Three Steps to Better Writing

The real “art” of writing compelling copy—words that matter and draw people into the story—is in knowing what goes where and how to edit for story potency. Here are three steps to get you started:

image of an open book of writing

  1. Your first draft will never be your best draft, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be full of great fodder for the finished piece, whether it is a short story, magazine article, blog post, or the concept for a full-length novel. Your first intention should be only to get words on paper, or on screen, if you prefer. Just get your thoughts down as if you were talking to a friend, and try to do it in ten minutes or less. Then walk away for at least two hours.
  2. Now it’s time to organize and edit. For a 300-word article or post, give yourself no more than 30 minutes. Read it out loud to yourself, note changes needed, then walk away again.  I know some will argue this point, but in my writing, I rarely sit for more than an hour before I need a mental and physical break, and I do edit as I go along.
  3. The final round of the practice is to read your piece out loud to someone you trust to tell you the truth. If you stumble over words or phrases, change them. If your sentences are more than 20 words, break them in half. If you’ve used industry jargon or ten-dollar words, clean things up. If you’ve wasted too much space with unnecessary introductory material—a common error for new or untrained writers—your friend should tell you. Get rid of it. Make it worth your reader’s while.

My very first copy writing instructor drilled in into our heads to look for the parts of what we had written that we really loved—the sentences or phrases to which we were emotionally attached—and cut them out completely. This is the “kill your darlings” process, a challenging exercise in non-attachment and journalistic excellence that, in the end, will make your writing stronger.

Here is a post you may also find helpful.


Word Trivia #4

Wednesday Word Trivia info is derived from the writings of the late Word and Trivia Researcher L.M. Boyd.

Today’s Trivia:


When a Roman peasant died, friends turned a harrow upside down, used the spikes for candle holders, and put the body on it, thus to drag the remains to burial. Our word “hearse” came from the Latin for “harrow.”

HERE is an expanded explanation


Four sayings that lead to wisdom

If you’ve had any conversation of significance with me in the last two years, you know I am a huge fan of the Canadian mystery writer, Louise Penny, author of the Inspector Gamache series.

From the first book in the series, Still Life, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache tells the detectives under his supervision there are four saying that lead to wisdom. They are:

  • I was wrong
  • I’m sorry
  • I don’t know
  • I need help

Seems to me these four statements are the underpinnings of quality relationships and great customer service, no matter what business you might be in. Ultimately, much about our relationships – personal or business – depends our our willingness to admit to being human.

Why is it sometimes so hard to say, “I was wrong”?

When did it become a sign of weakness to say,  “I don’t know,” or “I need help”?

And what healing could come if we all had the courage just to say, “I’m sorry”?

I read a post recently that said we must learn to accept the apology we never received. I think we must also learn to give the apology that might never be accepted. I’ve begun, in my morning meditation, to offer forgiveness and/or apology to those I may never see or hear from again. In the end, the one we must forgive, and the one to whom we must apologize, is ourselves.

I’ve been wrong. I’m often sorry. There are many things I don’t know, and many times I need help.

How about you?


Word Trivia #2

Wednesday Word Trivia info is derived from the writings of the late Word and Trivia Researcher L.M. Boyd.

Today’s Trivia:

Q: What “Man” was the Isle of Man named after?
A: “Manannan,” the legendary Celtic lord of the sea

Manannan mac Lir is likely the most prominent sea deity of Irish mythology and literature. With his sea-borne chariot, affiliation with horses and cloak of invisibility, he guards the otherworld and the afterlife, incorporating aspects of the ancient Greek gods Poseidon and Hades.

Read more of this story HERE


The Six Emotions that Impact Everyone

David Brooks


David Brooks, the 1990 World Champion of Public Speaking was in Toledo, Ohio last November, as the keynote speaker for the District 28 Toastmasters Fall Conference.

He talked about a trivia column he read years ago, in which the author – one L.M. Boyd, noted that every human being experiences six emotions:

          happiness           sadness         anger          surprise          disgust           fear

The gist of his presentation, relating to professional speakers, was this: The best way to connect with an audience – in person, over the airwaves or internet, is to share moments in your own life that elicit the emotion you want them to feel. When you share a moment that brought you happiness, most people will share that same sense of happiness as you tell it. As Mr. Brooks says, “They may not have been there for the moment, but they will be there for the emotion.”

How can and will you use L.M. Boyd’s wisdom in marketing your product, your service, or yourself as a public speaker?

Word Trivia #1

Wednesday Word Trivia info is derived from the writings of the late Word and Trivia Researcher L.M. Boyd.

Today’s Trivia:

Makers of medieval calendars marked two days of each month as evil days.

They were called the “Dies Mali,” days during which nothing good was supposed to happen.

Their label eventually became our word “dismal.”



Two Years of Silence

Image of a woman with her finger over her mouth for silence

I’d been blogging monthly for nine years when, in January 2016, I decided to put off the post for a week while I considered changes in my life and world. That week turned into a month, then six months of silence.

I questioned my interest in the business that supported me well for 17 years, challenged my ability to write motivational, practical blog posts, and disputed my willingness to participate in an increasingly disassociated and negative online world.

Lost in a world of meaningless chatter, something had to give.

Next thing I knew two years had passed and I hadn’t written a single blog post. I had grown comfortable in my silence.

Then came December, and the problem that caused me to move my website from one hosting company to another.  In the process, I had to copy all the page content and blog posts, paste them into the new site, and reformat everything.

