Men: If you’re worried about women falsely accusing you of rape, work to change the culture

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There are a lot of good men out there.

  • My father, the retired elementary school teacher and feminist.
  • My boyfriend, the protective son of a single mother.
  • My former bosses and colleagues, who mentored and shaped me as a professional.

With the current political climate involving Kavanaugh and #MeToo, some men are concerned that coercive or vindictive women will weaponize this rightful movement to falsely accuse them of rape or sexual assault. Out of spite, or revenge, or anger.

I believe it.

I’ve been bullied by other women–groups of girls growing up, and later in the workplace. I once even had to file a harassment grievance against a female coworker. And guys, I’M A GIRL.

Yes, women can be vindictive, and I have no doubt some would be willing to wield today’s social power to “get back” at a perceived wrong (Rejected? Looked over for a promotion?). But does that mean we should continue blaming victims?

Here’s the problem.

For far too long, women have been doubted when they came forward. Law enforcement asking if they were drinking (what about the GUYS who were drinking? They get a pass?).

Society asking if their clothes were too revealing. Or if they were walking alone. Or if they put themselves in a dangerous situation.

ALWAYS THE WOMAN’S FAULT.

This culture, in turn, has created a society where women are frequently scared to come forward. When they do, doubt is often cast over their testimony. We then ask, “Is He innocent? Or is She a victim?”

By regularly blaming the victim or doubting her story, we’ve created a societal culture of hearsay. As long as this culture exists, women will fear being attacked, and men will fear false accusations.

The solution: change the culture (and men need to lead the way).

My message to all men who are genuinely fearful of false accusations is this: rather than complaining about it, begin leading the change in our society.

Start believing women. Start standing up for them. Start giving women the benefit of the doubt when they confess a dark, long-held secret to you. And then, advocate for them.

Women are screaming in America right now because we’ve been silenced for way too long. We’ve been scared for way too long. We’re fed up. The men in power who refused to listen to us will not start now.

But maybe, just maybe, they will listen to you–another man. 

None of us want to live in a country reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials, where accusations are brought against another without evidence, and innocent people die without proof of their crime.

But we cannot live in a Crucible-free world when the guilty are regularly protected by the powerful. Only after our culture changes, and women feel safe coming forward early on (when their testimony can make a difference in criminal court), can we begin to charge the guilty, and protect the innocent.

So men, we are watching. We are waiting. We want you to join us, so ALL of us can feel safe in our homes, in our lives, and in our society.

* Thanks for stopping by. My name is Shari Lopatin, and I tell stories that matter. After beginning my career as an award-winning journalist, I recently published my debut novel, The Apollo Illusion. If you liked what you read, consider signing up for my Readers Club email list!

 

 

Journalists Just Want to Tell Stories. Today, Some Died for It

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I used to be a reporter at a small daily, community newspaper like the Capital Gazette. We had maybe 14 reporters, and we were like family.

I couldn’t imagine living through a shooting with that family, watching some of them die. Today, I cry with the reporters and staff at the Capital Gazette.

We don’t know the motive behind the crime yet. We don’t know if the alleged shooter was a disgruntled worker, a terrorist (foreign or domestic), or the crazed spouse of an employee. The police did say the suspect mutilated his fingertips to avoid identification, as reported in this article from the Baltimore Sunso that leads me to believe this was planned and malicious (versus a potentially angry worker).

Regardless, I know one thing for sure: journalists just want to tell stories, and today, some died for it.

*** When I was a full-time reporter, this was never a fear of mine. ***

But things have changed, and it breaks my heart. For those who don’t know any reporters personally, let me explain a few things:

  • Most reporters are completely non-violent people and just want to find the truth.
  • Most reporters are empathetic storytellers who want to give a voice to the voiceless.
  • Most reporters believe in nothing more than freedom of speech and the press–more than politics and more than religion.
  • Most reporters are “crusaders” who believe in the mission of holding those in power accountable, and protecting the innocent.

