June 2021 Vol 3 Issue 6
Tell Your Story Newsletter (TYSN):
Specializing in Entrepreneurial and Organizational Storytelling
Let me tell your story!
IN THIS ISSUE:
ARTICLE 1: Can your writing flourish? Nine strategies to get you there (from Daphne Gray-Grant)
The throwaway phrase of “in fact . . . ” from Bryan Garner
Welcome Mid-June 2021!
After observing a late spring with drought-like conditions, Saskatoon (and much of the province) has had some very timely rainfall, delighting farmers and gardeners alike. Although frost after Victoria Day destroyed too many bedding plants, we have since had welcome heat, and a return to a heat-wave, this week!
After a slow start to spring, it’s wonderful to hear on local radio all that Saskatonians are doing to improve their quality of life, despite the strain of our late pandemic times. Home renovations, craft activities and even much-needed spring cleaning help us to feel we are anchored to a healthier, more positive future.
In this month’s issue, I turn to Vancouver writer, Daphne Gray-Grant, who shares smart strategies that may help you to enjoy the process of writing, regardless of what kind of writing you do.
In “Storytellers’ Corner,” I visit the use of the throwaway phrase (i.e. discardable term), “in fact . . . .” I often hear the term from new English speakers, when silence would be better (lol)!
I hope that you are enjoying our good weather and the opportunity to be closer to nature. Alongside getting one’s vaccinations, sunshine awakens our knowledge of the seasons, after some 18+ trying months! And it does wonders for resetting one’s internal clock, if you are dogged by insomnia or restlessness.
Article One: Can your writing flourish? Nine strategies to get you there (from Daphne Gray-Grant)
In the past week I have begun to roll out my ESL teaching and tutoring services and have been surprised by what fun it is to share the English language with newcomers to Canada! We meet on Zoom through a not-for-profit organization that is based in Toronto. While I continue to write and edit marketing copy for small- and medium-sized businesses, I am happy to expand my services to include language instruction. The students are so interesting and the conversations dynamic and fun!
Most ESL teaching focuses on the four major elements of reading, writing, speaking and listening. Most often, students find speaking and listening to be the most challenging elements, as they require the participation of another English speaker, who may not be available when the student is studying. To help with that, ESL teachers know that providing frequent meetings between themselves (as native speakers of English) and the new learner is invaluable.
One of my students in the past week, however, expressed concern about her writing skills and had previously found that writing in English is demanding and rarely fun! I referred this student to a recent newsletter from Vancouver-based writing and publication coach, Daphne Gray-Grant. Daphne called her post, aptly, “How to flourish as a writer.”
For all writers (whether ESL, native speakers or others), Daphne’s sensible suggestions can make the writing process feel liberating, instead of taxing. Here are her nine tips on how to thrive (in her word, “flourish”) as a writer:
(1) Read as much as possible: Writers read a lot and not only to research knowledge or check plot structure. Daphne says that writers also read to learn the stylistic strategies of other writers. Writers can observe sentence structures, syntax and rhythm. This isn’t plagiarism, because no ideas are being copied. And yet writers too often forget the importance of reading Daphne compares the process to the that of new artists sitting in galleries to copy the work of the masters. Similarly chefs taste what they cook, as they go. And musicians listen to a great deal of music, as they learn.
(2) Give yourself enough time for thinking through your ideas: While writers often use pre-writing, the act of writing casually until they discover their own ideas and opinions, it’s important, still, to give yourself time away from the computer (and your desk) simply to think! Often mental insights can come when you’re walking in nature, or on a commute to an appointment, and so on. If you’re worried about missing these breakthroughs, speak into a voice recorder on your smartphone. (Or take a note in a notebook you carry for creative purposes!) You’ll be glad that you did!
(3) Avoid the temptation to edit while you write: Although a writer may want to analyze each sentence as soon as they write it, doing so is an awful trap for the creative process. It’s far better to draft a section of your document (essay, chapter, etc.) and then take a break (at least overnight) before editing it. The first draft may be “rubbish” when you read it a day later, but it will give you a valid starting point from which to refine your thinking.
(4) Use a mindmap or diagram to register your ideas and the thinking that connects them: Instead of trying to write an outline before you know what you think about a topic, try doing what Daphne calls the “opposite of outlining”—i.e. mapping your thoughts onto blank (unruled) paper. The purpose of the mindmap is not to organize your ideas, but to try to “inspire” your thinking and the connections between your thoughts.
(5) Tell stories more often: Writing is not merely about sharing knowledge with your readers; it’s “keeping them involved and interested.” Daphne recommends listening to–and writing–stories to enrich your creative process. She says that many TED talk speakers, like psychologist Shawn Achor, write well because their writing tells good stories. Incorporating stories into your writing makes it appealing, engaging, and much more memorable.
(6) Don’t try to multi-task: The process of trying to write while doing other tasks will make you “miserable,” Daphne says, and your writing will suffer. Other tasks are distracting, causing you to make more mistakes, progress more slowly, find the process more stressful and ultimately produce inferior copy. Daphne recommends turning off “ALL your notifications” (texts, emails, social media, etc.).
