Jonathan's Blog

Jonathan's Blog

Mindful Leadership and Technology (Mostly Software)


Writing Process

Words: Always Open Source

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When you read something, all of it is right there on the page or screen. 100% of the art is present and can be evaluated, analyzed, and understood.

This is not true of most other things in this world, including other types of art. In other art forms the artifice can and often does conceal the structure, but with writing it never does.

Of course, even with writing, what you don't see is the process that was used to achieve the finished product: edits, deletions, false starts, things thrown away entirely, etc.

But the effect and the way that words were used to create that effect are all in front of you.

The thing with a writing process is that you need to develop one. How do you write? How do you start? How do you edit? Who helps you? What are your sources of inspiration?


Technology Writing Twitter

Things That Don't Work #1

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Twitter -> Profile -> Settings and Privacy -> Muted Words

Add -> http

So what does this tell us?

Well, I guess links aren't words, nor do they contain words as far as Twitter is concerned.

It wasn't terribly shocking to me that it didn't work, given all the things that Twitter does with links. We shouldn't be surprised that they do different things and are treated differently.

I wasn't planning to leave the mute on forever, but I did want to see what the sum total of my followed content looked like if you took the links out of it.

I'll have to find another way to do that.

Why does it matter? Well, there are days where I feel like Twitter is the writing assignment and I actually want to say something useful that isn't a link to something else.

I'm interested in seeing who else does that and what they say.


Blog Writing

Seth's Blog - Conclusion and Moving On

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Here are links to the earlier pieces:

Here's what I've learned from all this:

  • Define your core themes. Find something that is broad enough to give you latitude in your topic choices so that you can:
  • Understand and make an emotional appeal to your audience. What is it about your blog that will connect with your audience?
  • Write with a broad view of your subject matter and do it intentionally (not out of sloppiness). This will help you appeal to your audience - they think about their own work the same way.
  • Surprise is a useful tool - a number of his good posts rely on an interesting setup (fences, gravity) with a very engaging reveal in the last sentence.
  • You can use multiple voices (first person, second person, third person). Probably best to use first person singular sparingly - good for when you have a strong point to make, but it will sound too familiar if you're always doing it.
  • By contrast, starting with first person plural (we) is a good way to involve your audience in your post.
  • Change voices with intent and good reason, or don't do it.

All of this is predicated on knowing your core theme(s), without that the rest of this stuff is probably mechanical.

If your core themes aren't clear to you yet, start writing anyway. But until you can write your core theme(s) down, you are working toward having one and you need to keep this in mind.

You aren't really writing this type of professional blog without a solid understanding of the core theme(s), knowing what you want to say, and figuring out who you want to say it to.


Blog Writing Influence Mindfulness

Dissecting Seth's Blog - Part 4 - Emotional Appeal

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Underlying a lot of what makes Seth's Blog appealing is that he makes a very strong connection with his reader.

What makes this work is what I wrote about at the tail end of Part 3 - his expansive notions of how creativity and work can have a profound impact on the world. This is easy to identify with and get excited about.

This has intellectual components, but is largely an emotional appeal.

I don't agree with all of his blog posts, which is to say, intellectually some of them don't connect with me. However, I do keep reading his blog because of the connection I feel with the core themes: I also want to be a person doing important, creative work and changing the world.

Here is where theme selection probably matters most. To use my earlier example of desk chairs - it will be much harder to write an emotionally engaging, attention grabbing blog on the subject of desk chairs than on the subject of 'creativity at work'.

Here's a blog that makes a strong point:

Cursing Gravity

The logic of this doesn't hold up great if you spend too much time reading into his analogy. After all, are we going to seek to have gravity banned? No, we aren't.

But because it's short and because paragraph 2 packs such a punch against the backdrop of paragraph 1 - you feel a deep connection to it and its theme of 'focus on what your trying to accomplish, not on the forces you need to overcome.'