I once thanked an active-duty Soldier for his service to our country, and he said to me, “Shari, thank YOU for your service. Not enough people say it, but as a journalist, you’re serving too. Thank you.”

I cried.

 

 

4 Ways a Journalist Can Help Creative Writers

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This post is part of the Countdown Series on ShariLopatin.com, re-publishing my top “writing tips” blog posts from the past five years. The Countdown Series will culminate in a few weeks with the announcement of my business’ (Shari’s Ink) new arm, which will benefit other WRITERS!

Originally published Feb. 15, 2011

A creative writer once referred to me as a “writing scientist.”

I laughed at the time. But the more I think of it, as a journalist, I am a writing scientist. My degree is a Bachelor of SCIENCE in Journalism. There is a science to being a reporter, but over the years, I’ve discovered there is more of a science to writing.

My career has revolved around journalism (I started as a newspaper reporter), and more recently, writing for marketing and social media. Yet my roots are engrained in creativity. I’ve returned to those roots lately and discovered how my “writing scientist” background actually improves my creative writing.

Here are five ways a journalist’s training can help any creative writer improve his or her work:

1. Intrigue the reader immediately in 30 words or less.

In journalism, we’re trained to write a “lede” (pronounced lead) to every story. That’s the first sentence–it’s also the first paragraph–and it must be 30 words or less. But most importantly, the lede must catch the reader’s curiosity. If not, we lose that person for good.

Creative writers have the same task, but for different reasons. They want people to read their stories. However, if people are not enticed at the beginning, will they keep reading? I can think of countless books I’ve brushed aside because the beginning bored, or dragged, or “eased me” into the story.

Creative writers should start their novels and/or short stories the way journalists begin their articles: intriguing, and in 30 words or less.

2. Keep the story moving–don’t linger too long.

The average reader loses interest in an article after 500 words. Therefore, journalists need to cram as much information into those few paragraphs as possible, while keeping the story interesting.

Creative writers have more leeway. However, still keep the story moving. Writers will lose the reader’s sense of excitement if they spend too long describing a setting, or the way a character looks. Get the information in, then keep the story moving along.

3. Is the story newsworthy (a.k.a. unusual)?

A reporter will not write an article about a firefighter who saves a cat stuck in a tree. It’s cliché, and it’s nothing new. Yet, a journalist will write a story about a dog that saves a cat from a tree.

Why? It’s unusual.

And the bottom line is this: people want to read stories that are out-of-the-ordinary. Whether it’s in a newspaper, or a novel, this rule applies. Creative writers need to really think about their story. Has this been done before, in this way?

4. Write in Layman’s terms.

The average American reads at a 4th-5th grade level. Now, I’d imagine those who choose to read literary works of genius read at higher levels (I’d hope). Yet, if a creative writer explores a subject not known to the general public, make sure to explain what all those odd words mean.

Additionally, sometimes writing in Layman’s terms makes a story more entertaining to read. Complicated vocabulary doesn’t necessarily translate into better literature (ever listen to a PR hack blab for some company or politician?). What does equal better writing, however, is sentence structure and word choice.

With that in mind, good luck!

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Shari Lopatin is a professional writer, editor, journalist, and social media manager with a decade of experience in media and communications. She lives in Phoenix, Ariz. and blogs about finding a literary agent, writing tips, social media or tech trends, and sometimes current events. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter!

Rolling Stone, Rape, and Journalism

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It started off innocent enough. A female college student. An alleged gang rape. A magazine journalist trying to do the right thing.

I didn’t read Rolling Stone’s article, “A Rape on Campus,” about an alleged gang rape of a woman named Jackie at a University of Virginia frat house. But for the sake of this commentary, I didn’t have to read it.

All I read was Rolling Stone’s “Note to Our Readers” published on Dec. 5, 2014 — and that was enough.

The note, published by Managing Editor Will Dana, admits Rolling Stone’s failure to properly investigate and verify the woman’s story. It reads, “due to the sensitive nature of Jackie’s story, we decided to honor her request not to contact the man who she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men who she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her.”

