Sunday, September 30, 2012

The 8 Strengths of Humility « Leadership Freak

The 8 Strengths of Humility

I ask G.J. Hart, when he was CEO of Texas Roadhouse, if he could spot emerging leaders. He didn't rule out talent, education, or leadership presence, but he replied, "I can usually tell if they have the humility to make it."

Hart's statement so deeply impacted me that I wrote about humility in, "The Character Based Leader."

Humble leaders are stronger than arrogant leaders.

Humble strength vs. arrogant weakness:

  1. Humility learns; arrogance knows.
  2. Humble leaders submit to noble values; they won't bend. Arrogant leaders bend rules to their advantage.
  3. Humility listens; arrogance talks.
  4. Humble leaders serve others; arrogant leaders serve themselves.
  5. Humble leaders are free to build up others. Arrogant leaders build up themselves.
  6. Humility opens hearts; arrogance builds walls.
  7. Humility joins; arrogance stands aloof.
  8. Humble leaders connect; arrogant leaders disconnect.

Humility enables leaders to ask, "How can I help?"

Thanks to Kristi Neises on The Leadership Coffee Shop for reminding me of this C.S. Lewis quote:

"Humility is not thinking less of yourself
but thinking of yourself less."

Necessity:

Leadership skills are important for leadership success but humility is necessary. I'll take a less skilled humble leader over a more skilled arrogant leader every time.

Arrogant leaders might succeed but they'll never be successful. Can you think of any leadership skill that isn't more beautiful with humility?

The Path:

Leadership is first about character then about skills. Spend more time developing the practice of humility and less time working on leadership skills.

You can't talk your way into humility; it's always practiced.

See Facebook contributions: The Leadership Freak Coffee Shop.

What strengths do you see in humility?

How does arrogance hinder or destroy leadership?

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10 Tips on Writing from David Ogilvy | Brain Pickings

10 Tips on Writing from David Ogilvy

07 FEBRUARY, 2012 by

"Never write more than two pages on any subject."

How is your new year's resolution to read more and write better holding up? After tracing the fascinating story of the most influential writing style guide of all time and absorbing advice on writing from some of modern history's most legendary writers, here comes some priceless and pricelessly uncompromising wisdom from a very different kind of cultural legend: iconic businessman and original "Mad Man" David Ogilvy. On September 7th, 1982, Ogilvy sent the following internal memo to all agency employees, titled "How to Write":

The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather. People who think well, write well.

Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches.

Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well. Here are 10 hints:

1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.

2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.

3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.

4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.

5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.

6. Check your quotations.

7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning — and then edit it.

8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.

9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.

10. If you want ACTION, don't write. Go and tell the guy what you want.

David

This, and much more of Ogilvy's timeless advice, can be found in The Unpublished David Ogilvy: A Selection of His Writings from the Files of His Partners, a fine addition to my favorite famous correspondence. The book is long out of print, but you can snag a copy with some rummaging through Amazon's second-hand copies or your favorite used bookstore.

via Lists of Note

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Why I Write: George Orwell's Four Motives for Creation | Brain Pickings

Why I Write: George Orwell's Four Motives for Creation

25 JUNE, 2012 by

"All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery."

Literary legend Eric Arthur Blair, better known as George Orwell, would have been 109 today. Though he remains best remembered for authoring the cult-classics Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, he was also a formidable, masterful essayist. Among his finest short-form feats is the 1946 essay Why I Write (public library) — a fine addition to other timeless insights on writing, including Kurt Vonnegut's 8 rules for a great story, David Ogilvy's 10 no-bullshit tips, Henry Miller's 11 commandments, Jack Kerouac's 30 beliefs and techniques, John Steinbeck's 6 pointers, and various invaluable insight from other great writers.

Orwell begins with some details about his less than idyllic childhood — complete with absentee father, school mockery and bullying, and a profound sense of loneliness — and traces how those experiences steered him towards writing, proposing that such early micro-traumas are essential for any writer's drive. He then lays out what he believes to be the four main motives for writing, most of which extrapolate to just about any domain of creative output.

I give all this background information because I do not think one can assess a writer's motives without knowing something of his early development. His subject matter will be determined by the age he lives in — at least this is true in tumultuous, revolutionary ages like our own — but before he ever begins to write he will have acquired an emotional attitude from which he will never completely escape. It is his job, no doubt, to discipline his temperament and avoid getting stuck at some immature stage, in some perverse mood; but if he escapes from his early influences altogether, he will have killed his impulse to write. Putting aside the need to earn a living, I think there are four great motives for writing, at any rate for writing prose. They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living. They are:

(i) Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen — in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all — and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.

(ii) Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc. Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.

(iii) Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.

(iv) Political purpose. — Using the word 'political' in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples' idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

It can be seen how these various impulses must war against one another, and how they must fluctuate from person to person and from time to time.

After a further discussion of how these motives permeated his own work at different times and in different ways, Orwell offers a final and rather dystopian disclaimer:

Looking back through the last page or two, I see that I have made it appear as though my motives in writing were wholly public-spirited. I don't want to leave that as the final impression. All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one's own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane. I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed. And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a POLITICAL purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.

This, of course is to be taken with a grain of salt — the granularity of individual disposition, outlook, and existential choice, that is. I myself subscribe to the Ray Bradbury model:

Writing is not a serious business. It's a joy and a celebration. You should be having fun with it. Ignore the authors who say 'Oh, my God, what word? Oh, Jesus Christ…', you know. Now, to hell with that. It's not work. If it's work, stop and do something else.

Why I Write is part of Penguin's Great Ideas series, excellent in its entirety.

Photo via The Atlantic

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A Few Don'ts for Those Beginning to Write Verse from Ezra Pound | Brain Pickings

A Few Don'ts for Those Beginning to Write Verse from Ezra Pound

21 AUGUST, 2012 by

"Consider the way of the scientists rather than the way of an advertising agent for a new soap."

Say you've already learned how to read a poem, but now crave some verse of your very own. How, exactly, do you do it artfully?

In 1913, Ezra Pound penned "a list of don'ts for those beginning to write verses" under the title of "A Few Don'ts by an Imagiste," which promised to "throw out nine-tenths of all the bad poetry now accepted as standard and classic [and] prevent you from many a crime of production." The short essay was part of Pound's "A Retrospect," outlining the principles of the imagist group, which he co-founded along with H.D., Richard Adlington, and F.S. Flint. It appears in Literary Essays of Ezra Pound (public library), originally published in 1918, with an introduction by none other than T. S. Eliot.

