Boost your creativity with these 7 tips

Ignore the warnings, even if you can read them. Create!

When you have a good idea, ignore everybody else’s input.

  • At the moment you create it, you don’t know whether your concept has merit – but neither does anyone else. Do you have a strong gut feeling that it’s valuable? Then trust your feelings, whether your idea delights or scares you.
  • Hold onto and polish your good ideas, in life and when writing nonfiction.
  • Put the hours in. Doing anything worthwhile takes forever. Succeed by investing time, effort and stamina. Being good at anything is like figure skating – it just looks easy.
  • Everyone is born with the possibility of creativity. Nurture that openness in yourself and your children.
    Be creative for your own sake, not for anyone else’s.
  • Find your own voice. A Picasso always looks like Picasso painted it. Hemingway always sounds like Hemingway. A Beethoven Symphony always sounds like Beethoven. What’s your voice?
  • If you have the creative urge, it won’t go away. Learn to accept it. Listen to it. Feel it. Accept it. Give into it. Be creative.

Destroy your imagination with these 6 notions.

  • “The ordinary ‘horseless carriage’ is at present a luxury for the wealthy; and although its price will probably fall in the future, it will never, of course, come into as common use as the bicycle.”
    Literary Digest, 1899
  • “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
    Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977
  • “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
    Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943
  • “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.”
    Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962
  • “There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.”
    Albert Einstein, 1932
  • “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”
    Western Union internal memo, 1876

Need to improve your writing?

Let Susan help

never place a period

You need to train your employees to write if

  • They write such poor reports that you rewrite every sentence before forwarding.
  • They produce documents that reflect poorly on you and the company.
  • It costs money and time to scrutinize every manuscript.
  • You wish your staff would agree on writing styles for your department or organization.
  • They have great ideas for writing projects but cannot implement them.
  • They have brilliant ideas but only a passing relationship with grammar.
  • They write professionally and are eager to move to the next level.

People in any position benefit from writing training

  • Chief executive officers
  • Directors of nonprofit organizations
  • Leadership teams
  • Top- and mid-level managers
  • High-potential individuals
  • Individual contributors
  • Administrative assistants and other support staff
  • People in any field benefit from writing training
  • Architects, engineers and designers
  • Human-resource specialists
  • Lawyers and judges
  • MBAs
  • Physicians, healthcare administrators and patient-care specialists
  • Public relations specialists, staff writers, editors
  • Technical specialists who communicate with non-tech staff
  • Support staff

Call me for customized workshops that help your staff gain skill and confidence as writers.

My workshops are both useful and entertaining, since people need to be engaged in order to learn. Each session includes instructive presentations and discussions at the basic, intermediate and advanced levels.

Proofread for consistency and accuracy


Why proofread? It makes everyone look good. It’s an essential part of quality control.

Even little errors and inconsistencies can shake readers’ confidence in the accuracy of what we write. Replace if for it. Your for you. Your for you’re. Iversen for Iverson. Misspelled names and misused words.

What is proofreading?

Most people think of proofreading as skimming a document to catch and mark errors. In this sense, most people occasionally proofread, if only to check the personal letters they write. When you proofread your business and professional papers and electronic messages, however, you must take the process seriously.

  • Professional proofreading involves comparing two versions of the same document to catch errors and to mark them so the creator understands the instruction.
  • Proofreading compares the live copy (the newly produced version) to the dead copy (the author’s original version) – word for word and letter for letter
  • What a proofreader does.
  • A proofreader works with language that is hand-written, typed or onscreen.
  • You are doing comparison As a proofreader, you mark the live copy where it differs from the dead, such as where letters, words, or lines are omitted or repeated.

The cost of not proofreading

  • Years ago, in Ottawa County, Mich., someone failed to notice that the typist skipped the L in public on a proposed amendment for an election ballot. Someone had to pay $40,000 to correct the embarrassing typo and reprint 170,000 ballots.
  • A Bucks County judge slashed a lawyer’s fee because of typos. In court filings, the lawyer frequently mentioned the “United States District Court for the Easter District of Pennsylvania.” That’s “Easter” instead of “Eastern.” The judge wrote: “Considering the religious persuasion of the presiding officer, the ‘Passover’ District would have been more appropriate.” And the lawyer addressed the judge as “Jacon,” not “Jacob,” Hart. The cost of these typos, termed “careless, to the point of disrespectful”? A reduction of a $300 hourly fee to $150. Take that and spell-check it.
  • Here are three wonderful examples of simple misteaks.

Leak soup. (On the menu at a retirement community. A grim dining choice for people who perceive their youth is dribbling away.)

Duel air bags. (Me, I usually spar with the seatbelts. (From captions on GMA.)

