Writer's Prison

I make my living with words.

I decorate my house with words.

Okay, so my wife decorates our house with words.

I love to surround myself with words in my office or study.

I’ve been known to write or speak a few words.  Okay, a lot of words.

Words are fun and useful. Where would we be without them?  Not only do they communicate, but your choice of words reveals a lot about you – sometimes things you may not want someone to see or think.

Because I also work in the world of education, I see literally thousands of words every week.  Sometimes I see words from students that I have to stop and look up in the online dictionary.  For example, not long ago I had a student who loved to use the word “ken.”  For all I knew, she was using a man’s name.  Turns out, “ken” means “know” – and every single time you would have used the word “know,” she used the word “ken.”

Now I ken.  And you ken, too.

Anyway, in all the myriad of word possibilities, I have found seven words you should never use in an academic paper.

Only seven?  Far as I can tell.

All seven?  Definitely.  Use any of these and they say some things about you that you may not want to be said.

Now what’s tricky about these seven is that they’re common, ordinary words that you could use in conversation, blogs or magazine articles, fiction or popular writing, and they’re actually expected and complimented.  Use them on a research paper and someone will express their displeasure.

(Shhhh!  What’s that falling-in-a-hole sound I hear?  It’s your grade, sinking into the abyss, because you used one of the Seven Words You Can Never Say in an Academic Paper.)

Okay here they are… and if you don’t write academic papers (hey… who was that that said “hallelujah!”?), share this with somebody who does.  Or file it away for a couple of years, for when you go back to school. [click to continue…]

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How to Stop Writing

by Andy Wood on February 1, 2013

in Since You Asked

Typewriter The EndWhen you take flying lessons, one of the first things you learn, other than to holler “Contact!” is how to land the plane.

Same goes for snow skiing.  Lesson number one:  How to stop.

A couple of years ago we joined a filled-up theater to see “No Country for Old Men.”  Somebody should have taught them how to stop.  Literally people in the theater blurted out loud, “What?”

I run into the same issue with writing.  I spend about 90% of my working life reading what somebody else has written.  Some of it is so good, I keep an ongoing collection of favorite student quotations.  I shared a few of them here recently.

That writing takes on several forms – emails from students, discussion posts, and what are supposed to be academic papers.  One of my favorite courses is a communication for leaders class (in session even as you read this) where we try out different forms of written communication.  We even tackle the Gettysburg Address and try to make it even simpler than it was in the original, while keeping the same vision and passion.

Very often when I get to the end of something written, I have the same reaction that I did whenever Tommy Lee Jones droned on about whatever he said in “No Country for Old Men.”  What? That’s IT?  It sort of has the same effect of trying to use a tree to stop that downhill run or that landing approach.

Suddenly, it’s just over. [click to continue…]

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Today’s a special day – not just because it’s my daughter-in-law’s birthday – that would make it special enough!  But today’s also the fifth birthday of this site.

Almost 10 years ago my friend Kevin Rhoads was telling me about a new way to communicate that had become really popular – something called “blogging,” which was short for “web log.”  “It’s sort of like an online journal,” he said.

Hmmph.  Knowing the kind of stuff I usually put in my journal, my first reaction was, “That’s a crazy idea.  Who would want to read that?”

Then a couple of years later I wrote a book for a 40-day church campaign, complete with videos and teaching sessions, called LifeVesting.  You can read the back story here.  After that, I was looking for ideas to keep the momentum and to expand the message that was in that book.

It was then that I was introduced, I think by Kevin again, to Seth Godin’s blog, and I was hooked as a reader and inspired as a writer.  So that’s how a blog can help.

So on October 12, 2007, the LifeVesting site was launched.  Five years into it, this is post number 780.  Through a wide variety of ideas, rants, thinking-by-writing, and a few pictures along the way, the central theme remains the same:  Your life can be better tomorrow than it is today.  You can create your future, solve problems, impact eternity, and really live today.

This was never intended to be just a blog site, and I’m excited about new plans that are coming.  Soon, Lord willing, I will be developing the “web site” side of this ministry in which we offer a newly-rewritten LifeVesting book, other books and media, and live and online seminars.  In addition to that, we are already working on a web site for The LifeVesting Group, our professional counseling and coaching ministry.  More on that very soon.

