Progressive Place

Thursday, May 25, 2006


And contrasting plaids.

And stop to play with children, doing what I like when I feel like it.

And pick up the phone after 5 rings, and immediately begin to tell a corny joke,
before I find out who's calling.
If I pick it up at all.

I will draw silly pictures, and offer to hug people who cry or look sad,
and never wonder what others might think.

When I am an old man, I shall ride my bicycle into town,
wearing tight bike shorts and a bright striped bike shirt that stretches, almost,
across my tummy.

And I shall clack across tile floors with my clip-on shoes,
chewing on my helmet strap and stopping to chat
with neighbors as though all were well with the world.

Then I shall ride home with my backpack full of healthy,
eccentric things like soy milk and adzuki beans and
supplements with names no one can pronounce.

And I shall hurry, because the rocky road
ice cream is beginning to melt.
Or maybe I shall stop under this tree and eat it now,
and not even wait until after lunch.

(c) 2004, 2006 David Calloway
* Speedos(tm) is a registered trademark of Speedo Holdings BV

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

An Article an Hour: The High-Output Writer

Article an Hour: Initial concept sketch
(c) 2006 David Calloway, M.Ed.
AudiKnow LLC--Listening Between the Lines
e-Content and e-Learning. Fast, fresh, and accurate. Hi-tech and hi-touch.

I have in mind a methodology for writing articles fast: 2 people collaborate within a framework that's akin to Agile Systems Development.

Note that this piece was written in solo, so it took over an hour and is still not quite finished.

- Peer collaboraation: I help you, then you help me. Accountability creates outcomes.
- Could this help people who do publish often to write more efficiently?
How do columnists write so much, so often? Do most work alone? Ask Ron Goldwyn, retired Inquirer reporter, now doing PR for non-profits.
e-Book writers- David Newman, Have techniques for writing e-books that would apply to writing articles? If nothing else, buy his book on the subject.

It’s said “RBs (right-brainers) just start writing, and LBs outline first.” As a left-brainer, I tend to jump right into the writing. Then my training kicks in, I outline a bit, and then return to writing. The more purposefully I follow this back-and-forth method, the more quickly I create a better article. An outline is like an evolving map of my subject matter: it’s as much to remember where I’ve been as to see where I’m going.

How do writing teams work, vs solo writers?
TV writers work in teams- daily or weekly TV programs, news, sitcoms, serials.
Song factories of the 50s: Gamble & Huff, Holland-Dozier-Holland, and the place Carole King worked.
2-writer teams in musical theatre: G&S, Lennon-McCartney, Lerner & Lowe. While these teamed two specialists, could the songsmith and the wordsmith each help in the other’s specialty?

My related experiences. I’m convinced that learning to be a technical writer made me a better writer in all ways, including the creative. I’m more coherent and focused. My academic and journalistic writing in college was inspiring and fun to read. But it was to unstructured and directionless to be compelling.
As a Project Documenter, I found that an aggressive deadline and at least one other person awaiting a deliverable seemed to activate and focus my knowledge and experience, as well as my imagination. Near-term feedback is vital for me.

The problem. Two big time losers curse my writing process: The final, fatal, never-ending rewrite of perfectionism, and mid-stream ideas and course changes. The details about these phenomena are not central to this article, and so are elaborated at the end. I have some thoughts on how I might handle them.

The Solution. A collaborative, team-based methodology called Agile Development works great in systems development and other project-driven arenas. How about agile writing?

Here’s how it might work: As soon as the 1st draft is more or less complete, post it to a publishing partner. They’ll clean it up, note questions and changes so it’ll make more sense and impact, and re-post it. Then in IM, we quickly work out the details, and whoever has the most complete version in front of them, publishes it.

