How to Be a Better Writer – Naturally

Photo by Dave Meier

Photo by Dave Meier

No matter what you do for a living, sooner or later you’ll be called on to write a paper, proposal, query a customer or supplier, pen a letter to the editor (or the head of a company), post a review or write a comment on social media. You want to put your best words forward, but don’t really regard yourself as a writer.

You can remedy this. Learning how to become a better writer isn’t only for those with a natural affinity for the written word. Anyone can become a better writer. And they can do it naturally. Here’s how.

Read authors you like.

 

The simple fact that you can learn how to write better by reading the writing of authors you enjoy is a no-brainer. The flow, style, even the use of metaphors, similes, adjectives, verbs and adverbs doesn’t have to get in the way. If you like how it looks, sounds and makes you think or stimulates emotion, there’s something here you can take away.

Ernest Hemingway has long been one of my favorite authors, not for his lifestyle, but for his simplicity. He used simple words and short sentences. I never got lost in long paragraphs reading any of his classics. Whenever I got a paper back from one of my English professors with red lines through long sentences, I remembered Hemingway’s style. I shortened all my sentences and my writing – and my grades – improved accordingly.

 

Use the eraser and backspace and delete buttons freely.

 

I never worry what comes out on paper or the computer screen when I’m first sitting down to write. I just let it flow. The main point is to get it out, while the thoughts and emotions are tumbling out of my head.

Later, I go back through what I’ve written and make corrections easily with the delete and backspace buttons. I’m also old-school from the standpoint of printing out a draft and editing it with a pen. I call that my eraser. Sometimes it helps to see what you’ve written on an actual piece of paper.

 

Look for a lot of white space.

 

Whether you’re writing on the computer or for a document that will be printed in some form, be sure to employ a lot of white space. Go back to your favorite authors and see how they use white space on the page. That allows for easier transitions, breaking up long paragraphs and separating ideas.

It’s also a lot easier to follow when the subject matter is complex or requires a great deal of thought.

Adding more white space with the use of bullet points or numbered items is another way to present a cleaner and more readable document.

 

Ask a friend for feedback.

 

Even after you’ve written, revised and polished your work, it’s always good to have a fresh set of eyes take a look at it. You might be so close to what you’ve written that you’ve lost objectivity. That’s why a friend who has no stake in the game can often point out things you might have missed, or suggest additions that will make the piece better.

Be sure to set aside your pride and view whatever feedback you receive graciously, even if it hurts. The idea is to become a better writer, and this is a fairly painless way to do so. It’s much less painful than having your boss think less of you because you turned in something that’s poorly written.

 

Write with action verbs.

 

You want your writing to zing, not plod along. Another excellent way to polish your writing and keep readers interested is to use action verbs and present tense. Avoid using the past tense whenever possible – especially if you’re writing for business. If it’s a historical novel, take a look at some of the best-selling books in that genre. The best writers employ the present tense to make the characters and situations come alive.

As an example, which of these sentences has more zing?

  • Trembling, the young girl shuffles toward the panting dog that’s twice her size.
  • The young girl trembled and shuffled toward the panting dog that was twice her size.

 

Write what you know.

 

This last tip is a favorite of mine. Draw on your own experiences and write about them. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to write an autobiography or lay out your personal details for the world to see. What it does imply is that you tap into the emotions and lessons that your own life provides.

Say you’ve suffered a terrible trauma and it’s taking you a long time to get over it. The tips and strategies that you found helpful could very well prove inspirational to someone else. After a near-fatal train accident in my early 20s, the prospect of still being alive and having the opportunity to be a mother to my children kept – and keeps – me going. I know that life is so precious and can be cut brutally short. I strive to make the most of every minute.

I hope my writing demonstrates that joy of living. Yours can, too.

