Thursday, October 09, 2014

7 Books Every Writer Needs to Read

Writers write – but we also read. We read to become better writers, to tell better stories, to grow our knowledge base, and to give weight and substance to our writing. But most of all, we read because we love new ideas - or at least I do.


The Information Economy has created a demand for authentic, helpful and engaging writing. Word processing and blogging have combined to reduce the barriers to entry for new writers – millions upon millions of words are written and distributed worldwide every day through home computers, tablets and smart phones.

But good writing is difficult to produce. It is as hard today as it was in days of quill pens and printing presses. It takes talent, hard work and sweat. I get annoyed when I read the Gurus telling us that writing is a simple matter of writing the way we speak - that it’s easy and anyone can do it.

I disagree.

It’s true that anyone can write. And yes, almost anyone can be taught to communicate using the written word. But to put writing on equal ground with speaking is misleading. Those same Gurus were telling us ten years ago that 95% of all communication is non-verbal.

How does this non-verbal communication translate into writing? This is the difference between writing and great writing.

I credit my parents, as book-lovers and television-haters, for reading to me extensively as a youngster. They ignited a love for great stories like: “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, “The Hobbit” and “Treasure Island”. The pages of these stories fed my developing imagination, and engaged my creativity, in a way that no 3D, Blue Ray, Dolby surround sound experience ever could.


These stories triggered a love for great writing that I carried into my adolescent and adult life. Relationships forged with iconic characters such as: Huckleberry Finn, Gandalf the Grey and Long John Silver, continue to inspire me to this day.

We all have strengths and weaknesses in writing, as in life. A good writer knows what these are – they polish their strengths and overcome their weaknesses.

I started life with a solid grasp of writing and a well-told story. I used this to my advantage in business for many years. But I stopped reading for pleasure, and for many years I read only for information. I didn’t actively develop my creative muscles and eventually my writing atrophied. When I decided to start writing content and blogging full time I found I had a lot to learn – or unlearn - from years of stale business communications. In business writing we are often faced with the unfortunate task of simultaneously dumbing down our message and sounding smarter than we really are. It is our writing, along with our dignity, that suffers.

Over the last few years I’ve written and I’ve read – a lot.

Most of us like to think we have talent – and we probably do. But talent only gets you a seat at the table. It’s hard work, and practice, that pays for dinner.

I’ve made a point of reading as many books on writing as possible since starting my journey into creative non-fiction in 2012. I’ve read dozens of books. Some were indispensable, some were a waste of precious time, and some I didn’t bother finishing.

I’ve taken time below to share the best in class of these books and what I took away from them. I consider them to be essential for every library – regardless of what you write or how much you write. Everyone who uses writing to communicate can benefit from these books.

Fiction writers may find this list less relevant. I have only dabbled in short stories to this point in my career; however, I do plan on writing more fiction in the future. That being said, all writing is storytelling to some degree – and by that standard this is as good a place to start as any.

The Elements of Writing 

These three books form the basic elements of all non-fiction writing: style, business communications and editing. The first on the list, The Elements of Style, is the inspiration for the other two. There is little excitement or passion in these pages – but there is time-honored wisdom. These are the nuts and bolts of writing. The keys to clear well-written prose are found here:


The Elements of Style, William Strunk & E.B. White.

This potent little book is less than 95 pages, including a glossary, and is considered by most to be the basic text for writing in the English language. It’s humble beginnings as a course curriculum supplement prepared by William Strunk toward the end of the First World War reached widespread readership and approval when it was revised and published more than thirty years later by E.B. White. It sets the standard for our language that has been recognized by writers and publishers for more than forty years.

Its lean and precise content gives it sufficient weight and depth without bogging us down in the minutia of dangling participles and oxford commas.  The forward, by Roger Agnell, acknowledges that “writing is hard” but if we can follow the simple directions laid out in this book “at least we can get the elements right.” I keep this book within reach at all times.

The Elements of Business Writing, Gary Blake & Robert W. Bly.

This book is slightly longer and less potent. At 131 pages divided into seven ‘principles’ it still packs a punch. It was written as the business version of The Elements of Style - boasting the subtitle, “The Essential Guide to Writing Clear, Concise Letters, Memos, Reports, Proposals and Other Business Documents”. 

