Thursday, October 28, 2010

Around the Word

Today, the BloGG is all business:
  • The economic earthquake still rages, according to 2010's Business Book of the Year, Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy by Raghuram Rajan. A professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and a former IMF official, Rajan rose to economic stardom playing "Crisis Cassandra" in the Greek Tragedy of global finance—he predicted the current economic crisis way back in 2005. Other finalists for the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book award for "the most compelling and enjoyable insight into modern business issues" included The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick and Too Big to Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin.
  •  Followers of Mad Men exec Roger Sterling's Twitter feed can get even closer to the appealing (and appalling) hedonist with his upcoming "memoir." With chapters on "Clients," "Women," and "Drinking," Sterling's Gold joins an illustrious line of fiction-inspired "non-fiction" (see also: Harry Potter's wizarding textbooks). We wonder—what must it feel like to ghostwrite the fictional memoir of someone who doesn't exist?
  •  The gallant guardian of grammar John McIntyre presides over a puzzling question today in The Baltimore Sun:

    "Mary Smith is one of the librarians who oppose(s)? the contract."

    McIntyre explains that the "s" makes all the difference. If "oppose" is kept singular, then Mary is singled out among librarians as an opponent of the contract (which her compeers may support or oppose). However, removing the "s" integrates Mary into the pool of librarians, who are now united in agreement. The "s" is the railroad switch in the sentence—small but instrumental.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Around the Word

We've got ghostwriters, mythbusters, and an antidote to WiFi withdrawal today:
  • Celebrity ghostwriters get their time in the limelight: CNN Entertainment interviewed Wendy Leigh (who ghostwrote for Zsa Zsa Gabor and Madonna's brother Christopher Ciccone) and Jon Warech (who wrote with Kendra Wilkinson and Jodie Sweetin) about the tight-rope act that is ghosting. On the one hand, you're coaxing candid tales from your subject; on the other, you're avoiding potential mine fields. Leigh sums up the relationship as "part psychoanalyst, part best friend, part lion tamer, part interviewer and part nanny." Have Gotham's celebrity ghosts gathered any tales from the trenches?
  • Public speaking blogger Olivia Mitchell has some contrarian counsel for presenters bombarded by tips, hints, and pointers. In Ragan, she argues that golden ratios like "your message is 7% what you say, 38% the tone of your voice, and 55% body language" are just trumped-up ways of delivering the axiomatic advice: "Content and delivery matter." Mitchell also debunks popular advice about adapting your presentation to the "learning styles" of your audience and challenges the commandment to seize people's attention from the start. After all, she points out, seizing is easy—it's keeping their focus that's tough. After so many BloGG posts about speaking strategies, we turn to you—what's your take? Do you swear by these rules, or are Mitchell's counterclaims refreshing?
  • Those long WiFiless commutes call for inexhaustible reading material—a call answered by the joys of Instapaper, an app for storing and perusing articles on an offline reader. Now, can help you stock your subway-tunnel library. An offshoot from the @longreads Twitter feed, the site archives thousands of articles that have been tagged as "longreads" by the Twitter feed's over 7,000 followers. Some periodicals—including The Atlantic, Esquire, and Vanity Fair—are starting to get wise and tag their own articles as "longreads" as well. Longreads founder Mark Arms says the site is teaching media organs how to organize articles for more transparent online access.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Around the Word

Today we're mixing private and public with two much-anticipated memoirs and a handful of public speaking pointers.
  • Rolling Stones guitarist, renegade rock legend, fame-shy former dope addict—in a word, Keith Richards is a storied figure. Now he's bringing his adventures with the "pirate nation" of the Stones to Life, his memoir released today. The New York Times's Michiko Kakutani raves over the "electrifying" book that speaks in a voice "earnest and wicked, sweet and sarcastic and unsparing," painting a searing picture of rock'n'roll's coming of age and of Richards's years parrying unmanageable fame with addiction. The book, co-written by veteran journalist James Fox, is also available as an audiobook narrated by Johnny Depp, while the Apple iBook version includes a Google Maps function for tracing Richards's peregrinations.
  • Former President George W. Bush is capping off White House memoir month—inaugurated by Condoleeza Rice's Extraordinary, Ordinary People earlier in October—with his book Decision Points. As the former president gears up for the release in a few weeks, he'll be giving interviews to Oprah Winfrey and "The Today Show" host Matt Lauer. We're guessing we speak for everyone involved when we hope that the American public will show more decorum than the egg-lobbing Brits who greeted Tony Blair's first book signing for his memoir.
  • Every public speaker has a lot to remember on the rostrum: who to thank, the key points, who your audience is, where to place emphasis or pauses—oh and did you remember to breathe? The Eloquent Woman has a few tips for the things her readers say are the first to slip their minds when they step up to the mic. Among her hints? If you forget to make eye contact or speak slowly, try jotting down cues after each paragraph, and don't be afraid to use notes—or even a Kindle—to remember names or central points. And smile! Smiling releases chemicals that calm you down, and will put your audience at ease. What's your cure for audience-induced amnesia?
  • Meanwhile, public speaking guru and Trust Me author Nick Morgan promises that a great speech is closer than you think. In his new eBook, released by New Word City, Morgan guides readers through 7 Steps to a Great Speech, removing the stumbling-blocks of anxiety and stress. What's more, he offers to clear a path to the golden land—a standing ovation.
  • Arizona's Bookmans bookstore is making the Literary Domino Effect—the more you read, the more you want to read—literal. GalleyCat hosts the exhilarating promo video here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Around the Word

