Too meta for words: a blog about why I’m not blogging

Today’s post brings my daily writing streak to 570 words. Not letting go of that, even as I try to wean myself off publishing something original in this space every day. Is this post feeling too meta already?

Well, it’s about to get even meta-er: Yesterday I wrote on Medium about my blogging hiatus. The piece got picked up by one of the more popular publications on the site, so that could be a nice visibility boost. (Another boost: if you read and enjoy the post, could you “clap” for it? Apparently that matters.)

It occurred to me even as I wrote the piece that writing about not-writing still counts as—well—as writing. So perhaps I can scratch my ideation itch every day anyway, even as I seek World Domination Through Marketing a wider audience.

metaAnd speaking of audiences: I’ve got a free webinar coming up on Monday, November 20th: “Say What You Want to Say”—a webinar for women who are ready to lead. I’ve got some stories to tell, some advice to share (expect that Seth Godin’s name will come up), and we can talk through some solutions. I’ll be leading the webinar live in the morning and evening, Eastern time, so the far-flung folks in my tribe don’t have to stay up to the wee hours to participate. Click on the link or the photo to register; I’d love to see you.

What’s in your story vault?

What's in your story vault?The women at my table went wild, which surprised me. All I’d done was answer the ice-breaker question “What’s the most fun you’ve ever had at a business event?” For some reason, a 30-year-old story bubbled up in my mind. I’d locked it away in my story vault — probably haven’t told it more than twice since it happened.

But I told it that night.

And when I saw how my listeners reacted to it, I realized it’s not just an amusing story; it’s an important story. It says something about me and about how my clients value me. It points to possibilities—if that can happen to me, it can happen to you, too, when you own your expertise.

I had locked the story away for decades because it felt like bragging. I’ll bet you have a story vault of your own.

Isn’t it time to let those stories out?

Join me for my free webinar next Monday, “Say What You Want to Say: for women leaders who are ready to be heard.”

I designed this webinar to help you get past the stories you always tell and find the stories you should be telling. And I’ll give you some tips on how to tell them memorably.

Join me on November 20th at 10a.m. or 7p.m. Eastern. I run a very interactive webinar, so I’ll be leading it live in both time slots.

It’s priceless advice from an award-winning speechwriter. And on November 20th, it’s free.

What happened? — Frequent Questions

Q: What happened?
A: Glad you missed me.

I took Sunday off from blogging. I think some people thought I’d fallen in a sinkhole.

Nope. I’m fine. And my writing streak remains intact—567 days in a row as of yesterday.

It’s easy for me to talk to you here about whatever’s on my mind. And it’s fun, too. But if it was supposed to be fun all the time, they wouldn’t call it “work,” would they?

I need to spend more time wrasslin’ with Marketing Block. And less time writing blog posts.

For now.


Do you need some practice speaking up at work? Join me for “Say What You Want to Say”—a webinar for women who are ready to lead. Priceless advice from an award-winning business speechwriter: On November 20th, it’s free.

What do speeches and coffee have in common?

coffeeAsk a speechwriter what speeches have in common with coffee and you’ll likely hear that they consume lots of the latter while churning out the former.

Not me. And not just because my caffeine of choice is tea.

I think we make great speeches in much the same way we make a good cup of coffee:

  • Gather the right blend of raw materials
  • Grind them to suit your needs
  • Allow creativity (or hot water, which sometimes feels like the same thing) to connect the ingredients in new ways
  • Filter the results into the vessel of your choice
  • Inhale deeply & enjoy

Gather your speaker’s ideas and do additional research as needed — every speech is a blend. Break these down into smaller components; too many complex ideas and you’ll lose your audience. Filter the materials through what you understand of the speaker’s sensibilities and experience. And add creativity to bring all the disparate inputs together into a smooth, deeply satisfying brew.

Of course, you don’t just filter the ideas through your speaker’s experience. You filter them through your own as well — you can’t help it.

