On Style

I recently finished reading Style – The Basics of Clarity and Grace – by Joseph M. Williams.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

When we don’t know what we’re talking about (or have no confidence in what we do know) we typically write long sentences choked with abstract words.

I suspect that those who choose to observe all the rules all the time do so not because they think they are protecting the integrity of the language or the quality of our culture, but because they want to assert a style of their own.

We began with two principles: •Make central characters subjects of verbs. • Use verbs to name the actions those characters are involved in.

Most readers prefer subjects of verbs to name the main characters in your story, and those main characters to be flesh-and-blood characters. When you write about concepts, however, you can turn them into virtual characters by making them the subjects of verbs that communicate actions.

Your readers want you to use the end of your sentences to communicate two kinds of difficulty: long and complex phrases and clauses; and new information, particularly unfamiliar technical terms.

Five Principles of Concision: 1. Delete words that mean little or nothing. 2. Delete words that repeat the meaning of other words. 3. Delete words implied by other words. 4. Replace a phrase with a word. 5. Change negatives to affirmatives.

A highly recommended read in the area of writing.


On Story Engineering

I recently finished reading Story Engineering – Mastering The 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing by Larry Brooks.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found to be particularly insightful:

Here then, at the most introductory level of definition, and in no particular order, are the Six Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling: 1. CONCEPT—The idea or seed that evolves into a platform for a story. Best and most empowering when expressed as a “what if?” question. The answer leads to further “what if?” questions in a branching and descending hierarchy. and the collective whole of those choices and answers becomes your story. 2. CHARACTER—Don’t leave home without one. Every story needs a hero. We don’t need to like him (contrary to what your high school composition teacher told you), but we do need to root for him. 3. THEME—Yes, it’s like putting smoke into a bottle, but it can be done. Not to be confused with concept, theme is what your story is illuminating about real life. 4. STRUCTURE—What comes first, what comes next, and so forth and why. And no, you can’t just make it up for yourself. There are expectations and standards here. Knowing what they are is the first step toward getting published. 5. SCENE EXECUTION—You can know the game, but if you can’t play it well you can’t win. A story is a series of scenes with some connective tissue in place. And there are principles and guidelines to make them work. 6. WRITING VOICE-The coat of paint, or if you prefer, the suit of clothes, that delivers the story to the reader. The biggest risk here is letting your writing voice get in the way. Less is more. Sparingly clever or sparsely eloquent is even better.

A concept, it could be said—and it should be viewed this way—is something that asks a question. The answer to the question is your story.

Knowing the narrative goal in your storytelling is everything. It is the most powerful gift you can bestow upon your story, and yourself. Your concept clearly and compellingly stated, is the first step in your journey toward knowing and then pursuing that goal.

The Seven Key Characterization Variables Surface affectations and personality, Backstory, Character arc, Inner demons and conflicts, Worldview, Goals and motivations, Decisions, actions, and behaviors.

In the first dimension of character (which includes the list above). what you show the reader about your character simply exists. You leave it to the reader to assign meaning…In the second dimension of character, the reader learns the reason for choices and behaviors that define outward perception, or the effort to control it, which may or may not align with any meaning the reader has assigned to it on her own. In the third dimension of character, all of the choices made at the first-dimension level become subordinated to more important choices and behaviors made when greater weight and consequences are at stake.

To put it in its most simple terms, theme is what our story means. How it relates to reality and life in general. What it says about life and the infinite roster of issues, facets, challenges, and experiences it presents. Theme can be a broad topical arena, or it can be a specific stance on anything human beings experience in life.


These aren’t words as much as they are realms…dimensions…essences fundamental qualities. Compelling: Will anyone care about your story?…Hero: Yeah, you know you need a protagonist, blah blah blah. But is your lead character actually heroic? In what way?…Conflict: Nobody wants to read about a walk in the park. Really, they don’t. What opposes your hero’s quest?…Context: The most overlooked and taken-for-granted nuance in storytelling. What is the contextual subtext at any given moment in your story?…Architecture: That sound you hear is me once again beating this drum. Does your story unfold with a proper setup?…Resolution: Does the end of your story deliver an emotional payload to the reader? Does it make sense?

On a closing note:

You are a writer. And now, you are an enlightened writer. Take a moment to celebrate that fact. And then get back to work. The rest is out of your hands. The inner reward is the gift of life itself. Writers are scribes of the human experience. To write about life we must see it and feel it, and in a way that eludes most. We are not better people in any way—read the biographies of great writers and this becomes crystal clear—but we are alive in a way that others are not. We are all about meaning. About subtext. We notice what others don’t. If the purpose of the human experience is to immerse ourselves in growth and enlightenment, moving closer and closer to whatever spiritual truth you seek-hopefully have a few laughs and a few tears along the way—wearing the nametag of a writer makes that experience more vivid. We’re hands-on with life, and in the process of committing our observations to the page we add value to it for others…So, go out there and write with passion and insight. But always write with pleasure and fulfillment in the knowledge that you matter. And whatever your writing dream, keep the Six Core Competencies close at all times. They will set you free of the self-imposed limits others suffer. The ceiling is gone, vanished forever. Live the dream. Write your story. Then become one.

A recommended read in the areas of writing and storytelling.

On The Right To Write

I recently finished reading The Right to Write – An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life – by Julia Cameron. As best summarized by the author: ” What this book will do, if I have done it well enough, is t talk to you about writing for the sake of writing, for the sheer unadulterated joy of putting words to the page. In other words, this is less a ” “how to” book than a “why” book. Why should we write? We should write because it is human nature to write. Writing claims our world. It makes it directly and specifically our own. We should write because humans are spiritual beings and writing is a powerful form of prayer and meditation, connecting us both to our own insights and to a higher and deeper level of inner guidance as well. We should write because writing brings clarity and passion to the act of living. Writing is sensual, experiential, grounding. We should write because writing is good for the soul. We should write because writing yields us a body of work, a felt path through the world we live in.”

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

As a result, most of us try to write too carefully. We try to do it “right.” We try to sound smart. We try, period. Writing goes much better when we don’t work at it so much. When we give ourselves permission to just hang out on the page. For me, writing is like a good pair of pajamas—comfortable. In our culture, writing is more often costumed up in a military outfit. We want our sentences to march in neat little rows, like well-behaved boarding-school children.

If we eliminate the word “writer,” if we just go back to writing as an act of listening and naming what we hear, some of the rules disappear. There is an organic shape, a form-coming-into-form that is inherent in the thing we are observing, listening to, and trying to put on the page. It has rules of its own that it will reveal to us if we listen with attention. Shape does not need to be imposed. Shape is part of with attention. Shape does not need to be imposed. Shape is part of what we are listening to. When we just let ourselves write, we get it “right.”

Not writing is the lonely thing. Not writing creates self-obsession. Self-obsession blocks connection with others. Self-obsession blocks connection with the self Writing is like looking at an inner compass. We check in and we get our bearings. Ah-ha! I am feeling, thinking. remembering. . . . When we know accurately what it is that we are doing, we tend to be more open, accurate, and affectionate in our dealings: I can miss David, but I can’t blame David anymore. I am the one who didn’t write enough yesterday.

People who write out of “discipline” are taking a substantial risk. They are setting up a situation against which they may one day strongly rebel. Writing from discipline invites extremism: “I have to do this or I’m a failure.” Writing from discipline creates a potential for emotional blackmail: “If I don’t write I’ve got no character.” People who write from discipline also take the risk of trying to write from the least open and imaginative part of themselves, the part of them that punches a time clock instead of taking flights of fancy. “Commitment” is a word I prefer to the word “discipline.” It is more proactive, more heart-centered, and ultimately more festive and productive. This is not mere semantics. If we are to be involved with writing for the long haul, we want to be comfortable in relationship to it. If we are relating to our writing as a “should” instead of as a desired good, we run the jeopardy of experiencing our writing connection like a thankless marriage: we’re there, but we don’t want to be. We’re thinking of what we’re missing.

We are all works in progress. We are all rough drafts. None of us is finished, final, “done.” How much healthier and happier if we ignore that mafioso’s advice to me and we put “it”—all of “it”—in writing: the flaws, foibles, frills, fantasies, and frailties that make us human. When we connect these dots, we connect.

