Living Rhetorically in the Real World

16Apr/140

Three Ways to Improve Inter-Office Communication

I might not work in an office anymore - but I certainly learned a lot while I did! And now that I'm working from home, and Mr Science also spends much of his time working from home, these tips are useful to apply in the home office space, too. Whether you're working in a workplace or a home office, here are thee ways to improve communication with other people sharing your workspace:

1) Be respectful of other peoples' time.

Now that Mr Science and I both work from home 80% of the time, it can be really tempting to interrupt one another or start chatting about something unrelated to work. We knew that this was something we should be really careful about before I even started working from home, and so pretty much every time we feel the need to go over and interrupt the other, we'll ask if the other person has a couple minutes, or we'll be perfectly upfront and say "come back in 10!". It works perfectly.

This is an important issue to take into consideration no matter what kind of environment you work in. Whatever your question is, remember that your time is not more valuable than that of anyone else! Regardless of what everyone's jobs are or status is, it's disrespectful to assume that other people can drop everything for you or that they are happy to be interrupted in the work that they are doing. Keeping this in mind can dramatically improve inter-office communication and relationships with everyone in the workspace.

2) Communicate immediately if something isn't working.

We've already discussed how to communicate effectively, but this is something that bears repeating. The longer you let something go, the more resentful you're going to get, and the worse the situation will become. If something is taking place that frustrates you or doesn't work for you, first identify what the problem is and check if there's something you can do to deal with it quietly and on your own (e.g. shut the door with a sign saying "do not disturb" to prevent people from walking into your office all day).

If it's not something that you can completely deal with on your own, bring it up with your coworkers. Perhaps you need to schedule regular meetings with people to share with each other about the different projects everyone is working on. Or you might want to get a group together to brainstorm new ideas for a way of dealing with things. Or maybe you just need to talk to your co-workers and find out if anyone else is having the same issue - it might be just you, or it could be the whole office that is struggling with something. Either way, the only way you'll resolve it is to communicate effectively and immediately!

3) Put systems into place to prevent problems from arising.

This last one is extremely important. It was really interesting to watch how our office dynamics and culture changed in the two and a half years that I worked there, from starting out with about five people working in the space to expanding to more than 15 people. Quite frankly, you can't run an office, or work in an office, the same way with five people compared to having 15 people. And while everyone got along well, there were certainly some mishaps in communication channels.

One of the best things we started doing was to have whiteboards outside of everyone's office, on which people wrote when they were going to be out of town or if they were attending a workshop. It helped for everyone in the workplace to know where others were at and to know when they could expect people to not be around. In the last week or two that I was there, we implemented a new (and revolutionary, in my opinion) use for the whiteboard: to write when you were holding a meeting at your desk, so that other people wouldn't come and interrupt a conversation you were having with their own questions.

How can you apply this in your workspace? First, identify where problems are arising, or where there are potential problem areas. Then brainstorm ideas for how to fix those problems, if time and money and resources were a non-issue. You'll be surprised at the creative ideas that can come out of something like this - which often don't require a huge amount of time or money or resources! The concept of ignoring limitations enables you to think very broadly and not to dismiss good ideas which can be adapted to fit your environment.

What are your tips for improving inter-office communication? How is the communication flow in your workplace? Share in the comments section below!

11Apr/140

How changing your books changes your way of thinking

Until recently, the books lined up neatly on my massive standup working desk - just behind and to the side of my laptop, and just below eye level (for me) - were all related to nutrition. They included textbooks that I had purchased when I was getting my diploma in holistic nutrition, raw food books, and books on canning and preserving. Handy to have close at hand when you're a health writer!

About a week before I became a full-time freelancer, I removed all of those books and placed them with the others in our little library made up of four bookcases. And I brought a whole new set of books over to fill the gap.

editing books

A selection of the books right beside my computer.

These books are all on writing, editing, rhetoric, linguistics, advertising, critical thinking, and grammar. And, of course, the Canadian Oxford English Dictionary, as well as a pocket French dictionary to remind me to practice French at least every other day.

