Monday, April 22, 2019

Online Learning: "Managing Time and Projects: The Big Picture"

Kaplan Financial Education wants you to learn quickly. This online education leader offers nanocourses that run 10 minutes for 0.2 Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits. Nanocourses are perfect for professionals who have limited time and prefer learning in short bursts. Kaplan Professional allows one year of mobile-friendly access.

Featured Nanocourse

Managing Time and Projects: The Big Picture shows differences between activities and projects so that you can plan complex projects strategically and systematically. In doing so, you will use principles of time management to successfully bring your projects to completion.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Online Learning: "Using the Principles of Time Management"

Kaplan Financial Education wants you to learn quickly. This online education leader offers nanocourses that run 10 minutes for 0.2 Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits. Nanocourses are perfect for professionals who have limited time and prefer learning in short bursts. Kaplan Professional allows one year of mobile-friendly access.

Featured Nanocourse

Using the Principles of Time Management helps you identify the key principles underlying excellent time management and offers a sensible system to separate shorter tasks from longer activities. These takeaways will lead you toward time management mastery.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Online Learning: "Focusing on Time Management Principles"

Kaplan Financial Education wants you to learn quickly. This online education leader offers nanocourses that run 10 minutes for 0.2 Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits. Nanocourses are perfect for professionals who have limited time and prefer learning in short bursts. Kaplan Professional allows one year of mobile-friendly access.

Featured Nanocourse
Focusing on Time Management Principles enable you to identify threats to successful time management and to confront bad habits contributing to time erosion.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Online Learning: "Checking Your Email for Quality"

Kaplan Financial Education wants you to learn quickly. This online education leader offers nanocourses that run 10 minutes for 0.2 Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits. Nanocourses are perfect for professionals who have limited time and prefer learning in short bursts. Kaplan Professional allows one year of mobile-friendly access.

Featured Nanocourse
Checking Your Email for Quality provides tips for identifying standards of good writing style and for using them in your professional email.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Online Learning: "Managing Email Like a Manager"

Kaplan Financial Education wants you to learn quickly. This online education leader offers nanocourses that run 10 minutes for 0.2 Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits. Nanocourses are perfect for professionals who have limited time and prefer learning in short bursts. Kaplan Professional allows one year of mobile-friendly access.

Featured Nanocourse

Managing Email Like a Manager helps you to identify the dos and don'ts of managing email and to copy, attach, and forward thoughtfully.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Online Learning: "Emailing with the Right Tone"

Kaplan Financial Education wants you to learn quickly. This online education leader offers nanocourses that run 10 minutes for 0.2 Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits. Nanocourses are perfect for professionals who have limited time and prefer learning in short bursts. Kaplan Professional allows one year of mobile-friendly access.

Featured Nanocourse
Emailing with the Right Tone helps you to identify major tone problems in email and to write with a respectful tone.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Online Learning: "Focusing on the Reader's Viewpoint with Email"

Kaplan Financial Education wants you to learn quickly. This online education leader offers nanocourses that run 10 minutes for 0.2 Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits. Nanocourses are perfect for professionals who have limited time and prefer learning in short bursts. Kaplan Professional allows one year of mobile-friendly access.

Featured Nanocourse
Focusing on the Reader's Viewpoint with Email strikes the delicate balance between completeness and conciseness, and it provides useful tips on using quality interpretive language to help the reader better understand the content.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Online Learning: "Cutting to the Chase with Email"

Kaplan Financial Education wants you to learn quickly. This online education leader offers nanocourses that run 10 minutes for 0.2 Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits. Nanocourses are perfect for professionals who have limited time and prefer learning in short bursts. Kaplan Professional allows one year of mobile-friendly access.

Featured Nanocourse
Cutting to the Chase with Email shows how to create a structured email and how to break structure for maximum impact.

Friday, April 05, 2019

Online Learning: "Crafting a Focused Email"

Many of my educational programs—22 standard courses and 40 nanocourses—are now available on Kaplan Financial Education, a leader in adult education. I will feature them in this and coming WORDS ON THE LINE posts.

Nanocourse Description

Kaplan Professional nanocourses run 10 minutes and offer 0.2 Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits. Nanocourses are perfect for professionals who have limited time and prefer learning in short bursts. Kaplan Professional allows one year of mobile-friendly access.