It rings true on an emotional level. We can all say 'ah, yes' and think of times or places when we ourselves or others got too focused on the wrong (usually negative) thing and wasted a lot of time and energy.

There aren't a lot of words here to get hung up on. Just the message and a strong emotional message in the last sentence that reveals why we shouldn't waste our time on the other stuff.

On the emotional appeal (which most of us want and need to have with our reader) you have some key points to think about:

  1. Choosing a theme that lends itself to this sort of broad connection.
  2. Making emotional appeals to those themes with our readers in addition to intellectual appeals.
  3. An element of build up or revelation is useful to make that connection.

That's it. I will probably write a short conclusion to all this with what I've learned. But after that I will leave Seth alone.


Influence Writing Blog Creativity

Dissecting Seth's Blog - Part 3 - Taking the Broader Perspective

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Here is the 'Toward Civilazation' blog post from Seth's blog:

Toward Civilization

This is Seth at his most profound, making a case for something important. What intrigues me about this is how he links these posts into his primary theme. I mentioned in my initial intro that I sum up his primary theme like this: 'Creativity in the workplace.'

Here is the link in this article: the challenges to the agent of change (the person thinking creatively about a problem) are the same whether you are seeking to make a change in a workplace or in the culture at large.

And the forces of the status quo or inertia or 'we've always done it this way' apply the same back pressure, regardless of where the conflict arises.

Because of these similarities Seth can take his theme (creativity in the workplace) and carry it to a much broader audience on a much broader stage (creativity in the culture and its generally civilizing influence).

As a writer, it is very appealing to have this freedom, and by choosing your core themes carefully, you can find ways to do it.

But even more important than what you choose as a theme is your own thinking and writing. How you execute and what you choose to write about affects your ability to do something like this.

You might choose the theme desk chairs. If you mostly blog about the price of desk chairs at local stores, it is hard to make the leap to suddenly consider the importance of sitting in civilization.

But, if you choose to write sometimes about price, sometimes about design, sometimes about your personal experience, sometimes about the experience of others, and sometimes about the desk chair you saw on the side of the road, then you give yourself the freedom, and your audience the mental latitude, to consider desk chairs in a broader perspective.

By writing this way, you also give your audience a vision of themselves as part of something larger. In Seth's case he is saying, "You can see that what we do is part of something bigger. Our desire to make things better is part of the civilizing influence which ties us to the forward movement of mankind and the great motion of history."

That is a powerful method to motivate people in their own individual struggles and to keep them coming back to you for more thoughts and more writing.

Here is my favorite quote. It is worth thinking about, on its own:

Every day, with every action, to make something more civilized.


Writing Blog Influence Narrative Voice

Dissecting Seth's Blog - Part 2 - Merely Transactional

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Link to Part 1

Here is a recent post from Seth's Blog that makes interesting use of first person narrative voice:

There's a quick introduction of the first person perspective in paragraph 2, "I'm not a football fan."

And then the rest of the post is written in second and third person until the very last paragraph where the author's voice suddenly appears again.

This is a nice setup - the first person gets a brief intro in an early place. It's not intrusive, just a quick, Hi I'm here.

This way, when the author brings it in for strong effect in the final paragraph "I think .... " it isn't coming totally out of the blue, but it does have a pretty strong rhetorical force because:

  1. Unlike the earlier first person writing, it expresses a strong opinion.
  2. You get an even more forceful "Maybe your customers...". Not only has the author suddenly appeared, now he is talking directly to me.

Only here in the end does the author suddenly appear with a Message for You. Because the earlier, informal introduction of the first person this does not feel forced, contrived, or terribly surprising.

This is another really nice piece of writing. For the most part you're allowed to experience a story, it isn't directly connected to you. You're allowed to digest the parable. Only in the end is it revealed how this applies to business and why it might be about you.

Can you use this in your writing playbook? I wouldn't overuse it, but if you had a point you really wanted to put your endorsement on, it could definitely be used (sparingly).