Bass’ Blog: Teaching Others — Powerful Writing Changes Lives
Blog #16 — Power of the Pen and … Birth of America
Powerful words not only change lives, they also built a nation … ours. Patriots galvanized public opinion with influential writing. Take a minute … see how the [quill] pen was more powerful than that proverbial sword.
“You say you want a revolution? Then get yourself a front man, a rock star, and a phrase-maker who can shake, rattle and roll the masses with a few well-chosen words.” These are the opening lines describing Thomas Paine in Time’s book, The Making of America: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of a Nation. independence from Britain and its monarchy so convincingly that it rallied tens of thousands of Americans to the cause.”
Richard Henry Lee of Virginia contributed that momentum, lighting the figurative fire cracker with his succinct, powerful motion to Congress on June7, 1776, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”
The motion passed … barely … with a vote of 7 to 6. But, it sufficed. Congress tasked a committee to draft a declaration.
The fiery red head from Virginia, recognized as a brilliant writer and known for his views opposing the monarchy, was tapped for this job. Assisted by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson labored for 17 days … leveraging powerful concepts from great philosophers such as John Locke and honing words that endure to this day. And, John Adams was right …
John Adams recognized history in the making and shared this in a letter to his wife. While he missed the projected date by 2 days, his assessment is spot-on:
“The Second of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.
It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.
It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games and sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward, forevermore.”
Honoring those who have served our country and those who serve her today, I highlight Adams’ closing thought,
“I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost us to maintain this Declaration and support and defend these States. Yet, through all the gloom, I can see rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means.”
Happy 4th of July to all … Ours is a great nation … God bless America.
Blog #15 — The Dreaded Request … From Your Boss (Part 2)
“Give me input to your annual review” … Many people find this an onerous but unavoidable task. The coups de grace is that performance appraisal forms often allocate a finite space (sometimes as little as 2,000 characters) to make your case.
Compiling input to your appraisal – or writing one for others – is a three-step process. First — Capture the raw data. Last week’s blog provided the first 5 of 10 tips to do so. The others are provided below:
6. Establish an email file. This is an easy way to regularly capture accolades for future reference.
7. List formal recognition. Time-off bonuses, coins (a type of recognition in many offices), certificates, formal letters of appreciation, etc., all count. Justifications submitted for awards are also valuable because of the supporting detail they contain. Get a copy! Other thoughts often overlooked:
Did your organization win an award? If so, did you contribute to this accomplishment?
Are you responsible for your subordinates gaining recognition? If so, mention this. Why? It highlights your leadership skills.
8. Use verbs that connote a culling process. Verbs such as chosen, selected, and nominated for convey subtle but powerful messages.
9. Stand out from the crowd. Use differentiators such as one of XXX, chosen over XXX peers, selected personally by the CEO (this contains two differentiators – personally and CEO). These place accomplishments in context.
10. Don’t bury the golden nugget. I once helped a young college graduate rewrite his first resume. The penultimate line, buried in miscellaneous thoughts – Captain of the soccer team for three years. I catapulted this to the opening section of the resume and expounded thereupon. Why? It shouts successful leadership!
The second step — Prioritize the accumulated information from most to least significant and compelling. Just like an annual budget, some items will fall under the cut line. Discriminators in this process include:
Depth, breadth, and duration of the impact
Demonstrated leadership skills
Finances involved (under budget, ahead of schedule, etc.)
Complexity of the story (remember, space is limited)
The final step hearkens to Rumpelstiltskin, spinning the straw into gold … make each word count in that finite and precious space.
Blog #14 — The Dreaded Request … From Your Boss (Part 1)
“Give me input to your annual review” … Words that make people cringe.
Not to worry! The five tips below will help you identify and convey your valued and noteworthy contributions.
Writing about yourself, especially for a product that ostensibly requires you to brag, is a chore many abhor. Moreover, you must review your entire year’s activity while wondering, “What the heck did I accomplish?” Adding to the stress, “I need your input by tomorrow.” Further amplifying the angst – this product is central to competing for future promotion, pay raises, selective assignments, and more.
The coups de grace to this distasteful task – you are allocated a finite space (sometimes as little as 1,500 characters) to make your case.