* * *

Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here. I post highlights from my blog, my Daily Thoughts and more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Ways to Win When You Lose

Photo by Ryan McGuire

Photo by Ryan McGuire

Losing sucks, it’s true. Anyone who says otherwise isn’t speaking honestly – or else they’re engaging in self-delusion. No one likes to lose, whether it’s at a competition in sports, at work, in school or among friends. Failing to get the promotion you’ve worked hard for also hurts. But is there a way to turn losing around, to actually win again?

Here are 10 ways to help you learn how to win when you lose:

 

1. It’s not losing if you learn something.

 

If everybody loses at one time or another, the key is to profit from the experience. If all you do is grouse over your bad luck or just the wrong timing, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Figure out what went wrong and learn from it. As long as you come away with a better understanding of what caused this failure, you’re one step ahead when it comes to doing it better the next time. Already you’ve turned a loss into the first part of a win.

 

2. Losing can spur you to renew your commitment.

 

How much do you want to succeed at the action or endeavor you just failed at? With the right mindset – really wanting the successful outcome – you can rededicate yourself and renew your commitment to the goal. This is part of what it takes to develop a winning strategy and reinforce a winning mentality.

 

3. After you lose, call on your strengths.

 

Losing isn’t pleasant in the best of times. In the worst of times, losing can seem like the world is against you. Don’t fall prey to that self-defeating line of thinking. Instead, list your strengths and begin to make use of them. Some, no doubt, are strengths you haven’t used for a long time, maybe never. This is the time to call on your strengths, for they will help you reinvigorate your willingness to keep going, to challenge yourself to win again.

 

4. Remember you never give up.

 

This isn’t the first time you’ve been on the losing end of a situation. Even if this is your first recorded loss, the point is that you know it’s not in you to give up. Those little hurdles you put forth such effort to overcome and kept on going despite how tough it was? Those were little losses, but you remained steadfast and refused to give up. You will win again with this can-do attitude. Keep at it and you’ll be there at the finish line before you know it.

 

5. Competition makes you sharp.

 

If everyone had the same amount of talent and ability, the world would be a boring place. Thankfully, there’s competition. When you see what others do, especially when you’re engaged competitively in the same endeavor or pursuit, this tends to sharpen your skills, amplify your determination and motivation, and keeps you engaged. Do you want to succeed? Are you in it to win? Pay attention to your competition, even the competition you instill in yourself, and you’ll soon win again.

 

6. Once you’ve lost, you have greater compassion – because you know how it feels.

 

No one likes an arrogant winner. It takes humility – losing – to realize how it feels not to succeed. Since you have lost, you now know how the other person feels. This helps make you a better person, one with compassion and empathy. When you’re once again in the winner’s circle, this compassion will help keep your inflated ego at bay.

 

7. Look at the broader picture to gain perspective.

 

It may be tough to see much past the recent loss. Yet that’s exactly what you need to do after you lose. You’re never going to be motivated to continue if you can’t gain some perspective, to see the broader picture. Your world isn’t a narrow confine or a box you can’t get out of. It’s wide open and waiting for you to discover. This should be enough to inspire and motivate you to keep going, to recognize that this most recent loss is but one step along the path to success.

 

8. Realize that you’re already invested.

 

You’ve already put a great deal of effort into what just didn’t work out so well. In this, you’re already invested. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense to profit from the effort you’ve already put forth and find new ways of approaching the task, project, pursuit or endeavor. Refresh your memory with what worked well before and modify or adapt those strategies and techniques to the task at hand.

 

9. Sharing experiences with your network can help you gain new insights.

 

Maybe what you need is a different set of eyes and ears. By sharing your experience – the recent loss – with your network, you might learn a few things that can help you get back to winning. Often it’s just this type of interpersonal communication, talking over what happened and listening to suggestions and techniques that worked for others is enough to get you back on track to winning again. That loss also won’t feel as painful when you listen to how others came back from losing.

 

10.Be sure to hold on to your dreams.

