Browsing the blog archives for March, 2012.
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14 Patterns for Successful Article, Post, and Speech Titles


I mentioned recently that I’m beginning to do speaking engagements, and one of my steps in preparing for this has been to take the topics I chose to focus on at the start and come up with the strongest titles for them I could find. I didn’t want hype: I wanted to come up with titles that loudly and proudly promised exactly what I was going to deliver, and did it in a way that would get the attention of my target audiences.

I already have an article on titles for fiction (“Luc’s Desiderata of Titling“), which is an entirely different process. It has similar intentions, but uses completely different methods. For non-fiction, I have experience but had never really thought out the possibilities, so I did some research, reading articles other people wrote about titling, evaluating titles I felt were really effective, and experimenting with everything I found.

Two of the most useful articles I found are freely available on the Web: “Presentation Titles That Attract an Audience” by Olivia Mitchell and the section I’ve linked to in “Answer People’s Key Question”  by Craig Hadden.

From this groundwork, I’ve come up with 14 patterns that can be used to brainstorm arresting titles for how-to articles, blog posts, keynotes, etc. For each pattern, I’ve made up an example to demonstrate, although many of these patterns can be used in a wider variety of ways than the single example would suggest. The invented titles are meant to demonstrate how each pattern can work well, so if it’s successful, each one should intrigue you (at least, if you’re in the right target audience for that title).

1. How to ___ (optionally include a benefit)
“How to Stop Micromanaging Your Children for Their Happiness and Yours”

2. How (noun) (verbed)
“How the Dishwasher Changed the Way We Eat”

3. X {keys, ways, requirements, challenges, ideas, etc.} to/for ______
“3 Keys to Never Forgetting Another Name”

4. (New research/information/etc.)
“New Research on the Best Way to Exercise”

5. X Common Mistakes ______
“3 Common Mistakes We Make When Choosing a Spouse”

6. The X Worst _____
“The 5 Worst Ways to Teach Math”

7. (The Truth/Secrets/Hidden Information)
“What Your Child Is Really Doing at ‘Student Council Meetings'”

8. How Can I ____ ?
“How Can I Be On Time, Every Time?”

9. Do (something desirable) by/with ______
“Get Crucial News Faster Using This Smartphone App”

10. (Catchy phrase or intriguing promise): (explanatory subtitle)
“Be Rich Instantly: How to Realize Your Desires Without Paying a Cent”

 11. ______ versus (something similar but suggestively distinct)
“The Successful Novel vs. the Best-Selling Novel”

12. What/How (some enviable group of people) ____ Differently
“How The Most Successful People in the World Learn Differently”

13. (Common thing or phrase) (uncommon contrast or claim)
“Safe Investments –Why They Haven’t Existed Since 1992”

14. (Brief time or other suggestion that this will be quick or easy) (action or role)
“12-Minute Math Boosters”

The general theme is the same throughout: all of these types of titles are promising something that’s valuable and new to the audience or reader. They only differ in how they’re attempting to capture someone’s interest. I’d suggest that this is what a non-fiction article or speech is about: offering new information that has value. We can just slap titles that are pretty or that play with words on if we just need a handle, but that means the title isn’t doing the work it could do. On the other hand, we may have a topic that does all the work itself, for instance “Archbishop Dies In Lemming Attack” or “Exxon to Convert to Worker-Owned Cooperative.”

Some of these title formats are familiar from magazines that over-promise, and I hope that neither you nor I will ever do that with our own titles. Titles like “The 4 Foods That Melt Fat Overnight” and “Make a Killing in Real Estate With These 3 Easy Tips” are hype rather than promise, and fulfilled promises are what it’s all about.

A writer friend pointed out that some titles that use these patterns can come across sounding like hype even if they may have something real to offer. Obviously, we want to avoid that too.

I used this list to brainstorm titles for my four initial speaking topics, and then I asked people in my writing group to review the titles and mark any that they liked or disliked. In the near future, I should have a chance to post those brainstormed titles and the total response each one got. By the way, this survey process has turned out to be very educational: I recommend it for working out especially important titles.