I like writing to be more portable and flexible. I like writing to be something that fits into cracks and crannies. I don’t like it to dominate my life. I like it to fill my life. There is a big difference. When writing dominates a life, relationships suffer—and, not coincidentally, so does the writing. When writing is about being shut off” from the world in a room sequestered with our own important thoughts, we lose the flow of life, the flow of new ideas and input that can shape. improve, and inform that thought. It is a matter of balance. Yes, we need time and space to write, but we do not perhaps need as much time and as much space as we might think. Rather than being a private affair cordoned off” from life as the rest of the world lives it, writing might profitably be seen as an activity best embedded in life, not divorced from it—of course such a view of writing smacks of heresy.

The root of the word “integration” is the smaller word “integer,” which means “whole.” Too often, racing through life, we become the “hole,” not the “whole.” We become an unexamined maw into which our encounters and experiences rush unassimilated, leaving us both full and unsatisfied because nothing has been digested and taken in. In order to “integrate” our experiences, we must take them into account against the broader canvas of our life. We must slow down and recognize when currents of change, like movements in a symphony, are moving through us.

In those, and most professions, we assume that an interest in pursuing the career implies a probable proclivity for it and a reasonable chance for success. Not so with writing. The truth is, when you want a writing career and are willing to do the work to get it, the odds work with you, not against you. This is simple metaphysical law. As Goethe advised us, “Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it—for action has magic grace and power in it.”

“Scrutinize second,” I laid down a rule for myself “Write first and freely.”

1. Write daily, even if only Morning Pages. 2. Use tools like Media Deprivation and Blasting Through Blocks to give you a jump-start 3. Watch your telephone consumption. 4. Watch your note production. 5. Set a clock for one half hour’s writing time. Pray for the willingness to write—and then write.

“Thou art truly human.” To be truly human, we all have the right to make art. We all have the right to write.

A highly recommended read in the areas of communication and writing.

On This Is Water

I recently finished reading This Is Water – Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life – by David Foster Wallace. The content of this book was delivered as a commencement speech on 2005 and was highly recommended by Shane Parrish from Farnam Street.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

They’re probably even more repulsive than atheists, at least to most of us here, but the fact is that religious dogmatists’ problem is exactly the same as the story’s atheist’s—arrogance, Wind certainty. a closed-mindedness that’s like an imprisonment so complete that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up.

This is not a matter of virtue—it’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hardwired default setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centered, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self.

Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education, at least in my own case, is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract thinking instead of simply paying attention to what’s going on in front of me. Instead of paying attention to what’s going on inside me.

“Learning how to think” really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.

The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.

It is about the real value of a real education, which has nothing to do with grades or degrees and everything to do with simple awareness—awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over: “This is water.”

Which means vet another cliche is true: Your education really is the job of a lifetime, and it commences—now.

A highly recommended quick read filled with inspiration.


On Emotions Revealed

I recently finished read Emotions Revealed – Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life – by Paul Ekman. This book was recommended by best-selling author Daniel Pink as one of the top 6 books on the Art and Science of Sales. This book’s aim, as best summarized by the author: “My goal in writing Emotions Revealed was to help people improve four essential skills, and thus I have included suggestions and exercises in the book that I hope you will find both helpful and provocative. Those four skills are: First, becoming more i consciously aware of when you are becoming emotional, even before you speak or act…Second, choosing how you behave when you are emotional, so you achieve your goals without damaging other people…Third, becoming more sensitive to how others are feeling…Fourth, carefully using the information you acquire about how others are feeling.”

Below are key excerpts from this book:

Emotions determine the quality of our lives. They occur in every relationship we care about—in the workplace, in our friendships, in dealings with family members, and in our most intimate relationships. They can save our lives, but they can also cause real damage. They may lead us to act in ways that we think are realistic and appropriate, but our emotions can also lead us to act in ways we regret terribly afterward.

I reconciled our findings that expressions are universal with Birdwhistell’s observation of how they differ from one culture to another by coming up with the idea of display rules. These, I proposed, are socially learned, often culturally different, rules about the management of expression, about who can show which emotion to whom and when they can do so. It is why in most public sporting contests the loser doesn’t show the sadness and disappointment he or she reels. Display rules are embodied in the parent’s admonition—”Get that smirk off your face.” These rules may dictate that we diminish. exaggerate, hide completely, or mask the expression of emotion we are feeling.

Nearly everyone who does research on emotion today agrees with what I have described so far: first, that emotions are reactions to matters that seem to be very important to our welfare, and second, that emotions often begin so quickly that we are not aware of the processes in our mind that set them off Research on the brain is consistent with what I have so far suggested. We can make very complex evaluations very quickly, in milliseconds, without being aware of the evaluative process.

I am convinced that one of the most distinctive features of emotion is that the events that trigger emotions are influenced not just by our individual experience, but also by our ancestral past. Emotions, in the felicitous phrase of Richard Lazarus, reflect the “wisdom of the ages,” both in the emotion themes and the emotion responses. The autoappraisers are scanning for what has been important to survival not just in our own individual lives, but also in the lives of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

In another study focusing just on smiles, Richard Davidson, a psychologist who studies the brain and emotion, and I found that making a smile produced many of the changes in the brain that occur with enjoyment. It wasn’t just any kind of smile; only the smile that I had earlier found truly signified enjoyment (see chapter 9).

I have described nine paths for accessing or turning on our emotions. The most common one is through the operation of the autoappraisers, the automatic-appraising mechanisms. A second path begins in reflective appraisal that then clicks on the autoappraisers. Memory of a past emotional experience is a third path, and imagination is a fourth path. Talking about a past emotional event is a fifth path. Empathy is the sixth path. Others instructing us about what to be emotional about is the seventh path. Violation of social norms is an eighth path. Last is voluntarily assuming the appearance of emotion.

Controlling emotional behavior will not always work. When the emotion aroused is very strong, when we are in a mood that predisposes us toward the emotion, when the event resonates very closely with one of the evolved emotional themes or with an early learned emotion trigger, my suggestions will be more difficult to use. And, depending on the emotion, some people’s affective style—those who characteristically become emotional very quickly and very intensely—will make it harder to control some emotions. The fact that we will not always succeed does not mean that we cannot improve. The key is to understand ourselves better. By analyzing our emotional episodes afterward, we can begin to develop the habit of attentiveness. By learning to focus more on what it is we are feeling, by learning some of the internal clues that signal to us what emotions we are feeling, we are more likely to be able to monitor our feelings. Increasing our ability to spot the signs of how others are responding to us emotionally can alert us to be attentive to what it is we are doing and feeling—and help us respond to others’ emotions in an appropriate way. And, learning about the common triggers for each emotion, those we share with others and those that are especially important or unique for us, can help us prepare for emotional encounters.

These examples are meant to show that having information about how someone feels doesn’t itself tell vou what to do about it. It doesn’t confer the right or obligation to tell that person you know how he or she feels. There are alternatives, depending on who that person is and what your relationship to that person is, the circumstances at the moment, and what you yourself are comfortable with. But spotting sadness when it is subtle does tell you that something important is happening or has happened, that it involves loss, and that this person needs comforting. The expression itself doesn’t tell you whether you are the right person to give that comforting, or if this is the right time to offer it.

We often think we know why someone has become angry with us, but our version of the grievance may not match the other person’s version. While avoiding what makes someone angry leads to resentments, building a backlog of trouble, rarely should the matter be dealt with when one or both people are in the heat of their anger. If it is so urgent that the matter must be dealt with at once, and it cannot be postponed until a cooler moment, then it is important that both people try to be certain that they are past the refractory period. Otherwise, the discussion is bound only to fuel the anger. not focus on what the problem is and how it can be solved.

Neither empathy nor compassion is an emotion; they refer to our reactions to another person’s emotions. In cognitive empathy we recognize what another person is feeling. In emotional empathy we actually feel what that person is feeling, and in compassionate empathy we want to help the other person deal with his situation and his emotions. We must have cognitive empathy, in order to achieve either of the other forms of empathy, but we need not have emotional empathy in order to have compassionate empathy.

While all four of these contextual issues must be considered when evaluating a normal facial expression, or macro expression, of an emotion, they can be especially revelatory when studying a micro expression. They must also be considered when evaluating signs of emotion in the voice, in posture, and in other cognitively based clues to deceit. Most people do not notice micro expressions when they occur during a conversation, when a micro is competing for attention with words, the tone of the voice, and gestures. They are ; also missed because we are often distracted by thinking about what to say next rather than closely watching for a person’s micro expressions.