Featured Nanocourse

Crafting a Focused Email, helps you create purposeful, reader-focused email. You will learn to connect openings and closings that strike a delicate balance between what you want (purpose) and what your reader wants (audience).

Friday, March 29, 2019

BOOK BRIEF: Want to Write a Book? Here's How!


Write Your Book in a Flash: The Paint-by-Numbers System to Write the Book of Your Dreams—Fast by Dan Janal (TCK Publishing, 2018)

The most established writers I have met say the best way to finish a book is simply to get started writing it. Commonsense, right? Therein lies the difference between those who aimlessly fantasize about completing a book and those who make an honest effort at doing so, those who make endless excuses about why they can’t move forward and those who face the task with dogged determination, those who duck the due diligence that comes with struggling through the detail and those who work relentlessly at it.

Would-be writers clearly outnumber their successful counterparts. Dan Janal suggests a prime reason is not unrealistic expectations or linguistic laziness, but self-defeating attitudes. To counter negative approaches to authorship, Janal includes an unusual element in his 10-step book-writing process: overcome limiting beliefs. He wisely realizes that novices need encouragement to follow through on their publishing goals, to ignore their naysaying critics, and to get over their worst selves. Janal writes productively and he wants you to. Write Your Book in a Flash is a systematic, readable book full of practical tips and encouragement for aspiring authors.

Janal lays down numerous tips in each chapter. He starts with what he calls five levels of book authority, from easy to complex, proving immediately that new writers probably already have the seeds of their first book. He drills deeply into each of his 10 steps with templates that make short work of positioning statements, audience analysis, pitch letters, and review requests—all crucial parts of rendering a publishable book. His DESCRIBERS mnemonic provides clear guidance for adding flesh and blood to a skeletal book outline.

Plenty of books promise to make their readers better writers. Janal assumes we already are—if only we got moving. Write Your Book in a Flash offers worthwhile tools to do so in the current publishing world.

Friday, March 22, 2019

BOOK BRIEF: Why, What, Where, When, and How to Read


Read to Succeed: The Power of Books to Transform Your Life and to Put You on the Path to Success by Stan Skrabut (Red Scorpion Press, 2018)

Count me in with anyone who says, "The ultimate goal of reading is to improve the world around you," as does Stan Skrabut in Read to Succeed. The author lives up to this conviction by detailing why and what we should read, as well as where to get the reading we needand even how to read. In applying such a focused approach to reading, we engage in a continuum of learning, sharing, teaching, and by extension realizing personal and professional success by any definition.

Skrabut achieves this formidable mission in an easily readable 256-page book by introducing how reading has influenced his life, as a child reading for adventure, as a member of the Air Force for military study, as an instructional designed and webmaster for expertise, and at other times for the sheer delight of the experience. 

But Read to Succeed is far from a bibliophile's autobiography. It examines the reading proclivities and objectives of world leaders from Washington to Obama, military commanders such as Patton, Mattis, and McChrystal, industry titans like Edison, Gates, Cuban, and Zuckerberg, and entertainers including Oprah Winfrey and Dolly Parton. What made them attain and maintain success? Undoubtedly, reading, Skrabut asserts. 

From this groundwork, the book unfolds into a veritable how-to for establishing a useful library, mining the internet for helpful resources, and, most importantly, creating a purposeful reading world. Read to Succeed is a practical working person's version of two classics: Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren's philosophical How to Read a Book and Harold Bloom's scholarly How to Read and Why

In insisting that reading can change the world, Skrabut very well might change yours.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Splendid Sentences, Part 15: Dana Gioia on the State of Poetry

I remember wondering whether poetry can matter anymore when I came across Dana Gioia's "Can Poetry Matter?" (The Atlantic, May 1991). The essay gave me a lot to think about, and it gained him considerable recognition. It places poetry in a purgatorial state within American culture and calls for concrete actions that arts program administrators, teachers, and poets can take to rescue poetry from the analysis paralysis of academics.

Before recommending those practical steps, Gioia writes this sentence: 
The most serious question for the future of American culture is whether the arts will continue to exist in isolation and decline into subsidized academic specialties or whether some possibility of rapprochement with the educated public remains. 
What makes this 37-word sentence so interesting is the imbalance of its two propositions:

  • The first proposition is 15 words, and the second is 10.
  • The first is structured in subject-verb order (arts + will continue), and the second suspends the subject (possibility) and verb (remains) between two prepositional phrases.
  • The first begins with a field (the arts), and second begins with a supposition (some possibility).
  • The first ends with a noun (specialties), and the second ends with a verb (remains).
I often urge writing students to seek balance, or parallelism, in their writing, but here Gioia aims for opposing, clashing models, so he uses an asymmetrical arrangement to achieve his desired effect.

Read previous installments of  "Splendid Sentences" in WORDS ON THE LINE:

Friday, March 08, 2019

Splendid Sentences, Part 14: Lewis Thomas on Social Animals

Physician and writer Lewis Thomas won numerous literary awards in his lifetime for his insights connecting humanity to the scientific world, most likely for sentences like this 37-word one, which appears in his essay "Social Talk":
Social animals tend to keep at a particular thing, generally something huge for their size; they work at it ceaselessly under genetic instructions and genetic composition, using it to house the species and protect it, assuring permanence. 
Note four interesting decisions Thomas makes in this sentence:

  1. The use of a semicolon. A period would do here, but Thomas wants to urge readers on as he extends his point about instinctual perseverance. 
  2. The repetition of genetic. Since the social animal is his theme, he wants to emphasize that we have little choice in our disposition toward building, shaping, reinforcing, discarding, and rebuilding. 
  3. The reverse order of instructions and composition.  Chronologically speaking, we would think that we are composed before we are instructed, but this point has little value to Thomas, who chooses a hierarchical arrangement of those ideas. Indeed, he is thinking of instructions not as the receipt of a list of commands but as a set of reflexive behaviors.
  4. The suspension to the last two words of the critical point. By the time we get to the first comma, we have the complete thought, a sentence unto itself. Then Thomas holds out on us for 26 words the arguably two most important qualifying words in the sentence, assuring permanence. In doing so, he creates two reading pleasures: rhetorical positioning, by explaining what he means by keeping at a particular thing, and dramatic suspense by concluding the means with the end. 

You can read "Social Talk" and many other exceptional essays by Thomas in his 1974 book, The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher.

Friday, March 01, 2019

Splendid Sentences, Part 13: Robert Hass on Rainer Maria Rilke

A common question I get from writing students is how to open a piece of writing that will grab the reader's attention. One of two dozen ways that comes to mind is to express a doubt, a way to admit to one's indifference, inexperience, ignorance, innocence, or intolerance. Laying down this notion early in a treatise will make an honest, self-reflective audience continue reading, as they sense an imminent transformation. In his exposition "Looking for Rilke," in  Twentieth Century Pleasures: Prose on Poetry. poet and essayist Robert Hass employs this technique when he writes about Rainer Maria Rilke:

He was born a year after Robert Frost, in 1875, a little too soon to be a young modernist, and the dissimilarity between his work and Frost's is so great that the fact does not help anchor for me a sense of his life.
Hass devotes the next 41 pages of the essay to discovering more deep insightsfor himself and usinto the artistic genius of this lyrical poet from Prague. 

In using such a technique, I would caution writers to profess a lack of knowledge about a topic that someone in their position would not be expected to know. An IT engineer is not admitting to much if he professes an ignorance of art history, but we would be inclined to read his proposal if he wrote that he doubts the reliability of a widely used analytics formula. Similarly, few of us would assume that an American medical doctor would be expert on Venezuelan politics, but we would be all ears and eyes if she wonders whether a commonly accepted therapy is highly overrated.

Read previous installments of "Splendid Sentences" on Words on the Line:







Friday, February 22, 2019

Splendid Sentences, Part 12: William Styron on Robert Penn Warren

What better way to pay tribute to a writer than to say you have imitated him? I'm not talking about plagiarizing an author's words, but moving from an author's words to one's own, yet in the spirit of the author. In a 1975 tribute piece appearing in This Quiet Dust and Other WritingsWilliam Styron explains such a reaction after reading All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren, in his basement apartment on Lexington Avenue, New York City, during a winter blizzard:
I began my first novel before that snow had melted; it is a book called Lie Down in Darkness, and in tone and style, as any fool can see, it is profoundly indebted to the work which so ravished my heart and mind during that long snowfall.
Styron uses at least three interesting devices in this 48-word sentence:

