Archive for April, 2009

Don’t let your writing get boxed in.

April 29, 2009

This morning, an e-mail came in asking, “What do I do when I run out of ideas to write about?”  His problem, based on the question, isn’t that he’s run out of ideas, but that he’s locked himself into a box with a lock on the inside.  What he needs to do is take the key out of his pocket and unlock the door.

We all have experienced this problem, and in time find our own key.  If you haven’t found your way out of the box, here are a few tips that may give you a key.

Change focus: Another way to put this is to change direction.  If you write business articles, and you think you can’t write another word on business, try nature.  Not only do you open yourself up to a new market, but you may just give yourself a fresh take on business you never even considered.

Change source material: If you get all your ideas from newspaper headlines, try another source.  You can go for a walk and see what a little kid playing can teach you.  You can get ideas for business writing from the help wanted section, or an idea for a novel from a garage sale.

Find a new angle: In this blog alone, I’ve found a few new article ideas alone.  A good example of this is; the business article writer’s attempt at nature can yield articles on how business can model itself from nature, or an article on eco-friendly companies.  The beauty of a new angle is that you can turn to older material, and still give readers a fresh look.

The most important thing you can do to break out of your box is always carry a notebook with you for ideas.  You never know when an idea will hit.  I know I’ve said this in previous blogs, but this idea is too important not to put it in.

Challenge:  Look at a past article, blog, or even short story, and write down three new ideas for future articles.


Pump up the pen

April 27, 2009

On Wednesday morning, I was reviewing a short, flash fiction (only 100 words) and I noticed that there didn’t seem to be an end. I brought it up with the author, and he informed me that it was a “drabble”.  To find a definition, look in, this is where I found it.   So intrigued by the Idea that I thought I was up for the challenge.

Early Thursday, my friend and I were discussing ice cream flavors that will never be released, and I came up with the theme for my drabble; unusual food combinations.  I brought this idea up with someone else, and his response was less than enthusiastic, “That is the stupidest waste of time I’ve ever heard of.” Then he proceeded to tell me that his wife has written three books and she would never waste her time doing anything that frivolous.

I thought about his reaction, and couldn’t figure out why a drabble would be considered as a “waste of time”, and his worrying about things he can’t control, is important enough to talk about for two hours.

Each person has a talent, but that talent needs to be exercised.  With runners, it’s jogging.  With sketch artists and painters, it’s drawing shapes for hours (My mom, a painter, explained that one to me).  With writers, it’s more writing, ANY writing.

Exercise is about strengthening more than just the body; It’s also about strengthening the mind.  A drabble is a writing exercise that strengthens your ability to convey an obscure idea within the limits of a very specific amount of words.  As I found out on Thursday afternoon, it’s also a lot of fun.  Writing a poem exercises the ability to convey meaning with descriptive language, and rhythm.  Regardless what kind of writing you do, you are exercising your ability to write.  The other word for this is, of course, practice.

Without practice, our talent quickly becomes unnoticeable to others, and forgotten by us.  My nephew is quickly working his way to becoming one of the fastest guitarists ever. That’s not a biased comment, as you might think.  He practices four hours a day, watching the fastest guitarist and keeping up with his playing.

I think a better word for talent would be aptitude.  Just because you have an aptitude for something, doesn’t mean you’re naturally better than anyone else, it just means that you would be willing to work harder than anyone else to get it right.

For me, writing and photography are my two talents, and I try to exercise both on a daily basis.  This person who called the idea of a drabble a “waste of time” doesn’t have to spend his days writing, his job is watching a door that hardly ever opens, and delivering newspapers to tenants at six in the morning; to me, an incredible waste of time. (just joking)

Challenge: Try to learn new ways to exercise your talents, and spend time daily practicing.


Every Monday, early in the morning, the Little China Asian Market of Portland, Maine receives a fresh shipment of sea food, especially squid.  Pleased with his purchase, John Palmer walked in the door, whistling cheerfully.  He put the bag from the Asian market on the kitchen counter.
John took a half pound of squid, and placed it on the cutting board.  He chopped it up using his sharpest pare knife, and put it in a small bowl.
He then opened the freezer and took out a pint of Chunky Monkey ice cream.  “Ah,” he thought, “a meal made in Heaven.”

