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Friday, December 29, 2006

Back from the holiday

I've been tagged by J. LeRoy to reveal "Five Things You May Not Have Known About Me." I'm afraid he'll have to be content with my recent attempt to modify that meme into "Five Things You Didn't Know About My Writing Career."

Monday, December 25, 2006

James Brown

Check out CNN's web coverage of James Brown's career, combining documentary video, photo gallery, and an excellent broadcast story by Sibila Vargas.

I found it intriguing that Brown died on Christmas Day, because he'd written and performed quite a bit of holiday music, including a slow blues, "Santa Claus, Santa Claus." (Note that the 2005 album "A James Brown Christmas" is pretty awful; "James Brown's Funky Christmas" (1995, with tracks drawn from as far back as 1966) is the one to get.)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Season's Greetings

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Yes, no, and maybe

As someone who writes frequently about online technology and user experience, I feel both entitled and obligated to try out all the new stuff.

Speaking of new stuff, Blogger is now officially out of beta. (There's a great "out-of-beta" logo on the log-in page.)

After starting out blogging six years ago with Dave Winer's ground-breaking Manila software, I began using Blogger in 2003. It's a balanced mix of attractive design, friendly user interface, and innovative features, including complete freedom to edit your own template code. It grabbed me the way Mac OS software does. I've since flirted with other well-known blogging apps, and while each one has elements I liked better than Blogger's, each one turned out to be unacceptably lame in at least one major area. Blogger, bless its soul, is all-around adequate.

I mention my Blogger experience because it's typical of the way I relate to new software, online or off. If it doesn't grab me in the first 15 minutes, I am, as they say, so out of there.

Flickr grabbed me; Webshots didn't, thanks to some of the tackiest, most outdated visuals on the web. And Flickr has kept me via new features and clever, to-the-point communication (greeting me in foreign languages, etc.).

Side Job Track grabbed me. Despite narrow options and a bit of a fussy user interface, it does what it does (keep track of freelance hours and billing) brilliantly. In a word: convenience.

Second Life
grabbed me. World of Warcraft didn't; WoW was like meeting an interesting but intense and overpowering person at a party.

Currently I'm re-exploring Pandora Internet Radio, Twitter, and (maybe) Saft.

Pandora starts with a recording artist you enjoy and creates a radio channel of similar material, allowing you to tailor the channel content with yes and no votes. I'm not sure if this is going to fit into my life because I listen to music on the iPod rather than on the computer. (Computer = work, iPod = workouts and travel.) But, nice idea.

Saft is a Safari add-on that provides a searchable history and full-screen browsing, among other features. But some of the VersionTracker user reviews blame Saft for screwing up Safari. That sort of thing is a dealbreaker for me. I don't install "improvements" that can make a key piece of software (that currently works adequately) not work at all!

Twitter, as its name suggests, is social software. In a sense, it's an extension of the little tagline you get in the iChat (and presumably also in the AIM) interface, that lets you see what your friends are doing. But Twitter takes it further, integrating the information into blogs, and making it accessible via cell phones. At the moment, I'm seeing Twitter as just another piece of desktop clutter, but I'm quite sure I'm not the target audience. I mean, do you think of me as someone who twitters, or someone who blogs?

What software is on your current evaluation list? (And can anyone reassure me about installing Saft?)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


I've been using Writer Way to blog about writing, freelancing, web content, and working in the technology field. Today I'm just going to...write.

This time of year, the radio and the newspapers (and likely the TV as well, though I don't watch it) are full of stories about gift giving.

An article in the Wall Street Journal today echoed a meme that's being going around online. Both ask the question "What was the most memorable gift you've ever received?"

For me, it was the Smith-Corona electric typewriter my parents gave me when I was in high school. It signified to me that at some level they were sympathetic to my interest in writing -- even though they kept pointing out that no one we knew ever made a living as a writer.

Reading the Journal article, I realized that I have much stronger memories of gifts I've given than of gifts I've received.

In the 1980s, when I was doing a lot of quilting, I made my parents a small New England-style quilted wall hanging that showed the house they'd designed and built in East Sandwich. My mother-in-law (this was at the time of my first marriage) admired the quilt, so I took pictures of her beloved Winnebago and made a similar wall hanging. We were headed overseas for a year, so I wrapped the quilt for Christmas and sent it to my then-sister-in-law so she could put it under the tree. A week before Christmas we received a letter from my mother-in-law that struck fear into my heart. It began "I'm writing this letter in the supermarket parking lot because I'm so mad at (name of father-in-law) I don't want to drive home." Without consulting her, he'd made a unilateral decision that one cross-country trip was enough for him and he'd sold her Winnebago to a golf buddy.

I remember making a hasty international call to my sister-in-law, asking her to buy a tablecloth, wrap it, and substitute it for the Winnebago quilt. My father-in-law had not been particularly fond of me to begin with, and I was afraid he'd think I'd whipped up the quilt just to fan the flames in the RV dispute!

While going through old photos earlier this month, I came across a picture of a gift I'd made in the 1970s that I'd thought had gone completely undocumented. It was a men's Western-style denim shirt, and I'd embroidered the yoke with an elaborate gold-and-green swirled design based on Van Gogh's "Starry Starry Night." The recipient, a lacrosse player I dated at college, is now an Orthodox rabbi. He couldn't possible still have it...could he?

After much organized (and some disorganized) ordering and shopping and wrapping and shipping this year I realized that only one gift was particularly memorable. I'd gotten the idea for it from a crafts magazine. The magazine article showed 16 fancy vintage buttons, wired to a mat board and displayed in an elegant shadow box frame. I decided to make it for my mother. She has a huge button collection, and many of her buttons have made their way to me on blouses and skirts and sweaters she's made.

As I worked on it, the button project evolved from a grid of 16 into something considerably more thematic. In addition to arranging the buttons as a bouquet with floral wire stems, I found that layering the buttons, and adding a tiny colored glass bead to the center of each flower as I wired it to the mat board, increased the three-dimensional aspect of the bouquet. I also chose buttons that would harmonize with the pastels in my mother's house in Florida. The finished piece got expressions of real astonishment from my husband (who saw it on the table) and my mother (who received it for Hanukkah).

Was the present memorable because I enjoyed the process of designing and making it? Or was it memorable because of the significance of the materials I used? Or was it memorable because my mother likes it? There's a temptation to make more of these button shadow boxes, but I don't think I'll give in to it. Something tells me it's memorable because it only happens once.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Newspapers are yesterday's news

This story by Paul Gillen states the plain truth about why newspapers are toast. In short, online sites handle breaking news and classified ads far more efficiently and cheaply.