Of course, these options don’t begin to exhaust the possibilities, but they do reflect a healthy percentage of what seem to me the most successful titles of this kind out there. I expect to update this article over time (completely screwing up the number in the title) as I come across more of them. Do you know of any? Suggest them in the comments, if you’d be so kind–or use comments to take issue with any of the above approaches you don’t like.

Photo by Amy

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Having a Purpose Makes You Powerful

Strategies and goals

In a recent post (“How to Change the World: Simon Sinek on Leadership“), I talked about Simon Sinek’s TED talk, which boils down to “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” By “buy,” Sinek also means “care,” “act,” “follow,” or “join in.” The principle fits sales, but it also fits social change, politics, the spread of ideas, and a lot else.

To have a “why” is to have a purpose, and I’ve begun to realize that having a purpose makes you nearly invincible. To explain that, let me tell you two stories. Let’s start with the failure.

The fall of the REALM
About 18 years ago I owned a small software development company outside Philadelphia, and I was hired to develop a software product to manage real estate and physical assets, like vehicles and storage tanks. The man behind the project at the client company was a friendly, energetic guy, and he quickly revealed that he was interested in doing more than just dealing with his own corporation’s needs: he had forged an agreement with the company such that they got free updates and enhancements and he would get rights to the software they paid to have developed. As I was the developer, he offered to split proceeds with me 50/50 if I would stay in the game and develop it further.

This was a golden opportunity. There was no software we could find that did what REALM (Real Estate, Assets, and Logistics Management) came to be able to do. REALM was easy to use, was inexpensive by corporate software standards, and was developed by an asset management specialist (him) and a skilled database and application developer (me). We made many enhancements and began to sell the software. We got a few clients, a few opportunities … and eventually fizzled. What should have been a business that could have made me financially secure for a long time, if not for life, turned out to be a time suck. Why? We had a good product. We had funding to develop it to a marketable state. We were both smart, friendly people. What happened?

I’ll tell you what happened: my heart wasn’t in it. When it came right down to it, I didn’t care about physical asset management, and even if I did, I didn’t care about the corporations that needed to do it. I was in the project for the money; that was basically it.

I don’t mean to suggest it was immoral or anything. After all, we need money to live in this society: without it, there would be a very real chance of starving or freezing to death on the street. Yet money has never really seemed that important to me in the grand scheme of things, and it was an utter failure for me as inspiration.

The rise of Codex
Now let’s shift gears and talk about something I’ve done that has been very successful: Codex. Codex is a free, online writers’ group designed originally for “neo-pro” fiction writers–that is, writers who are just beginning to prove themselves. (A number of its members have since become established pros, however.) The initial entrance requirements were either making a pro fiction sale or attending one of the major workshops where they choose participants from a writing sample. We later added alternative ways to qualify: getting a good agent or reaching a certain level of success with selfpub writing.

Codex was a ton of work. I had written a forum system in the past, and I used that for Codex instead of installing one of the common ones. Because I had done that, it wasn’t too hard to integrate a lot of features into the forum, like a critique exchange with tracked critique credit, contests with anonymous participation, a library of Codexians’ work, a blog tour system, and a lot more. The Codex forum as it now exists represents tens of thousands of dollars worth of custom programming, though I had never thought about it like that until just now.

Yet the technical work has been a minority of what I have done to keep the group running. I’ve participated in thousands of discussions, moderated, handled disputes, developed rules when they were needed, oriented new members, and otherwise run things that need running.

How has Codex worked out? Very, very well. We’ve barely made any effort to recruit members, but we get a steady stream of new applications. We’ve had over seven thousand discussions with well over 200,000 posts, over a thousand works critiqued, and dozens of contests over eight years. Our membership continues to grow bit by bit: last I checked, there were more than 230 active members. More and more members are selling novels and short stories and getting nominated for awards. On the current Nebula award ballot, every single person in the short story category is a member of Codex, though one of that group joined (without any solicitation from the group) after the nominations were announced.

Codex doesn’t net me any money–in fact, in the past it has cost me money, though this year a Codex member generously underwrote the cost of the entire year’s hosting as a celebration of his writing success. What’s more, these days I’m so busy with my own writing and related work, family, Taekwondo, and the daily demands of life that I can’t really even participate meaningfully in the discussions–I don’t have time. Yet Codex has provided meaningful friendships, my best professional opportunities in writing, huge amounts of insight, and a lot more. My first book sale (to a major publisher), my opportunity to do commentary for a Florida NPR affiliate, and my first professional speaking engagement all occurred because of Codex.