A drabble by

See you on monday

April 24, 2009

Sorry I wasn’t able to write a full blog today, but a spring cold knocked me down. I’ll be back on Monday with new blogs.

Characters of conflict: the abuser

April 22, 2009

Most stories about abusive relationships are told from the point of view of the quiet victim.  The quiet victim is someone who takes the abuse of their spouses or other family members, because they fear further attacks, or a feeling that they can help the other person change.  Another big reason a person stays with someone so aggressive is the attacker succeeds in making him or her feel guilty for the abuse.

The reasons why there are very few stories from an abuser’s point of view are, one, there is no reason, past or present, which excuses their behavior; two, very few people can identify with them.  Part of the reason they do what they do is that they feel like victims themselves.  They live their lives in fear and denial.  They feel powerless, and out of control.  Rather than face the humiliation that admitting it would bring, they lash out at anyone or anything, especially someone weaker because it gives them a false sense of power.

When developing an abusive character, whether it’s the main character, or not, you should know some of the signs of an abuser, to keep it accurate.

An abuser will get angry at inanimate objects.  If, for instance, the bathroom mirror won’t stay closed, they will slam it several times just because it refuses to stay closed.  Or if they are on the computer and the curser starts moving on its own, the person gets angry and throws the computer.  Usually, these fits make the problem worse, and the person gets more upset.

They try to make others feel guilty for the pain they caused themselves.  This usually results in stupid sayings like, “Now look what you made me do.” or “Apologize for making me hurt myself.”  They are always looking for ways to blame other people for their problems.  They are never responsible for their own actions.

Another behavior they exhibit is they always shoot down other peoples’ ideas by saying “That’s stupid.”, or “That will never work.”, and my personal favorite, “Your dreams are such a waste of time.”  By shooting down your ideas, and dreams, they justify their own laziness, and lack of accomplishment.

They never ask you to do anything, they tell you, usually followed by “Now!” even though they are doing nothing themselves at the time.

Of course, their pet names are always insults, and when you tell them about it, they say, “I was only joking.”  The problem with this is they are the only ones laughing.

Any failure on your part to do as they wish will end in some form of injury, whether it’s just a bruise or you end up in the hospital.

These are some of the basic traits of an abuser.  There are more specific traits, but they seem to fall under one or more of these categories.  Whatever excuses they come up with, it all boils down to cowardice, and panic, just like a cornered animal.

This is the second blog of negative characters to create conflict.  I hope this helps.

Challenge: continue observing people and writing down characteristics.  Don’t forget to make a file for good characteristics, and one for the bad. They will always come in handy.


Overcome self doubt

April 20, 2009

Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.”  The term for this is “self fulfilling prophesy”.  We are all guilty of allowing negative thoughts keep us from doing something.  Sometimes it’s procrastination, and sometimes it’s an actual fear that you can’t do something.  Whether it’s a fear that our own minds create, or one that someone else taught us, the fear is both real, and unreasonable.

At Hannaford, we have to deal with bulk (large cases we work from pallets), and freight (smaller cases we process onto carts).  I have always told myself that bulk is my enemy that I have never got the hang of it, so I prefer to stay in the back room to do the process, while others are doing the bulk.  I’m not being lazy, processing is hard work, and I work hard the whole night, but there’s just something about the bulk.  What I figured out last night is there isn’t anything wrong with the bulk; the problem is that I’ve spent the last eight years convinced that I couldn’t do it.

Now, I have to work hard to change the entire way I think about that one aspect of work.  Eight years of self-talk is going to take some breaking through but I know I can do it.

The longer you tell yourself that you can’t do something, the harder it is for you to break out of the pattern.  Imagine standing next to a large stack of bricks.  Every time you say, “I can’t do that.”  You take a brick and add it to the wall in front of you.  As you go through your life that wall gets bigger. Every time you or someone else convinces you that you cannot do something, the wall gets more impenetrable.

Now let’s go the other way.  When you tell yourself you can do something, you take a brick away from the wall.  The longer you tell yourself you can, the wall will get smaller until you can break through, and you will begin to realize that there isn’t anything you can’t do.

