Expanding your descriptions tenfold

Creative writing exercise

If you find me scanning the horizon or hunched over with my ear to the ground, it is probably because I’m searching for a clever creative writing exercise to experience and share. The best leave room for interpretation. Personally, I enjoy attempting to manipulate the exercise. I want to develop an approach that’s unexpected but manages to fit the parameters, hopefully transcending the frontiers of the challenge.

OK, that’s waxing a bit melopoetic. (Phrase-coining alert). Let’s just say you’re travelling from point A to point B, but you want to change the mode of transportation.

That is why I like this particular exercise. It is ripe for interpretation, manipulation and customization: Take one thing and describe it ten different ways.

That “thing” can be anything real or imagined, tangible or ethereal, republican or democrat. You get the idea. There is sky, but there is no limit. One thing. Described ten ways. One sentence each. I’d say “on your mark, get set, go,” but I’ve already started.

The lie you told

The lie you told polluted the room like carbon monoxide – odorless, invisible and toxic. It sounded like a sonnet but echoed like a dirge. I was frightened by how comfortably it spilled from your mouth. You addressed it like an old friend. The language tore through me like shrapnel and ricocheted in the hollowed space between my ribs and spine. Tulips wilted when you exhaled. I could taste the ashen remains of integrity consumed by guilt fire. The weight of the words submerged my body, driving me ever deeper to join other victims of narcosis. The lie drained the remaining light from your eyes. It wasn’t until I tried to find you in its residual darkness that I realized you were already gone.

That’s my ten.

I’ll link here to other great 1×10 descriptions as I discover them. Let’s make a pact never to see the world in the same light again.

  1. Describing description
  2. My computer’s making a weird noise again
  3. Because I just had lunch…
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Five tips for improving your deadline efficiency

Become a more reliable writer

Better late than never? Don’t settle for either.

Your ability to meet deadlines is the trait perhaps most demonstrative of your dependability. You may be employed in public relations, marketing or journalism. You might be a freelancer or a student. Even as an author or editor, it is important to build trust with colleagues, clients and other associates.

Timely communications can cement that trust, but failure to meet deadlines can erode it. Simplistically, the key to deadline efficiency is effective time management. For writing projects, however, you may benefit from specific strategies that put you in position to hit your completion targets.

1. Start early

I might have called this “don’t procrastinate.” It is easy to postpone work on the project that requires a telescope to see the finish line. It that’s a tendency of yours, ignite your effort by assigning yourself mini-deadlines. Create a calendar that includes due dates for project components. Appoint firm dates for the completion of initial steps, such as taking inventory of reference material or organizing contact lists. Set that alarm clock and don’t hit snooze. You’ll appreciate the early start.

2. Prioritize shrewdly

Breaking a larger project into smaller, manageable tasks is classically sound advice, but how you order and schedule those tasks will affect your deadline progress either positively or negatively. Determine which components of your project require external input or feedback and focus on those first. You can address items fully under your control at your convenience, but you don’t want to be chasing information at the eleventh hour. At a given juncture, if you are choosing between reaching out to sources or content owners for information and penning your opening paragraphs, you should make those phone calls or send those emails first. You will have time to write while you await responses.

3. Preemptively strike problems

There are pitfalls in every project, and chances are, you already know which challenges could disrupt your deadline. Do you know a source is particularly difficult to reach because they travel frequently? Do you have an editor or a manager who is notoriously heavy on revisions? Get copy to them early. Do you need to request statistics from an agency that updates data on a periodic basis? Learn its schedule – the day of the month or the month of the year its reports are released – so you can run with the timeliest information without holding up your deadline. If you predict problems, you’ll be poised to overcome them.

4. Coordinate with other projects

I don’t need to tell you how busy you are, but I encourage you to find common threads in your work and thereby identify opportunities to save time. Juggling multiple projects requires you to maintain a longitudinal view of your deadlines. Don’t let a single project consume all of your thought and effort. Instead, look for efficiencies across your projects. Designate a day to pound the phones. Book multiple face-to-face interviews or field research on the same day, regardless of project, for travel economy. Block large periods of time for writing to minimize interruption. If you sustain momentum on all of your projects, you bring each closer to timely conclusion.

5. Play mind games

You won’t forget the drop-dead deadline for your project, but that doesn’t mean you can’t establish a pseudo deadline to ensure you meet your goal with time to spare. Giving yourself a deadline cushion relieves some of the pressure associated with final due dates for deliverables. The key is to establish your pseudo deadline right from the start. Coach yourself to accept the pseudo deadline as authentic. Base your schedule and your mini-deadlines on it. You’ll benefit by regularly exceeding expectations while providing yourself with a safeguard against crisis or other unforeseen complications. The size of the cushion should be proportionate to the project. Anything from several days to several weeks might be appropriate, depending on circumstances. Ultimately, it’s about your comfort level.

Deadlines may sound morbid, but they ensure that communications are lively and relevant. Meeting them will help ensure your professional relevance as a writer.

Do you have additional tips for meeting deadlines? Share them in the comments section below.

