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Twelve Steps to Better Writing: No Barbed Wire Required

September 16, 2015


Writing is like

I’ve heard from some writers that they can only write when the mood strikes them and words magically flow from their fingertips onto the paper.

They say when that happens, no editing is needed; however, Truman Capote once quipped, “That’s not writing, that’s typing.” I’m in agreement. In fact, I’ve not met a single, published author who has ever said that their work comes effortlessly. In fact, just the opposite. Good writing may be a labor of love, no doubt, but with emphasis on the labor.

“Writing is like giving birth to a bale of barbed wire.” — Author Philip Yancey

It is fine to let the words flow, if they will, but then one must take time to massage the work, kneading it into a truly well-written piece. I find that editing and revising my work comes easier if I review it in twelve steps. Here are the steps that work for me:

  1. I review the piece first, just looking for uninteresting verbs and…

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Man In Black: The Inner Holocaust of Johnny Cash

September 16, 2015

The stage is unlit. Anticipation crackles in the air. Suddenly, a single spotlight stabs through the dark to rest on the square-set shoulders of a man dressed all in black. He shifts the guitar slung casually on his hip, flashes a boyish grin that brings his craggy face to life and declares what the audience is longing to hear: “Hi. I’m Johnny Cash.” And the crowd goes wild.

This is the public vision of Johnny Cash: the entertainer, the legend, the “Man in Black”. From the early 1960s through the early 2000s, this was the persona fans came to see, and this was the persona Cash gave them.

Beneath the glamour and hype, however, there was another Johnny Cash – the real Man in Black – a man who struggled against what he described as “the inner holocaust” of drug and alcohol addiction.

Cher Merrill(author) with Cash at 1983 interview in Minneapolis, MN.

Cher Merrill(author) with Cash at 1983 interview in Minneapolis, MN.

During an exclusive 1983 interview in Minneapolis, MN, Cash recounted how he first fell into drug and alcohol abuse when introduced to cheap little white pills called “bennies”. At the time, Cash explained, he had seen the pills as an easy way to increase his stamina and performing ability as he traveled the unrelenting road to success. “It’s beautiful, at first,” he said, “because there’s a demon in the bottle – a demon called Deception. There’s an old saying,” he added, “that a man drinks out of the bottle until the bottle starts drinking out of him. That’s the demon.”

Literally killing himself by degrees on a vicious cycle of amphetamines, beer and barbiturates, Cash recalled how he had raced at a frenetic pace, trying to outrun his demon, while unwilling to admit that the demon came from within. By the early 1960s, however, the demon had caught up with Cash. Even though his career soared, amphetamines and alcohol — along with Cash’s erratic, chemically-caused behavior — pulled apart his first marriage to Vivian Liberto, and had also nearly destroyed Cash’s relationship with the close-knit Cash clan.

“I had turned my back on my mother,” Cash admitted, adding that he had also taken advantage of members of his touring troupe, including June Carter, who was later to become his second wife.

“At that time, I was drinking a case of beer and taking up to 100 pills a day – uppers and downers,” he said, adding how his body bore testimony to his inner demons. “If you had a picture of me, back in 1967, you wouldn’t believe it was me. I’m 6’2”, but back then I only weighed 150 pounds”.

Plagued by twitchiness, dry mouth, chronic laryngitis and depression, his friends and family – and even his fans – recognized that Cash was in deep trouble. While the rest of the Carter Family (who toured and performed with Cash) simply tried to stay out of Cash’s way, June Carter Cash befriended, fussed over and fought with Cash as she prayed for his recovery. Nevertheless, the demon called Deception had become a closer friend and Cash refused to admit he had a problem. “A drinker or addict only cares about himself,” Cash admitted. “He’s self-centered and only cares about what others can do for him”.

In 1968, Cash reached a breaking point. Deeply depressed and loaded on alcohol and drugs, Cash decided to kill himself. He drove to a cave he was familiar with, outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee, grabbed a small, two-cell flashlight and began a slow, determined walk into the cave. His plan: to travel as deep into the cavern as the flashlight’s batteries would take him, then sit down and wait to die. “I went about a mile into the cave when the light went out,” Cash recalled.

“It was dark, black. So black you could feel it. I laid down flat on my back and said my goodbye prayers”. Alone, in total darkness, Cash gave up on life.

Then came a command: “No, you don’t give up. You’ve got things to do”.

Read more…

Twittering your plan away

July 14, 2015

Online marketing is hot. You don’t need me to tell you that. But Facebooking, Twittering, Pinning and Tumblring without first planning may bring you “likes” but won’t bring results. In truth, spending your valuable time and energies  “friending” your homies or creating a snazzy homLINKINe page, without first determining whether either is a good use of your marketing time and talents, can busy your business right into bankruptcy.

While we may be communicating at warp speed on social networking sites, we need to ask ourselves, are we truly connecting? And even if we were to socialize online 24/7, is what we are communicating truly accomplishing our goals? Have we even established goals?

Maybe some of the things you are doing now are useful, but without proper planning, most likely most of them are not, or at least are not as useful as they could be. Success in the use of social Tweetmedia first requires establishing desired outcomes, developing key messaging and strategizing the best methods.