It’s hard for me to imagine the adult who does not need to write some or all of these documents in the course of their life. It is written as a stand-alone book from The Elements of Style and may be preferred by some. There are significant differences between the two books. With its specific business communication focus it is an important addition to the writer’s library.


The Elements of Editing, Arthur Plotnik.

Writing and rewriting is the domain of the serious writer. The Elements of Editing hails from the same publisher as The Elements of Style, and is written as a direct supplement to the original. It is an important piece of the writing puzzle. 

This is the final of the three books I've chosen to round out this section. It is worth familiarizing yourself with to understand the editing process, how it fits into your writing routine. Study it to understand specific editing processes and principles that will make your final copies polished and professional. 



The Craft of Writing

The previous books deal with the elements of writing - these books deal with the craft of writing. Here we move into writing as a vocation. These books I’ve selected are written from three distinct, and important, perspectives. They are essential reading if you want to understand the writing process beyond the basic elements.  

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Non-Fiction, William Zinsser

This has been the bible for writing non-fiction for over a generation. William Zinsser is an accomplished author, editor and teacher. He takes us through the principles, methods, forms, and attitudes of writing. He does not deal with writing at the level of detail as the previous books; however, it looks at writing as a craft in much more depth.

Originally written in 1978 it has been revised over the years to remain relevant. The 30th Anniversary edition, published in 2008, includes a section on how to write a family history, or memoir. This new section is included in response to the growing popularity of the self-help memoir that has become popular by mixing real life experiences with lessons learned and advice that comes from these experiences. Of the three in this section it is the most technical; however, it also makes a point of how we can write simple clear prose without sacrificing passion, vision and even beauty.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King

As the title suggests, King mixes his views and experiences as one of the most prolific writers of a generation with his own life story. This unique and amazing look at the craft of writing is a must for the storyteller in all of us. 

The greatest gift I received from this book was the idea that stories are like fossils, and writing is a process of excavation more than creation. It completely changed the way I approached writing, and it is a book that I will read over many times in my career.


If You Want to Write: A Book About Independence and Spirit, Branda Ueland

Wow.

If The Elements of Style is the basic text for form and structure in writing, this is its antithesis. Absolutely everyone who wants to express themselves through their writing must read this book. There were times when I was so inspired that I had to stop reading and just write something - anything. She wrote this book late in her life (I believe she was in her 90’s) after a lifetime of writing and teaching young writers.

Her gift is to inspire greatness in all of us and help us find our voice. She tells us to find the “magic of our ten year old selves” and “write like a pirate”. Thanks to  Brenda, I now swashbuckle at every opportunity.

She evokes the powerful creative genius of William Blake (my all time favorite iconoclast) and the great Russian writer, Dostoyevsky. She draws on examples of pure writing from her students and takes the time to dissect and explain why it is creative, honest and wonderful in its own way. Buckle up for this one and enjoy the ride.

She is my hero.

Writing Magazine Articles

The Magazine Article: How to Think It, Plan It, Write It, Peter Jacobi

I’ve read a few books on article writing; in fact Williams Zinssers’s book could fall into this category. But Peter Jacobi’s book gives us the basic elements of a good article, as well as the creative inspiration to give more of ourselves in our writing. 

One of the early chapters is what we can learn from poetry in writing articles. This creative slant, juxtaposed against a systematic process for researching, outlining, and writing articles make this book best in class.


Bonus Book

The Ode Less Travelled, Steven Fry

This is the wild card and it's from an unlikely source – actor Steven Fry. Fry calls poetry, ‘his dirty little secret’. He gives an entertaining but technical account of poetic form and structure, taking us through rhyme, meter and an exhaustive list of technical poetic devices. When applied properly, these devices can give our writing the volume and depth that is lacking in the information rich content writing we find online today.

If you are looking for a solid underpinning in poetic expression, this is the book for you. Fry steers clear of free verse - that relies primarily on imagery, as opposed to rhyme, meter and structure of the traditional forms.

Websites and Blogs for Writers

This post focuses on books on writing, but there is no shortage of quality, online content on the subject. There's also a lot of junk. I've spent more than my share of time weeding out the junk and finding the keepers.

