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Wisdom of the Tow

Wisdom of the Tow

Earlier this year, during a stay at a friend’s beach house at the Oregon Coast—a beach house with a view at that!—I watched an SUV bump its way over a rocky access point and roll out onto the sand. On emerging, the SUV’s occupant held up her camera and presumably took a few photos. She then got back into the vehicle and spun it around, at which point the SUV started spinning its wheels. When she halted the spinning and got back out again, she looked at the craters in the sand and then up toward the beach house. Although I had no shovel to offer when she asked for one, I did lend her the house’s dustpan—which I have since replaced. A tow truck arrived within the hour.

Rather than attempt to extract the vehicle by tugging on it, the truck instead patiently coaxed the SUV from its moorings. The straight, taut line between the two held firm, and neither vehicle budged a micron for a very long while. Then, nearly imperceptibly, the SUV began to float forward. The process continued for some time as the tow truck held its ground. It was only when the SUV was completely clear of ruts in the sand that the tow truck began a patient move forward, SUV in tow.

I asked the young woman asking for the shovel why she’d driven onto the sand. She told me she had four-wheel drive—as if that explained everything. There are times when I approach writing and editing as if I, too, have four-wheel drive. And I know I am not alone during those days when nothing is working, nothing is happening, and no amount of will is contributing to the work at hand. On such days, perhaps use of will even serves to push the project further from reach. Perhaps my sharpened pencils, no matter my drive, would better serve the work if I ease up, recognize what’s possible, and simply stay the course for the time being.

I had the thought when that little truck first appeared on the scene how fun it would be to be able to perform such a rescue. On reflection now, I think it’s clear that I might do well to keep the wisdom of the tow in mind to rescue writing and editing projects at hand.

The Matter of Presentering . . .

The Matter of Presentering . . .

To Proof or Not to Proof? It’s not a question to even think to ask. There’s only one option!

The Habit

And yet, I have a habit of making changes in documents even as I proof and—often as not—after I have proofed. It should have come as no surprise then that when I picked up the printed copies of a conference program I had designed and edited last fall, I saw that I would have done well to have proofed yet once again.

The Example

Although my enthusiasm lies primarily in the process and the work, I also appreciate the end stage of projects. In this case, after days of contacting presenters with requests for abstracts, bios, and photos; after gathering ad copy and tracking vendors; after obtaining details about time and location of presentations and events; and after sorting, editing, arranging, indesigning, photoshopping, and redesigning because of those to-be-expected, last-minute program changes, I was able to hold something in hand.

The Moment of Truth

As I pulled a copy of the program from one of the printer’s boxes and quickly leafed through, the error virtually leapt from the page. The appreciation I had written was at the end, thanking those who made the various presentations during the conference. My intended last-minute edit involved a change from thanking presenters to thanking those presenting—along with those attending and so forth. Rather than lop off an ers, I had cut only the s before adding the ing; as a result, the “word” is presentering. It sits in a very conspicuous spot. And it sits in that very same spot in hundreds of copies.

Although I know that stuff happens to us all, I do aim to avoid such preventable errors. There are times when I have met such errors, whether introduced by myself or by someone else, with a desire to burn the whole lot.

As the moment of surprise passed, however, I found myself laughing.

The “Justification”

Those who travel to a conference and present the results of their research, share their years of experience, express their concerns and values, and all the rest do far more than make a presentation. They are present. They are available to those attending the conference as well as to other presenters for discussion, elaboration, problem solving, and developing new ideas. They are indeed a presenter and what they do is known as presenting, yet their involvement goes beyond the act of making their presentation. Presentering, in its own way, suggests something more.

The Lesson

Even so, in the future, I’ll be more mindful of the final proof. I may even turn on my computer’s spell check, just in case!

Of Websites and Waterbugs

aspects of care of business

What constitutes a good use of time, particularly for those who work independently? We want to do things ourselves, yet we also need to define healthy limits.

An Example

For example, we live in a world in which it has become remarkably possible to put together a website. Yet, is it a good use of our time?

This question comes up now because I have just taken time to revise my Beargrass Press website. Working with the Beargrass Press site, however, has taken me away from other concerns. It has also taken me back to an event last fall, when I was invited to participate on a panel with the objective of providing guidance to such professionals as scientists and lawyers interested in transitioning to work as independent editors.

I remain grateful to the conference organizers for the opportunity to reflect on my own path, time I would not have otherwise taken, as well for the chance to engage with others so dedicated to words. Those of us on the panel worked together to include presentations as well as opportunities for questions. As part of our presentations, we each offered a few suggestions that we hoped would be of use to those attending the session.

