Jun 262015
 
Speaker ribbon -- Speaking can make you a better writer

Try wearing one of these! If you’re like me, You’ll find that speaking can make you a better writer.

Want to become a better writer? Try speaking.

Speakers, of course, often go about things differently than writers when communicating. However, the more public speaking I do, the more insight I get into my writing. I find more parallels than differences.

In fact, I’m convinced that writers can learn a lot from speaking.

How Public Speaking Can Make You a Better Writer

1. You Practice Engaging Your Audience

Before you think “thank you, Captain Obvious,” think of the “Wonk wonk wonk wonk….” drone of Charles Schulz’ adults in Charlie Brown. That runs neck and neck with a major wardrobe malfunction as the worst fear of every speaker.

Of course, writers aim to engage, too. It’s what drives us. Yet, we sometimes lose sight of that. Schedules, due dates, and word counts obscure our view of our audience.

Speaking can make you a better writer because speakers don’t have the luxury of losing sight of their audience. They know as they speak who is paying attention and who is doodling. It sounds intimidating, but as you write for listeners that will be in the room with you, you visualize them. It’s easy to keep them in mind. You know you don’t want to see them playing with their phones and it comes through in your writing.

2. You get Better at Storytelling

Speaking is all about storytelling. In Talk Like Ted, Carmine Gallon includes “Mastering the Art of Storytelling” as one of the “9 Public speaking secrets of the world’s great minds.” (This is a great book for authors and speakers!) According to Gallon, stories break down walls. They open minds by touching hearts.

I’ve haven’t latched onto this, simply because I’m into storytelling. Whether you’re writing or speaking, storytelling works. There’s no doubt in my mind that speaking can make you a better writer by honing your storytelling skills. In fact, good storytelling drives many of the following points.

3. You Have to Speak with Passion

QUote from Nietzsche proving that speaking can make you a better writer.

I wonder if Nietzsche was inspired to write this by a bad speaker….

As Friedrich Nietzsche asked, “Is not life a hundred times too short for us to bore ourselves?” Passion is, in short, what makes our writing or speech interesting. It’s what conveys emotion. Speakers do it with their voice.

Writers do it with that other voice. Public speaking can help writers make sure they don’t edit the passion out of their voice as they perfect their style. Remembering the importance of passion can also help writers choose what to write about. Both speakers and writers fall flat when they chose a topic that doesn’t interest them. Passion is a hard thing to fake.

4. You Perfect Your Hook

Bad in golf, but excellent for writers…

I recently attended a Toastmasters “live coaching event.” Speakers started their prepared speeches and were interrupted by a champion speaker who analyzed what worked and what didn’t work. The process evoked a strong sense of Déjà vu—back to the San Francisco Writer’s conference with the first page critiques.

“Your hook was 30 seconds into your speech…” Sounds familiar, right?

Lance Miller, a former Toastmaster’s world champion, didn’t just focus on grabbing listeners’ attention. Rather, he advised them to help listeners engage emotionally. Which goes back to #1, #2, and #3. Hmmm.

5. You Learn to Speak (or Write) with Confidence

A writer’s audience can’t tell if the author’s fingers shook as they wrote, but they can sense our authority on our topics. Public speaking can make you a better writer by helping you develop that authority. Your confidence will come through your voice.

6. You Have to Be Authentic

Every audience wants a reliable narrator, whether they are in the room with them or not. If readers trust you and like you, they’ll stay with you. If they understand where you’re coming from, your viewpoint is more digestible to them.

Speaking authentically also brings home the writers’ mantra of “Show, Don’t tell.” For instance, my Toastmasters colleagues will quickly catch over-abundance of drama. Emotion is great. Drama, for drama’s sake isn’t. In fact, you’ll hear member suggest a tone of voice implying that the speaker’s emotion is kept under control, but with great effort. Again, you become a better storyteller. Which brings us to #9.

7. You Become Aware of Body language

In speaking, you do show with your body language and hand movements. Speaking drives this home. You won’t tell an audience that you were mad. You’ll show them with your voice, your stance, you facial expression and your gestures. It’s good practice.

8. You Improve Your Organization

Good organization is critical in a speech. Unlike readers, listeners don’t have the luxury of referring back to previous paragraphs or looking at bullet points.

Speaking can make you a better writer. As you prepare for speaking, you become hyper-aware of your talk’s organization. You learn to make sure you audience understands where you’re headed and any turns in the road.

