Writing: The Raw and the Cooked

We all hear about how to improve our diets by eating unprocessed, “cleaner,” whole foods. Similarly, allowing ourselves to write “raw,” to release our fresh, unprocessed voices onto the page, can bring a boost of energy and a new sense of authenticity to our work.

For years you’ve been told how to write correctly, professionally. For years you’ve been learning to tone it down, polish it up, censor your thoughts. The more you try to write the way (you think) other people want you to write, the less your true voice comes through. Learning how to write raw is a process of breaking through the imagined voices, and learning fresh ways to say what you mean.

nothingtowritingWhen we write raw, we block out all those voices, filter the impurities, so that the only voice guiding us down the page is our own. We don’t need to know where we’re going to end up. We don’t have to know, before we uncap the pen or switch on the laptop, whether we are going to write a poem or a sonnet or an epic, or whether our paragraph is going to be the lead or the conclusion, or a vision in one of our character’s dreams.

We ignore the rules. We pay no mind to punctuation, spelling, the pursuit of the perfect phrase. We fly. We scream. Your short stories, essays, novels soar because they are founded upon passion and intuition and built with reality and truth. And this goes for any communications, really. Your final draft might not be dripping blood, but you’ll start from a place of power. Harness it, don’t shut it down before you even begin.

Writing raw is transcribing pure feeling. A passage sears a nerve when it describes an experience as it really happened. An essay moves when you can feel the author’s adrenaline in your own veins, because the moment was described with language that rebels against the reader’s sense of what they are going to see on the page next.

To write raw, we must think raw. To break the rules on the page we need to challenge the way we’ve been trained to think. And that starts with giving yourself permission.

Like Dorothy, we sometimes need a Good Witch to point out the obvious: We have all the tools we need to write in color. Emeralds, rubies, yellow brick roads, passionate memories, heartrending stories, joy and bliss and devastation are woven into our expository souls, but after years of dimming our own rainbows we start to see in black and white.

Once we feel free to break the writing rules, we can start playing with the language, rebelling against the society-safe syntax. We start writing dialogue that actually sounds like conversation: staccato, half-thoughts, half-truths and rants; discourse as full of what we don’t want to say as what makes it to the page. We integrate inflection and slang.

Overcooking – or even, I’ve read, cooking at all – can remove valuable nutrients, dilute the impact, dampen the color. If you are looking for a way to write with more punch and vibrancy, scale down your process and go for the bold.

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Twitter Followers: Finding Good Relationship Material

Once you begin embracing Twitter, every day can be a Christmas of sorts, when you open up your e-mail to notifications of several new overnight followers. However well-developed your self esteem, a new crop of names and faces interested in what you have to microblog about definitely gives you a little tingle.

But then — as quickly as Christmas passes, the needles fall off the tree. Thing is, you don’t even see them turn brown. Boom, the bulbs go out, and your numbers drop. As followers disappear without reason, that little tingle becomes a little knot in your stomach, and you wonder what you did so wrong on this Twitter thing, anyway. We wonder if we will ever be followed again.

Margot Tohn, CEO of ParkIt Guides (@ParkingExpert), was excited to see her Twitter traffic on the rise, then confused when they backed out just as quickly.  “I was seeing an influx of new Twitter followers with high Klout scores. But 50 percent of them would unfollow me if I didn’t follow them back within 24 hours. Is the expectation that we should reciprocate immediately? Is it that they took some time to check out my Tweets and decided they weren’t interested? Or are they just trying to get more followers themselves?”

The quick embrace followed by a virtual dine-and-dash feels personal. And people will tell you, you are online, so of course it’s NOT personal. But if you are doing social media right, I think it’s a good sign that you are feeling slighted. That means, perhaps, you are trying to connect and interact with these folks — that the connection actually means something.

The essence of a healthy social media strategy is engagement with people and the formation of mutually beneficial relationships. There’s an implied conversation (some people are just better listeners, but they are involved). So if your new Christmas-morning friends ditched you within just one day, they probably weren’t relationship material after all. Chances are that either:

  • It was just a bot, after all, meant to artificially inflate followings or spread some get-rich gospel. You learn to recognize these by their just-shy-of-porn-star handles and provocative images, large followings, and 0 to 1 tweets.
  • They realized they “just weren’t that into you” — which, as they taught us on “Sex and the City,” is okay. Did you ever go on three, four dates with someone and realize you have absolutely nothing to talk about? Wouldn’t it have been easier if you never had that first date to start with? It wasn’t meant to be.
  • They are just trying to build their stats — the wrong way. Good riddance.

