Monday, May 30, 2011

Book Review "Make Every Word Count"

“Make Every Word Count” Book Review (Part 1 of 3)

Spreading confidence is one of the main purposes of a good teacher, no matter the subject. “Make every word count,” by Gary Provost, (available on does that. It’s not a new book, but it offers timeless advice in a friendly tone in an attempt to guide writers in their craft.

The book doesn’t preach, but offers information and practical examples designed to make the reader/writer think seriously about the process while demystifying story/article development. The process of writing is described in a way I could follow, but offered some surprises that made the book fun to read.

Although there are dozens of good examples of writing styles, I’m going to focus on three areas that were only briefly covered. They each have less to do with good sentences and more to do with thinking about writing and its possibilities. Each one offers guidance on why we do what we do and how we can do it better.

In the beginning

Provost begins by asking the question “Can writing be taught?” His answer is “No. Throw this book away.” He is kidding, of course. I know this because the book in my hand has about 200 more pages of printed information not designed to be tossed in the garbage can. He changes his answer in the next line and says that writing can be taught indeed, and laments that fact that that question keeps popping up and no one ever asks his wife, who plays the guitar, if playing the guitar can be taught. Obviously he’s a bitter, cynical man, and I liked him right away.

He explains that writing is not like learning auto mechanics, in that each part in a car has only one purpose and those purposes are not interchangeable. He does, however, break down the parts of writing into categories in order to explain them. These parts will not fit into the molds other writers may have, but it’s a working description that meets our needs here. We learn that words and sentences and stories all have meanings that can be altered depending on the circumstance.

For instance, he cites two sentences that convey the fact that a man died in a work-related accident. But, by using different words, one makes a reader sad and one makes the reader smile. The first states that a 27-year-old man died in an accident at work, leaving behind three little boys. The second states that “Hubie Humwicker” (a funny name) died from drowning in a 300-gallon vat of chocolate syrup.

Both sentences tell us what happened, but each has a different tone and purpose. Same general information--different means of expressing it. He forces us to look closer at the written word and why some words work more efficiently than others. This also explains why writers should know a story’s purpose before deciding what and how to write.

To be continued …

Saturday, May 28, 2011


In my book “Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing” I wrote about mindfulness, or paying attention to your surroundings. Writers who pay attention to their environment learn a lot just by looking around. But there is another step to mindfulness that writers must embrace for it to be beneficial. Writers need to examine their environment in new ways to make connections and draw conclusions from the information gleaned.

Artists must open up and look at things from another point of view. Good artists usually collect ideas, and instead of just taking the first good one and running with it, mull it over and compare it to others and turn it around and upside down before putting it into action. That way, the idea has had a chance to develop and mature and become something solid and useful.

Using this method, quality (idea, or communication or method) is derived from quantity, or honed from a variety of ideas. Some great thinkers got their best ideas after developing many good ones. The best part about this way of thinking is that the more ideas we seek out and think about, the more creative we become. Ideas can come from anywhere, and should be taken seriously.

In a receptive phase of problem solving, when ideas may come and go, it is important to keep your mind from forming negative thoughts and concerning yourself with specifics and details. Let them go and encourage your mind to consider every aspect of a possibility. Let these ideas be the seeds that may or may not grow flowers

Artists should not hesitate to use the resources of others. Keep your mind open and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Talk to people who are doing something similar to what you are doing, and then talk to those who are doing something completely different. Even the most successful artists must still learn in order to stay fresh and in control of his or her craft. Businesses and governments spend time and money on research and consults, which can provide unexpected benefits through the process of looking at a problem from a different viewpoint.

The reason this is so successful is that people on the inside often forget to take a new look at what is going on in their own space. Looking at the same thing in the same way day after day does dull your sense and sensibility to a problem. What’s really fun is to try to find someone with absolutely no experience in your business or with your problem, and find out what that person has to say. Ask a child, or an older relative. The ideas may not be presented in finished form and ready to implement, but some solutions may be found by listening and combining and connecting or prompting other ideas.