As a speechwriter, I have to capture the speaker’s diction and syntax, but ultimately the words come out of my brain, through my fingers pounding my keyboard. If speeches came with credits, the byline would be Speaker/Elaine’s-Understanding-of-Speaker/Speaker-Filtered-by-Elaine.

On second thought, maybe it’s good thing speeches don’t have bylines.

Your (Coffee) Filter, Yourself

After 25 years of putting words in executives’ mouths, I’m used to writing like someone else. But the writers in my advanced writing class are becoming used to writing like themselves. Too used to it sometimes. So I thought I’d shake things up a little. At the end of one of our classes, I said, “This week, write like each other.”

Now, that’s not an assignment I would give just any group. The writers in question have been working with me in various programs for nearly a year now; they’ve developed a level of familiarity and trust you don’t usually find in online workshops.

So I knew when I said, “Write like each other” and assigned the partners, they wouldn’t run off and write parodies. I wanted them to capture the essence of the other writer’s work and filter it through their own sensibilities. I wasn’t looking for them to replicate each other’s voices, but to look at the topic through their partner’s eyes and tell us about the view.

One of my writers wondered if she’d gotten the assignment wrong. She wrote that although she’d tried to think like her partner, “it still came out through my own filters.”

Yes! And it was beautiful, too. Not her voice, and not her partner’s voice, but a lovely blend that produced something completely different. In fact, it ranks among the best work this writer has done as she shakes off the legalese she’s been speaking and writing for decades.

But of course it all got filtered through her experience. That’s part of the process.

Start with the freshest ingredients you can find, run them through your own filters, and hope for a result that opens people’s eyes. (Foam garnish optional.)


Retreat? Did somebody say “retreat”? Yes indeed. Check out my year-end retreat — two and a half days to focus on your story, improve your writing, and enjoy the community of a select group of only six women writers. Will you be one of them?

Marketing Block — Writer’s Block’s evil twin

marketing blockI don’t believe in writer’s block. I’ve written about that dozens of times, including this post about Fran Lebowitz’s decades-long block. But when I came across that post the other day, I had a new appreciation for what Lebowitz has gone through. Writer’s block may not be real, but I’ve been locked in mortal combat with its evil twin for a couple of weeks now. Marketing Block. It’s a bitch.

Interviewed in 1993 for The Paris Review, Lebowitz talked about the pain of not writing:

“Not writing is probably the most exhausting profession I’ve ever encountered. It takes it out of you. It’s very psychically wearing not to write—I mean if you’re supposed to be writing.”

Replace “writing” with “marketing” and you have a snapshot of my life the past month. “Exhausting,” “psychically wearing”—Fran, I see those adjectives and I’ll raise you “painful.”

Of course, if writer’s block isn’t real…

Damn. Really?

I’ve been suffering for a month from something that doesn’t exist?

Marketing Block and the F-Word

In my blog post last spring, I wrote:

If you invent an external reason for your inaction, you don’t have to face the (probable) internal reason—a reason Lebowitz identifies as fear.

At this point, I gotta tell you, “fear” isn’t the only F-word floating around in my head. Perhaps I’ve been too smug about people who fear writing so much they pathologize not doing it. They may be inventing the condition, but they’re not inventing the pain they experience from it. Neither am I.

Okay, time to pick myself up and deploy some well-placed F-words in the direction of my fear. Maybe if I tell Marketing Block I’ve decided it’s not real, it will get the hell out of town.



Do you need some practice speaking up at work? Join me for “Say What You Want to Say”—a webinar for women who are ready to lead. Priceless advice from an award-winning business speechwriter: On November 20th, it’s free.

Words matter. Use them wisely.

How much do words matter?

Last October, I wrote about a chilling article in The Guardian that asked:

“What happens when political language fails?”

The writer, former BBC director general Mark Thompson, offered an answer…:

“From the fall of Athens to the rise of totalitarianism, observers from Thucydides to George Orwell have associated a breakdown in public language – or rhetoric, to give it a more traditional name – with the failure of democracy, loss of freedom, civil strife and, ultimately, tyranny and murder.”

It’s not just fancy speechifying that’s gone missing in the United States these days. Even in conversation, even when answering questions, our politicians and their spokespeople lie with impunity. Words have often ceased to be meaningful indicators of reality—whether they emanate from the White House or from the Congress.

This administration and their Congressional enablers have done a great deal of damage to our country and to many people—especially the marginalized people—who live here. But it may be that the worst damage they have done is to our language.

Words matter. Or they should.

words matter
Peter Pan and his shadow by Oliver Herford, The Peter Pan Alphabet, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1907, page 39, Public Domain

We can boot the lying bastards out of office—and this past Tuesday’s elections clearly showed that’s the direction we’re headed—but how can we reunite word and meaning?

It’s like sewing on Peter Pan’s shadow: the operation only works if you believe in it. And the problem here is that many people no longer believe what they hear.

In a blog post just before the inauguration, I wrote:

It’s a tough time to be a word person.

With people doubting even long-established facts, the very building blocks of a wordsmith’s trade threaten to become meaningless. It’s as if someone decided that instead of making bricks out of stone—or whatever bricks are made of—we’ll now make them out of papier-mâché and pretend it’s the same thing.

You can stand there shouting about engineering and the immutable laws of nature until you’re blue in the face. But you’re not going to reach the people who’ve decided that facts don’t matter. Until, perhaps, their papier-mâché chimneys go up in smoke.

Oh, who am I kidding? When that happens, they’ll just blame the logs.

Don’t shout. Listen. And Talk.

Shouting won’t help anything. But listening will. And talking face to face, heart to heart.

Conversations won the elections for Democrats last Tuesday, as tens of thousands of people canvassed for their candidates. One activist on a recent episode of Pod Save America said that supporters of Planned Parenthood had knocked on over 300,000 doors in Virginia in recent weeks. And let’s not forget the people across the country who worked the phone banks, calling voters to find out and address their concerns.

Conversations—remember those?

Those conversations worked. And we have to keep having them, and expand the circles of people we reach.

I quoted Neil Gaiman in that “it’s a tough time to be a word person” post.

He said “Words are more important they ever were” because “We navigate the world with words” and

“People who cannot understand each other cannot communicate.”

And people who cannot communicate cannot fix what’s broken about our democracy.

So get talking. Because words matter.


Do you need some practice speaking up at work? Join me for “Say What You Want to Say”—a webinar for women who are ready to lead. Priceless advice from an award-winning business speechwriter: On November 20th, it’s free.

“Why we write” — inspiration from Neil Gaiman

Do you ever hit what Seth Godin called “The Dip”? Nothing matters. The act of making words appear with your fingertips no longer seems magical; it seems like a slog. You wonder why you even bother to write.

You, my friend, need a hit of Neil Gaiman.

"Somewhere out there is someone who needs that story. Someone who...without that story will be a different person. And who with that story may have hope, or wisdom, or kindness, or comfort. And that is why we write."

Hope, wisdom, kindness, comfort—I can’t think of better gifts. It’s like wrapping your readers in a soft, hand-knitted afghan. And then surrounding them with puppies. (Assuming they’re not allergic to puppies.)

However hard the writing may be, it can’t compare with the payoff for your reader. Whatever story you’re telling, someone needs to hear it. So write, already.



Do you need some practice speaking up at work? Join me for “Say What You Want to Say”—a webinar for women who are ready to lead. Priceless advice from an award-winning business speechwriter: On November 20th, it’s free.

What can I do when I get nervous? — Frequent Questions

Q: What do I do when I get nervous?
A: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

A friend of mine gave a speech yesterday. “I’m nervous,” she told me.

My response? “Good. That means you’re alive.”