The thing is, I’ve never questioned my commitment to Codex because I have a purpose: to develop and be part of a community that helps its members improve their writing. If I hadn’t had that purpose, I would have given up on it a long time ago. My purpose protected Codex from getting derailed by problems like arguments among members (rare, but damaging), unreliable Internet hosting providers (we’ve had to switch service providers five times!), the need for complicated yet unpaid programming work, and so on.

There is no such thing as competition when you have purpose
Having a real purpose eliminates competition: people who are doing the same thing you’re doing for the same reason are helping you, because a real purpose is about something bigger than ourselves. People who are doing the “same” thing you’re doing for different reasons, often shallow ones, really aren’t doing the same thing at all.

I’ve recently started doing professional speaking events, and at first I was a bit worried that there would be too much competition for me to thrive. Yet I quickly came to realize that my speaking was an outgrowth of the same thing that has made this blog successful, which is a profound desire to first learn, then share knowledge of how to become a more empowered, compassionate, and happy human being. I don’t know whether that sounds hokey or not, but I do know that people who hear me speak do and will see that I am there to try to make their lives profoundly better. Anyone who’s doing the exact same thing has my admiration. Anyone who isn’t is no competition at all.

Photo by Lisa Tiyamiyu

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Writing Differently: Picking Up the Scary Tools


In creating Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, Joss Whedon picks up some scary tools of his own

If all has gone well with your writing so far, by now you may have some favorite practices: maybe you always outline your pieces, or have a moment in mind you want to go to, or you scribble a bunch of scenes on index cards and then try to figure out their proper order. You may have a sense of some special strengths and weaknesses: maybe people tell you you have an ear for dialog, or you have trouble with action scenes, or your settings come out convincing and vivid, or you couldn’t write romance if Jane Austen were sitting on your lap.

So, good: you have some favorite techniques to use. This now gives you an opportunity to do something very productive–specifically, to violate them.

Why, you might sensibly ask, would I throw away exactly the things that work for me best? Why put aside the comfortable tools for the scary tools that I’m not even sure I can operate correctly?

First, I’m only suggesting this as an exercise, or a series of exercises. There’s nothing to say that if you’re an outline writer now that you can’t stay an outline writer forever … but if you want to improve both the quality of your prose and your facility in getting the words on paper, you’ll want to up your game, and upping your game generally means not just trying harder, but trying differently. Good writing habits are valuable, and consistency creates them, but variation creates learning opportunities that consistency can’t offer.

Here are some of the advantages of trying differently:

  • You get insights into your process, into what advantages your current approach has and/or why you should start considering other avenues.
  • You may unexpectedly find a new favorite method of doing something. If you’re used to writing one way, you may have avoided another approach because you don’t have the practice at it and feel unsure of yourself. Experimenting with those other ways gives you the chance to try them on for size.
  • You’ll get a better sense of what your available tools and options are. For instance, if you generally write very little dialog and as an exercise trying writing an all-dialog story, you may find yourself working out dialog techniques that you had never considered before. These become new tools on your utility belt, ones that might come in handy if you hit a wall with your usual tools some time in the future.
  • Challenging yourself while writing is a good way to stimulate your brain and improve your chops. We get better at tasks through “deliberate practice,” which is to say challenging work plus feedback. If we fall back on our accustomed writing practices, we’re not challenged and therefore aren’t likely to improve much.

I’ll throw in the example of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, which Joss Whedon (and friends) created for the Web during the writers’ strike a few years back. I find it hugely entertaining, although I know some fun and tasteful people who don’t. Regardless, Whedon took a chance not only in what he wrote but in how he brought it out. He had time-tested ways to get his work in front of people; he didn’t have to do something like Dr. Horrible, but he did, and it was brilliant. (By the way, fans, this just in: the sequel tentatively goes into production this summer.)

Those are some of the whys of writing differently; following are some of the hows.

