Thanks, writers.

thanksYes I love my friends and family (and my canine assistant Fenway, too). But when I look through my daily lists of gratitudes, one word pops up more than any other: Writing.

I’m grateful that I get to do it—and for a living, even. So thanks to my clients, and to those of you who read what I write under my own name, here and elsewhere.

I’m grateful that I get to read it—so many writers doing beautiful, important, moving work.

  • If you haven’t discovered Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast, you have two seasons’ worth of glorious binge-listening ahead of you. Today would be a fine time to start.
  • And while I’ve always found Masha Gessen’s work fascinating, it’s become even more urgent (if depressing) as the country I love slides toward authoritarianism.
  • David Litt, a fellow speechwriter, made me laugh out loud with his White House memoir.
  • And Elizabeth Gilbert gives me hope. I don’t have a satisfying link for that; guess I’ll have to write about her soon.

And I’m grateful that I get to teach it. It’s a cliché that you learn from your students. But clichés become clichés because they’re true. My writers inspire me with their questions, their insights, their excellent work in a jaw-dropping number of genres. And their courage.

I’m grateful to everyone who writes and pushes their work out of the nest. Thank you for letting the rest of us share your ideas and wonder at your creativity.

So here’s a Thanksgiving blessing for you, my fellow writers:

May your desk chairs be comfy and your WiFi be strong.

I look forward to seeing what we all come up with next.


Need a jumpstart to get yourself writing? Mark your calendars for my next quarterly 5×15 Writing Challenge—December 26th-30th.

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 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?

“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.

“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.

Permission to stink — the art of bad writing

Usually my writers slide their assignments under the virtual door of my Facebook group/office just ahead of our next Writing Unbound class. But this week—this week they jumped on the assignment. I think they started writing before the video even finished playing. What was this compelling exercise? Create some bad writing.

bad writing

Bad writing is the thing we writers fear most, right? So I gave them permission to stink.

They came up with some creative work—clichés piled on top of each other, unsavory images rendered in such detail you would think they were composed of pixels instead of words. But I have to say, each of their pieces had some redeeming features.

We writers are always deciding that our writing sucks. But it turns out bad writing is pretty darn hard to do—even when you’re explicitly trying to do it. I hope they remember that the next time they think they’ve created it by accident.

My own bad writing

I once wrote a sentence so bad, so inappropriate for the speaker and the audience, so full of purple prose—well, maybe not exactly purple, as you’ll see. Still, I couldn’t hit delete. I didn’t want to lose such a vivid metaphor…but I also didn’t want to lose my job. So I pasted it into a document all by itself and I printed it out and tacked it to the wall behind my computer monitor.

My very macho client was speaking about the fall of Communism (it was the early ’90s) and I wrote something like:

“…and every day it seems new countries are being born. Like all births, it’s a messy process…”

He would have made history—the first Wall Street titan to deploy a placenta metaphor. Instead I got the first entry in my outtakes file.

Bad writing can be liberating. I’m sure I’ve written lots of stupid or inelegant sentences since then. But I don’t think I’ll ever again write anything quite so bad. And yet I’m still here. Still alive. Still making words appear at the mere touch of my fingers.

If you think you’re writing badly, lean into it. Write worse. Make it as god-awful as you possibly can. And then have a good, long laugh.


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 women writers. Enrollment limited to six writers. Will you be one of them?

Is it possible to love Seth Godin even more? — Frequent Questions

Q: Is it possible to love Seth Godin even more than I already do?
A: I didn’t think so. I was wrong.

love Seth Godin
The illustration to Seth’s bio on his website. He’s actually a little taller than this.

Look, I’ve been a raving Seth Godin fan for probably a decade. Ever since my then-partner brought home his book—well, compilation—The Big Moo. It was the first business book I’d ever read that didn’t sound like pompous bull.

More recently, I forked over some pretty decent money to attend his one-day workshop in New York last December and was rewarded with the best idea I’d had all year, the 5×15 Writing Challenge. We’ll be doing another one in late December.

And I jumped at the chance to be part of the pilot of his Marketing Seminar this summer. Again, money well-spent.

I thought for sure the only person in the world who could possibly be more of a Seth Godin fan than me would be Helene, his wife. And then I found his interview on the Why I Write podcast. Now my fandom of yesterday pales in comparison to my fandom of today.