Really, folks, everybody gets nervous.

That speech you’re so nervous about giving, I bet you were nervous about writing it, too. But you survived the writing and you will survive the reading. The key to both is:

Don’t pathologize it.

nervous
got nerves?

Being nervous is just part of the process. Like making sure you put the page numbers at the top of each page. Like printing out two copies of the draft, so you’re sure to remember one. Like tapping the pages on the lectern to make sure they’re all lined up neatly before you speak. It’s a process.

I guarantee that every speaker—no matter how experienced—feels butterflies. But the pros just say, “Hey, butterflies. How ya doin’?” Breathe, maybe strike a power pose in the bathroom. Stand up straight and walk onstage with a smile. Maybe the butterflies will flutter after you. But once you hear the first applause or laughter, you’ll relax into it.

If you’ve rehearsed your piece—you have rehearsed your piece, haven’t you?—you’ll be fine.


Do you need some practice speaking up at work? Join me for “Say What You Want to Say”—a webinar for women who are ready to lead. Priceless advice from an award-winning business speechwriter: On November 20th, it’s free.

Speaking up — a hairy story

The universe has a wacky sense of humor. No sooner do I start writing about the importance of brave communication than I’m thrown into a situation that requires speaking up for myself.

Was it scary? Yes, sadly. And that’s all the more ridiculous because the incident involved would barely register on the scale of all of the #metoo outrages we’ve been reading about in the last month or so.

I could have walked away. Perhaps in the past I would have walked away. No, no–if I’m going to be honest here, I’m going to be 100% honest: I have walked away in the past. Hasn’t every woman? (And apparently every man who’s been within an arm’s length of Kevin Spacey.)

But then I thought about all I’ve been writing lately about speaking up, communicating like a leader. And so I spoke up. Here’s the story.

The 12-year-old boy inside the grown-ass man

Sunday morning, heading down the hall to the choir room to don my robe, this older dude from the choir is walking behind me. As we pass the church’s thrift store holding room, he says, “You need a hair dryer.”

speaking upI thought perhaps someone had donated an ancient hair dryer and he was making a joke about it. I said, “What?”

He repeats, “You need a hair dryer,” and then flips the back of my hair.

For the record, my hair was perfectly dry–and awesomely shiny thanks to my new shampoo. But even if I’d just climbed out of Cape Cod Bay, the dude–I didn’t even know his name (it’s New England; I haven’t been introduced to half the people in the choir)–had no standing to comment on my appearance. And even less standing to touch me.

This is the second time an old man at this church has touched me and spoken to me as if I were his child. 

I hadn’t visited the church more than a handful of times, but after one service I took out my phone to note an upcoming church event in my calendar. Dude sweeps by and slaps me on the shoulder, saying, “Put that thing away!” He may have thought his avuncular smile would mitigate his intrusiveness. It didn’t. But it did delay my reaction–took me maybe a week to figure out that he was treating me like his child.

So when this second dude touched me on Sunday, I recognized the gesture for what it was. My friend Angie described it best: “rude, impulsive, and thoughtless.” And while part of me wished fervently that I could just walk away, the rest of me realized I’d never forgive myself if I did.

I spent the entire service considering my response. The more I thought about it, the more juvenile his behavior seemed. Like a 12-year-old boy insulting a girl and then pushing her just so he could touch her–because that’s the only way he can think of to get her to notice him.

This dude hasn’t been a 12-year-old boy since before I was born. And I wondered how his wife (also in the choir) would feel about his juvenile need to get other women to “notice him.” Yep, I needed to speak to both of them together. Or at least make sure she heard whatever I said to him.

Speaking up — scary but satisfying

Back in the choir room after the service, I waited until the wife showed up and then I walked over to the dude and said, “Sir”–that was probably the hardest word to get out of my mouth, since I felt zero respect for him. But I wanted to get his attention. I said, “Sir, I don’t know your name.”

