Monday, December 29, 2008

Closing Year 4 with a Guided Tour of WORDS ON THE LINE

Here is my last Words on the Line post of 2008, post number 240, the end of the fourth year of running this blog on effective writing at work, school, and home. Many pearls of wisdom from master writers, insightful students, and my research are buried among the 59,000 words scattered throughout this site. How can you unearth some of them? Here are three ways:

  1. Search a topic in the upper-left search box. For instance, if you type in pronouns or style, you’ll get plenty to read.
  2. Browse the general topics under Labels in the right column. The topics cover the most common issues on interest to business, technical, and academic writers.
  3. Write to me! If you don’t find an answer to your writing question here, I’ll be glad to respond to your questions.

Here’s to the beginning of Year 5 of this blog and to your writing success!

To purchase your copy of The Art of On-the-Job Writing by Philip Vassallo, click here:

To purchase your copy of The Art of E-Mail Writing by Philip Vassallo, click here:

Friday, December 26, 2008

New Book in the Works

My third book on writing, on the topic of writing fast at work, is due for publication by AMACOM Books, a leading publisher of business management, communication, and leadership titles. Tentatively titled In a Heartbeat: Writing Fast at Work, the book is based on How to Write Fast When It’s Due Yesterday, a one-day course I designed for the American Management Association, the parent organization of AMACOM.

The book will include tips on getting started quickly, overcoming writer’s block, generating ideas, rewriting proficiently, planning for emergency writing situations, and many other issues related to writing productivity. It should appear on shelves by mid-2009.

To purchase your copy of The Art of On-the-Job Writing by Philip Vassallo, click here:

To purchase your copy of The Art of E-Mail Writing by Philip Vassallo, click here:

Friday, December 19, 2008

The "Old-is-New" for Inspired Writing

A new writing instructor asked me for advice on what she could do to motivate her students to write engaging prose. Now there’s a simple question that gets an endless answer! Numerous techniques are available, so when I teach rhetorical writing I use specific prompts based on student interest, aptitude, and experience. I especially like using the old-is-new. It’s a device that many successful creative writers play, unconsciously or not, when spinning amazing tales that capture their readers’ hearts and imaginations.

When playing the old-is-new, writers look for a fresh detail about someone, someplace, or something familiar to them. Look at a photograph that has hung on a wall in your house for years, searching for a feature you haven’t noticed before. Maybe you never paid attention to what the person in the picture is wearing, or the budding oak tree, white picket fence, or sailboat in the background. Maybe you can recall an event from local or world history that was occurring around that time to make the picture more significant. When I recently saw a picture of myself as a ten-year-old boy in the peaceful country of Malta, I was struck by how at that very moment in history race riots were occurring throughout the United States. Only a month after that moment, Malta officially gained its independence from Great Britain after years of nonviolent negotiations. What made one people protest violently and another protest peacefully? Were the American protestors always violent and the Maltese protestors always peaceful? What were the similarities and differences between the two groups as well as the historical and political situations in which they found themselves? There’s something of a story in that.

The old-is-new could also lead the writers in an entirely different direction. Perhaps they can try doing something for the first time which has been accessible to them for as long as they can remember. Examples for me would include going to a professional football game, taking a tango lesson at the dance studio down the block, or walking through Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Maybe writers looking for new ideas can meet with someone whom they know by name but have never had personal company with. In my case, those folks would be the neighbors three doors down who for more than ten years have always exchanged hellos with me but nothing else. Or I could strike a conversation with the man in the newspaper kiosk on the corner of 48th Street and Broadway. Again, the goal is to uncover items of interest that you previously did not know, things that prove a common bond with, or a deep divergence from, your subject.

There are countless other examples of old-is-new. If it inspires writing by finding connections between yourself and the world in which you interact, or even between two contrasting facets of yourself, like your placid and aggressive sides, you’ll be on to something special as you write your essay.

Friday, December 12, 2008

“How to Write Fast” Webcast Now Online

My webcast, How to Write Fast When It’s Due Yesterday, is now available for viewing free of charge at the American Management Association’s (AMA) website ( It discusses problems that prevent writing efficiency and provides tips on making writing less painful and more proactive.

This is my second webcast at AMA. The first, How to Write a Darn Good E-mail, can be seen here:

Both of these hour-long programs have been viewed by thousands of corporate employees across the country. They're definitely worth a peek.

Friday, December 05, 2008

New ESL Course Designed for AMA

Be on the lookout for the American Management Association’s (AMA) new course, Business Writing for the Nonnative English Speaker. I designed this three-day program for AMA, an international training organization, relying on my years of experience in delivering my own English-as-a-Second-Language instruction for engineering, scientific, pharmaceutical, telecommunications, and financial firms. The course provides model documents, a broad range of writing topics, plenty of intensive writing practice opportunities, and ample tome to receive individual feedback. I will lead the first two sessions, in San Francisco, January 12-14, and New York, February 2-4. You may register for this course directly at the AMA website. Here’s the link: