Category Archives: Writing

Two-Dollar Poems

A typewriter, a cardboard sign, some note paper, a skateboard to sit on — and you’re in business. Met this fellow at Venice Beach offering on-the-spot poetry. He asked for a topic and about a minute later produced a poem. Definitely worth two dollars. I snapped the top photo with Hipstamatic and added solarization via Dynamic Light, combining results in Photoforge2. Also met a photographer for a another blog  there that day as well. Creativity and art abound = cool stuff.

photo 1

Two Dollar Poems, Venice Beach

What do you think? Could you see yourself conducting such an enterprise? Would you support someone doing this? Ever seen this elsewhere? Let us hear from you in the comments.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingI just finished the audiobook of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. This book makes many interesting revelations by way of neuroscience (like another I just reviewed, Deep Survival), giving scientific insight into the myriad of reasons of why introverts and extroverts are the way they are.

I’ve always considered myself an ambivert – I have varying tendencies in different situations, so this detailed look at introversion was of particular interest to me. I’m not shy, and do enjoy public speaking, performing and experiencing the world – yet I’m very independently minded in my approach.

Much of Quiet seems to work at making introverts feel okay about who they are, which is understandable. But what I enjoyed more was how it made sense of the biological reasonings and structural evidence for this parallel of personalities. Consider this take on extroverts at dinner parties:

The ability to process a lot of short-term information at once without becoming distracted or overly stressed – this is just the sort of brain function extroverts tend to be well-suited for. In other words, extroverts are sociable because their brains are good at handling competing demands on their attention — which is just what dinner-party conversation involves. In contrast, introverts often feel repelled by social events that force them to attend to many people at once.

Compare this with the introvert perspective:

When introverts assume the observer role, as when they write novels, or contemplate unified field theory – or fall quiet at dinner parties – they’re not demonstrating a failure of will or lack of energy. They’re simply doing what they’re constitutionally suited for.

This is not to say that all introverts or  extroverts are the same categorically, and the book does stress this in several places. But that these are two different approaches due to a variety of factors, each valid in their own way, and each capable of benefitting by better understanding the other – a concept advanced by this book.

Introverts UNITE (separately)

This design available at printfection.com

Musical accompaniment – “Quiet” by the Smashing Pumpkins:

What do you think? Do you consider yourself an introvert or extrovert? Do you find advantages or disadvantages in either case? Let us hear from you in the comments.

Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why – My Review

Deep Survival by Laurence GonzalesIn the face of catastrophe, and beyond luck, survival is as much a factor of mental acuity than anything else.

I just finished Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales. It’s a compelling book, and I’d recommend it not only for the gripping true stories of survival and the advice these tales impart, but particularly for its examination of how our brains work. This is as much a study of psychology and introductory neuroscience as it is a dos-and-don’ts of how to handle being lost at sea, stranded in the wilderness, or any number of other life-and-death events.

Consider this passage:

The limited nature of working memory, attention, and the executive function, along with the shorthand work of mental models can cause surprising lapses in the way we process the world and make conscious or unconscious decisions.

This is an eloquent explanation of how we can become distracted and thrown off from basic logic, like following standard safety procedures – things that mountain climbers, for example, should do practically as second nature.

And on adaptability, this passage:

We all make powerful models of the future. The world we imagine seems as real as the ones we’ve experienced. We suffuse the model with the emotional values of past realities. And in the thrall of that vision, call it, “the plan, writ large,” we go forth and take action. If things don’t go according to the plan, revising such a robust model may be difficult. In an environment that has high objective hazards, the longer it takes to dislodge the imagined world in favor of the real one, the greater the risk. In nature, adaptation is important. The plan is not. It’s a Zen thing. We must plan, but we must be able to let go of the plan, too.

Phrasing like this – and applying Zen principles to survival concepts – kept me interested the whole way through.