From old-school rhetorical techniques to new software innovations, we're starting off the week with a roundup of tools that can help you communicate better:

As a public speaker, every aspect of your presentation sends a message—down to the shape of your vowels and consonants. In the New York Times, Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert discusses our unconscious reactions to numbers and sounds, such as the round b that makes those greenback "bucks" sound so desirable, or the fricatives (such as the slithery s) that make a "hiss" or a "whisper" sound small. Gilbert cites a recent study in which volunteers were shown ads for ice cream priced at $7.22 and $7.66—an obvious choice, until the customers were asked to say the prices aloud (or even repeat them mentally). The "silky" fricatives of "sixty-six" appealed to consumers more—44 cents more—than the "rattling" t's of "twenty-two," Gilbert notes. What's more, the effects correspond in other languages.
For some subliminal message management, public speakers might try plying those stops (b, d, t) or back vowels (the /u/ in "goose") to convey the "bigness" of their topic, while relegating opposition to the front vowels (long a, e, i) and fricatives like f, s, and z. Have you uncovered any other word-voodoo recently?

App attack! From monitoring your output to tracking your research to—yes—typing in your own script, the (new) adage proves true: there IS an app for that. Here are a few digital tools that came to our attention this weekend.
  • Thou Shalt Wright Every Day, goes the age-old commandment. A new app,, aims to help you keep the covenant by providing a platform for composing one page of text each day. Simply sign into the "web typewriter" with your Google or Twitter account—no registration necessary—and write. Proclaims the website, "You are free from the tyranny of the infinite page." The app might be a helpmate for prospective novelists looking to write their opus for November's National Novel Writing Month. Go forth and be prolific!
  • Scrivener, a program produced by Literature & Latte, is designed to aid writers in composing and organizing long-form or research-heavy projects. Tack your notes to a virtual corkboard or track themes and sources through the program's interface. Unfortunately, it's Mac-exclusive for now; read the New York Times review here.
  • Do you miss the intimacy of handwritten notes? (Do you even remember what your handwriting looks like?) Geek Sugar reports on Pilot, an app that lets you type in your own handwriting by uploading samples via webcam. The app processes each letter and can stitch together an elegant cursive script.

Some reviews require nuance. Others books, GalleyCat points out, can be summed up in a single zinger. At Jezebel, a well-crafted headline tells us everything we need to know about "Jersey Shore" star Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino's upcoming release—it's "The Literary Equivalent Of An Ed Hardy Tee." Lest you remain unconvinced, the bemused review offers this Situation-issued wisdom: "No matter what T-shirt you select, whether it's fitted, graphic, sequined, bedazzled, crew-neck, deep-V, wifebeater, or what-have-you, it's about being proud of who you are."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Knucklerap Corner: Where a Red Hand is the Mark of an Improved Mind

Lauren's back, and she's combing the culture for grammar gaffes:

The Corrections
By Lauren Weiner

Page 52 of Freedom by Jonathan Franzen:

"There were fifty thousand students at the U., but probably less than five hundred of them (not counting former players and friends or family of current players) considered women's athletic events a viable entertainment option."

It should be "fewer than five hundred" not "less than five hundred." Granted, this sentence occurs in a section that is supposed to come from the diary of Patty Berglund. Was the error put in deliberately by Patty's creator, Mr. Franzen, as a clue to what she is like? Possibly, but we do not think so. Patty's mode of expression is so little distinguishable from the voice that narrates the other parts of the novel that we consider the diary device to be a rather large flaw in an otherwise accomplished work. We charge the error to Mr. Franzen himself.