Record accomplishments as they occur. Capturing raw data is the first step. This precludes the frantic, last minute, retrospective search. It also ensures you don’t overlook something significant. Many organizations use Weekly Activity Reports. Contribute regularly; retain your submissions.
Examine achievements factually. What did you do? How did you move the ball forward? Pretend you’re describing someone else’s accomplishments to remove the stigma of bragging.
Capture the “so-what.” Highlight the impact of your contribution – that’s the heart of the story. As a junior officer, I once submitted this input to my own evaluation, “Briefed three generals.” The fact that I survived was noteworthy. My boss disagreed. “What resulted from the briefing?” he pressed. “Ohhh, they approved our request for additional resources.” Lesson learned4.
Focus the story. Detail adds texture, context, and depth to your case: how many, how soon, accomplished ahead of schedule (by how much), finished under budget (by how much), improved production by XX percent. Salesman of the Month sounds good but conveys little absent amplifying detail. As stated, it’s a lost opportunity to impress.
Preserve compliments. Save accolades from bosses and customers and any other positive, external feedback. Identify the source by official title, the date, and the direct quote. These are terrific additions to an annual appraisal.
I conclude by asking a favor … Please share this article with young adults new to the workforce. These tips served me well throughout my 30-year Air Force career; I’m certain they will help others, as well. That said …I wish you all a happy, productive, and exciting 2018!
Stay tuned for Part Two next week!
Blog #13 — Teaching teens “College Applications: Essays that Open Doors”
Amazing night in Montclair! 40 … yes, 40 teens and assorted parents attended my workshop, “Write to Influence! – College Essays that Open Doors.”
Atmosphere — electric. Interchange – dynamic. Audience – engaged. Ended with rousing applause. When I asked, “Did this help?” … Walls reverberated with, “Yes!”
Don’t just accept my assessment … please, read on!
“I am a programming coordinator for a busy public library system in northern Virginia and have been working with Col. Bass on bringing her workshops to our libraries. Not only am I getting rave reviews from library staff and patrons, but I also used Carla’s book for my own presentation on writing concise descriptions in library communications.”
Blog #12 — Double Tap Writing — Recognize and Avoid
I developed another “mini” technique I’d like to share, “double tap.” This form of sloppy writing comes in two varieties; writers should avoid both.
The first relates to verbs. We often write as we speak (something else to avoid) … “We met to discuss the plans for next week.” This exemplifies the “double tap” verb – the first … “met” … is a preliminary action to the second … “discuss.”
Ask yourself – Is it necessary to the meaning of your sentence to include both actions? Perhaps simply state, “We discussed the plans for next week.” Similar situation … “The coached sent an email telling the team the time for practice.” What’s the double tap verb here? Get it?
The second type of double tap is when the author uses two almost identical words. For example, “The leaves turned a lovely golden/amber color.” Either word works but select one. Here’s another example, “The team examined new measures/methods to more expeditiously share information.” Again, select one.
Remember, powerful writing is constrained by space and time. Double taps waste both.
Blog #11 — Inspiration at Yosemite — An “AH-Ha” Moment about Writing
I compose this blog for authors of fiction who spin tales of horror, humor, suspense, romance, and more, enabling us to escape the concerns of our daily lives … for just a bit. For that – this nonfiction author thanks you!
Backdrop to this story: This year, I took my daughter and her newborn son to Yosemite, where we spent a fabulous week at the Evergreen Lodge near one of the entrances to the national park. Time with Sarah and Deacon, the majestic beauty of Yosemite, and hospitality of the Evergreen made this a never-to-be-forgotten vacation. It also gave us the luxury of time to read – a rarity to be sure.
I enjoyed a book by my favorite author, Daniel Silva, whose writing is so rich, the reader hangs on every word. Upon completion, I immediately read a book by another famous author of the same genre … and was stunned by the contrast in the quality of writing.
This second author wrote what I refer to as a “swimming pool book” … one in which the prose is so loose and sloppy, uninspiring and colloquial … the reader can skim a page, grasp 3 sentences and not miss a beat in the plot. It’s a low-risk book you can read while floating in a pool; if it falls in … no matter.