9. Your Become Intentional about the Appropriate Amount and Type of Detail

Authors have the luxury of making their writing as “long as it needs to be.” Within limits, through the way they weave their story, writes can provide a wealth of background and backstories.

This is more challenging for speakers. First, they usually are operating under a time limit. Secondly, due to their length, speeches seldom offer the type of structure that lends itself to much back-story. Speakers need to provide detail that will engage readers in the story or setting, but not so much details that their listeners hear “wonk wonk wonk.”

They have to pick and choose which detail to use, which isn’t easy. Many times, it comes down to the listener’s ability to visualize the situation. Other times, it goes back to engaging. Which details will engage? Add humor? Increase impact? Public speaking can make you a better writer as you become sensitive to what details you include.

10. Strong Endings are Easier

As a non-fiction blogger, myself, a strong conclusion is often the hardest part. Perhaps it’s my internal distaste with ye ole “call to action.”

Somehow, in speaking, crafting a strong ending isn’t as hard. Perhaps it’s the immediacy of my audience, but when I end a speech, I beholden to help them figure out what they can do with any edification they gained by listening to me.

Your turn:

See if speaking can make you a better writer. Try your hand (voice). You can take a public speaking course or join a Toastmasters club. You’ll gain great insight into your writing.

Dec 182014
 

 

heaven or hellNotwithstanding the potential of turning this into one massive passion-fueled, rolling tumbleweed of theological debate and discussion, I think the question is fair and quite simple: When you die and (assuming) you go to heaven, what will you look like?

I’m not much for writing about what happens after death; only the slow, steady, agonizing, degenerative, angst-filled crawl toward its destination. But as a writer, there occasionally comes a time when I might feel a pang of interest in dipping my toe into a storyline about a character or two whose story continues even after that heavy dark curtain has been dropped.

Case Study #1:

“Steve”; a 28 year-old slightly overweight white male of average height.

Steve owns a 2005 Yamaha YZF-R1 “crotch rocket” that he likes to take for rides along the planes and twists of Old Beatty Ford Road in North Carolina. One late afternoon in May, while crossing into the intersection of Phaniel Church Road, Steve encounters a UPS truck. Its driver, being temporarily blinded by the bright and low-hanging sun, pulls into Steve’s path of travel, causing Steve to slam into the side of the truck.

A local media team descends upon the crash site. The community rallies around Steve’s family to express their love and support. Despite the doctors’ wonder and amazement at Steve’s strength and endurance for having initially survived the crash in the first place, they try rationalizing for his family that due to his extensive injuries and his no-hope-for-recovery comatose state, consideration should be given for disconnecting him from the ventilator. Steve’s brother and sister agree to it. Steve’s mother on the other hand – a devoutly pious evangelical woman – curses the doctor for even suggesting it. Hence comes a contentious, 15-year odyssey in Steve’s life where the matter of his life and death inches its way along into the upper echelons of the judicial system. Ultimately, the US Supreme Court rules in favor of Steve’s siblings and the ventilator is disconnected soon thereafter.

In his life, Steve’s withered, vestigial and severely atrophied body “lived” to the age of 43.

When Steve arrives in heaven, is he 28, or 43?

Hell's waiting room, or your typical line at the DMV?

Hell’s waiting room, or your typical line at the DMV?

Case Study #2:

“Emily”; a 56 year-old black female and retired teacher.

Children can be cruel, as evidenced by the sometimes vicious and demeaning verbal abuse they can slosh at those with even the slightest of imperfections. A pair of pesky keloids on her left earlobe has destined Emily to such an existence. But despite this, she flourished in her role as a teacher at Shreveport Central High School where she taught tenth grade English and Math. She had married her high school sweetheart, “Daniel”, fresh out of college and together they had a boy they had named after Daniel’s father, Eric.

Despite her husband’s constant reassurances, Emily’s keloids had remained a constant source of embarrassment and frustration for her. Doctors had given her a statistically high probability that surgical intervention would only exacerbate her condition and expand the keloid growth. As a result, Emily had no choice but to resign herself to absorbing the occasional taunts of “cocoa puff”, and “Goober earring”.

One day, after having just started a load of laundry, Emily was climbing the basement stairs when she dropped dead of a heart attack.