Pound begins with a piece of advice that applies as much to poetry as it does to the rest of life:

Pay no attention to the criticism of men who have never themselves written a notable work.

He then moves on to specific prescriptions for the use of language:

Don't use such an expression as 'dim lands of peace.' It dulls the image. It mixes an abstraction with the concrete. It comes from the writer's not realizing that the natural object is always the adequate symbol. Go in fear of abstractions. Don't retell in mediocre verse what has already been done in good prose. Don't think any intelligent person is going to be deceived when you try to shirk all the difficulties of the unspeakably difficult art of good prose by chopping your composition into line lengths. What the expert is tired of today the public will be tired of tomorrow. Don't imagine that the art of poetry is any simpler than the art of music, or that you can please the expert before you have spent at least as much effort on the art of verse as the average piano teacher spends on the art of music. Be influenced by as many great artists as you can, but have the decency either to acknowledge the debt outright, or to try to conceal it. Don't allow 'influence' to mean merely that you mop up the particular decorative vocabulary of some one or two poets whom you happen to admire. A Turkish war correspondent was recently caught red-handed babbling in his dispatches of 'dove-gray' hills, or else it was 'pearl-pale,' I can not remember. Use either no ornament or good ornament.

Next, he examines rhythm and rhyme:

Let the neophyte know assonance and alliteration, rhyme immediate and delayed, simple and polyphonic, as a musician would expect to know harmony and counter-point and all the minutiae of his craft. No time is too great to give to these matters or to any one of them, even if the artist seldom have need of them. Don't imagine that a thing will 'go' in verse just because it's too dull to go in prose. Don't be 'viewy' — leave that to the writers of pretty little philosophic essays. Don't be descriptive; remember that the painter can describe a landscape much better than you can, and that he has to know a deal more about it. When Shakespeare talks of the 'Dawn in russet mantle clad' he presents something which the painter does not present. There is in this line of his nothing that one can call description; he presents. Consider the way of the scientists rather than the way of an advertising agent for a new soap.

The scientist does not expect to be acclaimed as a great scientist until he has discovered something. He begins by learning what has been discovered already. He goes from that point onward. He does not bank on being a charming fellow personally. He does not expect his friends to applaud the results of his freshman class work. Freshmen in poetry are unfortunately not confined to a definite and recognizable class room. They are 'all over the shop.' Is it any wonder 'the public is indifferent to poetry?'

Don't chop your stuff into separate iambs. Don't make each line stop dead at the end, and then begin every next line with a heave. Let the beginning of the next line catch the rise of the rhythm wave, unless you want a definite longish pause. In short, behave as a musician, a good musician, when dealing with that phase of your art which has exact parallels in music. The same laws govern, and you are bound by no others. Naturally, your rhythmic structure should not destroy the shape of your words, or their natural sound, or their meaning. It is improbable that, at the start, you will be able to get a rhythm-structure strong enough to affect them very much, though you may fall a victim to all sorts of false stopping due to line ends and caesurae. The musician can rely on pitch and the volume of the orchestra. You can not. The term harmony is misapplied to poetry; it refers to simultaneous sounds of different pitch. There is, however, in the best verse a sort of residue of sound which remains in the ear of the hearer and acts more or less as an organ-base. A rhyme must have in it some slight element of surprise if it is to give pleasure; it need not be bizarre or curious, but it must be well used if used at all.

For more famous advice on writing, see Kurt Vonnegut's 8 rules for a great story, David Ogilvy's 10 no-bullshit tips, Henry Miller's 11 commandments, Jack Kerouac's 30 beliefs and techniques, John Steinbeck's 6 pointers, George Orwell's four universal motives for writing, Susan Sontag's synthesized wisdom on writing, and various invaluable insight from other great writers.

Then, wash down with Several Short Sentences About Writing.

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Kurt Vonnegut's 8 Tips on How to Write a Great Story | Brain Pickings

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/04/03/kurt-vonnegut-on-writing-stories/

Susan Sontag on Writing | Brain Pickings

Susan Sontag on Writing

25 JULY, 2012 by

"There is a great deal that either has to be given up or be taken away from you if you are going to succeed in writing a body of work."

The newly released volume of Susan Sontag's diaries, As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980 (public library), from whence Sontag's thoughtful meditations on censorship and aphorisms came, is an absolute treasure trove of rare insight into one of the greatest minds in modern history. Among the tome's greatest gifts are Sontag's thoughts on the art, craft, and ideology of writing.

Unlike more prescriptive takes, like previously examined advice by Kurt Vonnegut, John Steinbeck, and David Ogilvy, Sontag's reflections are rather meditative — sometimes turned inward, with introspective curiosity, and other times outward, with a lens on the broader literary landscape — yet remarkably rich in cultural observation and universal wisdom on the writing process, somewhere between Henry Miller's creative routine, Jack Kerouac's beliefs and techniques, George Orwell's four motives for writing, and E. B. White's vision for the responsibility of the writer.

Gathered here are the most compelling and profound of Sontag's thoughts on writing, arranged chronologically and each marked with the date of the respective diary entry.

I have a wider range as a human being than as a writer. (With some writers, it's the opposite.) Only a fraction of me is available to be turned into art.
(8/8/64)

Words have their own firmness. The word on the page may not reveal (may conceal) the flabbiness of the mind that conceived it. > All thoughts are upgrades — get more clarity, definition, authority, by being in print — that is, detached from the person who thinks them.

