Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Writing Posts Done

After last month doing a post titled "Business Topics of Interest (& Companies) Written On So Far", it seemed to make sense to also write on some of the things posted about in another area my book segmented into, Writing.

There's been 50 different posts that have Writing as a tag and the contents of them seem to fall into the categories of either (A) accomplished writers dishing on their work or (B) my ruminations on writing as an activity.

Wisdom gleamed from accomplished writers:

Spending the time writing - Biggest thing I saw time and time again written on the topic of writing is if you want to be a writer (or improve as one), just write… and then write more. Between the Internet and available ways to self-publish books, there's avenues to have work seen, but you have to actually be doing writing for those available avenues to matter. Something that seems to be repeated over and over by writers discussing their work is they don’t always produce great work, but they just keep at it. Part of the concept around writing is the importance of rewriting... write it, then write it again, then write more, then repeat, and oh yeah... writers have to read a lot as well.

Writing as building something - Another concept I've seen noted by many different writers is the idea of building a story. This takes difference forms ranging from the importance of researching and reporting to outlining and editing, but the idea is to keep in mind that the work isn't just letting flowery prose flow onto the page... it's often to utilize planning, structure, and a methodical approach to writing works (and rework).

The importance of subject - It may be an obvious point, but good writing on something people don't care about is going to have a lot less impact that something solid on a topic of interest. Going into this idea of interesting... there's both the traditional interesting of a celebrity or sports star, but also a lot of interesting stories on people and things less known, whether they be someone doing dangerous pursuits (which can be very interesting) or just something a bit different than normal.

Having writing matter to you - One thing that I've seen written about often is the need to actually love writing and words to if you're going to spend significant time trying to create good writing. Part of this is the work produced will be better if you care about it, but part of it is writing one of those pursuits that someone may do well, but not get fully recognized or rewarded for (this piece by John Hyduk seems to resonate on the topic). Point is that if writing your thing, then yes, bills have to get paid, but there should also be intrinsic value in the writing itself.

My ramblings on writing:

Some of the posts done where I did the most expository musing on writing are those noted below...

- "Words Written Down Book Process" - posted March 2012

- "Working Towards Something - a Career in Writing" - posted June 2011

- "Wanting to Do Something Not Being Done - Writing as a Career" - posted June 2011

- "Writers Write... And Not Always Well" - posted September 2010

- "How We Value Things & Entertain Ourselves - Roger Ebert on Huck Finn vs a Great Video Game" - posted July 2010

- "Words Written Down - The School Days" posted July 2010

- "Permanence of Words" - posted June 2010

Lots of great stuff from others and lots of personal ramblings that I enjoyed writing.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Writing & Writing Process Pieces by Clay Travis, Family Business, @Bigsportswriter, Chris Jones, Jennifer Khan and Jen A. Miller

With the topic of Writing and it's production being one of the content areas I've posted on, I've come across a slew of interesting web pages lately that cover this fabled idea of getting words on a page.

Three of the pieces group together for me as being fascinating takes on the state of online writing today, particularly sports writing on the web. Clay Travis provided "Outkick the Coverage Reaches One Year Old: Thanks to all of you" and it features a lot of great content around the monetization of good writing on the web... and how the people actually producing the writing fare at getting those dollars. Additionally, two other pieces go heavily into the state of written discourse and what actually gets attention in writing, again, particularly sports and particularly on the Internet. "The Aughts Internet Is Over" from the Tumblr blog Family Business and "@BIGSPORTSWRITER On the State of Sports Discussion: 'The Great Ones Are Weary of Those Who Read Them'" posted on Brandon Sneed's blog both feature really good topics to ruminate on.

Three additional pieces (or posts on a site in one case) that stood out to me lately cover a different area on the subject of writing. There's a "Q&A with Chris Jones on his writing" published by Jonah Weiner on his website, "The Science (Not Art) of the Magazine Pitch" from Stanford Journalism Professor Jennifer Khan and finally the blog on freelance writer Jen A. Miller's website.

