Archives for posts with tag: writing

You know what I didn’t expect to be such a huge part of my service as a coordinator?

Email.

I send a lot of emails.

Emails asking questions. Emails inviting people to various spaces, trainings, and gatherings. Emails sharing information. Emails clarifying the information that was already shared. Reminder emails. Encouraging emails.

I love meeting in person. I love visiting people, and talking on the phone.

But wow, is email ever useful.

It’s not a revolutionary new thing. It’s not fancy, and it’s not spiritually enriching or personally engrossing. It’s really not an exciting topic that makes everyone want to read your blog post. But it can be helpful if done right, and I feel like it’s something I’ve learned a lot about. So here it is: what I know about writing excellent emails.

Make your subject line obvious. If you’re writing marketing emails, you might want to be coy and try to make people curious enough to open the email and see what you’re selling. That kind of hidden agenda doesn’t work if you’re trying to build a culture of honesty and open consultation. If it’s about a prayer gathering on December 5, call it “December 5 Prayer Gathering,” perhaps with a “You’re invited!” as well. It’s not the best place for creativity.

If you’re asking for something, ask in the first paragraph, and repeat it towards the end. Things I often need to ask for are for people to register for an event, to fill out a survey, to attend a gathering, to respond to the email, to write a summary, or to gather and share some kind of data. If there’s a link that needs to be followed, make sure it’s repeated as well.

If something is important, make it stand out. I like to use bold type for dates and calls to action. Larger font size can be used sparingly as well. ALL CAPS DEFINITELY STANDS OUT BUT COMES ACROSS WITH A RUDE UNDERTONE THAT I’M NOT NORMALLY COMFORTABLE WITH IN EMAILS WHERE I CAN’T CLARIFY THAT I’M BEING FACETIOUS IN MY AGGRESSION. It’s easier to avoid.

Context is important, but it goes in the middle. The why of your request is important. Someone’s motivation for acting on your request is just as important as whether they do it, so give it some thought. But it’s incredibly frustrating to receive a pile of context before understanding what it’s supposed to be in relation to. Your high school English teacher was right when she said you needed an introduction with a thesis statement, a body, and a conclusion. If you find yourself becoming long-winded, write an outline. Most confusing communication could be vastly improved if people just took the time to outline their points in advance. (And I say this as someone who has coached a lot of people on their writing.)

Bullet points are your friend. On the other hand, that same English teacher probably also demanded full paragraphs with grammatically correct sentences. If you can say something in bullet points instead, it will probably be all of the following:

  • Easier to read.
  • More compelling.
  • Better organized.
  • Easier to write.

(See what I mean?)

And when you’re using bullet points, it’s generally understood that a subject and verb are not required.

Quote the guidance when you can, but do it briefly. It’s an email, not a deepening, but it’s always helpful to draw on the language we’ve been given. Look at how the Universal House of Justice quotes the Writings for excellent examples of how to quote beautifully in the middle of an explanation.

Always be encouraging. Always end on a positive note. Never miss an opportunity to share your appreciation and love. Even if you’re just shooting off a quick question about whether you need to print agendas for a meeting, a “Thanks for all your help!” can go such a long way. Accompaniment doesn’t stop just because you’re not meeting face to face.

Don’t abuse “reply all.” If it’s not necessary to bother everyone with your response to a chain, don’t. Make sure that you’re only writing to the people you really want to hear from you.

Bonus: If you’re offering an invitation and you have the time, people always respond better to beautiful images. Can it feel silly to design an invitation with photos of happy people engaged in a meaningful conversation when all the information is available in the body of the email? Yes. Do people respond more positively to beautiful images anyway? Absolutely. Just like a vase of flowers can make a gathering feel festive, a thoughtfully designed image makes an email feel important. If you’ve got even a little bit of skill (or can bumble your way around Canva), it can create a little oasis of beauty in someone’s inbox.

And that’s what I’ve got.

There’s nothing amazing here that hasn’t already been said by others, but if you’re looking to brush up on your online communication, this is a solid place to start. I hope it’s useful to somebody!

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Friends, I’m bringing this blog back from the dead in order to participate in the inaugural Baha’i Blogging Challenge.

Basically, some Baha’is plan to post once a day for the next 30 days.

Yes, this takes at the same time as NaNoWriMo.

Yes, I’m thinking about doing both.

Yes, this is pretty ridiculous.

But it’s a good challenge anyway. I’ll be doing my best to keep up, and also share what others are creating using the #bahaiblogging hashtag. We’ll see what comes of it.

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PS: If you want to participate, you can too, even if the month has already started. Learn how to sign up here.

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything here. Part of that has been because of work: I’ve been helping to create a textbook! The work alternates between incredibly fascinating and overwhelmingly tedious, and both aspects have taught me a lot. And while it’s true that you can’t judge a book by its cover, from this day forward I will always judge a book by its bibliography. I’ve become quite the citation snob!

But this isn’t to say that I haven’t been doing any creative writing. It’s just taken on a bit of a change of format.

I’ve been speaking.

It’s odd, when I tell people about it. They want to know what my hobbies are, and my answer is one of the biggest fears many people have. Writing and giving speeches for fun? Heck no.

