Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Creativity Tips: Embrace Structure

One of the greatest creativity boosts I know is structure. Give me a structure, and you've given me a start. Give me a structure and a deadline, and I'm unstoppable. 

The power of structure hits home with me at this time of year, when we Jews beat our collective chest for a litany of alphabetized sins. The prayerbook list has never fully resonated with me, but the structure gave me the incentive to write my own. And, in hopes that it will inspire you to write an alphabetized something or other, here it is ...  

My Alphabet of Failings – Yom Kippur, 2014
by Jan Sokoloff Harness

This year, I confess alone, my alphabet of failings:

For the sin of anger against those who challenge me
And for the sin of belittling those I don’t understand

For the sin of criticizing without caring
And for the sin of doubting the strength of love

For the sin of enjoying what I shouldn’t have
And for the sin of purposefully finding fault

For the sin of greed when I have so much
And for the sin of hating beautiful strangers

For the sin of needlessly imagining problems  
And for the sin of joking to avoid a truth

For all these sins, oh God of forgiveness,
Forgive me, pardon me, grant me atonement.

For the sin of kindness too often withheld
And for the sin of loving in measured touches

For the sin of malice toward those who are richer
And for the sin of nourishing my worst intentions

For the sin of observing when I could be helping
And for the sin of pretending I am less than I am

For the sin of quitting when I still have fight
And for the sin of not resting when I am exhausted

For the sin of saying it doesn’t matter
And for the sin of thinking he can read my mind.

For all these sins, oh God of forgiveness,
Forgive me, pardon me, grant me atonement.

For the sin of not cutting the umbilical cord
And for the sin of not visiting my parents enough

For the sin of not weeping, to prove my strength
And for the sin of never forgiving my ex

For the sin of yearning to alter time 
And for the sin of repenting at the zero hour.

For all these sins, oh God of forgiveness,
Forgive me, pardon me, grant me atonement.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday Fun: Chicken Soup

I was getting grumpy, so Hedy made chicken soup. 
Because, as you know, chicken soup cures all. 

Here's to a weekend that cures whatever ails you! 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday Fun: Snake in the Grass

Happy Friday! 
Am I charming?
Or do I just work well with snakes?
Here's your creativity exercise for the moment: Give me a caption for this vacation shot! 
Then go outside and play. Remember your sunscreen. 
We don't want your beautiful skin to get all scaly ... 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Creativity Tips: Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

Yesterday, I needed a break from the writing so I took a walk around the neighborhood park. On my third lap around the park path, I noticed this:

And there was this:

It took me three times around the park before I saw the trees. Three times. Once I saw them, I realized there was something beautiful and different about every single tree. And it struck me: How many times do I walk by people -- even people I love, especially people I love -- and not see what's beautiful and different about them?

In our rush to meet deadlines, keep up-to-date, stay relevant, there's a real danger in missing the wonder right in front of us. My advice for you today? Slow down. Look around. My wish for you today? I hope someone sees the ever-changing beauty in you.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Creativity Tips: In email, no one can hear you scream

Hi gang! Long time no post. I wrote this on LinkedIn (don't ask why), so thought I'd share here too. Enjoy!
I love email. I love texting. I love all forms of written communication. However, our newest forms -- the emails, the texts, the Tweets, the updates -- do a horrific job at conveying emotion and intent. So, when a client emails, "Your schedule isn't a problem. We understand your need for work/life balance." I can read that as:
1. My schedule isn't a problem. They understand -- and respect -- my need for work/life balance.
2. Oh my god. I just lost this account. They're never going to send me work again.
It's just hard to say. Because in email, no one can hear you smile. Or laugh. Or wink. And the only way anyone will hear you scream is IF YOU USE ALL CAPS! And that's so not professional.
Given the challenge, ask yourself these five questions:
1. If you got that message from someone else, how would you feel? After you write the message, reread it from the audience's perspective.
2. Are you being snarky? Because email isn't the place. Seriously. Don't do it.
3. Have you started the message with "Hi, whoever" and ended it with "Thanks!" or something equally friendly and professional? It takes five seconds, max. Changes the entire tone of the message.
4. Did you hide the real message in the middle of the email? Get to the point. Politely, but quickly.
5. Should you be writing this at all? Some messages are best communicated over the phone or face-to-face. Consider the medium.
And I'll give you a sixth piece of advice as a bonus: If you really want to make a written impression, forget the email. The text. The Tweet. Put pen to paper and mail it. While you still can ...

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Creativity Tips: Haiku Happens

So, picture this. You have this job and it's OK, but there's really not much room for creativity. People want the same old, same old, every dang day. You know what I mean?

Then, one fine day, the boss comes in and says, "We need to update the copy people see when they're downloading Firefox."

What can you do? Well, you can write, "Please be patient. The download is in progress." Or, if you're the copywriter for Mozilla, you can say, "Yeah, baby. It's haiku time."

I LOVE creativity in unexpected places. And you know how I feel about haikus. Why don't you write one for me? Right now! 5-7-5. Choose your topic. Summer? Mozilla? Sex on the beach?

(Oooh. You're going to click on that link? You do trust me. I need to work on my reputation ...)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Creativity Tips: It's time. Head in the right direction.

If you had told me a couple of years ago that I could do a headstand, I'd have laughed at you.

If you had told me I'd be willing to attempt this headstand in FRONT OF PEOPLE I DON'T EVEN KNOW, I'd have stopped laughing and questioned your sanity.

And yet ... this happened last night:

Naturally, I wrote about 8 million funny captions between the time my buddy Julie took these photos and I got home from Shanna Haun's yoga class. But then I started thinking about it ... and realized I didn't want to turn this into a joke. This headstand is serious stuff:
  • Two years ago, I was diagnosed with osteoporosis with severe risk of fracture. I was suddenly terrified of falling and breaking -- I clung to the railing when I walked up and down stairs. Now, I'm flipping upside down. There's nothing like finding the right incentive to get us moving -- whether we're moving toward an improved physical condition, an artistic goal, a better relationship or anything else.
  • I could not have done this two years ago. I probably couldn't have done it one year ago. Physical strength is just like creative strength. It builds. Sometimes slowly. And the best way to build it is to exercise the relevant muscles daily.(Want to be a writer? Write. Every single day.)
  • We can't get to the next step -- we can't discover what we are capable of doing TODAY -- unless we're willing to take a risk. And that means letting go of our old self-images. It's hard to take a quantum leap if you're worried about how you look leaping. Last night, I never even considered what people would think, or what might happen if I fell. Could I have looked silly? Absolutely and big damn deal. The world is in dire need of more silly.
  • Know what you need. When it comes to creativity, my needs vary by the project and by the day. Sometimes I need silence. Sometimes I need people. Sometimes I just need a dictionary. When it comes to my headstand, I need to know that someone I trust, someone who believes I can do it, is ready to catch me if I can't -- and won't think less of me if I fall. For me, and a whole lot of other lucky people, that someone is Shanna. I hope I've been that person for a lot of my writing puppies.
So let me ask you: What do you really, really, really want to do? What motivation do you need? How long are you willing to work? How hard are you willing to work? Who (besides me, I'm here!) is going to support you?

Today is the perfect day to start, my friend. Turn your world upside down. It's a really beautiful view. 

P.S. When you were a kid, did you like looking at the world upside down? I used to hang off the couch, look at everything upside down, pretend the floor was the ceiling, etc. I liked figuring out how the chairs could stay in place. It's completely possible I was weird from the get-go. 

P.P.S. If you don't think those photos illustrate a perfect headstand, you're wrong. It's a perfect first headstand. Wait until you see how my headstands look in six months ...