Challenge: Think of something you’ve convinced yourself you can’t do.  Now give it a shot, and keep at it until you get it.  It will be a real self-esteem booster.


Don’t trust the grammar check.

April 17, 2009

After writing my last blog, I hit the spelling and grammar check, and started looking at the suggestions.  That’s when a strange thought hit me.  How much should I trust the computer’s grammar check?

I remember in high school, when we wanted to write an essay, we had to go to the library for research, use a typewriter (do you still remember those?), and use dictionaries for spelling, and grammar books to check our style.  Now, however, everything is automated.  You can do research, write an essay, e-mail your friends, and check spelling and grammar, all on the computer; sometimes in that order.

As I go through the grammar check, I will read the highlighted section aloud.  I will even go so far to say I read some passages three or four different ways to see if I agree.  If I do, I hit the change button.  If I don’t agree, I hit ignore.  Unfortunately, many kids are taught to trust computers so much, that they second-guess their own instincts, and allow the computer to do all the thinking.

As most writers know, writing isn’t always about following the rules, which is what the computers use to base their grammar checks.  Sometimes you have to break a few rules to make writing communicate the right thing, the right way.  Writing, as a way to communicate your ideas, and opinions, is very personal; you have to make it your own.  Choosing the right way to say something will have an impact on how someone else hears it.

The Point of this is, don’t rely so much on the computer’s interpretation of your writing, you may just lose the impact of your message in your writing.

Challenge: If you use the grammar check on your computer, test its suggestions by reading the sections aloud, and more than one way, to make sure it sticks to your meaning.


Finding time to write.

April 15, 2009

People, who really know me, and the kind of schedule I have, always ask me where I find the time to write, let alone sleep.  Of course, to this I reply, “When I get around to it.”  About a week ago, I had the grocery manager of the Hannaford I work at ask me the same question.  To illustrate a point I asked him, “How much do you watch TV each day?”

He thought for a second, “About an hour, my kids take up the rest of the time.”

“Well, there you go, get rid of the kids.”  Just kidding, what I did tell him though, “If you have something you love doing, you will turn off the TV more, or at least do it on commercials.”

Enya has a song called “Only If” that I love to play whenever I feel I don’t have time to write.  It perks me up every time.  There is a line in the chorus that says, “Only if you want to, will you find a way.”  This line, more than any of the others, motivates me to pick up my pencil and paper.  I had to break through the excuse, “I don’t have time.”  That is when I took a closer look at what was dominating my time.

According to a study on television viewing habits by country America and The United Kingdom tied at the top with an average of 28 hours per week.  That is four hours every day. (To see where the other countries placed go to this link )  This makes television one of the worst time wasters.  Some writer’s say they use TV for characters or ideas.  There are two ways to respond to this.  If you are a script writer, you are absolutely right.  The best way to learn how to approach script writing is by seeing how other script writers handle a situation.

Of course, if you are a fiction writer, you’re better off reading a book.  If you are using the television for ideas, cut back the time watching to just what you need, like maybe three hours a week.

Another great way to make time is at the grocery store.  Knowing the layout of the aisles, and where each item is, can have a large impact on your time.  I have a good memory for such things, but for those who don’t, most stores have a map with a list of where items are.  Have a copy of the list at home, so that when you make out your list you can base it on location.

When you make out the list, stick to it, and know which brand you are going for.  By doing just these things at the grocery store, you can cut your time tremendously.  As an example, I went shopping on Wednesday and bought 200 (approximately) dollars worth of items.  It used to take me 45 minutes to go through the store before I was in line.  On Wednesday, it only took me ten minutes.  That is 35 minutes of lost time.

I also like to consolidate errands.  It requires a little planning, but if you time them right you can get a number of things done at once.  In addition, on Wednesday, I went to the store first, went to pay a bill on the way to McDonalds for breakfast.  I did it all in half an hour.  It took 5 minutes of planning, and I had extra time to write.

Before I go any further, I just want to point out that I am one of the most unorganized people I know.  Trying to find time to write was no easy task for me.  I have read books, seen motivational speakers, but nothing worked until I sat down and made a list of my day.  The list was very revealing.