Page 503 of Freedom by Jonathan Franzen:

"He exhibited no trace of a sense of responsibility, but also, therefore, neither defensiveness nor resentment."

A bit wordy. How about streamlining: "He exhibited no trace of a sense of responsibility, and therefore no defensiveness or resentment."

Disclaimer: We offer these corrections mindful of their utter puniness yet confident that the novelist welcomes our vigilance. His own vigilance was demonstrated in a recent newspaper item: It said Mr. Franzen was in England, where he discovered that his U.K. readers had a version of Freedom that was not the final proof. He asked them to discard the draft that someone at the publishing house had mistakenly released over there. A cock-up of such major proportions deserves a rap on the knuckles. Make that two raps, extra hard, one on each hand. Blimey.

#   #   #

Dangle Alley, Where This Time Only David Rakoff Roams, August 3, 2010. "After describing them to a sculptor friend, she showed up the next day with a small plastic container of powdered graphite and two solid Koh-i-Noor graphite sticks."

The "she" following the comma is the sculptor friend. There would be nothing to take issue with if Mr. Rakoff had written: "After I described them to a sculptor friend, she showed up the next day." Instead, the opening clause modifies the describer without that describer (Mr. Rakoff) being named. The clause is left dangling., July 9, 2009. "Unlike Borat's evident naiveté, with his cheap suit and wide-eyed wonder at American plenty, unfamiliar with the felicities of monied, first-world civilization, Brüno, a successful Austrian talk-show host, cuts a figure of slippery, continental media-savviness."

We are supposed to see Brüno as unlike Borat. Yet Mr. Rakoff wades into the contrast with a grammatical discontinuity: Brüno is being put up against, not Borat, but "Borat's evident naiveté.", August 3, 2010. "Much like those of an athletic bent who are constantly succumbing to, or having to resist, the impulse to turn everything into a ball (or so I assume. I have never been moved to use a ball even as a ball), if you make things, all objects house the potential to be turned into something else." 

Here Mr. Rakoff is comparing rather than contrasting. But, as in the Borat/Brüno example, the two elements are not presented in a strictly parallel way. The initial formulation dangles. (The period in the middle of that parenthetical was no good, either.)

#   #   #

Washington Post, August 13, 2010. Charles Krauthammer: "A mosque really seeking to build bridges, Rauf's ostensible hope for the structure, would accept the offer."

A mosque is in no position to accept (or reject) an offer. It is inanimate.

Baltimore Sun, October 2, 2010. Photo caption on the front page: "Nitrell Cotton, a first-grader at Lockerman Bundy Elementary, carries a cello that's bigger than him down the hall at his school."

The instrument is bigger than he is. If you want to shorten it: "bigger than he." People have come to consider this highfalutin but that's no reason to elbow it aside in favor of bad English.

Washington Post, August 3, 2010. Rajiv Chandrasekaran: "Commanders are wrestling with the option of razing some fields to remove the bombs, which would eliminate many farmers' livelihoods, or assume more risk by leaving the crops untouched."

Parallelism error. "Razing some fields" should be followed by "assuming more risk by leaving" the crops alone.

From the same Rajiv Chandrasekaran article: "A recent effort by Karzai's local-governance directorate to fill 300 civil service jobs in Kandahar and the surrounding district turned up four qualified applicants, even after the agency dropped its application standards to remove a high school diploma, according to several U.S. officials."

To make it less awkward, he could have said: "even after the agency dropped the requirement that applicants have a high school diploma."

New York Times, October 10, 2010. Anne Barnard and Alan Feuer: "Even some of her former right-wing allies say she has gone too far."

They are still right-wing; they just aren't allies of hers (Pamela Geller's) any longer. Syntax error.

Knucklerap archive:
June 2010
February 2010
August 2009
May 2009

Weiner, a Gotham team member, is a free-lance writer in Baltimore.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Around the Word

