Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Creativity Exercise: What's wrong with this sentence?

During an NPR report on Hurricane Irene, the reporter said:

"There was only one death in the area, but extensive damage was reported."

Tell me what's wrong with that sentence. Post here or email me at I'll share my answer tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Creativity Tips: Writer's Block is NOT an Option

I know you can't tell from my recent blogging activity, but I write every day. Every day.

Generally, I'm writing for clients. It's how I put the proverbial food on the table. Well, it's real food. But you know what I mean. Anyway, as a professional writer, I can't afford the luxury of writer's block. No write, no money. Bad combo.

Since writer's block is not an option, I rarely get it. (You get what you aim for -- I aim to write.)

Sunday, however, was one of those rare days. I couldn't string thoughts into words into sentences into paragraphs into money. So, you know what I did?


That's right. After wasting three precious hours of my Sunday beating my head against the computer, I admitted defeat. I left the house and went to the grocery store, where I wandered aimlessly through the aisles, annoying middle-aged men in ugly shorts who clearly wanted to grab a can of baked beans, a package of weiners, a six-pack of beer and get the hell out of HyVee. I live in the suburbs. It's not pretty.

When I got home, I could write again.

There are times when the best thing we can do is realize we can't do anything. Accept it, and move on. That's a lesson I'm a long time learning ...

(If giving up doesn't work for you, check out Melanie's post on how to get out of a creative slump. Lots of great comments. Including mine. Hey! Did I ever say I was modest? No, I did not ...)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

World's Best Poetry Reading

OK, you people are falling down on the job. I mean, seriously. Why didn't anyone point me toward this clip of an adorable three-year-old boy reciting Litany by Billy Collins when it came out last year?

Ohmilord. One more reason to love poetry. And parents who read poetry to youngsters.

His inflection on some lines is absolute perfection ... especially at the end:
But don't worry, I am not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.

Your creativity assignment for the week: Memorize a poem. One more way to own it.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Creativity Tips: How to Write a Public Service Announcement (PSA)

I was recently asked to write guidelines on How to Write a Public Service Announcement and it occurred to me that the info might be helpful to others. So, here you go! The tips are useful for all sorts of writing -- not just PSAs.

Write with your audience in mind.
Before you start writing, think about what your audience knows about the topic. Ask yourself: Why should the audience care about this? The answer will help you decide what to write.

Understand the reason for your PSA.
PSAs typically promote action. What action do you want the audience to take?

Start with a rough outline.
To write a good PSA, you need to know how you’re going to grab the listener’s attention at the start, what main point you want to make, and what the call for action is at the end. Sketch it out in a brief outline.

Use a format easy to read.
The standard PSA format is not the standard paragraph format. Set your left margin for 2 inches and double space the copy. It should look like this:
The standard PSA format is not the standard paragraph format. Set your left margin for 2 inches and double space the copy.

This format will make it easier for you to read the copy out loud. Your eyes don’t have to move all the way across the page and double-spacing makes it easier to see every word.

Talk directly to one person in your audience.
When you write for the ear rather than the eye, it’s important to speak directly to the person who is listening. Make it personal. Use the word “you” in the PSA. For example, “Do you drink milk? The calcium in milk helps you grow.”

Use the active voice.
PSAs sound better and are more effective when you use the active voice rather than the passive voice. Active voice uses active verbs – verbs that really do something! For example, “Make a smart decision. Exercise today!” The active voice delivers a much stronger message than this passive voice, “It is possible that exercising would be a smart decision.”

Keep your sentences short.
Short sentences are easier for you to read – they provide natural breaks for breathing. They are also easier for your audience to follow. If a sentence includes more than 10 words, look for ways to break it into two sentences. For example: “Does your sentence include more than 10 words? Break it into two sentences!”

Read it out loud.
See how it sounds. You will find things you need to change when you read it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Creativity Tips: Own It

My buddy Chris sent me this link to a Tom Waits/Cookie Monster mashup, knowing I love both Waits and Monster. What he didn't know is that the YouTube page would have a link to my all-time favorite music video: Hurt by Johnny Cash.

Serendipity. A wonderful creative spark.

Hurt is a Nine Inch Nails song. Or, it was, until Johnny Cash sang it. There are a few quotes re: the reaction from Trent Reznor of NIN, but they basically go like this -- "It was like seeing my girlfriend with another man and realizing she's not mine anymore."

Is it OK to tap into someone else's creativity? Absolutely. Just be honest about it. And own it. That way, no one gets Hurt.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Fabulous Phrases: The Secret Life of Bees

It can't possibly be Aug. 9. I swear, school just got out two minutes ago. Or so it seems to me ...

And the remarkable ability of time to fly is my excuse for giving you this Fabulous Phrase today rather than last week. Read and enjoy.

The first week of August was a consolation, a pure relief. The world will give you that once in a while, a brief time-out; the boxing bell rings and you go to your corner, where somebody dabs mercy on your beat-up life.

-- from The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

P.S. Here's insight into a writer's brain. I have this particular Fabulous Phrase on a sheet of paper posted in my office, because I love the picture of the world, the time-out, the concept of someone dabbing mercy on my life. However, I can't find my copy of the book, and don't remember where/when I copied this phrase. So I'm neurotically hoping that I have the attribution correct. And, yes, this is what my brain does daily. Writer frets. Not pretty.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Saluting Spencer Duncan

At Olathe South High School, one of the graduation traditions is recognizing the graduates who have enlisted in the military. In 2008, when Kate graduated, Spencer Duncan was one of the brave young men we applauded.

Spencer died in the Chinook helicopter crash in Afghanistan this weekend. He was 21. Kate's age. Spencer's brother Tanner graduated this year with Mary. He's in bootcamp.

I don't generally go all religious on the blog, but I'm going to make an exception today. Let Spencer's memory be a blessing and may God watch over Tanner.  
CI team member Deb A. sent me this link re: writing an ethical will some time ago and today seems like an appropriate time to post it. The title may sound morbid, but it's not. It's a great idea and the results may surprise you: Putting what you value into words can clarify what really matters the most.