Keep in mind:

  • The girth of your gain doesn’t necessarily reflect the strength of your reach. Better to have fewer engaged, interactive followers — even if their Klout scores are nothing to write Santa about — than buckets of faces who never actually read your tweets. (See “Why Twitter Followers are Only Half the Story.”)
  • Your followers may change with your own interests. If you began to build your own lists and topics, your interest might be reciprocated. Then, when ski season is over, or you’ve finished your new car research, you might decide the relationship has run its course. You learned from each other, but it’s time to tweet new people.
  • It’s not the size of your following, but the commotion of your notions. If you are getting a lot of retweets, replies and mentions, you’re sailing the right direction.
And finally, when you’re ready to take the next step: 8 Ways to Take Your Relationship Beyond Twitter

Expanding Your Social Circle: Welcome to the Party

Recently, my friend Gary admitted to feeling a bit antisocial — a little disconnected from the electronic connections everyone else seems to be making. What he needed, I told him, was a chance to get to know the popular players. As luck would have it, my perky friend Eventbrite was throwing a party that very Friday night. So I brought him along.

“You made it! You rock!” Eventbrite cheered, her bright orange hair glowing in the doorway. “Do you have your ticket?”

I handed her the printouts I’d brought for me and for Gary, and we made our way inside. “It’s not like she needs tickets for her own cocktail party,” I told him. “But it’s her thing. She can be a little control-ly,” I said quietly. Too quietly.

“Wait, what?!” Gary shouted. The room was humming with conversation, and bustling with so much activity we didn’t know where to start. So we just started moving toward the food. Suddenly, an energetic figure leapt into our path.

“Hey! Good to see you! I thought maybe you wouldn’t make it considering the big traffic jam on Route 84. And there was some police action on Hamilton Street. With the street fair and the movie premiere it’s a miracle you got here before the end of Beaujolais nouveau season. They just talked about that on the Today show!”

Gary and I looked up at the towering, nervously intense figure. “Gary, I’d like you to meet Twitter. He likes to keep up with the latest goings-on. If there’s anything you need to know right away, check him out.”

“Great to meet you,” Gary shook his hand. “I’ll definitely look you up, so to speak.”

“OK, cool,” Twitter chirped, his eyes darting. “Whatever you need. I’ll find it for you.” Then he leaned into us. “Don’t forget the hashtag,” he said in a hushed tone.

“Hmm… I thought I smelled something coming from the garage on the way in,” Gary commented. “The music was pretty loud in there.”

“Oh, that must have been Myspace. No, hashTAGS are something different. I’ll explain later,” I said. #novice

We made our way deeper into the party, finding ourselves drawn to an exquisite collection of art gallery-worthy desserts. We must have been drooling as a voice startled us out of our honey-glazed stares.

“These are sweet pecan and walnut praline candies, covered in chocolate. Couldn’t you just DIE?”

They were already in my mouth, so I chewed my hello. “Oh… Mife to fee you, Pinterest,” I mumbled through a mouthful of sweet pecan and walnut praline candies, covered in chocolate. “Thif ith Gary. Gary… Gary?” He was completely entranced by the strawberry angel food-cake skewers.

As usual, Pinterest was impeccably dressed, always sporting the latest cutting-edge fashions. “Well, it as nice to meet you, Gary. And remember… don’t let anyone ever dull your sparkle!” Pinterest said, taking a sip from her lavish s’mores martini and exiting with a wink. Gary and I picked up two bubbly cucumber spritzers from a tray of Picasa-perfect beverages and continued around the room.

“Well, there certainly are some colorful personalities here tonight,” said my friend, taking in the scene. “Except for that guy over there, he’s actually looking a little yellow.”

“Oh, Instagram? Yeah. I think it’s the smoking.”

“And who’s this guy in the suit? He’s coming this way.”

“Oh, that’s LinkedIn. Good guy but don’t ask him what he does for a living. The last time I chatted with him he pretty much recited his entire resume.”

LinkedIn made his way toward us, passing out business cards along the way. “Hey! What’s the latest with you!” he said, shaking our hands assertively while maintaining just the right duration of eye contact.

“Link… this is my good friend Gary. Thought I’d introduce him around tonight. He’s heard a lot about you guys, but I wanted him to get to know you better.”

“Gary! Great to meet you. What line of work are you in? I’m in sales. Vice President of my division. Big on conceptualizing and leveraging my critical thinking and global strategic expertise in a highly matrixed environment. I’ve championed several innovative initiatives throughout the last 38 quarters. Very fulfilling. I’m sure I know people where you work. You look familiar, actually. Did you ever work with my colleague Mary’s brother’s cousin? I feel like we met at a thing once. Here’s my card.”

“Wow, um, ok, thanks, Link,” Gary answered. “As a matter of fact I…”

Link threw an arm around Gary’s shoulder and pulled him closer. “By the way, please let me know if you have any openings where you work. I actually HAAAAAAAATE my job. PLEEEESE. I’m gonna freaking lose it any day now. Thanks, man.” And with that, Link headed toward the food, where Pinterest was putting the finishing touches on a spectacular Bacon-anza.