A potential fraud — at least potential — in all writing.
(8/20/64)

Writing is a little door. Some fantasies, like big pieces of furniture, won't come through.
(8/30/64)

If only I could feel about sex as I do about writing! That I'm the vehicle, the medium, the instrument of some force beyond myself.
(11/1/64)

Science fiction —
Popular mythology for contemporary negative imagination about the impersonal
(11/1/64)

Greatest subject: self seeking to transcend itself (Middlemarch, War and Peace)
Looking for self-transcendence (or metamorphosis) — the cloud of unknowing that allows perfect expressiveness (a secular myth for this)
(undated loose sheets, 1965)

Kafka the last story-teller in 'serious' literature. Nobody has known where to go from there (except imitate him)
(undated loose sheets, 1965)

John Dewey — 'The ultimate function of literature is to appreciate the world, sometimes indignantly, sometimes sorrowfully, but best of all to praise when it is luckily possible.'
(1/25/65)

I think I am ready to learn how to write. Think with words, not with ideas.
(3/5/70)

'Writing is only a substitute [sic] for living.' — Florence Nightingale
(12/18/70)

French, unlike English: a language that tends to break when you bend it.
(6/21/72)

A writer, like an athlete, must 'train' every day. What did I do today to keep in 'form'?
(7/5/72)

In 'life,' I don't want to be reduced to my work. In 'work,' I don't want to be reduced to my life.
My work is too austere
My life is a brutal anecdote
(3/15/73)

The only story that seems worth writing is a cry, a shot, a scream. A story should break the reader's heart

[…]

The story must strike a nerve — in me. My heart should start pounding when I hear the first line in my head. I start trembling at the risk.
(6/27/73)

I'm now writing out of rage — and I feel a kind of Nietzschean elation. It's tonic. I roar with laughter. I want to denounce everybody, tell everybody off. I go to my typewriter as I might go to my machine gun. But I'm safe. I don't have to face the consequences of 'real' aggressivity. I'm sending out colis piégés ['booby-trapped packages'] to the world.
(7/31/73)

The solution to a problem — a story that you are unable to finish — is the problem. It isn't as if the problem is one thing and the solution something else. The problem, properly understood = the solution. Instead of trying to hide or efface what limits the story, capitalize on that very limitation. State it, rail against it.
(7/31/73)

Talking like touching
Writing like punching somebody
(8/14/73)

To be a great writer:

know everything about adjectives and punctuation (rhythm)
have moral intelligence — which creates true authority in a writer
(2/6/74)

'Idea' as method of instant transport away from direct experience, carrying a tiny suitcase.

'Idea' as a means of miniaturizing experience, rendering it portable. Someone who regularly has ideas is — by definition — homeless.

Intellectual is a refugee from experience. In Diaspora.

What's wrong with direct experience? Why would one ever want to flee it, by transforming it — into a brick?
(7/25/74)

Weakness of American poetry — it's anti-intellectual. Great poetry has ideas.
(6/14/76)

Not only must I summon the courage to be a bad writer — I must dare to be truly unhappy. Desperate. And not save myself, short-circuit the despair.

By refusing to be as unhappy as I truly am, I deprive myself of subjects. I've nothing to write about. Every topic burns.
(6/19/76)

The function of writing is to explode one's subject — transform it into something else. (Writing is a series of transformations.)

Writing means converting one's liabilities (limitations) into advantages. For example, I don't love what I'm writing. Okay, then — that's also a way to write, a way that can produce interesting results.
(11/5/76)

'All art aspires to the condition of music' — this utterly nihilistic statement rests at the foundation of every moving camera style in the history of the medium. But it is a cliché, a 19th c[entury] cliché, less an aesthetic than a projection of an exhausted state of mind, less a world view than a world weariness, less a statement of vital forms than an expression of sterile decadence. There is quite another pov [point of view] about what 'all art aspires to' — that was Goethe's, who put the primary art, the most aristocratic one, + the one art that cannot be made by the plebes but only gaped at w[ith] awe, + that art is architecture. Really great directors have this sense of architecture in their work — always expressive of immense line of energy, unstable + vital conduits of force.
(undated, 1977)

One can never be alone enough to write. To see better.
(7/19/77)

Two kinds of writers. Those who think this life is all there is, and want to describe everything: the fall, the battle, the accouchement, the horse-race. That is, Tolstoy. And those who think this life is a kind of testing-ground (for what we don't know — to see how much pleasure + pain we can bear or what pleasure + pain are?) and want to describe only the essentials. That is, Dostoyevsky. The two alternatives. How can one write like T. after D.? The task is to be as good as D. — as serious spiritually, + then go on from there.
(12/4/77)

Only thing that counts are ideas. Behind ideas are [moral] principles. Either one is serious or one is not. Must be prepared to make sacrifices. I'm not a liberal.
(12/4/77)

When there is no censorship the writer has no importance.

So it's not so simple to be against censorship.
(12/7/77)

Imagination: — having many voices in one's head. The freedom for that.
(5/27/78)

Language as a found object
(2/1/79)

Last novelist to be influenced by, knowledgeable about science was [Aldous] Huxley

One reason [there are] no more novels — There are no exciting theories of relation of society to self (soc[iological], historical, philosophical)

Not SO — no one is doing it, that's all
(undated, March 1979)

There is a great deal that either has to be given up or be taken away from you if you are going to succeed in writing a body of work
(undated, March 1979)

To write one must wear blinkers. I've lost my blinkers.

Don't be afraid to be concise!
(3/10/79)

A failure of nerve. About writing. (And about my life — but never mind.) I must write myself out of it.

If I am not able to write because I'm afraid of being a bad writer, then I must be a bad writer. At least I'll be writing.

Then something else will happen. It always does.

I must write every day. Anything. Everything. Carry a notebook with me at all times, etc.

I read my bad reviews. I want to go to the bottom of it — this failure of nerve
(7/19/79)

The writer does not have to write. She must imagine that she must. A great book: no one is addressed, it counts as cultural surplus, it comes from the will.
(3/10/80)

Ordinary language is an accretion of lies. The language of literature must be, therefore, the language of transgression, a rupture of individual systems, a shattering of psychic oppression. The only function of literature lies in the uncovering of the self in history.
(3/15/80)

The love of books. My library is an archive of longings.
(4/26/80)

Making lists of words, to thicken my active vocabulary. To have puny, not just little, hoax, not just trick, mortifying, not just embarrassing, bogus, not just fake.

I could make a story out of puny, hoax, mortifying, bogus. They are a story.
(4/30/80)

As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh is exquisite in its entirety — I couldn't recommend it more heartily.

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Henry Miller's 11 Commandments of Writing & Daily Creative Routine | Brain Pickings

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/02/22/henry-miller-on-writing/

Six Tips on Writing from John Steinbeck | Brain Pickings

Six Tips on Writing from John Steinbeck

12 MARCH, 2012 by

On the value of unconscious association, or why the best advice is no advice.