He told me his name and stuck out his hand, which I shook. Perhaps he’d been expecting pleasantries. This is what he got:

“I just wanted to tell you that I don’t appreciate you insulting my hair. And you do not have permission to touch me. What in the world would make you think that you could touch a woman you don’t even know?”

About halfway through my little speech, his head dropped.

“I’m sorry,” he said to his shoes.

As I turned to walk away he told his toes, “I meant no offense.”

I drove out of the church parking lot, my heart pounding, and stopped in the nearest safe place to calm down and regroup.

“Just” and justice

It would have been so easy to walk away. After all, he “just” touched my hair, he didn’t shove his fist in my crotch like the giant assh*le who tried to rape me in college. But it’s all on the same continuum:

Your body doesn’t belong to you; as a man, I can touch or grope or worse. If I don’t choose to acknowledge your agency as an adult human being, then you have none. Tough titties. (Oooh, titties!)

So I set aside the “just” (he just touched my hair) in favor of justice. It’s my own variation of the old Broken Windows policing theory–serve notice about every personal intrusion, every boundary crossed without permission, no matter how small. Because if you don’t tell the perpetrators you care about the small transgressions, they have no incentive to stop. And some of them will escalate to even larger transgressions.

I’m sure I bewildered the old dude by getting angry about something he’s done hundreds of times in his life. But I guarantee you his shoes were more confused than he was: You’re sorry? What, for not using the shoehorn this morning?

Still, you know, I’m okay with leaving a string of bewildered, handsy dudes in my wake. We need to tell them this is not normal or acceptable behavior. For sure someone should have done that before. But now it’s our turn; we need to take it.


Do you need some practice speaking up at work? Join me for “Say What You Want to Say”–a webinar for women who are ready to lead. Priceless advice from an award-winning business speechwriter: On November 20th, it’s free.

“Say what you want to say” — brave communications

What do you think about when you think about courage, bravery? We don’t often think about brave communications — but that’s exactly what singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles and her co-writer Jack Antonoff had in mind when they wrote “Brave.” (See yesterday’s blog post for a link to the song’s video.)

Bareilles wanted to support a good friend who was struggling to come out as gay. Maybe that’s not your exact story. But the message about brave communications can apply to anyone—even in the business world. Especially in the business world.

“Say what you want to say.” Do you have an idea to share? An opinion? Someone out there needs to hear it.

brave communicationsIf you’re like many people—and especially many women—you probably feel unprepared. So prepare.

If you struggle to make yourself heard, discover how to speak and write memorably.

If you find your ideas being co-opted by others just seconds after you’ve voiced them, discover how to leverage your own story to make those ideas uniquely yours.

If you secretly wonder why anyone should listen to you, uncover the power of your voice. And use it!

Brave communications, the key to success

When you write something so engaging that people can’t help sharing it, no one can deny your expertise.

When you connect to your listeners or readers with emotion and heart, your ideas become memorable. They become yours. And no one can take them away from you.

So whether you’re looking to build a platform externally—to become recognized as an expert—or you’re looking to boost your credibility inside your own organization, communication skills can help.

When you write better than your peers, tell stories more powerfully than your peers, you will separate yourself from your peers. You will stand out. You will shine.

Saying “what you want to say” is only the first part of the challenge. You need your audience to hear you. And I can help you there.

Join me on Monday November 20th and explore how you can

“Say What You Want to Say”

This webinar is for women only? Yes. Some of my best clients have been men—and of course I’ll continue to work with men. But I’m reserving this training just for people who identify as women. (What can I say? Ten years of single-sex education leaves a mark.)

Brave communication is easier than you think—if you have the right tools and know how to use them. So join us. Like Sara Bareilles,

“I want to see you be brave.”


Say when you want to join us in “Say What You Want to Say.” I’ll be leading the program live on November 20th at 10am and 7pm Eastern. Click here to register.