Take a Writing Lesson from Spiderman

Has anyone seen the new Spiderman: Homecoming movie?

No? You’re all Marvel’d out?

(Just kidding; we’ll never escape the Marvel juggernaut.)

Anyway, back to Spiderman. You know what the writers did to the beginning of the movie? They skipped the back story. Completely skipped it! Peter Parker (aka Spiderman) was already living with his widowed Aunt May.

At this point, everyone knows Spiderman’s back story. You don’t need to rehash it for every single remake.

Why am I ranting about Spiderman? Because I hope this weird example sticks with you to help you improve your writing in the future. Ragan Communications wrote a post recently that linked to an infographic of 20 tips to spice up your writing – skipping right to the point is one of the main takeaways. Other suggestions: brevity, clarity, humor.

As Ragan Executive Editor Rob Reinalda advises, don’t waste precious writing real estate rehashing old information or a non-essential backstory. That’s the quickest way to put readers on a path to Tedium Town, the dreariest village in all of Writing Land. Tell your readers right away why they should read on. Save your 2004 client-crisis heroics for later.

In a similar vein, the infographic dedicates several points to brevity. Shoot for short sentences, delete extraneous words, and get straight to the meat of your story. Simple, direct writing is more forceful and effective. Make it easy for people to glide through your prose.

The infographic offers more tips to steer clear of boredom, such as going easy on the hard sell, varying sentence structure, writing with a playful tone and avoiding unreadable fonts. Also, to increase comprehension, you should complement your words with compelling images, tell interesting stories and “bring unexpected gifts.” Who doesn’t like a handy cheat sheet or a useful checklist for free?

The last point is to “Create something enjoyable” – for your audience, that is. Who cares if you think something’s fascinating? Is it enjoyable, interesting and relevant for your readers? That’s what matters.

Even if you’re not in a communications role, you probably write emails, letters or proposals, etc. Sticking to these tips (just like Spiderman sticks to buildings) can help improve your writing. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the infographic for more tips!


When Stress Strikes, Be Prepared

Don’t let my positive attitude fool you; I am a world-class worrier.

Just because I view the glass as half full doesn’t mean I’m immune to stress – whether it’s financial, work related, physical or mental.

Fortunately, I’ve discovered throughout the years that laughter truly is the best medicine. It’s certainly helped me weather life’s storms. But, since I can’t walk around cackling like the Joker all day long (that may freak people out), I’ve found other ways to alleviate stress.

Curling up with a book, watching a movie (especially 1980s Molly Ringwald classics) and writing poetry always helps me relax. Another outlet is music (bring on the Beatles)!

Looking for more tips? The Wellness Council of Indiana helps employers across the state create and enhance wellness programs. Stress management is an important element.

In addition, the Mayo Clinic web site lists the top 10 stress relievers. Here is an excerpt:

  1. Get active
  2. Virtually any form of exercise and physical activity can act as a stress reliever. Even if you’re not an athlete or you’re out of shape, exercise is still a good stress reliever. Physical activity pumps up your feel-good endorphins and refocuses your mind on your body’s movements, improving your mood and helping the day’s irritations fade away.
  3. Meditate
  4. During meditation, you focus your attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your mind and causing stress. Meditation instills a sense of calm, peace and balance that benefits both your emotional well-being and your overall health.
  5. Laugh

A good sense of humor can’t cure all ailments, but it can help you feel better, even if you have to force a fake laugh through your grumpiness. When you start to laugh, it lightens your mental load and actually causes positive physical changes in your body.

Interview Stories (a Farce)

In the course of interviewing job applicants, have you ever received a bizarre answer to one of your probing questions? Well, you’re not alone. Aol.com brings us 37 examples of the most awe-inspiring interview performances you’ll find. Here are just a few samples:

20. "I had a candidate come into my office with her child and proceed to breastfeed her baby boy during the interview. There was no acknowledgment or mention from the woman I was interviewing about the baby or him eating." — Miller-Merrell

21. "While interviewing a young lady who was wearing a revealing top, at the end of the interview, she leaned forward and said in a sultry voice, ‘I’ll do anything to get this job.’ She got people’s attention, but eliminated herself from getting hired." — Ronald Kaufman, consultant and author of "Anatomy of Success"

34. "When I interview candidates, I always ask the following questions in this order: What are you most proud of? What do you enjoy doing? Why did you leave your previous jobs? Here are the answers I received from one candidate: ‘I am most proud of my wife and children.’ ‘The thing I enjoy most is spending time with my family.’ ‘I decided to quit. I had an affair with a co-worker and when we broke up there was too much tension in the office.’ And he said it without batting an eye." — Bruce, executive recruiter and career counselor, Hurwitz Strategic Staffing Ltd.