Telegraphing the punch

Not quite a poem #2

“I know we can make this work. We’ve been through so much together. Don’t go. It won’t happen again.”

But it’s a one-way conversation, speeding down a narrow alley kicking up gutter trash and rancid rain residue in awkward arcs. Echoes are emptier than silence. She recognizes the prelude to a broken promise and lets it vanish into the void. Three years is long enough to know the difference between a glance and a glare, or freedom and force.

“Are you listening to me?”

She imagines living in a place without patterns. She’s going paint each wall a different color. Not quite a poem telegraphing the punchShe might just keep walking west forever so she never has to see another sunset. It’s a journey her father would have admired. Late nights, after playing chess and building forts out of old blankets, he’d recite invented fables and bury the morals inside for her to find. She remembers them all and hears one now. One rotting fruit will turn the branch brown. She thought it meant one thing when she was younger. Now she thinks another.

“I love you,” the man in front of her says, but she sees it coming and has just enough time to duck.

Other stories of twisted love

Not quite a poem

Not quite a poem #1

If this were a poem, each word would pulse with the kind of light that scatters clouds and scrubs alleyways clean of shadow. You would hide your eyes like the night I surprised you with with wine and roses, and we exposed the very last secret between us. Broken into stanzas, our promises would ring out like gospels in a southern church. There’s no shame in reliving the moments that chart our course. Where you see memories like photographs, I see stone chiseled from a sculpture. We are what remains after the work is done. I begged time to preserve us in the golden hour, but this is not quite a poem. We’ll not enjoy selective memory.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Sochi, complain.

Lessons learned from first-world problems

I had every intention, before sitting down tonight, to spend the majority of this post chastising reporters and athletes and anyone else writing or tweeting from Sochi for their snobbery and eagerness to complain about the seemingly countless first-world problems they are experiencing in the host city of the winter Olympics. After all, I have experience from which to speak; plus, the prospect of placing toilet paper in a trash can hardly seems worthy of national news coverage.

I had my high horse fed, saddled and ready to ride, but the universe saw fit to deal me small dose of humility first. You see, writing tonight was to immediately follow Wisconsin’s official state chore – high volume snow removal. Considering the established pattern of this endless winter (massive snowfall followed by polar vortex… lather, rinse, repeat), clearing the driveway after today’s frosty offering was essential before it adhered to the concrete like Play-Doh in shag carpet.

For this heavy responsibility, I have a small snowblower. It’s old. Ancient, really. But tough. And reliable. It’s saved me untold hours and at least as many back aches, and despite its geriatric stature, it started right up tonight like it always does. I set the throttle speed, pausing only to wipe some blowing flakes from my eyes, and engaged the auger. At least, I tried to, but a simple squeeze of the lever caused the apparently fatigued cable that powers it to snap. My heart: sunken. The auger: motionless. My indestructible snowblower: destructed.

I’ll be honest. My first thought was not how lucky I was to have a driveway, or the house to which it leads or the relative health needed to void four inches of drifted snow from the ground. It is a first-world problem, sure. But it’s my first-world problem.

The impromptu workout, however, cleared my head, so by the time I peeled off the sopping layers of snow gear and sweatshirts, I was feeling a little less judgmental of the reports from Sochi. My grumbles about the necessity of self-propelled snow removal technology somewhat diminished my platform for criticism.

And then I read this article from The Wire, and I felt more lighthearted about the subject, even if still a bit intolerant of Americentrism.

I’m grateful for experiences in my life that have taught me that first-world problems really aren’t problems at all. Adapting to life in a country not native to you lends some perspective on the folks with whom we share this little green and blue planet.

When my wife and I were in Ethiopia for the adoption of our son, we stayed in a very nice guest house in the capital city of Addis Ababa. The fact that it had toilets and running water is one of the elements that made it particularly nice. The concept of discarding used toilet paper rather than flushing it is far from unique to Russia. Most people who have booked travel to locations with itineraries lacking the phrase “all-inclusive” can attest to how common that is.

As nice as our accommodations were in Addis, you did not create plumbing problems in a nation with clean water crises by needlessly flushing toilet paper. Similarly, we washed our clothes by rinsing them in the sink in a small amount of cold, soapy water. We wrung them out by hand (until we sported the calluses of a cowboy) and hung them to dry on any available surface.

While it might seem inconvenient to an American guest, it still felt like a luxury in Ethiopia. After all, from the balcony of our accommodations, I could see into the roofless homes of people below who were handling the same tasks in far less pristine conditions.

Experiencing other cultures and living among people whose customs and conventions are different than ours erodes the insulation of entitlement. You can’t truly appreciate the world unless you are capable of embracing the differences that make its residents unique and interesting.

Years after returning from Africa, I am still thankful for washing machines. I understand what it’s like to be without one. In Sochi, the complaints mainly stem from aggravations about the temporary absence of a certain convenience. It would be kind for visitors to keep in mind that they are guests among people who live without these “necessities” every day of their lives.

Now, excuse me while I figure out how much Duck Tape it takes to fix a snowblower cable. That driveway’s not going to shovel itself.