 

In the darkest times, what keeps us going are our dreams. Those long-held and dearly prized dreams are nature’s way of pushing us to keep going, especially when things look the least favorable. Maybe your dream takes a little longer to achieve or realize, but as long as you hold fast to it and take the small steps toward achieving it, you’re making progress. This is a sign that you’re a winner, even though you may have lost a thousand times before and likely will again. Hold fast to that dream and you will achieve it.

* * *

Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here. I post highlights from my blog, my Daily Thoughts and more.

 

 

My 10 Favorite Summertime Stress-Busters

Photo by Ryan McGuire

Photo by Ryan McGuire

A writer by profession and a long-time executive in public relations and communications, I’ve experienced the cumulative effects of stress on more than a few occasions. While each person needs to find their own unique ways to combat stress, I’d like to share my 10 favorite summertime stress-busters here – while summer is in in full swing.

Bicycling on Mackinac Island

Although it was many years ago, the fond memory of bicycling on Mackinac Island (situated between mainland Michigan and the state’s upper peninsula in Lake Michigan) with my mother and my son and daughter still lowers my stress level. It was a wonderful bonding experience between three generations and great exercise to boot.

Go out and rent a bicycle when you’re on vacation or during a trip to an inland lake or other recreational area and see how your cares seem to float away as you pedal along. This is an inexpensive and effective summertime stress-buster that anyone can do.

Going for a long drive

When I’ve had it up to here with deadlines, pressure to finish a task, non-stop phone calls and nagging emails – not to mention all the things left to do around the house – I get in the car and head out for the open highway.

Since I live in California, however, that means timing my escape to avoid the gridlock on the freeways. Still, there’s nothing like cruising along the 101 freeway somewhere north to clear the cobwebs from my mind – and melt any stress that’s built up.

Hiking a new trail

I’m fortunate to live just blocks from the Santa Monica Mountains preserve and numerous hiking trails. This sounds like a lot of work, but there are easy trails to climb as well as more strenuous ones.

An early morning hike – especially when I’m able to check out a new trail – is one of the quickest ways to dissolve stress for me. My family members are equally appreciative. And who doesn’t love to spend some quality time outdoors with those you love?

Taking a well-deserved vacation

Too many times we tell ourselves that we can’t afford to take a vacation or don’t have the luxury of taking that much time off work.

I know. I’ve said as much myself.

The truth, however, is that a vacation is not only deserved but necessary in order to recharge and revitalize, to gain peace of mind and restore a sense of balance.

Thinking back on memorable vacations, I count trips to Cancun, Kauai, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Jamaica, as well as visits to great national parks such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, and more.

Arranging a long weekend getaway

Sometimes a weeklong vacation just isn’t practical. There’s still the opportunity to take a break by going for a long weekend getaway.

Head out to the beach or a cottage by the ocean. Explore what nature has to offer in a national park in the area. Visit a not-too-distant city to sample cuisine and nightlife or other attractions.

Romantic, sight-seeing, educational or pure leisure – whatever inspires you can be the ingredients in a getaway this weekend.

And the stress will just disappear.

Attending an outdoor concert

My daughter and son remember going to Bob Seger, Beach Boys and Fleetwood Mac concerts with me at an outdoor concert venue in Michigan. Just recalling those magical nights under the stars gives me a nostalgic rush. How perfect to wash away stressful thoughts?

No matter where you live, there’s probably a venue offering outdoor concerts, music festivals and the like. Check out some of your favorite artists, search for some reasonably-priced tickets and take the family for an unforgettable outing.

Digging in the garden – and creating a lush landscape

Whether I’m yanking out weeds, cultivating an area to plant flowers, shrubs or helping to dig the requisite size hole for a tree, the sheer enjoyment I get from digging in the garden is undeniable.

The fact that the result is something I’m proud of – and don’t mind accepting compliments from others for – is a plus.

Don’t think you have a green thumb? I didn’t either, but years of practice and effort have definitely paid off. Now, even if the plant eventually dies, I know I’ll get something to replace it that will prove equally lovely in my garden.