Understandable, right? Maybe for that small, weekly community newspaper, where circulation doesn’t exceed 22,000 and most of its reporting staff are interns or rookies out of college. But for freakin’ Rolling Stone Magazine, which churned out an article generating worldwide headlines and prompting a university investigation … ummm, no.

Here’s the problem with Rolling Stone’s decision.

They let the first rule of good, hard, ethical journalism slide: objectiveness. Which means checking both sides, regardless of your thoughts on the issue’s sensitivity. If your source is a Deep Throat, then you verify facts elsewhere.

This seems cold, but folks, the consequences of failing to conduct yourself in this manner, as a professional journalist, could be far colder … like what happened with Rolling Stone.

Recent reports from The Washington Post and other news outlets have since surfaced, showing “there now appear(s) to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account,” according to Rolling Stone’s note to readers.

Now, is it possible Jackie was sexually assaulted or even raped? Of course. But due to Rolling Stone’s failure to remain objective, and thoroughly verify her account, the magazine just created a greater boundary for any rape victim to cross when convincing the authorities of an attack.

Perhaps, Rolling Stone should have just stuck to its journalistic guns the first time, and refused to run Jackie’s story unless its reporters could contact the alleged attackers.

And I’m talking from experience.

Eight years ago, when I worked as a newspaper reporter covering education, a group of three girls approached me from a local college. They accused the college of covering up sexual harassment, and sometimes even assault, on a regular basis.

Of course, I took this very seriously, and started looking to interview more sources. However, no one would go on record. Since no one reported anything to police, I couldn’t verify crime reports. Eventually, I told the girls if they refused to cooperate and go on record, no story. They didn’t, and therefore, nothing ever ran.

Which brings to light something else: is this mistake by Rolling Stone representative of what’s happening everywhere to good journalism?

With the rise of social media and the blogosphere, I have seen the decline of traditional journalistic ethics in lieu of special interests and editorialized rants. This isn’t everywhere … yet. But what happens when the lines between propaganda and journalism are blurred? What happens when we can no longer trust that our sources of news are objective, allowing us to decide for ourselves?

Rolling Stone should have never made the decision it did, regardless of its editors’ and/or reporters’ views on the sensitive nature of rape. By giving in to their subjectivity, they negated objectivity, and only further tainted the very issue they were trying to protect.

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Shari Lopatin is a professional writer, journalist, and social media strategist who lives in Phoenix, Ariz. She recently finished her first novel and blogs about the lessons she learns while finding a literary agent, among other topics (like this post). Want to follow Shari’s progress toward a book deal? Then join The Readers Club! Sign up here.

5 Lessons I’ve Learned from Reporter to PR

I used to hate PR (public relations) people when I worked on the newspaper. And really, I still kinda cringe when someone calls me a PR professional.

“I’m in media relations,” I always correct them.

I don’t spin. I don’t twist. I just educate the public the best I can for a company. Would I love to pound the pavement again as a journalist seeking the truth, living the edgy life? Yea, I dream about it. I’m not gonna lie.

BUT … I will say that I’ve learned several lessons on my road from reporter to “media relations.” And if I ever make it back, I’ll definitely apply them!

So, here are my top five takeaways I’d like to share—whether you’re a writer, reporter, or PR hack:

1) Not all journalists are honest, or accurate.

Trust me, this was a HUGE surprise to me. And quite honestly … a blow. My job on the newspaper was my first out of college, and I truly believed that every journalist was ethical—like me. But after working on the PR side, I realized that some reporters don’t care about the truth; they only care about their angle. Whether from laziness or an agenda, I’ve witnessed journalists report blatantly false information. Lesson? Don’t believe everything you read, always research the facts yourself, and treat ethical journalists like royalty.  

2) Understanding media strategy or content marketing can HELP writers or reporters, not hurt them.

Not to brag, but I believe I’m the perfect example of this. As a reporter, I’d slap you if you mentioned the word “blog” to me. However, after entering the world of media strategy, I started this blog, Facebook, and Twitter. Now, I have a readership … and I haven’t even published a book yet! Lesson? Any reporter who can build an ENGAGED following will more efficiently distribute the news … so don’t run from the concept of content marketing.