“Haha, awesome. I just got that on video!” YouTube was apparently just a couple feet away. “Sweet.”

“OMG, people!” Twitter was in the center of the room, his voice booming. “Lindsay Lohan was in ANOTHER run-in with the cops.”

“So this is what I’ve been missing?” said my friend. “Seems like a lot of commotion, yet no one’s really listening — more like talking AT each other. Except for that woman over there. What is she, mumbling to herself?”

“Oh, right, I know her. That’s WordPress. She’s actually a brilliant woman — a bit of a loner though. When she gets on a roll she’s very entertaining. But yeah, it’s kind of a free for all in here. You have to admit it’s a lively group. There’s never a dull moment!”

As if on cue, I suddenly felt a decidedly sharp nudge under my rib cage that startled me silly and bathed Gary in what was left of my cucumber spritzer.

“Haha. POKE!” chortled Facebook. “Who’s your damp friend here? Do you “Like” the party?”

“Facebook! Seriously! Gary, I’m so sorry!”

“Not a problem. I mean, don’t they say that club soda gets everything out anyway? It’s all good.”

Facebook got a little red-faced. “Well, I’m really sorry, dude. I was just trying to lighten the mood. I feel like all I hear about lately are lost and abandoned dogs and then I see their sad, sweet, lonely faces. It’s getting to me, I suppose. I just needed to share, I guess.”

“No worries,” said Gary, dabbing his shirt with some paper towels brought over by a female guest, who caught a glimpse of my arm. “Omigod, where did you get that bracelet? That’s amazing!” StumbleUpon’s eyes were wide. “Etsy! Come look at this! It reminds me of a paper origami bracelet I saw once. I always wanted to go to Japan. Have you ever seen a baby hedgehog?”

“OK, really?! I think I’m good to go,” Gary said a little impatiently. “I’m sure all of these people are extremely talented at what they do. They all bring a lot to the party, that’s for sure. But this is all making me a little lightheaded,” he said, scanning for a chair.

Pinterest, who had changed outfits and was now sporting a purple-plumed wide-brimmed hat, approached us with a bright smile. “Would this banana split parfait in a vintage jelly jar make you feel any better?”

“Engagement” isn’t Always a Love Story

holdhandshadowThink of someone you know with an “engaging” personality. It’s probably a person who has interesting, positive things to say, which is not to say they agree or necessarily support you. It’s probably someone who gets you thinking outside your box. He inspires you, challenges you, energizes you, and maybe leaves you a little breathless when he departs.

Through online and social media we seek to connect, to engage in a way that gets our current and potential clients interested in hearing (and doing, and buying) more. Businesses want to build buzz, gain followers, promote, succeed; to influence positively, and leave their customers and potential clients a little breathless. However, in the online numbers game, talk is cheap, and so are “Likes.” “Following” doesn’t equate “engaging” any more than holding hands equates with eloping; numbers don’t mean much without passion.

Engagement is a necessary element of a successful social media strategy, but clearly there is more to captivating an audience than putting on a virtual happy face and bombarding them with links to coupons and videos while building followers. Your engaging friend may know a lot about current events or music or wine varietals, but if she consistently just talked AT you, you would probably start dodging her phone calls pretty quickly.

Chances are she’s a really good listener, too, and it’s the banter and balance you value as much as her entertaining stories. She probably doesn’t care so much about the sheer volume of friends she has as she does the quality of her interactions and the positive energy she derives from them. Chances are, when she’s engaging you, she reacts to your reaction thoughtfully, knowledgeably, empathetically. Maybe she agrees with what you’re saying. Or maybe she doesn’t — standing her ground, challenging you with facts, photos, insights. She doesn’t necessarily prove you wrong; but she cares what you have to say, respects your opinion even if she helps you consider other possibilities.

If you’ve ever been part of a relationship (friend, partner, coworker) who adored your praise but in effect “deleted” your constructive feelings and responses, you began to lose the trust that what you said mattered to them. Online engagement demonstrates commitment; and transparent, productive, meaningful engagement demonstrates trust.

The “questioning” — the authentic interest in what, why, and how your “Likers” like — and understanding what they don’t — is critical, but the “answering” is where the success stories are made.

The New Chivalry

In more genteel times — that is, before restaurants were dotted with people talking and texting on their cell phones — refined men carried handkerchiefs. As the name implies, they were certainly handy, especially before the pocket-pack of Kleenex was invented. But beyond the practicality of it, they enabled a gallant gesture, held out to a woman to dab her brow or wipe her tears. It simply and elegantly showed he cared.

Today I discovered a handkerchief for our times, a tool enabling a noble gesture unheard of in Jane Austen’s era. By wrapping his cell phone in the Phonekerchief, available from Uncommon Goods, a fellow can show he cares enough to hold his calls ALL THE WAY THROUGH DINNER.