Here's my regular stops on the Blogosphere:
  1. Blogging and Writing: Goins Writer 
  2. Writing: Write to Done.
  3. Content Marketing: The Sales Lion.
  4. Kindle Publishing: Steve Scott.
  5. Freelance Markets: Funds for Writers.
All of these bloggers have quality free eBooks available on their sites. They also provide regular, quality, information that is genuine and helpful. I’ve come to trust their content as authentic and relevant to writing in the 21st Century. They all provide both free and paid services. For the most part I use them as a free resource; however, I have also bought various eProducts from them and I have never been disappointed.

This list is hardly the end of the line. There are some truly excellent resources through Writer's Digest Magazine and Writer's Market series that could occupy another whole post. The content of these combined resources could occupy me for the rest of my life. Even then I would  have work to do. Writing is a process and each day, week, month and year brings new insights and exciting epiphanies. Sometimes our writing will suffer as we dart recklessly down a new path based on new ideas that have not yet matured. But for the most part our writing always improves over time, as long as we strive to be better and keep our eyes and ears open.

I hope these resources bring you the same utility and creative insight as they have to me.

Best, Sam Edge
The Edge on Strategy

Disclosure: I am not affiliated with any of these sites.

P.S. If you haven't subscribed to Notes from the Edge and taken advantage of my free eBooks please do so now.  You will receive my blog post directly to your inbox and a free copy of my eBook, "Overcoming Adversity and Attracting Success", based on my life's experiences and lessons learned and regular posts delivered to your inbox.




P.P.S. If you haven't signed up for my Monthly Newsletter from my signature site "The Edge on Strategy" you can do so by following this link. You will receive my two eBook combination on success, goal setting and strategic planning and access to my free eCourses "7 Simple Success Principles" and "5 Steps to Planning Success.

Purchase on 'Samazon'

I've created an Amazon favorites list based on the recommendations of this post. I've tried to find the most relevant editions that are available in paperback and kindle formats. If you purchase through Sam's Amazon links (I call this 'Samazon') I receive a small consideration at no extra cost to you. Thanks in advance for those of you supporting my site.


These are my top picks - what are yours? Share in the comments below.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

The Edge of Creativity

I’m an artist. You give me a tuba and I’ll get something out of it.” John Lennon

The Creative Process:

My grandfather was Canadian artist, Jack Hambleton. Until I was six, I lived upstairs from his art gallery in Kelowna, British Columbia. I spent hours watching him paint his signature landscapes and harbour scenes.

Christmas Harbour Scene, by Jack Hambleton
Occasionally, he would explain what he was doing - but usually he worked silent, thoughtful and with the purpose and confidence of a pro. I was also to remain silent, if I wanted to stay. Anticipation grew in the silence, as mysterious shapes came into focus. To me it was magic.

It wasn’t until recently, as I’ve been refocusing my own creative process, that I realized the impact he had on me. He taught me a creative process that is now an important part of my life. 

The basic elements are: 

a) create an outline, 
b) build a solid foundation, and 
c) add detail.

But it is much more than that. I was a fly on the wall - a small part of the rhythm and connection that flowed from artist to art. It was a feeling. Like the pleasure release triggered from listening to a favourite song.

This experience was fuel for my artistic fire. As a community planner; maps, graphs, and text were the tools I created and folded into environmental reports and strategic plans. Before that, I worked as a prospector, and there was the same satisfaction when a program was completed with proper care and attention.

This principle of creativity, this magic, is everywhere – if we are aware, and willing to work at it. To the right person, in the right setting, there is elegance and beauty in mathematics, psychology, carpentry, law and the trades. Even a well-constructed outhouse can slide into place, producing that magical effect.

The 5-Year Plan:

I have a 5-year attention span - everything from relationships to hairstyles turns stale after five years.  This has the potential to cause me no end of trouble, if I am not prepared. Falling in love every five years is downright dangerous. I’ve been with my wife for 11 years now. We work at our relationship, and it keeps getting better. Having children is also a great way to break the 5-year cycle – they’re keepers.

The trick is to keep the magic alive when possible, and recognize when it’s time for a change. If we apply some simple strategic tools in our lives, we can align our actions with our ambitions, and gain self-awareness.

If we know where we are going, and where we have been, we have basic self-awareness. The 5-year plan is a great tool for tracking our patterns. I’ve followed a 5-year plan since I was twenty-five. It’s not rocket science. I write down one goal from each main area of my life: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Over the years, the focus moves around as I try to find balance. It's a work in progress.