The problem, of course, is that online sites have not been shown to handle long-range investigative reporting of the "follow the money" nature particularly well. They're best at telling you when things have finally blown up, not at figuring out that corporate or political bad guys are quietly cooking the books or systematically granting building permits to their cronies.

Freed of traditional newspaper scrutiny, mid-level bad guys (in city government and business) will soon be free to embezzle, rezone, pollute, and more -- as long as they don't piss off some partner in crime who outs them to a blogger.

It would be nice, but unduly optimistic, to think that local websites and bloggers devoted to watchdogging local businesses and government will spring up to take on this work (which newspapers have nearly abandoned already). We'll see.

Going on a trip? Let the credit card company know

These tips from Productive Strategies for planning international travel are outstanding, and in the post-9/11 world many are relevent for US travel as well. Such as this one:

Make sure you call your credit card company and let them know you plan to be out of the country. Otherwise they may shut down your card thinking it has been stolen. Also be aware that some stores process cards differently, so it is possible that your card might be rejected. Make sure you have other means of payment available.
I used to think that my credit card was good anywhere. But two years in a row I had a credit card frozen on the first day of the MacWorld trade show in San Francisco -- with no attempt in either instance to notify me by phone or by email. (I found out when the credit card was refused for a subsequent purchase -- inconvenient and embarrassing.)

When I caught up with the credit card company, they were unapologetic. A $49 piece of astronomy software from a Danish company? Clearly my card had been stolen and taken to Denmark. A camera purchased outside of Seattle? Suspicious.

In these days of frequent business travel, I was shocked to discover that buying something on a trip, other than food and a hotel room, can trigger a freeze on your card. While I had previously left most of my cards at home (to minimize damage from theft) I now take at least two on the road to protect myself from the credit card company. And, as the Productive Strategies folks suggest, I call the credit card company nannies in advance to let them know I will be going shopping.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Tips for writing a holiday letter

Holiday letters occupy a position just below fruitcake on the top ten list of Things to Dampen the Holiday Spirit.

This need not be so.

While fruitcakes are pretty much victims of their own cloying recipe of heavy and sweet ingredients, you have complete control over what goes in your holiday letter. Really, you do.

Each year we receive a few dozen holiday letters. Some have me yawning with boredom or rolling my eyes with incredulity by the second sentence. Others have moved me to tears, or had me eagerly reading them out loud to other family members.

Here are a few tips for creating letters that fall into the second group:

1. Write for your recipients, not for the senders. If two of your kids made the dean's list and one was in juvenile court three times last year, don't feel you need to go into detail about any of it, or invent something for the black sheep to balance out the other kids' accolades. "Janie is a junior at Oregon State, Pete is in his freshman year at Reed, and Susie is in her last year of high school. We look forward to having the whole family together for the holidays in Aspen," is just fine to keep old neighbors and college friends up-to-date (many of them can't remember the kids' names, anyway).

2. Keep it short, and focused. While you will probably start by drawing up a list of the key things that happened to your family during the year, select just two or three to highlight in the letter. Professional and scholastic achievements can be boring and off-putting. Travel and hobbies are almost always a better choice, as they give people not only news about what you've been doing but an insight into another region or field of interest.

3. Make it clear who's writing the letter -- that being you. It's difficult and a bit weird to have everyone in the family referred to in the third person as if a reporter were profiling your family. And it's even weirder to use "we" and then try to talk about things you did as individuals. Don't go there. It really is OK to begin the letter "Elizabeth and I opened a new bookstore in July..." and at the end sign it "Frank and Elizabeth." People will get it. (When I include stories from other family members describing their activities in first person, I set their words off from the body of the letter as indented paragraphs.)

4. Talk briefly about why you're writing the letter. "It's wonderful to take a few minutes to reflect about the year and share some highlights with friends," is the type of opening you're looking for. Don't apologize. If you feel compelled to open with something like "We hate to bore you all with another long, stilted holiday missive," you shouldn't be writing one.

5. Drop names. Not names of famous people, but names of mutual friends and acquaintances. This is a even good time to gossip, as long as you keep it positive. "We ran into Mark and Sandy Connors, our old neighbors from Denver, and discovered Mark left his job at Microsoft and is playing with a heavy metal group. Check out his new album..." This makes your letter a valuable source of genuine news, not just a brag sheet.

5. Keep in mind that the holiday letter isn't meant to be sent to everyone. Send holiday letters to people you see once a year (or less often) and with whom you genuinely like to keep in touch. Don't send personal holidays letters to people who are (or were) purely business associates. As far as the people you see on a regular basis -- they know this stuff anyway.

6. What about the people only one of you knows? Our increasingly mobile society, significant otherships, late marriages, and re-marriages, mean that quite a few people on your holiday list know one member of a couple extremely well and the other member hardly at all. These people are rarely ideal recipients for the holiday letter. The spouse or partner who knows the person should write a personal note instead, or put a personal note at the foot of the letter.

I'll be the first to admit that while some of my holiday letters have been great, other years they have been merely pro forma. I can always use tips and inspiration. Please feel free to add your comments and ideas!

Friday, December 8, 2006

A tourist in a strange land

"Literary authors sometimes like to take holidays in the shabby Third World genres like romance, thrillers and fantasy."
So begins Crawford Kilian's audacious review of Cormac McCarthy's new book, The Road, in which the acclaimed author takes a junket in to the realm of science fiction. McCarthy turns out to be "a tourist" who "can't hold his mescal," according to Kilian, but the book's more serious problem would seem to transcend genres:
"McCarthy's fatal flaw is that he can't go for two paragraphs without reminding us that he's a hell of a good writer, and that makes him a terrible writer."
Every sentence of Kilian's review in the Tyee is a gem. I don't think I've read such a fine review since the era of Peter Prescott at Newsweek.

Hot off the press: Vanishing Seattle

The Blogger site has been a bit recalcitrant today, but I've believe it's going to let me make this important announcement:

Clark Humphrey's new non-fiction book Vanishing Seattle (Arcadia Publishing) will be released Monday. The official release party is at Epilogue Books Tuesday, Dec. 19, 6:30 - 8 p.m.