It is fascinating what a "trick" having these books always in my sight line can play on the mind. Now that my work is all writing and editing (for all kinds of different topics - not just nutrition and health!), having some wonderful books within easy reach is inspiring and motivating. If I need to look something up in relation to my work, it takes me 30 seconds to find the right book, which is very helpful when you're in the zone. And they give me new and creative ideas in my work. Even when I'm taking a break, having these books right there means that writing and editing are often (if not always) in the back of my mind. It's a great way to keep my mind on communications and always ready to do some work!

What books do you have close at hand (and why)? Do you find that having certain types of books nearby changes the way you think or what you think about? Share in the comments section below!

7Apr/140

What I learned from my first week as a full-time freelance writer and editor

I have now survived a whole week working freelance from home! Overall, it's been a blast. There's been some ups and downs, but I am confident that this is the job for me at this stage in my life. I love it.

Working full-time from home as a freelancer has already, even in just one week, taught me a lot! Here are some of the things that I learned this week:

Day One - Monday, March 31

Freelancing - working from home and spending my time writing and editing and reading and making use of social media - is kind of perfect for me. You can read more about that in my day in the life of a freelance editor / writer article.

Day Two - Tuesday, April 1

This is not going to be an easy ride. A small part of me felt a little frustrated and dejected by mid-afternoon last Tuesday. It's not that I thought it was going to be easy, but it became apparent to me by Tuesday afternoon that I would have to build a couple of key things into my day: a) getting outside, b) being around people, and c) taking time away from the computer.

I like the idea of going to a coffee shop (or, um, a wine lounge? ;)) to do some work, even for just an hour of the day. I'm not sure that doing so would be the best use of my carefully-saved dollars, but I think that every once in a while - perhaps once a week - it would be a nice change of pace (and wouldn't break the bank!). I may try incorporating that soon to test it out.

Day Three - Wednesday, April 2

Boundaries are important when you work from home. I am tracking everything to the hour (and in some cases, to the half hour) of what my day involves, which is awesome, because it lets me see what time of day I start to fade and the ways in which I spend my time. I think I've been pretty good so far at balancing work and play while working from home, but it's something I want to continue to track, at least for the next few months. It would be very easy to work anywhere from four-hour days to 14-hour days!

It's also interesting, when you do start to "fade," to look at the cause of it. Often when I thought I was fading, I just had to switch from working standing up (because I have a stand-up desk) to sitting down, or I'd need a glass of water or a snack, or I needed to do a little bit of exercise, or get some fresh air, or... it could be any number of things. Once I identified what the issue was - which was usually pretty quick - I was good to continue working.

Day Four - Thursday, April 3

Creativity is a tricky thing to factor into the day. One of the things I would like to do, as a writer and editor, is some creative writing. I'd like to publish a novel or a collection of short stories. I'd like to write screenplays. I'd like to see my poems in a magazine. At the same time, those aren't exactly concrete, solid pieces of work that will pay the bills next month. It's challenging to see how those could fit in to my day, or to really know at all at this point if that's a good use of my time at the beginning stages of my career. For the time being, I'm going to slot my creative work for those times of day when I start fading from doing my more business-type work. It's a nice compromise!

Day Five - Friday, April 4

Volunteering is important. I have been volunteering at a local radio station for more than two years, co-hosting a talk radio show, and I've also been volunteering for the Food Label Movement (which, since I am one of the leaders of the organization, has also fallen onto the back burner while I was myself burning out from my day job). Now I am excited to get back to more volunteering! I am setting aside a maximum of five hours each week to begin with for volunteer work.

Day Six - Saturday, April 5

Weekends are a weird time when you're working from home. At least, for me, my first weekend was strange! When I had a full-time job, I used to fill up all of my evenings and weekends as much as possible with freelancing gigs (and blogging, which definitely went on the back burner these past few months!). Now that I can spend all of my daytime hours during the week on these things, I'm not entirely sure how to spend my weekends. Will I burn out if I just keep working? Is it better to take the weekends totally to myself to have fun and be completely away from the computer?