  • A semicolon not for balance but for speed. The left side of the semicolon includes 10 words while the right side includes 38, an imbalance that defies standard use. Styron uses it not for symmetry but to move on the reader quicker than would a period.
  • An apparently unnecessary reference to a famous book. Styron mentions his book Lie Down in Darkness neither for self-promotion nor for an uninformed audience—only an informed audience would read this essay—but to humble the book's stature in contrast with All the King's Men.
  • A colloquial reference that breaks the formality of style. Styron writes "as any fool can see not" to embarrass those who did not pick up the similarities in tone and style between his Lie Down in Darkness and Warren's All the King's Men, but to fully disclose that he makes no pretenses to originality in these rhetorical features and to pay homage to a literary mentor.    
Read previous installments of "Splendid Sentences" on Words on the Line:

Friday, February 15, 2019

Splendid Sentences, Part 11: John Donne on Mortality


English poet John Donne (1572-1631) is probably best known for his widely quoted prose work, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, which he published in 1624. Donne wrote Devotions to document his reflections while enduring a near-death illness. Devotions artistically validates the expression "our whole life flashes before our eyes when we're about to die." He divided the book into 23 parts, each representing a day of his illness, from his first symptoms to the depths of sickness, to his ultimate recovery. 

The book is at once a spiritual self-examination, a conversation with humanity, and an appeal to God. The 23 parts are subdivided into 3 parts: Meditation, a representation of his experience while ill; Expostulation, his metaphysical reaction to it; and Prayer, his coming to terms with it. 

In the meditation section of Part 17, Donne faces the specter of death with this admission: "Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he know not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that." Later in this passage comes Donne's arguably most famous sentence, in 81 words: 
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
Does a chill run down your spine as you absorb the existential quality of that remarkable sentence? The sheer moral responsibility that Donne holds us to simultaneously overwhelms and inspires.

Read previous installments of "Splendid Sentences" on Words on the Line:

Friday, February 08, 2019

Splendid Sentences, Part 10: Edward Albee on Carson McCullers

In 1963, playwright Edward Albee wrote a 6 paragraph, 7 sentence, 186-word tribute to Carson McCullers, which includes the embellishments cotillion and legerdemain; the capitalization of four common nouns in a sentence (Child, Sage, Pain, and Joy); and an exclamation point, three dashes, and four colons in imperative sentences all followed by the opener Examine this. Here is one them, in 39 of those words, not the longest sentence in the piece but a fifth of its entirety:
Examine this: She is a lady who, as a girl, trained as a concert pianist, until she discovered that the keyboard of the typewriter, when played with magic, produced a music wilder and more beautiful than any other instrument.  
Now there's a sweet thought, fraught with subjectivity and imprecision for sure, but imaginative and thought-provoking. What is wonderful about Albee's short essay is that its five repetitious, hyperbolic sentences in the middle are sandwiched by two brief ones: the opener Carson McCullers is indeed a curious magician and closer She is kind enough to call me her friend. To understand such heartfelt praise for an extraordinary writer, read The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, McCullers's first novel, completed when she was only 23. If you already have, read it again.

More of Albee's reflections appear in Stretching My Mind.

Friday, February 01, 2019

Splendid Sentences, Part 9: T. S. Eliot on Dante

T. S, Eliot writes in his 1929 essay titled simply "Dante":
For the science and art of writing verse, one has learned from the Inferno that the greatest poetry can be written with the greatest economy of words, and with the greatest austerity in the use of metaphor, simile, verbal beauty, and elegance.
How about that for a statement ahead of it's time! No doubt, Eliot's insistence that Dante was a master of simplicity influenced later instructive books on poetry by Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks, Babette Deutsch, and John Ciardi, which universities across America used for years.

Let's look for a moment at Eliot's 42-word sentence, not for what he means but as a semantic and syntactic collection that comprises the writer's style. He suspends his subject with two introductory prepositional phrases (For the science and art and of writing), uses the now-stodgy one as a pronoun, prefers the passive voice (can be written), repeats greatest twice, chooses austerity in the use of where a more concise limits would do, breaks parallelism of a noun series with the adjective verbal, and creates ambiguity by not delineating beauty and elegance. If college composition students were to employ merely one of these seven devices throughout a writing assignment, an uniformed, pedantic teacher would downgrade their essay for committing what he considers an unforgivable rhetorical sin. Yet the sentence stands as a grammatically correct, complex construction that conveys a fresh, intriguing, bold proposition, which should delight any wide-awake writing instructor.   