When she was shown to her celestial cottage on the sparkling Eustelean Glens overlooking the mystical, mermaid-swelled waters of Lake Absentia, she couldn’t help but be curious about something.

Slowly, Emily eased herself in front of the mirror…

Keloid, or no keloid?

Quick Case Study #3:

Husband dies at 47. Wife goes on to live until the age of 92. Do either get to choose the age in which to spend their eternity? Taking it further, let’s say the guy liked himself best at 24; chiseled body, six-pack abs. Full head of hair. The woman, meanwhile, had come to appreciate the glow and wisdom of her 60’s. Will their age gap cause a paparazzi-sized sensation? Divorce…is it even an option?

Look, it’s not that I expect everyone to be walking around heaven looking like porn stars. But if the motivation for wanting to vanquish our imperfections and become our most “perfect” self in our earthly form is simply to increase our odds of getting laid, who’s to say that a part of that doesn’t carry over into our “heavenly state”? The second circle of hell in Dante’s Inferno just so happens to center around “carnal malefactors”, after all.

Before...

Before…

All I’m saying is that it would help me greatly as a writer to be able to wrap my head around this minor issue of physical appearance as it relates to the afterlife.

Such considerations seem moot in a place like hell, where we’re all just a pile of screaming, burning feces shat from the foul, hemorrhoidal ass of Satan, himself.

...after

…after

A logician tasked with conducting an analysis of this issue might very well conclude that heaven is comprised of differences; of choices. Using this logic, would it be safe to say that hell means being the same as everyone else?

It would be for me.

Oct 232014
 

cloud of cereberal liesOne thing I’m learning— “I’ve learned” would be a lie—is that there are no short cuts on the Road Less Written. That is, unless you do actually want to take a road to writing less.

But when it comes to listening to gurus, we’re always tempted by the most unreliable one: our brains. Our so-called centers of higher thought, the very organ that should be busy helping us plot out an optimal path to success, can sabotage us.

Sure, it provides inspiration, strategy, and common sense. However, it also peppers us with false rationales. We get caught up in delusions of grandeur, denial – not to mention feelings of hopelessness and discouragement.

So why do we buy into the load of shit our rationalizing cerebral cortex spits out…?

Continue reading »

Oct 142014
 
Tabula rasa

Tabula rasa — a blank slate — offers freedom and potential

When suffering from writer’s block, do as the Romans do and utilize tabula rasa.

Latin for “blank slate,” tabula rasa is a literary term that stretches back to the days of ancient Rome. In those days, people wrote upon wax tablets or tabula. When they wanted a new “page,” they created it by heating the wax and smoothing it out. Though we modern-day writers aren’t penning future best-sellers on wax tablets, we can take a page from those days of hallowed antiquity by utilizing the freedom offered by a blank slate to get the creative juices flowing. Continue reading »

Aug 292014
 
Writing Career with a Muse

Muse Attack

Having rescheduled yet another appointment due to my predilection for getting lost in my writing, I decided that it was time to sit down and have a heart-to-heart with my Muse. Seriously! When I chose a literary career, I thought I was supposed to be in charge of the writing process. After all, many successful authors describe how they structure their days, “reporting to their offices” to write for several hours, after which they go about the rest of their lives as they see fit.

Obviously, they never met my Muse. Like a selfish child, it can clamor within my head at the most awkward times. The following is an example of a recent exchange. Feel free to offer suggestions as to how you would handle my quixotic Muse!

MUSE:  “Hello there! Remember me? I just thought of a way you can improve that chapter you’ve been struggling with!”

ME:  “It is 3:45 am. Can’t I just put in a wake-up call for 7:30? I’ll be fresher, and my fingers should work better then. OK? Good! Keep in touch . . . . “

MUSE:  “’Fresher?’ And how do you think that is going to fix that overwritten, narrative-starved, clunky excuse for writing? I need you edgy. Nervous. That’s what’s missing in that chapter. Now, get your butt out of bed and let’s get busy!”

ME:  “Get busy? I’ve been pounding away on that keyboard until my fingers have gone numb. I’ve had to call to push up meetings with kind and patient folks who have decided that there is simply no way they are going to get me to conform to a ‘normal’ schedule, and even find me mildly amusing in an eccentric way. Besides, who put you in charge anyway? I’m the writer, you know!”