Great content in all six of these pieces/sources and it may be a generalization to say, but the first few seemed to stand out more as having interesting philosophical takes on writing and the latter had more nuts and bolts content around writing.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Esquire writing - Junod on Obama, Jones on Renner & pieces on the stock market & OLED TVs

The August 2012 issue of Esquire had some excellent content... with one feature in the brilliant writing category and then three additional pieces that stood out as interesting.

The brilliant writing category piece was "The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama" by Tom Junod and it's, well... brilliant. I can't say that I'm in any way outraged by the drone killing strategy, but it is a fascinating and important topic that Junod lays out for the reader exceptionally well and with an interesting approach.

The pieces that didn't necessarily reach the same level of prose (which isn't disparaging at all), but still covered some interesting topics were by Chris Jones, Ken Kurson and Peter Martin. Jones did a celebrity profile of Jeremy Renner and "Each Time Slightly Bigger, Slightly Braver" provided a different than expected view of the action star as a home flipper extraordinaire.

Two short and just plain interesting (yet again, that word) pieces from this issue were "But, Soft! What Light Through Yonder Window Breaks?" with Kurson's expectation of a post-election stock market rise come November (regardless of who wins) and "The TV That Lets You See Everything" by Martin on the OLED follow-up to High Definition TVs.

Esquire an excellent magazine and lots of good stuff in this recent issue.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Time Magazine Cover Story on Military Suicides

Very profound cover story in the latest issue of Time Magazine that brought to mind other pieces from Time on the same subject.

The recent feature by Nancy Gibbs & Mark Thompson was titled "The War On Suicide?" and details the epidemic of suicides among current and former U.S. military personnel. The authors cite current statistics of one active duty suicide a day and one every 80 minutes among all veterans, but go beyond the horrifying numbers to detail the personal stories of several recent suicides by active duty servicemen. Just painful reading the depiction from a surviving spouse of mental health help that was sought in vain within the military.

Along these lines, the piece very much brought to mind some past Time features I've noted and linked to by the same writers. Mark Thompson penned in April 2009 "Why Are Army Recruiters Killing Themselves?" and in December of the same year I did this blog post on the Nancy Gibbs Time cover story "Terrified or Terrorist?" about Fort Hood shooter Nadal Hasan. Both works very much shared with the recent cover story a commonality of showing an active duty military culture of pushing forward and not showing weakness or a need for help.

On the same subject, but with actually a positive take-away was the December 2010 piece "Bringing Dogs to Heal: Care for Veterans with PTSD" by Mark Thompson and then in November 2011, I wrote a blog post featuring another Thompson Time cover story "The Other 1%" about the all too frequent disconnect between non military personnel and those who serve or have served.

It's an extremely difficult problem with no easy solution, but Gibbs and Thompson have done excellent work shedding light on the situation and need for greater efforts by the military at helping it's own.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Writing from latest Sports Illustrated issue - by Gary Smith, David Epstein and Lee Jenkins

There was some really solid writing on remarkable people in the latest "Where Are They Now?" issue of Sports Illustrated.

Longest piece was a feature by Gary Smith titled "Why Don't More Athletes Take A Stand?" on a University of Virginia walk-on football player taking part in a hunger strike to protest the low wages of many University service employees. It's the same type of eloquent writing Smith known for and tells the story of Wonman Joseph Williams while addressing some much larger questions about athletes and contribution to a cause.

From the "Where Are They Now?" section of the issue came two additional pieces of note... both well written and one on an interesting subject, the other on a truly remarkable one. In the interesting subject category was the Lee Jenkins piece "Life's Roses (and Sausages)" on former University of Texas and Houston Oilers running back Earl Campbell. The former Heisman Trophy winner has certainly been through a lot and it's pretty compelling reading on him.

The other piece from this edition of SI that stood out was "The Strength To Carry On" by David Epstein. Just an amazing piece on Nazi death camp survivor Ben Helfgott. After liberation from a concentration camp at 15, Helfgott became one of 732 Jewish orphans brought to group homes in England. They became known as The Boys and through their lives have accomplished quite a bit together in terms of philanthropy and sharing their stories of success... with the 1996 Martin Gilbert book The Boys as a record of it. Well written stuff from Epstein in this SI piece and again, an amazing story.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Time Magazine Pieces - on Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts / Elon Musk / Howard Schultz

There's been a few tremendously interesting pieces of writing from Time Magazine lately to note here.