And yet, it makes sense to me. It’s a bit like writing. It’s a bit like performing. It’s a bit of poetry and logic and theater, all mashed up. And it’s social. The immediate connection between speaker and audience is addictive, and the friendships formed are genuine. We release our hearts into the world and find them welcomed, flawed and growing as they are.

And I’m improving! There’s nothing like seeing yourself get better at something that’s a little bit scary. New challenges, new adventures. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even get really brave and post a video or two. 😉

This is a bit older. I wrote it in 2008 while living in Malawi (and clearly reading too much Rumi), but the feeling is as fresh now as it ever was then. Maybe more.

The Second Way

There is a way
to look at the crisis,
and not cry. To see injustice,
famine, the virus of the blood, and yet stand
straight enough to speak
is difficult, but not impossible: forget your glasses.
Bring instead your weak
myopia, your astigmatic haze,
dulling the vistas of hopelessness until
there is only your nose and one pot of maize,
one school fee, one welcome song, one child
wailing in your arms. This way,
survive, and serve again.

There is only one way
to look at the crisis,
and not cry.

But if you would cry, get up!
Walk out of that body, prostrated
and voiceless in its shame. Baptize
yourself in its tears and turn your back.
When you see the fires of impossible hope,
jump in! Blaze. Immolate fear in the coals
of your joy. This is the second way.
Then watch: these sparks,
they are heating a nation,
they are lighting the world.

Makings

I came into your house when it was empty,
turned on all the lamps, and waited for you to arrive.
When you did, you stomped your feet and scolded me:
Did you think I was made of money?
No, I answered truthfully.

I thought you were made of light.

So, I have really vivid dreams.

Full-color, plot-intensive, backstory-including dreams.

Often I’ll dream, then dream that it is the next morning and I’m telling the dream to someone (most often at my mother’s kitchen table), and then re-dream the dream, this time edited for improved dialog.

I’m not always myself in dreams. I’ve been King Arthur, an evil spirit, and even a dog. But the most interesting is when I dream up scenes from novels that don’t exist.

I write them down, because what else should I do? But I’m not a fiction writer. I have zero sense of plot. There’s basically nothing useful I can do with the opening chapter of a science fiction novel, aside from give it to my sister to write. I keep telling the dream world to send these things to her instead, but it never listens.

I have four opening chapters to novels that will never exist, because I dreamed them.

Last night was a little different. I didn’t dream up a new opening chapter. I dreamed up the climax. When the hero (a fourteen-year-old girl) and her father take on the bad guy (a giant evil thing that eats peoples’ souls).

And for the first time, I have something to work with. Because I know exactly where this is going. A showdown in a grassy area that looks suspiciously like the one next to the B-W Conservatory.

(Who am I kidding? It looked exactly the same. This lawn is basically the generic backdrop to my entire childhood.)

So … it appears that I’m about to be writing a YA fantasy novel. I’ve never, never, NEVER written fiction before. I’m a pretty strictly nonfiction and poetry kind of gal. But I know Point A, and I know Point Z, and I’ve got a pretty clear picture of why it has to happen that way, if not all the details of how.

Any tips from those who know how to do this sort of thing are very welcome! It will be an interesting adventure, to say the least.

First, a note: I quit updating rather abruptly about a week ago. I hurt my wrist, and things like giving massage, typing, and buttering toast all cause varying degrees of pain. Naturally, I decided to save my hands for the things that pay the bills and keep me fed, but I’m going crazy enough that updating this blog seems to have slipped into the Necessary For My Health category without my noticing. Funny how that happens, isn’t it?

During my time off, I read the Hunger Games trilogy. And saw the movie. And thought a lot about it. And discussed it with others.

Here are some of my thoughts:

As a trilogy, these books are an important piece of anti-war literature for young adults. They deal with very pertinent issues like PTSD, substance abuse, and mental illness in soldiers and others who have been directly affected by large-scale violence. They directly address some of the moral and motivational ambiguities of war. They also focus on the institutional nature of war, and the role that the media plays in its propagation. It’s good stuff.

But you won’t get any of that just reading the first book.

I’ll get some flak for this, but on it’s own, the first book is worthless.

Not that it’s a bad book. It’s a good read, significantly better than the third book in some respects. But if the first book were all there were, I’d still be where I was two years ago, determined not to read it because it seemed to be a babyish, watered-down version of Battle Royale. I believe the author when she says she’d never heard of the book before writing The Hunger Games, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t comparable. Where Battle Royale was one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read in my life (up there with Lolita, which was disturbing in a totally different way), The Hunger Games was, at most, amusing.

It was an interesting thought-experiment on the dangerous and seductive nature of reality television.

It takes Mockingjay to bring the message home.

After I finished all three books, I couldn’t help comparing it to another set of novels that explored the intersections between youth, innocence, the search for truth, and war: Ender’s Game and the books that followed. Card’s vision is a more hopeful one than Collins’, putting much more faith in the ability of individual human beings to influence society for the better, make peace with one another, and (perhaps most importantly) to heal. Ender quickly recovers from the childhood nightmares, moving on to a relatively well-adjusted life as a peacemaker, truth-teller, and (eventually) family man. Peeta (who strongly resembles Ender in charisma and his inherent nobility, if not in brains) and Katniss don’t make it through their futures so easily, and neither does their world.

