Lessons from Whale Watching

Sighting a whale is always a thrill, even from a great distance.

The first thing you usually see is the whale’s exhalation-the spout. A white, misty column appears suddenly on the horizon, then slowly dissipates as you focus in on it.

Is it a whale? You watch and wait.

Somewhere, underneath the distant surface, a large, magnificent creature is breathing, surfacing, rolling.

Then another spout appears nearby. Yes! …

Readers Have Other Things On Their Minds

Open books with pages riffling on a white background. Question: How many books have you abandoned?
Open books with pages riffling on a white background. Question: How many books have you abandoned?

I have a quirky book problem. Once I get through the first few chapters of a book, I feel obligated to keep going, even if I’ve entirely lost interest.

I start skimming, flipping through pages-doing anything so that I feel like I reached the end legitimately. It seems absurd even as I do it, but if I page through to the last page, then I’ve met some kind of obligation and given the author the benefit of the doubt.

Sometimes I can’t even do that. My Kindle is cluttered with the relics of books that I cannot quite delete. …

You may not be sending the signal you intend

Conspicuous consumption has a bad reputation, for good reason. It’s about relying on flash rather than substance, status symbols rather than earned admiration.

We can often tell when someone is trying to impress us with flash. Most of the time, we lose respect for that person.

According to a study into the use of jargon titled “ Compensatory Conspicuous Communication,” the same thing may happen when people use jargon in their speech or writing. The research suggests that people sometimes use jargon as “a communicative form of conspicuous consumption.”

The authors of the study start by offering one of the…

What I realized about writing while watching the inauguration

Watching the presidential inauguration, I was struck by the comfort I found in the ceremony itself.

The event moved forward through a predictable process rooted in the past. People sang, gave speeches, and administered oaths in a predetermined order. Then the work of the new administration started with process as well, as Vice President Harris swore in senators and President Biden signed executive orders.

While many people, myself among them, greet the new administration with a sense of hope, the hard days ahead will define this term.

Hope and process are necessary companions.

Whenever we start anything major, we’re always…

Bringing Clarity to the Confusion of Alzheimer’s Research

I lost my maternal grandmother to Alzheimers when I was young. (You might say she lost us first.)

In the decades since, I’ve tried to keep track developments in Alzheimer’s research. But that’s been kind of tough.

Aluminum is the cause? No, wait, that was an artifact of testing. A new drug? Years later, we’ve heard nothing more of it. There have been real breakthroughs in understanding the disease, but few substantive changes in its outlook.

So I was happy to find the book Mind Thief: The Story of Alzheimer’s by Han Yu.

This book explains where we are now…

Hint: They Look at Lot Like You, Writing

A statue of the poet Pushkin in Russian (and pigeons)
A statue of the poet Pushkin in Russian (and pigeons)

For a few years in my late 30s, I was a poet.

I’d never really written poetry until then. In college, as an English literature major, I took the bare minimum of poetry courses, if you don’t count Shakespeare. (The Milton course was anything but paradise.)

After college, I went straight into writing about technology. If you don’t count lyrics of songs and arias, my poetry exposure was pretty light to this point.

Signing up for a Continuing Education course on writing poetry as an adult was a stretch. …

Or, What Google Is Teaching Me About Patience

At the end of the year, many of us get retrospective, looking at the accomplishments and lessons of the past year. 2020 taught us a great deal, much of which we will be processing for years. But in this post, I want to reflect on a writing lesson that has been its parting gift.

Over the year, I published more than 40 writing-related blog posts and book reviews on my website. It seemed like a good idea to look back and learn which were most effective or had the biggest impact.

Impact is tough to measure, so let’s settle for…

Persuading Others, or Yourself, to Act

This year more than most, fear has been an unwanted guest in our homes-intruding at the dinner table, interrupting our sleep in the early mornings, and inserting itself into conversations with friends and family. Fear is an uninvited companion whispering in our ears as we pass others on the street or pick up a few things at the grocery store.

Fear has many sources: the virus, election uncertainty, wildfires threats, economic worries. The content of its conversation may vary, but most of us have seen and heard more of fear this year than we care to.

This isn’t a post…

How to Encourage, Motivate, or Support the Writers on your List

2020 has been a strange year. Some of us need motivation, others need comfort and encouragement.

No matter what the people in your list need, I’ve got you covered.

Every year I do a round-up post of books I’ve reviewed or encountered in the year that would make wonderful gifts for writers. The list this year is sorted by the book’s “vibe”-encouragement or self-care. (Clearly many books do both, so take the division with a grain of salt.)

I hope you find ideas for the writers in your life, and possibly yourself.

You can find all of these books on…

If you listen carefully, the world answers back.

Writing seems like a one-way communication, whether you’re publishing a book or a blog post. Although you can envision your audience, they aren’t with you. You take a deep breath and send your work out into the world.

You can’t see what happens next. But sometimes the world answers back. Faintly. Often enigmatically.

Pay attention to those signals.

They may show up in reviews, in emails, in mentions of your book by people on podcasts. (You may have to search to find those.)

Authors Who Listen

My latest book Get the Word Out shares stories of authors who listened to the messages from…

Anne Janzer

Author, Writing Coach: Writing about Marketing, Technology, and Writing Itself (very meta). AnneJanzer.com

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