Cover story from the most recent issue was "Roberts Rules: What the Health Care Decision Means for the Country" by the always solid David Von Drehle. About the deciding vote cast and rationale behind it from Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, it's informative writing on what seems to be an extremely measured decision.

Two feature pieces from the past month or two that also stood out as well written pieces on interesting topics were about business efforts from Elon Musk and Howard Schultz respectively. Jeffrey Kluger wrote "Rocket Man" on the founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX who has had big months at each company he leads and Bill Saporito provided "Starbucks' Big Mug" on efforts to both grow the business and aid the economy overall.

Interesting writing in each piece on big steps taken by both company leaders.

"The Startup of You" by Reid Hoffman & Ben Casnocha

Following on the heels of recent good books with career guidance I've seen, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman co-wrote with Ben Casnocha The Startup of You. It's a solid read with quite a bit around people being solely responsible for their career... regardless of whether they're entrepreneurs or an employee.

There's a lot that could be gleamed from the book with the principle ideas I took away from each chapter noted below...

Chapter 1: All humans are entrepreneurs
To the idea behind the chapter title, point is made in the book that the business strategies of successful startup companies often mirror strategies employed by successful people in a career.

Chapter 2: Develop a competitive advantage
Hoffman and Casnocha write about how one's career strategy should be a combination of (A) their assets, (B) aspirations and (C) market realities. Additionally, they cover the importance of someone developing a competitive career advantage (and being able to describe it)... with it oftentimes best to have that advantage or focus area as narrow as possible (an idea I've seen written about previously).

Chapter 3 - Plan to adapt
An idea put forth in the book is people should start to do the things they find interesting and see where it goes, but do so within a framework. To this point, Hoffman & Casnocha describe "ABZ planning"... with A as what someone is doing now, B what they pivot to, and Z their fallback career option. Its also noted that this Z planning can mean the worst case scenario to a career move often isn't that terrible (another idea I've previously noted others writing on).

Chapter 4 - It takes a network
Casnocha and of course Hoffman believe in the idea of LinkedIn as a facilitation tool towards a larger principle of network building and usage... with a focus on genuine networks built around helping rather than simply a focus on what can be gained from a relationship. They note that this network strengthening can come from simply putting oneself out there through regular sharing on social networks. In terms of benefit that might eventually result from this network building and helping others, the authors note how its often not first, but second or third level connections (as shown on LinkedIn) that get people jobs.

Chapter 5 - Pursue breakout opportunities
Two ideas out of this chapter are to look for networks of interesting people and to budget time for personal improvement... or network/relationship development.

Chapter 6 - Take intelligent risks
Interesting concept from this chapter was around developing a strategy of small risk taking to help prevent big risks from occurring or feeling so large... i.e. small fires prevent the large burn.

Chapter 7 - Who you know is what you know
Last chapter before the Conclusion contains the idea that it's the management of information that really counts (with LinkedIn Signal as a tool to use). Additionally noted is the value of being a go to person in a particular area... which brings to mind the aforementioned idea of going narrow in focus / competitive advantage development.

Overall it was an excellent read and the website Startup of You has an additional resources section which includes an executive summary of the book as well as PDF of LinkedIn usage tips.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

"The Voodoo Wave" by Mark Kreidler

Written by ESPN writer and San Francisco area radio host Mark Kreidler, The Voodoo Wave was an entertaining book on Maverick's in all its forms... an extreme surf spot off the coast of Half Moon Bay, CA, collection of elite surfers who ride its waves and business venture.

Big wave surfing as a subject was very much in line with one of my favorite books from 2010, The Wave by Susan Casey, and while I thought the writing from Casey perhaps a bit more lyrical, Kreidler seems to have put in solid journalist legwork and provides a very interesting read.

The content about the surfing and surfers themselves was pretty riveting and included depictions of Maverick's surfing godfather Jeff Clark who first rode and then made known its waves, Grant Washburn and Chris Bertish. The business end of Maverick's was perhaps equally interesting with the tale of Keir Beadling, CEO of Mavericks Surf Ventures, and his efforts to create a profitable consumer brand out of the intended to be annual big wave surf contest.