I saw a proof of the book this fall, and it's a great combo of rare photos and Clark's wry and incisive commentary. I've only lived in Seattle for 22 years, but it is shocking to realize how many of the charming places that played a key roles in the city in the 70s, 80s, and 90s are gone forever (most of them replaced by Euro-style condos with 500-square-foot studio units selling for $500,000). Clark, editor of the Belltown Messenger and former staff writer for The Stranger, is a leading authority on popular culture of the Pacific Northwest.

Vanishing Seattle should be available at all the major Seattle bookshops next week; you can also order it on Amazon.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Top 10 Blogs for Writers

"The Top 10 Blogs for Writers - 2006" might better have been titled "Top 10 Blogs for Writers Who Want to Make a Living Writing." Michael Stelzner of Writing White Papers reviewed open nominations and selected these 10. They span blogging, freelancing, getting published, business-to-business marcom writing, as well as general writing topics. I've added a couple of my faves from the top 10 to the sidebar at left.

Monday, December 4, 2006

How the communications cookie crumbles

I like to figure things out for myself. Of course, one of the pitfalls of this approach occurs if you follow a set of directions that look plausible to your newbie eyes but are, in fact, risible to any expert in the field.

That's what happened to me last year when I read a set of directions for icing holiday cookies that had been so oversimplified as to make it impossible to produce an attractive cookie. But, who knew? Not realizing the writer had cut corners, I flailed, snarled and plastered garish frostings and gels all over a whole batch of cookies. The result was hideous.

Today I paid $65 to watch a professional pastry chef demonstrate the right way to do it -- making and rolling dough, blending icings, and decorating cookies with outlining and flooding techniques. It was a big "aha."

I'll likely be going into detail about cookie decorating ingredients, equipment, and techniques later in the week at the Geeky Gourmet blog. What I want to note here is the difficulty writers face trying to produce something useful and accurate in today's "keep it short" culture.

Magazines chop articles to one page, and most of what's on that page is a glossy picture of a trendy model doing something hip. Complex research reports are given two sentences of explanation in the news. Even worse, research findings are reported by the press without any mention of contradictory studies, or any comment from other researchers in the field.

I'm sure the writer for the well-known food magazine who sent me on my trip to cookie-decorating hell last year had been told to make cookie decorating look "quick," "easy," and "fun". (Three words that have been thoroughly bankrupted by the birdbrains in marketing. The use of two of them in the same sentence should be grounds for electroshock; the use of three -- let's not go there.)

There are plenty of processes that are not quick and easy for newbies and never will be. That's because these they involve finding and using unfamiliar materials and tools. And they involve practice.

As communicators, we need to be up-front about the limitations of our guidance when we're serving up "Information Lite." The cookie article that misled me last year could have alerted me with something like:

"This quick and easy [ZZZAP!] guide won't yield the sort of smooth, polished cookie you see at the bakery, but it will produce colorful cookies your kids will enjoy frosting and eating. If you have the time to learn a more elaborate approach, consult Chef Julie's new book, Bite Me: The Ultimate Cookie Encyclopedia."
But it didn't. And when renewal time rolled around, the magazine lost a subscriber. On the other hand, the kitchen supply store that hosted this year's comprehensive cookie decorating class got not just my tuition money but $50 of business when I went shopping afterwards.

Surely there's a lesson in this, somewhere.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Genre bliss

I don't know who's behind Electric Storytime (the site provides no clues) but I love these short send-ups of literary fiction. For the cocktail lounge regret scene, try "A Time to Meow."

Monday, November 27, 2006

But sometimes negative is the only way to go

My previous post hinted at the possible advantages of writing in a positive rather than negative vein.

But sometimes negative is the only way to go. And no one can sound more positive when he's being negative than Chicago Sun-Times tech columnist Andy Ihnatko. Watch a master in action as he vaporizes the Zune.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Accentuate the positive?

The late Stephanie Feeney, founder of the Northwest Gardeners' Resource Directory, was a superb writer and public speaker. I remember hearing her talk about English gardens at the Northwest Garden Show at a time when I was considering writing a travel guide to mystery locales. I noticed immediately that Stephanie managed to be colorful, amusing, and distinctive without ever falling back on two very common communications crutches: deprecation and self deprecation.

Anyone who's made a living writing criticism knows how much more attention accrues to a clever, withering attack on a book or film than to an equally well-crafted paean. Complaints and criticism, at least when initially (and creatively) expressed, can be highly entertaining.

And yet, over time, that attention-getting negative approach can come back to hurt a writer. Gradually, the reader comes to think of the writer, the column, or the blog as one long whine, rant, or pity fest.

This danger, I think, is particularly true when writing "how-to" pieces or advice. The writer who focuses advice on what to avoid and how to spot signs that you are screwing up runs the risk of coming across as a sanctimonious finger-waggler. Unless you know the author well, or she is addressing your specific situation, it can be very easy to decide the last thing you want to read is, well, an unsolicited lecture or a dose of negativity.

In September, marketing guru Daphne Gray-Grant wrote a piece for on "Five Negative Thoughts That Can Sabotage Your Writing (and How to Shake Them)." This month she followed up with "Five Positive Thoughts That Will Turbocharge Your Writing (and How to Channel Them)."

Both articles are packed with good information. I'd be curious to hear your reactions to the titles, and to the pieces themselves. Which one did you want to read most? Did you enjoy reading one more than the other?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Five things you didn't know about my writing career

Deborah Ng of Writers Row, who compiles an excellent listing of freelance writing jobs and has been a perennial resource for the online writing community, passed along the blogging meme "Five things you didn't know about me."

I've adapted it to be "Five things you didn't know about my writing career."

1. I got my start in writing penning consumer complaint letters for my mother after our vacuum cleaner blew up.

2. My first short story was "The Christmas Tree and the Hanukkah Bush."

3. My first paid, published writing gig was music criticism for the New Haven Advocate. One of my pieces was a profile of a hard-working local rock singer who'd spent more than a decade trying to break into the big time but was getting discouraged by increasing violence on the concert circuit. A few years later, he finally hit it big (Michael Bolton).

4. My journalism thesis at Columbia was about court battles involving the drug paraphernalia industry. While working on the thesis, I met and dated a charming NYC civil liberties attorney whose clients included NORML and Dial-a-Joint. Our dates frequently included swinging by night court for arraignments.

