In Melbourne, storytelling becomes big business | SmartPlanet

There’s a new breed of consultants cropping up in Melbourne’s corporate landscape. They believe that what they teach can achieve powerful, tangible results, like creating loyalty and engaging with customers, affecting profit margins and radically improving employee performance. Some call it a “secret sauce”, others simply call it “storytelling.”

In the city’s central business district a handful of early adopters are advocating storytelling’s universal application, claiming it has the potential to become part of MBA programs and a key competency for entrepreneurs. One such proponent is Yamini Naidu, co-director at One Thousand and One, a global thought leader in business communication.

The Melburnian declares storytelling as the number one business skill for the 21st century. Across the world, people want to feel connected to the leaders they work for and organization they work in, and storytelling is a powerful way of doing this.

via In Melbourne, storytelling becomes big business | SmartPlanet.

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A Few Minutes with an Editor: An Occasional Series by Dispatches from Wordnerdia

Very, VERY occasionally, someone will ask me what an editor does all day. Very, VERY often, the answer is so far from their personal conception of “things I could stand to do for even one second” they get this expression as if I had told them I sit around playing Stabscotch all day: “Why on Earth would you do that to yourself?”

<digression> Interesting Idioms! A common idiom in Mexico for an activity that is painful and unrewarding — somewhat like “banging [my] head against a brick wall” — is “pulling out [my] eyelashes just to burn them.” Ten points to anyone who posts the Spanish translation in the comments. </digression>

Of course, some people think the world of editors, and say so! “Really? Wow. Editors are magic.” (Yes, that is a direct quote.)

But I’d say most people are in the first group, and it is for their entertainment that I would like to share a few moments, now and then, from my actual work. For example:


Today, I spent a GREAT DEAL OF TIME searching for the names of ancient Gaulish tribes. Why? Because (fun fact!) there are about a hundred possible misspellings of each tribal name — not to mention allowable variants because of course they’re all in GAULISH* — and they are ALL in this manuscript.


*OK, fine, “Gallic” is the more common name, but “Gaulish” is funnier. It’s an allowable variant!


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The Tyranny of Imagination

I have realized lately that one factor, at least, in getting blocked or wandering away from a piece of writing is that I am — stick with me, this sounds stupid, but let me explain — I am afraid of my writer’s imagination. When I sit down to write, I may have the best plan in the world, but then just… stuff… happens. Oh! — my helpful imagination will supply — this character is naturally wary because she was in one of those B-movie, 1950s girls reform schools, fell in love with a guard who broke her out, and while on the run they discovered her natural talent for X, which led them into…

And now I’m writing that. Whether I want to or not, because it is now undisputed head canon for this character and I have to nail it down.

A friend of mine goes to a secluded ferry-access-only island for a month each summer, where her children and husband do… whatever it is that non-writers do, and she writes. She sent me a text the other day, “Hey, guess what?! Ryan’s mother has undiagnosed Aspergers!” I understood what she meant exactly — this little fact INTRUDED itself upon her story and now it’s just true.

OK, fine — unsettling. But actively frightening?

Well, yes! Because my God, what NEXT? It’s like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf where he kills off their imaginary child!

Not only that, but what if it’s wrong? Or, more precisely, what if this new information makes everything else I’ve written wrong? What if, ok, she was in a 1950s B-movie girls reform school… but that would mean she’s 107 years old. Now I have to account for that, somehow. Brilliant.

And even if my imagination doesn’t sling something disruptive at me, there’s plenty of discomfort left over because I am blessed and/or cursed with states of intense hyperfocus and words are infallible triggers for that. A positive boon for my career as an editor, but a genuine problem in the rest of my life, as six straight hours are rarely available to me for writing, and when that feeling comes on me, I guarantee I won’t want to stop before then. But of course, I must, and dragging myself out of that state can be really difficult. Sometimes it seems like it’s easier just not to go there at all.

And there you have it — instant block.

What to do? Well, I would think the solution would be obvious: rearrange the world such that I have an unquestioned minimum of six uninterrupted hours per day of writing time. Seems simple enough.

Get on that, would you?

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“It Writes the Words or It Gets the Hose” -OR- Why Kristin Lamb is Awesome

So, you know Kristin Lamb? I was just looking at…

No? No, seriously? Kristin Lamb? #MyWANA?

Oh, honey, you gotta get out more. Or stay in more. Or something.


Anyway, I was just  looking at a recent post, “Ten ways for an ADD writer to be… OOH! SHINY!… Productive.” Now, first of all, this is a great post. GREAT post. Something for everyone (at least everyone who doesn’t have iron clad focus, which is most of us to one degree or another.)  My favorite tip is her “Swiss Cheese Approach,” which is the same general idea as “Knock a Hole In It” — everything looks easier after you hack some chunks out of it. The really important point is this: once you have a solid sense of all the parts of a project, you do not have to start at the beginning. Unless you’re in construction — in which case yes, please, start with the foundation. But otherwise, if the very first part holds no appeal, by all means, knock a hole somewhere else. 