As I mention in chapter 9, the great French neurologist Duchenne du Boulogne was the first to suggest that the absence of emotion-based muscle movements that most people cannot perform voluntarily “unmasks the false friend.”‘ The absence of such involuntary movements suggests that the expression may be fabricated rather than genuine.

More generally, we have not found any behavioral change that always occurs in every person who is lying; that is why lie catchers must learn to be alert to every aspect of demeanor, tor it is never possible to know ahead of time how important information will appear. This news always disheartens television interviewers and print media writers, who are disappointed I can’t tell them the one surefire behavioral clue to deceit. It doesn’t exist. Anyone who says there is an absolutely reliable signal that someone is lying is either misguided or a charlatan.

A very perceptive and recommended read.

If You Want To Write

I have recently finished reading If You Want To Write – A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit – by Brenda Ueland. I chose to read my book in my efforts to further develop my communication skills, more specifically my writing.

Below are key excerpts from the book, that I found to be particularly inspiring:

I HAVE BEEN WRITING FOR MANY YEARS, and have learned some things, not only from my own long hard work but from a writing class I ran for three years. The class consisted of all kinds of people: prosperous and poor. Stenographers, housewives, salesmen, cultivated people and servant girls who had never been to high school, timid and bold people, slow and quick ones. This is what I learned: everybody is talented, original and has something important to say. And it may comfort you to know that the people you might suspect of not having talent are actually those who write very easily and glibly, without inhibition or pain, skipping gaily through a novel in a week or so. Yet they are also the ones who did not seem to improve much, to go forward. You cannot get much out of them. They give up working and drop out. But they, too, are talented underneath. I am sure of this. It is just that they did not break through the shell of easy glibness to what is true and alive underneath – for most people must break through a shell of timidity and strain.

In my view, it is fine to work for money, to work to have things enjoyed by people, even very limited ones; but the mistake is feeling that the work, the effort, the search is not the important and exciting thing. One cannot strive to write a cheap, popular story without learning more about cheapness. But enough; I may very well be getting to raving.

NOW I AM GOING TO TRY TO TELL YOU WHAT THE creative power is, how you can detect it in yourself and separate it from your nervous doubts and checks, and how you can distinguish it from mere memory. For memory and you can distinguish it from mere memory, tor memory cu you have learned) can smother creativity very easily. When we hear the word “inspiration” we imagine something that emerges like a bolt of lightning, that with a rapt flashing of the eyes, tossed hair, and feverish excitement a poet or artist begins furiously painting or writing. At least I used to think sadly that that was what inspiration must be, and never experienced a thing that was one bit like it.

I LIKE THE GREAT RUSSIAN WRITERS BEST OF ALL – Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Dostoyevsky. I think this is because they seemed to feel that truthful writing is more important fancy words and sophisticated skills. Personally, I don’t like writing where the package is fancier and more important than the contents. Perhaps that is 5 why the Russians translate so well, because the important thing to them is what they felt, saw, and thought. Life is more important to them than literature.

Chekhov wrote this letter to his brother: “You have only one defect…your extraordinary lack of education…Educated people in my opinion must satisfy the following conditions: 1. They respect a man’s personality, and therefore are always tolerant, gentle, polite, yielding. They do not make a riot about a little hammer or a lost rubber; living with others they do not make a favor of it, and when leaving do not say. ‘It is impossible to live with you!’ They excuse noise, cold. over-roasted meat, and witticisms, and the presence of other people in their house. 2. They are compassionate, and not only with beggars and cats, for they grieve in their soul for what the naked eye does not see…They do not sleep for nights so as to help their parents pay for their brothers’ studies, to buy clothes for their mother.. 3. They respect other people’s property and therefore they pay their debts. 4. They are pure in heart and fear a lie as they fear fire. They do not lie, even in trifles. A lie is humiliating to the listener, and t debases the speaker before his own eyes. They do not show off; they behave in public just as they behave at home; they do not throw dust in the eyes of humbler people, and do not make up soul-to-soul conversations when they are not asked. Out of respect for other people’s ears they are often silent. 5. They do not belittle themselves to arouse the compassion of others. They do not play on the strings of other people’s souls so that they shall sigh over and fondle them. They do not say: ‘People do not understand me! Because all this produces a cheap effect; it is vulgar, musty, false. 6. They are not vain-glorious. They do not care about such false diamonds as acquaintanceship with celebrities, shaking hands with the drunks, the raptures of a well-met fellow at the salon, popularity in public houses…Doing a farthing’s worth, they do not walk about with their briefcases as if they had done a hundred rubles’ worth, and do not boast of having been admitted where others are not admitted.

But today we are apt to say of a man: “Oh. you must not pay any attention to his personality; it is his ideas that are the important thing.” But I think – as did Socrates and Michelangelo and many others – that the ideas of a meager and dishonest personality are corrupt somewhere. And most importantly, if someone has good ideas but is not good himself, there will be no infection; nobody will be affected, enkindled or changed by his ideas.

As I read it now I am surprised and elated at myself: If you also keep a diary, you will be both pleased with yourself and surprised. We all see and feel things sparklingly, but usually it is dulled or lost before it gets on paper.

But this is the point: everybody in the world has the same conviction of inner importance, of fire, of the god within. The tragedy is that either they stifle their fire by not believing in it and using it, or they try to prove to the world and themselves that they have it, not inwardly and greatly, but externally and egotistically, by money or power or more publicity. Therefore you should all work to hone your skills because it is impossible that you have no creative gift. In addition, the only way to make it live and increase it is to use it. Third, you cannot be sure that it is not a great gift.

But if (as I wish) everybody writes and respects and loves, then we would have a nation of intelligent, eager. impassioned readers; and generous and grateful ones, not impassioned readers; and generous and grateful ones, not mere critical, logy, sedentary passengers, observers of writing, whose attitude is: “All right: entertain me now.”

To sum up – if you want to write:

1. Know that you have talent, are original and have something important to say.

2. Know that it is good to work. Work with love and think of liking it when you do it. It is easy and interesting. It is a privilege. There is nothing hard about it but your anxious vanity and fear of failure.

3. Write freely, recklessly, in first drafts.

4. Tackle anything you want to – novels, plays, anything. Only remember Blake’s admonition: “Better to strangle an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.”

5. Don’t be afraid of writing bad stories. To discover what is wrong with a story write two new ones and then go back to it.

6. Don’t fret or be ashamed of what you have written in the past. How I always suffered from this! How I would regurgitate out of my memory (and still do) some nauseous little lumps of things I had written! But don’t do this. Go on to the next. And fight against this tendency, which is much of it due not to splendid modesty, but a lack of self-respect. We are too ready (women especially) not to stand by what we have said or done. Often it is a way of forestalling criticism, saying hurriedly: “I know it is awful!” before anyone else does. Very bad and cowardly. It is so conceited and timid to be ashamed of one’s mistakes. Of course they are mistakes. Go on to the next.

7. Try to discover your true, honest, untheoretical self.

8. Don’t think of yourself as an intestinal tract and tangle of nerves in the skull that will not work unless you drink coffee. Think of yourself as incandescent power, illuminated perhaps and forever talked to by God and his messengers. Remember how wonderful you are, what a miracle! Think if Tiffany’s made a mosquito, how wonderful we would think it was!

9. If you are never satisfied with what you write, that is a good sign. It means your vision can see so far that it is hard to come up to it. Again I say, the only unfortunate people are the glib ones, immediately satisfied with their work. To them the ocean is only knee-deep.

10. When discouraged, remember what van Gogh said: “If you hear a voice within you saying: you are no painter, then paint by all means, lad, and that voice will be silenced, but only by working.”

11. Don’t he afraid of yourself when you write. Don’t check-rein yourself If you are afraid of being sentimental, say, for heavens sake, be as sentimental as you can or feel like being! Then you will probably pass through to the other side and slough off sentimentality because you understand it at last and really don’t care about it.

12. Don’t always be appraising yourself, wondering if you are better or worse than other writers. “I will not Reason & Compare” said Blake; “my business is to Create.” Besides, since you are like no other being ever created since the beginning of Time, you are incomparable.

A recommended read on writing and self-expression.

