Filed under "Tips and Hacks"

On Writing Well by William Zinsser

This book is great for anyone who’d like to write better non-fiction. In it, Zinsser outlines his four principles of effective writing: clarity, simplicity, brevity, and humanity.

I listened to the audiobook, which spans about two hours; after only thirty minutes, I already felt more confident about how to craft better non-fiction pieces.

Stein on Writing by Sol Stein

It’s clear in reading this book that Sol Stein thinks awfully highly of himself, but his confidence is well-deserved. The literary genius gives us everything we need to know to write compelling fiction—topics such as how to start a novel, building strong characters, constructing plot, and understanding the form and function of popular genres.

After reading this book, you’ll have no more excuses; go write your novel.

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As a manager, having difficult conversations comes with the territory. I’ve worked with others on difficult career transitions, delivered disappointing news, and addressed concerns over under-performance. It’s never simple, but I’ve found that it doesn’t have to be difficult.

As a quick tip if you find yourself in need of having a difficult conversation, don’t “prime” the topic with the person you’re speaking with.

In other words, don’t start with comments like, “this is going to be difficult,” or “I don’t want to be a jerk, but…”. Comments such as these only serve to tighten up the other person’s defenses before you’ve even started the conversation. If it begins with defensiveness, it’s incredibly difficult to lower those defenses.

In my view, “priming” difficult conversations is a defense mechanism. Perhaps we want the other person to empathize with the difficult position we’re in, but that’s rarely the result of “priming”. When I’ve been on the receiving end of those tough talks and the speaker “primed” the conversation, I could tell he was uncomfortable, which made me uncomfortable as well. I was immediately on edge, ready to defend myself against whatever “jerk” things he was about to tell me.

Instead, keep your initial comments brief, and dive into speaking directly and clearly. Don’t give into discomfort or nerves. Deliver your remarks with honesty, ensure the other person understands what you’re saying, and move on.

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February 15, 2017

How to Avoid Fake News

With news being as unreliable as ever these days, Associated Press brings us a few tips on how to spot Fake News:

  • URL look odd? That “com.co” ending on an otherwise authentic-looking website is a red flag. When in doubt, click on the “contact” and “about” links to see where they lead. A major news organization probably isn’t headquartered in a house.
  • Does it make you mad? False reports often target emotions with claims of outlandish spending or unpatriotic words or deeds. If common sense tells you it can’t be true, it may not be.
  • If it’s real, other news sites are likely reporting it.
  • How is the writing? Caps lock and multiple exclamation points don’t have a place in most real newsrooms.
  • Who are the writers and the people in the story? Google names for clues to see if they are legitimate, or not.
  • What are fact-checking sites like Snopes.com and FactCheck.org finding?
  • It might be satire. Sometimes foolish stories aren’t really meant to fool.
  • Think twice before sharing. Today, everyone is a publisher.

When in doubt, don’t trust it and don’t share it. Be diligent about verifying sources, and remember that the vast majority of news media and blogs were originally conceived as a way to entertain.

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Over the past few years, I’ve been motivated and influenced most by the following blogs:

Mr. Money Mustache – Finances

This guy retired at 30 without winning the lottery or selling a company. He simply lived on less and saved more money throughout his 20s. He has a fascinating story, and a money philosophy that anyone can adopt in their own life.

Nerd Fitness – Health and Fitness

Not only does it speak to my undeniable geekiness, but it speaks of a straightforward approach to improving your fitness—start with small habits and focus on “leveling up” your life with attainable goals and challenges.

Art of Manliness – Lifestyle

The classic blog dedicated to reviving the lost art of honorable manhood. I’ve been an avid reader for several years now, and it’s inspired me to be a better husband, a better co-worker, a better leader, and a better steward to those around me.

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January 30, 2017

Write Everyday

Write something. It doesn’t have to be for the world to see. Open a notebook and scribble notes. Start a journal. Write on the walls with broken crayons.

In this day and age, it’s more important than ever to articulate what you believe, think, and feel, and have a place where you can return to be reminded of it when it gets dark.

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Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

A must read for all current and future leaders. As you attain more power and influence, the fight against your ego will require much more of your focus. It’s a hard-won battle that must be fought each day.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

A primer to a more minimalist lifestyle. Take the time to focus on what’s truly important in life. Ignore the rest. Pursue less, but better.

Do Over by Jon Acuff

Needing a career change? This book will give you the motivation and tools you need to make the leap. It recently inspired my wife towards a brand new career in web development.

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Early in the book Stein on Writing by esteemed author and editor Sol Stein, we get a tip for how to improve the quality of our writing:

Wilmer Stone read our stories to us in a monotone, as if he were reading the pages of a phone directory. What we learned with each stab of pain was that the words themselves, and not the inflections supplied by the reader, had to carry the emotions of the story.

Today I … council my students to have their drafts read to them by a friend who has the least talent for acting, and is capable of reading words as if they had no meaning.

As an even better method of having your draft read aloud, use a Text-to-Speech app. This provides you with a narrator that reads your words in an awkward monotone, and won’t tire out like your friend with no acting talent.

Here’s a sample:

 

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February 23, 2016

The Conversation Game

Next time you strike up a conversation with someone, I would encourage you to play the following game:

Avoid talking about yourself for as long as possible. You can only talk about yourself if the other person asks you something about yourself.

You may be surprised at how much the other person enjoys this game (but only if they don’t know you’re playing).

If you haven’t already noticed, most people really enjoy talking about themselves. Even those who claim to hate talking about themselves simply haven’t had someone show genuine interest in what they have to say.

Once you get good at the game, you’ll notice a trend of great conversations. You may even start feeling icky when you have to talk about yourself.

If you get really good at the game, people may just start playing the game against you.

And that, my friends, is how you become great at conversation.

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