Sunday, January 31, 2010

"How to Write a Darn Good E-mail" Scheduled for March 25

Here's a cost- and time-efficient way of refining your e-mailing skills: Tune in to the American Management Association's webinar How to Write a Darn Good E-mail. The 90-minute program will run from 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Eastern, and I will host it!

We'll be covering a lot of issues that matter to people who need to write a lot of politically sensitive e-mail under time pressure:
  • Getting started quickly
  • Crafting purposeful, concise e-mail
  • Reaching your target audience
  • Structuring longer messages for easy reading
  • Maintaining a professional style
We even take live questions from the audience. Hundreds of people who have already attended the program have said that what they gained from the webinar was well worth the nominal investment of $149 for registering. Hope to hear you there!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Some Book Reviews

Looking for something to read? I can recommend a couple dozen books to you, depending on your interest, and the list will grow. My LinkedIn recommendation page notes books on creativity, culture, dialogue theory, environmentalism, language, power, psychology, race relations, storytelling, and writing. Many of these books were recommended to me by friends, colleagues, and students—and I thank them all. Remember what I said in a previous post: You have to read more to write better.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Oates on Character Development

I get occasional requests from participants in my writing classes for tips on writing fiction. My best answer is, "Why ask me when you can ask the masters for their ideas?"

For example, Joyce Carol Oates, author of some 40 novels and hundreds of short stories and essays, speaks eloquently on writing characters. Early in a five-minute video excerpt from, Oates observes simply yet profoundly, "For me, the people and the setting are always together." More treats follow from this titan of American literature.

Here is the link:

My latest book, How to Write Fast Under Pressure, is now available.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Read More = Write Better

I believe we can become good readers without being good writers, but we cannot become good writers without being good readers. Good reading requires reading practice, but good writing requires both reading and writing practice.

What do I mean by being a good reader? By my definition, good reading equates to four factors:
  • Frequency. You have to read every day, and read more than just the daily newspaper. You should read at least an hour each day--at the low end. And no vacations or sick notes allowed. In fact, take advantage of those lulls in activity to read: when in bed nursing an illness, when in line at the bank or post office, when in a public conveyance, when parked in a car waiting for your kid to leave soccer practice, whenever.

  • Diversity. The broader the range of reading material, the better chance you have of expanding your vocabulary and developing fresh writing ideas. Read fiction and nonfiction, the technical and the poetic, books in your field, on government, geology, marine biology, human anatomy, astronomy, technology, medicine, history, entertainment, art, music, cooking, travel, sports, real estate, education, investing, economics, psychology, sociology, anthropology, theology, gardening, home improvement, race relations, whatever.

  • Depth. Challenge yourself by reading material that you suspect is over your head. If you have an unhinging aversion to all things scientific, read The Lives of a Cell by Lewis Thomas or Billions and Billions by Carl Sagan. If you are confounded by the geopolitical landscape, read The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order by Samuel P. Huntington or The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukayama. If you're positive that literature is over your head, read How to Read and Why by Harold Bloom or The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer. Once you do, it won't be long before you find such material and more specialized content easier to grasp, and you even might refer to such resources in your next article, story, white paper, or school paper.

  • Consciousness. This means reflecting on not only the themes you're reading about, but on the author's narrative strategy, sentence structure, and word choice. For example, why does John Steinbeck spend the first chapter of East of Eden, 3,000-or-so words, describing the geography and history of the Salinas Valley without introducing one character? Why does he start three of the first six sentences with the repetitious "I remember"? Why does he choose the word swale in the second sentence and not swamp or bog? The answers to these questions are not as important as the questions themselves. By asking the author, you are really challenging yourself to make choices that writers make every day.
OK, this post counts as some reading, but it's not enough. Go ahead: read, and then write about it.

How to Write Fast Under Pressure by Philip Vassallo is on sale at

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Are You a Storyteller? Join NSN!

Would you like to learn how the art of storytelling can improve your business? Do you need to sharpen your storytelling skills? If you've answered yes to any of these questions, then you should be a member of the National Storytelling Network (NSN), whose purpose is to advance the power of storytelling to enrich people's lives.

NSN serves the storytelling community in a number of ways:
  • The National Storytelling Conference, which delivers material appealing to attendees' interests.
  • Two events during The National Storytelling Festival, the annual storytelling gathering in Jonesborough, Tennessee: Stories Work, a series of storytelling workshops, and National Story Night, a concert of stories.
  • Storytelling, the organization's magazine, published five times annually, reporting on trends, news, and special events.
  • Grants to emerging storytellers, master yarn spinners, and storytelling projects
Check out NSN to see whether its programs might benefit you.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Virtual Writing Course Launches for AMA

The American Management Association (AMA) will present for the first time its virtual Business Writing Workshop, a program that I designed to cover ten fundamentals of excellent business writing.

AMA wanted to make this popular course available to people who would find greater convenience in taking the course without leaving their desk. This notion proved on target—we have participants signed up for this course from across the country and even internationally.

To learn more about signing up for this course, click here:

Monday, January 04, 2010

Happy Fifth Birthday, WORDS ON THE LINE!

Well, 308 posts and 1,826 days later, this blog celebrates its fifth birthday today.

When I was five years old, I knew so little about the world but was eager to learn about it. I would like to think of this blog in the same vein. I have only begun writing about what it takes to become a better writer because writing is a skill that we never stop cultivating. So here is my promise to you: Through this blog, I will continue to bring to you:
  • precise tips for improving your writing
  • helpful grammar rules and their applications
  • inspirational ideas from master thinkers on the craft of writing
  • valuable online and print resources
  • brief reviews on books of interest
  • practical gems from adult learners in my writing workshops

Here's to your writing!