Wired For Story

In line with my plan to improve my communication skills, I recently finished reading Wired For Story – The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence – by Lisa Cron. As the title indicates this is book about storytelling. More specifically, Lisa unveils how writers can leverage cognitive secrets of the brain to better engage their readership through powerful stories. Below is a summary of the main points of the book. On the importance of stories:

Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution—more so than opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to. Story is what enabled us to imagine what might happen in the future, and so prepare for it—a feat no other species can lay claim to, opposable thumbs or not. Story is what makes us human, not just metaphorically but literally. Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that our brain is hardwired to respond to story; the pleasure we derive from a tale well told is nature’s way of seducing us into paying attention to it. In other words, we’re wired to turn to story to teach us the way of the world.

What’s the role the writer can play?

Writers can change the way people think simply by giving them a glimpse of life through their characters’ eyes. They can transport readers to places they’ve never been, catapult them into situations they’ve only dreamed of, and reveal subtle universal truths that just might alter their entire perception of reality. In ways large and small, writers help people make it through the night. And that’s not too shabby. But there’s a catch. For a story to captivate a reader, it must continually meet his or her hardwired expectations. This is no doubt what prompted Jorge Luis Borges to note, “Art is fire plus algebra.” Let me explain. Fire is absolutely crucial to writing; it’s the very first ingredient of every story. Passion is what drives us to write, filling us with the exhilarating sense that we have something to say, something that will make a difference.

What’s the “algebra” part then?

But to write a story capable of instantly engaging readers, passion alone isn’t enough. Writers often mistakenly believe that all they need to craft a successful story is the fire—the burning desire, the creative spark, the killer idea that startles you awake in the middle of the night. They dive into their story with gusto, not realizing that every word they write is most likely doomed to failure because they forgot to factor in the second half of the equation: the algebra…It’s only by stopping to analyze what we’re unconsciously responding to when we read a story—what has actually snagged our brain’s mention—that we can then write a story that will grab the reader’s brain. This is true whether you’re writing a literary novel, hard-boiled mystery, or supernatural teen romance. Although readers have their own personal taste when it comes to the type of novel they’re drawn to, unless that story meets their hardwired expectations, it stays on the shelf.

How can we learn the “algebra” component of the equation? This is where this book comes into play:

To make sure that doesn’t happen to your story, this book is organized into twelve chapters, each zeroing in on an aspect of how the brain works, its corresponding revelation about story, and the nuts and bolts of how to actualize it in your work. Each chapter ends with a checklist you can apply to your work at any stage: before you begin writing, at the end of every writing day, at the end of a scene or a chapter, or at 2:00 a.m. when you wake up in a cold sweat, convinced that your story may be the worst thing anyone has written, ever. (It’s not; trust me.) Do this, and I guarantee your work will stay on track and have an excellent chance of making people who aren’t even related to you want to read it.

BUT, there is a caveat:

The only caveat is that you have to be as honest about your story as you would be about a novel you pick up in a bookstore, or a movie you begin watching with one finger still poised on the remote. The idea is to pinpoint where each trouble spot lies and then remedy it before it spreads like a weed, undermining your entire narrative. It’s a lot more fun than it sounds, because there’s nothing more exhilarating than watching your work improve until your readers are so engrossed in it that they forget that it’s a story at all.

So What are the secrets?

Secret #1: How to Hook the Reader: From the very first sentence, the reader must want to know what happens next. Secret

#2: How to Zero in on Your Point…To hold the brain’s attention, everything in a story must he there on a need-to-know basis.

Secret #3: I’ll Feel What He’s Feeling…All story is emotion based – if we’re not feeling, we’re not reading.

Secret #4: What does your Protagonist Really Want?…A protagonist without a clear goal has nothing to figure out and nowhere to go.

Secret #5: Digging Up Your Protagonist’s Inner Issue…You must know precisely when, and why, your protagonist’s worldview was knocked out of alignment.

Secret #6: The story is in the specifics…Anything conceptual, abstract, or general must be made tangible in the protagonist’s specific struggle.

Secret #7: Courting Conflict. The Agent Of Change…Story is about change, which results only from unavoidable conflict.

Secret #8: Cause of Effect…A story follows a cause-and-effect trajectory from start to finish.

Secret #9: What Can Go Wrong And Then Some…A story’s job is to put the protagonist through tests that, even in her wildest dreams, she doesn’t think she can pass.

Secret #10: The Road from Setup to Payoff…Readers are always on the lookout for patterns; to your reader, everything is either a setup, a payoff. or the road in between.

Secret #11: Meanwhile Back at the Ranch…Foreshadowing, flashbacks, and subplots must instantly give readers insight into what’s happening in the main storyline, even if the meaning shifts as the story unfolds.

Secret #12: The Writer’s Brain On Story…There’s no writing; there’s only rewriting.

Other highlights from the book, include:

So, What Is a Story? “What happens” is the plot. “Someone” is the protagonist. The “goal” is what’s known as the story question. And “how he or she changes” is what the story itself is actually about.

What Is This Story About? 1. Whose story is it? 2. What’s happening here? 3. What’s at stake?

Don’t Bury Your Story in an Empty Plot…A Story Is About How the Plot Affects the Protagonist

Knowing what the focus of your story is allows you to do for your story what your cognitive unconscious does for you: filter out everything extraneous, everything that doesn’t matter. You can use it to test each proposed twist, turn, and character reaction for story relevance.

That’s what readers come for. Their unspoken hardwired question is. If something like this happens to me, what would it feel like? How should I best react? Your protagonist might even be showing them how not to react, which is a pretty handy answer as well.

Adding External Problems Adds Drama Only If They’re Something the Protagonist Must Confront to Overcome Her Issue That’s why, when writing your protagonist’s bio, the goal is to pinpoint two things: the event in his past that knocked his worldview out of alignment, triggering the internal issue that keeps him from achieving his goal; and the inception of his desire for the goal itself. Sometimes they’re one and the same.

Six Places Where the “Specific” Often Goes Missing: 1. The specific reason a character does something…2. The specific thing a metaphor is meant to illuminate…3. The specific memory that a situation invokes in the protagonist…4. The specific reaction a character has to a significant event…5. The specific possibilities that run through the protagonist’s mind as she struggles to make sense of what’s happening…6. The specific rationale behind a character’s change of heart.

Unless They Convey Necessary Information, Sensory Details Clog a Story’s Arteries.

There are three main reasons for any sensory detail to be in a story: 1. It’s part of a cause-and-effect trajectory that relates to the plot—Lucy drinks the shake, she passes out. 2. It gives us insight into the character—Lucy’s an unapologetic hedonist headed for trouble. 3. It’s a metaphor—Lucy’s flavor choice represents how she sees the world. And that, my friends, is what makes stories so deeply satisfying. We get to try on trouble, pretty much risk-free.

Withholding Information Very Often Robs the Story of What Really Hooks Readers

The Importance of the Highway between Setup and Payoff: Three Rules of the Road…Rule One: There must actually be a road…Rule Two: The reader must be able to see the road unfold…Rule Three: The intended payoff must not be patently impossible.

On a concluding note:

Here’s a secret: when you’ve tapped into what it is we’re wired to respond to in a story, what we’re hungry for from the very first sentence, it is your truth we hear. As neuroscientist David Eagleman says, “When you put together large numbers of pieces and parts, the whole can become something larger than the sum…The concept of emergent properties means that something new can be introduced that is not inherent in any of the parts.” What emerges is your vision, seen through the eyes of your readers, experienced by your readers. So what are you waiting for? Write! Although they may not know it yet, your public is eager to find out what happens next.

A must read book on story-telling and writing. For another recommendation within this subject area, I suggest Storycatcher, and The Story Factor.

On Impro

Earlier this year, famed author Dan Pink posted an article titled: Rebirth of a Salesman–Six Books on the Art and Science of Sales. One of the books on that list that I had not read yet and that caught my attention was: Impro – Improvisation And The Theatre – by Keith Johnstone. In his commentary, Dan wrote:

A work of drama theory? Yes – and that’s why you should read it. Smart sellers, like good improv actors, know how to hear offers. 

So I decided to order this book, read it, and share with you some of my key learnings. Keith starts by explaining the tenets of his teaching philosophy. First, on the importance of focusing on improving the overall team performance:

Normal schooling is intensely competitive, and the students are supposed to try and outdo each other. If I explain to a group that they’re to work for the other members, that each individual is to be interested in the progress of the other members, they’re amazed, yet obviously if a group supports its own members strongly, it’ll be a better group to work in.