A Suggestion

One of my suggestions involved being mindful of the approach we take to care of business. This is perhaps an obvious concern, yet I myself had no training in business, and many of my colleagues have similar backgrounds. As we know, being in business requires all manner of forms codes processes planning . . . seemingly countless, potentially overwhelming sets of to-dos. How is it that we might approach these many tasks? I added that it may be helpful to keep in mind to:

  • Ask for support
  • Do homework
  • Make time for learning
  • “Market every day”
  • Remember the “waterbug”

These aspects of care, generally self-evident, are part of my toolkit. I have not come even close to incorporating the fourth item, the mantra of trusted individuals who have given of their time and energy in guiding me along my own path. The last is relatively new to me and may need some explanation.

Those of us attending the conference (Northwest Independent Editors Guild), as others committed to similar independent ventures that represent a growing part of today’s economy, face different challenges than those who have more-traditional forms of employment. We work alone—apart from a company or an established business with such staples as employees, IT professionals, accounting departments, marketing departments . . . along with health care plans, vacation days, and sick leave.

The Waterbug

The “waterbug” derives from the work of Jackie B. Peterson at the Small Business Development Center in SE Portland, near where I live. She suggests that, just as insects such as the water strider work with the surface tension at the point at which each foot (insects do have feet, though they do not have toes!) makes contact with water to stay afloat, independents often benefit by engaging the expertise and services of others to cover essential areas, which then helps them remain afloat. Our work with others, for example, might involve someone who takes care of our books, designs a marketing piece, or perhaps develops and manages a website, thereby freeing our time and energy to focus on what we are creating in terms of our business, what we want to to develop and grow and foster in the world.

A Better Example Next Time?

During the panel session, developing/managing a website was one of the areas I indicated a person might seek help with in order to focus on other issues, especially when getting started in business. I myself was advised to enlist such help when I decided I’d put off taking the website plunge long enough. I had to smile that day. On the heels of my presentation, one of the other panelists indicated that she had done her own website. I then heard the third panelist echo the same. I didn’t add that I, too, had done mine. It was clear that I would have done well to have chosen a different example for this group. The nature of our work is with words. In addition, independent editors tend to be, well . . . independent.

A Model with Merit

I nonetheless believe the “waterbug” is a model with merit. The issue concerns any of the multiple aspects of work that require our attention if we are to reach toward our goals. And the question remains: is what we are doing a good use of our time? How is it that we might maintain enough perspective in the course of all that needs to be done to find the means by which we might focus on that which is a good use of our time? I think it is a question worth asking, often. May we all do well in carving out our days in ways that work in wholeness with what we are creating in both our personal and our professional lives.

A Beautiful Mistake

Annabelle Hydrangea in Bloom

We all do what we can to avoid making mistakes, of course. We don’t want to goof or cause harm to others. We also don’t want to be wrong or to fail. Yet, no matter how inevitable it may be that we will err at some point, we sometimes may find it difficult to step back, take stock, and consider all that we may learn as a result of a particular wayward move.

Conditioning and Opportunity

Our conditioning in this regard enters many realms of our lives, including our writing. For example, more options exist for getting things “wrong” than getting things “right” when we consider such details as spelling, grammar, and consistent usage. These aspects of writing differ from the process of writing itself, however. We may even lose track of our ideas and vision for our work when we edit ourselves while engaged in creating.

Our mistakes—in calculation, in practice, in judgment, and so forth—are vast reservoirs for learning. Most of us have even found ourselves doing the same dang thing over again when we have missed an earlier lesson. This can happen no matter our recognition that when we take the time to look, vast areas often open up between and beyond what we consider to be right and wrong.

In writing, sometimes when we ask others to review our pages, should they “find” something they believe to be in need of repair—even though we have asked that they look—we may become defensive, feel a bit negative toward our reader, or feel bad about ourselves for having erred to begin with and then not having caught it. It’s complicated, this conditioning of ours. I have dealt with my own range of emotions through the years of my mistakes, no question. Even so, I have not considered a one of my mistakes to be beautiful.

A Youngster’s Approach

A recent story on National Public Radio speaks of just such a mistake. It lies in a response a young boy in Italy made to his teacher’s request to describe a flower. He used a word he invented, petaloso, which essentially means “full of petals.” There is no individual word for this in Italian—nor is there in English, as far as I know. His teacher, in the way of teachers (and editors!) everywhere, marked his response wrong. She did this kindly though, told him that, although he had gotten it wrong, it was “a beautiful mistake.”

