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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Do You Suffer Writer’s Block?

Thoughtwrestler offers “Top ten tips for beating writer’s block” here. Of course it is facetious. Many forces can get in the way of writing, and they are all lame excuses. It is good to remember what Truman Capote said of Jack Kerouac’s work: That’s not writing, that’s typing.

Exactly! Keep the keyboard clicking, or pen or pencil scribbling on paper: that is writing. By the way, for much of Capote’s latter career (and that of Henry James, as well), writing consisted of speaking the material to a transcriber. That’s not writing, that’s dictation! Try dictating, if that will help.

When pressed to produce, either by deadline, or whatever other need, we get ahead of ourselves. We see a marathon ahead, or at least a rugged 10k. Races are run one step at a time, and writing is written one word at a time: word concatenating with word. Remain in that mindset.

Here are some rules that I have come up with for handling blockages:

  1. Don’t perfect until you have something to perfect. That is, assert your rewriting muscles only after you have written the thing.
  2. Don’t erase. Save the bits of crap. Keep the flow going. That might not be crap after all.
  3. Find a relevant quote or article or something to bounce your thoughts against.
  4. Don’t think. Write your thoughts.

The poet Charles Olson was accused of going all around the subject. His response: I didn’t know it was a subject. That aint bad. Do not let boundaries confound you. Step over and be surprised.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Reasons to Favor a Product or Service

What distinguishes one business from another for consumers? Seems like a short list:

  • Convenience, how easy to get to or use the product or service
  • Price, how much it costs
  • Knowledge, how knowledgeable the staff is
  • Pleasantness, how pleasant the staff and sales environment is
  • Quality, how well the product is made or the service provided
  • Uniqueness, how different the product or service is, a niche  item, perhaps


Many stores are available or the website is easy to use. Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks are ubiquitous, Look! There’s one over there!


Surprisingly, price seems to sit lower on the consumer’s list than other items. People care, but don’t they get dazzled by other features? Is the iPod really the best mp3 player? I certainly never gave the question a chance, I ran right to the Apple  Store.


Customers appreciate knowledgeable help but may end up making do with the knowledge base at Big Box stores. The wine store where I worked had a strong reputation for supplying knowledge to customers, we all knew what we were talking about. Our clientele was largely loyal, but they would head to Costco or New Hampshire State Liquor Stores for super prices on those items that they knew about.


Whole Foods offers a more pleasant shopping experience than other supermarkets. The stores are clean, and the staff is encouraged to be friendly. That makes a diff.


People appreciate unique approaches, so long as they understand the point of the uniqueness. The Apple Store only sells Apple products, but the space age look of the place and the superfluity of knowledgeable staff makes it a different place to shop.

* * * * *

Bottom line, identify the salient aspect of your business. The wine store that I worked at was competitive in price, but it was our knowledgeable staff, our delivery service, and our business ethics that put us on the map.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Death of Facebook

I make no prediction with the title, just a thought experiment. Facebook is huge and commanding. No need to cite Ecclesiastes: we have all seen the growth and demise of people, companies, countries, and civilizations. Fortunes change, for better or worse.

Facebook could blow it—mighty companies have fallen before—because hubris seems evident. Right now, however, no satisfactory alternative to Facebook exists. I mean by that, a comparable service in terms of breadth as well as function. Twitter, for instance,  barely compares to Facebook as a service, but it siphoned interest from Facebook. Other competition will surface.

Facebook began as an online meet and greet. Business and self-promotion entered the realm, and that is a different energy. Games too have become a central attraction for Facebook. These elements are profitable but won’t the competing energies serve to tear at the fabric of Facebook?

Television, radio, and newspapers offered a service at the price of advertisement. We were entertained or informed, but we had to see ads. Facebook offers the structure for entertainment and information but does not, itself, provide content. It depends on an interested populace. Users cannot be static if Facebook is to continue its success.

Users are fickle. What will keep the content supply going? How can Facebook keep fickle users intrigued? That is for Facebook to answer. En garde Twitter, as well.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I Miss You, Newspaper

I no longer read the newspaper. I daily read the Boston Globe online, but it is not the same thing. In truth, I only read the sports section,and even that is an exercise. I miss the paper.

Reading the paper while eating breakfast was a minor pleasure. I would leaf through the whole thing. And I would do the crossword, too. It all made productive sense.