3) Multi-media and diverse writing is now a requirement, for anything.

I left journalism right as the newspapers began to collapse in December 2007. I began my new job in PR at the start of 2008, allowing me to witness the media world’s transition from the outside. I used this time to develop my skills in writing for the Web, social media, blogs, magazines, newspapers, e-newsletters, business, and to persuade. No longer can I find a writing job that merely asks for experience in print. Lesson? The more you understand multi-media–as well as writing for different audiences—the better chance you have of landing a job!

4) Learning to pitch well isn’t only for PR people. Freelance journalists need it for editors, and writers need it for literary agents.

I’ve been able to help creative writer friends perfect their query letters to literary agents. And I’ve advised journalists on pitching a solid story to a magazine editor (and landed freelance gigs myself). Why? Because I’ve become an expert in pitching. Understanding “the tease” has become a vital skill in anything media-related today. Lesson? Don’t think of pitching as selling out; instead, embrace what you can learn, and use it to your advantage!

5) The basics ALWAYS apply.

Bottom line, I still attribute information to its sources, even when writing for a company. My leads are always 30 words or less. And I always keep my readers in mind; the goal is still to inform them, regardless of the outlet. Lesson? The basics are taught for a reason. THEY WORK. So … never forget them.

WHAT ABOUT YOU? Do you agree with my observations? Have you witnessed something contrary, or additional? Discuss …

News and New Media: Check Out this Hot Project!

I first learned about The Daily Source because they followed me on Twitter. Just another wannabe online news outlet, I initially thought.

Boy, was I wrong!

After checking out their follower count (20,000+), I decided to give them a follow-back. A day later, I received a direct message from this outlet:

“Thanks for following. Our nonprofit’s team of top journalists scours the Net 24/7 to bring you a feast of top items: http://dailysource.org,” it read.

Non-profit team of top journalists, I thought. I wonder who these people are?

So, I did what any curious, former newspaper reporter would do. I clicked on their link and began researching. Simply put, this is no wannabe online news outlet.

Here’s what I found about The Daily Source:

  • Their editors come from backgrounds at the New York Times, the BBC, NPR, and CNN, just to name a few.
  • Their mission “is to provide high quality news and information from leading sources across the Internet to help the public more effectively utilize their time, money and power to benefit themselves, our country and our world.”
  • They outline the growing problems in today’s media, including lack of public confidence, growing inaccuracies, sensationalism, and poor coverage of important stories.
  • They use new media to combat these issues, and combine today’s online tools with the traditional ethics of good reporting and journalism.

Yea, I almost had an orgasm when I read this. Think of The Daily Source as the NPR of the Internet.

Now, they don’t necessarily write the articles. They seek out the most relevant, accurate, important, and balanced articles across the Web and publish them on their site. They also use platforms like Twitter to disseminate their news.

And because their editors come from such traditional and respected backgrounds, you know you can trust their judgement.

How you can help

Besides the obvious approach (money donations), The Daily Source needs its followers to help spread the word. It also needs you to conduct your news searches through its site, www.dailysource.org.

Why? I’ll let them explain: “This will generate revenue for us, as Yahoo! donates to our nonprofit every time you search via the box on our site.”

I thought this was a cause well-worth a blog post today. Will you help with this great idea? Find The Daily Source on Twitter as well.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? How have you noticed the new landscape of social media affecting the traditional realms of journalism? Is it making the mass media better, or worse?

From Hot Journalist to Retail: Q&A with Author Caitlin Kelly

Ever wonder what those big-time New York City editors look for in a story pitch? Or how successful authors pulled off a great book deal?

Caitlin Kelly
Caitlin Kelly is the author of “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” (Portfolio, April 2011), a memoir of working as a sales associate in a suburban New York mall. Winner of a Canadian National Magazine Award for humor, she has written for The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Glamour, More, New York, Smithsonian and many others. Her first book is “Blown Away: American Women and Guns” (Pocket Books, 2004). She blogs at broadsideblog.wordpress.com.