5. I spent more than a year in the early 1980s working on two interrelated investigative stories involving illegal garbage dumping, corrupt local officials, and a lot of people with Italian last names. By the time it was over, I'd been chased by a garbage truck, had worn a wire while conducting an interview, and a landfill (seized by the FBI) had caught fire. Repercussions from the story went on for years, culminating in a landfill worker we'd exposed for illegal overtime taking a town official hostage. Fortunately, the official escaped by climbing out a bathroom window.

Please try this meme yourself! And let me know when you've posted it.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Hello? Hello? We're losing that mind-body connection

Yesterday's New York Times had a mindboggling article about a New York area fitness club that revoked a man's membership because he was making a grunting sound while lifting weights. He was bench pressing 500 pounds at the time, bless his soul.

If this were the independent action of a particularly fussy club manager, it would be one thing, but the "grunt-and-you're-out" rule is a policy of the club's parent chain, Planet Fitness -- a company whose management would, indeed, seem to be from outer space.

This article caught my interest because I'm currently doing a "trailer park" yoga program four days a week. It mixes yoga with weightlifting, jumping rope, running stairs, working with wrist and ankle weights, and working with heavier weights, including 15-pound handweights and a weight bench. I haven't heard anyone in our group of two dozen women grunt, per se, but I have heard plenty of moaning, shrieking, and screaming. And maybe a howl or two. The teacher, who is the most inspiring fitness instructor I've ever encountered, encourages the sound effects.

I tend to shriek, myself. Fifty leg lifts hurt.

According to the Times article, the club's no-grunt rule (and a few other weird ones, as well) has nothing to do with cutting down on distracting noise in the gym. It's based on the chain's philosophy that most members are intimidated and discouraged by body builders and other serious fitness types. The club therefore has crafted rules that discourage those fitniks from patronizing the gym and disturbing the place with sounds of physical effort.

Oh, heaven forbid anyone should connect hard work, physical or mental, with achievement. Americans are fervent believers in overnight weight loss, cosmetic surgery, and unregulated herbal potions. Hard work and discipline? Argggh! Fortunately Planet Fitness is here to protect us from the sight -- and sound -- of it.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


While podcasting leaves me cold, I'm increasingly enthusiastic about photoblogging. Doug Plummer's Daily photo can be breathtaking, and I'm a big fan of New York's The Sartorialist. If you have time, the extensive reader comments at The Sartorialist can be as entertaining as the photos themselves. (So few blogs have really good comments that this success is worth some analysis.)

Seattle now has its own version of The Sartorialist, Pike/Pine, which, despite its name, has recently focused on Ballard -- and on fashion worn by 20-somethings. Yawn. Nice photography, but let's have some context wasn't invented 10 years ago. Even Seattle knew about it before then. Let's see some of the older fashionistas who frequent Nordstrom designer shoes downtown.

Finally, you don't have to be a photo pro to make great use of pix to spice up a blog. Guy Kawasaki's blog uses small photos, often stock, usually to very good effect.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

One last note from Mind Camp

One of the highlights of Mind Camp was the "paper airplane" exercise Thomas Schmitz used in his session on generating new ideas. Each person took letter-size sheet of paper, wrote down a product idea, turned the sheet into a paper airplane, and sailed the plane across the room. The person who retrieved the plane opened it, built on the idea (sometimes using methods Schmitz had covered earlier), and sent it flying across the room again. The exercise ended when the fourth person added his or her idea. Then we went around the room, with each person reading the four ideas they were holding, and then saying a few words about his or her own techniques for getting new ideas and inspiration.

One participant, who identified himself as an educational consultant, said he finds the best way to get inspired and creative is to attend conferences in fields unrelated to his own. This makes perfect sense to me, but I had to wonder how many employers, even those who give lip service to creativity and new ideas, would even consider paying for it.

Would yours?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Mind Camp video

Turns out there was an undercover videographer at Mind Camp 3.0 who has taken her shocking discoveries public. Now the whole world will know what we were really up to.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Home from Mind Camp

The two-day Mind Camp has a trajectory similar to what I've experienced at dance camp weekends: Initial energy, meeting lots of people, a great session, a mediocre session where your energy slips, a chance hallway meeting of a fascinating group, a boring discussion with someone you can't get away from, a collaborative problem solving experience that deepens a friendship, exhaustion, the temptation to leave, a surprising encounter that leads you to new discoveries about yourself, sleep (not enough), wondering why you are still here (at breakfast), hanging out and realizing there are yet more fascinating people you haven't heard yet, cleaning up, driving home wondering why you are full of energy after 5 hours of sleep on a yoga mat and sleeping bag, being happy to see everyone at home, and wondering why the only thing that has changed

Three words: Great Mind Camp

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Mind Camp, 7 p.m.

Nintendo is here with new game to try out:

Mind Camp, 4 p.m.

Wi-fi, 200-plus geeks...this is a group supremely confident of their abilities to solve any problems. So not much energy is expended on averting problems, and there's no worry at all when the inevitable problems occur.

Solving problems is a good way to meet people. For instance, the yoga session I proposed turned into a mashup of trailer park yoga, traditional yoga, Qui-Gong, and back stretching!

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Bullshit detection

Mind Camp 3.0 is this weekend, and I'm getting to know some of the participants through the planning process. One is Scott Berkun, whose eponymous blog contains an incisive analysis of bullshit. It starts with the history (beginning with Genesis, in which, Berkun points out "nearly everyone lied") and then goes into the nitty gritty of how to combat BS. Very much worth reading if you deal with human beings on a regular basis. Not sure I could use the suggestions to stand up to God, though, if he told me the apples were fatal.

After reading this essay, I'm very much looking forward to meeting Scott. As a writer/editor, my fight against BS is usually conducted from the inside -- for instance, someone has hired me to help them foist (wittingly or unwittingly) a certain amount of BS onto an audience. My job is to lower the BS quotient to the point that their communication won't be perceived as BS and discounted or (worse) sprayed back at them. Amazingly, bullshitters never seem to perceive this is a risk; they never say "Gee, Karen, I know this sounds like, er, there any way to make it sound more credible?"

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Proofreading. It can change your life.

Think back on the day you got the greatest job, or contract, of your career. Chances are you sent in a resume, or wrote a proposal, that led to an interview, that led to the work. Not only did someone's decision to hire you go on to change your life, it changed some other lives as well -- those of the people who competed against you and didn't get the gig.

Recently I had dinner with a friend who does some of the hiring for his office. He'd been interviewing candidates, all of them well qualified, and two of them had been quite out of the ordinary. After some deliberation, he'd decided on one, but was still wondering if he'd made the right choice. He described his interactions with them in some detail. One of them had come across very thoughtful and thorough, but a tad hesitant. The other had been decisive, but verging on brash. In fact, another interviewer had complained about her manners. My friend had decided on the more aggressive candidate, saying her style was a good match for their particular field of work.