Again, I've chosen to compromise by working on personal projects (such as adding work from the past year to my portfolio and learning French) more heavily on the weekend than during the week, and also to spend the weekend getting away from the computer where possible, for the simple fact that it's probably better for my eyes!

Day Seven - Sunday, April 6

A tidy, organized home makes me more productive - and even healthier! Throughout the week I was doing a pretty good job at keeping on top of dishes, vacuuming, laundry, etc. After all, doing some cleaning and tidying can be a nice break from work when your eyes are going buggy from the computer screen. But towards the end of the week, the kitchen counters weren't as sparkling clean as they had been on Monday, and the blankets on the couch hadn't been properly folded, and any number of little things just weren't quite getting done as immediately as they had been earlier in the week.

The weekend is such a good time for catching up on things and getting things cleaner, tidier, and more organized. When the space around me is clean (and the entire condo has to be well-organized, since we live in an open-concept suite), I find that I'm that much more eager and motivated and excited and energized to work, exercise, and eat well. It's interesting how that works!

Those are my learnings from my first week as a full-time freelancer! I'm excited to see what the coming weeks will teach me. What are some of the things you learned this week? Share in the comments section below!

3Apr/140

Five (Readable) Works of Literature to Make You Think

Sometimes we don't pick up a novel because it seems too intimidating. The novel is written by a great author that our society celebrates, yet which few people (when you ask them outright) have actually read. Sometimes those novels actually are tough to get though and, to be honest, rather tedious (I'm looking at you, Cervantes and Dickens!), but other times they are totally compelling, wonderfully written, and extremely accessible.

Gone With the Wind picstitch

Here are five excellent works of literature that you will both enjoy reading and which will really get your wheels turning:

1) Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I know, I know - I can sense you backing away from the computer. But really! Give Dostoyevsky a chance. You just might come to love him and Tolstoy as much as I do. Crime and Punishment is a fascinating look into the human psyche, and on top of that you get to read a captivating story and learn about Russian society in the 19th century. Win-win-win!

russian writer

2) Contact by Carl Sagan. If you read this blog regularly, you already know that I loved this book when I read it back in January! Contact contains an enormous amount of "science talk" - but for the layperson. If you have a science background, you'll get a kick out of the different ideas and concepts that Carl Sagan puts forth. If your background is about as far from science as you can get (ooh, ooh! Pick me, pick me!), you'll still be able to enjoy the story very much - and might even learn a thing or two about physics and astronomy while you're at it!

3) Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. So far I have had the great pleasure of reading the book, seeing the play, and watching the movie of Gone with the Wind. Each were brilliantly done. This story portrays the Civil War and the way of life for people in the southern states, which in and of itself is a unique perspective, but even more so it delves into the way people think, and our rationale for doing what we do, and the selfishness of human nature, particularly through main character Scarlett. You love to hate Scarlett, and her story - as sad and bitter as parts of it are - is one that you can't put down.

great book

This was my first-ever post on Instagram! On the topic of books, naturally.

4) The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. This is such a sweet story - it makes you think so much about where you fit in society and where you place is in the world, as well as where you're at in your journey. There are many different ways that this book could be interpreted, but fundamentally it's an extremely well-written novel that will capture your imagination.

5) The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. The Alchemist is like the longer, less... symbolism-heavy? poetic? Neither of those are quite the right word I'm looking for, but I hope you can understand my meaning... version of The Little Prince. I happen to adore The Little Prince. It is delightful in its simplicity, and heartbreakingly beautiful to read, and so laced with ideas and symbolism and philosophy that you could read this little novella over and over and still have more to learn. If you want the Coles Notes version of lessons you can learn from this book, check out my blog post on The Little Prince.

What is your favourite work of literature? Are there any "great novels" that you've had a tough time reading (like me with Great Expectations and Don Quixote)? Share in the comments section below!

