A Forced March

I picked up a copy of Jeremy Schaap’s Cinderella Man recently, the bestselling book about boxer James J. Braddock and his amazing upset of Max Baer to win the heavyweight title during the Great Depression. Cinderella Man was also made into a motion picture, directed by Ron Howard and starring Russell Crowe.

In the acknowledgements section, Schaap recalls a conversation with a colleague, friend and mentor who advised the author on the subject matter and the process of writing a book.

“He called it a forced march,” Schaap wrote. “Like most everything Ralph told me in the fifteen years we knew each other, his description was on the mark ….”

I, like Schaap, can appreciate that description as I work on various aspects of my first book and other writing projects. As much as I enjoy being a writer, producing words can truly feel like a forced march, especially on a Monday.

I’m encouraged when I recognize that it’s a challenging process for others as well. Thanks, Jeremy Schaap.

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Rediscovering My Bookshelf

“There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.”
−Audre Lorde

I’ve been cleaning and organizing my home office in recent days. I’ve thrown a lot of stuff away. I’ve also rediscovered stuff I haven’t seen or thought about for a long while, including my modest collection of books on writing.

Somewhere in my travels I picked up books, magazines, articles and other bits of information that I thought were worth having — at least at the time. Then they were left behind, forgotten, on a dusty bookshelf or in a file drawer or stowed away in a cardboard box.

I’ve enjoyed rediscovering some of these “collectibles.” I’ve cracked open some of my writing books and found that many of the ideas and inspiration are still relevant in this bizarre age of 140-character messages.

Now that they’ve been set aside for so long, they’re fresh again. And fresh is good for my brain and creative energy.

Where to Write

If you write, where do you write? Is it your choice?

(As I write this, I’m sitting on my sofa at home.)

If you’re employed by a company, you probably don’t have much choice. It may be an office or cubicle, where interruptions are the norm. (If it’s an office, then at least you can shut the door.)

If you’re a freelancer like me, then you have more control over your writing space. I think it gives those of us who fly solo an advantage, although my cubicle days at an ad agency and The Seattle Times were mostly enjoyable. Most co-workers, including those task-minded account executives, were considerate. They knew creatives needed as much solitude as possible.

I thought of this topic when I recently picked up Stephen King’s On Writing, one of my favorite books on the writing craft.

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Carnegie: Arouse an Eager Want

“You can’t make people do something they don’t want to do.”

That’s what Dale Carnegie wrote in How to Win Friends and Influence People, a classic self-improvement bestseller that also contains a terrific example of a “How To” title or headline, perhaps the best of all time.

Carnegie goes on to say “arouse in the other person an eager want.”

I was reminded of Dale Carnegie when I saw my wife (who has more friends than I have socks) reading our weathered paperback copy of the popular title.

How do you arouse an eager want? That’s for each of us to figure out in each specific instance. But if we’re thinking about it as we construct marketing messages and copy, we’ll be ahead of much of the pack.

Carnegie offers more than a few clues, including this: “The only way to influence other people is to talk about what they want and show them how to get it.”

To repeat, consider it a simple two-step approach: 1) Find out what people want. 2) Show them how to get it.

‘Use Words Sparingly’

“Use words sparingly, as if you were planning a garden
one seed at a time.”
-Stephen Wilbers, author
Keys to Great Writing

You can boil down a lot of writing problems to two things:

1. Wrong words.
2. Too many words.

If you take care of the second problem, a lot of the first problem goes away.

That’s why some say edit ruthlessly, which means, among other things, cut, cut and cut some more. And if you can follow Wilber’s advice (in the above quote), you’ll have even fewer words to cut at the editing stage.

Scared of the Draft? Write from Memory

Even if you’re a writing pro, facing the blank screen can be a bit daunting. I have a tendency to dread it somewhat, although when I’m actually writing rather than thinking about writing I enjoy it very much.

Dread might be too strong a word for me. The point: I know I have to saddle up the laptop and produce words. And they need to be well-crafted words, even poetic in some instances.

This morning my task was to draft a recap article on the 2009 Masters Tournament for a client. The word count was not particularly long, 500-750 words. There was a tiny bit of dread. It’s Monday, after all.

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