But just before he had to report his decision to the company's HR folks, my friend found himself having second thoughts. He sent the two finalists' resumes, along with the resume of a third highly qualified applicant, to his boss to get his opinion.

His boss pointed out that the two preferred candidates both had resumes and cover letters with multiple typos and spelling errors. The third candidate's written presentation was perfectly proofed. My friend and his boss discussed it, and agreed that because a major part of the job entails highly accurate and professional written communication with outside agencies, the candidate with the most professional writing and presentation skills would be the best one. They hired him.

A sobering story. I think I'll be a little slower to hit the Send button for the next few days.

Read this out loud

The science blog Cognitive Daily reports on research into why people remember pictures better than words -- and how speaking the words aloud can change that dynamic.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Queen for a day

A few days ago I received a check for my work on a project, which is not unusual. What made this check special was that it was marked "royalties."


Royalities are fees paid to a license holder of intellectual property for its use. For instance, when you buy a book, you make a payment that goes to the publisher, who (depending on the arrangement with the writer) shares or dispenses royalties to the writer or writers. The "royal" connection is historical: Rights to sell minerals were once granted by kings or queens to individuals or companies.

Royalities have become extremely complicated; they are dispensed based on complex agreeements, contracts, and licenses. An artist can sell his or her rights to intellectual property, and can also leave such rights to someone else via a will. Author Neil Gaiman worked with an attorney to develop a boilerplate will for authors' literary estates and has made it available to fellow writers as a free download.

My concern about a creating a special will for a literary estate would be how it would fit with an existing will covering an author's tangible property. But, as Gaiman points out, it's much better to have something on record than to leave people guessing.

I hope I'll get to worry about this some day!

Saturday, November 4, 2006

Writers are expendable

If I feel myself getting too serious about the importance of writing, I'll watch Copy Goes Here, a short film by the Chicago design firm Coudal Partners.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Plenty of rope

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) started promptly over here last night as I devoted my most productive work hours (1o p.m. to midnight) to hammering away at The Grave View (the working title of my New England mystery).

Meanwhile, a previous NaNoWriMo participant and some friends have launched GloRoMo, Global Rope Month. They will track (and reward) participants' efforts to tie 50,000 feet of rope during the month of November. (By "tying rope," they mean rope with people in it, as in bondage.) The organizers estimate a successful GloRoMo will involve tying and suspending eight people a day.

Perhaps there is room for a collaboration here? I'm sure by the last week of November some of the frenzied writers will be looking for rope, or perhaps for a good excuse -- like "I was helping a friend and got sort of...tied up."

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

People pay to get fresh

One of the ways I earn a living is by writing content that keeps my clients' websites fresh. Sites with fresh content rank higher in searches, and consequently get more business.

This post from the Internet Marketing Blog explains how it all works from the business end. ("SEO" or "search engine optimization" is marketing-talk for making a website rank high in web keyword search results.)

Are there any journalists left?

Precious few.

Today, journalists write books, then they market them, and they become self-interested business people. They blog, and they become self-promoters on behalf of their blogs.

This is not their fault, either. The protective wall that (some) publishers (sometimes) have built to protect journalistic integrity within traditional publications turns out to have been much an illusion. And, as a former journalist, I can say that it was selectively rotted in some places all along, with calls to kill, slant, or emphasize coverage coming from the publisher's office, usually after a call from one of his or her country club cronies.

Consider this: The traditional news media has traditionally squelched its own reporters' attempts to cover news unpleasant to big advertisers (from the rise of the Internet, to global warming, to food contamination caused by agribusiness practices) for as long as possible.

Why am I ranting about this?

Jim Benson (J. LeRoy's Evolving Web) is one of several pundits making a fuss about TechCrunch, a site founder Michael Arrington frankly describes as "different." Arrington goes on to say:

TechCrunch is all about insider information and conflicts of interest. The only way I get access to the information I do is because these entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are my friends. I genuinely like these people and want them to succeed, and they know it and therefore trust me more than they trust traditional press."

So, what Arrington is running is essentially a self-published gossip column.

Jim asserts:
Michael Arrington is a commentator. He is not a journalist. As a commentator, he can write about what he wants, when he wants, and how he wants.

Michael Arrington is my favorite kool-aide drinker. I wouldn't trade him for a box of Steve Jobses. But he is biased, he does answer to what is foremost on his plate, and he blogs accordingly. When I say biased, I don't mean he lies or distorts - but I do mean that he has a definite focus and that focus impacts what he writes.

Is this really an issue? What Jim is saying about Arrington could be said about just about everyone these days, with the exception of a few hundred investigative reporters, most of them working outside of the US. And Arrington is not doing anything special, except, I guess, trying turn VC gossip into a brand and convince us that he can somehow continue to deliver valuable info to us without pissing off his friends. Which he probably can, if he's careful.

I guess the issue is that even journalists are not journalists any more. Everyone is drinking the Kool-Aid. Send it out for political/chemical analysis, and you'll probably find out your latte is spiked.

Teachers we remember

On the occasion of Nevada Day, Geoff Duncan's Percolating blog pays tribute to his 6th and 7th grade teacher, Mr. Gandalfo, who made state history unforgettable:

He once marched a class of us through seven feet of snow into a meadow in the Sierras; when we got to the middle, he stopped, turned, and said to the exhausted kids, "So that wasn't easy, was it? When the Donner Party was in this field, the snow was twenty-two feet high. Think about that." I still do, Mr. G.

This brought back fond memories of Mr. Kitchen, who taught American History at my high school in Northern Virginia. Mr. Kitchen focused so intently on the positive, and the interesting, that even the slackers got caught up in his lectures and disrupters realized they were being ignored (or glared at by the other students). One year Mr. Kitchen got stuck team-teaching with one of the most difficult and unpopular teachers in the school, and never once indicated that he was in any way unhappy about it -- something that, in retrospect, I find amazing.

I came away with a fairly decent understanding of American history, and an appreciation for the amount of effort and talent that goes into great teaching. There were no hikes through seven-foot snowdrifts in Northern Virginia, but Mr. Kitchen did show us a highly effective technique for digging yourself out when things got deep. It involved a hieroglyph that looked like a small shovel. He drew it in margin of a student paper wherever he detected a pile of ...bullshit.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A writer in the running

You don't often see an established novelist running for political office, and Kinky Friedman's independent run for the Texas governorship does much to illustrate why.