A sign in the parking lot of Wills Eye Hospital pointed to the proper place for WILLS EYE DROP OFF. Deliver your ears to Pennsylvania Hospital and drive your legs to the University of Pennsylvania.

Make your computer work for you, Part 2


More tips for using Microsoft Word 2010 to your advantage.

  • Organize your files.
    • You can save every file in your Word software without organization, just as you keep masking tape, scissors, bottle openers, loose keys, birthday candles, expired coupons and random corks in the junk drawer in the kitchen. Or you can organize. I recommend organizing Word files. Find someone else for your junk drawer.
  • Establish and use directories. 
    • Find organizing principles for your docs. Memos, meetings and management is too vague. Human resources, finance and software might work – as long as you don’t work in human resources, finance or software. If you freelance or consult, consider organizing by client name, service provided and your own office management. 
    • By default, Word organizes your files in alphabetical order. 
      • If you want often-used files to appear at the top of the alphabet, type an exclamation point (!) or a digit at the beginning of the file name, with or without a space following. Be consistent on using or skipping that space. 
      • If you want rarely used files to appear at the bottom of the alphabet, type z at the beginning of the file name.
    • When searching for particular files, you can switch to sorting files by date – ascending (from oldest to newest) or descending (from newest to oldest) – or by file type or size.
      • Click Control O to open all documents. 
      • On the top right, mouse over the third icon from the right, called “change your view.” Click the drop-down arrow. Scroll down to “details.” Choose “ascending” or “descending.”
      • Change it back at your convenience. 
  • Notice the tools on your tool bar that you have never used. 
    • Strike-through on the tool bar. Highlight the letters or words you might want to cross out. Then hit Strike-through. 
    • Shrink to fit.
      • To shrink the document to one page, click on File, then Print Preview.
      • On the Print Preview screen, click on the seventh icon from the left: three tiny pages, the left one darker than the others, with an arrow point from left to right.
      • That function prevent a document from printing  an additional page.
      • Note: To shrink the document, Microsoft Word decreases the size of each font used in the document.
    • To add the Shrink-to-fit icon to the toolbar
      • Right click on an empty space in the toolbar.
      • From the drop-down list, choose the last item, Customize.
      • From the list of Categories, choose Tools.
      • Scroll down the list of Commands until you find the icon (called here) Shrink one page.
      • Drag the icon to the toolbar.

Read more tips

 

Write great beginnings

north-of-here-seattle
Journalists call story openings “ledes.”

Whether you call them beginnings, openings or ledes, you need to agonize over them – because you have about 250 words to grab your readers.

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, gravely, “and go on ’till you come to the end. Then stop.” Lewis Carroll.

Up top, identify the message of the e-mail, web page or article. Learn new ways to begin a piece of writing. “A lead ought to shine like a flashlight, down into the whole piece, if possible,” says John McPhee.

Avoid these bland, trite leads

  • An apology or complaint: As you probably know….
  • A panorama or vague overview: Urban sprawl is a problem each of us faces every day.
  • A truism, a cliché, the obvious or platitudes: We are dedicated to being the world’s best at bringing people together – giving them easy access to each other and to the information and services they want and need – anytime, anywhere.
  • The Adam-and-Eve approach: Back when the company was founded….
  • There’s good news and there’s bad news….
  • A dictionary definition.
  • To whom it may concern.
  • Dear Sir or Madam.
  • Enclosed (or attached) please find.
  • It has come to my attention.

2 stories in 1 week on Newsworks

hooked a big one

Proud to have scored two bylines in a few days on Newsworks.org, the website of WHYY-TV and WHYY-FM.

“In a world of ‘not my job,’ do you shut up or speak up?” asks whether people are tattle-tales or whistle-blowers — or not. It starts with a story of what happened when a lifeguard was looking at his cellphone instead of the waves.

“I was always one paycheck from being homeless” is an interview of 2 homeless men I interviewed on the streets of Philadelphia.

I always have a story idea or 6 up my proverbial sleeve.

Do you read nonfiction as well as write it?

library
I write nonfiction, but I read fiction for pleasure.

Years ago, before the age of self-publishing, someone told me that only about 15 percent of books published in America are fiction, in all genres, while the vast majority of books fall under nonfiction. I imagined that those statistics indicated that editors slave more thoroughly over fiction than facts, parsing more sentences, correcting more errors, enhancing more nuances.

So I read fiction, I tell myself, because the writing is intrinsically better than in nonfiction. I am more likely to encounter a memorable phrase or aptly used arcane word in contemporary fiction than in heady books penned by politicians, potters and patients for whom writing is not a first language.

Recently I asked librarians and booksellers if I was correct about the ratio of domestic books. They had never considered the question and had no answer. So I wrote to the Library of Congress.