While leaving the buzzing, beeping thing in the car is another, decidedly low-tech (and even lower-cost) option, this certainly sends a signal while it blocks another. More than a pretty show and tell, the Phonekerchief fabric actually disrupts the incoming phone signal. Apparently, it has to be wrapped tightly and correctly to cancel any external static (those annoying calls, facebook alerts, and texts), which makes performing this origami-like task effectively even more dreamy.

Want to really sweep her off her feet? Try tucking your phone away before you put the car in drive. Now that’s irresistible. (What can I say? I’m just a hopeless romantic.)

Here’s the backstory from Designer Ingrid Zweifel:

Who’s Looking At You, Kid?

Not long ago I attended an alumni networking event focused on building your personal social media brand. The couple dozen of us represented a nice cross-section of professional disciplines and graduating classes from the last few decades. A new media professor spoke to the group, and during Q&A, one of the more distinguished alumni raised his hand.

“I don’t go online much, and I stay off Facebook. Why should I put my personal information out there? I don’t need strangers reading all about my life.”

Yet here you are, reading his comments in a blog. I’m not giving you his name, of course, but this brings us to the professor’s response. “Sir, you are ALREADY online, whether you like it or not. From real estate transactions to phone listings, from news stories to web comments, or simply being related to other people who are mentioned, there is some amount of information about you already on the web.”

So, at a minimum, it’s a good idea to have an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” attitude in terms of your social persona. Professionally speaking, managing your online presence is critical. If you’re looking for a new role or position, social media sites and apps should be more than something to monitor; harness the power they have to “expose” you and let them help you secure your next great job.

Think about how you approach a major purchase these days — say, a TV or washing machine. That guy from my alumni networking event might still subscribe to Consumer Reports print editions, but a good portion of us go on the web to explore our options: we read news and reviews, compare prices, maybe price comparisons, even instructional videos about features. Well, many recruiters today are taking a similar approach to procuring personnel.

Online resumes are not a new concept — but every day there’s an exciting app-of-the-moment, with new features and capabilities for showing, and selling, your stuff. Creating and optimizing your social media resume means more than uploading your CV to a user-friendly site. It’s taking advantage of the design, media, and networking options readily available (and free!), while attentively guiding your own personal branding message.

Bring Your Resume To Life

But yes, first — you need to go electronic. Think beyond the text box and give your resume an online home so you can add photos, videos, and links that launch.

A WordPress blog is an easy and free option for creating a crisp, professional snapshot you can update at any time; VizualResume offers some stunning layouts. As a start, if you haven’t yet, you can easily add links and posts and blogs from your LinkedIn profile.

Putting Your Best Face Forward

We know that hiring managers ARE using social media, and you don’t need to read this blog to realize you need to delete the beer-pong photos from your public Facebook profile or angry-customer ranting from your Twitter stream. Beyond the obvious, observant employers can gather breadcrumbs about your communication style, the way you portray your current employer, your relationships and family life, and hobbies and pasttimes. Take some time to “unlike” or leave Facebook interest groups that no longer interest you, or that perhaps you joined on a misguided whim (e.g., “Moms who whine without wine”). True, your privacy settings today may protect you; but we all know Facebook LOVES to change the rules. Why take the chance?

Showcase Your Skills

Cleaning house is the first step; after that, you have the opportunity to portray your strengths and skills in the best light by illuminating the traits and characteristics you want to highlight. On LinkedIn, and on Facebook, you can join and participate in groups that relate to your unique skills and professional interests. Create a Pinterest account specific to your career goals and upload a portfolio of your work, publications, and projects, if applicable. Link to some of your best work on SlideShare, or incorporate QR codes that link to your voice or your music. (Check out more ideas from Mashable.com.) Social media is about conversation and contribution — what are you bringing to the table that you can also bring to the office?

We’re Not There Yet (or, Beware the Egg)

Keep in mind that while social scanning should be assumed, it will only illuminate a piece of your professional puzzle. Corporate firewalls, conservative cultures, privacy settings, or even a shortage of time might mean the recruiter never makes it to your tumblr. So you still need to keep a version of your traditional resume optimized and accessible. It’s also quite possible that your recruiter doesn’t really “do” social. Don’t assume that your line of work will correlate to the amount of time he or she will spend on your YouTube page: A buttoned-up banker might scour the depts of your blog, while a marketing manager might be more interested in your white paper. Not long ago I interviewed for a role managing corporate tweets, yet the person deciding my fate was still using an egg avatar. You can’t know for sure.

You don’t need to be a creative director to pull together a compelling portfolio. A thoughtfully packaged, dynamic social media resume can depict your skills, accomplishments, and personal and professional goals crisply, colorfully and affordably. And that’s important, especially when we’re hoping a stranger is going to be reading all about our lives — and then hiring us.