Second, on the responsibilities of the teacher and his/her role in removing the fear of failure:

The first thing I do when I meet a group of new students is (probably) to sit on the floor. I play low status, and I’ll explain that if the students fail they’re to blame me. Then they laugh, and relax, and I explain that really it’s obvious that they should blame me, since I’m supposed to be the expert; and if I give them the wrong material. they’ll fail; and if I give them the right material, then they’ll succeed. I play low status physically but my actual status is going up, since only a very confident and experienced person would put the blame for failure on himself. At this point they almost certainly start sliding off their chairs, because they don’t want to be higher than me. I have already changed the group profoundly, because failure is suddenly not so frightening any more. They’ll want to test me, of course; but I really will apologise to them when they fail, and ask them to be patient with me, and explain that I’m not perfect. My methods are very effective, and other things being equal, most students will succeed, but they won’t try to win any more. The normal teacher-student relationship is dissolved.

Third, on the importance of maintaining eye contact with all the students:

When I was teaching young children, I trained myself to share my eye contacts out among the group. I find this crucial in establishing a ‘fair’ relationship with them. I’ve seen many teachers who concentrate their eye contacts on only a few students, and this does affect the feeling in a group. Certain students are disciples, but others feel separated, or experience themselves as less interesting, or as ‘failures’.

And last but not least, on the importance of providing constructive positive feedback:

I’ve also trained myself to make positive comments, and to be as direct as possible. I say ‘Good’ instead of’That’s enough’. I’ve actually heard teachers say ‘Well, let’s see who fails at this one’, when introducing an exercise. Some teachers get reassurance when their students fail. We must have all encountered the teacher who gives a self-satisfied smile when a student makes a mistake. Such an attitude is not conducive to a good, warm feeling in the group.

Following the introductory section, Keith, begins addressing the four areas of improvisation: status, spontaneity, narrative skills, and masks and trance. STATUS On the role of the teacher in establishing safety and enabling his/her students to stretch beyond their comfort zone – in this case the ‘preferred status’:

If you wish to teach status interactions, it’s necessary to understand that however willing the student is consciously, there may be very strong subconscious resistances. Making the student safe, and getting him to have confidence in you, are essential. You then have to work together with the student, as if you were both trying to alter the behaviour of some third person. It’s also important that the student who succeeds at playing a status he feels to be alien should be instantly rewarded, praised and admired. It’s no use just giving the exercises and expecting them to work. You have to understand where the resistance is, and devise ways of getting it to crumble. Many teachers don’t recognise that there’s a problem because they only exploit the ‘preferred’ status. In a bad drama school it’s possible to play your ‘preferred’ status all the time, since they cast you to type, exploiting what you can do, instead of widening your range.

On status, as the central element of any exchange:

Although this short essay is no more than an introduction, by now it will be clear to you that status transactions aren’t only of interest to the improviser. Once you understand that every sound and posture implies a status, then you perceive the world quite differently, and the change is probably permanent. In my view, really accomplished actors, directors, and playwrights are people with an intuitive understanding of the status transactions that govern human relationships. This ability to perceive the underlying motives of casual behaviour can also be taught.

SPONTANEITY Keith believes that we all start out with more spontaneity as children, but our education system plays a big role in reversing that:

1) Most children can operate in a creative way until they’re eleven or twelve, when suddenly they lose their spontaneity and produce imitations of’adult art’…Many teachers think of children as immature adults. It might lead to better and more ‘respectful’ teaching, if we thought of adults as atrophied children. Many ‘well adjusted’ adults are bitter, uncreative frightened, unimaginative, and rather hostile people. Instead of assuming they were born that way, or that that’s what being an adult entails, we might consider them as people damaged by their education and upbringing. 2) Imagination is as effortless as perception, unless we think it might be ‘wrong’, which is what our education encourages us to believe. Then we experience ourselves as ‘imagining’, as ‘thinking up an idea’, but what we’re really doing is faking up the sort of imagination we think we ought to have. 3) At school any spontaneous act was likely to get me into trouble. I learned never to act on impulse, and that whatever came into my mind first should be rejected in favour of better ideas. I learned that my imagination wasn’t ‘good’ enough. I learned that the first idea was unsatisfactory because it was (1) psychotic; (2) obscene; (3) unoriginal.The truth is that the best ideas are often psychotic, obscene and unoriginal. My best known play—a one-actor called Moby Dick—is about a servant who keeps his master’s one remaining sperm in a goldfish bowl. It escapes, grows to monstrous size, and has to be hunted down on the high seas. This is certainly a rather obscene idea to many people, and if I hadn’t thrown away everything that my teachers taught me, I could never have written it. These teachers, who were so sure of the rules, didn’t produce anything themselves at all. I was one of a number of playwrights who emerged in the late 1950s, and it was remarkable that only one of us had been to a university—that was John Arden—and he’d studied architecture. 4) Students need a ‘guru’ who ‘gives permission’ to allow forbidden thoughts into their consciousness. A ‘guru’ doesn’t necessarily teach at all. Some remain speechless for years, others communicate very cryptically. All reassure by example. They are people who have been into the forbidden areas and who have survived unscathed. I react playfully with my students, while showing them that there are just as many dead nuns or chocolate scorpions inside my head as there are in anybody’s, yet I interact very smoothly and sanely. It’s no good telling the student that he isn’t to be held responsible for the content of his imagination, he needs a teacher who is living proof that the monsters are not real, and that the imagination will not destroy you. Otherwise the student will have to go on pretending to be dull. 5) Reading about spontaneity won’t make you more spontaneous, but it may at least stop you heading off in the opposite direction; and if you play the exercises with your friends in a good spirit, then soon all your thinking will be transformed. Rousseau began an essay on education by saying that if we did the opposite of what our own teachers did we’d be on the right track, and this still holds good. The Stages I try to take students through involve the realisation (i) that we struggle against our imaginations, especially when we try to be imaginative; (2) that we are not responsible for the content of our imaginations; and (3) that we are not, as we are taught to think, our ‘personalities’, but that the imagination is our true self.

NARRATIVE SKILLS One technique for generating stories, that resonated with me, is to think of them as events that interrupted an established routine:

An improviser can study status transactions, and advancing, and ‘reincorporating’, and can learn to free-associate, and to generate narrative spontaneously, and yet still find it difficult to compose stories. This is really for aesthetic reasons, or conceptual reasons. He shouldn’t really think of making up stories, but of interrupting routines. If I say ‘Make up a story’, then most people are paralysed. If I say ‘describe a routine and then interrupt it’, people see no problem.

In concluding the narrative skills section, Keith offers advice on the necessity to distract the student’s initial focus away from the content so as to release their imagination:

You have to trick students into believing that content isn’t important and that it looks after itself, or they never get anywhere. It’s the same kind of trick you use when you tell them that they are not their imaginations, that their imaginations have nothing to do with them and that they’re in no way responsible for what their ‘mind’ gives them. In the end they learn how to abandon control while at the same time they exercise control. They begin to understand that everything is just a shell. You have to misdirect people to absolve them of responsibility. Then, much later, they become strong enough to resume the responsibility themselves. By that time they have a more truthful concept of what they are.

MASKS AND TRANCE On masks and trance, Keith summarizes the role these two tools can play not only in acting but also as therapy but cautions on the importance of having a teacher who’s role is to keep the student safe during his regression:

If you were to use Mask work literally as ‘therapy’, and to try and psychoanalyse the content of scenes, then I’ve no doubt you could produce some amazing conflicts, and really screw everyone up. Mask work, or any spontaneous acting, can be therapeutic because of the intense abreactions involved; but the teacher’s job is to keep the student safe, and to protect him so that he can regress. This is the opposite of the Freudian view that people regress in search of greater security. In acting class, students only regress when they feel protected by a high-status teacher. When the students begin Mask work, and ‘characters’ inhabit them for the first time, it’s normal for everything to be extremely grotesque…. But when you give the student permission to explore this material he very soon uncovers layers of unsuspected gentleness and tenderness. It is no longer sexual feelings and violence that are deeply repressed in this culture now, whatever it may have been like in fin-de-siecle Vienna. We repress our benevolence and tenderness.

This book, while primarily written as a practical guide of techniques for improvisation, has numerous lessons that extend into other areas such as psychology and influence.

