No such thing as writer’s block

I wrote my last blog on this page about a year ago. My key messages were that I had run out of inspiration and that I was starting a non-writing sabbatical.

Earlier today, I was a watching a LinkedIn course about creativity at work by Seth Godin. One of Seth’s statements was that there’s no such thing as writer’s block. There’s only a fear of bad writing. Most people are afraid of being wrong. But everyone has some good ideas. It’s easy to get your audience to be negative, but hard to get people to speak up. And sometimes, something good comes out. So, do more bad writing and have more bad ideas!

Godin also drew a parallel with the board game Pictionary: when one guesses for the word that’s being drawn, there is no cost of being wrong. There are no points deducted for bad guesses. No one blames you for drawing bad pictures either. And as people start guessing, the drawer hears them talk and responds to what they’re saying by improving his drawing or creating new ones.

So, that’s why as from today I’m picking up my pen – or typing my keyboard – again to start writing fresh blog posts. Some of them will be long, some of them may be short. Some of them may be good, some of them could be trash. Some of them could be on topic, some of them will be just a diversion. Some of them will teach you something, while others won’t tell you anything new at all.

As Seth Godin says, we need to start doing the urgent, important, and thrilling work of being more creative – even if many of our ideas will be bad. Stay tuned for my next article on this page…

Stories are all about memories

“Somewhere deep in my memory there had to be a frozen mountain lake that was slowly starting to thaw.” – Herman Koch in “Finnish days” (translated)

Yesterday, I listened to a radio interview with Dutch writer Herman Koch, who talked about his new novel “Finse dagen” (Finnish days). In his book, the author tells stories about the time he spent in Finland when he was 19, making a living as a farmer and lumberjack.

Being a perennial blogger and aspiring storyteller myself, one of the excerpts from the interview, in which Koch muses about memories, particularly appealed to me. “Writing makes you remember things of which you thought you didn’t know them anymore.” Memories are records of people’s personal experience. Records of trial and error, of success and failure. Past successes will help you (and others) to gain courage and confidence to move on, while past failures will warn you against repeating them.

Koch’s also talks about becoming an author. How certain pleasant or unpleasant events in one’s life can provide useful material for later use. Already at secondary school, the future writer was observing his teacher and thought: “One day, this guy will find himself in a book.” It’s almost like one can – or maybe should? – (pro-)actively and consciously record his/her memories.

About creating an ideal mix of facts and (a tiny bit of) fiction, Koch says that “reality is sometimes not believable enough.” So, sometimes we need to repaint our memories. As I wrote earlier on this blog: all stories deserve embellishment

Unfortunately (at least for the non-Dutch-speaking readers of this post) the interview is in Dutch. If you want to replay it anyway, you can find it here. Still, after listening to Herman Koch’s inspiring words, I’m almost sure what will be the next book on my reading list.

A (wo)man needs a plan

Yesterday I saw the following tweet from J.K. Rowling passing by on my twitter feed:

The tweet was part of a conversation about her upcoming crime novel “Lethal White” that is to be published under the British writer’s Robert Galbraith pseudonym.

Although January is just ending, Rowling’s observation already gets my “quote of the year 2018” award. The glass is never full or empty. Each challenge holds an opportunity, and vice versa. Whether you are writing a book, preparing a business presentation, or building a house, nothing comes without effort. All these activities require reflection, planning, and preparation.

As such, I was also not surprised to read in related @jk_rowling tweets that she plans a lot.

I wrote in one of my older posts about “inspiration and perspiration” that it’s the mere 10% of upfront creativity that’s shaping success, while one needs a good dose of self-discipline to keep the following 90% of the process flowing. And, whether your blank page comes from a notebook, the back of a napkin, a roll of wall paper or a Microsoft Office file, a good storyboard, a mind map or a (color-coded) table will help you to light up your mind and fill that sheet.

Doing a bit more research, I stumbled upon this picture of Rowling’s spreadsheet plot for “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”:

(Image source: Mental Floss)

Ever since I read the first episode of her Harry Potter septology, I’m a J.K. Rowling fan – with great respect for the author as a writer, a storyteller, and an engaged human being. Yesterday’s tweet sequence is yet another confirmation of that for me.

An empirical evidence of Fubini’s law

Last week I wrote about the mysterious Mr Fubini, who created a law that describes the adoption of new technology. A faithful reader of my blog, however, remarked that it’s easy to formulate a theorem without any further proof. As a scientist by education (and a blogger only by vocation) I couldn’t ignore such a righteous remark. So, here comes an empirical evidence of Fubini’s law.

Maybe some of you remember my 2013 posting, “inspiration and perspiration”, in which I described the way my blog was getting shape at that time. How the topics to write about usually came while commuting to work on the tramway. And that, when an idea for an article popped up, it took me less than 10 minutes to create an outline on my Blackberry. Followed by about 3 more hours to elaborate, format, and publish the final article.

Well, in the meantime, technology has evolved and my good old keyboard-operated device has been replaced by a full-fledged smartphone. Yet, I still take the tram to work. My cell phone may have improved, but the traffic to and in Antwerp certainly got worse in the past years. If the weather allows (I’m not a big fan of turning up soaked at the office) I even get off the trolley car 2 or 3 stops too early, and walk the last mile – my fitness tracker corrects me that it’s about 3,000 steps – to work. That’s good for my physical condition, helps me think more clearly, and lets my creative juices flow.