Today, journalist and author Caitlin Kelly shares some of her secrets as a former senior editor for WorldBusiness in New York and a successful author of two books. Caitlin has been published in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. She recently published her second book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.”  Briefly, here’s a snippet from her book’s opening:

My writing career had gone well from the day I graduated from college, whether I had a staff magazine or newspaper job or worked freelance. But by the fall of 2007 I was scared of the precipitous decline in my industry, journalism. I was also newly aware, after pneumonia landed me in a hospital bed from overwork, I needed a ready, steady source of cash,  something solid. And so I decided to join a populous, if largely ignored, tribe – the fifteen million Americans working in retail.

On a personal note, I can relate to Caitlin’s situation. The year 2007 was also when I left my beloved journalism job. That seems to be the fateful year—of the housing market crash, the journalism crash, and the start of the Great Recession.

So, here’s my interview with Caitlin Kelly. Hope you find some valuable insights in these 10 questions, as I did!

1. SHARI: You’re a veteran journalist, having written for notable publications such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Hartford Courant, and Glamour. Journalistically, what drew you to the topic of America’s retail industry–for a book?
 
CAITLIN: I was amazed that this enormous industry — $4 trillion, 15 million workers, the nation’s third-largest and its greatest source of new jobs — had not been examined in book form in any serious way. There have been several excellent books on low-wage labor, but none focused exclusively on retail. Once I had spent 27 months working at its lowest level for a large and well-known retail company, I realized what inequities and absurdities the industry contains. They spend millions on new technology and software but most refuse to pay their front-line workers — who drive sales — decently. Since we’re a nation of shoppers, I wanted to explore this subject in depth.
 
2. SHARI: “Malled” is your second book. Your first was “Blown Away: American Women and Guns.” I have several writers new to the publishing world who follow my blog. What tips can you give them about the process of finding a literary agent and publisher?
 
CAITLIN: It’s not simple, quick or easy! Finding an agent means finding someone whose skill, experience, ambition, personality and stable of other writers matches your vision of what you hope to accomplish. My agent on Blown Away, William Clark, was then — in 2000 when we first met — fairly new to agenting and was eager to build his brand, so that helped me. He, like my current agent, Kathleen Anderson, was also extremely dedicated to the project — both books received 25 (!) rejections each before finally selling to major NYC publishers. You need someone who really cares deeply about the work, and gets what you are about: this is not a game for the easily deterred or fantasists. You must find someone who is utterly straightforward with you about every aspect of the process and demands excellence and professionalism from you. It helps if you like them personally as you must trust them with your work.Find an agent by: reading acknowledgments in books similar to yours (they always thank their agent); attending annual writers’ conferences like the ASJA where members can meet and pitch agents face to face; networking well and generously with accomplished writers who may share the name of their agent (or not) with you. The agent will find the publisher, not you. 
 
3. SHARI: You spent time working as a senior editor for WorldBusiness in New York City. From an editor’s perspective, what do you look for in a pitch from a freelance writer? What will make you choose one story (and writer) over another?
 
CAITLIN: You want a feeling of authority, why this writer really knows the issue and can handle it well and stylishly. I want to see that they have a strong news sense and feel confident they will be able to both report accurately and deeply and write well, which is a rare combination. I would almost always choose a former or current newspaper writer over someone with no news background. There is too much PR puffery out there, and experienced journos know to ignore it and dig much more deeply when necessary. I’m interested in writers who think outside the margins, who may have lived a less conventional life, as they may ask different questions and see things from a less predictable perspective. I want someone who is culturally sophisticated and who understands the need for diversity when sourcing, for example.
 
4. SHARI: On your website, you have a whole list of “work tips” for writers. What are your top three favorite tips, and why? 
 
CAITLIN: Hard to choose! In general: 1) expect and learn to handle rejection. It’s normal and awful and expensive and you are going to run into it at every stage of your career. Set aside savings for slow times and keep your ego in a box. 
 