Dealing with People: Your Key to Success and Happiness

In a recent blog post, colleague Eric Barker, author of the blog Barking Up The Wrong Tree shared the well established fact, that there is a strong correlation between our life satisfaction and the quality of relationships within it.

Given the importance of these relationships, why do we often find ourselves in a situation where we struggle to establish new relationships or maintain or strengthen existing ones. According to Les Giblin, author of How to Have Confidence and Power in Dealing with People:

One of the big reasons so many people lack confidence in dealing with others is that they do not understand what they are dealing with. We are always unsure of ourselves and lack confidence when we are dealing with the unknown. Watch a mechanic try to repair the engine of a strange automobile that he does not understand. He hesitates. His every movement shows lack of confidence. Then watch a master mechanic, who understands the engine he is working with. His every movement exudes confidence. It is the same for anything we are dealing with. The more we know about it—the more confidence we will have in dealing with it.

The key then to develop successful relationships is in understanding the laws of human nature:

The real key to successful human relations is learning as much as we can about human nature as it is, not as we think it ought to be. Only when we understand just what we are dealing with are we in a position to deal with it successfully.

Yet, we have to be careful that when being applied, these principles need to be contextualized to the specific individual we are dealing with:

Skill in human relations is similar to skill in any other field in that success depends upon understanding and mastering certain basic general principles. You must not only know what to do, but why you’re doing it.

Don’t be a Johnny-One-Note, As far as basic principles are concerned, people are all the same. Yet each individual person you meet is different. If you attempted to learn some gimmick to deal successfully with each separate individual you met, you would be faced with a hopeless task, just as a pianist would be up against an impossible task if he had to learn each individual composition as something entirely new and unique.

What the pianist does is to master certain principles. He learns certain basic things about music. He practices certain exercises until he develops skill at the keyboard. When he has mastered these basic things, he can then play any piece of music that is put before him, with some practice and additional learning. For although each individual piece of music is different from every other—there are only 88 keys on the piano, and only eight notes in the scale. Whether you are a pianist or not, you can quickly learn to strike a “pretty chord” on the piano. With more patience you can learn to strike separately all the separate chords that the concert pianist uses. But this does not make you a pianist If you tried to give a concert you would be a flop.

Influencing people is an art, not a gimmick. In much the same way, this is what happens when you try to learn a few gimmicks of “influencing people” and apply them in a superficial, mechanical way. You go through the same motions as the man or woman who “has a way” with people, but somehow they don’t seem to work for you. You hit the same notes but no music comes out. The purpose of this book is not to teach you a few “chords,” but to help you master the keyboard—not to teach you a few gimmicks of dealing with people but to give you “know-how’ based upon an understanding of human nature and why people act the way they do.

Les starts out by explaining some basic laws of human nature that we need to understand in order to influence others:

1. We are all egotists.

2. We are all more interested in ourselves than in anything else in the world.

3. Every person you meet wants to feel important, and to amount to something.

4. There is a hunger in every human being for approval.

5. A hungry ego is a mean ego. mean ego.

6. Satisfy the other person’s hunger for self-esteem and he automatically becomes more friendly and likeable.

7. Jesus said, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Psychologists now tell us that unless you do love yourself in the sense of having some feeling of self-esteem and self-regard, it is impossible for you to feel friendly toward other people.

8. Remember LS/MFT. Low Self-esteem Means Trouble and Friction.

9. Help the other fellow like himself better and you make him easier to get along with.

10. People act, or fail to act, largely to enhance their own egos.

Given the above laws, he goes on to explain that we have a virtually unlimited ability to add to the feeling of personal worth to others that we should leverage:

1. Don’t be stingy in feeding the hunger for a feeling of importance.

2. Don’t underestimate ”small courtesies” such as being on time for an appointment It is by such small things that we acknowledge the importance of the other person. Unfortunately, we are often more courteous to strangers than to home folks. Try treating your family and friends with the same courtesy you show strangers.

3. Remind yourself that other people are important, and your attitude will get across to the other person.

4. Starting today, begin to notice other people more. Pay attention to a man or a child, and you make him feel important.

5. Don’t lord it over other people, or attempt to increase your own feeling of self-importance by making other people feel small.

In more ways than we realize, we control the actions and attitudes of others:

1. Whether you realize it or not, you control the actions and attitudes of others by your own actions and attitudes.

2. Your own attitudes are reflected back to you from the other person almost as if you stood before a mirror.

3. Act or feel hostile and the other fellow reflects this hostility back to you. Shout at him, and he is almost compelled to shout back. Act calmly and unemotionally, and you turn away his anger before it gets started.

4. Act enthusiastic and you arouse the enthusiasm of the Other person.

5. Act confidently and the other person has confidence in you.

6. Begin today deliberately to cultivate an enthusiastic attitude. Take a tip from Frank Bettger and act as if you were enthusiastic Soon you’ll feel enthusiastic

7. Right now, begin deliberately to cultivate a confident manner. Don’t mumble your words as if you were afraid to express them. Speak out. Watch your posture. A slumped figure signifies that you find the burdens of life too heavy for you to bear. A drooping head signifies that you are defeated by life. Hold your head up. Straighten up your shoulders. Walk with a confident step, as if you had somewhere important to go.

Your ability to influence others, and control the actions and attitudes in others depends in large part to how you start the conversation:

1. In dealing with other people, you yourself sound the keynote for the entire theme, when you begin the interview.

2. If you start off on a note of formality, the meeting will he formal. Start off on a note of friendliness and the meeting will be friendly. Set the stage for a businesslike discussion, and it will be business-like. Start on a note of apology and the other person will force you to play that theme all the way through.

3. When you meet someone for the first time, the impression you make then is very likely to be the keynote that will determine how he regards you for the rest of your life.

4. Other people tend to accept you at your own evaluation. If you think you are a nobody, you are practically asking other people to snub you.

5. One of the best means ever discovered for impressing the other fellow favorably is not to strive too hard to make an impression, but to let him know that he is making a good impression on you.

6. People judge you not only by the opinion you hold of yourself, but also by the opinions you hold on other things: your job, your company, even your competition.

7. Negative opinions create a negative atmosphere. Don’t be a knocker. And don’t be a sorehead.

8. The way, itself, in which you ask things, sets the stage or sounds the keynote for the other person’s answer. Don’t ask “no” questions if you want “yes” answers. Don’t ask questions or issue instructions that imply you expect trouble. Why ask for trouble?

For making and keeping friends, Les shares guidance in two areas, the first on how to attract others:

1. The real secret of an attractive personality is to offer other people the food they are hungry for. People are as hungry for certain things as flies are for honey.

2. Use the Triple-A Formula for attracting people:

Acceptance. Accept people as they are. Allow them to be themselves. Don’t insist on anyone being perfect before you can like him. Don’t fashion a moral strait jacket and expect Others to wear it in order to gain your acceptance. Above all don’t bargain for acceptance. Don’t say, in substance, “I’ll accept you if you’ll do this or that, or change your ways to suit me.”

Approval. Look for something to approve in the other person. It may be something small or insignificant. But let the other person know you approve that, and the number of things you can sincerely approve of will begin to grow. When the other person gets a taste of your genuine approval, he will begin to change his behavior so that he will be approved for other things.

Appreciation. To appreciate means to raise in value, as opposed to depreciate, which means to lower in value. Let Other people know that you value them. Treat other people as if they were valuable to you. Don’t keep them waiting. Thank them. Give them “special”, individual treatment.

The second on how to make others feel friendly:

1. Human relations often become deadlocked because each party is afraid to make the first move.

2. Don’t wait for a sign from the other fellow. Assume that he is going to be friendly, and act accordingly.

3. Don’t wait for a sign from the other fellow. Assume that he is going to be friendly, and act accordingly.

4. Assume the attitude that you wish the other person to take. Act as if you expected him to like you. Take a chance that the other fellow will be friendly. It is always a gamble, but you’ll win 99 times for every time you lose, if you’ll just bet on his being friendly. Refuse to take the chance, and you’ll lose every time.

5. Don’t be an eager-beaver. Don’t be overly anxious. don’t knock yourself out trying to make the other fellow like you. Remember, there is such a thing as being too charming and trying too hard.