Reading the Globe’s sluggish web pages on my laptop makes a poor replacement. You must want to read stories spread over several slow-to-load pages. I suppose if I Kindled up, I would have a better experience with online reading but I mean to drag my heels with e-books. I mean, e-readers are just one more thing to yearn for.

Newspapers had lots of ads, but they were not animated, did not cover what you wanted to read, and were otherwise less distracting. Monetized blogs offer an experience similar to what online newspapers offer. However well the blog itself is designed, a gallimaufry of color-uncoordinated ads compete for the favor of my eye.

The monetized experience of online content is an over-eager land grab that is messing up the landscape. Communication bows to commerce, yet the commerce  seem second rate.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Buzz and Wave

Google’s Buzz and Wave each arrived on the scene with promotional thud. Perhaps these products could be useful but the misstep in promotion leaves them dangling.

Google misplayed Buzz from the start by opting-in Gmail clients. Doing so made Gmail address books public. That feature should not be foisted upon users. Let them choose.

Through the murk of Google’s presentation, I glean that Buzz is sort of chat and stuff, and Wave is something about collaboration, or whatever. It  is unclear to me what new territory these two products claim. Gmail and Google Docs seem to provide much that these whizbangs offer.

I could research, but I do not want to. I especially do not want to watch the videos they offer instead of written explanation. Youtube is for wasting time on less esoteric stuff. If Google cannot clearly make the case for these products, why should I bother to investigate? I shouldn’t.

From what I heard and read, Wave sort of had mystique and Buzz sort of had buzz, and both sort of screwed the pooch. And there you are, the sort of promotion.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Social Network Invitation

Online social networks have become popular business tools. Are they essential? To determine that you must answer a few questions.

The first question simply asks, What interest would a customer or client have in your Twitter or Facebook presence? Do you have something worth their while?

We will accept as given that your product/service serves people’s needs. That does not mean people need to read your promotions. No. Content is value. The meta value of your marketing is noise for the consumer. Judging from how these networks are used, that is a hard concept to understand.

Price promotions always garner interest,  but do you need a Twitter or Facebook account to deliver that? No, again. That is more a ruse to bring people to your site than a gift of content. Send emails or otherwise go to the people with your deals. Save social networks for social—that is, human—contact.

Tips and expertise, freely given, offer much more meat on the bone. Provided, of course, people are interested. It could be that only a small portion of your customers appreciate that sort of depth. Assume nothing. If interest exists, serve it. If not, do not feel obligated to produce something for an imaginary audience.

Facebook is an anchored landing site. People do not just happen upon your page. Your page, then, should apply to the curious. Explain your offering, declare its essentials. If you can develop a conversation, all the better.

Twitter is random. Your messages float in a babbling stream of stray notes. Toothsome morsels of information or observation pass cheek by jowl with scams and bother. The look of Twitter, with an abundance of blind links and @whosis, is confusing, at best. Your program with Twitter must include distinguishing marks. Stand out or stand down.

A final thought: the current services will change, and new possibilities arise. You will be changing with these changes.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Twitter Experience

I have doodled with Twitter for two years now, reading (much) more than writing. It has yet to become a part of my lifestyle, but I see value in its use. Even so, I see it as a batty environment.

I recently started a new Twitter account, one more oriented to business (my business). My previous, personal account was less thematic. I never felt like sweating over it. Why should I? This latest attempt seeks to discover how Twitter can be worked. I know that it can be.

It can be overworked, too. I searched for likeminded Twitterers, and tweeted a few tweets (sorry, folks, the New York Times does not approve of the term tweet). This activated a few followers. Some were legit, some were spammy.

You see a lot of halfhearted attempts at utilizing Twitter. Our friend, the widow of that African potentate, readily wrote at length and with keenly apposite typos to attract my attention. Twitter spammers just heave a yoo hoo through the transom. I guess something will catch.

This can all be regarded as mud puddles. Watch your step. Stick with the interesting stuff. I do not really want to participate in Twitter’s 1984, so I will probably not mark anything as spam or whatever. I will just grunt sub voce

I find the use of Reply produces a stressful blur. The @whosis function directs you imperfectly into a conversation that enigmatically slips past your understanding. The conversation looks hysterical at times, crossed wires and histrionic reply.

Not always, I must emphasize. I ignore a lot of links because Bitly-shorted URLs with nothing but “wow” to intrigue me do not cut the mustard. I guess I expect mustard not just to be cut, but to be cut well. Clearly-defined links to useful  content exist a-plenty, and that provides a big plus to the Twitter argument.