The boy learned from his error, but not in a way we might expect. Rather than avoid use of his word, he considered what his teacher had told him of its beauty and contacted Italy’s national language academy. To the academy’s great credit, they responded to the youngster to say that the word needs to be used in conversation if it is to be included in the dictionary. That conversation has begun in earnest.

May we all continue to learn and grow as a result of our mistakes. May we approach them openly, blurring the bounds of right and wrong enough to see what opportunity and potential they may hold for us. And may we enjoy this exuberant spring in a world filled with flowers that are very much petaloso!

SRC: To listen to the NPR story or read the transcript, visit: National Public Radio.

~ Managing Habits That Get in the Way of Writing

Many of us want to develop a writing habit—or improve the one we have. Often enough, we may get started, later to find ourselves checking something online or standing in front of the open door of the refrigerator—sometimes not quite sure how we got there. Habits are essential for our lives, no question whatsoever. Yet, acting out of habit may not well serve our goals for developing a writing habit—or for writing. How might we improve on this?

An Unintended Consequence of Habit

One of my sisters recently recounted how she’d carefully prepared a dinner in a crockpot, complete with a $13 roast, before heading out for work. With foresight—given predictions of unseasonably warm temperatures that day—she’d carried the crockpot to the basement so it wouldn’t contribute to the house’s heat. On her return home, she found both crockpot and contents exactly as she’d left them. Yes, she and her husband shared a Plan B dinner that night.

Although the roast didn’t survive, my sister’s crockpot is fine—as is the outlet she’d plugged it into that morning. The “trouble” was that she had switched off the light at the top of the stairs when leaving the basement that morning, just as she had done countless times before. The outlet she’d used for the crockpot is one that is on when the basement light is on—and otherwise off. It’s not that she was unaware of this feature, only that she had acted out of habit. That she had been paying attention up to that last step did not guarantee her success.

A Mindful Approach to Habit

We cannot always avoid similar well-worn paths that may get in the way, yet we can work with them as we hone our writing habit. The commitment requires a mindful approach to the entire process, at least until more and more of the parts we want to keep become “automatic.”

We know people who tie their writing habit to such things as:

  • time of day
  • a special location that spells W R I T E (and only write)
  • a particular table or chair
  • a specified number of words per day
  • a predetermined time spent writing on any given day

  • They use specific cues for writing—and likely certain rewards as well (even though, indeed, writing is its own reward).

    Intriguing research points the way for all of us to use our motivation in service of starting or honing our writing habit. Although we each need to find what works for us individually, i.e., what serves as cue and reward in the process, we can all manage the multiple “other habits” that may take us off track or otherwise slow us from meeting our goals.

    Writing with the Power of Habit

    Charles Duhigg provides welcome insight to this in The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business—a highly recommended read (and study). The process involves more that the proverbial carrot, however. Among other things, Duhigg suggests the need to make a decision about our actions ahead of time. He also notes the need to increase our awareness of what leads us to engage in our unconscious behaviors—what we are craving, as he terms it, in The Power of Habit); mindfulness of what we are really after when we abandon the task at hand then enables us to make a change. Check out his TED talk (above), too!

    In time, the writing habit we’ve developed may become every bit as natural as turning out the light when we leave a room—or at least when we leave the basement. Further, we can enjoy the process of writing sans the struggle of what, where, and when, as well as without so many unintended side trips. We may find ourselves more frequently enjoying Plan A rather than Plan B.

    ~ In Writing, Why Be a Copycat When You Can Be an Original!

    Plum in bloom

    As a former university professor, I am not new to plagiarized submissions for assignments that require writing. Yet, I do admit surprise that plagiarism has shown up during my ten-year stint as editor of a newsletter for a nonprofit group. Thankfully, I don’t see plagiarism often—and from only one individual. When they are submitted, I find that these submissions often contain additional material (i.e., they are not entirely copied from another source), and that errors and misleading statements typically abound in the additions. This is so even though one of the positive features of the Internet is that it increases both the ease and speed of getting the facts. In contrast, the Internet in particular makes being a copycat rather than an original easier now than ever before.

    A Recent Example

    A recent submission to the newsletter, for example, cites generally (publication and date) a source for the stated “information and statistics” provided. It contains six paragraphs.

    Paragraph 1: Half is word for word from a source other than the one cited. Additional text spells out the URL of a website and indicates that a link there is not functional, although the link worked fine the day I received the submission.