I always have a pencil, and paper, with me so that I am ready for quiet moments, which are normally wasted.  Good sources of quiet moments; breaks at work, waiting for appointments, and sitting on a bus, are all great sources of time.  If you have a tape recorder, you can also take down ideas while walking, or even while working without stopping to write an idea down.

The ways to make time can be endless. You just have to take the time to look.

Challenge: Make a daily list of your activities and see where you can cut time.


Don’t get the ax

April 13, 2009

Congratulations on passing the interview process.  You now have a job, and the real work is about to begin.  The hardest part of this process, once you have found a job, is keeping it.

I worked for a company in Denver that printed material, pulled orders and shipped them.  When I started with them, there were six of us pulling material off warehouse shelves, packaging them up, and shipping them all over the world.  There were days when we would ship over 300 orders.  I was there about two weeks when the first round of layoffs happened.  I half expected to be looking for work quickly, but miraculously I still worked there. The layoffs took three people from our department, so we were left with three.  Two weeks later, there was another round of layoffs.  Once again, I was spared the ax; however, the supervisor, and the other employee, were gone.  This left me running a department by myself.  Somehow, I still managed to get orders pulled and shipped on time.  If I had to have help, I called the management, trained each person on a specific task, and still got the orders out on time.  The point of that anecdote is that by following certain principles, I was able to keep my job even though I was only there a short time.

Make quality your number one priority.  Some companies talk about requiring that you work at a particular speed, but if it compromises quality, the company will lose customers, and you will lose a job.

Anticipate the needs of the customers, as well as the company.  The best way to do this is to place yourself in their place.  What would you expect from the company if you were the customer, or from an employee if you were the owner of a company?

Don’t try to compare yourself to other employees, or worry about what they are doing.  The only person you have to compete with is yourself.  Learn from what other employees are doing right, and ignore what they are doing wrong.  As far as what people are doing wrong, that is management’s worry.

The worst phrase uttered in any company is, “That’s not my job.”  Not only is it shortsighted, but when it comes to layoffs or firings, those who say things like that will be the first to go.  If you are willing to cross train, you will be a more valuable asset to the company, and they won’t be so eager to let you go.

Many people think about teamwork as transferring the responsibility of their work to the supervisors, and not themselves.  If you want a job to last, learn to take responsibility for your own work.  A supervisor’s job is to organize the team so that the work is done in a timely manner, but only you can make your work something special.  Remember, what you get out of your job depends solely on what you put into it.

Be creative with your work, and take initiative.  If you feel that people would benefit from a better method of doing a certain task, come up with a better way and suggest it.  If the managers will not listen, or come up with “We have been doing it the same way, and don’t want to change It.”, then do it yourself.  Don’t be a brown nose and continue doing your job inefficiently.  If you change it and it works, they will see your point, if it doesn’t, then you will know and you can change it.

If someone needs help, whether it’s a customer or another employee, don’t walk away.  If you can’t help because of a task, your supervisor told you to do, make sure to let the supervisor know that someone else needs help.  You never know when you might need help, and it makes you look better in the end.

Work within the company policies.  Many companies make their policies to protect your safety within their walls, and to protect the rights of everyone else.  If you disagree with a policy, tell them, but be ready to explain your idea of a solution.

By law, companies have to give you breaks, but while you are on the clock keep working.  For one thing, your work will be done faster, and the other thing, your company will have no reason to complain.

This last point isn’t about keeping the current job, but it’s important in future jobs.  When it’s time to leave the company you’re working for, be considerate and give the company two weeks notice.  Not only that, but make sure you work hard and with quality for the full two weeks.  This will make you look good to future employers and they will be that much more willing to hire you.

Challenge: When you work, be safe, be productive, and be respectful, and you will always have work.


Interview with an employer

April 10, 2009

Career counselors and personnel experts say that you must dress up for a job interview.  That’s fine if you are going into the legal profession, or medical field, but I’ve never dressed up for a job interview, and I’ve been successful with 95 percent of all my interviews.  The trick to clothes at an interview is to dress clean.  Blue jeans and t-shirts are acceptable as long as they are clean, inoffensive, and not full of holes.

