Simile stories

A simile is a comparison using the words “like” or “as.” It is a powerful way to make complex ideas easily understandable. Here are two examples:

“Worrying is like paying a debt you don’t owe.” — Mark Twain

“A house without books is like a room without windows.” — Horace Mann

Answer these brief questions: Have you ever used a simile to describe the weather? (It was as cold as ice.) Or a place? (That apartment looks just like my dorm room.) Or a puppy? (That dog looks like my friend’s dog, except he’s older and a little larger.)

Similes are descriptive magic. That’s why I use them in so much of my writing.

Check out this digital book, which describes how to highlight your stories with powerful headlines:

One minute thoughts

In school, teachers often asked us to come with ideas for essays or reports. Dad was a magazine writer, so I constantly asked him for help.

“Son,” he advised. “Take a break. Sit down. Consider the assignment. Consider what you know. Consider what you want to tell your reader (the teacher).

“It’s not that hard. Remember, you could be one minute away from a brilliant idea.”

More often than not, his suggestion worked. Some of the ideas were lousy…and some were downright silly. But some of those thoughts were actually pretty good. Those are the ones I turned into essays.

Ideas are a habit, like anything else. If you want to develop a positive habit, try giving it some practice.

Start out by just concentrating for 60 seconds. Write down every idea you have. Remember, you could be “one minute away from a brilliant idea”


On stage

Theater people probably already know this, but a writing teacher once told me something I’d never considered before.

“Actors in any play need a reason to come onstage, and then a reason to leave the stage,” the teacher said. “So, the playwright needs to provide those reasons in the script.”

As a guy who writes biographies for a living, one of my biggest problems is “transitions” from one life episode to the next. But I often think about this teacher’s advice.

Following her suggestion, I try to make a natural or chronological connection that ties the episodes together. I now think of chapters in a biography as scenes from a play.


Taking small steps

“Life is a process of change, and the future does not equal the past. Yet what will come, what you will have, begins with what is here and now. You can take what you have even now and point it in any direction you wish.” – Ralph Marston

Did you ever notice that a big part of today includes taking steps that will improve tomorrow?

Example: As young students, we’re given homework today to be turned in tomorrow. If we play sports, we spend lots of time practicing today for a game tomorrow, or a game next week.

After high school or college, we develop a resume’ to improve our chances for a job tomorrow. Then after we get the job, we begin to prepare for the work it entails.

Planning is a fundamental part of life. We plan constantly…for our education, our career, our family, or our future.

Maybe we do this instinctively because the world is a chaotic place. Unexpected events – both good AND bad — will always occur.

Therefore, we must plan so we can gain more control over our destiny.


The elevator speech

Many marketing folks talk about the the “elevator speech.” This suggests writing a simple monologue about your profession…something you can tell somebody during a brief elevator ride.

How long is an average elevator ride? According to the internet…about 118 seconds. That’s slightly longer than the length of an average movie scene of 90 seconds. But I would suggest something even shorter. Why?

We television watchers can generally absorb and remember a one minute ad. Those ads frequently present a scene that describes a problem, and offer a solution to the problem.

Consider this: Many of us humans don’t buy products. We buy solutions to problems. I buy toothpaste and haircuts simply because they make me look better.

How do you — or your job or your company — solve a problem? Can you talk about that in 60 seconds, or 150 words?


How to simplify tasks

My Mom was a former third-grade teacher, so she was a great instructional resource for me.

My biggest school weakness was procrastination. I always put off my homework until the last minute, and didn’t even like to think about major school projects. But Mom offered a simply remedy.

“Don’t try to tackle the entire project at once,” she advised. “For instance, thing of a term project as a series of short assignments you can link together.”

Following this strategy, my big projects because less daunting, so I would go to work on them sooner. That meant I actually turned most of them in on time, which improved my grades.


How important is luck in life?

Not long ago, I began to interview people about the role “luck” played in their lives.

Many believed that luck indeed played some part. But they emphasized that luck occurred because of steps they had taken to attract it…and connections to family, friends, education, or profession.    

What, I asked, contributed to their success? Although each expressed it in different terms, four frequent factors were (1) education, (2) preparation, (3) association with role models and peers (4) anticipation based upon previous experience.

Soon, I began to wonder: Is it possible to formulate a series of simple steps one could take to avoid the ditches along life’s road?

Is there one absolute predictor for success? Not really. Many experts suggest that the more education you get, the better your chances. And specialty training in any skill or craft may play a major role.


Is success simple or complicated?

I’ve spent 30 years writing short biographies about folks in all kinds of professions. When I ask them what’s made them successful, I usually hear one of these responses…or sometimes, a combination.

# LUCK — I was in the right place at the right time, and fell into a profession I loved.

# TRAINING — I knew I was pretty good at (insert skill here). So I spent years trying to learn everything about it, so I would become an expert in the subject.

# DIRECTION — I was drifting around in school until a teacher told me I was really “gifted” at something. So I focused on that something, and became hugely successful at it.

# NEW FIELD — I spent my early life training for something else. Then a new profession emerged, and I realized I had the training and skill to fit into it.

The greatest thing about life is…we’re always learning! No matter what your age, you might be on the verge of a new discovery or new information. As my Dad used to encourage me, “You’re just one idea away from huge success.”


The new kid in school

The wonderful minister at our church told one story the same time each year, and we kids loved it.

At dinner (remember family dinners?), ten-year-old Tom tells everyone he hates a new kid at school. The new boy is shy, quiet, and keeps to himself.

“Well, Tom,” says the dad, “you’ve got a new assignment. Tomorrow, find three things about Pete that you like. It’s kinda like going on a treasure hunt.”

Tom spends the next day discovering that Pete’s a natural athlete, a good artist, and that at recess he holds the door open for a kid with a broken leg.

The story concludes with Tom inviting Pete to dinner. They eventually becoming best friends.

Tomorrow, consider talking to a co-worker you don’t know very well. That man or woman might well become a friend.


The trait most stories share?

A writing teacher asked her eighth-grade students to think about all the stories they’d read during the school year. She then asked them what single trait all the good stories shared.

The students offered many different answers. Some said each story had a hero or heroine. Others said most stories had a satisfying conclusions. A few remarked that most good stories offered messages.

The teacher complimented all the answers, then replied: “You have made some great points. But the one trait nearly all memorable stories share is that each points out a problem, and proposes a solution.

“The tension — the excitement — from the story comes from the problem cited, and how each main character chooses to address that problem.”