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Posts tagged ‘storytelling’

once more, with feeling

December 17, 2012

fransiweinstein

Okay. This is the third, and final, post I wrote for my other blog, 365, I’m re-posting here. This time I’m not going to apologize to anyone who may have read it ‘over there’. Because if you’re a writer, or an aspiring writer, this is one message you cannot hear too often. In fact, it should be burned into your brain. It’s definitely burned into mine. Thanks for reading my blogs. It’s much appreciated. Hope to see you here again.

Pete Armetta has a WordPress blog I very much enjoy. He’s a powerful writer of poetry, flash fiction, essays and short stories; and I’m always struck by how few words he needs, to say so much. Which, incidentally, is much easier said than done. His ‘style’ brings to mind a favourite Mark Twain quote:

“I am sorry to have written such a long letter, but I did not have time to write a short one”.

Says it all. Because the true measure of a writer is the ability to self-edit. To be ruthless. Brutal. To choose words carefully. To make every one work hard. And having talent is the least of it. It takes discipline. Love of the craft. The ability to let go. To love ‘em, but leave ‘em, on the cutting room floor. To know when you’re done.

So really, a writer’s best friend isn’t a computer. Or a dictionary. Or a thesaurus. It’s the eraser.

Luckily, I learned that very early in my career. It was hard. And painful. But the best thing that could ever have happened to a young writer, just starting out. Which is why I wrote a blog post about it.

When I commented on Pete’s poem, and how much I admire his ability to keep only what’s absolutely essential, he responded, simply: “Less is best, I think.” Again, says it all.

And it’s a philosophy that’s not restricted to writers. It’s one reason why I love Italian design. What Giorgio Armani has always done best, is to allow exquisite fabrics and flawless tailoring take centre stage. Italian cars and furniture, same thing. It’s about simplicity. Beautiful design. Perfection. Less is best.

Embellishments are not necessary, because they have no flaws or imperfections to hide.

It’s what I love about Apple. The computers themselves. The web browser, Safari. And the stores. Oh, how I love the stores. But really, everything they do all looks alike. Lots of white space. Everything in its place. A logical place. Easy to find. Easy to use. Efficient. Nice to look at. Sleek. Clean. Unencumbered. No gimmicks. So contemporary. Only what’s necessary. Again, simple and beautifully designed. Highly functional.

Less is best.

There are people who speak that way. I could listen to them for hours. Well organized thoughts. Succinct. Articulate. Focussed. No hesitation. No pausing. No grasping for words. No hemming or hawing. Never repetitive. Smooth transitions from one sentence to the next. No convoluted sentences. The complete opposite of verbose. Short, sweet and to the point. Yet warm. Engaging. Informative. And interesting. They’ve got my attention, that’s for damn sure!

I’m writing a book. My first. Very early on I decided it should come in at between 70 and 80,000 words. I’d read something, somewhere. As each chapter was completed, I’d frantically check my word count. And I’d go back and add more. And more. And more.

Until it was so filled with gratuitous nonsense, the story was lost. It had become incomprehensible. Then I remembered that lesson I’d learned years ago. And how “Tuesdays with Morrie”, one of the most successful books of all time, had less than 200 pages. My book has to be as long as it has to be, to tell the story. Not one word longer. The number of words isn’t the point. And that’s when I went back and started slashing. And slashing. And slashing.

Less is best.

I’m done.

an encore performance

December 11, 2012

fransiweinstein

Last time I posted, I mentioned there were a couple more stories from my other blog, 365, that I’d re-post.  Here’s one of them.  With one more to follow soon.  Again if you follow both my blogs, thank you for doing so; and I apologize for the repetition.  Hopefully you feel these few posts are worth reading more than once.

Last time I talked about a lot of ways non-creative people are still creative.  See, it’s not an oxymoron.  But I did confine the conversation to those of us who work in ad agencies, an industry perceived as being ‘creative’ anyway.  And because I think it’s important for you to know I’m a firm believer in the fact that creativity can, and should , and does, exist outside of ‘creative’ businesses, I’m approaching the idea from a different perspective this time.

At its very simplest, it’s called out of the box thinking.  Being willing to turn a problem, or a tough challenge, on its ear, looking at it from a different angle, through a different lens.

Being willing, regardless of what you do for a living, to sweep aside the status quo and embrace new ideas.  Different ideas.  Unconventional ideas for your industry.  Client-centric ideas.  Revolutionary ideas.  Never-before-considered or tried ideas.  Regardless of whether you work in the private or public sectors.  Regardless of whether you are a health care worker, an educator, a politician, a CEO, a sales person, a scientist, a researcher, a lawyer, or an accountant; or even a tinker, tailor, soldier or spy.

What I’m talking about is ‘design thinking’.  Born out of industrial design, design thinking is a very disciplined, systematic, strategic process (yet intensely creative) that is used to solve what most of us would consider unsolvable challenges, like finding an innovative way to deliver clean drinking water in the developing world.  I find it absolutely fascinating.  I’m obsessed with it, in fact.  And I am a rabid fan of a global consultancy based in California, IDEO, who are pioneers in the field, and worked on the drinking water project.  I am also a huge fan of their President and CEO, Tim Brown, who has written a book, that I have read at least two dozen times.  Buy it, you won’t be sorry.