(7) Take care of your body: Many people approach writing as though it is a 100% intellectual exercise. But it also involves a lot of one’s physical body, too. Your body needs a break after spending long hours at a time hunched over a keyboard. Your breathing is similarly subordinated to the process. So Daphne prescribes a break every 25 minutes to stretch. Monitor your own posture and breathing, so that you do not endanger your physical health. Try to get exercise daily, as it improves your brain health. Your writing will thank you for it!
(8) Maintain happiness (as much as possible): Daphne says that writers often measure happiness by the number of good words they write per day. She turns this thinking on its head, asserting that writers will write more if they are happier.
So if you’re recovering from emotional or other pain, try not to force yourself to write anything. Instead, give yourself a mental break (take a walk, listen to some uplifting music, talk to a friend or read cards and notes from others) to restore your own state of mind. She says: “The happier you are, the more you’ll be able to write.”
(9) Draw up goals for improving your writing: Daphne argues that writing is a process of self-improvement, where even the most gifted have problems to resolve.
Some find challenges in doing research; others in drafting; others in editing, and so on. Daphne recommends finding out what your major challenge is, as a writer, and making a concerted effort to deal with it.
Reading books on the writing process (I recommend Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird), sharing your writing with a coach or other writer whom you trust, or hiring an editor, etc., are all steps you can take to improve your creative process.
While Daphne’s nine strategies illustrate that planning and perseverance are needed to enjoy writing (and for it to succeed, on whatever terms you choose), adopting her nine strategies makes it possible to find the process and outcome rewarding and pleasurable.
And now it’s your turn: Have you tried any of these recommendations to make your writing flourish? What results have you seen? Please share; I’d be delighted to hear from you.
Word nerd alert! The throwaway phrase of “in fact… ” (with Bryan Garner)
While speaking to a new immigrant in Saskatoon recently, I found that he would often preface his opinions with the phrase, “In fact . . . .” The phrase next left the mouth of one of my online students of English as a Second Language (ESL).
Other, native speakers whom I occasionally meet will sometimes use “In point of fact . . . .” Such phrases are what etymologist Bryan Garner calls “flotsam phrases”–i.e. throwaway words that fill spaces in conversation while the speaker thinks of what that s/he’ll say next.
Making occasional, silent pauses is preferable to using throwaway words and I encourage both new and experienced English speakers to slow the speed of their speaking down. Slowing down gives us the time to think about what we’re saying. Silence can be a virtue, as Victorian novelists and essayists used to say (sometimes, ironically, taking volumes to do so)!
Practicing a new language, or talking about something one does not know well, is not a time to become impatient with one’s own thinking! Our brains take time to develop our capacities for new languages and new ideas—and there could never be a better reason for taking time than that.
Do you notice yourself or others near you using “throwaway phrases?” Which ones? And how can you slow down your speaking to reduce or eliminate them?
In SHOP NEWS:
I’m delighted (as I indicate elsewhere in this newsletter) to roll out English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching services through Nevy’s Language, a not-for-profit program, based in Toronto. Thanks to its director, Mahmoud, for organizing and maintaining the program, which enables new immigrants to Canada to learn English more easily.
I’m saddened to write of the passing of a dear family friend, Merle McGowan, on May 28th, after a well-lived life (1931-2021). Merle was a great friend of my family and once trained in diaconal ministry with my mother (before women could become ordained in church ministry).
Merle’s taste in visual art, great books, delicious and varied cuisine, and deep friendships made her a favourite friend to many. We miss her already and will long remember her. Rest in Peace, good friend.
Special thanks this month to Damien and Megan Kent at Little Ox Film Company, in Saskatoon, who capably engineered a short video to promote my teaching and writing services. They were inspiring and generous to work with. I highly recommend Little Ox for your videography needs!
Special thanks also to the Raj Manek Mentorship Program, notably Kanchan and Sona Manek, for organizing another year of inspiring webinars for both mentors and proteges.
Particular thanks this month to Jenn Minor Johannson, who shared her energy and insights about “pandemic fatigue,” that so many of us now feel! The group of women entrepreneurs who tuned into the webinar were equally thoughtful.
Thank you also goes to Carl Cameron Day and webinar organizers at Tefl.org (from whom I took my ESL training). On a weekly basis, Carl has motivated new teachers to teach more effectively, especially when we have not taught languages before.
If you’re interested in ESL training, do please consider the UK-based Tefl.org, which has excellent programs and professional development resources.
Between 2011 and December 2018, Elizabeth Shih Communications chronicled the stories of B2B marketing and communications on the Prairies and across the country.
On January 1 2019, my company rebranded as “Storytelling Communications.” I now help new and economic immigrants to secure better jobs by improving their language skills (ESL teaching); and I help small- and medium-sized businesses to improve their sales by communicating more effectively (B2B copywriting).
After I receive your message, I’ll be pleased to discuss projects with you!
Please visit my website for more information (www.storytellingcommunications.ca).
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