31Mar/140

Day in the Life of a Freelance Editor / Writer

Now that I'm working from home, I want to be very mindful of what I do during my day and how I spend my time. I've created a draft of a schedule / routine for me to follow, which I'm sure I will be adapting and playing around with over the coming weeks and months - as today shows, I already started playing around with it :)

And every once in a while, I'd like to track what I'm doing, hour for hour! I figured I'd share the (very detailed) schedule from my first day of freelancing here at Living Rhetorically. Here it is! More than everything you could ever want to know about my life and how my day went on Monday, March 31, 2014 (I promise I will NOT be writing about the minute details of my life on this blog as a regular thing ;) It's more for if you are curious about what a home-based freelancer's day *can* look like).

This is what my day looked like today, my first day as a full-time freelancer working from home:

6:09am Alarm goes off (the time was strategically chosen as the exact time that Mr Science's alarm would go off from the snooze button). I'm sleepier than I expected, which I suppose isn't such a big surprise, since I've been waking up closer to 7am for the past few weeks. I press snooze a few more times.

6:45am Peek through the curtains to look outside. There's a chilly draft coming through the window, which wakes me up completely. Hop out of bed. Put on running clothes. Play with my new Jabra Sport Wireless that I received as a review product, but which I haven't had the opportunity to use yet. Attempt to use it, before remembering that it's Bluetooth and I'll need to carry my phone with me on the run if I want to use it. Decide not to try it this time.

7:10am Get out the door. The sky is a beautiful blue-gray colour, and it's cold outside. Glad I have my hoorag on to keep my ears warm! Mr Science and I run through Winnipeg's theatre district and up and down Waterfront for just 20 minutes before returning home. It's our first run together in a few months - we don't want to overdo it! But it's a wonderful way to start my first day of freelancing.

7:30am Clean up, tidy the house, and make myself breakfast. I refuse to be the kind of person who works from home in their comfy clothes, so I get dressed and put on jewelry and makeup as if I were heading to an office for the day (and really - I am! Except my office is a small little corner of our open-concept condo). Mr Science, who works from home much of the time already, kindly chooses to work at the university this morning while I get myself acquainted with my new schedule.

8:30am Do some blogging. Consult my schedule. Feel giddy.

full-time freelancer

This is me, trying to contain my giddiness.

9am Check emails and update my blog media kit. My emails have really piled up over the past few weeks; I have about 70 to go through (some of which I've already responded to but neglected to put in their requisite folders). A lot of these emails are press releases, inquiries about guest blog posts and product reviews, and that sort of thing - all of which is definitely important for my my new line of work! But I'm very confident that I won't normally spend an hour checking emails each morning - this was just an anomaly as I catch up on things. Only got through about half the emails, but I figured one hour was long enough to spend this morning!

giddy

Giddiness clearly canNOT be contained.

10am Look for work. Mostly this also entails me being on email, connecting with clients and pitching ideas, as well as exploring job postings.

11:45am Take a break from job-hunting to read some articles on freelancing.

12:15pm Make a cup of tea. Do some editing work.

1:30pm Exercise time! Today I did a basic barre workout that I pulled from a magazine. I have bookmarked and torn out pages of so many exercise routines and fitness ideas over the past couple years, but never got around to trying any of them. Early afternoon seems like a good time to test them out!

 1:45pm Eat some leftovers from the weekend while reading a book; spend some time chatting with Mr Science now that he's returned home.

2:15pm Continue to check emails (got another half out of the way! Now down to a quarter from where I started out this morning. Progress.), and do some blogging and social media-ing.

3:30pm Dinner time! My late lunch did not go the distance. (Check out my food diary blog for what I ate today).

4:30pm Learn French (Rosetta Stone).

5pm Read a book that I have for a blog review.

5:30pm Finish up some of my work from earlier today, read some more book, and have a little snack.

6pm Decide that my work day is *officially* over and get into my comfy clothes. Settle down to watch Resident Evil for the millionth time (we're watching all the movies in the series yet again. It just doesn't get old! Alice is my hero). Take 40-minute break to get ready for tomorrow in between watching movies.

9:20pm Bed time!

