I’ve recently finished an inspiring life reflection by an Auschwitz survivor and remarkable human being. Elie Wiesel’s “Open Heart” shares his thoughts after 82 years, penned after facing his own mortality a la emergency open heart surgery. An author of more than 50 books, Wiesel has lived an impressive life in all regards. He’s been awarded the United States Congressional Gold Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, honorary knighthood of the British Empire, and Nobel Peace Prize. While digesting the intimate thoughts of what matters most to him, I was struck by these words in Chapter 25:
I still believe in man, in spite of man. I still believe in language, even though it has been wounded, deformed, and perverted by the enemies of mankind. I continue to cling to words, because it is up to us to transform them into instruments of comprehension, rather than contempt. It is up to us to choose whether we wish to use them to curse or to heal; to wound or console.
Like Wiesel, I too believe in language. Granted, I’m bias, but I see words as the shining communication medium to articulate human experiences beyond our own selves. Some may say music, dance, or art are their preferred method, but for me, words are the true “instruments of comprehension.” Why? When I consider it, words live at the heart of many of my most meaningful life moments: My prayers, uttered to a listening God; the quiet realizations I’ve written in journals during the past 20 years; notes and letters from people I love; the special words spoken at my wedding ceremony; and my whispered, teary welcome to my first baby.
Clinging to words suits my soul. You too?
While political polls revealed final American voting counts last night, here’s another worthy poll result for writers: Who wins in the writing lineup between men and women?
The world’s “best grammar checker,” Grammarly, conducted a study with 3,000+ participants to settle the matter. Nick at Grammarly reached out to me with their results in the infographic below and offered to donate to a charity promoting literacy when I shared it. (Um, sweet.) Besides, it’s favorable to my gender. How can I not share that?
What do you think about these results?
Like people, words come in all shapes and varieties. Some are much easier to swallow, and much more fun to write.
I’ve been chin-deep in writing my master’s thesis lately. While I can pull it off, this type of academic writing is true work for me. It’s detailed. It’s exact. It’s stretching me in ways that make me feel I’m really making my graduate degree more than a piece of paper. (If you’re interested, I introduced the topic here.) I guess I’m a glutton for a good challenge, because I chose to include quantitative research. While I’m really proud of myself for putting together a publishable academic article (my thesis abstract has been accepted at an international corporate communication conference!), this is not the kind of writing I’d want to do every day.
No, in my heart of hearts, I have a thing for writing (and reading) essays. Personal narratives, to be specific. Pouring my heart into words does make me feel vulnerable, but it’s such an exhilaration to know snapshots of my life have been recorded in word.
Happy to share the first paragraph of my recently published essay, “The Pregnant Lady in My Mirror,” on Mamalode:
One day I met a pregnant lady in my mirror. She appeared there suddenly, after two positive lines indicated a big change was coming. Her eyes sparkled with joy; she’d dreamed of this for a long time.
Read the rest of this essay here.
Wrapped as a gift, some words speak to our souls. I’m sure you’ve also heard phrases that made such an imprint, you tucked them away to pull out at a later date. Years ago, I heard a talk that comes back to me every Christmastime, especially this paragraph:
I suppose that the language of heaven, properly spoken, may approach a form of music. Did C. S. Lewis have this in mind when he wrote:
“Isn’t it funny the way some combinations of words can give you, almost apart from their meaning, a thrill like music?”
At Jesus’ birth the angels appeared and spoke, not sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” We now try to capture that beauty in song, but the original angelic utterance was in spoken words, which thrilled like music.
I have no words to add to those phrases – they inspire and delight me so much, I can read them over and over.
May your Christmas be merry, and your new year bright.
Source: “Your Refined Heavenly Home” by Douglas Callister, emphasis added
What makes a book feel like a friend? Or a news article share-worthy? Or a story cause you to take action?
I was asked what makes writing good in an interview last year, and here’s how I responded:
Great thoughts. Anyone can slap words on paper (or clink them out keyboard), but good writing materializes with the infusion of creative, authentic ideas. Writers paint with words, using a palette of verbs and nouns. When they get it right, they gift readers with power-punch phrases, such as this beauty from the September 2012 Real Simple magazine: “My ratio of tra-la-la to ay-yi-yi shifted noticeably.”
Since then, I’ve thought about the great thoughts and good writing in my life. I’m always paying attention: the plastic wrapping on my fruit leather, tweets from standout writers, and billboards I pass on my way to work. Words are everywhere. What makes some combinations more powerful than others?
Good writing resonates. It touches a piece of my soul, often connects me to something greater and inspires makes me want to act or think new thoughts.