35. "One time during an interview, a candidate removed his flip-flops and literally stuck his foot in my face. Another time, I was interviewing a candidate who asked me out on a date three times in five minutes. I had to remind him that he was on an interview — not speed dating." — Heather Araneo, branch manager, Snelling Staffing – The Wyckoff Group

Innovations that Never Quite Got Off the Ground

One thing we can all agree on: entrepreneurship and innovation are the backbones of a thriving society. But in order for success to be achieved, trial and error must always take place. The Huffington Post provides a look at some inventions that never quite took off. See them here.

My favorite is probably the Sun Pod:

Thankfully this 80’s prototype never caught on. In theory it was for those seeking peace and quiet on the beach, but in practice it would basically be a human oven.

Have a Good Laugh at 2009

Let’s be honest. This year, well, t’was a bit of a downer. But humorist Dave Barry has an amusing take on the last year of the aughts (or perhaps the aught-nots). You should read the entire column, but here’s the intro:

It was a year of Hope — at first in the sense of “I feel hopeful!” and later in the sense of “I hope this year ends soon!”

It was also a year of Change, especially in Washington, where the tired old hacks of yesteryear finally yielded the reins of power to a group of fresh, young, idealistic, new-idea outsiders such as Nancy Pelosi. As a result Washington, rejecting “business as usual,” finally stopped trying to solve every problem by throwing billions of taxpayer dollars at it and instead started trying to solve every problem by throwing trillions of taxpayer dollars at it.

Lack of History Education Could Plague Future Generations

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute recently posted a very worthwhile editorial from Barbara Davidson,  president of StandardsWork, Inc.

In the editorial, Davidson takes the collective American educational system to task for what she feels is an alarming disregard for history:

Every week, it seems, another study highlights how little knowledge our young people possess about history, civics and geography. Earlier this year, Common Core found that half of the 17 year olds polled didn’t know whom Senator McCarthy investigated or what the Renaissance was, while the Bradley Foundation told us that most eighth graders couldn’t explain the purpose of the Declaration of Independence. The list goes on. In 2006, National Geographic revealed that nearly two-thirds of 18-24 year olds could not identify Iraq on a map of Asia, and fully 88 percent could not find Afghanistan — apparently refuting Ambrose Bierce’s suggestion that "War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography." 

As someone approaching 30, I can honestly say that, despite the fact that I had some incredible teachers at my high school and occasionally in college (both public schools), my knowledge of history was painfully lacking. And I think it was more an indictment of the curriculum, rather than the actual educators. What’s more, after college, I soon realized what I thought I had learned in my political science classes in college had been presented with more than a little bias. Most of what I know of history has been read from books in the last eight years or so, and I’m still wanting for information — if my answers to "Jeopardy" questions are any indication. (Apparently, Noam Chomsky was NOT Cliff Clavin’s best friend on "Cheers.")

Anyway, it’s nice to see David McCullough was also referenced in this editorial:

During Congressional testimony in 2006, historian David McCullough described how human beings have a natural interest in history and find it to be a source of pleasure. He went on to say that "to deny our children that pleasure is to deny them a means of extending and enlarging the experience of being alive."

McCullough’s book, "John Adams," was recently made into a highly-acclaimed miniseries by HBO (which I thoroughly enjoyed).

So kudos to Davidson for her eye-opening piece on the lack of social studies in American schools.

And let us not forget the past, remembering the words of George Santayana: "A country without a memory is a country of madmen."

Brilliant words from the man who once graced us with such efforts as "Oye Como Va" and "Black Magic Woman."