The hierarchy of interest bubbles weirdly. The celebrated, of whatever sized fish bowl, get to collect precipitously on the Followed side of the important ledger. They do not need to listen to you (rather me). They choose the appropriate Oprahs to follow, and leave the riffraff to poke their measly replies hopefully into the stream.

Okay, I am being snide. Canny users reveal themselves in the constant effort of their posting. MUCH is useful, entertaining, and worth the time, but the minefield has the relentless voice of hyper commerce.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Empty Words

We use certain words often and hopefully. We intend these words to convey something unspecified yet powerful. Those vague, unspecified words prove problematical.

To me, words like wonderful, terrific, and awesome convey little of what a writer intends. Their respective derivational seeds have grown through usage into nondescripts. All three of these words—you can make your own list— connote no more than good. In speech, bolstered by intonation and body language, these words produce more effect. For writers, though, they represent weak, slack options.

These words fail because they no longer anchor to any firm impressions. For instance, wonderful. When you use the word, do you mean “full of wonder”? Really? Your product, service, or opportunity is really full of wonder, like Alice’s adventures down the rabbit hole? Naw.

Let the excitement ride in the words themselves, not in the ringing blandishment of received locutions. Write right.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wine Scores

The wine writer Robert Parker turned the industry on its ear when he established a 100 point rating system. His scores were taken seriously by retailer, wholesaler, and consumer alike. People would cite his score for a wine as an intrinsic fact of the wine.

Parker’s assessments are reasonable enough—knowledgeable if hyperbolically voiced—but, look, the scores take words away. The numbers hardly anchor to anything except a vaguely wrought system. They represent a shorthand for the lazy consumer.

As a writer in that environment, I had to maintain pressure on the fallacy that a 90 point wine is somehow 1 better than an 89, like the 11 on Spinal Tap’s amp. Taste and perceived value cannot be so rigidly quantified. Metrics must be brought into the human encounter, which is to say a wild card is constantly at play. Keep an eye on that wild card.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Creative Tension

Here is an article on Creative Tension. It brings up some interesting thoughts about creative problem solving, but it seems to locate itself within a context of desperation that works against potential benefits.

The creative mind, which we all possess, works constantly on problems. The basis of psychoanalysis resides in the uncaptained choices that we make. That is, the unexamined life that we live. Without examining the processor of our experiences and actions, we spin out of control.

I took from this article a sense of actions serving intensified need. Yes, the article warns against succumbing to the anxiety of this condition, but it ramps up the tension at the same time.

This topic compels me to quote the poet John Keats on Negative Capability:

“…that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason - Colerdige, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge.”

Irritable reaching after fact & reason, within the business context, blurs a ton of the creative possibilities. Creativity is always tense, because it is alive. Balancing that tension with clear thinking is the larger quest.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lack of System Design

Some business websites provide illustrations of lameness in vivid ways. We do not ask for this service, but they provide it anyway.

Let us say that you went to the website because you wanted some information. Perhaps you wanted to know something about the product or service that the company offers. Are you psyched to diddle around the site to find the information that you seek. No, me neither.

Time for a bullet list.

  • Organization: let’s have some. Treat the home page as a table of contents, with a clear map to where things are.
  • Clutter: get rid of it. Opt for content and not distraction.
  • Formatting: use it. Break content into logical and comprehensible units.

Most business sites require certain elements, like:

  • Contact Info, including social network options
  • Directions to physical locations, including maps
  • Service or product descriptions
  • Service or product pricings

Identify these clearly. They are why people come to the site.

Finally, eliminate verbiage. Use words sparingly, allow meaning not noise to prevail.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Don’t Take It Personally

Here is something that I have seen on numerous occasions. In speaking about a problem with a business, the representative of that business starts taking the situation personally. Doing so never turns out well.

My wife and I had a problem at a hotel recently, and were speaking with the general manager of the establishment. There were multiple screw ups and we were irritable. Our irritation gave voice. The general manager eventually said, I do not appreciate your tone. That was a giveaway.

Sorry, it is not the general manager’s job to critique our tone. We were getting a runaround and were annoyed. It is not that customers have a right to be rude. We had an occasion to be annoyed, and the person delegated to respond to our annoyance was not satisfying us.

The GM should have focused on cooling our anger, not take a stand. Taking us into her office would have been a nice touch, rather than argue in public. Making us feel that we had to fight with her soured us completely on that hotel.

Mistakes happen, and irritation results. Rectifying errors and soothing irritation will keep customers. Defensiveness will not.