Deep Survival

Click to hear a sample of the Deep Survival audio book at Audible.com (opens in new window)

This book’s subtitle in some versions is “True Stories of Miraculous Endurance and Sudden Death,” and while it certainly covers that, it explores far more – particularly in terms of how the mind handles itself in extraordinary situations.

I listened to the audiobook version from Audible.com, narrated in the authoritative yet friendly baritone of Stefan Rudnicki. Visit the Deep Survival page at Audible  to read other reviews and hear a sample.

What do you think? Have you ever survived a near-death encounter? Have you ever been lost at sea, stranded, or otherwise in great peril? Let us hear from you in the comments.

For When You Don’t Feel Like Blogging

Writing a blog post shouldn’t be a big deal, especially if you’re serious about blogging. That said, there are going to be days when you just don’t feel like it.

Blogging

Check out the full series of blogging-themed images
I created over at Flickr and feel free to use them on your own blog.

Having done this for over a year now, a couple times per week steadily, I can fully attest to the occasional lack of motivation – but I always fight through and deliver the goods. Along the way, I’ve picked up these tips for those dark moments when you might not feel like keeping up with your own blog.

1. Have some posts in the bank

In those spells when you feel like writing, or when an idea hits, try to go with it. Take two minutes to get your thoughts into a few sentences or headings you can easily expand upon later. I’ve found the best tool for doing this is dictation software, or at the very least, the drafts feature in WordPress. I’ll even email some ideas to myself as a way of quickly capturing a subject or notion I know can be expanded upon down the road. That way, when the time is right, the content is ready to go.

Language Is A Virus

Another great site for
writing inspiration: LanguageIsAVirus.com

2. Know your inspiration

Have some role models or examples of sites you enjoy on hand to get you thinking about material for your own blog. Or, as Janet Aronica aptly states over at Shareaholic (among the many other excellent tips there):

“Consume the content you want to create.”

By being able to easily refer to your sources of inspiration, you’ll be more likely to generate your own material with your unique perspective – which is the very best part of having your own blog. Set up some bookmarks, feeds, subscriptions, or whatever aggregation method works best for you so you can get inspired and have your own creative juices flowing.

3. Keep it simple, genius

A blog post does not have to be 10,000 words, nor should it be. In fact, brief is often better. I’ve found some of my most popular posts are sometimes the ones with just a compelling image and only a few sentences. Being handy with the phone cam and always on the lookout for quality visuals to share is something I enjoy, and also something I recommend for having interesting blog fodder at the ready.

What do you think? Are these suggestions useful? What tips would you suggest for drumming up motivation or inspiration in blogging? Let us hear from you in the comments.

Who’s Been Commenting?

A great reward of blogging is making connections with professionals whose work I respect. Here’s a look at some recognizable figures commenting at rsmithing.com in the past 12 months. Check out the posts to see their remarks:

Mack Collier

Mack Collier

Mack Collier commented and said thanks in my post, Blogchat: Sundays on Twitter. As a strategisttrainer and speaker on social media, Collier helps companies better connect with customers. He has been actively immersed in social media since 2005, and in that time has helped businesses of all shapes and sizes better connect with their customers via these amazing tools and sites. [Mack’s Site]

Neil Strauss

Neil Strauss

Neil Strauss commented a couple of times on my post, Last Book Read: Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead. Strauss is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone and also writes regularly for The New York Times, having repeatedly made its bestseller list with books such as The Game, Emergency, and Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead. [Wikipedia]

John Boswell

John Boswell

John Boswell generously answered my questions in this post: Interview with MelodySheep and Symphony of Science Mastermind. Boswell is the artist behind autotune projects Symphony of Science and MelodySheep, gaining international recognition and millions of YouTube views for his inspiring musical tributes to Mr. Rogers, Bob Ross and Julia Child, among others.