And there’s something about washing away the dirt from my gardening sojourn that is very satisfying as well.

Reading a good book

I’ve loved to read all my life. Still do, although I don’t seem to do it as often as I’d like. Now that I have Kindle, though, I can quickly access new ebooks from my favorite authors.

Mysteries, true crime, thrillers, autobiographies, inspirational – you name it, I’m there. Nothing like whiling away an hour or so engrossed in a good book. If you get into the habit of reading something you like, you’ll find that the stress you had is gone, faded away like a distant memory.

Seeing an adventure movie

Movies are another favorite pastime of mine. I actually like a number of genres, but for dissipating stress, a go-to favorite is an adventure movie. I can feel the adrenaline rushing through my body and while that seems counter-intuitive to eliminating stress, it actually works.

Realizing the outcome along with the protagonist (or hero) is doubly satisfying. It’s like I’m there. Not bad for a quick escape from stress, right? Best of all, there are always plenty of adventure movies to choose from at the movieplex near you – or available to rent or download from your TV provider or Netflix.

Checking out an amusement park

Do you love roller coasters? I do. When I have the opportunity to check out an amusement park with the family – and occasionally for business, believe it or not – I head straight for the biggest roller coaster in the park.

If you’re going to go, go big or don’t go at all. That’s my motto.

Part of the reason I’m so drawn to this particular ride is that I remember riding a roller coaster with my dad just a week before he died. I was thirteen. He was my everything.

Other attractions in the amusement park are also great stress-busters for me, including the haunted house, dodge ‘em cars, the Ferris wheel and more.

And who doesn’t love the cotton candy, hot dog on a stick, outdoor cafes and other tempting gastronomic delights? You can work out later. For now, indulge and have a good time.

* * *

Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here. I post highlights from my blog, my Daily Thoughts and more.

 

My 10 Favorite Ways to Waste Time — and Not Feel Bad About It

Photo by Ryan McGuire

Photo by Ryan McGuire

So much has been written about how not to waste time that I thought it might be fun to list some of the ways we waste time all the time. I’m as guilty of this as anyone else, so here are my favorite time wasters.

I should add that I don’t feel bad about doing any of these. In fact, I rather get a kick out of how good I feel after I’ve lollygagged, been consumed with and totally exhausted from any of them.

 

Getting Lost in LinkedIn

 

Networking is an absolute must for anyone in business. Whether your business is writing or recruiting or manufacturing electric cars or anything else, who you know can sometimes make all the difference in the world.

Need an introduction? Your LinkedIn contacts may be able to provide that. What about a recommendation or endorsement? Ditto.

Building a LinkedIn network (or any social media, for that matter) takes time. Often, that’s a lot of time.

I know. I’ve spent many hours reading profiles of LinkedIn members, absorbing their posts and likes, commenting on what I see and hoping others will reciprocate.

Come to think of it, LinkedIn is pretty essential to what I do. There’s no way this is a waste of time.

 

Searching for the Perfect Photo

 

When I write a Daily Thoughts or blog post, I’m always on the lookout for the perfect photo to illustrate them. I can literally spend a couple of hours searching for one photo.

I use multiple free and paid sites for photos. And I love discovering new photographers.

Since my profession is writing, it’s not a stretch to say that my time spent in pursuit of just the right photo is far from a waste of time. Yet I do find that I get a little carried away at times, continuing to search through photo albums and recent posting to see what’s new – in case I want to use it sometime.

 

Writing To-Do Lists – and Promptly Losing Them

 

I’m an inveterate list-maker. I’ve gotten it down to a science, in fact. I jot down items, then prioritize them, revise and add or subtract – and then put aside the list for later.

Somehow what happens more often than not is I lose the list.

Then I start over.

All is not lost in this seemingly hopeless endeavor, however. My mind catalogs what I’ve written, cementing it in place. It lets me know that there is a list somewhere, just in case I forget. So I don’t have to worry that I’ve missed something.

And that gives me great comfort.