2) Remain (or become) intellectually voracious. Read fiction and history and biography and magazines and blogs and websites beyond what feels cozy and familiar or in your current specialty areas. Read Canadian and British publications and those in other languages to remember that we all do not see the world in the same way. That alone will set you apart from many of your competitors.
 
3) Rest, recharge, relax. We tend to run ourselves at an industrial speed and intensity that can easily lead to fatigue and burnout, or worse. Make time for exercise, friends, patting the dog, long walks in silence. Creative work demands a brain and heart that are both open and refreshed regularly.
 
 5. SHARI: “Malled” has been written about by Entertainment Weekly, the Financial Times of London, and the Associated Press, among others. So tell me, what is “Malled” really all about?

CAITLIN: Work, identity, class struggle, corporate greed. What professional status means, and what happens when you don’t have it. The true underpinnings of easy catchphrases we never really question or challenge: “shareholder value”, “global supply chain”, “operations management.”These are the underlying/overarching larger themes of “Malled,” beyond its many anecdotes, interviews and statistics. I’m fascinated by how we work, and the trade-offs we make and why we choose to make or accept them.
 
6. SHARI: You guest-blogged on the Harvard Business Review about a lesson you took away from writing your book (why retail workers drive the customer experience). Overall, what is the top lesson/experience you took away from this project?

CAITLIN: That every single person working in retail can add value, from the invisible stock room clerk to the associates on the floor — despite the fact that most corporate managers refuse to pay them accordingly. The most productive, yet unrewarded, people are often effective and high-selling associates working face to face with customers, whose skill and warmth can make or break a brand.
 
7. SHARI: As a successful writer, author and journalist, what have been your keys to success? What advice would you give other writers to attain a similar degree of success in their careers?
CAITLIN: I’m flattered by your description. Thanks! Persistence is huge. I simply don’t give up; my first agent said I was the most determined person he’d ever met. Once I connect with someone who seems to find my ideas or work of value, I stay in touch, sometimes for decades; having a strong network of people who believe in you can help you achieve many goals, from getting recommendation letters for grants and fellowships to helpful tips.
 
One friend in Canada — who edited me when she was at a magazine years ago — told me about a Canadian lawsuit settlement for writers I knew nothing about; it netted me a healthy windfall!
 
Network, in a generous and helpful way, with accomplished writers, no matter at what level of their career. I’ve gotten help from some of my former interns (now doing well!) and colleagues 10 to 20 years my senior. Truly ambitious and talented writers with a heart know what it takes to excel; they’ll cheer you when you win and cheer you up when the going is tough — as you, of course, will do for them too!I’ve given away a lot of time and advice to total strangers who’ve emailed me…it all comes back eventually and in surprising and terrific ways.
 
I also serve on the board of the 1,400 member American Society of Journalists and Authors and on the board of the Writers Emergency Assistance Fund; I like giving back.Invest in yourself. Create and update a great-looking and informative website for your work and book(s); attend conferences, take classes, read books, hire professional help to maintain your edge and focus, whether researchers or coaches. I recently paid a speaking coach (I found her on LinkedIn, Christine Clapp) to help me prepare for the Diane Rehm show on NPR (2 m listeners, live) and her advice has given me much greater confidence for all media and public speaking. And I’d been doing it for years already.
 
8. SHARI:  Tell me about a discouraging time during your career’s climb. Did you consider quitting? How did you get past this obstacle?

CAITLIN: There have been more than one. This is not a business for the faint of heart or easily bruised! I studied interior design in the 1990s and planned to leave journalism, but stayed in it. I’m addicted to finding and sharing compelling stories, so my enthusiasm for the content is undimmed, even as the mechanics of the field have changed substantially. I have multiple skills, from photography and interior design training to foreign languages, so I have enough ways to keep pulling in income that I don’t panic. I also maintain a low overhead and don’t have children, so living with lower costs allows me more creative freedom in my choices of when and how to work.I also think you have to be very clear with yourself in how you define “success”. I am thrilled knowing that readers in Hong Kong, New Zealand and Ireland, to name only three, read my books — but am not (yet!) earning the sort of income some might wish or expect.
 