Today's tips on speechwriting tact and de-cluttering your prose can help you get your message across in one piece:
  • Veterans of the podium know that the risk of projectiles—shoes, books, or booing—can spike when speaking to an audience that doesn't share your stance. Public speaking expert Nick Morgan advises using rhetoric to disarm your opponents, preferably before you have to duck. Start your speech by sketching out the contentious issue, then venture into the opposite camp and consider their point of view fairly and respectfully. Crossing the battle lines tells your audience that you're listening to them—and that they don't need to throw things to get your attention.  Alas, no tips for navigating those pesky situations where you find yourself on a discussion panel with your enraged ex...
  • Hal Gordon, former speechwriter for the Reagan White House, examines the diplomatic tact of British Ambassador Sir Nigel Sheinwald's talk in Houston last week. Writing for PunditWire, Gordon praises Sir Nigel's flurry of engaging facts and the compelling tone with which he conveyed the meat of his message and let the audience know how much it mattered to him.
  • Writers are often tempted by a fragrant, steaming, heaped-up plate of—adjectives. They inject variegated vividness, right? Or maybe they're just plain pests. Arch-wit Alexander McCall Smith, author of the bestselling No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, crusades for concision in the Wall Street Journal. He points out that people don't generally think in adjectives, and argues that "writing which one cannot actually think can very easily look wrong on the page." Even more vitally, adjectives crowd out the reader's own imagination by layering the paint on too thickly. Elizabeth Bishop knew that an artist can create "tiny cows, / two brushstrokes each, but confidently cows"—cutting adjectives lets the scene speak for itself.
  • There's no Oscar for best-punctuated film, but Slate's Nathan Heller might start hassling the Academy to instate one. Looking back at the collected titles of Woody Allen, Heller celebrates the grammatical vigilance of What's Up, Tiger Lily? and Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex* / *But Were Afraid To Ask, but is less pleased with the auteur's newer releases. What happens when we get to Everyone Says I Love You, the befuddling Vicky Cristina Barcelona, or Allen's latest You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger? Let's just say the comma goes kaput.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Three Keys to a Great Speech

We had the good fortune to hear our favorite speechwriting community guru, Vital Speeches of the Day editor David Murray, give a dynamite presentation on the elements of great speechwriting at last week's New York Speechwriters Roundtable meeting. It would be hard to do justice to David's "speechwriting jam" here, given the mix of poignant and hilarious videos he weaved into his talk. But we still thought it was worth sharing some highlights of his expert advice on the three key common components of a vital speech: an attention-grabbing opener, a clear intent to communicate, and an undeniable authenticity.

OPENING: The first minute of a speech is the time to wake your audience's imagination up. Start with a strong image or anecdote that will absorb listeners into the drama of your topic. As an example, David quoted a speech from March 2010 on the Communications Act—not, perhaps, the most riveting subject. Verizon VP Thomas Tauke opens by building an image of the crazy Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, taking the audience down "doors and stairways that lead nowhere" until, as David said, "we're all in that house and we're clamoring for it to be fixed and made rational." Tauke then compares the Mystery House to the state of communications, and the speech takes off from there. Start boldly—thanking the caterer is the perfect way to say, "My message can wait."

INTENT: The opening is the first step in conveying your intent to communicate. In an era crammed with symbolic statements that preach to the choir, the intent to communicate a simple, fresh, meaningful idea is often lost. Great speeches, David argued, occur when the speaker "really, really wants to get something out of his head into the heads of the audience." While many speeches are meant to be symbolic or convey accepted information, a compelling speech is only born from the need to share a message or an idea, no matter how basic. This may mean seeking out the enemy or taking a message public, rather than staying cooped up with insiders or supporters. Corporate speechwriters working with dry, straightforward material can stir up the client's natural enthusiasm by finding something that matters to him or her. Write from the intersection of the speaker's work and something he or she cares about.

AUTHENTICITY: Keeping it real is perhaps the most daunting and slippery aspect to keeping control of your audience. How do you convince your listeners, including those who feel like they have heard it all before, that you mean what you say? One way is to cry, as University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow did following a dispiriting loss, where there was no mistaking his vulnerability. Another is to meet a tragic moment with the kind of sincere eloquence that President George W. Bush displayed in his response to the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. Sometimes even monotone talks by the least charismatic figures can move and persuade listeners if the speaker conveys an urgent and unpretentious devotion to an issue. One of David's longest clips came from a 1969 hearing about a federal grant for National Public Broadcasting's childhood programming, which President Nixon wanted to slash. Anxiously leaning forward in his seat and speaking with halting slowness, Fred Rogers—the lovable sweater-vested host of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood—explained to the judge why his program could change a child's life. After listening to Rogers recite the lyrics to a song he had written for the show, the judge shook his head in wonder and said, "Looks like you just earned the twenty million dollars."