If this is indeed the year of reading more and writing better, we've been right on course with David Ogilvy's 10 no-bullshit tips, Henry Miller's 11 commandments, and various invaluable advice from other great writers. Now comes John Steinbeck — Pulitzer Prize winner, Nobel laureate, love guru — with six tips on writing, culled from his altogether excellent interview it the Fall 1975 issue of The Paris Review.

  1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.

  2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.

  3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn't exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.

  4. If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn't belong there.

  5. Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.

  6. If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.

But perhaps most paradoxically yet poetically, twelve years prior — in 1963, immediately after receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature "for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception" — Steinbeck issued a thoughtful disclaimer to all such advice:

If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that makes a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story."

If you feel bold enough to discount Steinbeck's anti-advice advice, you can do so with these 9 essential books on more and writing. Find more such gems in this collection of priceless interviews with literary icons from half a century of The Paris Review archives.

Open Culture

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Neil Gaiman's 8 Rules of Writing | Brain Pickings

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/09/28/neil-gaiman-8-rules-of-writing/

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

William James on Habit | Brain Pickings

William James on Habit

25 SEPTEMBER, 2012 by

"We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone. Every smallest stroke of virtue or of vice leaves its never so little scar."

"We are what we repeatedly do," Aristotle famously proclaimed. "Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." Perhaps most fascinating in Michael Lewis's altogether fantastic recent Vanity Fair profile of Barack Obama is, indeed, the President's relationship with habit — particularly his optimization of everyday behaviors to such a degree that they require as little cognitive load as possible, allowing him to better focus on the important decisions, the stuff of excellence.

I found this interesting not merely out of solipsism, as it somehow validated my having had the same breakfast day in and day out for nearly a decade (steel-cut oats, fat-free Greek yogurt, whey protein powder, seasonal fruit), but also because it isn't a novel idea at all. In fact, the same tenets Obama applies to the architecture of his daily life are those pioneering psychologist and philosopher William James wrote about in 1887, when he penned Habit (public library; public domain) — a short treatise on how our behavioral patterns shape who we are and what we often refer to as character and personality.

When we look at living creatures from an outward point of view, one of the first things that strike us is that they are bundles of habits. In wild animals, the usual round of daily behavior seems a necessity implanted at birth in animals domesticated, and especially in man, it seems, to a great extent, to be the result of education. The habits to which there is an innate tendency are called instincts; some of those due to education would by most persons be called acts of reason. It thus appears that habit covers a very large part of life, and that one engaged in studying the objective manifestations of mind is bound at the very outset to define clearly just what its limits are.

James begins with a strictly scientific, physiological account of the brain and our coteries of ingrained information patterns, exploring the notion of neuroplasticity a century before it became a buzzword of modern popular neuroscience and offering this elegant definition:

Plasticity … in the wide sense of the word, means the possession of a structure weak enough to yield to an influence, but strong enough not to yield all at once.

He then bridges the body and the mind to shed light on how "habit loops" dominate our lives:

What is so clearly true of the nervous apparatus of animal life can scarcely be otherwise than true of that which ministers to the automatic activity of the mind … Any sequence of mental action which has been frequently repeated tends to perpetuate itself; so that we find ourselves automatically prompted to think, feel, or do what we have been before accustomed to think, feel, or do, under like circumstances, without any consciously formed purpose, or anticipation of results.

He eventually brings this lens to social science, painting a somewhat ominous picture of habit as a kind of trance:

Habit is thus the enormous fly-wheel of society, its most precious conservative agent. It alone is what keeps us all within the bounds of ordinance, and saves the children of fortune from the envious uprisings of the poor. It alone prevents the hardest and most repulsive walks of life from being deserted by those brought up to tread therein. It keeps the fisherman and the deck-hand at sea through the winter; it holds the miner in his darkness, and nails the countryman to his log cabin and his lonely farm through all the months of snow; it protects us from invasion by the natives of the desert and the frozen zone. It dooms us all to fight out the battle of life upon the lines of our nurture or our early choice, and to make the best of a pursuit that disagrees, because there is no other for which we are fitted, and it is too late to begin again. It keeps different social strata from mixing. Already at the age of twenty-five you see the professional mannerism settling down on the young commercial traveller, on the young doctor, on the young minister, on the young counsellor-at-law. You see the little lines of cleavage running through the character, the tricks of thought, the prejudices, the ways of the 'shop,' in a word, from which the man can by-and-by no more escape than his coat-sleeve can suddenly fall into a new set of folds. On the whole, it is best he should not escape. It is well for the world that in most of us, by the age of thirty, the character has set like plaster, and will never soften again.

This brings us to the question of education, whose responsibility it is to chaperone the formation of habit and curtail the very daily deliberations of which Obama has gladly rid himself:

The great thing, then, in all education, is to make our nervous system our ally instead of our enemy. It is to fund and capitalize our acquisitions, and live at ease upon the interest of the fund. For this we must make automatic and habitual, as early as possible, as many useful actions as we can, and guard against the growing into ways that are likely to be disadvantageous to us, as we should guard against the plague. The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work. There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom the lighting of every cigar, the drinking of every cup, the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every bit of work, are subjects of express volitional deliberation.

He proceeds to offer three maxims for the successful formation of new habits:

  1. The acquisition of a new habit, or the leaving off of an old one, we must take care to launch ourselves with as strong and decided an initiative as possible. Accumulate all the possible circumstances which shall reenforce the right motives; put yourself assiduously in conditions that encourage the new way; make engagements incompatible with the old; take a public pledge, if the case allows; in short, envelop your resolution with every aid you know. This will give your new beginning such a momentum that the temptation to break down will not occur as soon as it otherwise might; and every day during which a breakdown is postponed adds to the chances of its not occurring at all.
  2. Never suffer an exception to occur till the new habit is securely rooted in your life. Each lapse is like the letting fall of a ball of string which one is carefully winding up; a single slip undoes more than a great many turns will wind again. Continuity of training is the great means of making the nervous system act infallibly right … It is surprising how soon a desire will die of inanition if it be never fed.
  3. Seize the Very first possible opportunity to act on every resolution you make, and on every emotional prompting you may experience in the direction of the habits you
    aspire to gain. It is not in the moment of their forming, but in the moment of their producing motor effects, that resolves and aspirations communicate the new 'set' to
    the brain.