A librarian named Abby Yochelson responded: “I think the quality of editing probably depends on the publisher rather than fiction vs. nonfiction. I know plenty of people who complain about the quality of fiction editing, too!” She asked Andy Lisowski, of the institution’s information-technology staff, to run a search.

“In terms of figuring out percentages,” she wrote later, “you would have to figure out the number of books we have compared to our overall collections.” The most current compiled information is for Fiscal Year 2013. “Fascinating Facts about the Library of Congress” reports that the Library of Congress owns about 160 million items, about 37 million of which are books and other print materials.

The library’s annual report includes an appendix listing books by class. Class P covers language and literature: English, American, etc., plus fiction, literature, children’s literature, poetry, drama, essays, literary criticism, biographies of writers, etc. Andy could not identify fiction specifically, Abby says. The two of them “Concluded that trying to count genre fiction would not work. Including a genre category is fairly recent in terms of library cataloging. Many works have multiple genres, so something could be categorized as a love story and suspense fiction.”

Abby went all out, making me value this remarkable federal resource. Who knew all this stuff even existed? Not I.

“I also attempted to make use of the subdivision fiction as it can be used with subject headings: libraries-fiction, railroad trains-fiction, writers-fiction,” she wrote. “I used the advanced search in our catalog. I typed fiction in the search box and used the pull-down menu to indicate SUBJECT ALL (KSUB).

“Unfortunately, the maximum number of records the catalog can retrieve is 10,000, with no idea of how many records there are over that number. In addition, fiction didn’t always appear in subject headings, so this search would miss thousands of older books.”

Abby even searched OCLC WorldCat, a database showing the holdings of more than 70,000 libraries. (Here’s the free version.) When you use the advanced search, you can limit to fiction or nonfiction and to adult or juvenile. Unfortunately, you can’t just click on the limits without searching on something.

“I don’t really ‘trust’ any of the numbers above about the Library of Congress holdings or think they are sufficiently accurate to quote.”

So there are no facts on which to base my preference for reading fiction while continuing to write nonfiction. And that’s the truth.

What about you?

What Ed Snider taught me about writing nonfiction

Flyers

In 1966, Ed Snider, the billionaire entrepreneur who died recently at 83, co-founded the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team. He also developed and acquired 10 additional businesses, including SMG, an early sports-arena management company; WIP, an early all-sports radio station; and SpectaGuard, a security company. Oh, yes, and the Spectrum, the late, great indoor sporting arena in South Philly.

Snider bundled his companies into an entity called Spectacor, which occupied a mansion on the south side of Rittenhouse Square. It was there that I met Snider, whom I was to profile in Spectacor’s employee newsletter.

Snider’s office, the top level in his elevator-free building, was as impressive as his business empire. His reputation was even greater: He was a towering figure in the world of sports, well known for the emotional support he gave to his players, the presidents of his companies and his friends and colleagues in the city and country.

I was literally and figuratively breathless when I arrived at the fourth floor. But Snider put me at ease, and he spoke with ease. Across the world’s largest wooden desk, he talked about his love for his family and players. He interspersed comments and memories with gestures to photos of his favorite people. And he chatted at length about the wonder of having a child and a grandchild of the same age, a feat he accomplished by marrying multiple times.

The lesson he taught was that, if I just kept quiet and allowed his mind to wander, I’d get a good story. I knew that already, but he, or at least his behavior, reminded me. I didn’t interrupt with questions from my prepared list. Sometimes I smiled or laughed or said, “Oh!” – an inducement for him to keep on keepin’ on. And he did.

Well, the story wrote itself, as they say. It was easy to punctuate his musings, to turn phrases into sentences, to insert paragraph marks. Before deadline, I submitted the profile to the p.r. man who hired me. He loved the article.

I wish that were the end of the story. But when Ed Snider, later honored for his charity work by the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association, read the piece, he had second thoughts. According to the p.r. man, Snider regretted opening up as much as he did. He didn’t take back any of the details, all of which I cited accurately. He merely dismissed the entire article, which never saw publication.

RIP, Ed Snider: You taught me to keep still when I interview, even if the result did not thrill you.

Vote for Hillary Clinton

LINDA NORBERG BLAIR AND SUSAN BLUMENTHAL GLAZER CO-WROTE THIS ARTICLE.

We believe the American people must elect a woman to the presidency.

Not any woman, this woman: Hillary Rodham Clinton. With her in the Oval Office, the heights to which women can rise will have no limit. We believe a Clinton victory will smash the proverbial glass ceiling for the rest of us.

We rally ’round her not solely because she is a woman. She is the best-qualified candidate, and she happens to be female.

We are a few years older than the front-running Democrat, all former classmates at Elkins Park Junior High and Cheltenham High School in suburban Philadelphia. Together we have produced four daughters, five sons, 10 granddaughters, and four grandsons. It is for their benefit that we support Clinton and the promise she holds for all women and men, feminists or not.