Texas-born Friedman, a noted crime fiction writer and a notorious country music entertainer, threw his signature big black hat into the ring and has been busy turning the the four-way gubernatorial race into a three-ring circus. While no one has yet fled the state or pulled a gun (typical activities for Texas politicians) "the Kinkster" has apparently managed to annoy Republicans, Democrats, Hispanics, and black voters, coming across as more of a libertarian than a liberal. If he represents any political party these days, it would be the "Incorrect" one.

What on earth could he be thinking?

Living in New York in 1980, I crossed paths with Friedman once or twice at the Lone Star Cafe, a loud, flamboyant waterhole for Texans who'd somehow found themselves living in Manhattan. Just north of Greenwich Village, the Lone Star was where folks like Willie Nelson and Delbert McClinton played when they were in town, and where Texas liberals like Jim Hightower staged fundraisers. In those days, the Kinkster and his band The Texas Jewboys were the entertainment.

In the 1990s, I encountered Friedman in his subsequent incarnation as a fabulously inventive mystery writer whose fictitious detective was also...Kinky Friedman. (This review I wrote for January Magazine attempted to explain the complex Friedman/Friedman relationship that pervades the novels.)

Friedman eventually shifted the book series, and his own headquarters, from New York back to Texas, where he's continued to stir things up. Perhaps a run for governor was a logical next step for a pundit who spoofed the Dixie Chicks' nude Entertainment Weekly photo spread by appearing nude -- in triplicate -- on the cover of the Dallas Observer.

While Friedman (the politician) is sagging embarrassingly in the polls as election day nears, it's quite possible that Friedman (the writer) is going come out of this a big winner: I mean, look at the material he's got for his next novel.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The No-Asshole Rule

That's the name of the new book by Stanford engineering professor Robert Sutton. Guy Kawasaki blogs about it today, describing Sutton's "Starbucks Test" for spotting jerks:

It goes like this: If you hear someone at Starbucks order a “decaf grande half-soy, half-low fat, iced vanilla, double-shot, gingerbread cappuccino, extra dry, light ice, with one Sweet-n’-Low and one NutraSweet,” you’re in the presence of an asshole. It’s unlikely that this petty combination is necessary -- the person ordering is trying to flex her power because she’s an asshole.
Security expert Gavin De Becker dispenses similar -- if considerably less lighthearted -- advice in his book Gift of Fear: Survival Signs that Protect Us from Violence.

Whether you're listening to an engineer or a security consultant talk about those who creep us out, you'll notice a recurring theme: Jerks are not hard to spot. In fact, they're glaringly obvious. The twist is that we are socially conditioned to "make nice." We either ignore assholes (the typical male response) or somehow think we are being "overly sensitive" about their jerkiness (a typical female reaction).

Creeps in the workplace are bad news for your career; if you're an entrepreneur or business owner, it's even worse. One creep client, partner, or subcontractor is enough to sink your whole business -- even take your personal life down the drain as well. (De Becker has a sobering story of a travel agency owner and his employee-from-hell.)

So...if someone you've recently met, or are considering doing business with, makes you feel sick to your stomach, or sets the hairs on your neck on end, there's a reason. Chances are that he or she is on a course to violate your project, your bank account, your sanity, or you.

While Sutton's book considers a range of assholes (from the harmless to the dangerous) and proposes a range of ways to deal with them, I have to admit I favor the De Becker approach to dealing with them: Don't apologize, don't explain, don't engage, and don't fight. Just....leave. De Becker believes that many creeps and jerks are encouraged by engagement -- even what you or I would think of as a very unpleasant, negative response somehow energizes them.

Life is too short to spend it dealing with assholes. Unfortunately, a poll on Kawasaki's blog found that 45 percent of his readers report that they work for bosses who are assholes.

Friday, October 27, 2006


One of my professional heroes is Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert and The Dilbert Blog. I have the deepest admiration for someone who has managed to be searingly funny on pretty much a daily basis for more than 15 years.

Adams is a highly acerbic writer; the blog comes off far scrappier than the strip or his many Dilbert books (though in the same vein) and there are times when the blog entries can be downright off-putting.

In fact, I'd say that The Dilbert Blog does a wonderful job of illustrating the differences betweeen reading a writer's blog and reading his or her polished and edited works.

Adams had blogged a few times about a neurological condition he has (spasmodic dysphonia). It affects a part of the brain that controls certain types of speech. In his case, he could still do public speaking but found himself unable to speak offstage (such as on the phone). Oddly, though, he could still sing. And whisper.

The disease is considered incurable, but Adams embarked on Dilbert-like experimentation to find a cure for it. And eventually he stumbled onto a way he could trick himself into speaking normally. Needless to say, he's delighted.

He blogged about his recovery, and then blogged about the consquences of blogging about it. In this quintessential Adams post, he describes learning that he is not quite famous enough, and his recovery is not quite interesting enough, to get earn him a spot on 60 Minutes.

But he's thrilled to have gotten so much online reaction to his story, anyway, noting

I normally get about 25,000 hits a day on this blog. After the voice story posted, I got about 180,000 hits for each of the next two days.

I am more touched than a congressional page.

What does a writer look like?

Much has been made recently in the blogosphere about publishers' preferences for books written by stunning young women and publishers' tendencies to invest heavily in tours and advertising for said hotties.

This is good news for stunning young women who are aspiring authors, and bad news for the rest of us.

That said, what do real writers look like -- and why?

There's always been the tweedy, academic type (think of the fellow played so brilliantly by Michael Douglas in Wonder Boys). And there's the femme d'une certaine age romance doyenne (Jaqueline Susann, Danielle Steel); the wry, sumptuously credentialled literary woman, always in black (Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood); and the endlessly exuberant world traveler (Bill Buford, Bill Bryson, the late R.W. Apple). And now we have the rumpled, ironic McSweeney's dude (Dave Eggers, Nick Hornby, Jonathan Lethem).

In the mystery field you find guys who write about cops and wise guys who look like cops and wise guys and women who write about eccentric detectives with cats who look like...eccentrics with cats. In the science fiction world, I can think of a quite few authors who look like they'd be right at home in the Cantina scene from Star Wars, in an alternate reality, or running a top-secret laboratory. And, yes, in the romance field, there are still a few blow-dried 1980s hairdos and a lot of long, flowing tresses in general.