I think the most interesting thing about having tracked my day - down to the quarter-hour - is the frequency with which I changed what I was doing from one thing to the next. The longest amount of time that I spent doing any one thing, work-wise, was 1 hour and 45 minutes. Perhaps rather indicative that our typical 9am - 5pm day isn't right for all of us?

But that's another interesting thing that freelancers have to consider: when does the "work day" really end and begin? Depending on how you look at it, today my schedule could count anywhere from a 5-hour work day to a 9-hour work day today. Most fascinating! And I found myself, at 5:30pm, thinking hmmm, I have an article due this week; maybe I should finish it up this evening... I think it would be very easy to work 12-hour days regularly when you're working from home, simply because of this: when do you stop? There are so many questions to ask oneself!

What does your schedule look like? Do you have clear boundaries between work and play? If your hobbies and work life blend together, do you find it important (or necessary) to try to distinguish them from one another? If you've worked from home, what did you like or dislike about it? Share in the comments section below!

30Jan/140

Communicating Effectively in the Workplace

When a colleague recently emailed me to ask about a list I was putting together for her, I explained that I hadn't had a chance to get it done yet, but I would find some time to do it in the next couple of days.

As I hit the "send" button, I realized that my wording - which, I think, is very common wording that most people tend to use - implied that either I'm an incredibly busy and important person, or else I lack time management skills.

What I should have said, to be completely honest with her, was "it hasn't been at the top of my priority list."

We often use terms and phrases that describe how busy we are or how we are incapable of doing X, Y, and Z, but I think that this is incorrect rhetoric.

We should instead be identifying why things haven't been done, or why we will not be able to complete them for a certain deadline, and relay that information on to the next person so that they too can understand:

 

It's not at the top of priorities right now.

If I add that to my workload, my quality of work will suffer.

I need to learn these skills before I can accomplish that task.

Too often, we shortchange ourselves by not identifying and addressing the underlying issue. If we aren't getting our work done on time for a deadline, or if it isn't as good quality as we would like, or if we're struggling with something, it's extremely important to get to the bottom of it and to communicate that effectively.

When we communicate the issue to a colleague, they will be more understanding, which will ensure that your relationship stays healthy. They can provide recommendations for overcoming the obstacles you're facing. You can work together to solve the problem. You will be showing them a great deal of respect and also reducing your stress levels by being honest with yourself and with them.

If you're having trouble with getting work done and you aren't sure what exactly the problem is, these are some great questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you need to brainstorm ideas with someone else?
  • Do you need to do some professional development in order to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills?
  • Do you need more time to complete something to your satisfaction?
  • Do you strongly dislike the task and are procrastinating because you don't want to do it? What could be changed about the task that would make it more enjoyable (or less uncomfortable, which is often the case)?
  • Do you need more direction or clarity on the task at hand?

What questions do you ask yourself if you are having difficulties managing your workload? What are your tips for communicating effectively in the workplace? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below!

26Jan/140

Five Tips for Writing a Resume

Over the past couple of years, I have had the great opportunity to review close to (or perhaps more than) 100 resumes and cover letters. When you receive 40 resumes and you have to narrow it down to interview just four of the people who submitted resumes, things get very interesting indeed.

Here are five ways to ensure your resume gets read in its entirety and chosen from the pile to move onto the next stage of the hiring process:

1) Take time with the visual appeal of your resume. If you use bright orange text or Comic Sans font, or if you have weird line spacing and strange paragraph breaks in your resume, that will be enough for me to want to toss it aside. You might protest and say that those parts don't matter, and what's more important is the content of your resume. The answer? Yes and no. Absolutely, your actual skills and education are fundamental to getting an interview. But if you do not take the time to pay attention to details and make your resume look professional, that says a lot about who you are as person and as a worker.

If you have great graphic design skills and want to make your resume stand out, then by all means do so. But if you do not have high quality design skills, stick with basic fonts and formatting; it will go a surprisingly long way.

 

2) Be consistent. This follows suit with #1 on this list. If your round bullet points turn into numbers or square bullet points halfway down the list, or you start by using the Oxford comma and then nix it later on in your resume, or if you use the American spelling for a word but then use the British spelling and then go back to the American spelling at the end, this shows you aren't taking pride in your work. Editing and proofreading matters! It tells so much about your work ethic and also how much you respect the people reading your resume.