Of course, as is often the case with famous advice, James immediately follows up with a disclaimer that echoes Joan Didion's eloquent definition of character:

No matter how full a reservoir of maxims one may possess, and no matter how good one's sentiments may be, if one have not taken advantage of every concrete opportunity to act, one's character may remain entirely unaffected for the better. With mere good intentions, hell is proverbially paved. And this is an obvious consequence of the principles we have laid down. A 'character,' as J. S. Mill says, 'is a completely fashioned will'; and a will, in the sense in which he means it, is an aggregate of tendencies to act in a firm and prompt and definite way upon all the principal emergencies of life. A tendency to act only becomes effectively ingrained in us in proportion to the uninterrupted frequency with which the actions actually occur, and the brain 'grows' to their use.

He makes a case, once again, for the consistency of effort, offering one final maxim:

Just as, if we let our emotions evaporate, they get into a way of evaporating; so there is reason to suppose that if we often flinch from making an effort, before we know it the effort-making capacity will be gone; and that, if we suffer the wandering of our attention, presently it will wander all the time. Attention and effort are … but two names for the same psychic fact.

[…]

Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day. That is, be systematically ascetic or heroic in little unnecessary points, do every day or two something for no other reason than that you would rather not do it, so that when the hour of dire need draws nigh, it may find you not unnerved and untrained to stand the test. Asceticism of this sort is like the insurance which a man pays on his house and goods. The tax does him no good at the time, and possibly may never bring him a return. But if the fire does come, his having paid it will be his salvation from ruin.

He cautions about the gravity of our habitual choices, however small they may seem:

The physiological study of mental conditions is thus the most powerful ally of hortatory ethics. The hell to be endured hereafter, of which theology tells, is no worse than the hell we make for ourselves in this world by habitually fashioning our characters in the wrong way. Could the young but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits, they would give more heed to their conduct while in the plastic state.

We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone. Every smallest stroke of virtue or of vice leaves its never so little scar. … Nothing we ever do is, in strict scientific literalness, wiped out.

James concludes with a timeless validation of grit as the secret to success:

Let no youth have any anxiety about the upshot of his education, whatever the line of it may be. If he keep faithfully busy each hour of the working-day, he may safely leave the final result to itself. He can with perfect certainty count on waking up some fine morning, to find himself one of the competent ones of his generation, in whatever pursuit he may have singled out. Silently, between all the details of his business, the power of judging in all that class of matter will have built itself up within him as a possession that will never pass away. Young people should know this truth in advance. The ignorance of it has probably engendered more discouragement and faint-heartedness in youths embarking on arduous careers than all other causes put together.

Habit is now in the public domain and is available for free in its entirety in multiple formats.

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8 Great Philosophical Question... (io9.com)



8 Great Philosophical Questions That We'll Never Solve
http://io9.com/5945801/8-philosophical-questions-that-well-never-solve

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Ten Reasons People Resist Change


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Ten Reasons People Resist Change

Leadership is about change, but what is a leader to do when faced with ubiquitous resistance? Resistance to change manifests itself in many ways, from foot-dragging and inertia to petty sabotage to outright rebellions. The best tool for leaders of change is to understand the predictable, universal sources of resistance in each situation and then strategize around them. Here are the ten I've found to be the most common.



Loss of control. Change interferes with autonomy and can make people feel that they've lost control over their territory. It's not just political, as in who has the power. Our sense of self-determination is often the first things to go when faced with a potential change coming from someone else. Smart leaders leave room for those affected by change to make choices. They invite others into the planning, giving them ownership.



Excess uncertainty. If change feels like walking off a cliff blindfolded, then people will reject it. People will often prefer to remain mired in misery than to head toward an unknown. As the saying goes, "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't know." To overcome inertia requires a sense of safety as well as an inspiring vision. Leaders should create certainty of process, with clear, simple steps and timetables.



Surprise, surprise! Decisions imposed on people suddenly, with no time to get used to the idea or prepare for the consequences, are generally resisted. It's always easier to say No than to say Yes. Leaders should avoid the temptation to craft changes in secret and then announce them all at once. It's better to plant seeds — that is, to sprinkle hints of what might be coming and seek input.



Everything seems different. Change is meant to bring something different, but how different? We are creatures of habit. Routines become automatic, but change jolts us into consciousness, sometimes in uncomfortable ways. Too many differences can be distracting or confusing. Leaders should try to minimize the number of unrelated differences introduced by a central change. Wherever possible keep things familiar. Remain focused on the important things; avoid change for the sake of change.



Loss of face. By definition, change is a departure from the past. Those people associated with the last version — the one that didn't work, or the one that's being superseded — are likely to be defensive about it. When change involves a big shift of strategic direction, the people responsible for the previous direction dread the perception that they must have been wrong. Leaders can help people maintain dignity by celebrating those elements of the past that are worth honoring, and making it clear that the world has changed. That makes it easier to let go and move on.



Concerns about competence. Can I do it? Chang...

The Conservative Mind - NYTimes.com

The Conservative Mind

When I joined the staff of National Review as a lowly associate in 1984, the magazine, and the conservative movement itself, was a fusion of two different mentalities.

On the one side, there were the economic conservatives. These were people that anybody following contemporary Republican politics would be familiar with. They spent a lot of time worrying about the way government intrudes upon economic liberty. They upheld freedom as their highest political value. They admired risk-takers. They worried that excessive government would create a sclerotic nation with a dependent populace.

But there was another sort of conservative, who would be less familiar now. This was the traditional conservative, intellectual heir to Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, Clinton Rossiter and Catholic social teaching. This sort of conservative didn't see society as a battleground between government and the private sector. Instead, the traditionalist wanted to preserve a society that functioned as a harmonious ecosystem, in which the different layers were nestled upon each other: individual, family, company, neighborhood, religion, city government and national government.

Because they were conservative, they tended to believe that power should be devolved down to the lower levels of this chain. They believed that people should lead disciplined, orderly lives, but doubted that individuals have the ability to do this alone, unaided by social custom and by God. So they were intensely interested in creating the sort of social, economic and political order that would encourage people to work hard, finish school and postpone childbearing until marriage.

Recently the blogger Rod Dreher linked to Kirk's essay, "Ten Conservative Principles," which gives the flavor of this brand of traditional conservatism. This kind of conservative cherishes custom, believing that the individual is foolish but the species is wise. It is usually best to be guided by precedent.

This conservative believes in prudence on the grounds that society is complicated and it's generally best to reform it steadily but cautiously. Providence moves slowly but the devil hurries.

