What Vince Gilligan Said to Me

"Write what you think is interesting. Even if nobody else thinks it is. Stick with it. Fight for it.” Vince created Breaking Bad, so he should know. When I met him a few years ago, that's the advice he gave me. So I do it.

It sure worked out for Bryan Cranston, next to some guy shown here grinning ear to ear.

"But that's for stories," you say. "I write public relations and business and policy."

*Write what's interesting to you* is still the rule -- and in those cases it's even more important. To learn why (and for more on my experiences with Breaking Bad), click the link to ready my latest column. https://us6.campaign-archive.com/?u=0609fcd33c658d02090de606f&id=8e6279af68

 

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More Than A Writing Tip

Last night I saw an eye-catching video of a new invention. It was at best revolutionary and at least fun.
 
But that's not what the commenters said. I thought of the last line of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery": "...and then they were upon her."
 
Almost every comment tore down the idea and the person who posted it, often with glee.
 
That's what people do, we get contrary.
 
Pardon my language, but that's a sh*tty way to live.
 
It's also a poor way to write, to think, and to conduct discourse.
WHEN YOU WRITE OR ANALYZE, recognize your own knee-jerk opposition, set it aside, then do this:
 
1. Focus first on what's uniquely good about the thing you're writing about.
 
2. If that's not possible, focus constructively on the motivation. You may hate the idea but you may share the goal. (For example, you may hate free-market medicine or socialized medicine, but most supporters of either path want people to get good care at affordable...
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Avoiding the Talk Trap

When we write, we tend to focus on feelings and reactions. We list emotions and justify them. We look inside ourselves and we "mindread" others.

Stop that.

You're falling in the "talk trap."

Instead, observe and report. Describe what the reader would see, hear, taste, touch, and smell if he or she were there. Don't tell us what people "felt." You're not them. 

Instead, describe the environment so thoroughly that whatever someone in it is feeling... the reader might feel it, too.

When you see Charlie Brown walking with his head down, you know he's depressed. Would you rather read "Charlie Brown walked away hanging his head -- again," or "Charlie Brown looked depressed"? Which is more engaging?

To ask is to answer.

I call this the "talk trap." Avoid it. Don't draw conclusions on our behalf, give us facts that lead us to the conclusion ourselves. 

Writing like this is a foundational element of professional-caliber work.

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Two *More* Words... You're Using Wrong

#criticalthinking Apr 26, 2021

Big events are *historic*... but everything that happened before this second is *historical.*

Like this: The Beach Boys "Pet Sounds" was a historic re-imagining of what pop music could sound like. Pop and rock music styles are otherwise well defined, and historical examples are everywhere on the radio.

Also, this example: Historically, most people have bought cars using a loan. It was a historic shift when many gave up loans for leases, saving a little money each month in exchange for surrendering accumulated value.

The historic/historical distinction is one you want to get right because the words mean significantly different things: they describe what is notable versus what is common.

Use 'em correctly and your writing gets sharper. More important than that? Your thinking becomes more precise, and that comes out in all you do.

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Get Somebody Important to Answer Your Query

 

Talk about their interests, not yours. 

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Be the Reader, Not the Writer

 

Keep in mind that the reader is always asking, "What's in it for me?"

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Letters to the Editor: A Quick How-To

Getting published is easier than you think, but you have to follow a few simple rules... and here they are. 

 

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Write a Recipe, Not a Grocery List

 

People read your writing with deeper interest when it's leading to a goal -- but facts about a topic? Eh...

Here's an easy way to re-frame your thinking about everything you write. 

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Facts Alone Don't Win the Argument

 

Readers weigh not just the facts but also feelings – yet communicators often blast away with fact after fact… and nothing else. There’s a better way.

 

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Do Your Readers Know What a Semi-colon Means? Probably Not...

 

When you're a communicator, you avoid words that are obscure to the reader. That applies to punctuation, too.

 

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