You can read this and other Eliot essays in Selected Prose of T. S. Eliot

Friday, January 25, 2019

Splendid Sentences, Part 8: Richard Bradley on Openers

Richard Bradley, a long-time friend and colleague, has thought a lot about killer opening sentences of novels. He shares them in a post, Opening Lines, in his entertaining and educational blog, A Rock in My Shoe

Richard mentions opening sentences from 11 famous novels that either turned him on or off with explanations of what makes them tick. You'll likely recall some of those openers, among them Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Lolita. Reading this piece inspired me to pick up One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, which also had me at hello. Check out Richard's own attention-grabbing opening sentence. And thank you, Rich, for recommending a decade ago Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which I could not put down.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Splendid Sentences, Part 7: Harold Bloom on Shakespeare

"Nothing explains Shakespeare, or can explain him away." — Harold Bloom, Where Shall Wisdom Be Found? p. 99)

Now if ever a sentence is worth an entire essay, it is that one, and literary critic Harold Bloom does follow it with a treatise on The Bard of Avon's contributions to cultural history. 

What makes the sentence so pleasurable is its ambiguity. Are we about to read why nothing explains Shakespeare the man? Shakespeare the plays and poems? Shakespeare the legend? And what does Bloom mean by "explaining away" Shakespeare? Where Shakespeare stands in the pantheon of drama and poetry giants? How to position him in the history of English literature? Whether we should discount his status at the beginning and center of all English prose? Read the chapter "Cervantes and Shakespeare" to find out.

An important point to make here: While business and technical writers should avoid ambiguity in their messages, such is the stuff of great fiction, drama, and poetry. It is the mix of ambiguity and realism that inspires us readers to imagine ourselves as Don Quixote or Juliet Capulet as we experience the composer's words.

Read previous installments of "Splendid Sentences" on Words on the Line:

Friday, January 11, 2019

Splendid Sentences, Part 6: Carl Sagan on the Environment

Science writer and Cornell professor Carl Sagan was a rare media star from the scientific community. He was also a powerful writer, explaining to the general public highly complex ideas  about mathematics, technology, and the cosmos. In Sagan's essay "The Environment: Where Does Prudence Lie?', which appears in his 1997 book Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium, he writes this 43-word sentence:
Science and technology have saved billions of lives, improved the well-being of many more, bound up the planet in a slowly anastomosing unity—and at the same time changed the world so much that many people no longer feel at home in it. 
Besides delighting in Sagan's choice of anastomosing, I like the way he begins the sentence with the idea of people's lives being saved and ends it with their lives being detached: two contradictory results emerging from one cause.


Read previous installments of "Splendid Sentences" on Words on the Line:

Friday, January 04, 2019

14th Anniversary for WORDS ON THE LINE

Speaking of resolutions, this, the 825th post of this blog, celebrates the fourteenth anniversary of launching WORDS ON THE LINE. When I began this blog on January 4, 2005, I modestly resolved to post at least once a week about practical tips, useful resources, and inspirational ideas for developing, experienced, and reluctant writers at work, school, and home. This has been a promise kept, and I intend to run the string for a while longer. 

You can celebrate with me by browsing some of the pages here on topics like book reviews, famous writer viewpoints, email tipsactive and passive voice, parallel structure, punctuation, grammar, and much more.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

On New-Year Resolutions

I'm a big believer in making resolutions and, of course, sticking to them. My resolutions have been life-changing. I resolved on specific dates to accept a job offer that led me to a 19-year career and other opportunities, to have children, to buy a house, to publish my writing, to obtain a doctorate, to quit my secure job for a successful freelance career, to become a Christian, and to buy a second house, among many other transformative decisions. 

But I made none of these resolutions on January 1. They were on such random dates as April 16, July 28, August 2, September 25, and November 9. The point? I have three:

  1. Don't beat yourself up if you fail to keep a resolution. You're not a welsher or a loser. You're human.
  2. Don't wait until next New Year's Day to make the same resolution. If you break the resolution on January 6, then re-resolve on that same day. 
  3. Stop being a perfectionist. Big deal if you break the resolution on 2 of 365 days. You're still doing far better than if you hadn't resolved at all. Mastery will follow.

So resolve now, regardless of when you read this.