The two conservative tendencies lived in tension. But together they embodied a truth that was put into words by the child psychologist John Bowlby, that life is best organized as a series of daring ventures from a secure base.

The economic conservatives were in charge of the daring ventures that produced economic growth. The traditionalists were in charge of establishing the secure base — a society in which families are intact, self-discipline is the rule, children are secure and government provides a subtle hand.

Ronald Reagan embodied both sides of this fusion, and George W. Bush tried to recreate it with his compassionate conservatism. But that effort was doomed because in the ensuing years, conservatism changed.

In the polarized political conflict with liberalism, shrinking government has become the organizing conservative principle. Economic conservatives have the money and the institutions. They have taken control. Traditional conservatism has gone into eclipse. These days, speakers at Republican gatherings almost always use the language of market conservatism — getting government off our backs, enhancing economic freedom. Even Mitt Romney, who subscribes to a faith that knows a lot about social capital, relies exclusively on the language of market conservatism.

It's not so much that today's Republican politicians reject traditional, one-nation conservatism. They don't even know it exists. There are few people on the conservative side who'd be willing to raise taxes on the affluent to fund mobility programs for the working class. There are very few willing to use government to actively intervene in chaotic neighborhoods, even when 40 percent of American kids are born out of wedlock. There are very few Republicans who protest against a House Republican budget proposal that cuts domestic discretionary spending to absurdly low levels.

The results have been unfortunate. Since they no longer speak in the language of social order, Republicans have very little to offer the less educated half of this country. Republicans have very little to say to Hispanic voters, who often come from cultures that place high value on communal solidarity.

Republicans repeat formulas — government support equals dependency — that make sense according to free-market ideology, but oversimplify the real world. Republicans like Romney often rely on an economic language that seems corporate and alien to people who do not define themselves in economic terms. No wonder Romney has trouble relating.

Some people blame bad campaign managers for Romney's underperforming campaign, but the problem is deeper. Conservatism has lost the balance between economic and traditional conservatism. The Republican Party has abandoned half of its intellectual ammunition. It appeals to people as potential business owners, but not as parents, neighbors and citizens.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Celebrating the family farm

Celebrating the family farm

HERSHEY, Pa. - If you thought Farm Aid went the way of the Sony Walkman or the Grateful Dead, you weren't in Chocolate Town USA on Saturday, when 30,000 people turned HersheyPark Stadium into an organic oasis celebrating the family farm and the healthy food movement - not to mention homegrown American music.

Now in its 27th year, the all-star benefit concert, started by country-music legend Willie Nelson to help farmers survive the mid-1980s foreclosure crisis, is still going strong.

No longer a one-day event, Farm Aid has evolved into a national organization promoting the interests of family farmers.

The event returned to Pennsylvania, where agriculture remains the number-one industry, for only the second time in its run.

In 2002, Farm Aid was held in Burgettstown, west of Pittsburgh. This time the location was just a few miles from Lancaster County, which is about to make national history when it hits the milestone of 100,000 acres of preserved farmland. Lancaster boasts soil so rich it's known as the breadbasket of the East.

The first-ever Farm Aid concert drew 54 bands and 78,000 to Champaign, Ill.; Farm Aid is smaller now, with just under a dozen artists drawing 30,000.

Still, Farm Aid has brought in $40 million to benefit farmers and build relationships between consumers and those who produce their food.

"It's a good event that hopefully will open people's eyes to the fact farmers keep the country moving and they need help," said Teri Michelson of Linglestown. She paused to talk during a tour of Homegrown Village, an area featuring booths showcasing sustainable agriculture methods and environmental advocacy groups.

The healthy food movement has indeed grown (Pennsylvania has 600 certified organic farms, the sixth highest in the nation), spawning a record number of farm markets and encouraging industrywide shifts to organic farming methods. But the problems facing small farmers - such as fluctuating milk prices, tighter regulations, and access to distribution networks - are no less acute, organizers say.

 

Every year a gamble

"There is still danger for farmers," said Farm Aid spokeswoman Jennifer Fahy, pointing to the drought that ravaged crops in two-thirds of the United States this year. "They are gamblers every time they put seed in ground."

The musicians - the lineup included the 79-year-old Nelson, Dave Matthews, Kenny Chesney, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, and Jack Johnson - used the spotlight to target agribusiness interests. They said corporate farming wields too much power in Congress, where members last week failed to pass a comprehensive Farm Bill before leaving town.

Before the festival opened, Nelson told hundreds of fans and reporters he was "sorry to have to be here."

"This problem should have been solved years ago," he said.

Despite the problems, according to a 2007 survey, the number of farmers grew for the first time in decades, attracting a more diverse cross section, many working farms of just a few acres, Fahy said.

 

Farm Heads

The atmosphere in the patchouli-scented Homegrown Village had an odd time-warp quality: young people wearing T-shirts paying homage to past rock stars like Janis Joplin, who died before they were born, mixing with the in-your-face activism of the anti-gas drilling "fracktivists" - a term that wasn't even in the lexicon when Farm Aid started.

Fahy said some people she called "Farm Heads" come every year, from all 50 states.

There was a booth dedicated to the "anti-sludge" cause - those who oppose spreading municipal waste on farmland - and other booths where folks could learn about genetically modified organisms (GMOs), rotational grazing, and biogas energy.

Even the concession cups and plates were compostable. Those who put their eating utensils in the wrong bin were swiftly corrected.

Bryan Snyder, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, said the state has a strong farming tradition among the booming Amish and Mennonite populations, which has helped give the next generation of farmers an opportunity to work the land.

"We're ahead because we are behind," he said. "We still have the infrastructure. You can drive 20 minutes from here and see what America used to look like."

Exhibitor Deb Brubaker, 30, of Mifflintown, is still working her family farm northwest of Harrisburg, as her Mennonite ancestors did.

She and her family run Village Acres Farm, which supplies organic fruit and vegetables to farm markets in Washington and to residents of the State College area, who buy their farm products through a subscription.

Brubaker, who was demonstrating a bicycle-powered grain mill her father put together for the festival, said she was pleased that such an event shines a spotlight on a challenging way of life.

HERSHEY, Pa. - If you thought Farm Aid went the way of the Sony Walkman or the Grateful Dead, you weren't in Chocolate Town USA on Saturday, when 30,000 people turned HersheyPark Stadium into an organic oasis celebrating the family farm and the healthy food movement - not to mention homegrown American music.