How do newspaper professionals handle this? They have to get a lot out quickly.
More questions for Ron and other columnists and reporters:
- Do you work in collaboration with another writer, or solo?
- If solo, then who do you know who works better in collaboration?
- If both, is one or the other way better for certain kinds of writing?
- Are there already collaborative techniques to help tangential thinkers finish things?
- Working with a computer is a help and a hindrance for me. (Say how.) How is it for others? Help: quick capture and re-arrangement. On paper, I scribble, micro-edit (correcting misspellings, poor expression, and sloppiness, rather than saving that for later.)
Hindrance: Over-correct here too, such as going back just now and giving the word “over” an initial cap; …

Perfectionism has no place in writing for periodicals or blogs. Whether it even belongs in writing for the millennia—in books, constitutions, and addresses to the nation, say—is debatable. Perfectionism does not make perfect, it just makes never-finished.

Mid-stream inspirations. The desperation to “get it all in” will trump the need for conciseness and completion. This desperation can be overcome only by the satisfaction of seeing one’s name frequently in bylines. And with that, the knowing that whatever doesn’t get said in this article is material for the next one, or the one after that.

My typical writing scenario
An idea or inspiration will appear in surprising detail. I’m off to a fast start, and within 10 minutes I capture a lot of it, loosely outlining and rearranging as I go. A computer helps a lot here.
Then I add in elaborations, caveats, and counter-arguments.
Then I balance and integrate the counter-arguments, and knock out the ones that aren’t relevant.
That’s when I enter the danger zone. Just when I should be wrapping up, usually within a half hour or so, a radically different twist or insight occurs, and I charge off in hot pursuit. That tangent turns into more tangents. An hour later I realize that the original article has been lost in the vine-tangle of tangents.
An hour and a half have now passed. The article is unfinished, and no longer about what I said I’d write about. Other, neglected tasks are demanding my attention. Discouraged, I jot a few more quick notes and put it aside for later.
This story has two possible conclusions, depending on whether the article’s been assigned, or self-initiated.
If assigned: Weeks pass. If the article’s been assigned for a journal, the editor calls me at the last minute. Tossing all else aside, I labor to squeeze myself back into the original inspiration. Hacking away the tangled vines of tangents and detours, I finally submit a pretty good article, much like the one I could have written in the first hour or so.
If self-initiated: Months, or even years, pass. The article, with its original inspiration, is forgotten, like it never happened. If it was a brilliant response or insight into an event in the world, it has become old news. Then, while searching through my file cabinet or hard drive for something else, I stumble across this tarnished trove of unfinished masterpieces and unrealized visions, and suffer deep pangs of regret and loss.

(c) 2006 David Calloway, M.Ed.
AudiKnow LLC--Listening Between the Lines
e-Content and e-Learning. Fast, fresh, and accurate. Hi-tech and hi-touch.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Portal and RSS, Save Me from Mount St. Spam!

Here's an updated vision of the "personal publishing" concept from the Web's early days. I think RSS has to be a vital piece in the corporate portal. Here's why:

I get, and send, a lot of email. Here's how a typical 100 incoming emails break out, with a relative value ranking:

(If there's a big gap below, please skip past it. It's my best attempt at pasting an html table into this posting.)

How manyType of message
Relative value
Industry updates, newsletters, and outright spam
Functional, work related

In the Functional category, at least half is project and process-related documents and memos. These are from managers, leads and co-workers on multiple projects; firm management; and outside development partners, including clients, VARs, and vendors.

When I'm thinking about a specific project-- at a team meeting, say-- I have a pretty comprehensive mental map of the activities, tasks and timeframes of that project. But most of the time, say when I'm looking thru my email inbox, that image gets jumbled in with several other projects, and then with all the other stuff there. Keeping the whole hodge-podge straight takes a big mental toll, and makes all my real work that much harder to manage.
Email is a lousy way to run a business. But it's what most of us do, most of the time. Managing all those cognitive maps in my head is hard enough as it is. Add in the ongoing burden of creating, updating, and maintaining my own personal network of folders, moves, deletions, forwardings, and so on, just to keep track of it all?
Then toss over it a nightly layer of dust and ash spewed by Mount St. Spam? Well, that makes it darn near impossible.

Portal, Save Me!
Okay, so we've moved a lot of that stuff into the corporate portal. We're not all groping in darkness of email anymore, and somebody who's good at organizing things is handling that end.

So where's RSS come in? Good question! I thought I had that in mind at first, but then it turned into a justification for a corporate portal.
The answer, next week.