The next time you’re bored with what you’re working on, or need to get warmed up, or have time for a side project, look at one or more of these areas and choose an approach completely different from your usual. Alternatively, get together with several writer friends and take turns choosing approaches from any of the categories below. (Examples: “Outline a short story by writing down a bunch of scenes and then finding an order to put them in”; “Write a very short story longhand based on a tense opening situation”) Mojitos are optional.

While of course it’s always possible that you’ll write something that works magnificently with one of these exercises, I’d recommend caring more about what you learn from the process than about how the final version comes out. Worrying too much about the story not coming out perfectly or being saleable while trying out a new technique can make it a lot harder to really throw yourself into the experiment. As Ken Robinson says, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

Building your story
Some of us just start writing; others outline; others write scenes on index cards; others gradually develop sets of ideas into a coherent structure using a tool like Scrivener. Consider trying whichever method is least like the one you use now.

The kernel of your story
You may tend to start stories with an idea for an important scene, with a character, with a setting, with a plot idea, or with an initial situation. What methods have you rarely or never used to start a story?

The physical act of writing
Do you always write on a computer? Then what happens if you write longhand, or dictate into an audio recorder or voice recognition system, or try telling the story to a friend (or to yourself in the car) before writing it down? Does your style change? Is the process easier, harder, faster, slower, deeper, more unusual? Are there any unexpected advantages?

Story form
If you usually write novels, you might try a short story or two. If you write short stories, try flash, or even poetry, or just outlining a novel to see what that structure would look like. Consider writing a short stage play, radio play, or screenplay, even if it’s not in proper format, to focus more on dialog (stage), dialog and sound (radio/podcast), or sight and sound (screen).

If you always write science fiction or fantasy, try a non-speculative romance or a mainstream piece. If your stories are always full of clever talk, try writing a piece that’s mainly action. What kinds of muscles do you need to flex in these unaccustomed kinds of stories that don’t usually get much exercise?

Editing habits
If you tend to write freely and edit later, try writing something in which you concentrate on getting everything right the first time–not because this will necessarily work, but because of the different kind of focus it will create. If you always try to get everything right in the first draft, try writing more freely to see if it offers you better opportunities.

Asking “what else”?
Most importantly of all, consider more options. Many of us have a tendency, when we come to a place where we have a writing decision, to work on that decision only long enough to come up with a solution that works–one solution. Instead of settling for one, try to brainstorm five, say, even if a couple of them are a little loopy. Statistically, what’s the chance that your first idea for a character, plot turn, way of expressing something, etc. is going to be the best one you could possibly come up with? Tell yourself “Sure, that would be one good solution. And what’s a completely different one?”

My intentions here aren’t to derail your writing practices permanently, but to offer some approaches you can take to push the envelope and to develop and expand your skills. As writers, we’ll be tempted by any success to think that we need to keep doing things the way we’re already doing them. Certainly it’s sometimes possible to build a career by doing the same thing over and over, but constantly trying new angles will continue to build a writer’s skills in ways that eventually leaves stagnant writers eating our dust.

This piece is reprinted from my column at Futurismic.

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How to Change the World: Simon Sinek on Leadership

The human mind

Are you familiar with TED talks? These are fairly short presentations given by passionate and insightful people on all kinds of subjects. Recently I got to see what is probably one of my favorite talks of all time, because I want to change the world*, and Simon Sinek explained to me how it’s done.

Sinek’s central message, which applies to everything from the discovery of flight to the civil rights movement to iPods, is “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” He explains this using what he calls the “Golden Circle,” which looks like a target made out of three rings. The Golden Circle explains what the difference is between the mostly uninspiring things in the world and the things that set us on fire.

The outer ring is “what”: we mostly know what we do. We earn money at jobs, or find some other way to live. We spend time with family, or friends, or both, or neither. We have hobbies, or we look for entertainment, or we try to get outside a lot.

The middle ring is “how,” the way we do things that’s different from the way most people do things. Maybe you don’t have a TV, or maybe you have big family movie nights. Maybe you work for a large institution, or you’re self-employed, or you take care of the house and the family while your partner works.