We turn to our speechwriting community—what other elements do you believe great speeches share? What are your favorite examples of an imaginative opening or a display of candor and authenticity?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Around the Word

Today we're looking at ordeals and book deals from around the world:
  • The last of 33 trapped Chilean miners stepped into open air yesterday night—and into the glare of an international media frenzy. Television, book, and movie deals are flooding their way, with talk of $20,000 offers for the first TV interview, and the "purchase price" of movie rights estimated at up to $500,000, reports Bloomberg Businessweek. The men received counseling and video lessons on interview techniques and posture while still underground, but the wattage of their instant celebrity—and the gloom when it fades—could be traumatizing, according to an intriguing analysis in the Telegraph. Meanwhile, the competition to record the Chileans' stories is fierce, observes Crain's Business. Guardian reporter Jonathan Franklin has already sold rights to his book 33 Men, Buried Alive, scheduled for release in early 2011, and Times reporter Alexei Barrionuevo is angling to publish on the aftermath of the miners' newfound heroic status.
  • Nonfiction writers get their slice of the award season pie. The finalists for the National Book Award—in the wake of the Nobel and Man Booker Prize—were announced yesterday morning. Among the nonfiction notables are singer-songwriter Patti Smith's memoir Just Kids, and Times reporter Megan Stack's tales of being a war correspondent in the Middle East. Have you read any of the finalists? What are your thoughts?
  • Welcome to Grammar-Land, where rich Mr. Noun debates declension with his friend Pronoun, and Doctor Syntax cures grammatical maladies. The Book Bench takes a romp through the world of busy Dr. Verb, the tiresome Interjection, and others in Grammar-Land: Grammar in Fun for the Children of Schoolroom-shire. The book, first published in the 1880s, has been released this week in facsimile edition by the British Library. Attend Mr. Adjective's trial for stealing from Mr. Noun (who owned "beauty" before sly Mr. Adjective added "ful"), and hear Dr. Verb sing "Conjugation," a song with three "verses"—past, present, and future tense.
  • Books are going paperless, suggest the August 2010 book sales stats released by the Association of American Publishers. GalleyCat reproduces the AAP's findings, noting that adult hardcover sales dropped 24.4% compared with August 2009, while eBook sales saw an increase of 172% in the same period. eBooks now comprise roughly 9% of trade book sales. It's no surprise, then, that Harvard hosted a talk this month on the possibility of creating a National Digital Library.
  • Waltzing writers? Capering columnists? Scribblers sashaying? Sure, if GalleyCat has anything to say about it. Next week, they're launching a Facebook campaign to put an illustrious ink-slinger on Dancing with the Stars. Self-proclaimed "midlife author" Claire Cook and Kathy L. Patrick, founder of the Beauty and the Book bookclub, are leading (but David Sedaris could make a come-back!) Add your vote on GalleyCat's Facebook page.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Around the Word

Two prominent speechwriters are in the news today, plus a tip on protecting your laptop from rogue "wireless":
  • Speechwriting solidarity! Speechwriter and PunditWire co-founder Bob Lehrman is in the running to be declared America's "Next Great Pundit." Lehrman ranks among 50 finalists (culled from an initial 4,000) in the Washington Post's pageant of pundits. The winner gets to write 13 op-eds for the Post under his or her own name. Simply click the green button to add your vote by 8 p.m. on Thursday, October 14.
  • Anyone who's marveled at President Obama's riveting rhetoric might want to pick up a book released yesterday, Power in Words: The Stories Behind Barack Obama's Speeches, from the State House to the White House. Historian Mary Frances Berry and former Clinton White House speechwriter (and Gotham friend) Josh Gottheimer draw the curtain to reveal the work behind the wizardry, including historical context, political analysis, and commentary from Obama's speechwriters themselves. The book reproduces 18 of the President's orations, with heavy-hitters like "A More Perfect Union" appearing beside lesser-known but revealing addresses.
  • From the annals of "if it sounds too good to be true…": the enticing—and ubiquitous—"Free Public Wifi" network that's been taunting laptop devotees everywhere.  In fact, "Free Public WiFi" is a decoy that does not access the internet at all. Rather, as NPR warns, it is an "ad hoc" network that connects you directly to someone else's computer in the area—and opens the door for hackers to enter your files. The bad news? It's spreading like wildfire, especially in airports. The good news? It only affects Windows (go ahead and gloat, Mac-users), and Microsoft has released a patch—Service Pack 3—to fix the bug. If you've got any more tips on avoiding this and other "zombie networks," let us know!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Around the Word