Lesson … “Write to Influence! “and my Word Sculpting tools apply to fiction. Making every word count — snagging and retaining the attention of the reader applies in this world, as well. See for yourself … First, examples from the other author:
“She looked at her watch, did the math in her head, and knew she had about thirty minutes to think about what she was going to do.”
“So how much longer are you going to be doing what you’re doing?” … “How long are you going to be doing what you’re doing?”
“The next moment the door opened and the number two man walked out through it. He closed the door behind him with the finality of a coffin lid closing.”
“He went back over the Eastern Shore scenario frame by frame in his head.”
“He had known that the agency would allow him to search her locker and take her things once they had assigned him to hunt her down. And the only reason they had allowed him access to her locker was because they had searched through the items and found nothing useful in them. So, she must have assumed that he would at some point gain access to the items and would examine them for a clue of some kind.”
Now, please enjoy these samplings from Daniel Silva’s book, “The Heist.” The last passage describes Venice. For those of you fortunate enough to have visited that magnificent city, this passage should awaken fond memories:
“He came waddling into the bar a few minutes later with all the discretion of a train whistle at midnight …He wore a blue power suit that fit his portly frame like a sausage casing …”
“Several dozen paintings, some in frames, some on their stretchers, leaned against the walls like folding chairs after a catered affair.”
“Gabriel quickly searched them with the thoroughness of a man who knew how to hide things.”
“He had soft pale hair and the guiltless face of a country parson.”
“The intercom, when pressed, howled like an inconsolable child.”
“Early the following morning, Venice lost yet another skirmish in its ancient war with the sea. The floodwaters carried marine creatures of every sort into the lobby of the Hotel Cipriani and inundated Harry’s Bar. Danish tourists went for a morning swim in the Piazza San Marco, tables and chairs from Café Florian bobbed against the steps of the basilica like debris from a sunken luxury liner. For once, the pigeons were nowhere to be found. Most wisely fled the submerged city in search of dry land.”
Blog #10 — Visit “Write to Influence!” — And Its Author — at Local Book Fair
My, how this journey has progressed! Two years ago, I visited the local author fair … Great Writers, Right Here … sponsored by The Fauquier County Public Library with the generous support of The Friends of the Fauquier Library. I recall vividly, the desire to be a participant in this event. At that point, “Write to Influence!” was still in early draft.
Last year, I actually had a table at this event (see picture above); it was my first book show … “Write to Influence!” was then an Advanced Review Copy, which I could actually hold!
THIS year, the book is doing well, with wonderful reviews and a series of workshops scheduled through the fall. I will again participate in the book fair — Please come visit me an the other local authors on Friday, 14 Oct, from 6-8:00 p.m. at the Family Life Center First Baptist Church, 39 Alexandria Pike, Warrenton.
Blog #9 — At Last! Dilemma Resolved … “That” or “Which”
This is the first time I’ve leveraged another expert’s wisdom in my blog – so huge shout out to Stacey Aaronson (email@example.com). I credit what follows below to Stacey.
The determination of using “that” or “which” is governed by restrictive vs. non-restrictive relative clauses. Read on … it’s easy.
Restrictive Relative Clause
Words following “that” are restricted to the preceding words. Think of “that” as a bridge linking the two elements in the sentence.
To verify, remove “that” from the sentence. If the sentence makes no sense, “that” is the correct choice.
We should embrace any program that promotes reading for children.
Do you have any tomatoes that were grown organically?
This is the exercise that builds great core muscles.
Now let’s examine “which” …
Non-Restrictive Relative Clause
The “which” element provides additional information to the sentence and can be eliminated — hence the term non-restrictive — without changing the meaning of the sentence. The “which” element is always separated by a comma.
Reading programs, which are now offered in many schools, should be embraced.
Tomatoes, which can be grown organically or conventionally, contain lycopene.
Squats and crunches, which both use core muscles, are great for building overall strength.
Blog #8 — ““What advice do you have for an aspiring author?”
I was recently asked this question but chose to revise to, “What advice do I offer everyone?” Each individual entering the professional world – in almost any occupation – needs to be a skilled story teller.
Whenever you communicate, e.g., government official testifying to Congress, lawyer addressing a jury, writing input for your annual appraisal or composing your resume, updating the boss on the day’s activities, nurse briefing a doctor about a patient, student writing a report for a college class … these are – in fact – telling a story.