The center ring is “why,” and Sinek contends that in most endeavors, people don’t have a good “why.” He points to Samuel Pierpont Langley, who could have been the man who invented the airplane, the way Sinek tells it, if he’d had a better reason to do it than to be wealthy and famous. He has other examples. He is rather convincing.

So if we want to make a difference in the world, to hear Sinek tell it, we have to have a reason that other people care about. If we are acting for ourselves only, our powers are very limited. If we are acting for a cause that other people can get behind, then we have the power of the whole world behind us.

*In case you’re interested, my goal is this: I want to understand and spread the knowledge of how we can bring the best of ourselves out into the world instead of flailing around looking for things to make us feel better.

How to Make Small Talk


Small talk has never been one of my great skills. I love to talk to groups, and I enjoy a lively one-on-one conversation, but for years I’ve been one of those people who at social events would kind of sigh and do my best to get through the thing without too many awkward moments. Starting and stopping short conversations on light subjects didn’t seem to be something I did well.

I realized recently that this was something I’d like to change, and it occurred to me that small talk, like most skills, was very likely something I could improve with some study and practice (see “Do you have enough talent to become great at it?“). So I went out and did some studying, and this past weekend I had several opportunities to practice, including an event in another state where I knew almost no one.

The result? I’m still not a master of small talk, but the improvement was dramatic, and I expect things to keep getting better as I get more experience. Here are some of the tips I learned that helped me. In a follow-up post, I’ll include links to articles I read on the subject, which can offer further information and ideas. I also hope to have a chance to write up pointers on how to remember names.

1. Small talk is important
Many of us don’t take small talk very seriously, but the essence of small talk is making connections with other people. As human beings, connections with other people are about the most helpful and rewarding thing we can have in our lives. Even if you’re just being practical, it helps to have a lot of friends and friendly acquaintances.

2. No one is forcing us
Even if someone manhandles me into the back of a van and  throws me into a party without my permission, I don’t have to talk to anybody. Whenever we have conversations, we’re choosing to have those conversations. Why not do it well?

3. Collect things to talk about
Good conversation involves both talking and listening. In order to have something to contribute, it helps to actively look around for interesting topics that might be of interest to almost anybody: news, entertainment, strange local happenings, unusual things that have happened to us, etc. Then when a silence in the conversation opens up, we already have something to fill it in with that could start a good new conversation. This seemed obvious to me after I started to do it, but the idea of keeping a few things to talk about the next time I was in a social situation had never really crossed my mind.

4. Listen
Lecturing or going into too much detail about something that isn’t fascinating to the listener is bad conversation. Leaving openings for the other person to respond and then paying close attention to what they say makes things flow easily. It’s especially helpful to ask further questions when someone answers a question. Example:

YOU: Where are you from, originally?
YOU: (Instead of just saying “Oh.”) So how did you come to live around here?

Watching body language is also helpful. We can keep an eye out for signs we’re boring the other person, for increased interest, for discomfort, etc.

5. Pick specific, friendly subjects of broad interest
Conversations can fall flat when we choose topics that are too general (“Sure has been sunny lately!”), too specific (“I’m trying to figure out how much arch support I need.”), or too controversial for the person you’re talking to (some people like to talk sex, religion, and politics and are bored with milder subjects; others are the opposite).

If you know the person you’re talking to, personal topics (“How’s the baby?” or “Did you ever get that car you were interested in?”) can be especially good.

6. It’s not an interview
For years, my habit in conversations has been to ask questions–lots and lots of questions. Sometimes this works wonderfully, and it’s great for me as a writer. At other times, the person doesn’t feel comfortable being the subject of intense questioning. Light conversation goes more easily when it’s not just a question-and-answer session.

7. Don’t pretend to know things you don’t
Under most circumstances, stopping the conversation to say you don’t know about something someone mentioned is actually a good thing: other people get to share topics they’re knowledgeable about, you get to learn, and nobody has to pretend to know what’s going on when they’re really lost. My experience is that people generally respect an intelligent question, even about something they think of as basic.

8. Wrap it up and move on
At most events, it works better to have several shorter conversations than one long conversation. This depends on the circumstances, of course, but it often works well to find a graceful exit to each conversation before it grows to monopolize the whole time available. This is probably my weakest skill, though. In most cases, all I come up with is polite versions of “Well, I ought to talk to other people now.” Any comments or suggestions on this particular point would be welcome, and I’ll update this item down the road when I have more information.