Do you love Seth Godin too?

The Why I Write pod is produced by the National Council of Teachers of English, so Seth made sure to note that an English teacher somewhere along the way told him he was a terrible writer. He never took another English class again and whenever he needed to write something he would just talk it out. The result: “I write like I speak.”

Later on, the podcast host trotted out the inevitable question: “How do you manage to write every day?” And Seth paused, unwilling to accept that there’s anything unusual in having and expressing ideas on a daily basis. Then he said something like:

“Look, we’ve already established that I write like I speak. And when was the last time you ever heard of anyone getting ‘Talker’s Block’? No one is astonished to hear you say more than two sentences in a day.”

You’ll hear more about this podcast soon. But listen to it yourself. If you don’t love Seth Godin already (how is that possible?) I promise you will before the 25-minute podcast concludes.


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 women writers. Enrollment limited to six writers. Will you be one of them?

Do Not Disturb

I’ve had something hanging over me all week. The kind of thing that you hate to do so much that everything else gets done so you can avoid it.

Can’t avoid it anymore. No blogging this weekend, no writing anything else for myself, no fun at all—maybe no moving from this very chair I sit in (how’s that for creating a sense of urgency?)—until this thing is Done.

Bye-ee.

 

It’s not always easy

Oh I talk a good game. I tell you not to believe in Writer’s Block, the Loch Ness Monster of the word world. But just because Writer’s Block is a myth doesn’t mean it’ll always be smooth sailing when you write.

Take today—well, yesterday by the time you read this. I had to add maybe two sentences to a draft I’d been working on. Two paragraphs at the most.

No, it’s really not always easy

Most days I can turn out 300 words in under half an hour, so this should have been a piece of cake.

Cake…yeah, that’s about the only thing I didn’t eat as I tried to avoid my work. Everything seemed to get in the way: the constant rain (I felt trapped inside), the conference calls that punched a hole in my day, the exhaustion that overtook me as soon as the calls were done.

Did I remember all of Elizabeth Gilbert’s wonderful advice about dealing with fear? Reader, I did not.

Did I remember any of my own wonderful advice about just making your fingers hit the keys, even if all you end up writing is “I have no idea what to write”? Negative.

Did I…yeah I know lists are supposed to have three things in them. But whatever the third thing would be here, you can rest assured I didn’t do that either.

I moped. I pouted. I napped.

I felt like a hypocrite.

It's not always easy

And then I remembered that I’m not a hypocrite; I’m a human being.

So I popped a piece of dark chocolate and I sat my ass down at the keyboard. Well, in my chair in front of the keyboard.

And I wrote what I needed to write.

It may not be the most brilliant work I’ll ever do. But it’s done—and that’s the most important thing.

It’s not always easy. But you can’t let fear silence you.

So write, already.


Want to communicate more courageously? Click here to get my e-book Do It Anyway: Tips for Courageous Writing

Who’s my audience? — Frequent Questions

Q: Who’s my audience?
A: Why are you writing?

I’m not just being flippant: Who you write for depends a lot on why you’re writing.

I write my Frequent Questions posts for whoever asks the question, for the most part I’m writing my other blog posts for an intellectually curious writer with a serious sense of humor. In other words, for myself. My marketing writing is for me, too. The me that hasn’t yet done the work I’ve done to be able to teach what I teach.

When I start with a new group of writing students, I always do an exercise aimed at helping them see themselves more clearly through our favorite medium, words. It’s also a great self-esteem boost—and who couldn’t use one of those on the regular?

Seeing themselves more clearly helps them see their ideal audience more clearly—if you agree with me that the ideal audience is someone very much like yourself.

Marketing to your ideal audience

I was talking about this with my writers yesterday and they asked me what Seth Godin had to say about the subject in his Marketing Seminar. So I broke out my notes and found that—eek!—I’m diverging from Godin’s teaching a bit.

One of the questions he encourages us to ask is how our ideal audience differs from us.

Can our audience be like us and be different from us at the same time?

I think yes.

Because if we have something unique that they do not: our experience, our product, our wisdom—whatever it is we’re marketing.

While my ideal audience may be smart, creative, committed writers, they’re writers who have not walked in my shoes. I can tell them where to position the cushions to avoid blisters.

Being like me is not the same thing as being me.

But, listen, if any of you out there are me, could you find someone else to do the dishes?