THE MYTH OF WRITERS BLOCK

Without a doubt writers have good days and bad days, too. Some days the words tumble out like gravel from a dump truck. Some days they’re stuck deep in the muck. But when the right words don’t just come out, as inevitably will happen from time to time, the pro knows that there’s no excuse to calling it quits.

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SPEAKING AT THE FRONT OF THE ROOM

Say something!

Say something!

Public speaking can focus the mind in a singularly powerful way. In preparing for a public talk, a speaker must not only organize his or her thoughts, but must do so in a way that makes them crystal clear to an audience who hasn't heard them before. If the speaker prepares properly, that process will reveal flaws in logical arguments, examples that may not convey proper authority or power, and dramatic beats that do not make audience pulses quicken on cue. Preparation and rehearsal are vital to the enterprise because the goal, of course, is to move your audience.

Public speaking can play with your head, too. A great talk given once can convince you that you're the keeper of something profound, a seer, a visionary. A great talk given repeatedly can gradually inure you the hard work it takes to keep presenting it afresh each and every time you present it. Remember, the next audience has not yet heard what the last audience heard. The job of a speaker is to make it fresh and new each and every time.

I'm reminded that so much public speaking relies on electronic media these days. It's probably an unavoidable phenomenon. In a visually structured world, the power of images to amplify a message cannot be ignored. But to cede all of a message's power to smart pictures usually dilutes the message itself and disrespects the process of designing those images. If you're going to use pictures, develop them in concert with your talk, lest you bolt them on as an afterthought and start to believe that "giving your audience something to look at" is a good idea. Once your audience thinks that your pictures at least give them something to do while you drone on, you can safely count yourself among the walking dead at the front of the room.

Which leads to the most obvious thing that so many, many speakers miss. Say something that matters. It's not enough to be an expert in a subject. Whatever you do be sure to think hard about what you're going to say and how you're going to say it. If you're message is ordinary, boring, irrelevant, or otherwise not very engaging, it will mean even less to your audience. That's why, to bring this blog back to the beginning, rehearsal matters so much. In rehearsal you uncover the merits of what you want to communicate and the way you plan to do so. When you practice it like you're doing the real thing, you can't hide the sour notes, and you can savor the parts that sing out.

--MS

HEY: ONE MORE THING! Our new movie WATER FALLS opens on October 10th. Check out all the latest on the movie at the website http://gpm.nasa.gov/waterfalls

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WORDS ABOUT WORD

Big word Microsoft Word: I still use it, but it's no longer my go-to program for all things written anymore.

It used to be that Word was the last word in words.  That changed when the world's dominant publishing environment became an endless forest of glowing screens, found everywhere simultaneously. Instead of Word's proprietary formatting rules invisibly structuring language behind the scenes, minimally formatted text made lots more sense.

Or, said differently, minimally formatted text up front makes more sense when it's likely that millions of scriveners like myself will shortly mark-up their words with their own hypertext of some sort. Meta-textual hooks are a pain in the neck when the program holding those words already has an architecture underneath.

Let me simplify my frustration: I can't stand it when my word processor hijacks my tab settings. Someone out there knows why it gets screwed up, but it drives me crazy, and it takes me mentally out of what I'm doing. Using Word makes me an endless software manager, distracting me from being a writer.

What you're reading now I'm writing this in a program that I dismissed for more than a decade: Apple's TextEdit. It's strange. With almost no formatting information at all, my scribblings here cut and paste comfortably into the WordPress engine I'm using to power this site. Markup's a breeze, and because my blog posts are usually short, the tools are great for fast, easily navigable texts. It's simple, it launches quickly, and the files are small. What's not to like? Besides, the bloated behemoth that underpins the Office suite just rankles philosophically. As a child it was always fun to have infinite options, in the event that someday….SOMEDAY… I just MIGHT want to do some obscure mail merge with an integrated Excel spreadsheet. But seriously? I think I've used about ten percent of the Office tools available, and I'm not likely to sink the precious time to learn tools that have precisely zero percent chance of ever being needed. That bloat don't float!

But I'm being honest here. I must admit that I…do…still…use…Word. I must. for longer pieces, or carefully laid-out, artfully designed document formatting I still find it indispensable. Finding text strings across big documents is simply easier; major formatting tools are profoundly more powerful; organization tools do what I need them to do. (Yes, I'm actively messing around with Apple's Pages, but it's not quite in the fingers yet…) Word is also still the keeper of an all important network-effect, that because it's the standard program in the world, it remains as such. But that hold on everyone's phalanges is beginning to weaken.

But these days, when I use Word I have to know that I'm "going in", that I'll be in Microsoft-land for a while. Imposed formats change the ways we interact with our ideas. Tools shape art. When I have to move a mountain, I drive a bulldozer. But I've been playing more and more with minimal approaches to what I always assumed would be imperturbably solutions for daily tasks. My bulldozer gathers more dust these days. Lately my words just want to be free, and keeping the Microsoft keys on the counter has been a revelation. These days I move mountains more often simply by asking them to move. Such is the power of words set free.

Word.

--MS

PS -- Does this make you smile? Make you think? Make you wish next Monday were one sunrise away from arrival? If so, you may be ready to become one of our loyal outreach team! How do you assume that lofty role? Tell your friends! Tell your colleagues. Share our link on your Twitter and Facebook page, and let people know where you turn every Monday morning for a blog of a different color. You were expecting horses?

 

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