead of time, on subjects that were timely but had a shelf life longer than the average 24-minute news cycle. With that set of arrows in my quiver, I could shoot out relevant blogposts even on those days when my schedule was too full to write something completely new.

This is a very smart thing to do. Many of my most successful friends and fellow bloggers have postings that are written up to a month in advance. Some of these are future-dated, so they automatically get published on their blogs at set dates; others are simply saved as drafts and pulled down when needed.

But, back to my story… Click here for more!

Casual Friday: In which I write about things that are a bit more personal.

Some of you may know that, in addition to my work as a legal/business writer, I’m a playwright.

Well, as some who are close to me (and who don’t think I promote myself nearly enough) would nudge me to say: I’m an award-winning playwright.

Although the play referenced in the previous paragraph, In Times of War, is only one of several that have won various prizes, it happens to be the only play I’ve written in the genre occasionally referred to as “courtroom drama.” Probably no surprise, given how much time I spend working with lawyers… That particular play was a fictionalized exploration of an actual, World War II-era Supreme Court decision that later played a key role in building the legal foundation for the post-9/11 creation of the Guantanamo Bay prison and the military tribunals of suspected terrorists.

Why do I mention this, other than to point out how my professional and artistic lives cross-pollinate occasionally? Here’s the short answer: Click here for more!

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