But today we celebrate.  Or at least I do, and you get to peer in.  In thinking about what I could share in terms of a “best of” or “most popular,” I found a plug-in that helps me know how often different posts have been shared on Facebook, Twitter, or Google-Plus by you, the readers.  There could be many reasons why somebody clicks on a post or page, but only one reason they would share it – it must have meant something to them and they wanted others to see it as well.

So here’s a countdown of the top 11 most-shared posts over the past five years (there was a tie for 10th).  Please click on a few of these – maybe you can see what the excitement was all about.  (Of course, feel free to share them again!) [click to continue…]

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(Today I’m starting a new category called, “since you asked.”  It will field your questions on whatever level you wish to ask – all viewed through a LifeVesting lens.  To submit a question click the “Have a Question?” link above.)

A friend is getting ready to launch a job search, and sent me an extremely relevant question.  His school offers a class in putting together a resume, but nothing about writing a cover letter.  Did I have any advice?

Uh huh.  Believe I do.

(Rule #1 – Never use “uh huh” in a cover letter.)

If you’re a complete stranger, your cover letter can carry as much weight, if not more, than the actual resume.  It can make you rise to the top of the applicant pool or send your professional-looking stuff to the circular file.

I’ve seen this on both ends, as an employer and as an applicant.  A few years ago we conducted a nationwide search to fill two church staff positions.  As you might expect we got a ton of resumes and either cover letters or email messages.  A lot of my thoughts came from that experience of what drew our attention and what turned us off.  We learned as much from the cover letters/emails as we did the resumes. [click to continue…]

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Tucked away in dozens of archived folders on my computer are literally thousands of works of art or horror stories – all in the form of academic papers.  I have been blessed to teach some of the most extraordinary researchers and writers on the planet.  I have also had that fingernails-on-the-chalkboard experience of reading some really bad stuff.  I thought I would go off the reservation a little today to share with you what I have learned from the best of the best and the worst of the worst.

Regardless of whether you are just starting to college or about to graduate with an advanced degree, you will not succeed in online education (or classroom either, for that matter) beyond your ability to write effectively.  Moreover, there is a massive difference between speaking English and writing it in a formal setting.  If a professor ever tells you that you write like you talk, they aren’t giving you a compliment.  Academic writing is a formal setting.  (This post is not.)  I make my living doing both.  If I spoke the same way I write in formal settings, I’d be stuffy and boring.  If I wrote the same way I talk conversationally or when I preach, I would butcher the King’s English and my paper would be filled with colloquialisms, contractions, sweeping statements that had little or no support, and at times poor grammar.

Here are some specific suggestions for writing success with any academic writing that uses the APA style manual (no, “APA” does not stand for “American Psycho Association,” though sometimes you may wonder).  You may need to adjust this for different formats (or different teachers with different hot buttons). [click to continue…]

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My Favorite Blog Posts in 2008

by Andy Wood on December 19, 2008

in Life Currency, Words

For several years, as the blogging world emerged and developed, I had an unfair and inaccurate image of what blogging was.  I imagined it to be a “running narrative of the life of my cat,” or a load of political/social rants.  I passed.

Then I actually read one – Seth Godin’s, to be precise – and I was hooked.  I discovered a whole new world of rich ideas, excellent writers, passionate people, and yes, LifeVestors.  Some people blog for money, and that’s great.  Others offer up for free ideas and expressions as an investment in the world and in their future.

As the year ended, I thought I’d collect my favorite pieces into one post of my own.  I thought it would be easy to narrow it down to 10.  Ha!  I could easily have given you my American Top 40, or my AP Top 25.  Nevertheless, here are ten of my favorite posts, from ten different writers it would pay you to read:

10.  Think Like a Millionaire
Brian Tracy is something of an icon in the personal development world.  He has spent most of his adult life researching the differences between successful and unsuccessful people.  This post, while focusing specifically on financial success, reveals one of the most important distinctions in any successful life.  AND it helps make the point for why I wrote a book and have a site called LifeVesting.

9.  The Posture of a Communicator
The burden of communication is on the communicator, Seth says.  Wow.  Imagine that.  People who talk and write and market, who actually assume responsibility for whether or not you get the message.  Want more?  Check this out. [click to continue…]

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