Martin: I was always a huge fan of ee cummings. He did a series of lectures at Harvard or Princeton, and they were recorded. And they were incredibly moving. He does this long anecdote, and then he says, “To me, these are the most beautiful words ever written in the English language.” Suddenly you’re really listening. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” I thought about that a lot. It’s like when you listen to a comedian, you think, “Well, what is your life?”
As the Three Amigos comedian alludes: We need writing that moves us, inspires us. Words grant us more than means of mere communication. They are the medium by which we define our lives.
Now it’s your turn: What makes writing good?
Peanut butter and jelly. Lucy and Ricky. Tax season and accountants.
Some things are simply made for each other.
Let’s add “writing and thinking” to this list of inseparables. Sure, you can think without writing (even hold whole conversations in your head), but I guarantee you can’t write (well) without thinking.
In college, a phrase in a lecture seared itself into my memory: “Learning to write is learning to think.” As a full-time word wrangler, I’m fully convinced writing absolutely requires a healthy dose of mental gymnastics! Speaking of which, here are some exercises I find helpful.
9 tips for thinking– and writing – creatively:
- Doodle, dude. Perhaps it’s the intersection of right brain meets left, but when I let myself play with a pen, I’m often surprised at where my pen/marker/crayon takes my words.
- Cozy up with a respected magazine. I keep a stack of magazines nearby when I’m writing, so I can meander through prose others have written. I can’t tell you how many times a well-crafted phrase in National Geographic popped a new idea into my head.
- Hone in on visual details. Consider what stands out in the scene or depiction you’re looking to describe. Clever wordologist Amy Taylor shows us a lot here: “A card-carrying member of the public library and ruthless Scrabble player, Amy’s wordological tendencies emerged at a young age.”
- Chop difficult points into bite-sized chunks. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Whether it’s a school report or a proposal for your boss, break apart massive thoughts into puzzles parts, and find fun in piecing it together. Bit by bit.
- Get off the screen. A recent Nielsen report found Americans spend 34 hours a week watching TV- almost a full-time job! Whether you’re glued to a computer, tablet, TV or smartphone – give your eyes and brain a break. You can’t improve creativity when sucked into the tube.
- Marry two unlikely ideas together. Some of the most creative people I know are really matchmakers. Or perhaps they’re alchemists, concocting same-old ideas in new ways? Either way, hopefully that gives you an idea of what I mean.
- Ditch a project for a day. Sometimes I get to the point I’m thinking too hard and my brain feels fried. If there’s wiggle room before a deadline, I set aside the writing project and return (hopefully) refreshed the next day.
- Talk to yourself. I won’t tell if you don’t. While typing, if you get stuck, something about verbalizing thoughts makes them register differently. When you don’t know what to say when writing, you may need to hear it.
- Juice up your verbs. Being an interesting thinker, speaker, and writer, has everything to do with the words you use. Want to jumpstart your writing? Squeeze in eye-catching verbs.
Now tell me: What are your strategies to get in the creative zone?
As a writer and traveling enthusiast, I’ve spent many, many hours writing in the sky. In fact, I tend to discover my most interesting writing ideas at 33,000 feet.
The first job I snagged out of college was working for an airline. (Hello flight benefit addiction!) In three and a half years wearing flight attendant wings and gifting free peanuts to passengers, I’ve made it to all 50 states and seen gorgeous sunrises, sunsets, the tippy tops of mountains, and rippling waves of oceans. I captured the picture-perfect cloud scene above with my camera phone, looking through the galley window. (Now that’s an office with a view, right?)
Ever wondered what flight attendants do after giving out snacks and drinks? For me, after cabin service is complete, I’m delighted to write. If I have a few spare minutes (or hours sometimes!), I sit in the jumpseat with a notebook and jot ideas. Sometimes it’s to-do lists or ideas for freelance articles. Other times I catch up on my journal, and include the route I’m flying next to the date (e.g., ATL-SLC), so I’ll remember later.
As a matter of fact, the idea for this blog was born in the sky. I wanted my own corner in the digital world and needed an angle. I took an inventory of my interests: traveling, communication, active living, marketing, humanities, leadership, the color teal – but what topic could I never tire writing about?
Up there, I had a mile-high realization: crisp copy, scintillating syntax, and grammar matters – now that gets me excited. It came to me: celebrate words. And thus, delighted to write came into fruition.
Fasten your seatbelts, ladies and gentlemen; I’m ramping up my blog editorial calendar and have some fun Saturday Spotlights, posts, and contests up my sleeve. Thanks for reading and being part of the journey with me.