Non-producing, unfocused Tweet hashtags and LinkedIn connections will eventually show themselves for what they are — sloppy practices that actually miscommunicate. In an article entitled “Is Social Media Sabotaging Real Communication?” Forbes contributor Susan Tardanico, says:

“Because most business communication is now done via e-mails, texts, instant messaging, intranets, blogs, websites and other technology-enabled media – sans body language – the potential for misinterpretation is growing.  Rushed and stressed, people often do not take the time to consider the nuances of their writing.”

In today’s environment, we are sending communications at an ever-increasing rate, through a growing number of channels.  That makes it even more vital that we have an effective FBcommunication plan to serve as a “roadmap” that includes at the least, some goals, key messages, and evaluation strategies.

No matter how cool the latest app or social media device may be, only those who plan, track and measure—using accountability—will win customers.

My Infographic Resume

July 30, 2014

My Infographic Resume.

Living the “wide”, rebellious life!

May 5, 2014
Living Wide!

I prefer to live the “wide”, rebellious life!

When you were young did you get asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My answer was different almost every time. A milkman… An astronaut… A teacher… A writer… A mommy. “You’ll need to decide,” I was told, but the fact is,  by the time I’m 90, I still may not have chosen. It’s just that there are simply so many interesting things to do, and I want to learn more.

Consequently, I’ve come to believe it’s a crime to tell anyone to decide on only one path for the rest of his or her life. It may seem a little more graceful, slightly more dignified, a tad more predictable. But doesn’t it run the risk of also being confining? or boring? or both?

During a birthday party held in honor of 65-year-old Dr. William E. Barton, former moderator of the Congregational Church in Oak Park, IL., a church elder delivered an address entitled “Growing Old Gracefully.” But the more he talked the more Barton bristled.

When it came time for Barton to respond, he blustered, “Grow old gracefully?  Rubbish, I say! Rubbish! I shall never grow old! But if perchance I should”, he added, “it shall not be gracefully, I tell you; it will be rebelliously!”

I like that idea…the idea of being 80 or 90 or 100 years of age and still being full of expectancy and open to new things. South of the border (Mexico, not Oregon) they have a saying:

“La vida es corta, pero ancha.” That is, “Life is short, but it’s wide.”

Though some people prefer to be more single-minded, I favor grabbing for all the experiences this “wide” life has to offer. I like to think that what is coming next is better than what has just past.

No matter what my age or limitations, I hope to always look forward to the new experiences still ahead. And when I get to the end of my days, and people ask over my casket, “Who is she? What did she do?” I want the answer to be a full-length novel not a short paragraph.

For me today, that may mean beginning life anew, starting over in a new place, meeting new friends, and beginning a new job.

What does it mean for you? What new experiences can you reach to live life “wide?”

Will Capital Punishment Soon be the Deadman Walking?

March 29, 2014

In the movie, “Dead Man Walking” a well-meaning nun receives a desperate letter from a death row inmate seeking help to avoid execution for murder. Though the convict is guilty of murder, over the time leading up to his death, the nun begins to empathize with the man. In the end, the nun struggles with the paradox of caring about the condemned man while understanding the utter evilness of his crimes. The movie, loosely based on a real case, is Hollywood’s version of death row and capital punishment.

YERgraphic3 Death Penalty 1995-2012

Death Penalties from 1995 – 2012

When Deserved, Civil Action Protects Society
The death penalty has not always been practiced in the U.S., although the decision to impose the death penalty on people lawfully judged to have committed certain heinous crimes has a long U.S. history and approximately 13,000 individuals have been legally executed since colonial times. The doctrines of the world’s major religions describe times when the death penalty was both used and endorsed. Morals and mores change, however, and a 2013 New York Times editorial ( suggests the time they are a-changin’: “More states are coming to recognize that the death penalty is arbitrary, racially biased and prone to catastrophic error. Even those that have not abolished capital punishment are no longer carrying it out in practice”.

  • In 2013, Maryland became the sixth state to end capital punishment in the last six years.
  • Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have abolished the penalty, and it is dormant in the federal system and the military.

    4 states = 75% of 2012 death penalties

    4 states = 75% of 2012 death penalties

  • Thirty states have had no executions in the last five years.

“As it becomes less frequent,” the NY Times editorial continues, “the death penalty also becomes more limited to an extremely small slice of the country, and therefore all the more arbitrary in its application.”

Let the punishment fit the crime
Though I would rather we lived in a perfect world with neither capital crimes nor criminals, I believe letting the punishment fit the crime is an important crime deterrent. A 2003 report in the Journal of Law and Economics, claimed that every execution “decreased homicides by approximately five, and each additional sentence reduction increased homicides by the same amount….There is no question about it….there is a deterrent effect”. One has to wonder if support of the death penalty by the majority of states is just barbaric prejudice or if there is a deterrent effect that makes the law just.

Recently, U.S. District Court Judge Cormac Carney ruled that California’s death penalty system is “so arbitrary and plagued with delay” that it is unconstitutional.

According to the NY Times, the state has not had an execution since 2006, and 40% of its 748 death row inmates have been there more than 19 years. It’s likely that decision will inspire similar death penalty appeals around country.

Our laws are not perfect, and important issues regarding all citizens’ rights — even murderers — deserve constant review. In 1829, German poet and dramatist Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe said, “If we could do away with death, we wouldn’t object; to do away with capital punishment will be more difficult. Were that to happen, we would reinstate it from time to time.”  Historically, life and death issues such as capital punishment, have an ebb and flow, as we struggle with difficult issues.