My theory about writers' tendencies to look like stereotypes is this: It's easy, and it's timeless.

Writers mostly stay at home writing, so they need only a few outfits for going out or (if they are lucky) going on tour. Unlike people who work 50 weeks a year in an office, writers rarely wear out their "good" clothes -- and they probably don't see enough of the outside world to even notice when fashions change. With the exception of chick lit writers (who probably toss out their whole closets and write off seasonal shopping sprees at Prada as "research expenses") I suspect authors just find something classic...and stick with it.

Even so, I really do need do something about the fact that the only black dress shoes I own are pre-2000 -- and only one pair can be counted as "retro/vintage." Maybe I need to start writing chick lit?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Your handheld may never forget you

Like most small business owners, I worry a bit about losing data from my computers, particularly when I travel with a laptop. As a result, I back up automatically with SuperDuper! every week. My Treo PDA/phone (aka "smart phone") is part of my general sync-and-backup system, so if I lose the Treo, I can simply restore its data from one of the computers.

But today my husband pointed me to a story in The Washington Post (reprinted in the Seattle P-I) that made me realize there's something that could be scarier than data loss. That's data retention.

It turns out that even when you "hard reset" your old mobile phone or PDA to erase all the data when you sell it or recycle it, all that happens is that you, and the PDA, can no longer access the data. The actual data is still there, because the flash memory in the device stubbornly holds on to it. The erasure is limited to only the pathways that link from the PDA software to the data. So, of course, hackers have discovered that it's easy to run special software on discarded mobile phones and PDAs that creates new pathways to the former owner's data and make it once again accessible -- to them.

The Post story describes a security company that bought 10 used smart phones on eBay and recovered troves of personal information about the previous owners. With more and more folks keeping business emails and personal finance spreadsheets on their PDAs, this is very bad news indeed.

The good news is that you can permanently erase data from your handheld device when you prepare to sell or recyle it. It just takes a bit more effort than you'd thought. The Post article advises checking the manufacturer's site for information on how to perform not just a regular reset but a "zero-out reset" or "factory reset." The "zero-out reset" overwrites all the data with "0"s and "1"s that won't be of much interest to anybody.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Fiction writing: first or third person?

When it comes to writing fiction, I've discovered that my weak point is point of view. Every novel-length project I've attempted (and one that I've completed) has at some point been rewritten to change the viewpoint from third person to first (or back the other way).

Much of the contemporary crime fiction I admire (by authors such as Michael Connelly, Reginald Hill, and Ian Rankin) is written in third person. Hill uses an omniscient narrator to shift back and forth between multiple characters -- very tricky to pull off without leaving the reader feeling cheated. The best known of the female private eye stories (written by Sue Grafton and Janet Evanovich), use traditional private-eye first person. It's colorful, immediate, and credible but runs the risk, particularly in Grafton's alphabet series (B is for Burglar, etc.), of sounding whiney.

It was a relief to read this post from mystery writer April Henry in which she describes making the switch -- one way for one of her books, and the other way for another. Both times she changed the point of view at the request of her editor, and both time she was glad she did.

If you're writing fiction, and have ever been tripped up by point of view, April has some spot-on observations about the advantages of each.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Real beauty: The Sartorialist

Over at .Thought, Jeff Carlson covers an ethical issue that has created quite a bit of buzz in the design community: what the beauty industry and the design industry are doing to women's physical and mental health.

This one-minute film (be patient while the flash loads) showing a professional model as she is made up, photographed, and transformed into a billboard (advertising makeup, no less) surprised me so much that I found myself crying at the end.

Now, for something on the same topic, but a bit more cheerful. Some months ago, I stumbled upon The Sartorialist, a blog by a New York City photographer who wanders around taking pictures of fashion (trendy, classic, eccentric) as it is interpreted by men and women on the street.

Last summer, the blog included some shots of Manhattan women in their 50s and 60s that were just stunning -- tremendous fashion sense, natural gray hair. I wrote to The Satorialist asking for more shots of older woman (quite frankly, I was out to steal some of the clothing ideas for my own wardrobe). He wrote back saying he loves to do those shots but that most older women he approached declined to have their pictures taken. (I suggested MOMA around lunch time; he said he'd tried it.)

Before you click over to The Sartorialist, I should warn that he's recently caught the attention of the fashion industry, and now, in his "real life" he's taking pictures in Milan and Paris for various magazines. But he continues to post un-staged, on-the-street photos of natural style and beauty.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

It's not blogging if...

...nobody reads it.

According to an anonymous post left here yesterday, the font size for the blog entries in Writer Way was too small to be comfortably readable. I checked the template code (credited to Douglas Bowman of Stop Design, circa 2004, and subsequently updated by the Blogger Team). It was calling for an underlying font size of normal Verdana and Ariel at 100%. I've since adjusted that to 115%, which is similar to the look of my previous blog.

Please be patient as I work on the code for subsections of the page to adjust leading and padding to compensate!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

If not now, when?

Creating Passionate Users is urging readers to "make something amazing, right now." Ignore the constraints, lose the excuses and, as that old slogan goes, "just do it."

There's much to be said for this approach, particularly if you're surrounded by ditherers in a hidebound traditional organization.

However, as someone who moves in entrepreneurial circles, I often find myself in exactly the opposite position. I see people leaping madly from project to project, enterprise to enterprise, today's idea to tomorrow's fancy. They don't seem to produce much of anything, and often they acquire an alarmingly overdeveloped capability for...leaping.

Fortunately, there are some opportunities to do new things which are at once intoxicatingly challenging and realistically structured.

One of them is Seattle Mind Camp. Now in version 3.0, this is a 24-hour gathering of 250 self-selected technology types who take over a building full of meeting spaces in order pose and address questions all day and through the night. Inventions, friendships, and even companies, have emerged from previous Mind Camps. I expect I'll have something more specific to say about Mind Camp after I've done it (Nov. 11-12); if you're interested, sign up (50 spaces are available as of this writing) and I'll see you there.

Another creative-but-structured challenge is the month-long NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. Thousands of aspiring novel writers participate, and fortunately they don't have to spend all that time together in the same building. Instead, online and local support groups are formed in which writers cheer each other along. And each writer gets a page on the NaNoWriMo site to track word count and make exerpts available for others to read.