And friend – next time you fly, take a pen.
Where do you like to write? Let’s hear it in the comments.
Isn’t it amazing what four little letters can do?
Apart, they don’t say much. Together, L-O-V-E, represent something we can’t live without. A couple years ago, I took this photograph at LOVE Park in Philadelphia’s best-known landmark, the Robert Indiana sculpture. I rushed almost 20 blocks with blistered feet before I had to be at the airport on a blazing summer day, just to see the LOVE for myself.
Love matters, and consider this: According to Huffington Post, Americans will spend $17.6 billion for Valentine’s Day – chocolates, paper cards, and other tangible tokens of romance.
Gifts are fine and dandy, but I’m much more a “words of affection” kind of gal. Love letters are the quickest way to my heart, and my favorite way to show love is writing a sweet note.
I’m not alone in wanting love letters in the world:
- The wonderful hearts-on-sleevers at The World Needs More Love Letters send them year round.
- My pal Amy started a mailbag revolution this year with her #LOVEx14 campaign. (Check out the awesome handmade cards here!)
- The Huffington Post’s Love Letters Project is “an anthology of reflections on American places by the local people that define them.”
As for me, one of my all-time heroes sums of what love really is with these words:
“True love is not so much a matter of romance as it is a matter of anxious concern for the well-being of one’s companion.”
– Gordon B. Hinckley, Stand a Little Taller
Happy Valentine’s Day! Sending some love your way.
Writing’s a wonderful art form – with endless options to express thoughts and ideas. Words are fun for all ages.
I was delighted when a young writer reached out to me recently, asking for advice on writing. I sent back these five tips- what I wish someone would have told me as a kid:
1. Read, read, read. Get your hands on all kinds of books, magazines, newspapers, etc. Read websites. Read labels on your morning cereal. Read signs when you’re driving on the freeway. Notice how people write in different styles, and read with the intention of improving your writing.
2. Keep a journal. Maybe you already do, but if not, get a nice one from a bookstore – not just a spiral bound. Have it be a place where you can write the things of your heart – your dreams, ideas, events in your life, and capture your world right now. I started journaling at age eight, and have loved it ever since. I have a whole shelf full of journals recording my life, and they are my most prized possessions. Someday you’ll read your words and be able to step back in time. It’s amazing.
3. Learn (and use) rules of grammar. It’s not always the most fun thing to learn, but I’ve grown to appreciate and even love grammar as I’ve gotten older. It makes it so much easier to understand and communicate when we used proper grammar. It’s really the mark of a true artist – and when you learn the rules, you are able to break them with flair. I recommend the book, “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves” by Lynne Truss. She makes grammar fun!
4. Enter writing contests. There are lots of them out there! Google search “writing contests for kids” (or whatever age you are) and you’ll find all kinds of things. I also recommend Writer’s Market, a giant book you can find in the library that lists all the places you can send in articles and stories to be published and for contests. I won contests as a child, and that built my confidence and propelled me to grow and learn more. It’s fun to win, too!
5. Ask questions. If you read a book you love and want to ask the author something, look up their address and send them a letter or email. You just may get a reply. Be willing to learn from those you admire, and you’ll be surprised at what you’ll find.
Do you have questions for me about writing? Feel free to send them my way.
First, THANK YOU to everyone who participated in the 12.12.12 essay contest. Your creativity came packaged in 12-word wonders, and I feel as though I received 119 mini presents this week. Due to your wonderful response, I’ll be hosting more contests in the future and invite you to keep coming back to “delighted to write” for more insights on writing, communication, and the delicious art of words.
Also, the contest couldn’t have happened without the wonderful 12 sponsors who offered up their talents as prizes.THANK YOU!
With so many witty essays, selecting winners yesterday was a huge challenge. I enjoyed each and every essay, sorted them into categories, narrowed those down, and solicited help of friends for some that were too close to call.
I ended out making a category for “Arizona” entries because those are the only folks eligible for the photography session. Full disclosure: I made every effort for judging to be fair and I did not judge that portion myself. In two rounds, my colleagues chose Chalice Carpenter, who happens to be one of the prize sponsors and my talented mom (she’s also an impressionist painter, check out her colorful art).
The remaining entries were put into the drawing, and I randomly pulled five names.
Without further ado…drumroll, please….
Winners: Congrats! I’ll be in touch to let you know your prize in the next couple days.
Sponsors: You’ll be hearing from me, and getting the winners’ contact information to send them their prize.
Whew! Made it. Happy 12.12.12 – do something adventurous today.