It was time consuming.

And it was exhilarating.

Posts I had written in 2007 were still relevant today, and many were more powerful now than when they were first published. Among them, these:

Bob’s Brilliant Marketing Tool

The Core of All Things

The Law of Attraction: Carport #35

The process renewed my passion for solid, proven marketing communications, and my desire to be “in the thick of it” with my clients. Now, I use silence in a different way, internally and externally. It has become a solace rather than a wall.

Have you stepped away from some aspect of your life, only to discover it anew? What was it, what did you learn, how will you move forward?

Love the Lemons in Your Life

Image of lemons on a lemon treeWe call the bad things, the dysfunctional things “lemons.” We say, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade,” meaning throw a bag of sugar over it so you don’t see the dysfunction, the mechanical failures, the sourness of your situation.

Lemons grow in warm climates, their juice sour and acidic – much like the emotions we experience when things that we perceive as “bad” happen to us or around us. But that sour taste, that lip-puckering tartness, can play another role – an amazing role – if we embrace it. Lemons are teachers, messengers, angels sent to reshape us. Welcome them, love them, and squeeze out every bit of juice they offer.

I was handed a life-sucking lemon – a diagnosis of Stage 3C uterine cancer – in July 2009.  Over the next three years, I lost my business, my retirement fund, and in the end, my home. I tell you it was awesome – because the destruction of those years led me to the life I live today.

I could have viewed cancer as a death sentence, but chose instead to turn myself into “Lindiana Jones” on a wild and dangerous adventure that would prove my tenacity and strength.

After the radical hysterectomy, I could have handed my life over to my oncologist.  I didn’t, opting instead to do my own research on treatments and creating – with my oncologist’s hesitant agreement – on a plan that worked for me instead of the standard protocol.

I could have isolated myself to avoid infection or, even harder to endure, the fears of family and friends.  I didn’t do that, either. There were weeks during the year of chemotherapy that I was relegated to home with dangerously low blood counts. The rest of the time, I was out as often as my energy level allowed.

I chose to turn the most sour year of my life into a positive, life-affirming experience. It wasn’t easy, but this is what I learned:
When life gives you lemons, find someone with vodka, and throw a party.


Holiday Greetings that Make a Difference

You’re seeing it already: the arrival of “Happy Holidays” messages filling your email box, each with some variation of the same message:

Sincerest wishes for hope, happiness and peace during this Holiday Season and throughout the coming year.

It’s canned, it’s boring, and it rarely feels “sincere,” especially when you know it has come to you via an email distribution service, and that you’ve received it only because your email address has been added to a list.

How to Make a Difference

    • Buy a box of holiday cards that fit your business style, to be sent to people on your “A” list.  HAND WRITE a personal message inside: “Dear Joe & Joan: hope your annual ski trip takes you to new heights!” or “Dear Mark: Saw the photo of your new son on Facebook. Congratulations!”
    • HAND ADDRESS the envelopes. Yes, you do have time. Write and address a few cards each day. No one said it has to be done all at once.
    • For the “B” list, buy more cards. Have your administrative assistant create mailing labels. Sign the cards. Really, just do it – you can sign your name to a few at a time when you take a five-minute break from a project, or while you’re watching TV.
    • For the “C” list, write a generic – but not sterile – message, and send it via whatever mail delivery service you use – Constant Contact, iContact, and MailChimp are three options. Just make sure you remove the “A” and “B” list people from this group before you hit “send.”

The Results

If your relationship with your clients is like mine, your phone will ring, or you will find personal “thank you” messages in your email box. Either is an opportunity for a brief, personal conversation that people will remember long after the eggnog is gone and the tree lights stowed in the garage.

Give your greetings the personal touch this year, and carry the practice into the new year.

It will make a difference in your business.


The Changing Face of Marketing Options for Small Business

Stick around long enough and you begin to see patterns in everything, particularly in the changing face of marketing options for small business.

In his book Youtility, author Jay Baer speaks of the long-time marketing strategy called Top of Mind Awareness, or TOMA.  “When America had three major TV networks, it was easy to reach people with a single commercial,” Baer states.

The Media Challenge

But the TV market has changed, as stats from Baer’s book show. Consider the #1 TV shows over the last 4 decades, and the percentage of American households with TVs that tuned in:

1977: Happy Days (31.5%)
1987: The Cosby Show (27.8%)
1997: Seinfeld (21.7%)
2007: American Idol (16.1%)
2011: Sunday Night Football (12.9%)

The interesting thing in these numbers is not which show is #1 in any given decade, but the slow decline in the number of people “tuned in” to the #1 show. It’s not that we are no longer watching TV. We are, in fact, watching more TV than ever – but over hundreds of channels, and often viewing more than one screen at a time.  That makes it harder than ever to gain attention – and as Baer says, “You can’t promote to people you can’t find.”

The Solution

Throughout his book, Baer stresses the solution to the fractured media landscape and ultra-short attention span of entire generations is Youtility: Massively useful information, provided for free, that creates long term trust and kinship between your company and your customers.

The strongest points, in my view, are these:

  • If you sell something, you make a customer today. If you help someone, you may create a customer for life.
  • You have to understand what your prospective customers need to make better decisions, and how you can improve their lives by providing it.
  • Use Social Media to promote your useful information first, and your company second.

And the most important point:

Being useful must be part of your company DNA.