    Paragraph 2: The two sentences of this paragraph provide incorrect information about the who and the where, although correct information was readily available at the time of submission. I did not search for the source, if any.

    Paragraph 3: Words and ideas are very (i.e., too) closely paraphrased from the source cited.

    Paragraphs 4, 5, and 6: Words are—well, word for word from the source cited.

    I do encourage and value submissions; I appreciate as well as respect the time, care, and thinking that people put into contributing information and ideas. Even so, copying the work of others is none the less unacceptable—for all of us.

    Why Copy?

    My sense has been that those who copy may do so for lack of time, lack of confidence in writing, or simple laziness. Perhaps the practice stems from lack of time for the newsletter, too. Perhaps it is based in lack of confidence in writing as well. Or perhaps it is simple laziness. Given that submissions are not assignments, none of this makes much sense to me. I have raised the issue with the contributor—to no avail. Perhaps it is related to ego in the sense that “the more press, the better” and copying makes it easier to get more. There may be no way to ever know.

    We all have much to share about our interests and concerns. We all can do better than this.

    Steps Toward Being Original

    Taking steps to avoid plagiarism in our writing may involve learning, especially for those who are young, inexperienced, or both. Yet, in valuing integrity, personal and professional, we do need to take such steps. In this, consider the following:

  • Be original. Your own words are to treasure. They are the means for speaking your own truth.
  • Be respectful of your own words as well as those of others. Appreciate those of others, but do not steal them.
  • Be responsible in getting the facts and keeping them straight. Double check—and consider checking several sources for the same information whenever in doubt.
  • Be careful in using the “information and statistics” you cite. Relay them in your own way, with your own words, and take extra care to maintain context.
  • Be aware that entering your name below the headline of even a press release is unacceptable, too—unless you were the one who wrote the release.
  • Also be aware that writing a portion of a work on your own and then using someone else’s words as your own for the remainder is just as unacceptable as taking all of the words from someone else’s work. We have time-honored devices known as quotation marks for this kind of thing.
  • Be vigilant in choosing resources that are credible, whether books, journals, or other print materials. Yes, they may contain errors at times. We’re all human after all . . .
  • Be particularly careful in selecting materials from the Internet. As is well known, information on the Internet is not checked for quality or accuracy, and making distinctions among websites can be difficult at times. As a start, keep in mind that websites such as those of academic institutions, professional journals, professional organizations, government agencies, and libraries generally contain more credible information than do Wikipedia, blogs, and websites selling a product. That said, Wikipedia, blogs, and other sources may contain valuable information and nonetheless lead to primary sources of information that you may want to consult. Another consideration is that websites can be altered and taken down without notice. Depending on the material, you may want to print the page or pages you have used as a resource—and be sure to include the date viewed.*
  • Be meticulous in tracking sources and citing them appropriately. Someone may want to know more about what you’ve written. Your citation needs to take them to the source.
  • Be confident in yourself! Know that your thoughts and ideas matter, as does your expression of those thoughts and ideas.
  • *Note: Guidance in use of materials from the Internet is taken from guidelines I wrote (and were approved by the other members of the committee) for the Oregon Master Beekeeper Program.

    ~ With the Approach of Flu Season, Write!

    Cat at Computer

    Although many of us have cultivated a practice of journaling, there’s evidence that taking time to write about a stressful event for only minutes a day may improve the functioning of our immune systems. The benefits of such writing for both emotional and physical health have been demonstrated numerous times, as Bessel van der Kolk, MD, reminds us in The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. In an except from the book recently reprinted in New York—he writes:

    Writing experiments from around the world, with grade-school students, nursing-home residents, medical students, maximum-security prisoners, arthritis sufferers, new mothers, and rape victims, consistently show that writing about upsetting events improves physical and mental health. This shouldn’t surprise us: Writing is one of the most effective ways to access an inner world of feelings that is the key to recovering from genuine trauma and everyday stress alike.”

    Jeneen Interlandi provides a glimpse into van der Kolk’s long-term, deep work in the realm of treating trauma, not through the mind, but through the body in “A Revolutionary Approach to Treating PTSD,” published in The New York Times Magazine.

    Writing. It is a practice worth keeping in mind.

    SRC: To read the entire excerpt from the book published by Viking (2014), titled “Why You Should Write a Letter to Yourself Tonight,” as printed in New York, visit: nymag.com/scienceofus/2014/10/why-you-should-write-yourself-a-letter-tonight.html

    The article about Bessel van der Kolk’s work in The New York Times Magazine can be accessed there.