3) Include relevant information: fit your resume to fit the position and workplace. I get irritated when I read a resume that has item after item listed that have nothing to do with the job the person is applying for. Likewise, if the resume details information about how the person is great working in XYZ working environment, but the job they're applying for is set in a completely different environment (and this is made clear in the job posting), it really just shows that you didn't read the job posting or learn more about the workplace. Why would someone hire you if you didn't put in the effort to learn or don't care about the position or workplace? Think about how your past experience can be applied to the job you are currently applying for.

4) SHOW don't tell - or at least, show while telling. You say that you're detail-oriented: cool. But unless your resume reflects that, I'm going to take it with a grain of salt. You say that you are responsible and take initiative. That's all well and good, but how are you going to illustrate that? The bottom line is, you can use these words and phrases, but unless you back them up by providing some examples (that you led a campaign, volunteer for three different organizations, managed three employees, etc.), they are completely meaningless.

(Pssst... this goes for references, too. Any time a reference has told me a little anecdote about the person who worked for them, which illustrates their work ethic, I remember that anecdote more than I do any buzzwords they drop).

5) Update it regularly. This is one of the best things you can do to save yourself a lot of headache. Even if you don't have plans to leave your job in the near future, it is a good practise to undertake. Any time you do volunteer work, get new certifications or professional work experience, take on additional responsibilities at the office, or acquire new skills, add it to your resume. You never know when you might need it, and besides, it feels awesome to be able to see all of your accomplishments listed in one place!

What recommendations do you have for writing a resume? From a hiring standpoint, is there anything that stands out to you when reviewing resumes? Share your thoughts, ideas, and tips in the comments section below!

15Jan/142

Book Review of Contact by Carl Sagan

Since Carl and I share the same name (the Sagan part, not the Carl part, that is), I've felt for many years that I ought to actually know something about the guy and his work. When the mother dear and father dear were reducing clutter in their home and getting rid of books*, and Carl Sagan's Contact happened to be among them, I snatched it up. And immediately began reading it.

contact

Contact was published in 1985. Sagan** was a prestigious scientist, and he wrote several novels during his time (mostly of the science fiction variety, I believe). Contact is the story of extra terrestrials sending a message to Earth, the response that humans have to receiving such a message, and how science changes as secrets beyond what is known on Earth are revealed. Throughout the story are questions about society, the psyche, religion, and the world as we know it.

One of the pieces that I liked best when reading Contact was how engaging Sagan is in his writing, and how he is able to translate immensely complex ideas and concepts into simple terms. Science and mathematics have never come easy to me, and although I'm sure I didn't entirely "get" 95% of the theories and equations and scientific laws that Sagan discusses in Contact, it was written in such a way that I a) understood enough to enjoy the story and comprehend the general ideas, and b) wanted desperately to begin studying astrophysics.

I'm sure I won't actually start studying astrophysics. But you never know.

Once the scientists receive the message in this novel, countries around the world begin working together to decipher the message. In the light that there is another civilization "out there," the various nations band together and begin to think in terms of "us" as a single group, rather than being distinct from one another. It's an interesting idea that everyone could (would?) come together and work as a team, and this idea opens the door to ask broader questions of what can we do as a global society if we work together?

Contact not only explains scientific concepts in ways that the layman can understand, but it also dives into so many other things about the world - how we think and act as individuals, how society works, our belief systems - that you can get much more from reading the novel than just a great story. It is beautifully written, and Sagan was clearly keenly insightful when it comes to the way that we work.

Have you read Contact, or other works by Carl Sagan? What did you like about it? Are you a science person? What books have you read recently? Share in the comments section below!

*I'd be saddened about them getting rid of books if it didn't mean that my collection could increase ;)

**It is SO WEIRD to refer to someone else with my name. How do you do it on a regular basis when you have a common name? Does it start to lead to identity crises, or does it just become the norm? I would love to see a study on something like that.