9. SHARI: Can you share a few recommendations of others experts in the writing field, whom it would be beneficial to follow?

SHARI: That’s a good question. I’ve recently started reading and enjoying Betsy Lerner’s blog and Kristen Lamb’s blog. I think once you’ve mastered your craft — through classes, practice, reading great writers’ work and analyzing it — it becomes a larger issue of finding and polishing ideas. I focus less on the mechanics of how to write and more on people whose thinking inspires me, so I read blogs that include Seth Godin and Design Milk, which is visual.Because I write only non-fiction, I try more to read great NF books and figure out why they’re so terrific: voice, language, tone, pacing, anecdote, etc.
 
10. SHARI: Anything else you’d like to add?
 
CAITLIN: Stay focused! The world is filled with a million ways to ding your confidence and/or to distract you, but only you and your computer can deliver the goods. If you want to produce a non-fiction book, read widely and critically to determine what place you might carve in that marketplace; “save string” — i.e. read and clip everything of possible use for that project; talk to people who might be able to help you.

Decide what you want to achieve and what is realistic, given your talent, time, energy and finances. It may not happen fast, or fast enough, but a life of ideas can’t be lived according to the clock or others’ dreams.

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Follow Caitlin on her blog, “Broadside Blog,” on WordPress.

The Curse of Knowledge–Do You Have It?

I bet Adam and Eve never saw this phrase coming thousands of years after that dang apple.

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Nevertheless, here it is: The Curse of Knowledge.

“What in God’s name is she talking about?” you might ask. Well, it’s the golden piece of advice for any writer OR business owner trying get a message to the public.

What is the Curse of Knowledge?

You cannot summarize the curse of knowledge in one sentence. It’s an idea, an understanding.

Think of this: Have you ever listened to a doctor describe a diagnosis, and every term they used scrambled your brains? Or perhaps, a lawyer’s “jargon talk”confused your understanding of a topic even more.  

This doctor, or lawyer, was so engrossed in his or her field of specialty, that upon talking to YOU–an outsider–he or she FORGOT how much they know. Consequently, you did not understand or fully absorb their message or information.

This is the curse of knowledge. And every professional deals with it.

Break the curse!

Journalists know about the dreaded curse. They are some of the foremost experts in taking something complicated, and breaking it down. The result? The average reader can absorb the information.

How can you learn this skill?

First and foremost, self-awareness is key. If you know the curse exists, try to identify when it reveals itself. Here are some other techniques you can use to break the curse:

1) Ask yourself, “Could a 5th-grader understand what I’m trying to explain?” If not, go back and simplify. (Hint: Layman’s terms)

2) Ask a colleague or acquaintance OUTSIDE your field of specialty to review your article, or blog, or video, etc. Then, ask what message they took away. If it’s not what you wanted to convey, you know the curse struck.

3) Your communications are littered with jargon. This is very typical in business or corporate writing. If you’re writing for your executives, then fine. However, if you’re writing to encourage the average person to take action (whether it’s to buy something or donate their time), this type of communication will turn people away.

So tell me, have you been struck with the curse of knowledge? And how did you overcome it?

Like the advice I offer? Sign up to receive my blog posts by email (upper righthand corner). As a professional writer, journalist, and media strategist, I offer funny life stories, writing tips, and social media strategies to consider.

Barnes & Noble Welcomes Self-Published Writers? Yup!

For the first time ever, self-published authors may have a shot at placing their books on the shelves of Barnes and Noble–so to speak.

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This news, reported in a Feb. 24 article published by GalleyCat on Mediobistro.com, comes right as Borders announced it’s filing for bankruptcy. According to the article, Barnes and Noble opened its doors to writers using the PubIt! self-publishing program.

Just to make sure this was a legit report, I hopped onto Barnes and Noble’s corporate website. Sure enough, there sat the official press release, “More than 11,000 Independent Publishers and Self-Publishing Authors Bring Their Digital Works to Barnes & Noble’s PubIt!™ Publishing Platform.”