9. Enjoy people
If I don’t feel like spending time with other people, I’m not likely to make good conversation. It’s important to come into a social situation with a willingness to enjoy the other people there–even (maybe especially) if they’re not the kinds of people we usually spend time with.

10. Open with a general comment plus a specific question
One conversation opener that seems to work well is making a general comment about the situation and following it up with a specific question, for instance “I had no idea there were going to be so many people here. Are these always this popular?” or “I read that the band that’s playing later is great. Have you heard them before?”

Of course, there are other good ways to start a conversation; this is just one good approach.

11. Ask questions about things you observe
Depending on who you are and who you’re talking to, different kinds of questions about the other person can be another easy conversation opener, for example “That’s a great hat! Where did you get it?” or “Is that one of the new iPhones?” or (after reading name tag that includes a company name) “Oh, you’re from Gunderson & Gunderson? My uncle used to work there.”

12. Don’t force it
At least a couple of the sources I read strongly urged seeing movies, watching TV, keeping up on top radio hits, following the news, and otherwise building up your store of general knowledge of current events and pop culture. On this point, I’m going to have to break with the suggestions I’ve heard. If you’re interested in current events or pop culture and want to use them as a way to make more conversation, great. Also, if your day-to-day life involves a very limited range of topics (for instance, your thesis, your cat, and that’s it), then it can really help to expose yourself to books, movies, news, local happenings, or other topics you can use to connect with the people around you. However, most of us are exposed to enough current events and pop culture that seeking out more just to aid conversation strikes me as a bad idea.

First and foremost, I think it’s important to be ourselves, by which I mean not to pretend interest in anything that doesn’t genuinely interest us. If someone’s talking to me alone about a subject that really doesn’t interest me, the ideal is for me to either find a way to get interested or to offer a change of topic. This is especially true if I end up talking with someone who’s very self-occupied and not picking up on my body language or signals.

If it’s not possible to change the subject, it might be a good time to excuse myself to get a drink, find someone I meant to catch up with, or head home for the night.

Yet I don’t often run into people who aren’t interesting to talk to once I get started. Here’s hoping that with some of this information, you won’t either.

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5 Keys to a Blissful Work Life

Strategies and goals

Two and a half years ago I posted the article “6 Ways to Be Happy at a Job You Don’t Like.” Today it belatedly occurred to me that it could be helpful to talk about what makes a job truly fulfilling–that is, instead of talking about making a better situation out of a job that doesn’t feel like a good fit, addressing how a job can provide the greatest amount of satisfaction and enjoyment. I know of five things that can make key differences here.

This may be self-evident, but given that self-reliance and contributing positively to a group are basic to self-confidence and happiness, competence in a job seems to be a near-essential part of the job being satisfying. Fortunately skill and mastery can usually be developed through deliberate practice,  so that almost any jobs we’re enthusiastic about can in time become jobs we’re great at. The exceptions are jobs that require some kind of innate attribute, like tallness or very good hearing.

Meaning contributes to happiness and fulfillment by creating a feeling of being involved in something positive and larger than the individual. If I could do the exact same kind of work in two jobs, but in one I would be part of an organization that didn’t do anything I cared about and in the other was helping make the world a better place (by my definition), I’m very likely to be happier with the second job. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see how some jobs contribute to the world, especially when the worker is a functionary in a much larger system designed only to yield profit. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s time to quit your corporate job and go live on peanuts working for your favorite non-profit. On the other hand, if you’re profoundly dissatisfied with your job, that might be exactly what it means.

I’ve talked in a number of posts about psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s  concept of flow, a state in which a person is both highly productive and absolutely attentive to the work at hand. This kind of engagement–or even its milder relations–can make a profound difference in job satisfaction, because engaging in challenging work and doing well at it yields pleasure and satisfaction. Thus one way to enjoy work more is to find a way to minimize or cluster distractions and interruptions in order to be able to work with exceptional focus and involvement.