Mike Sager

Mike Sager

Mike Sager said thanks for my quick post inspired by his writing, From Music and Words into Movement – The Fun of Art. Sager is a bestselling author and award-winning journalist. He has been called “the Beat poet of American journalism, that rare reporter who can make literature out of shabby reality.” [Wikipedia] In thirty years as a journalist, writer at large Mike Sager has immersed himself in the lives of pit-bull fighters, heroin addicts, Tupperware saleswomen, and an actress named Roseanne. [Esquire]

Jay Baer

Jay Baer

Jay Baer stopped by after I reached him on Google Plus to weigh in on my post, How to Talk About Social Media In Business: 5 Points, Video Interview. Baer is a social media strategist, author, speaker and President of Convince & Convert. Founder of five companies, he’s worked with over 700 brands (including Nike, Cold Stone Creamery, Sony, ExactTarget, and ConocoPhillips) since 1994, including 25 of the Fortune 1000. His blog is ranked among the world’s top marketing resources, and was named #3 social media blog in the world by Social Media Examiner. [Wikipedia]

Alexis Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal noted his use of contrast in my analysis of his work: Contrasts Make Connections. Madrigal is a Senior editor at The Atlantic, author of Powering the Dream, and has previously contributed to WIRED, covering science and technology as a contributor to the Wired Science blog. [Twitter]

Also engaging via brand representatives were McDonald’s Corporate in: Fast Food and Fast Lessons in Public Relations and, as a bonus from 2011: Delta Airlines in my post, An Airline Gets it… Right?

What do you think? Have any well-known figures or organizations commented on your work? Have you ever had any brushes with celebrity? Let us hear from you in the comments.

Last Book Read: Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead

The last book I read is Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead by Neil Strauss. It’s a collection of interviews that Strauss feels are particularly revealing about some high-profile personalities. Strauss is a well-known author and longtime interviewer for magazines such as Rolling Stone, and was formerly on staff at The New York Times.

What I like about this book, besides the content, design, and the insight into the mental workings of some charismatic and sometimes famously reclusive celebrities, is the fact that it is a collection of powerful yet digestible works. I have never had the patience for the long-form novel, especially nonfiction.

Not Into Books? This book is for you.

This may sound odd, coming from someone writes professionally and also has a degree in English. But maybe it’s because I had so many dull reading assignments foisted onto me through my academic career that my favorite form of literature is a well-crafted article, interview or story. Flannery O’Connor is, by far, my favorite short story author of all time.

I can count on two hands the number of long-form books to truly engage me, ever. You may think this is a sad confession, but I can in no way count the number of interesting articles, magazines or other short-form compositions I consume continuously every day, every night, on the weekends, and probably in between.

I’ve always been a news junkie, and my work in PR is fueled by that fire. Many other PR professionals are also avid newshounds. So it isn’t that I’m  uninformed or ill-cultured (but that’s debatable), rather it’s just that I enjoy reading especially good writing in concentrated bursts. If you also fall into this category of reader, definitely check out Strauss’ engaging collection of interviews. Here’s a review I wrote about the book on Amazon.com:

Compelling Sketches, Interview Style

I’d love to see this book’s unedited manuscript, or especially Strauss’s notes, because that would mean being a modicum closer to the personalities in these pages — something you’ll want to do with at least several since the interviews are like rhythmic character sketches, with journalistic precision. Definitely my favorite of 2011.

rsmithing at Amazon.com

What do you think? What’s the last book you read and really enjoyed? Are you familiar with Neil Strauss? Are you more of a magazine person than a book person? Or is the opposite true for you – why do you think that is? Let us hear from you in the comments!

How To Write The Perfect Blog Post

I don’t often straight-up repost content without elaborating much, but wow — this is one great infographic. And I don’t often say that either. Click for full-size, see what you think & share your thoughts below (credit: Alex Mangini of Kolakube, Derek Halpern of SocialTriggers; first spotted at FamousBloggers via Gregory Ciotti):

PerfectBlogPost

What do you think? Do you employ these practices? Is this really a recipe for perfect post? And if not, what else would you do? What would you do differently? Let us hear from you in the comments.