Just don’t ask me where my list is.

 

Going for a Walk

 

Why do I walk? I used to think it was for healthy exercise, and there certainly is that component to it. But the underlying reason I walk is that I like being out in nature.

To me, a walk affords me the opportunity to connect with life outside the home. I take the time to listen to the birds and watch them flit from tree to flower to bush and back. I particularly enjoy watching the interplay between birds, protecting their mates and nest, doing the courtship dance, feeding offspring, etc.

I also feel good knowing I’m burning fat – but that’s another story. My sore muscles tell me if I’m giving it what I need or not. Still, my 45-minute walk may be considered a waste of time to some people, but not for me. I’ll do it any chance I get.

 

Working in the Garden

 

There’s nothing like getting my hands dirty digging in the garden. Granted, I’m not that fond of some of the bugs I have to pluck out, but wrestling with weeds to give my flowers, bushes and trees room to grow gives me great satisfaction.

It’s also wonderfully fulfilling to see the results of my carefully-tended garden. Worth all the hours I toil in garden, no matter what time of the year.

 

Shopping for Organic Produce

 

I’ll admit I was a little slow getting on the organic food bandwagon, but now I’m a firm believer. So much so that I can literally spend more than an hour just roaming the aisles of my go-to grocery store (even Costco) looking at the newest organic versions of produce I’ve eaten in old form since I was a kid.

If I had to excuse my wasting time on this activity, I’d have to say that putting the healthiest food into my body is a priority. I’m OK with any amount of time I spend looking for anything organic.

 

Doing Price Comparisons on Running Shoes

 

First, a confession. I don’t run – at all. But I am an aficionado of running shoes or cross-trainers or whatever the latest athletic shoe is.

My reason for the obsession is that I want my feet to be well taken care of. Whether I’m hiking a mountain trail in the preserve near my house or traversing the mall in search of a good deal or just driving, I want a great pair of shoes on my feet.

As such, I’m always looking for the best price on shoes and have bookmarked my favorite websites. Time just flies by when I’m on the hunt.

And I don’t regret one minute of it. So, there.

 

Going for a Massage

To some people a massage is an indulgence they can do without. Not me. I learned long ago that my Thumper I bought from Relax-the-Back does a great job easing out a kink, but I’d much rather get an expert to do the work for me.

It feels so much better when I don’t have to exert myself.

And the massage professional can reach areas I can’t.

Besides, the overall effect afterward is simply out of this world. The therapeutic aspects alone are worth the time I take from my day to get the massage.

Come to think of it, I haven’t had a massage for a while. Time to make an appointment.

 

Trying Out a New Recipe

I may not be the greatest cook around, but I do enjoy trying out new recipes. Like searching for the perfect photo, checking out recipes is a real time-hog.

Once I’ve found a recipe to make, I often have to go to the store to get the ingredients. Invariably I’m missing one or more. And I learned long ago that substituting what might work usually results in a disaster.

As a professional chef once told me, stick to the recipe until you’ve amassed years of experience and absolutely know what you can safely substitute without ruining the dish.

Regarding the mess that I have to clean up when I’m done, that’s another chunk of time that necessarily has to occupy my time.

 

Watching a Great Movie

Another one of my favorite pastimes – and a huge time waster – is watching movies. I love a number of different genres, so a drama doesn’t necessarily lose out to suspense, thriller, comedy or horror.

I’d much rather watch a movie that’s gotten stellar reviews, but I’m also game to check out the little-known or obscure flicks as well. This is especially true if they’re by famous directors or ones whose other work I’ve enjoyed.

Get out the popcorn, chips, ice cream and other snacks (OK, junk food, but sometimes you just have to indulge) and I’m good to go – for at least an hour or two.

Chores can wait until later.

* * *

What are your favorite ways to waste time? Comment below and I may do a follow-up blog post mentioning some of them – giving you credit, of course.

Speaking of posts, never miss one by signing up for my newsletter.