My advice to everyone (beyond adhering to the specifics in Write to Influence!) — do NOT write as you speak. Words flow in conversation; we do not edit before uttering. A major mistake people make in writing is that they don’t edit … at all.
The written language is completely different from the colloquial (that spoken daily), especially in the professional world. Unfortunately, writing-as-you-speak is a common affliction, as seen below:
Before: The values my father and mother learned and displayed are my ideal of citizenship. While I am not yet 100% certain on how I want to leverage my degree (i.e., private practice, government, or uniform), my parents’ example has certainly taught me the “how” – fully committed, dedicated and with absolute integrity.
After: My parents’ values are my model. I will pursue a career in engineering fully committed and with integrity, whether in private practice, government, or the military.
Blog #7 — “Why can’t college graduates write coherent prose?”
Sharing a paragraph from this spot-on article by Jeffrey J. Selingo, Washington Post … August 11, 2017
“My students can’t write a clear sentence to save their lives, and I’ve had it,” Joseph R. Teller, an English professor at College of the Sequoias, wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education in the fall. “In 10 years of teaching writing, I have experimented with different assignments, activities, readings, approaches to commenting on student work — you name it — all to help students write coherent prose that someone would actually want to read. And as anyone who keeps up with trends in higher education knows, such efforts largely fail.
While Write to Influence! is by no means the sole answer to this pervasive problem — pervasive because the inability to write well is multi-generational, afflicting kids in high school through those already in the workforce — this book should certainly be considered as part of the solution. The workshops I teach and feedback from students have confirmed this for the past 15 years.
Last weekend, I mailed a copy of the book, a complied list of glowing reviews, and the WP article to: Governor McAuliffe; Senators Warner and Kaine; and my personal representative, Congressman Garrett (Fauquier county) in hopes they can help me open doors. The cover letter to these elected officials conveys my absolute and compelling desire to reach as many people as possible, because this book can make a difference for many people … it already has.
If you know educators, please spread the word about Write to Influence! and my workshops … one small voice can be greatly amplified by others … This is all about helping people to help others. Thank you!
Blog #6 — “Write to Influence!” in a Competitive World
Why You Need a Staff That Can … Write
Retain and develop in-house talent – Compose powerful, effective appraisals
Compete in large-scale award programs – Win accolades and recognition for your company and people
Broadcast and leverage good news – Trumpet effectively via articles, blogs, etc.
Defend the boss’ signature/reputation—Only quality products bear his/her name
Make the medicine go down — Snazzy writing makes mandatory training less painful … more memorable
Defend your castle – Resources are tight … make that case to retain your assets
Expand your empire – No one deserves more resources than you … make that case!
Brief the boss – Seconds & words count – Your reputation and project are on the line
Create tailored products to develop the workforce – Aka, effective training
Work the occasional miracle — “They” say, “It can’t be done.” … Prove them wrong!
Blog #5 — Powerful Writing … Let’s talk resumes.
Influential writing is key and often tips the balance between success and failure.
The clock ticks … You have a fleeting few minutes to hook the reader … And, that’s the easy part! To retain interest, you must crafting a finely honed, riveting, and compelling message.
You may be the best-qualified candidate but if the competition is better at telling a story, you lose. You must make every word on the resume and each second of the reader’s time play to your advantage in this all-important, often single piece of paper.
Stand out from the crowd – List awards and recognition in the opening segment.
Follow with special skills and leadership attributes.
Be consistent in verb tense … and use powerful, action-oriented verbs.
IMPACT … IMPACT … IMPACT – How did you advance the mission?
Use statistics, quantify … bring focus and context to your accomplishments.
Don’t bury the golden nuggets. I once helped a college student with his first resume. Last line, under “Other Accomplishments” … “Captain of the high school soccer team for three years and led it to a championship.” I moved that bullet to the opening section, “Awards and Accolades” – Why? Leadership skills!
Find many more writing tips, strategies, and examples in Write to Influence!
Blog #4: Powerful Writing for Teens — Snag That Job, Nail That Essay!
This is for teenagers. Powerful writing opens doors for you, too! How? Resumes and essays on college applications.
Both require introspection to gather data points below. Next, craft your story with precision and focus – time/space matter tremendously. “Write to Influence!” shows you how.