In this patriarchal society of ours, people have expected men to earn the bulk of the income. Even though we see the patriarchy crumbling, slowly, some women don’t support Hillary. Perhaps they are not ready to handle women on the ascendancy.

Women have always held families together, a talent for which they earn little respect. In our generation, women became teachers, nurses, and secretaries, working until the time came to bear children. Then they stayed home washing cloth diapers. Their careers were over, at least until the last offspring left for college.

But today women nurture their families and work as pharmacists, accountants and military combatants. Women earn more money than ever before, at least at the bottom of every career ladder. Even though wage inequality persists, young women step onto the ladder in almost every field.

Glaring exceptions are science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, which qualified women tend to avoid because they don’t feel comfortable in mostly male classrooms and labs.

Yes, women are making progress, and many think they have it made and can do it all. But young women have not been around long enough to recognize that incremental success rarely leads to a chair in the boardroom.

Women have excelled in leading many other countries. Today 22 countries have women presidents, chancellors or prime ministers, and two more have female governors-general. Switzerland has elected six female presidents. Five countries have had three female presidents and/or prime ministers, and 13 countries have had two female presidents or PMs. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir presided over Finland for 16 years.

Best known and most highly praised among female leaders are Golda Meir, prime minister of Israel, and Indira Gandhi, twice prime minister of India. Both led their nations to unprecedented levels of glory and the women who elected them to unprecedented heights.

We care primarily, essentially, dramatically about the rights and future of American women. Today we face an opportunity to improve forever the lives of women. If we elect this woman president, it will be on the merits of her candidacy. Clinton will neutralize this blatantly ineffective men-first mantra of our democracy precisely by proving that a woman can be first.

A Clinton presidency will lead us to a stable and powerful future. Her leadership of the finest country in the world will entice girls and young women to aim even higher.

Vote for Hillary Clinton for the sake of your granddaughters, stepdaughters, and nieces, and all the men who love them.

Linda Blair, PhD, is a retired high school English teacher living in Springfield, Va. Susan Glazer, of Wynnewood, Pa., is the retired director of the School of Dance at the University of the Arts, Philadelphia. The article appears in the Philadelphia Inquirer on March 3, 2016. 

Yes, grammar matters.

you're right

A man I don’t know sends an e-mail. According to his signature, he handles website development, digital marketing strategy, SEO, social media, paid search management, and content marketing. So, while he probably is not a writer himself, he might hire or consult with writers. He says:

“I am not trying to connect with you for any particular reason. I am trying to do a better job of connecting with people I have met so that I don’t have to go to a million places to find people when opportunities or potential introductions arise.

“For example, if someone came to me with a need for a writer who was crazy fanatic about grammar. I would likely send them your way but might give up if I have to search all over for your contact information.”

Wow, I think. He thinks I am crazy-fanatic-about-grammar. I am, and proudly so. It’s not for nothing I have co-opted my friend’s nickname of Comma Momma. I swear, though, I never corrected this guy in public, perhaps because we have never met. Then I wonder: Who wants a writer who is not crazy-fanatic-about-grammar (CFaG). Do people call and ask him to recommend writers who are or are not CFaG?

Similarly, who wants a tailor to alter a jacket without being crazy-fanatic about making the sleeves the same length? Who wants to eat a restaurant meal where the chef is not crazy-fanatic about a clean kitchen? Who wants a website designer who is not crazy-fanatic about checking broken links?

But this is not the only dude who asks if grammar matters. In fact, I teach a course at Temple University Center City called “Does grammar still matter?” The answer, if you care, is that grammar does matter.

The fact that teachers don’t teach grammar at any grade level doesn’t mean it’s not essential to clear communication. It is. The fact that parents don’t or can’t correct their children’s oral or written grammatical errors likewise does not diminish the value of good grammar.

I teach grammar to adults because they didn’t learn it in school or they have forgotten it since. They come to class for refreshers, hoping to recall first-, second- and third-person voice; active and passive verbs; and the difference between affect and effect.

I am not alone in believing that grammar matters.

Andrew Hindes lists credibility, professionalism and clarity among the 6 top reasons why grammar matters.

Richard Nordquist says that people associate grammar with correctness. “Knowing about grammar helps us understand what makes sentences and paragraphs clear and interesting and precise.”

And Steve Tobak writes about creating content for social media: “If what you’re writing will be public and has your name attached to it, assume that anyone who works with you or might be interested in hiring you will see it. As such, whatever it is can be conversational, and a typo isn’t the end of the world, but it should still be reasonably grammatically correct…. Business writing is about clarity in communication….”

I remain, sincerely yours, CFaG. Consider signing up for my grammar class at Temple.