Then, somewhat by the way as a sort of We Are Not Alone inspiration, Kristin Lamb wrote:

“It writes the words or it gets the hose.”

OH MY GOD. See, this probably seemed like just a quippety quip to her, something the muses flang her way in a moment of schmabulosity, but you don’t understand.

This is a line from “The Silence of the Lambs”. It is said to a character named Catherine Martin (played by Brooke Smith).

Catherine Martin is my HERO.

Now, the movie is not for everyone — what with the kidnapping and murder and eating of body parts with fava beans and a nice chianti — but Catherine Martin is, and here’s why:

In a nutshell, Catherine Martin is every straight-up awesome friend you have, driving back to her apartment complex one night, singing along to Tom Petty: “Oh yeah, all right, take it easy baby, make it last (make it last all night), she was an American girl…”.

She is, in fact, an American girl. Thus, when she arrives home, she is a) helpful enough and b) strong enough to take one end of the couch for the guy with the full arm cast who is trying (and failing) to heft it into his truck.

But she is an American girl. So if the bad guy is clever enough to get her into his truck and slam the door and take her to his spooky-a$$ lair and drop her down a dry well, he ought to be clever enough to know that you really shouldn’t kidnap an American girl and drop her down a dry well because she will lure your fluffy little one-stomp dog down there and she will kill it if you don’t let her out.

Oughtn’t he? He ought.

Catherine Martin is why “it writes the words or it gets the hose” is so brilliant as a motivator. Because when Catherine Martin hears those infuriating words (which, in the film, are actually “it uses the lotion or it gets the hose” but that’s a whole other story) she does not cringe or cower. (Much.) For the most part, she’s just mad as hell. And she’s using all that anger as fuel while she plots her escape. Which involves a healthy dose of revenge, because guess what?

She keeps the bad guy’s dog.


So “it writes the words or it gets the hose” works for me. Not because of the hose. Because screw you, that’s why.

Oh, and, P.S.?

I’m keeping the novel.

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How to Get the Grammar Police Off Your Back, Part I: It’s vs Its

There’s a reason we language folk enjoy haranguing you about your grammar skills. And here it is.


We don’t enjoy it one little bit — we KNOW it’s unwelcome and persnickety and potentially flat-out impolite. So why do we do it? Because we are broken. Or extra fixed. Or booby trapped. Or something because believe it or don’t, NOT CORRECTING SIMPLE ERRORS IN GRAMMAR AND PUNCTUATION IS PSYCHOLOGICALLY PAINFUL.

OH, it sucks. Wanna know why I love Kindle? Because I can highlight and make inline comments. So I can correct the errors. I am not making this up. What, traditionally published books have errors? Oh, you bet your bippie they do. In fact, here is an offer for you: if a traditional publishing house has produced your book, send me an electronic copy of it and I will tell you how careful your proofreader was. #shamelessfishing forfreebooks #butI’lltotallydoit

In our defense: most of the time we do have your best interest at heart, in a well-meant-but-annoying-and-a-little-condescending way. It’s sort of like reminding you to floss. We floss, and we know that it’s a pain to get into the habit, but once you do it feels really great and there are many benefits aside from the obvious “keeping your teeth” ones. Wait, that doesn’t…  no, we’re not going to knock out your teeth if you don’t mend your egregious apostrophic ways. #althoughdeepinourhearts…nevermind

Also in our defense: as it turns out, a lot of people would really like to avoid these errors IF ONLY TO GET US TO SHUT UP ALREADY!! If you fall into this noble category, I have some tricks for you. I’ll start with an easy one. It’s vs its. And, by extension, you’re vs your and they’re vs their. (Sorry, this trick will not help you with their vs there. But please, for the love of all that is holy, please figure that one out on your own.)

First of all, here is why these constructions are so easily confused:

One of the uses of an apostrophe is to stand in for one or more dropped letters in a contraction such as “can’t” (a contraction of “cannot”,* which  can only be said by persons wearing starched collars. I think it’s a law.)

However, the most common use of an apostrophe is to signify possession, e.g.** “Lady Starchcollar’s hens cannot lay eggs.”

If we apply the more common use as a possessive marker, “it’s” should mean “belonging to it”, as in “Lady Starchcollar’s hen settled into it’s nest.” And in any sensible language it would. Ah, but this is English, and any sensibility it ever had was left behind long ago.

No, in English, personal pronouns are the exceptions that prove the rule… has exceptions. For personal pronouns, possession is marked by the absence of an apostrophe, isn’t that handy? Thus, instead of “your’s” (which is NEVER right, by the way) we have “yours”. We also have “theirs”, “ours”, and, most famously, “its”.

For personal pronouns, the apostrophe is used to signify a contraction. “It’s” is a contraction of “it is”. “You’re” is a contraction of “you are”, “they’re” is a contraction of “they are”. And herein lies your salvation.