It’s possible for us to enjoy jobs almost regardless of other considerations if  we really like our coworkers. Of course, the reverse is also true: a coworker who inspires hate or fear can single-handedly wreck any enjoyment we may get from a job. Fortunately, finding meaningful and engaging work often lands us with like-minded people who will appreciate our priorities, opinions, and personalities.

Surroundings can drag a job down or boost it high up. A workplace that feels peaceful, attractive, comfortable, and encouraging creates reasons to want to show up every morning, while a depressing, unpleasant, cramped, uncomfortable, or distasteful workplace creates reasons to call in sick.

It’s difficult–sometimes impossible–to find or create a job that hits the mark on all five of these points, but many jobs can be improved in at least one respect, and taking stock of all five may, I hope, provide some insights on how well your job–present or potential–measures up.

Photo by mangostani

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Links, People! We Need Links!

About the site

I know I’m asking for it by posting here, but I just weeded my blogroll of blogs that are no longer providing regular posts of interest to readers here, and the remainder is woeful and sparse. What blogs do you know out there that consistently provide useful, reliable information on habits, goals, motivation, and willpower? Feel free to recommend your own blog, but only if you post regularly on that topic and are providing informational rather than mainly personal or reflective posts.

I may have to throw a few other blogs of great interest in there, too. As a matter of fact, I think I will. If you haven’t been to Mayaland or XKCD, I really should recommend them to you. If you’re in the target audience for either one, you’ll thank me.


Talking Writing Motivation with the New Hampshire RWA


This past weekend I had a chance to do a talk at a meeting of the New Hampshire chapter of the Romance Writers of America on writing motivation, driving 150 miles each way to do it. It was more than worth the drive.

The process of giving voice to issues that I’m this passionate about and finding a structure to communicate the essentials of what I’ve learned within a single hour was engaging and fun for me, especially given that I was able to talk about these things with this group of committed writers. This event reminded me how rewarding speaking is and what great advantages there can be to communicating face to face rather than by the written word only. Clearly I’m going to need to do a lot more of this kind of thing.

After the presentation, in the question and answer period, one writer posed a question that will need research and thought to answer fully. I had been emphasizing the close relationship between motivation and happiness, and the question that was put to me was what happiness actually was, in the way that I meant it. My answer touched on some of the key issues, but wasn’t concise enough or useful enough to please me, so I’ll be revisiting the question and reforging the answer for a future post.

While my video equipment was not fully up to the task, I was able to get some footage of the talk and hope to be able to post pieces of it over the next couple of weeks.

Susan Ann Wall, author of two romances and a member of the RWA’s New Hampshire chapter, blogged about the meeting, offering a good summary of some of my key points and expanding on them with telling details from her own experience. You can read her account at

After the meeting, I had a chance to catch up with fellow writers and Codex members Elaine Isaak and John Murphy. Codex members are scattered all over the world, with few close to my relatively remote location in western Vermont, so this was a rare pleasure.

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Audio Fiction: Hunting for Ernest Hemingway in Kudu Heaven

Luc's writing projects

From February 24th through March 9th, I’ll be posting a free audio flash fiction story each Friday from my collection Bam! 172 Hellaciously Quick Stories. The stories are read by my father, voice, film, and stage actor J. Louis Reid.

Today’s offering is “Hunting for Ernest Hemingway in Kudu Heaven.”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Photo by Werner Vermaak

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In the April Writer Magazine: “Instant Writing Motivation”


The Writer magazine gave me my first exposure to professional writing skills and expectations years and years ago. Now, the latest issue (April 2012) includes my article “Instant Writing Motivation,” my first contribution to the magazine.

My friend Alethea Kontis, author of the novel Enchanted (coming out in May), recently got an enthusiastic review from Tamora Pierce, a writer whose work she’s loved since childhood. In a quieter way, my having something meaningful to contribute to the pages of The Writer means the same kind of thing to me that Ms. Pierce’s compliments mean to Alethea. In both cases, we’d love to be able to tell our younger selves about what we’ve accomplished so far.

In any case, I commend The Writer to you, not only for this one article, but for a wide variety of useful material on fiction and non-fiction writing, the writing life, business matters, and more. If you’re already a subscriber, I hope you enjoy the article and am very much interested in your thoughts on it.

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