6. Just relax and take for granted that other people do like

7. Use the magic of your smile to warm up the other fellow.

8. Starting today, begin to develop a genuine smile by practicing before your bathroom mirror. You know what a real smile looks like when you see one. Your mirror will tell you whether your smile is real or phoney. Also, going through the motions of smiling will get you in the habit, and actually make you fed more like smiling.

To be successful at engaging others, effective speaking techniques are crucial, in particular: skill in using words, empathic listening, and persuasion. Les goes on to discuss each of these areas and offers practical advice within each.

On the importance of developing skill is using words, and how we can improve ourselves within that area:

1. Both success and happiness depend in large measure on our ability to express ourselves. Therefore, start today to study ways to improve your talk. Keep at it day after day.

2. Practice starting conversations with strangers by using the warm-up technique of asking simple questions or making obvious observations.

3. To be a good conversationalist, stop trying to be perfect, and don’t be afraid to be trite. Nuggets and gems in conversation come only after you have dug a lot of low-grade ore.

4. Ask questions to bring out interesting talk from others. 5. Encourage the other person to talk about himself. Talk about the other person’s interests.

6. Use the “me-too” technique to identify yourself with the speaker and his interests.

7. Talk about yourself only when you are invited to do so by the other person. If he wants to know about you, he’ll ask.

8. Use “‘Happy Talk.” Remember, nobody likes a Gloomy Gus or a prophet of doom. Keep your troubles to yourself.

9. Eliminate kidding, teasing, and sarcasm from your conversation.

On the importance of empathic listening:

When Oliver Wendell Holmes for advice on how to get elected to office, Justice Holmes wrote him: “To be able to listen to others in a sympathetic and understanding manner is perhaps the most effective mechanism in the world for getting along with people and tying up their friendship for good. Too few people practice the “white magic” of being good listeners.”

And some practical tips on how we can practice it:

Seven Ways to Practice Listening:

1. Look at the person who is talking.

2. Appear deeply interested in what he is saying.

3. Lean toward the person who is talking.

4. Ask questions.

5. Don’t interrupt; instead, ask him to tell more.

6. Stick to the speaker’s subject.

7. Use the speaker’s words to get your own point across.

On persuasion, Les cautions us about being fixated about winning the argument:

When you have a difference of opinion with someone, your object should not be to “win an argument,” but to get the other person to change his own mind and see things your way. Thus, you must avoid bringing his ego into play. You must slip your “logical reasons” past his ego, then clinch it by leaving him a loophole through which he can escape from his previous position.

The following six rules will help you accomplish this:

1. Let him State his case.

2. Pause momentarily before you answer.

3. Don’t insist on winning 100 per cent.

4. State your case moderately and accurately.

5.Speak through third persons

6. Let the other fellow save face.

In the last section of the book, Les covers three areas, which are particularly relevant for leaders and managers: cooperation, praise and constructive criticism.

On cooperation:

1. If you want other people to help you, and go all out. you must ask for then: ideas as well as for their brawn.

2. Make the other fellow feel that your problem is his problem.

3. Use the principle of multiple management, giving each member of the team a voice in how the team is to Operate.

4. When you want someone to do you a favor, make him a member of your team. Don’t just say, “How about putting in a good word for me.” Say, “If you were in my shoes and wanted to get favorable attention, how would you go about it?”

5. Set up your own brain trust, and make use of the ideas. suggestions, and advice of other people.

6. Be sure when you ask for advice you actually want advice. Don’t ask for advice if all you want is sympathy or a pat on the back.

On praise:

1. Sincere praise miraculously releases energy in the other person, perks him up physically, as well as giving his spirits a lift.

2. The person who is discouraged, doing sloppy work, or just hard to get along with is probably suffering from low self-esteem. Praise can act as a wonder drug to give his self-esteem a healthy shot in the arm, change his behavior for the better.

3. Give others credit for what they do. Show your appreciation of what they have done by saying “thank you.”

4. Be generous with kind statements. Gratitude is not a common thing. By being generous with gratitude, you make yourself a stand-out.

5. Increase your own happiness and peace of mind by paying three sincere compliments each day.

On constructive criticism:

Remember that criticism, to be successful, most be for <he purpose of accomplishing some worthwhile goal for both yourself and the person you’re criticizing. Don’t criticize just to bolster your own ego. And steer dear of the other fellow’s ego when you must correct him.

Memorize these Seven Musts and begin to put them into practice:

1. Criticism must be made in absolute privacy.

2. Preface criticism with a kind word or compliment

3. Make the criticism impersonal Criticize the act, not the person.

4. Supply the answer.

5.Ask for cooperation-don’t demand it

6. One criticism to an offense.

7. Finish in a friendly fashion.

On a closing note, remember:

Human relations can bring you both success and happiness. You should regard it as a skill that you are going to learn — a very rewarding skill. You should look forward to getting a real sense of satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment by improving your human relations. This positive outlook gives you an incentive to reach definite goals.

How to Have Confidence and Power in Dealing with People is a must read, and a great complement to Dale Carnegie‘s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People.

On How To Read A Book

I just finished reading How To Read A Book – The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “Perhaps we know more about the world than we used to. and insofar as knowledge is prerequisite to understanding, that is all to the good. But knowledge is not as much a prerequisite to understanding as is commonly supposed. We do not have to know everything about something in order to understand it; too many facts are often as much of an obstacle to understanding as too few. There is a sense in which we moderns are inundated with facts to the detriment of understanding.”

2- “Thinking is only one part of the activity of learning. One must also use one’s senses and imagination. One must observe, and remember, and construct imaginatively what cannot be observed. There is, again, a tendency to stress the role of these activities in the process of unaided discovery and to forget or minimize their place in the process of being taught through reading or listening. For example, many people assume that though a poet must use his imagination in writing a poem they do not have to use their imagination in reading it. The art of reading, in short, includes all of the same skills that are involved in the art of unaided discovery: keenness of observation, readily available memory, range of imagination, and, of course, an intellect trained in analysis and reflection. The reason for this is that reading in this sense is discovery, too— although with help instead of without it.”

3- “The first level of reading we will call Elementary Reading. Other names might be rudimentary reading, basic reading or initial reading; any one of these terms serves to suggest that as one masters this level one passes from nonliteracy to at least beginning literacy. In mastering this level, one learns the rudiments of the art of reading, receives basic training in reading, and acquires initial reading skills. We prefer the name elementary reading, however, because this level of reading is ordinarily learned in elementary school…At this level of reading, the question asked of the reader is “What does the sentence say?” That could be conceived as a complex and difficult question, of course. We mean it here, however, in its simplest sense.”

4- “The second level of reading we will call Inspectional Reading. It is characterized by its special emphasis on time When reading at this level, the student is allowed a set time to complete an assigned amount of reading. He might be allowed fifteen minutes to read this book, for instance or even a book twice as long…Whereas the question that is asked at the first level is “What does the sentence say?” the question typically asked at this level is “What is the book about?” That is a surface question; others of a similar nature are “What is the structure of the book or “What are its parts?””

5- “The third level of reading we will call Analytical Reading. It is both a more complex and a more systematic activity than either of the two levels of reading discussed so far. Depending on the difficulty of the text to be read, it makes more or less heavy demands on the reader. Analytical reading is thorough reading, complete reading. or good reading—the best reading you can do. If inspectional reading is the best and most complete reading that is possible given a limited time, then analytical reading is the best and most complete reading that is possible given unlimited time…On this level of reading, the reader grasps a book—the metaphor is apt—and works at it until the book becomes his own. Francis Bacon once remarked that “some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” Reading a book analytically is chewing and digesting it.”

6- “The fourth and highest level of reading we will call Syntopical Reading. It is the most complex and systematic type of reading of all. It makes very heavy demands on the reader, even if the materials he is reading are themselves relatively easy and unsophisticated. Another name for this level might be comparative reading. When reading syntopically, the reader reads many books, not just one, and places them in relation to one another and to a subject about which they all revolve. But mere comparison of texts is not enough. Syntopical reading involves more. With the help of the books read, the svntopical reader is able to construct an analysis of the subject that may not be in any of he hooks. It is obvious, therefore, that syntopical reading is the most active and effortful kind of reading.”