Now that you have scheduled your interview, the first thing you have to do is be prompt.  The interview is the interviewer’s first impression of you, and if you’re not prompt, they are left thinking that you will never be on time to work.  When you go through the interview, you are, in essence, selling your services to a company.

Confidence is key to an interview.  This is your chance to show why you need the job, but just as important, why they need you, but don’t get cocky, be honest about your skills.  It wouldn’t do any good to have them thinking one thing, and then they give you a job you can’t handle.  Being honest about your weaknesses they can handle, even help you work through them, but they can’t handle lies.  You can’t work through something if you don’t know about it.

Be prepared for the questions.  During the interview, they will be asking questions, and asking if you have any questions.  Have a note pad handy, with a pen, so that you can write down additional questions you might have.  Chances are good that they will love the idea. Through the questions, you and the interviewer need to have all your doubts answered so that you can be hired without bad feelings over not knowing something.  Remember, there’s no such thing as a stupid question.

Don’t be shy; tell the interviewer what you have to offer.  It is, after all, what the interview is all about.  You will tell them how you can help them, and they will say how they can help you.

In most interviews, they ask the question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”  Don’t just tell them the answer you think they want to hear.  This question doesn’t hold much weight on you getting the job.  They are just trying to see what they have to work with.

Above all else, be respectful.  A lack of respect is one thing that will end your chances in a second.  There’s no use faking respect, they know a brown nose when they see one.  Only genuine respect will show them that you are a team player, and worth hiring

If you go to an interview with an attitude of respect and confidence, and you are prompt as well as prepared, you will be able to make it through any interview process, and get most jobs you interview for.

Happy job hunting. Final job search blog will deal with keeping a job.

Hit the road Jack, or Jackie

April 8, 2009

Now that you have a plan for your job search, it’s time to go forth in search of your future job.  This part of the job search is not always easy, but it can be done.

When I was younger, and went looking for a job, I had friends and family members giving me advice on my search, and I tried most of them.  When I looked in the newspaper, the jobs in there were either job scams (advertising for warehouse work, but it was Kirby vacuum sales) or the jobs were already filled with eager job seekers.  The same thing happened with the internet, although I didn’t see that until I was out of high school, and working.  I had better luck standing outside a company and asking a magic 8 ball “this one?”

As you leave your comfortable home to look for a job, the thing you should keep reminding yourself is just because a company says they’re not hiring doesn’t mean they’re not.  They do this for two reasons that I’ve seen.  One is they don’t want just anyone off the street  who will do a lousy job, make a few bucks, and ditch them for two dollars more an hour.  Second, they see if you really want the job by telling you they aren’t hiring to see if you give up and walk away, or if you take the application.  The length of time you take in handing them the application tells them how much you want the job.  It also shows them how well you follow instructions, so be thorough on filling out the whole application.

While you are filling out applications, you should write down information on the companies in which you are applying.  Carry a list with you that have dates.  Under each date, write down the name of the company applied for, the phone number, and the address.  The most important thing to write down is the name of the contact person.  If you forget this one thing, when you call for an interview you could make yourself look like an idiot, and show the person in charge of hiring that you couldn’t care less about them

This list is going to be your guide for when you call for interviews.  Give the companies two days, and then if they haven’t called you first, call them and see if you can schedule an interview in the afternoon.  You still have to fill out applications just in case it doesn’t work out.  The personnel director will give you one of three answers.  They will either say no, which means cross their names off the list, or they will say yes, and you schedule the interview, or they leave an opening, which means you call back in two or three days.

The one thing about personnel directors is to be persistent but don’t become a pest.  Calling every day is being a pest, remember they have jobs that require a lot of attention, and you’re liable to push them into a no fast.  Calling every two or three days is mildly annoying, but it shows them that you’re serious, and willing to be persistent.  The best method is to ask them when to call, and do it when they say.  It shows them that you follow instructions, and that you’re prompt with doing things.

Bring at least three copies of your resume.  Some companies require one and some don’t.  Always be ready.

The most important thing to remember when filling out applications is always be polite.  Whether you fill it out at the company, or take it home, always thank the person who gave it to you.  They are the company’s chance at a first impression, and they have the potential to make or break your chances.  Don’t blow it before you get in the door.

Happy job hunting. The next blog will deal with interviews.