How does PubIt! work?

Personally, I’d never heard of PubIt! Therefore, I followed the link to this program from the Barnes and Noble press release. Here’s what I found:

  • PubIt! appears to be Barnes and Noble’s self-publishing platform for eBooks.
  • It launched four months ago, according to the press release.
  • The website for PubIt! states there is no cost to use the service.
  • According to the PubIt! service policies, “the publisher will set a List Price for each eBook between $0.99 and $199.99.”
  • It also appears, from the service policies, the publisher will be paid royalties off the List Price.
  • I personally found the site and platform easy to use, from my brief time poking around.

What does this mean for writers?

This is a huge paradigm shift for publishers and writers. Can lesser known, self-published authors now compete with major names such as Nora Roberts, Dan Brown and Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants)? Do publishing houses and literary agents hold the same weight as they used to? Or can any marketing-savvy writer now make his or her way into the world of publishing and take the literary audience by storm?

Here’s another scenario to consider: perhaps this is a way for giant, Barnes and Noble, to tap into the huge market of self-published writers. Is this just a ploy to make money, while the real edge still remains in the hands of major publishing houses?

Take a moment and contemplate. Then tell me: what do you think?

4 Ways a Journalist Can Help Creative Writers

A creative writer once referred to me as a “writing scientist.”

I laughed at the time. But the more I think of it, as a journalist, I am a writing scientist. My degree is a Bachelor of SCIENCE in Journalism. There is a science to being a reporter, but over the years, I’ve discovered there is more of a science to writing.

My career has revolved around journalism (I started as a newspaper reporter), and more recently, writing for marketing and social media. Yet my roots are engrained in creativity. I’ve returned to those roots lately and discovered how my “writing scientist” background actually improves my creative writing.

Here are five ways a journalist’s training can help any creative writer improve his or her work:

1. Intrigue the reader immediately in 30 words or less.

In journalism, we’re trained to write a “lead” to every story. That’s the first sentence–it’s also the first paragraph–and it must be 30 words or less. But most importantly, the lead must catch the reader’s curiosity. If not, we lose that person for good.

Creative writers have the same task, but for different reasons. They want people to read their stories. However, if people are not enticed at the beginning, will they keep reading? I can think of countless books I’ve brushed aside because the beginning bored, or dragged, or “eased me” into the story.

Creative writers should start their novels and/or short stories the way journalists begin their articles: intriguing, and in 30 words or less.

2. Keep the story moving–don’t linger too long.

The average reader loses interest in an article after 500 words. Therefore, journalists need to cram as much information into those few paragraphs as possible, while keeping the story interesting.

Creative writers have more leeway. However, still keep the story moving. Writers will lose the reader’s sense of excitement if they spend too long describing a setting, or the way a character looks. Get the information in, then keep the story moving along.

3. Is the story newsworthy (a.k.a. unusual)?

A reporter will not write an article about a firefighter who saves a cat stuck in a tree. It’s cliché, and it’s nothing new. Yet, a journalist will write a story about a dog that saves a cat from a tree.

Why? It’s unusual.

And the bottom line is this: people want to read stories that are out-of-the-ordinary. Whether it’s in a newspaper, or a novel, this rule applies. Creative writers need to really think about their story. Has this been done before, in this way?

4. Write in Layman’s terms.

The average American reads at a 4th-5th grade level. Now, I’d imagine those who choose to read literary works of genius read at higher levels (I’d hope). Yet, if a creative writer explores a subject not known to the general public, make sure to explain what all those odd words mean.

Additionally, sometimes writing in Layman’s terms makes a story more entertaining to read. Complicated vocabulary doesn’t necessarily translate into better literature (ever listen to a PR hack blab for some company or politician?). What does equal better writing, however, is sentence structure and word choice.

With that in mind, good luck!

Like the advice I offer? Subscribe to my free blog (upper righthand corner) for email notifications on new writing tips, short stories, and media lessons. As a professional writer/editor, journalist, media strategist and communications consultant, I enjoy sharing my expertise to help others grow.