7- “Every book should be read no more slowly than it deserves, and no more quickly than you can read it with satisfaction and comprehension. In any event, the speed at which they read, be it fast or slow, is but a fractional part of most people’s problem with reading. Skimming or pre-reading a book is always a good idea; it is necessary when you do not know, as is often the case, whether the book you have in hand is worth reading carefully. You will find that out by skimming it. It is generally desirable to skim even a book that you intend to read carefully, to get some idea of its form and structure.”

8- “The first stage of inspectional reading-the stage we have called systematic skimming—serves to prepare the analytical reader to answer the questions that must be asked during the first stage of that level. Systematic skimming, in other words. anticipates the comprehension of a book’s structure. And the second stage of inspectional reading—the stage we have called superficial reading—serves the reader when he comes to the second stage of reading at the analytical level. Superficial reading is the first necessary step in the interpretation of a book’s contents.”

9- “The art of reading on any level above the elementary consists in the habit of asking the right questions in the right order. There are four main questions you must ask about any book. 1. What is the book about as a whole?…2. What is being said in detail, and how?…Is the book true, in whole or part? WHAT OF IT? If the book has given you information. you must ask about its significance. Why does the author think it is important to know these things? Is it important to you to know them? And if the book has not only informed you, but also enlightened you, it is necessary to seek further enlightenment by asking what else follows, what is further implied or suggested.”

10- “It is hard to learn to read well. Not only is reading, especially analytical reading, a very complex activity-much more complex than skiing; it is also much more of a mental activity. The beginning skier must think of physical acts that he can later forget and perform almost automatically. It is relatively easy to think of and be conscious of physical acts. It is much harder to think of mental acts, as the beginning analytical reader must do; in a sense, he is thinking about his own thoughts. Most of us are unaccustomed to doing this. Nevertheless, it can be done, and a person who does it cannot help learning to read much better.”

11- “Teachability is often confused with subservience. A person is wrongly thought to be teachable if he is passive and pliable. On the contrary, teachability is an extremely active virtue. No one is really teachable who does not freely exercise his power of independent judgment. He can be trained, perhaps, but not taught. The most teachable reader is, therefore, the most critical. He is the reader who finally responds to a book by the greatest effort to make up his own mind on the matters the author has discussed.”

12- “The First Stage of Analytical Reading: Rules for Finding What a Book Is About 1. Classify the book according to kind and subject matter. 2. State what the whole book is about with the utmost brevity. 3. Enumerate its major parts in their order and relation and outline these parts as you have outlined the whole. 4. Define the problem or problems the author has tried to solve. The Second Stage of Analytical Reading: Rules for Interpreting a Book’s Contents 5. Come to terms with the author by interpreting his key words. 6. Grasp the author’s leading propositions by dealing with ^is most important sentences. 7. Know the author’s arguments, by finding them in, or constructing them out of, sequences of sentences. 8. Determine which of his problems the author has solved. and which he has not; and of the latter, decide which the author knew he had failed to solve. The Third Stage of Analytical Reading: Rules for Criticizing a Book as a Communication of Knowledge A. General Maxims of Intellectual Etiquette 9. Do not begin criticism until you have completed your outline and your interpretation of the book. (Do not say you agree, disagree, or suspend judgment, until you can say 1 understand.”) 10. Do not disagree disputatiously or contentiously. 11. Demonstrate that you recognize the difference between knowledge and mere personal opinion by presenting good reasons for any critical judgment you make. B. Special Criteria for Points of Criticism 12. Show wherein the author is uninformed. 13. Show wherein the author is misinformed. 14. Show wherein the author is illogical. 15. Show wherein the author’s analysis or account is incomplete. Note: Of these last four, the first three are criteria for disagreement. Failing in all of these, you must agree, at least in part, although you may suspend judgment on the whole, in the light of the last point.”

13- ” Few people have ever read any book in this ideal manner, and those who have, probably read very few books this way. The ideal remains, however, the measure of achievement. You are a good reader to the degree in which you approximate it.”

14- “The great writers have always been great readers, but that does not mean that they read all the books that, in their day, were listed as the indispensable ones. In many cases, they read fewer books than are now required in most of our colleges, but what they did read, they read well. Because they had mastered these books, they became peers with their authors. They were entitled to become authorities in their own right. In the natural course of events, a good student frequently becomes a teacher, and so, too, a good reader becomes an author. Our intention here is not to lead you from reading to writing. It is rather to remind you that one approaches the ideal of good reading by applying the rules we have described in the reading of a single book, and not by trying? to become superficially acquainted with a larger number. There are, of course, many books worth reading well. There is a much larger number that should be only inspected. To become well-read, in every sense of the word, one must know how to use whatever skill one possesses with discrimination—by reading every book according to its merits.”

15- “History is the story of what led up to now. It is the present that interests us—that and the future. The future will be partly determined by the present. Thus, you can learn something about the future, too, from a historian, even from one who like Thucydides lived more than two thousand years ago. Let us sum up these two suggestions for reading history. The first is: if you can, read more than one history of an event or period that interests you. The second is: read a history not only to learn what really happened at a particular time and place in the past, but also to learn the way men act in all times and places, especially now.”

16- “Thus the most important thing to know, when reading any report of current happenings, is who is writing the report. What is involved here is not so much an acquaintance with the reporter himself as with the kind of mind he has. The various sorts of filter-reporters fall into groups. To  understand what kind of filter our reporter’s mind is, we must ask a series of questions about it. This amounts to asking a series of questions about it. This amounts to asking a series of questions about any material dealing  with current events. The questions are these:  1. What does the author want to prove? 2. Whom does he want to convince? 3. What special knowledge does he assume? 4. What Special language does he use? 5. Does he really know what he is talking about?”

17- “A curious paradox is involved in any project of syntopical reading. Although this level of reading is defined as the reading of two or more books  on the same subject, which implies that the identification of the subject matter occurs before the reading begins, it is in a s sense true that the identification of the subject matter must follow the reading, not precede it. In the case of love, you might have to read a dozen or a hundred works before you could decide what you were reading about. And when you had done that, you might have to conclude that half of the works you had read were not on the subject at all.”

18- “As we have seen, there are two main stages of syntopical reading. One is preparatory, and the other is syntopical reading proper. Let us write out all of these steps for review.

I. Surveying the Field Preparatory to Syntopical Reading 1. Create a tentative bibliography of your subject by recourse to library, catalogues, advisors, and bibliographies in books. 2. Inspect all of the books on the tentative bibliography to ascertain which are germane to your subject, and also to acquire a clearer idea of the subject. These two steps are not, strictly speaking, chronologically distinct; that is, the two steps have an effect on each other, with the second, in particular, serving to modify the first.

II. Syntopical Reading of the Bibliography Amassed in Stage I 1. Inspect the books already identified as relevant to your subject in Stage I in order to find the most relevant passages. 2. Bring the authors to terms by constructing a neutral terminology of the subject that all, or the great majority, of the authors can be interpreted as employing, whether they actually employ the words or not. 3. Establish a set of neutral propositions for all of the authors by framing a set of questions to which all or most of the authors can be interpreted as giving answers, whether they actually treat the questions explicitly or not. 4. Define the issues, both major and minor ones, by ranging the opposing answers of authors to the various questions on one side of an issue or another. You should remember that an issue does not always exist explicitly between or among authors, but that it sometimes has to be constructed by interpretation of the authors’ views on matters that may not have been their primary concern. 5. Analyze the discussion by ordering the questions and issues in such a way as to throw maximum light on the subject. More general issues should precede less general ones, and relations among issues should be clearly indicated. Note: Dialectical detachment or objectivity should, ideally. be maintained throughout. One way to insure this is always to accompany an interpretation of an author’s views on an issue with an actual quotation from his text.”

19- “If the book belongs to the second class of books to which we referred before, you find, on returning to it, that there was less there than you remembered. The reason, of course, is that yourself have grown in the meantime. Your mind is fuller. your understanding greater. The book has not changed, but you have. Such a return is inevitably disappointing. But ff the book belongs to the highest class—the very small number of inexhaustible books-you discover on returning that the hook seems to have grown with you. You see new things in it-whole sets of new things—that you did not see before. Your previous understanding of the book is not invalidated (assuming that you read it well the first time); it is just as true as it ever was, and in the same ways that it was true before. But now it is true in still other ways, too.”

20- “Reading well, which means reading actively, is thus not only a good in itself, nor is it merely a means to advancement in our work or career. It also serves to keep our minds alive and growing.”


Omar Halabieh

How to Read a Book