MUSE:  “Really? And who do you think planted Max inside of your head anyway, ‘Madam Writer?’ Who do you think woke you up that morning so many years ago with a little old man chattering away in a Yiddish accent you simply couldn’t ignore? Who do you think presented his entire story, beginning to end like a shimmering rainbow, even showing you the pot of gold on the last page? Who kicked you out of bed and drove you to your computer, so you could quickly record a rough outline of chapters before the Universe reabsorbed the story? ME, that’s who! So, who is in charge here? Do you really think you have much of a choice in the matter?”

ME:  “Well, I agree that you got the ball rolling. But, I don’t see you sitting hours upon end at that computer until your tailbone screams for relief. I don’t see you longing to be lost in Max’s world when your beloved partner impatiently calls you to yet another dinner he’s prepared just to hear, ‘Five more minutes. I just need to finish this paragraph!’ (With me generally appearing an hour later, my plate of food in the microwave awaiting resuscitation). I was the one who went into postpartum depression when I completed the first draft of the manuscript because I couldn’t bear to lose Max. Why shouldn’t I have the choice as to when to write? I’m not a television remote control device, you know. I have never found it comfortable to write, ‘On Demand!’”

MUSE:  “Because of ME! Do you know how lucky you are? Just think of all the people in the world who are asked to write on a subject that bores them to tears. Yet, they have no problem doing it. You’ve been there. I’ve rescued you time and again from linguistic drudgery in dreary offices. And this is the thanks I get? ‘Wake me at 7:30?’”

ME:  “OK, OK. You have a point there. How about we make a deal? You are allowed to wake me at 3:45 am to plant a thought, but as I need all the strength I can get to finish these revisions, how about your letting me hit your ‘snooze button’ so I can get a little extra shuteye until 7:30 instead?”

MUSE:  “I am more than a little bit offended! Likening me to an alarm clock is like comparing a brilliant sunset to the streetlights that go on at appointed times. I can’t give advance notice as to when I’m going to burst forth with some magnificent insight, rain glorious words down upon you like a refreshing shower, or fill your head and heart to overflowing. No, I’m afraid there are no deals if you want to be a writer. Writers aren’t doctors. There’s no vacation time, weekends, or full nights of sleep. That’s simply the name of the game.”

ME:  “But, doctors certainly get paid a lot more. A LOT more when you consider that being a full-time writer often means having to go long periods ‘on sabbatical,’ from any type of meaningful employment!”

MUSE:  “’Meaningful employment?’ Crunching numbers, or trudging to an office with bland people doing bland things while they answer to bland bosses who direct their lives? Writers are on their own! If you want a structured existence, than forget living a life with a Muse to provide you with pictures that dance in your head. It boils down to one simple question. Are you really serious about being a writer? If not, I can look for somebody else . . . . ”

ME:  “NO! Don’t leave me! Without you, Max wouldn’t be jabbering away in my ear and I don’t quite think I’d ever be whole again without him. He takes long walks with me and draws me into his world so I can experience the full flavor of his life and times. We’ve become very close. If you left, I’m not quite certain he’d know how to find me, nor I him. You win. If you can’t wait until a reasonable hour, than I suppose my nickname, ‘The Late Sue Ross’ will have to stand. Of course, I may never have work again, not to mention friends or colleagues who have trouble understanding the way of the writer, but that’s the way it will have to be.”

MUSE:  “Truly, I really don’t want to cost you friends, or employment, but I think you’re being a little melodramatic here. We’ve been working on this book for 14 years, during which time you’ve held down some pretty impressive jobs (with a few breaks here and there). I guess it’s hard for me to hold back when the energy is flowing.”

ME:  “I get that, but keep in mind that when you aren’t holding back, neither can I!”

MUSE:  “True, but if I’m on a roll, and you decide to come along, you’ll just have to accept the consequences. I will continue to wake you up and typing whenever the spirit moves me. You will simply have to accept your lot in life as a writer enslaved to me, your Muse, for as long as it takes. Not really a bad gig. You could have been born into a life as a telemarketer or bill collector! Instead, you are living two lives. Your own, and Max’s.”

ME:  “My own, and Max’s, hmm? Well then, let’s get back to work!”

MUSE:  “Now, that’s more like it! OK, get some rest for now. But, remember . . . I’ll see you in your dreams.” 

(“Muse Attack” created by – http://intergalacticwritersinc.wordpress.com)

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