Spheres of influence

Many of us writers cover specific subjects. We specialize in sports writing, or business analysis, or entertainment features, etc. But how can we enlarge our audience to get more people interested in what we write?

One of my old editor friends suggests we can (1) narrow our focus even more to attract a subject’s true enthusiasts, or (2) broaden our readership by explaining why our specialty should appeal to the public at large.

Example: A sports writer might specialize in tennis only, and become an expert in defining the skills of nationally-ranked players. Or, to broaden appeal, that same person might become an expert in how noted sports personalities use the skills they acquired to achieve success in business areas.


Children’s books

I’m a huge fan, because I’ve been reading them all my life. I still remember two of my favorites from the 20th century: “Bobby and His Airplanes” and “Come Visit My Ranch.” What makes them special?

(1) They tell a simple story. (2) They generally have only one main character. (3) The character must solve a program or figure out an answer.

And, most of these books emphasize a POSITIVE MESSAGE. They present new information to the child, or they teach a lesson that will be useful later.

Sadly, we adults often forget these basic ideas when we sit down to write a story. Next time you’ve got to write something, can you convey a positive, easy-to-understand message?


Write in ‘third person’ prose

The old editor asked several members of his staff to prepare holiday editorials for the newspaper. The best one was written by a young lady fresh out of journalism school.

He called her into his office. “You make some great points in your article,” he complimented her. “I do have one suggestion to keep readers engaged.”

“What’s that?” she asked.

“You’ve used the personal pronoun ‘I’ far too often. In their places, substitute third person pronouns, or insert a quote from an another person to reinforce your theme.”


One-minute “to-do” list

I’m guessing that many of us are list makers. Each day, we write down things we need to do, then erase them after the task gets done.

I’ve got a business friend who slightly modifies that list. Of course, he knows what his major tasks will be for that week. But what should he focus on first?

Each day before leaving the office, he takes about a minute to quickly list the major activities he must accomplish the next day. When he gets to work the next morning, he sets immediately to work on those tasks.

I tried his technique a few years ago, and it works so well for me I still use it today. Of course, it’s not a complete list of the things I must do…but it’s a “starter” system that get my day rolling.

New job title

Maybe you’ve heard about the 30-something who went out with a bunch of her buddies one night (this was in pre-covid times). She told them about her new job as a copywriter for a big-city advertising agency.

“Great work!” her friends said. “How did you get it? Did you see it in the newspaper, or on some online job site?”

“No,” she replied, “I predicted it.” Her friends seemed startled and confused, so she explained.

“One of my school buddies told me that whenever I wanted a new career challenge, I should write a news article about myself getting named to that job. I did that a couple years ago, and I imagined all the people I might need to talk to, or write, or meet, who might help me get that job.

“Then I started talking to those influential people. They told the ad agency about me, and last week I got hired. This ‘future news story’ I made up helped me plan a way to make my dream job a reality.”:

One-minute friendships

A friend returned from his high school class reunion. “Did you have a good time?” I asked.

“I saw lots of people I hadn’t seen in 40 years. I’d talk to each for a minute or two, then I’d move to someone else. I’d describe the event as two evenings of one-minute friendships.”

One-minute relationships are common. How many people do you know at work, at your children’s school, or in the community that you see day after day — year after year — but know very little about them?

My Dad suggested a remedy. “At each meeting,” he advised, “give each person you meet something to remember you by. And find something unique about each of them…and remember it.

“Next time you meet, you’ll have an immediate conversation-starter.”

Single themes

When you think back to all the books you’re read over the years, and all the movies you’ve seen…which ones to do you remember best?

The stories that stayed with me are those that offered a single theme or a single goal Every chapter or theme built on to that single premise.

Stories that quickly come to mind or Aesop’s “Tortoise and Hare,” Dickens’ “Christmas Carol,” and Twain’s “Celebrated Jumping Frog.”

Aesop’s story is about a race; Dickens’ tale is about mending one’s ways; Twain’s tale is about a contest.

Today, whenever I sit down to write I ask myself two questions: (1) What is the focus of this story? and (2) What conclusion do I want the reader to draw from it?

Minute mentality

“I’ll be right back, in just a minute,” smiled the TV weatherman. And 60 seconds later, he returned as promised.

How do we spend our minutes each day? We’ve got lots of them, you know…60 in each hour, and 1,440 every day. But do we really concentrate on spending each minute, or do we waste too many?

Before clocks got invented, minutes didn’t mean much. But once folks agreed on standard units of time, and synchronized their clocks, the world ran lots more efficiently. Students showed up for school at the right time, and adult clocked into jobs where they were paid by the hour.

What are your favorite minutes during the day? How you choose to spend them can determine the quality of life you live.

Short sayings, brief insights

We start hearing these little informational nuggets when we’re children. But many of them stay with us…and we occasionally quote them.

“Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

“Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

“No man is an island.”

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

“Better late than never.”

What do these sayings have in common? They offer advice, or they point out a common human trait.

My personal favorite is “The early bird catches the worm.” But frankly, if I caught a worm, I wouldn’t know what to do with it.

Wonderful words

Did you ever have a teacher who changed your life? I had one, and I still think about him.

He was really good at communicating with students. Without talking down to us, he described complex ideas in ways we could understand. He used simple words and analogies.

But more important, he looked for special skills in each of us. One of the girls was a terrific sketch artist. Whenever we worked on a group project he’d ask her to illustrate our report.

One guy had a unique voice. The teacher encouraged him to speak frequently in class. He became a nationally known talk show host.

What gifts do you see in family members, or in the people you work with? If you point that out with a timely compliment, your words might positively change that person’s life.