January 8, 2008

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Quick book notes

How to Write Fast (While Writing Well): Books: David Fryxell

Recommended. Good stuff all the way through. Advice you’d read in other writing books, but well-illustrated. I loved the examples of story structure, and the quotes sprinkled throughout the book.

Key takeaways: Writing quickly is possible, even for fiction. It’s all about discipline and organization. Outlines are really helpful. Index cards and research are really helpful, because then you can hang them on the outline and practically write the article/book/whatever from there.

Other notes: Research is good, but not too much research. If you over-write, you waste time. Keep your eyes open for irony, twists, structure–these make a story interesting. During delays or lulls in the interview, write down details. Shorthand (or some kind of it) is worth learning.

Open an Online Business in 10 Days: Books: Melissa Campanelli

Not recommended. Nothing particularly spectacular. The interviews near the end of the book are good if you want to get a quick tour through popular Web businesses, but nothing jumped out at me even though I scanned the book cover to cover. Will probably use scanning technique suggested in How to Read a Book next time I do stuff like this…

You know, I might just stand a chance at finishing all the books…

Caag yaaa daawaamee

“Caag yaaa daawaamee,” was my muffled answer as the dental hygienist poked around in my mouth. “I mean, check your department to see if they have funding,” I said after he removed the scaler. “They might have some kind of assistantship.”

Graduate school advice isn’t what I usually talk about with dental hygienists, but Phu was different. Born in Vietnam, he’d moved to Canada with his parents when he was young. He’d never quite gotten the hang of winter, though, and now he was thinking of escaping to Australia and going for a master’s in oral health focusing on gerontology. He was concerned about the high cost of foreign student tuition, though. So I told him how University of Toronto’s guaranteed funding not only paid my tuition but also some modest living expenses, and that he should check the schools he was applying to for any kind of funding program or scholarship. The professional programs at U of T don’t have funding (the university probably figured that MBAs will be more than able to pay back their student loans), but other programs at universities might have research and teaching assistantships. Also, Canada put in an off-campus work program this year; maybe Australia has one, too.

So my dentist checkup took a little longer than usual because we were chatting about grad school, Sydney, weather, and other topics while he poked around my teeth, but it felt much better than an anonymous scrape-and-go. There was a bit of a delay while we waited for the dentist to come look at my wisdom teeth, so we chatted some more. First time I’d ever had green tea at a dentist’s office. =) (As it turns out, my two bottom wisdom teeth are growing sideways, and I’ll need to have them removed sometime.)

If you happen to be in the Toronto area and you want to give Phu more advice or encouragement, you can drop by the Manulife Centre on Bay and Bloor. Second floor, near the movie theatres.

The other folks at the office are also friendly, and the place has personality: lots of pictures of a white poodle who must be the dentist’s favorite pet. If you mention the pictures, the dentist will also happily show you an oil portrait of the dog. (An oil portrait! I don’t have one.) Nice place, and very accommodating of panicky people who are worried that they might have a cavity (me last week–as it turns out, one of my wisdom teeth was just breaking through the gum in a funny manner). Recommend.

Maybe people really are generous with their wisdom

I racked my brains trying to figure out how to ask one of our clients to lunch. We were in the middle of a project and there wasn’t much time to spare, but I was impressed by the way he’d improved the presentation draft. I wanted to ask him so many questions: How did he get interested in marketing? How did he get started? What were his favorite resources? What were some tips he could share? What was his story? There was so much I wanted to learn from him… but how to get started? We were scheduled for a working lunch today, but maybe after we passed a major milestone, I’d be able to treat him to lunch and pick his brain.

I tried out different opening lines in my head as I unwrapped my sandwich slowly. If only scripts had been included in the new-employee orientation kit! I was so preoccupied, I nearly missed his conversation opener.

Without any preamble or obvious shift to a non-work topic, he just started talking to me about writing, journalism, and storytelling. I’d been reading about journalism just the night before, thanks to “How to Write Fast (While Writing Well)” by David Fryxell (good book, would recommend it), and it was fascinating to hear other examples of what I’d just read. And he saved me the trouble of trying to figure out how to ask him about that, too. Wow!

I felt even more inspired when he told me, “You have a good writing style. It’s personal and personable.” Whenever I hear this from people–particularly people who know a thing or two about writing–part of me squeals with glee and does a little dance. (Thanks to the patient mentorship of people like Stephen Perelgut, I can usually do this without actually squeeing in public.) There’s something here that I want to keep honing, there’s something I want to get better and better at, and little hints from people like him tell me I might be on the right path.

How did he have such a good handle on my personal interests, and how did he know to offer that kind of encouragement? Thanks to blogs, he could read the stories I wouldn’t have thought of e-mailing him. I knew he’d passed by my personal blog before. He’d mentioned it during one of the meetings. He must have dropped by again–wow! And he had taken the time to share some of his thoughts and encourage me to keep exploring writing and storytelling… Wow.

I don’t know why people don’t mind giving me so many tips and helping me learn so many things. Maybe most people really are just that way, and all it takes is one wide-eyed person with curiosity and and the itch to share whatever she’s learning with other people down the road. Maybe people enjoy sharing what they’ve learned with other people. Maybe people enjoy helping others along the way. Maybe people enjoy using more than just the 20% of their talents that are used in their job description. Maybe they enjoy sharing their years of experience instead of just what their current company asks for.

All I know is that I want to help the people in his company discover and develop those kinds of connections. I want to help as many people in as many companies as I can. That’s why I joined IBM to do enterprise social media consulting: because I’m learning so much from so many wonderful, unexpected connections, and I want to help companies help their employees to do even better. =)