To keep the Grammar Police off your back: never use contractions. On your first pass, that is; you can go back and contract anything you want. But if you start with “it is” and then contract, it’s easy to remember that you need the apostrophe to stand in for the letter you’re dropping.

The same works for “its”. Returning to our earlier example, imagine that you would like to write about poor Lady Starchcollar’s barren hens. (I said “imagine“.) You might start off thusly: “Lady Starchcollar’s hen settled into…” Gasp! What to write?! Well, try both options, sans contractions: “Lady Starchcollar’s hen settled into… its nest”? Well, possibly. Now try the other: “Lady Starchcollar’s hen settled into it is nest.” Oh, ho ho ho, certainly not! Thus we choose the former, “Lady Starchcollar’s hen settled into its nest… and floated into a peaceful slumber, secure in the knowledge that it had been described with admirable grammatical correctness.”

There you have it: When in doubt, un-contract and see which one is wrong. Then use the other one.


*YES, I follow UK rules governing placement of punctuation with quotation marks because US rules are baseless and silly.

**Psst: here’s a trick for remembering the difference between i.e. (“that is”) and e.g. (“for example”). “E.g.” is said as “ee gee”, but if you stick the letters together phonetically, they sound like “egg” as in “egg…zample”. You’re welcome.

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“We interrupt this grammar for an important message about words…”

Here’s the message: we invented words so we could communicate with ourselves and each other. That’s all. Everything else we do with words comes back either to exercising that principle or complicating the hell out of it and getting into such ridiculous arguments that we no longer wish to communicate at all! So let’s all take a step back and reconsider why we love these little nuggets of meaning.

Words are like seedlings: an NPR interview with  Iron and Wine‘s Sam Beam 

On the similarities between songwriting and making films

“There are definitely a lot of narrative elements, but I’m not worried about people understanding exactly what’s happening. I treat it more like a poem, and if there’s a certain feeling or a certain wordplay or some kind of cognitive tension, I’ll go for that.”

On the physicality of lyrical wordplay

“I think it’s important — the way that [words fall] out of your mouth. I find that a lot of times I’ll come up with the seedlings of a song just by fooling around with the guitar or the piano and muttering nonsense, you know, just syllables at random. Sometimes you stumble upon a word or a phrase, and it’s like a coat hanger. All of a sudden, you have something to start hanging other phrases and stuff on. But they’re all different. Sometimes you have a clear idea of what you’re getting into when you start, and sometimes you’re just fishing.”

via Iron And Wine: Words Like Seedlings : NPR.

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Tragic Biz-Speak o’ the Day: Steven Poole drills down into the strangled vocabulary of office jargon (via The Guardian)

Among the most spirit-sapping indignities of office life is the relentless battering of workers’ ears by the strangled vocabulary of management-speak. It might even seem to some innocent souls as though all you need to do to acquire a high-level job is to learn its stultifying jargon. Bureaucratese is a maddeningly viral kind of Unspeak engineered to deflect blame, complicate simple ideas, obscure problems, and perpetuate power relations. Here are some of its most dismaying manifestations.

10 of the worst examples of management-speak | Books | The Guardian.

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Confronting the dreaded D-word: Deportation (via Washington Times)

How does one define deportation? If someone from Latin America is detained by authorities an hour after illegally crossing the border, does he count as “apprehended” or “deported”?

“Deportation” is now politically incorrect, sort of like the T-word — “terrorism” — that the administration also seeks to avoid. The current government emphasis is on increasing legal immigration and granting amnesties, but by no means is Washington as interested in clarifying deportation.

via HANSON: Confronting the dreaded D-word – Washington Times. Word News

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World Wide Words Newsletter: 13 Apr 2013

Michael Quinlon on the word “Scrumptious”:

We commonly use this to refer to some especially appetising item of food or a very attractive person. Roald Dahl, who wrote the script for the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, felt it was appropriate for the character Truly Scrumptious, which must be in contention with Pussy Galore for the worst-ever* invented female movie name.

Critics have not been kind to scrumptious. In 1921, H L Mencken described it as an “artificial word”, lumping it with sockdolager, hunky-dory, spondulix, slumgullion and similar creations of American linguistic ingenuity. In his Dictionary of Modern English Usage in 1926, H W Fowler classed it as a “facetious formation”.

Many dictionaries just say “origin unknown” or “origin uncertain”, not wanting to engage in complicated but ultimately unsatisfying discussions about etymology. This writer has no such qualms.

via World Wide Words Newsletter: 13 Apr 2013.

*or BEST-ever, depending on your perspective.

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Because That’s How the Word Nerds Roll (World Wide Words Newsletter: 30 Mar 2013

De-extinction Several readers pointed out that, strictly speaking, it’s not possible to de-extinct the California condor, since it is not yet extinct, though despite a captive breeding programme it remains endangered.

via World Wide Words Newsletter: 30 Mar 2013.

PS. — if you don’t receive this newsletter there is a vast, aching hole in your life that can never be filled. Um, except by this newsletter. Or something.


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