In 2002, Farm Aid was held in Burgettstown, west of Pittsburgh. This time the location was just a few miles from Lancaster County, which is about to make national history when it hits the milestone of 100,000 acres of preserved farmland. Lancaster boasts soil so rich it's known as the breadbasket of the East.

The first-ever Farm Aid concert drew 54 bands and 78,000 to Champaign, Ill.; Farm Aid is smaller now, with just under a dozen artists drawing 30,000.

Still, Farm Aid has brought in $40 million to benefit farmers and build relationships between consumers and those who produce their food.

"It's a good event that hopefully will open people's eyes to the fact farmers keep the country moving and they need help," said Teri Michelson of Linglestown. She paused to talk during a tour of Homegrown Village, an area featuring booths showcasing sustainable agriculture methods and environmental advocacy groups.

The healthy food movement has indeed grown (Pennsylvania has 600 certified organic farms, the sixth highest in the nation), spawning a record number of farm markets and encouraging industrywide shifts to organic farming methods. But the problems facing small farmers - such as fluctuating milk prices, tighter regulations, and access to distribution networks - are no less acute, organizers say.

 

Every year a gamble

"There is still danger for farmers," said Farm Aid spokeswoman Jennifer Fahy, pointing to the drought that ravaged crops in two-thirds of the United States this year. "They are gamblers every time they put seed in ground."

Sunday, September 23, 2012

What 6 rules should be guiding... (bakadesuyo.com)



What 6 rules should be guiding your career?
http://www.bakadesuyo.com/what-6-steps-should-be-guiding-your-career

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Portrait of a Micro-manager « Leadership Freak

Portrait of a Micro-manager

Most people I've asked say they've worked for a micro-manager. Their frustration shows when they talk about the person who drained joy from their career and under-utilized their skills.

You're a micro-manager if you:

  1. Over-estimate your skills and under-estimate the skills of the team.
  2. Feel misunderstood and unappreciated.
  3. Hear too many questions.
  4. See yourself as doers rather than an enabler.
  5. Give incremental permission.
  6. Pride yourself in being on top of everything.
  7. Check work email on weekends, evenings, and during vacation.
  8. Criticize too much and affirm too little.
  9. Need too much information yet give too little.
  10. View staff development as wasted time.
  11. Punish mistakes rather than learning from them.
  12. Hoard power and authority.
  13. View others as adversaries to be controlled.
  14. Take credit.
  15. Blame.
  16. Prevent initiative.
  17. Work longer hours than anyone else.
  18. Frustrate your team.
  19. Emphasize authority.
  20. Minimize relationship.

See insights from Facebook contributors: Leadership Freak Coffee Shop.

What qualities do micro-managers possess?

What impact do micro-managers have on individuals, teams, and/or organizations?

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This entry was posted on September 23, 2012 at 4:00 am and is filed under Managing, Personal Growth, Taking others higher. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Writing Rules! Advice From The Times on Writing Well - NYTimes.com

Writing Rules! Advice From The Times on Writing Well

The Times has recently published a few features that we consider gifts to English teachers everywhere, including a summer "How To" section of the Sunday Book Review, and a new series, called "Draft," on the art of writing, which features essays by grammarians, historians, linguists, journalists, novelists and others.

Below, we collect some "rules" we've derived from these features and from other pieces on the Times site, along with links and related activities we hope writers at any stage will find fun or useful — or both.

Before you go, please note Rule 10, in which we ask for your writing advice.


Rule 1: Listen to the Voice Inside Your Head

In a post for Draft, Verilyn Klinkenborg notes that he is often asked what his "writing process" is. "My answer is simple: I think patiently, trying out sentences in my head," he writes.

He advises student writers to do the same, in contrast to school-writing, in which students are "asked repeatedly to write papers that are inherently insincere exercises in rearranging things they've read or been told." (Or, we have to add, are school exercises masquerading as sincere personal essays, such as the one spoofed in this Onion classic.)

Mr. Klinkenborg advises, "Before you learn to write well, to trust yourself as a writer, you will have to learn to be patient in the presence of your own thoughts."

You almost surely have a voice inside your head. At present, it's an untrained voice. It natters along quite happily, constructing delayed ripostes and hypothetical conversations. Why not give it something useful to do? Memorize some poetry or prose, nothing too arcane. A rhythmic kind of writing works best, something that sounds almost spoken. Then play those passages over and over again in your memory.

Try Mr. Klinkenborg's suggestions and see what happens. And if you'd like to record the voice in your head, or some of the sentences you begin to experiment with, try keeping a journal. The Personal Tech section of The Times reports this week that you can now do that via phone apps, without the "inconvenience of paper."

Rule 2: Learn From the Masters

A classic Times series, "Writers on Writing," asked contemporary writers from André Aciman to Hilma Wolitzer to talk about their work.

Glean insight from authors like Jamaica Kinkaid on why she writes; Allegra Goodman on calming the inner critic; and Carl Hiaasen on scrounging for material in newspaper headlines.

What are your favorite bits of advice? Copy them out for future inspiration.

Rule 3: Read Like Writers

To learn "How to Write Great," immerse yourself in great literature, which, according to writer Roger Rosenblatt, can be anything from "Harold and the Purple Crayon" ("the lessons of the 'Odyssey,' minus the sex") to "The Great Gatsby" ("Jay Gatsby, who stood straight and sober in the drunken Twenties, and who, nutty as his yearnings may have been, really was great").

What books do you admire most? Why? As Mr. Rosenblatt does in this essay, you might try writing a paragraph describing what you find important and enduring about a book or author, whether your choice is an official classic on everyone's list or an overlooked gem you think others should read.

Rule 4: Review the Rules

In his hilarious "How To Write," Colson Whitehead plays with shopworn advice that will be familiar to many student-writers. For instance:

Rule No. 1: Show and Tell. Most people say, "Show, don't tell," but I stand by Show and Tell, because when writers put their work out into the world, they're like kids bringing their broken unicorns and chewed-up teddy bears into class in the sad hope that someone else will love them as much as they do. "And what do you have for us today, Marcy?" "A penetrating psychological study of a young med student who receives disturbing news from a former lover." "How marvelous! Timmy, what are you holding there?" "It's a Calvinoesque romp through an unnamed metropolis much like New York, narrated by an armadillo." "Such imagination!" Show and Tell, followed by a good nap.