There’s one big difference compared to 2013 (apart from me carrying a step counter): instead of typing down my thoughts, I simply record them now with the voice-recorder app on my phone, and write out the transcript when I arrive at the office…

Fubini’s law. Quod erat demonstrandum!

Please, note that I self-dictated a rough version of the above text on my phone while commuting this morning, then polished the transcript, and published it on WordPress. The whole process, including a healthy walk, took me a little less than two hours.

Beware the Oxford comma

Have you ever heard about the Oxford comma, also known as the Harvard comma, or the serial comma. No? Neither did I (although I just used one in the previous sentence) until I was confronted with this Sky News alert about the Nelson Mandela memorial service on December 10th, 2013:

“Top stories: World leaders at Mandela tribute, Obama-Castro handshake and same-sex marriage date set…”

I would never have imagined that there was something more behind that warm handshake between US president Obama and the Cuban leader Raul Castro, but that’s what I (thought I) was actually reading…

obama-castro-handshake

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a serial comma is “a comma used after the penultimate item in a list of three or more items, before ‘and’ or ‘or’ (e.g. an Italian painter, sculptor, and architect).”

Here are a few other sentences in which a small comma can make a big difference (the two first quotes are told to have appeared in The Times):

“Among these interviewed were Merle Haggard’s two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall.”

“Highlights of Peter Ustinov’s global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector.”

“During the sales team meeting they discussed the quarterly results, their key customers and their upcoming trip to Disneyland.”

Not all writers and publishers use it, and style experts disagree on whether it is required or not, but if you look at the examples above you’ll concur with me that the Oxford comma may actually be the most important punctuation mark in English (or any other tongue.)

Although commas only appear in written language, oral presenters may also benefit from punctuations. Silence sometimes says more than words, and the effective use of pauses turns an average speech into a dynamite speech. As such, it’s a good practice to insert a short moment of silence (while taking a breath) when a comma, a semicolon, or a period would be used in a printed text.

A colleagues of mine has even adopted the habit of (occasionally) speaking punctuations out loud. The first time you hear him talk like this … comma … it may sound a little bit weird … period … But when you think about it  … comma … it’s actually a good way to pace your speech … comma … to emphasize your message … Oxford comma … and to avoid confusing word constructions … full stop.

And if you follow the news you won’t have missed that the odd couple, Obama and Castro, recently had another date (their fourth one already) in Havana, to further deepen their relationship.

Inspiration and perspiration

“Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.” – Chuck Close

Ain’t it funny how time flies. This is already my last blog post before the summer holidays. Though I am neither a native English speaker (my mother tongue is Dutch) or a professional writer, blogging has been a good exercise, a positive experience and a great way to share my experience with an international audience – over the past 43 weeks I have counted 78 different nationalities among my readers!

It is often said that writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. This may be true in time, but (at least in my humble opinion) it’s this mere 10% of upfront creativity that’s shaping success.

  • Inspiration: in my case, new topics to write about usually come (don’t ask me why…) while commuting to work on the tramway. When an idea for a blog post pops up, it usually takes me less than 10 minutes to create an outline on my Blackberry and have a raw version of the text ready before I reach the office.
  • Perspiration: as almost none of my content exceeds the 500 words count, it usually takes between 2 and 3 hours to craft the final article, to author the blog and post it (or schedule publication) onto WordPress –  a great tool, by the way.

And there’s also a third parameter in the equation that is often overlooked:

  • Self-discipline: I keep a posts-in-progress file, with about ten (tentative) titles and working drafts on hand, of which I try to have at least two in an “(almost) ready for publication” state. This allows me to sustain a pace of releasing another piece of content each week.

For more advice on how to keep your blog content fresh, have a look at Mike Brown’s post on the Brainzooming blog.

What started 10 months ago as a casual writing exercise has become a new passion for me. So, to all visitors and readers of this blog: a big thank you for acknowledging my inspiration and transpiration by visiting the B2B Storytelling pages or the Belgian Network blog.

pen_and_paper

It’s time now to put my laptop asleep and refuel my inspiration. But stay tuned: the best is yet to come! I’ll be back in September with more stories, more best practices and more presentation tips.

How to write a paper

I started my career in R&I. As such I have published a couple of research papers and presented these at industry conferences around the globe.

Each time again I was surprised to see (undoubtedly) bright scientists appear on stage, reading the words (they had straightforwardly copied & pasted from their technical paper into PowerPoint slides) aloud from the projection screen. I won’t even mention the ones that were shamelessly presenting with their back to the audience.

Unfortunately I have also seldom experienced any thrill or excitement when listening to these –often interesting, but always boring– presentations.

Well, this is why I commenced doing it the other way around. Starting from an proper presentation pitch, a consistent storyboard and a compelling set of visuals, it’s actually fairly easy to create a clear, well structured and readable conference paper, white paper or magazine article (even illustrated with some relevant graphics). What works for listeners and viewers, may also work for readers.

Take the necessary time to follow the steps below. You’ll be surprised how quickly you have the first draft of your paper ready.

  1. Choose your topic, build your storyboard, create your presentation.
  2. Rehearse, present, fine-tune …
  3. … until content and flow are stable and resonate with the target audience.
  4. Write down speaker notes. Use the words, examples, anecdotes that worked well with the listeners.
  5. Copy & paste the notes into a text document (yes, now you ‘re allowed to use ctrl-c and ctrl-v).
  6. Add structure, layout, titles and images as necessary.
  7. Proofread, correct, reflow, reword … until you’re satisfied with the result.