I'll be "doing NaNoWriMo" for the first time this year. My plan is to overhaul and expand a New England crime fiction novel I've been working on sporadically for several years. This is the perfect opportunity to apply some of the novel-structuring techniques I learned in Matt Briggs' recent class offered through Media Bistro.

I expect that as I scribble my way through NaNoWriMo I'll think back often on two old college friends, Ed and Michael. Ed, even at that age, identified himself as a writer. Michael was already a well-recognized folk and jazz musician. We frequently got together when Michael had a gig in town. As we walked along Chapel Street one night after one of Mike's performances, Ed launched into an amusing comparison of the musician's life with that of the writer. His bitter conclusion: "I can't invite beautiful women to come over and watch me write all evening!"

Monday, October 16, 2006

A question of identity

Veteran blogger Jim Benson posted a comment here teasing me about going public with Writer Way because he knows I've been blogging for more than three years elsewhere using a pseudonym. My defense: The whole blogging thing was in its pre-teen years, and an avatar seemed like a good idea at the time.

Once, when I published a post questioning the business practices of a local social networking startup, the startup's founder shot me a vituperative email that began "Listen, dude, if you worked in tech, and lived in Seattle..."

Being, of course, female, working for Apple at the time, and living less than a mile from his North Seattle office, I enjoyed that email for days. Now I'll miss the anonymity that prevented people from stereotyping me based on my name or my gender. It resulted in such amusing correspondence! But, yes, Jim, blogging has come of age and I want to play with all the other grownups.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Seattle women bloggers, media, and politics

This, verbatim, from Craig's List today:

Reply to:
Date: 2006-10-15, 1:14PM PDT

At last weekend's Politics & The Media with Janeane Garofalo, it came up how few women bloggers there are in Seattle.

Anyway, I'd be willing to donate use of my TypePad Pro account to help a group of women set up their own group blog. (I'm male). You'd own the blog together.

I was thinking that something multi-generational (one woman from 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s) would be cool - but I'm open to whatever the most talented folks propose.
This guy must be kidding about the lack of women bloggers. (Since Janeane Garafolo doesn't live in Seattle, I'll let her off the hook.)

Has he ever attended a session of the Seattle Weblogger Meetup (founded and run by blogger Anita Rowland)? Checked out the community reader blogs at the Seattle P-I (most of them written by women)?

As for a man "donating" his TypePad account to "help" women blog, how incredibly patronizing. Blogger accounts are free and my cat could set one up.

Now my disconnect here may be because what this anonymous fellow is terming a lack of women bloggers in Seattle is instead a lack of women blogging about media and politics. Or perhaps just a lack of women blogging about media and politics in blogs devoted exclusively to those topics.

Consider this: The best-known Seattle blog about media and politics (, while well reported and well written, is characterized by reader comments at the level of "f*** you, s***head." I don't know many women who would consider this a particularly edifying or productive type of discussion.

I suspect that Seattle women bloggers are coming in under the (narrowly directed) radar because they write about media and politics in the context of real life instead of in a compartmentalized "media and politics" blog.

Let me illustrate with this opening from a lengthy analysis of Al Gore's recent movie by a female Seattle blogger (her site is Nerd's Eye View):
There's an episode of The Simpsons in which Martin, one of the nerdy kids, spends his last ten bucks on a talking Al Gore doll. "You are hearing me talk," says the doll. It cracks me up every time. Plus, it's a fairly accurate assessment of the production version of Al Gore. Stiff, not that interesting, but honest, very very honest.

Last night I attended a screening of Al Gore's new movie, An Inconvenient Truth. It's a film version of Al Gore's slide show on global warming. His science is undeniably thorough and accurate. His passion about the issue is palpable, even on screen. This man has done his homework, exhaustively, and when the movie is over you have no doubt that his case is clear and that action is essential.

But I fell asleep in the middle anyway.
Oh, yes, what a pity we timid li'l Seattle gals don't have a thing to say about the media and politics!

Using Blogger in Beta

Writer Way was created using the new version of Blogger, which seems to be known simply as Blogger in Beta. (You'd think it would be called something like "Blogger 2.0 in Beta," wouldn't you?)

Starting from scratch using Blogger in Beta is quite smooth. (It's similar to setting up a lens in Squidoo.) Posting entries to your blog is pretty much the same as in the previous version, except you can now add labels (which appear to be Blogger's version of Technorati's tags). The big leap forward is the easy-to-customize pre-coded blocks for all the sidebar stuff -- links, lists, archives. You select and customize blocks which can then be arranged in the order you want. The pop-up for previewing your sidebar work before saving and publishing is handy.

BTW, It's possible to transition an existing Blogger blog to the beta system with relatively few glitches -- I moved another blog, which features quite a bit of third-party HTML in the sidebar, and encountered only one, easily fixable, glitch.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Welcome to Writer Way

After three years of writing a personal rant-n-rave lifestyle blog and two years of "ghost blogging" for corporate clients, I decided it was time to create a blog for my professional life.

And just what is my professional life?

To paraphrase Mark Morris, "I'm a writer; I write!"

I sold my first article (to a New Haven alternative weekly) at 21, and have made my living as a writer since then. My BA is in psychology, but in my mid-20s I took the year-long Master's program at the Columbia Journalism School. Since then I've worked as a newspaper reporter, freelance travel writer, communications director, desktop publisher, developmental editor, communications consultant, newsletter editor, magazine managing editor, book reviewer, web content writer, and website managing editor. I currently write for a search engine optimization marketing company and edit ebooks for an online publishing house.

So, this blog will be about writing and editing, right?

Not exactly. It'll be about being a professional writer/editor. As Mark Lewis of Painter Creativity points out, being great at what you do is only 25 percent of the creative person's equation. The other 75 percent is about honing and applying business skills such as self-discipline, financial management, marketing, organization, decision-making, client communication, ethics, and common sense.

It was Lewis' post "Top 10 Lies Told to Naive Artists and Designers" and his advice on protecting yourself from the liars that inspired me to start blogging about the writing life. This blog is where I'll write about what's working for me, what I'm struggling with, and the tools I discover along the way. I'll get to say some of the things I want to say (but don't) when newbies in my business networking group start chanting their blue-sky mantras, like the one about how you must bend over backwards to please prospective clients, no matter how flaky and unreasonable those clients are.

I'm hoping that wisdom such as Lewis' (no doubt hard won) can save us all some pain; I'll be posting more such stories, tips, and reviews as Writer Way evolves.

(Thanks to excellent writing blog Finding the Right Words for pointing out Lewis' site.)