Flexibility is key. I do a gut-check every year to make sure I don’t lose sight of the big picture. I usually surpass my expectations; however, 40 snuck up on me, and I got off track for a while. But that ended up being a good thing. My mid–life crisis made me realize I had twenty-five productive, professional, years left. It became an opportunity of a lifetime to pursue my passion for writing.

Make a Decision and Commit:

“A loser is someone so afraid of failing that they don’t even try.” Little Miss Sunshine.

Once you’ve made a decision - commit. The good things in life take years to develop – hence the 5-year plan. I take my time deciding, but once I’m in, I dive into the deep end and start swimming.

Grandpa also taught me to, “paint [write, build, etc.] through your amateur-ness”. You’re going to make mistakes – that’s part of any new adventure. You might as well face them head on and get them over with.

Once I decided to write full time, I fired up a blog, and started writing … and writing. Then, I fired up a second blog, and started writing poetry. I purged the decades of technical writing from my system. Since 2012, I’ve written over 100 posts, over 100 poems and self-published 3 eBooks on Amazon Kindle.

Through this process of trial and error I learned a lot. More important, I rekindled the fire smouldering in the pile of rezoning applications, and environmental assessments, that had long since gone stale.

For me it all starts with the fire, lit in my grandpa’s studio all those years ago.

What is that fire for you?

What's stopping you from pursuing it?

Best, Sam Edge


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Changes to Domain to blog.edgeonstrategy.com

Emma Whipping it good on the Tube at Felker Lake
Just a quick housekeeping note from"Notes from the Edge". I have incorporated the Blog into my Brand website The Edge on Strategy. 

(If you are receiving this by e-mail you may not be able to see pictures or video unless you open this post in your browser - go to blog.)

The blog will not change in content and format, and your subscription will not be affected in any way. The only difference is the old url - http://www.edgeynotes.com is dead for the time being, and wont get you there now.

If you want to go to the blog directly, you can do so in two ways:

  1. As a sub-blog to The Edge on Strategy: http://www.blog.edgeonstrategy.com or
  2. As a sub-blog of Blogger: http://www.edgeyy66.blogspot.com



My Girls Canoeing at our Cabin on Sheridan Lake BC

I apologize for any inconvenience.  I am working on having the old domain "www.edgeynotes.com" redirected so all roads lead to Rome - or to the Edge as it were. I'm behind from all the Summer Fun I've been having with my Wife and three Daughters.

Sorry For any inconvenience - here are some pics from this summer that may explain why things are a little untidy right now. Hope you enjoyed the summer also.



Tolko is one the of the Largest Lumber Mills in Central BC
(Their lumber wrapping makes a great water slide)

A Go-Kart Track I helped with the business plan 
and financing proposal for @ Bell-E-Acres Golf Course

As you can see it's been a busy summer, my 7 day holiday turned into 21 days. Ooops. It was a blast - Now back to the salt mines. Please let me know if there are any other glitches on the Edge on Strategy site or this Blog. 

Best, Sam Edge

Monday, July 28, 2014

FUBAR - Our Language Languishes

In 2012, the American Oxford Dictionary, Word of The Year (WOTY), was GIF; verb, "to GIF a picture". That's right - "GIF".


NO, I'M NOT YELLING. 


You see, GIF, is always written in all capital letters. Why? Because it's not really a word - it's an acronym, for Graphic Interchange Format - like JPEG, or FUBAR. That's right. The WOTY for 2012, according to the keepers of our language, is not a word.

Let that sink in - as we observe a moment of silence.


The systematic butchering of our language it nothing new - it has become so apparent that Weird Al Yankovic, God help us, has become the de facto spokesman for the proper use of language and grammar. As shown by this 3-minute video, in defence of language, that has over 11 million views as I write this post.



I've written on a lot of topics since starting this blog, in 2012 - the year of the 'GIF', but more than anything, this blog is a reflection of my love for writing. It is a forum for expression of ideas - for sharing experience, strength, and hope as a writer, father and husband.

Written content is the heartbeat of the World Wide Web. From the mid 90's, to the beginning of the new Millennium, we saw virtual arteries clogged with SEO trickery, conversational writing, jargon, lazy short-hand and plagiarism.

In the last decade, we've seen a remarkable reversal, from keyword-stuffing-algorithm-gaming content, flung onto webpages by overnight successes, and mid morning failures, to a revolution of ideas, driven by well written, thoughtful, authentic, content.

