Trick Yourself into Walking

Each day, I look back and figure out what life lesson I learned that day. Then I share it with the world to feel like I did something that day. Here is today’s lesson…

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Most days, I know the lesson I am going to share either as it happens or at least by the end of the day. Some days, however, I agonize over each moment of the previous few days to figure out what I learned. If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you know some days are a stretch but it is still a great exercise. Now, I see lessons everywhere, all the time, as if I have built up my “life lesson detection” muscles.

Except when I don’t. Sometimes I just sit at my laptop for a unnervingly long time, staring into space, not really seeing what is in front of me but rather looking at the day before. This means I spend a lot of time sitting at my desk, doing essentially nothing.

So, I came up with a plan to encourage my life-lesson-detection muscles when they are feeling reluctant, as well as encourage my actual physical muscles. If I do not know what the day’s lesson is, I go for a walk until I figure it out. Since I am lazy, I tend to find the lesson quickly but sometimes the walk can seem endless.

I like this plan because it is a win-win. If I figure out the lesson quickly, fine. That means I spent less time sitting in front of a screen, day-dreaming, which means more time for physical movement elsewhere. If it takes a while to figure out the day’s lesson, fine. That means I spent less time sitting in front of a screen, and I had more physical movement while being creative.

I like being productive, exploring, and thinking, but I hate exercise for the sake of exercise. Any way I can combine the two seems to work for me. For example, you will never see me at the gym mindlessly picking up heavy stuff and putting it back down so I can pick it up again. Hardly a weekend passes, though, when I am not on a paddle board, or bicycling, or walking, or exploring some new part of downtown or trekking some nature trail.

If you are like me, think about some ways you can trick yourself into exercise by combining ideas and setting up mini-games (like, you have to walk until you come up with a blog post idea).

Good luck. Have fun.

 

 

 

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It’s Better Than You Think

You never know what will resonate with people.

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I am still surprised when I talk about a favorite album, that somebody will almost always think the best song is the song I thought was the worst song on the album.

The same is true of my work. Often, the thing I put the most work into–the thing I am really proud of–feels like it is completely overlooked by my audience (or bosses, or friends, or family, etc.). On the other hand, the thing that demanded comparatively little energy, time, or intellect to complete will be one of my best received efforts.

There are a lot of reasons why your best is sometimes overlooked. It could be that your timing was not good, or that people’s concentration is elsewhere at the moment, or it is more interesting to you than to others. Regardless of the reason, do not take it personally.

I used to feel frustrated when a blog post I worked on for weeks bombed, and I would feel confused when a post I blew off in 10 minutes generated the most views or shares that month.

Now, whether I feel the post (or work) is good or bad, or whether people seem to love it or dismiss it, I like to believe either way it is probably better than I think.

 

 

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It’s Not As Good As You Think

The funny thing about writing is… yours always sucks.

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Because I blog daily, it does not leave much time for editing. That is probably a good thing because before I started publishing content every day, I would publish once per month or less. My pieces were long and polished to a fault. I never built an audience because I barely created reading material for them.

Some days (well, if I am being honest–most days), I have to work my brain hard to create content, or I am not in the mood to write, or I am busy with other things and it is tough to publish that day, etc.

Every now and then, though, I furiously write a piece I think is going to generate a big reaction. I am always wrong, but in the midst of writing it, I think it is a tour de force of creation, wit, wisdom, and intellectual prowess. I don’t even read it over to check for typos. It is just that good. Then I go back and read it a week later and it is the worst thing I think I have ever written. There are typos, run-on sentences, meandering thoughts in the middle, muddy logic, and amateur errors.

This is probably one of the pieces. If I have time, I will edit it and republish, but the curse of daily content is I rarely get to go back and polish a mediocre post into a great post.

A great tip for aspiring writers is to always let your work “breathe” before you edit it. Write everything down. Wait a week (or ten), and then re-read it. You will not believe you wrote it. Only do this once or twice, though.

The only thing worse than sharing not-your-best work is sharing no work at all.

 

 

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Trash of the Titans

Today’s Lesson: Remember what a story is and what makes it resonate.

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**Warning: mildly offensive language in this post (most of my posts are foul-language free so I am just letting you know…)**

In the remake of “Clash of the Titans” (the one from 2010 starring Sam Worthington), Perseus (our hero) is rallying his team to fight Medusa who, with one look, can turn a person to stone. He says at the end of a mildly moving speech, “Trust your senses… (dramatic pause)… and don’t look this bitch in the eye!” Cue big swell of music and team roaring in approval.

I imagine a room full of tee-shirt wearing, pimply writers practically ruining their frayed jeans when they laid that gem down. No doubt there were chest bumps all around and someone shouted, “Man, that is SO Badassss!”

But no. It is not. It is just bad writing.