Edison believed that “Ideas are in the air,” and if he hadn’t thought of a particular solution to a problem, someone else would have. But in order to catch these airborne ideas we do need to observe and be open to them. Kids go to major league baseball games with their gloves in hopes of catching a fly ball. They are ready and prepared to do just that. They look for them and seek them out. Sometimes they catch one. Often they don’t. But if they do catch one, they hold on to it much more successfully than if they had forgotten to be prepared. If we go to work prepared to challenge old ways of thinking by looking at our environment with fresh eyes, then we are prepared when an idea presents itself.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Searching for Search Engines

Search engines are online services that allow users to scan the contents of the Internet to find Web sites or specific information of interest to them. A user inputs a search term, and the search engine attempts to match this term to categories or keywords in its catalog of World Wide Web sites. The search engine then generates a list of sites that match the search criteria, ranked in order of relevance. Search engines help organize the more than two billion pages of information on the World Wide Web and make them accessible to Internet users.*

I wasn’t sure what to blog about today, but the answer came when I clicked on the Internet Explorer icon, and I was directed to the Bing Search Engine homepage. I use Google on my laptop, but we have Bing on our home computer. I use both computers and search engines frequently, but I must say, I like the layout of the Bing Homepage. Bing always features a wonderful photograph that allows users to get more information by scrolling over the photo. Usually, there are several pieces of information about the photo, along with links to read more. (It’s especially effective for procrastinating.)

In its defense, Google is also very creative in its logo design to reflect a news story. When you scroll over the word “Google,” more information pops up there, as well. I loved the recent Google animation that celebrated the work of Martha Graham.

Finding information on the internet is easy. Finding exactly what you want from credible sources can be more challenging. When you are researching, which search engines do you use? Do you try more than one? If so, which ones? When I have trouble finding what I’m looking for, I’ll try Bing, Google, Yahoo, AltaVista or Dogpile.

Which one do you use?

Talk to you soon,


*From the Gale Encyclopedia of Small Business accessed 5-22-11

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The winners!

Congratulations to Pat W. and Alice M., who each won a copy of my book "Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing." I'll get those out this week, and I hope you both enjoy them!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Last Chance

Don't forget!

Today is the last day to enter to win a copy of my book "Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing." Just become a follower, or leave a comment and you will be entered to win.

Good Luck! I'll let you know who won next week!


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing Giveaway

Don't forget to leave a comment to be entered to win a copy of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing by next Friday (the 13th)!

Happy Mother's Day!


Friday, May 6, 2011


Last night at dinner with some of my favorite writer friends, (Lou, Dianna and Donna the concept of branding came up. Most writers don’t think of their writing as a product, but it may be beneficial for writers to think like marketers with a product to sell.

Branding is the practice of identifying products while differentiating them from others. According to Wikipedia (I know, I know, I don’t even let my students use it as a source, but I’m going to allow it to make my point here because the definition was clear and concise) a brand identifies a product, service or business. The word “branding” came from the practice of branding cattle so ranchers could identify their own livestock. Without the brands to identify them, the cattle would be indistinguishable from each other. No one would know which cow belonged to which rancher.

When we apply that idea to products in the marketplace, consumers wouldn’t be able to distinguish cars, soap or books from one another without brands (or titles). Early in the 20th century, soap came in big blocks, and when a customer wanted soap, a store clerk would cut off a piece. Once companies began to market their brand of soap to distinguish it from other soap, customers would ask for a particular brand, which increased sales.

“Brand is the personality that identifies a product, service or company (name, term, sign, symbol, or design, or combination of them) and how it relates to key constituencies: customers, staff, partners, investors etc.

“Some people distinguish the psychological aspect, brand associations like thoughts, feelings, perceptions, images, experiences, beliefs, attitudes, and so on that become linked to the brand, of a brand from the experiential aspect.”

“Harry Potter,” “Stephanie Meyer” and “Stephen King”

What did you think when you read each of these names?

“Wizards,” “Twilight” and “horror?”

Those are the words I came up with. Successful marketers know how to brand their products so consumers/readers associate their product with certain words or feelings. If they can get us all to think the same thing, then the brand is strong with a clear identity.

When the actor Vincent Price was once asked if he was tired of being typecast as a villain (his “brand”), he said he wasn’t because it made him a very rich man.”

What do you think?