Develop an elevator speech on what you bring to the job — Why should you be hired or selected for the college?
Identify your strengths and weaknesses, a challenge you overcame and lessons learned, a grand experience/why it was so, hobbies, passions (not synonymous), 3 items you want the interviewer to remember, leadership skills/when/how applied, community involvement, etc.
Match these items to the job qualifications and focus on 3-4 that overlap. Develop — and rehearse — responses to interview questions, determine how to weave those three items into the conversation.
For the essay, write several drafts to hone the message, making each word count.
Final thought, don’t bury the gold nugget. For example, I helped a college student with his first resume. Penultimate bullet under “Other Accomplishments” – “Captain of the high school soccer team for three years and led it to a championship.” I moved that bullet – and expanded it – to the opening category of the resume, Awards and Accolades. Why? Leadership!
Blog #3: Chicago or Bust! ALA Convention
Just returned from the American Library Association convention in Chicago and a fabulous book signing. Highlight was the privilege of conversing with librarians (all types … public, university, elementary thru high schools, etc.) from across the country.
I hope Heaven reserves a special place for this group of hard working, dedicated, and caring professionals.
Without exception, those with whom I spoke acknowledged the diminution of core writing skills at many levels. The attributed this erosion to technology-driven communication (e.g., Twitter) and to teachers (equally hard working, dedicated, and caring), constrained by a curriculum that allows neither time nor latitude to inculcate these critical skills in students.
Many also acknowledged the need to hone writing skills among their own staffs to better compete for grants and even travel funds to attend functions such as this.
Take away … whether librarian, corporate leader, or private business owner, the need to write powerfully is ubiquitous. The ability to effectively wield the written word opens doors to a multitude of opportunities. The inability to do so is equally decisive.
That is why I’m delighted to partner with libraries …Recently added to Atlanta-Fulton public library!
Blog #2: Write to Influence! — Powerful Writing Changes Lives!
I’ve seen it … I’ve done it … throughout my thirty years active duty in the Air Force and several years thereafter in government.
Powerful writing opens doors to promotion, fellowships, internships, scholarships, grants, career-broadening opportunities, competitive training, and so much more.
In each case, influential writing is key to success. A well-crafted, hard-hitting, influential message often tips the scale in your favor.
On the flip side, you might be THE most qualified candidate—hands down—but if the competition is better at telling a story … you lose.
I witnessed this as a squadron commander. Time and again, talented squadron members were passed over for quarterly and annual awards, not because they were underserving but because supervisors could not write compelling nomination packages.
This is equally relevant from an organizational perspective. Have you ever read a paragraph in a report, then read it again, and yet a third time … still unable to ascertain the author’s point? Of course, we all have! Wading through textual muck is time consuming, counterproductive, frustrating, and the bane of today’s business products.
Facing cuts in budget or staff? Need to obtain resources to expand a program? Preparing that critical annual report? Clear, concise writing is the lifeblood for private business, corporations, non-governmental organizations, and government agencies that:
Rely on influential communication to grow business
Employ a large staff, especially one geographically dispersed
Deal with abstract ideas (e.g., analysis of social, economic, and political trends)
Account to the public, to other institutions (e.g., Congress), and to history, and must explain and record their activities accordingly
Face the possibility that an error caused by poor writing could be damaging either financially or to important national matters (Mortimer Goldstein, Disciplined Writing and Career Development, 1986)
These are the challenges. Your task is to WOW! the reader, leaving that individual nodding in agreement with your message, wanting to read more.
In next week’s blog, I’ll share some tips on how to make each word and every second of the reader’s time play to your advantage.
Blog #1:NYC or Bust! BEA Book Expo
Thought I’d stick my toe in this water — something I’ve studiously avoided! — by sharing photos from my most amazing trip to NYC. There, I attended the award ceremony from the Next Generation Independent Book Awards … Write to Influence! won an award as Finalist in the category, Careers.
The next two days, the book was included in an exhibit at the BEA Book Expo at the Javits Center, attended by 400 exhibitors and thousands of guests. Please enjoy the shots. I obviously did!
I’ll post every Friday afternoon with a mixture of challenges … “Can YOU fix this writing?” or other fun thoughts. Please direct your friends here … and their friends!
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