I feel like this is a pretty natural extension of the times in which these books were written. In the 1980s, the anti-war message aimed at young people in the US was primarily, “They are just as good as we are, and we can talk things out.” In 2010, the message had shifted tone: “Ugh, we’re only going to make things worse if we invade.” The public acknowledgement of the massive amount of PTSD and mental illness among returning soldiers has changed the way we think about the cost of war. And the impotence of the protests that emerged before the US even entered Afghanistan or Iraq served as an inoculation against the sort of hope that might lead a Valentine or Peter to truly believe the voices of young individuals might make a difference in the affairs of those wielding political power.

So the edge of cynicism that so disturbs people about The Hunger Games trilogy makes sense, in context. The message is both for and of our time.

Now, are there problems with the novels, particularly Mockingjay? Of course. Having your main character fall unconscious so often, only to have major advancements in plot explained by other characters is pretty annoying. And my sister, a military officer, couldn’t stand the author’s lack of understanding of tactics. Funky one-off booby traps in residential neighborhoods is okay for an arena, but useless defense in an actual war. And it is a bit heavy-handed, even if I think it was necessary in order to make its point to those young readers who aren’t that used to reading between the lines.

The ending, for all people hated it, was exactly right, the only way it could have ended. Not perfect, not happy, not “fixed,” but livable. Everything is changed, but there’s enough hope to continue on.

I’ll be interested in how Mockingjay will affect the rising generation of anti-war activists and writers. I hope they learn to think long and hard about the complexities of institutionalized violence, and the ways in which individual transformation can (and cannot) instigate meaningful change. I’d like them to learn to play “Real or Not Real” in their everyday lives. And I hope they show compassion to those who have difficulty unraveling the knotty bits of truth in the world around them.

I hope that the odds will be ever in their favor.

And I hope they come up with some great new books. I’m already looking for my next engrossing read …

 

So often, December is a month of stuff.

What stuff will you buy? Who will you buy it for? How much will you spend on stuff? Who is buying you stuff? Why is her stuff more expensive than your stuff? What if he doesn’t like the stuff you bought him? What will you do with all the new stuff you have? What if you don’t want it?

I’m lucky. My family isn’t too much into the stuff. December is all about FOOD, which is different from stuff inasmuch as you can make it yourself, enjoy it together, and then watch it disappear in a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Less stuff, more stuffed.

Last year I tried to reflect every day during December. Reflection is cooler than stuff, but … it’s still not as satisfying as actually going out and doing something to reflect on.

So this December, I’m pledging to 31 days of community.

I will do one thing, small or large, to build community every day in December. I will write about it here.

I can’t guarantee I’ll write every day. There will be traveling in December. And cooking. And … stuff. So I may be behind on keeping things updated, but I will get around to it. For Twitter folks, I’ll use the hashtag #community31. Feel free to join me if you like.

Who’s in?

Sore Thumbs

Poets are contrary creatures,
always in search of sore thumbs.
We like the shock of hototogisu
or red wheelbarrows,
a sudden host of daffodils,
a collapsing pleasure-dome.
Little is said of a corn-colored girl
in a corn-colored field,
or the unremarking cars that pass her
on the freeway, sounding all the same.

This is a dream I had when I was 17. I have never written it down, and I have never forgotten it.

In the beginning, I am little, wearing a party dress. I run from my backyard because two grownups, amorphous in the way all big people are when you only come up to their waists, are chasing me.

I run for a long time.

I end up in a tunnel, deep underground. The grown people are still chasing me, but I have gained ground and they are far behind. I am myself now, my teenage self.

I turn a corner, and suddenly I am in my older brother’s room. In real life, my parents had a boy named David before me who died shortly after being born. In the dream, though, David grew up with us, then disappeared as a youth. This ordinary blue bedroom underground was apparently his hiding place from those who were chasing him.

There are papers on top of his desk, in his handwriting, which I recognize. I read them, and from them learn the secret of walking through the earth. No longer afraid of being caught by those who pursue me, I smile and pass through the wall, and into the earth.

On the other side, I come out into a large room like a school cafeteria. At the other side of the room is a large table at which a number of people are seated. One, an enormously fat woman, stands up and gives me a hug. “Welcome!” she says.

Then she puts a hand on her hip and chides the others: “Well, aren’t you going to welcome the girl?”

One man stands. He is thin, with dark hair and a crooked nose. Looking at his eyes, I realize he is blind. Next to him is seated a frail looking, ancient woman. This is his lover.

He explains to me that there are brief times when he is able to see. When this happens, he is unable to look at his love, because he becomes overwhelmed by emotion and the shock of it drives him immediately back into blindness. Instead, he reads everything she has written, as fast as he can, for as long as he is able. He tells me, “When you love someone, read what they have written. This is how you will know who they are.”

I woke up feeling weighted down by responsibility.

I have remembered every detail for 10 years, and I don’t even know why.