While certainly not as inspiring as the surfers themselves, Beadling comes across in the book as a somewhat sympathetic character with his efforts to make a business while working with the dualities provided by the other people involved. As a direct partner with Beadling, there was Jeff Clark himself... who seemed a solid guy, but who wanted to both get paid and run things completely his way. To this end, Kreidler mentions Clark feeling a bit snubbed by the money and accolades accorded some involved in the excellent surfing documentary movie Riding Giants that he was heavily featured in. Additionally, there was the talent provided by the surfers actually competing in the contest, many of whom didn't mind the idea of making a living at it, but were focused on the love of big wave surfing and not necessarily winning (or even competing in if too corporate and not enjoyable) a big wave contest one day a year.

Definitely fascinating topics that Kreidler did a good job of covering both wide and narrow and quoted a few times in the book as someone else that's covered and published about Maverick's was San Francisco Chronicle writer Bruce Jenkins.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Writing from Across the Web - including Michael Mooney on bowler Bill Fong & Obituary of Count Robert de La Rochefoucauld

As I was posting earlier today on writing taken from Atlanta Magazine, The Daily Beast and FlipCollective, it occurred to me how many different places feature great writing.

With links provided via Twitter, stories from across the web are so much more accessible than in the past and I'm finding great work on sites such as TVFury and Noble Failures as well as those from freelance sports writer Brandon Sneed and Tampa Bay Times writer Michael Kruse.

To this concept of great writing I never would have found without Twitter, two brilliant pieces lately were from D Magazine and The Telegraph.

From the Dallas-area magazine came "The Most Amazing Bowling Story Ever" by Michael Mooney. It's a remarkable look at recreational bowler Bill Fong and his efforts to bowl only the 22nd verified 900 series with back to back to back 300 games.

The Telegraph piece is an obituary with the synopsis "Count Robert de La Rochefoucauld, who has died aged 88, escaped from Occupied France to join the Special Operations Executive (SOE); parachuted back on sabotage missions, he twice faced execution, only to escape on both occasions, once dressed as a Nazi guard." Yep, the rest of the piece is... like that.

Businessweek Pieces - on Workday, Nuance, MemSQL & Microsoft Surface Tablet

There's been several pieces of Businessweek writing that stood out lately with the largest a feature by Ashlee Vance on the Pleasanton, CA based company Workday. Titled "The Two Horsemen of the Enterprise Software Apocalypse" it's a detailed look at the fast growing company (and noted Oracle competitor) in the internal business and employee management software space.

Also from Vance recently was "Why Microsoft's Surface Tablet Shames the PC Industry" on the latest hardware entry from the technology giant and "Enterprise Technology: Revenge of the Nerdiest Nerds" on data center software company MemSQL.

Final BW piece from the last few weeks to note was the interesting "Why Nuance Is Giving It Away" by Olga Kharif. Nuance is a company I'd heard of years ago and they're now perhaps best known for providing the voice recognition software used in Siri by Apple.

Profound Writing - Cooper on Coming Out, Rehagen on New Fatherhood & Dinard on a Lifesaving Event

There's been a few different cases of excellent writing I've seen lately that all fit into the profound / important category.

Most recent was an e-mail from CNN Journalist Anderson Cooper that he allowed to be posted online. From Andrew Sullivan's news site The Daily Beast, Anderson Cooper: "The Fact Is, I'm Gay" features a very well written note from Cooper that concludes with "I still consider myself a reserved person and I hope this doesn’t mean an end to a small amount of personal space. But I do think visibility is important, more important than preserving my reporter’s shield of privacy."

On the Fatherhood topic I love to read and post on, a few days ago I came across the piece "Daddy Blues" by Tony Rehagen for Atlanta Magazine. It was very cool writing on something that can be both incredibly rewarding and difficult to deal with.

Finally, a very short piece with heft to it was "Toiling in Obscurity" for the site FlipCollective. Tom Dinard writes in it of a stopping a large display case from falling on a toddler. It's an emotional piece that's made all the more interesting with nobody noticing the lifesaving act made.