It’s All About Me!

From the Harvard Business Review come a fascinating observation regarding pronoun use in the U.S.

According to a study by Jean M. Twenge of San Diego State University and a team of letter-iresearchers, between 1960 and 2008, the number of uses of “I” or “me” increased 42%, and instances of “we” or “us” declined 10%. This observation was based on a study of hundreds of thousands of American books, both fiction and nonfiction. 

The rise of the singular pronoun and the decline of the plural are consistent with what has been described as an increasing level of individuality in American culture over the last half-century, the researchers say. Some might also refer to this as narcissism.


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Opening Lines


Opening lines are critical. The frame the introduction and expectations for the reader.

C.S. Lewis was a gifted writer and communicator. From The Voyage of the Dawn Treader comes one of the most memorable in literature:

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.

Whether it be a blog or a novel, take time in developing your opening lines. They’re critical.

Do you have a favorite opening line? Share it with us.


12 Masterful Ways to Annihilate Writer’s Block

You know the feeling. You really, really, really don’t want to write. You’re blocked. You’ve hit the wall. The words just won’t come. You’re bereft of inspiration. But your writing project needs to be finished (or started!).

So what can you do? Well, I have an idea. Twelve of them, actually…

1.Write something else

Most of us who write professionally have a hierarchy of horribleness. That is, we know which projects are going to be a little bit awful and which ones will be tremendously awful. My advice? Start with a less awful one. Procrastination, yes, but it’s productive procrastination. (You’ll be happier to face the Project of Doom once you have a bit of good writing under your belt.)

2. Write an email

This is a variant on the old trick of pretending to write to a friend. But verisimilitude is important. To maintain the “this isn’t really work” illusion, you must write your piece in the body of an email. (Just use “move block” to copy it into a word processing document when you’re done.)

3. Change your setting

We all get bored and stuck in ruts. You may be dreading writing because you’re dreading your office. So move to another room. Try the kitchen table or the cafeteria. Or decamp to a coffee shop. It worked for J.K. Rowling.

4. Go for a walk or run

There’s lots of evidence that we think better when we’re moving, so take your writing on the road. Just be sure you have a way of capturing your thoughts. The recorder in your cell phone should work very nicely.

5. Write the headline or title

A headline or title is a bit like a poem. It must distill your big idea into a very few words. It must also be catchy. When you write the headline first, the entire direction of your piece will become clearer. This will make writing substantially easier.

6. Tell yourself you have to write for only five minutes

This is the trick they teach runners. Okay, so you don’t feel like exercising today. Well, pull on your sneakers and tell yourself you have to run for only five minutes and then you can quit. Many times you’ll discover that the simple act of starting will give you enough momentum to continue. It works for writing, too.

7. Stretch

Even if you’re not blocked, you should do this. Stand up. Clasp your hands behind your back. Now try to lift your arms and push back your shoulder blades almost as if you were trying to get them to touch each other. Those of us who work at computers all day tend to spend a lot of time hunched forward. This kind of stretch is not only good for your back, it’s also invigorating. Breathe deeply a few times, too. Oxygen stimulates the brain.

8. Give yourself permission to write badly — really badly

Many times we’re blocked as writers because we’ve raised the stakes too high. “This report will make or break my career,” we tell ourselves. “My income depends on this sales letter,” we fret. Those thoughts may be true, but set them aside while you’re writing. If you simply must beat yourself up, do it when you’re editing.

9. “Speak” your writing

Most of us have no difficulty talking. So go with the flow and dictate your words into a tape or digital recorder or even your voicemail. If all else fails, ask a friend to interview you.

10. Prevent interruptions

Okay, I probably don’t need to tell you this, but turn off your email and shut down your browser. No pings. No “control + m.” No peeking. Email, blogs, checking online forums and surfing the web will keep you busy — and unproductive. Instead, use these diversions to “reward” yourself when you’ve finished your writing.

11. Limit your writing time

Work expands to fill available time (Parkinson’s Law). Writing thrives under constraint (Daphne’s Law). I know this sounds counterintuitive but we sometimes give ourselves too much time to write. Don’t set aside a day for that report. Tell yourself you have to do it in two hours. Remember how productive you can be just before going on holiday? Create the feeling artificially by limiting your writing time.

12. Reward yourself

If you’ve worked hard on a piece of writing, give yourself a prize. I don’t recommend double fudge brownies for obvious reasons, but there are lots of other options. Allow yourself 15 minutes reading blogs. Call a friend. Play some music. Buy a Moleskin notebook. Get a cappuccino.

And if you think none of these 12 tips will help you, then consider the advice of Terry Pratchett: “There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.”


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Featured image courtesy of alexandrehuang licensed via Creative Commons.

5 Clear Rules for Writing from C.S. Lewis

On June 26, 1956, C.S. Lewis (November 29, 1898 – November 22, 1963) replied to a letter from an American girl named Joan with his advice on writing. More than 50 years later, his five points are as pertinent and applicable as they were then:

1.   Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.

2.   Always prefer the clean direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.

3.   Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”

4.   In writing, don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the things you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us the thing is “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please, will you do my job for me.”

5.   Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

Every writer should heed this timely advice.

It’s just a thought,

Dr. Greg Morris

Publisher, Leadership Press

Source: C.S. Lewis, Letters to Children, p.64, Dorsett & Mead, editors, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1985.