It is supposed to add punch to the speech, but it pulls the viewer out of the film in a couple ways. I am not sure if the word “bitch” was around during the time Greek mythology was created, but it is a contemporary word nonetheless and immediately draws your attention to it and then to the context. “Trust your senses,” followed by, “…And don’t look (her) in the eye!” is terrible advice, considering vision is one of your senses. Not to mention, “trust your senses” is terrible leadership advice. It is like saying, “Okay, team. The situation is bad. Here is our strategy for success, though: do your best.”

Finally, most people in the movie’s target audience know the story of Medusa and Perseus and how it turns out (this is a remake of a movie that was a retelling of a story that is nearly a thousand years old and part of basic elementary school education). Those lines add no “punch” or value to the unnecessary foreshadowing of what is to come. Why not choose clever writing instead? Or just fair writing. Anything that is a step up from groan-inducing.

Apparently, in the 2010 version of the story, instead of having the power to turn people to stone, Medusa had the power to turn writers to Dumb.

When you tell a story (even if you are not a writer), keep in mind one thing that makes it compelling is that the hero faces increasingly challenging choices, with more at stake at each turn.

In fact, a story (if you ask me) is mostly a series of set-ups for bigger and bigger choices. Consider this: “I went to the store yesterday,” is not a compelling story. But, “I went to the store yesterday and saw the tattooed woman in line ahead of me had her hand in her torn denim jacket pocket, around the butt of a gun…”

That probably compels someone to say, “Oh, wow. What did you do?”

You would want to know what choice I made. Did I confront the woman with the gun? Did I pretend not to notice and walk away? Did I call for help?

“I waited until she was at the register and when she moved to pull her hand out of her pocket, I grabbed her elbow and pushed it back so she couldn’t actually extend her arm. Confused, she looked at me, and then looked directly at the cashier…”

Now, you have to know what happened. The stakes just went way up. What did I do? Did I try to subdue her? Did she succeed in pulling the gun anyway (and then what did I do)? When she looked at me, did I slowly shake my head, indicating she better not try anything? Did I call for security? What happened next?

Realizing that she and the cashier were now eye-to-eye, I did the only thing I could do. I shouted at the cashier, “Don’t look this bit*h in the eye!”

But it was too late. The story had already turned to Dumb.

 

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Writing Versus Thinking

Today’s Lesson: Reading is fundamental, but re-reading is essential if you want to be understood.

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One of my favorite posts so far this year is this one, about embracing “weirdness” at organizations. It also happens to be one of my least read so far, and that was bugging me until I went back and read it.

When I re-read that post, I realized it was bloated and confusing. It was not written well. I cleaned it up a little but it is still not where I want it. This, I think, is definitely one of the trade-offs to having a daily blog. I write every day and I have a full-time job plus other hobbies and social commitments. There is not much time for refining or editing.

Typically, the process is I write it once and I read it once, editing as I go. What the wonderful spelling and grammar checker built into WordPress misses and what I miss… are missed. There is bound to be minor errors in some (probably most) of my posts but I have learned to be okay with them for the sake of moving on and continuing to put out new material.

It is rare that I go back and re-read a post once it is published, but the “Office Spaced” post, I thought, was a gem and I was wondering why it ranked so low. Was it the time of day I posted? The day of the week? The title? Keywords? Was Google not finding it?

I by no means consider myself an expert or authoritative blogger and I have never gone out of my way to build a platform and audience but I like to know what hits and what misses and have at least a general idea why.

What I have mostly found is if it is written well, people usually find it (and share it). The funny thing is, I am certain I fall into the same trap as many would-be writers. When I go back and read my writing, I fill in the blanks with my mind. In other words, I know what I meant and that is what I hear in my head.

Going back and reading your work again a few days or weeks later, and then editing, is a common trick to prevent filling in the blanks. The idea is no longer fresh at that point so you don’t remember what you meant and read it more like a new reader.

The point, as you have by now guessed, is this: it always sounds better in your head.

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Today’s Lesson: It’s True. I Are Perfect. [141009]

It was like hearing angels sing.

“No writing errors were found.” I use WordPress to host my blog and one of the best features (that many bloggers miss) is the spelling and grammar check.

Obviously, posting every single day plus having a full-time job, working on other projects, and holding together a semi-social life means I do not have a lot of time for editing. I give each post a once-over but that is about it. I know there are sometimes errors (because I catch them later) like an extra or omitted word but generally I think I do a decent job.

Nonetheless, every day, when I press the “publish” button (that is, when I am at the point of no return and today’s post is going public, mistakes and all…), I take a deep breath and wait for the grammar engine to do its thing. It usually comes back with a solid suggestion or two (things like, “all the time in the world” is a cliché term, or “redundant expression” when I say “And furthermore…”).

Every now and then, though, my heart skips a beat and I get a little dopamine rush of joy when I see the words pop up on the screen, “No writing errors were found”. I feel like I won a prize! I don’t have to double-check any clichés or redundant expressions. Yay!

Today’s lesson is: recognize the little things that make you happy and celebrate them like they are big things. Sometimes they really are.

 

 


 


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