11Jan/142

Four Reasons to Love The Muppets

Over the holidays, I saw A Muppet Family Christmas for the first time. And it is now hands-down my favourite Christmas movie.

After watching A Muppet Family Christmas, I also had the opportunity to see the first episode of Fraggle Rock, as well as Lady Gaga & The Muppets' Holiday Spectacular. I remember that as a child I adored the Muppets, but I think that as an adult you can begin to really appreciate just why the Muppets are so ridiculously amazing:

1) The Muppets encourage viewers to be good Samaritans - or at the very least, just nice people in general. No matter the scenario, over and over the Muppets work together to overcome adversary. They go out of their way to help one another - just because that's the right thing to do.

2) The Muppets promote diversity. All of the Muppets are completely different, from Kermit to Big Bird to Gonzo to Snuffleupagus to Animal. And everyone is friends. The differences in the way they look and think and act are celebrated. There's an especially sweet moment in A Muppet Family Christmas when Fraggle Rock character Doc (the only actually human in the film) makes a comment about how "you're all kind of funny looking, but I like you anyway" (paraphrased).

oscar the grouch

3) The Muppets celebrate strong women. Miss Piggy is an unstoppable force. She has a fascinating combination of feminine and masculine qualities, and can hold her own no matter the circumstance. Sure, the Muppets might be a predominantly male cast of characters, but Jim Henson does women justice with Miss Piggy's character.

4) The Muppets teach good values. Love and kindness are the themes that run throughout the Muppets in general. Beyond the actual learning skills for little children (such as Bert and Ernie talking about letters and the Count about numbers), the Muppets teach about teamwork, friendship, courage, and support. There are so many other values that come out, as well: for example, in A Muppet Family Christmas, the Fraggles actually discuss how awesome re-gifting is. Kids get to learn about how materials aren't that important and to not be big consumers! It is fantastic. Jim Henson is kind of amazing.

Have you seen the Muppets lately? What do you like best about the Muppets? Share in the comments section below!

5Jan/140

Three Ways to Write a Novel

I've been writing stories for as long as I can remember - I think I was 10 years old when I wrote my first full-length novel. One of the things that I enjoy the most about writing novels is that there are so many ways to do it. Having written eight or 10 novels over the past decade and a half, I've had the opportunity to experiment with a number of different writing styles to see which ones work best for me (and for the period of my life I'm in and for the particular type of story).

Here are three of the most common - and quite different - ways to write a novel:

  1. Put together a storyboard or story arc. This is a great way to plan out or outline your novel from start to finish so that you have a clear idea of what the story is going to be all about and where you want to go with it. It enables you to explore a variety of different plots and characters, and to see on a single page how everything will come together to flesh out your novel. As a general rule, if you have little experience in writing novels, putting together an outline by creating a storyboard is a great place to start.
  2. Piece together your story like a jigsaw puzzle. If you want to write a novel but just have a couple of scenes in mind, or the idea of a character, or a section of dialogue, then this is a fun style of putting it on paper. It is how my most recent, 95% completed novel started out: as just a couple of descriptions and some dialogue written on scraps of paper. At one point I was literally taking one scrap from over there and another from over here with different pieces of writing on them and examining how I could make them work together.The problem with this style is that it can take a very long time to write your novel, since you aren't beginning with any particular structure. It also has the potential of going in one direction for 20,000 words before you realize that it would be better off going in a completely different direction. This is a risk that doesn't generally come with putting together a storyboard for your novel.
  3. Just start writing. This has been my traditional style of writing novels since I first began doing it. This style works best if you have the idea for the story in your head, and you know roughly who your main character is and at least three major plot points. It's one of the most beautiful styles of writing, in my mind, because the story creates itself: as you write, new characters and plots arise, and it all flows very naturally. But it can certainly be problematic if you forget about one of your characters or storylines and aren't keeping track, as you then have to go back to figure out what you had initially planned.

What's your favourite way of writing novels? What style works best for you? Do you write in a completely different way? Share in the comments section below!