Content is King - welcome to the Content Revolution!

It would be nice to claim that this Content Revolution is the product of the Humans and their inherent integrity and protection of all things sacred. Sadly, the Royal Resurgence of language, rising on the back of content is a product of circumstance, rather than virtue. 

It is the monetization of content that is driving this Revolution.

In 2014, content marketing is the hottest trend for corporate sales - and this trend is growing. And it's not only the eBusinesses that are leading the charge. Businesses of all types - from accountants to landscapers - have found new markets and increased sales on the internet.

My favourite content marketing evangelist is Marcus Sheridan, the Sales Lion - and his core business is selling swimming pools. Over five years, he brought his business from the edge of ruin to prosperity, on a platform of content marketing. Marcus promotes a refreshing return to traditional values - like being helpful and communicating. 

We've gone full circle, in this Age of Information - the same forces responsible for launching guerilla warfare on our language with GIF, L8er and OMG - now form the foundation of a Digital Renaissance led by Content Marketing.

What does the future look like for our language? 

Well, the WOTY for 2013 is "selfie". At least it's a word - which is progress. But maybe it's not the lexicographers, and academics, who hold the keys to  our language - but rather, the executives, and shareholders of the corporate world.

Content marketing is driven by economic - not artistic, or cultural - metrics. The end result is the free exchange of new ideas, and furtherance of the quality of contemporary writing. If the consumer is attracted to content, and this attraction results in visits to a brand website, and these visits translate into sales - then there is real, economic, motivation to maintain high quality written content.

So, if Content is King, then the Consumer, who drives the demand, must be Queen - long live the Queen

And if a dopey song by Weird Al helps carry this message to the masses - so 'b' it.

Best, Sam Edge

For more about Content, eCommerce and Business Strategy, visit my information site: The Edge on Strategy

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Dealing with difficult people (Including yourself)

"It's better to keep your mouth shut and have people think you a fool than speak and remove all doubt." Mark Twain et. al.


I attributed the quote above to "Mark Twain et. al." because there is some debate as to who said it - but it sounds like Mark Twain to me. Regardless of origin, this little pearl of wisdom has served me well. When I am unsure of where I stand or, more frequently, when I am not fit for Human consumption, I try to listen more and speak less.

I learned this lesson only after many years of conflict, trial and error.

For most of my thirties I worked in an office with twenty-five employees. I was one of only two men. I worked there for seven years. I was in a senior management position. Obviously, any authority I had over my employees was an illusion that I was allowed to entertain from time to time. Up until this time in my life I was allowed to believe that men were the stronger sex - not so.

Any true managing that I was able to achieve was through the art of strategic submission. I leaned more about how to get along with the Humans during those years than all the combined years before and since. I also learned a lot about true strength.

I managed to play well with the other kids - for the most part.

There were a few conflicts which I chose to engaged in with way too much enthusiasm.The delicate art of assertively setting and maintaining boundaries was foreign to me. Rather, I spent many nights plotting revenge on those who I was convinced were picking on me. Ultimately, I resorted to guerilla tactics.

I would spend an entire week crafting an e-mail to be concise, hard-hitting and full of double meaning and deniability. I fuelled fires with phrases such as: "I understand how difficult ... I am happy to assist with ... complex issues for a person of your .... given your limited ..."

My objective was to exact revenge while maintaining deniability.

At exactly 4:25 - five minutes before quitting time on Friday afternoon - I would send the e-mail, turn off my computer and go home for the weekend. I would be the last this the recipient would see before their weekend. They were left unable to respond. Monday they would be apoplectic.

Yes, I was a little, little man


Photo Credit: www.peanuts.com

Ultimately that job crashed into a mountain and I was the first to be eaten in the ensuing weeks. I will always be grateful for that experience. As a result I have never since found a personality conflict I am unable to rise above. From this experience, I developed the single best strategy to promote peaceful relations with the Humans.

I sleep on it - that's it.

I don't react in the moment I go home and let it sit for a night. Most of the time the problem resolves itself as I sleep. When it doesn't, I am able to find a way to resolve it with out bloodshed or viscous e-mail campaigns.

I still write e-mails to resolve resentments but I have my wife proofread them first.

Today I play well with the other kids. Life is too short for petty resentments and feuds. I need all the energy I have to be the best husband and father I can be. I don't have the luxury of nursing resentments.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Best, Sam Edge