He spoke in Toronto earlier this year, and I went.  Surprise, surprise.  He presented a lot of impressive and varied case studies, but my favourite was a project they did for the Singapore government.  I have actually written it up, here on Fransi Weinstein Et Al.

I follow a lot of very good WordPress blogs.  One of them is called Book Peeps.  And the other day its author posted an interesting and provocative piece on education.  Specifically, what’s wrong with our educational ‘system’, who’s really to blame, what role both parents and teachers can play and what can be done about it.  Her post was inspired by an article (there’s a link to it in the post) she read, about the differences in how eastern and western cultures tackle teaching.

As I read her post, all I could think was:  “Now there’s an ‘opportunity’ that’s just crying out for a team from IDEO.”  And that’s what inspired this post, of men.

Any other issues you can think of that could benefit from some innovative thinking, IDEO style?  In my not so humble opinion, the U.S. ‘fiscal cliff’ issue is a perfect candidate.  If I was President Obama I’d be thinking seriously about bringing them to the table.  I’m certainly in no position to speak for the management of IDEO but I’ll bet they might even consider doing it pro bono.  I sure would.  Talk about a juicy assignment.  And talk about the fame (and fortune) that would follow, if you could wrestle that problem to the ground successfully!

But in all seriousness, that issue is going to take creative thinking to solve.  And from what I’ve seen, at a great distance I admit, I’m not so sure the people involved have what it takes.

For that mater, the Middle East crisis desperately needs some innovative thinking, as well.  But not all the ‘problems’ need to be as grand as these few examples I’ve cited.  Even in our local communities there are many opportunities to look at things differently.  To improve the way they’re done.  Make them more efficient.  Make them easier to use or access.  Make them more end-user friendly.  Make them more relevant.  Make them more cost effective.

The solutions are within all of us.  We just need to climb out of the rut we’re in.  We just need to open our eyes and ears and minds to the possibilities.  We just need to learn how to collaborate, because non of us has the answer on our own.  We just need to embrace change.  And most of all, we just need to want to have the time of our lives, because there’s nothing more stimulating, or fun, energizing and exciting, than solving problems, brilliantly!

President Obama’s campaign theme was ‘Forward’.  I’d like to add something to that:  ‘Forward.  Redefined!’

thank you Auntie ‘Nette

April 19, 2012

fransiweinstein

So many of my posts are a result of a particular post I’ve read on Magnificent Nose I know it will come as no shock to see that I’m doing it again.  This latest one, “And Then What Happened?”, is a wonderful story about stories, and what makes a good one.  I’m not going to go into detail because I really think you should read it for yourselves, but it was when the author, Martha F., was telling stories to her 3 1/2 year old niece that she realized that the key to a good story is when it’s relevant to the listener — or reader.

Reading about how her niece kept asking “and then what happened?” every time she paused, I was instantly transported back to when I was 3 or 4 years old.  My mother had two sisters, one an identical twin and another, seven years younger.  They were all close, but the relationship between twins — especially identical twins — is like no other relationship.  They said the same thing at the same time, without consulting with each other they’d show up wearing the same clothes, and if they didn’t speak to each other at least twenty times a day they didn’t speak once.  Sometimes my father and I just shook our heads.  I’m an only child, so you can imagine how foreign this concept was to me.

Not long after my aunt was married (mere months before my parents) she got sick and wasn’t allowed to have children for five or six years.  She and I spent tons of time together and, to the day she died, she and I had a very special bond.  I always said I had two mothers, and to a large extent, I did.

When I was with my dad everyone always said how much I looked like him.  When I was with my mother everyone said I was the image of her.  So it’s not surprising that when I was alone with my aunt everyone assumed she was my mother.  And I’d always grab her hand and whisper in her ear:  “Ssssh, don’t tell them you’re not my mother, Auntie ‘Nette (her name was Annette but when I first learned to speak ‘Nette was as close as I could get, and it stuck).  It was our little secret, a private joke we shared.

Unfortunately my aunt had more than her fair share of sorrow.  She was finally able to have a child.  When Cheryl was just 13 months old my aunt’s husband, Cheryl’s father, died very unexpectedly.  My aunt was 32 years old.  I was five.  Needless to say, we all spent even more time together.  And in one woman, I had an adored aunt, a second mother, an older sister, a best friend and a confidante.  It stayed that way until the day she died, in 2000.

She always had the patience of a saint.  She would play with me for hours and hours.  We’d read.  She loved reading — always had her nose in a book.  Before I could read she’d read to me.  But what I loved the most were the stories she made up.  And like Martha’s little niece, I’d also always ask, “What happened next, Auntie ‘Nette?”

What I’ve never thought about, until Martha’s post sent me wandering down memory lane is, most of the time my aunt asked me what I thought should happen next.  She turned on the switch to my imagination.  She got me involved in the story.  She introduced me to storytelling.

She’s probably the reason I became a writer.

Thanks,  Auntie ‘Nette.  I just want you to know you’re still encouraging me to share my stories.

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