Before you read the rest of Mr. Whitehead's rules, you might brainstorm, alone or in a group, your own "Rules for Writing" — derived from what you've learned in school, from "real" writers, from your own experience, or from anywhere else. When you're finished, consider:

  • Is there a difference between the rules you've learned in school and those you've learned about writing on your own?
  • Which rules seem most sound to you?
  • Do we need rules for writing?

Then, read the rest of Mr. Whitehead's essay, and compare the two lists. What did you learn about writing from his piece that you didn't know before?

Or, use his list as a model, and create a list of rules that spoof the advice on, or the clichés about, a topic you know well.

Rule 5: Study Sentences

In "My Life's Sentences," Jhumpa Lahiri writes:

In college, I used to underline sentences that struck me, that made me look up from the page. They were not necessarily the same sentences the professors pointed out, which would turn up for further explication on an exam. I noted them for their clarity, their rhythm, their beauty and their enchantment. For surely it is a magical thing for a handful of words, artfully arranged, to stop time. To conjure a place, a person, a situation, in all its specificity and dimensions. To affect us and alter us, as profoundly as real people and things do.

Sentences matter. In fact, Constance Hale notes that sentences can even act as miniature narratives. As Hale does, you might collect your own examples of great sentences that are mini-narratives.

Ms. Hale also explores the "Sentences of the Masters" to demonstrate the different effects of short and long sentences:

Gabriel García Márquez writes unhurried sentences that almost defy parsing. William Faulkner wrote a nearly 1,300-word sentence that ended up in Guinness World Records, but he used the five words "My mother is a fish" as a complete chapter of a book. Joan Didion can stop us short with simple truths, and she can take us on strolls down labyrinthine corridors.

Look for examples of interesting sentence structure and sentence variety in a work you are studying or reading, then write your own "copy-change" versions, in which you borrow another author's structure and use it to create your own piece.

You might also consider excerpts from children's book to review sound literary devices and explore the music that sentences make.

Rule 6: Write With Non-Zombie Nouns and Verbs

Delve into Strunk and White's fourth style reminder "Write with nouns and verbs" by reading about what Karen Sword calls "Zombie Nouns":

Nouns formed from other parts of speech are called nominalizations. Academics love them; so do lawyers, bureaucrats and business writers. I call them "zombie nouns" because they cannibalize active verbs, suck the lifeblood from adjectives and substitute abstract entities for human beings.

Fight those nasty zombie nouns with vivacious verbs.

And to consider tricky questions like "Do verbs have to be in the active voice?" and "When is the passive voice useful?" use the rules and examples in this post by Constance Hale.

Rule 7: Punctuate That Thought

In a post on exclamation points, Ben Yagoda writes

Habitual e-mailers, texters and posters convey quite precise nuances through punctuation, which is after all one of the points of punctuation. A friend's 12-year-old daughter once said that in her view, a single exclamation point is fine, as is three, but never two. My friend asked her where this rule came from and the girl said, "Nowhere. It's just something you learn."

Look through e-mails and texts you've sent for examples of "precise nuances" you've conveyed through punctuation. What "rules," like the exclamation-point rule cited above, do you think govern the use of punctuation in forms of communication like texts and I.M.'s?

How might an older generation less fluent in these methods get the unwritten rules wrong? (Teachers: sites like When Parents Text might be useful here, but please consider whether it is appropriate for your students first.)

Here are some punctuation marks to consider:

Exclamation points

Use Mr. Yagoda's post to examine and appreciate the role of the exclamation point in a sentence, then track exclamation points you see in "the wild"— in texts, e-mail, advertising, literature, or anywhere else. How do audience and purpose help determine when and why an exclamation point might be necessary or desirable?

Periods

Mr. Yagoda's post also alludes to the use of the period in the Obama "Forward." Slogan and what it suggests. What, exactly, does that period tell readers? What about the period the band Fun. has in its name?

Semicolons

Semicolons mystify many. In Semicolons: A Love Story Ben Dolnick recalls

When I was a teenager, newly fixated on becoming a writer, I came across a piece of advice from Kurt Vonnegut that affected me like an ice cube down the back of my shirt. "Do not use semicolons," he said. "They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college."

While Vonnegut's admonition may be harsh, Mr. Dolnick offers a good primer to using semicolons sparingly and eloquently, helping them understand the comma-period hybrid as writers and readers, which is useful, as one never knows where one might pop up.

Commas

Correct comma placement matters. Just ask Grandma:
Let's eat, Grandma!
Let's eat Grandma!

Use the Draft post "Fanfare for the Comma Man" as a jumping off point to examine comma use in a book you are currently reading. Copy sentences which include commas and use them to deduce the rules for proper comma use.

Then, turn to this post to check the accuracy of the comma rules you've come up with and check that your writers are following the rules.

Rule 8: Nobody's Perfect

Yes, Times writers and editors do make mistakes and the in-house feature "After Deadline," which the public can view, too, takes them to task by highlighting and correcting errors in grammar, usage and style that appear in print.

Use this blog to understand grammatical points, like subject verb agreement. Then, become a better editor of your own work by taking the After Deadline Quiz.

Rule 9: Fail

Learn from your mistakes and failures, a topic Augusten Burroughs tackles in
"How to Write How-To"
:

… to pass along the knowledge of how to succeed, first you must know how to fail. A great deal, if possible. This is essential because it's far more common (and easier) to make mistakes than to enjoy success. Being aware of potential points of derailment helps to better and more accurately navigate your readers past your own missteps so they can succeed where perhaps you first failed quite miserably.

Value mistakes, and the successes that grow from them, by keeping a portfolio of your work, including revisions and editing exercises. You might even reflect in writing on how your writing has progressed, or create a timeline of your development as a writer to see, laid out chronologically, how you've grown from as a writer over time.

Rule 10: Fill in the Blank

What would you add? Why? We invite you to tell us below.


Common Core E.L.A. Anchor Standards, 6-12

Reading
1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
4. Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
5. Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs and larger parts of the text (for example, a section, chapter, scene or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
6. Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
10. Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Writing
4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to task, purpose and audience.
5. Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting or trying a new approach.
10. Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes and audiences.

Speaking and Listening
1. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively and orally.

Language
1. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
2. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation and spelling when writing.
3. Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.