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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Why You Should Kinda Stop Saying This Word

“Kinda,” as in “kind of,” or its cousin, “sorta,” has become a staple of our professional vernacular. In presentations, meetings, and conference calls, “kinda” and “sorta” add a comforting conversational lilt, and can serve as less irritating filler devices than “uhs” and “ums.” But while the occasional “er” might be merely distracting or slightly irritating, using “kinda” and “sorta” can actually detract from your message, change your meaning, and even impact your listeners’ confidence in your material. Here’s why.

dialogueboxes“Kinda” Lacks Conviction

“Here’s what we’re kinda focusing on in the upcoming months.” Whether or not you are all in, hedging with vague filler words like these (and others) convey that you’re not solidly committed to your statements, or that you’re being purposely vague.

“Sorta” Skews the Stats

If your colleague says, “As you’ll kinda see from this chart, we’re kinda making some progress this year,” does that mean we are actually making progress, or did we sort of make progress? If the sales uptick was marginal, it could make sense to frame it that way. But it’s an easy phrase to use out of habit, and incorrectly. Be aware that, unlike filler “ums” and “uhs,” these words modify the meaning of the story we’re telling.

Your Credibility May Take a Hit

Message-muddying “sortas” and other hedge words can make you sound inauthentic. Studies demonstrate disfluencies such as “um” and “uh” affect listeners’ perceptions of the speaker. So, despite many weeks of research or months at the helm of a team, you might come across as unprepared and ineffective if you’re flip-flopping over filler words.

You Sorta Sound Submissive

Are your “sortas” and “kindas” tossed around in an effort to assume a more conversational, easygoing tone? Are you attempting to soften your stance or avoid a conflict? There are other ways to win over an audience or sound more informal without diluting your point.

It’s Kinda Habit Forming

Unlike the brain-pausing “ums” and “you knows” that pop up in our speech, “kind of,” “sort of,” “almost” and “pretty much” are common in our written communications as well. Again, there are occasions where using these terms in your writing make perfect sense and better illustrate your point, but they are dulling your effectiveness if you’re sort of just slipping them in and almost not even thinking about why.

So, next time you are addressing your colleagues, take care with these words and you’ll tighten up your presentations, improve your effectiveness, and inspire your listeners. And isn’t that kinda the point?

Image courtesy of digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

This was originally published on LinkedIn.com.

 

 

Can’t Sleep? Shut Down the Corporation in Your Head

One reason I left the “city that never sleeps” is precisely that: It never shuts down, there’s always something going on. That energy and intensity can be exhilarating, especially if you are able to shut it out come bedtime. (Car alarms were my ultimate downfall.) But if you can’t, there goes YOUR energy and intensity, along with your productivity.

Years later in suburban Connecticut, at the helm of my own small business, and with many other responsibilities and a household to run, I sometimes lie awake, plagued by the buzzing activity of commerce in my head. As I try to think calming thoughts, go to my happy place, what have you, the CEO of Hilory Inc. reminds me of the list of ongoing projects that are overdue, over budget, and underfunded.

You may be familiar with mindfulness meditation, the practice of focusing your thoughts and awareness on the moment and on your bodily sensations to clear and calm your mind. This can be quite an effective approach, except that in the office-building-of-my-body, the clacking of keyboards and marathon strategy sessions are staunch rivals for observing the ins and outs of my breath. So I apply a different mind-game: I visualize a department-by-department shutdown of my internal corporation, patiently and non-judgmentally allowing the entire staff to take the (rest of the) night off.

The first department to go dark is HR. In this sleep-deprived metaphor, this is the “team” that focuses on hiring and firing (aka My Relationships), morale, compensation, compliance, and employee engagement (also aka My Relationships). Nighttime is prime time for replaying interactions and criticizing my overall performance. For this area, I suggest focusing only on the benefits as we turn out the lights for the evening.

Windows at night

Next is the accounting department, who for some reason still uses those old-fashioned paper-roll calculators, miles of curled red-printed tapes littering the floor. She usually doesn’t look up the first time I interrupt with a loud “ahem.” But when she does, I assure her that the numbers, whatever color they happen to be today, will still be there in the morning, so shut it down, girlfriend! Sure, they are already trading in Japan at this hour, but I remind her that we actually DO NOT OWN ANY JAPANESE STOCKS. Close the books, and lights out.

Strategic planning is a small area – I’ve always been more of a tactical, assignment-driven worker, so this harried employee is a bit out of her league, typically hunched over the laptop head-in-hands reading business blog posts or staring out the window blankly in a fugue state. Future visioning is sort of the antithesis to mindfulness, so this one definitely has to go. I tell her there can be no Tomorrow if we expire from exhaustion Today, and give her a little shove out the door as I switch off the humming fluorescents.

Much like the car alarm outside my city window, the Marketing department continuously seeks attention, suggesting product ideas, blog posts, and event themes. Apparently, accounting has turned down many of her funding requests, so she is constantly on the lookout for low- to no-cost options. Constantly. I remind her how much more effective brainstorming usually is over MORNING coffee, and send her home. Click.

The communications director is most tenacious because, as we all know, e-mails, pins and Instagrams know no earthly timeframes. Even though she claimed to have knocked off for the day, you see her in the dark, her face aglow from her Facebook feed. “There’s no need to post that you can’t sleep,” I remind her, and she promises she’s not actually working, that Words with Friends is “relaxing.” This would be a good time to call the IT director (also still awake, puzzling over new printer options and data plans) and have her block all the Wi-Fi access until the morning.

Shuffling the cleaning crew out the door (she’s NEVER finished, by the way), I turn off the lobby spotlights and lock up. To any lingering number cruncher or project manager I politely say, “You don’t have to go home, but I can’t sleep if you’re here.“ And then, finally, I focus on my breathing and usually drift off.

Okay, so wandering from office to office in my head might sound a little loopy, but then again, it’s late, shadowy and I’m already loopy when I invoke this approach. As with mindfulness, it’s a non-judgmental way I give myself permission to quiet the crowd, to shut down the grid, and allow the entire “team” to recharge. And sometimes, that’s when the department of strategic planning does her best work, offering some coded vision for the future through the quiet of my dreams.

Also posted on BlogHer: http://bit.ly/1oZifnu