We hope you're hungry, because we've got hints on presentation-openers and a few fun, food-related tidbits for your lunch break today:
  • "Snap!" Did we get your attention? Presentations need an effective opening to crackle and pop—whether you start with a laugh, as the late great speechwriter Liz Carpenter advises, or with a dynamic visual effect, as urged by The Eloquent Woman. A "dynamic" start can be as simple as walking across the stage or moving through the audience to keep their attention fresh and keyed into your presence. We wonder: what tactics do you use to grab an audience from the get-go?
  • Writing is hungry work, and unlike baking a cake, it never seems to be quite done. The Guardian's Books Blog explores two editions of MFK Fisher's guide to frugal feeding, How to Cook a Wolf, which was released in 1941 and again in 1952—with her comments and edits printed in the margins. Like many writers, Fisher suffered from the unwillingness to declare her book finished and release it to the wolves. We turn to you—without a toothpick to slide into the center of your literary loaf, how do you test for doneness?
  • The language police are patrolling your local grocery store—in particular, the frozen foods aisle. Ben and Jerry's has decided to omit the phrase "all-natural" from their ice cream cartons, reports the Washington Post, in recognition of its, well, meaninglessness. Good's language columnist Mark Peters salutes the emperors of ice cream for questioning the accuracy of the adjective, which is a pet catch-phrase for food marketers across the board. Peters notes that "natural" has long been the cherry on top of false advertising—after all, what does the "natural" in "natural causes" and "natural numbers" mean, exactly?
  • Step into the hall of mirrors: in honor of 10/10/10 (this past Sunday), the L.A. Times's Jacket Copy blog is hosting a "Best of "Best of" Books," with their top ten books that separate the wheat from the chaff. Find the crème de la crème in technology writing, food writing, comics, and poetry. Dave Eggers's omnivorous "Best American Nonrequired Reading 2010" even includes the best lists, which tell a story in their own way. We anticipate there might be more fun in bewailing what's been left off the rosters—though the entertainment promised by such outliers as "Best American Gun Magazine Headlines" and "Best American Sentences on Page 50 of Books Published in 2009" will be hard to pass up.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Around the Word: the Humor Edition

In honor of the long weekend, the BloGG is having a Funday Monday with today's writerly roundup. To wit:
  • Humor is a political speechwriter's secret weapon—and an ideal way to warm an audience to your cause. So argues the late Liz Carpenter, former speechwriter to President Johnson, who kept her funny bone in working order, as Vital Speeches of the Day notes. Watch Carpenter speak at the National Book Festival, where she synthesizes the wisdom from her book Start with a Laugh: An Insider's Guide to Roasts, Toasts, Eulogies, and Other Speeches. In the book, she deconstructs the pattern of successful speeches and offers tips on creating laugh-inducing material for sensitive topics. Her credo, she says, is "Start with a laugh, put the meat in the middle, and wave the flag at the end." In her talk, she flashes her wit and also shares humorous yarns about LBJ's speechwriting tricks and techniques, including his solution to embedding a quote by Aristotle when he worried his audience wouldn't get the reference: instead, he started, "As my dear ol' daddy used to say..."
  • "It's on sale!" might seem like a no-brainer for revving up online sales. But there's something else going on at Groupon, a deal-of-the-day service that sold over 7,000 discounted subscriptions for Time Out Chicago in 24 hours, according to Business Insider. The golden ticket? Clever, intelligent writing and a sense of humor, observes Columbia Journalism Review writer Lauren Kirchner. Kirchner takes a gander at Groupon's recent advertisement for a marketing writer, which lists some good guidelines for avoiding clichés and writing humorous advertising material without squeezing the cheese onto customers. Their instructions include using "absurd, unexpected imagery that reacts to actual details" and refraining from "devices such as quotes, parentheses, and adding language that draws attention to the joke." Curious, we stopped by Groupon to see today's deal—a restaurant with a "menu that's ever-changing, like the time signature of a prog-rock song." Do you have any experience-based tips for keeping selling points fresh?
  • Humor is a great social leveler—and comedy, legally, belongs to everyone. Comedians cannot copyright joke content, explains NPR's On the Media, although the particular delivery (or a comedic persona) can belong to a specific person. So what happens when a brouhaha brews over "stolen" jokes, such as the recent "Tiny Hats" scuffle? And, more importantly, what incentives do comedians have to write new material if their jokes aren't protected? Law professors Chris Sprigman and Dotan Oliar discuss the informal codes that arise in the world of comedy (and cooking) that prevent freeloaders from stealing material. The "norm system" rats out known offenders, who are often ostracized by the community and have difficulty finding gigs or collaborators. The profs also point out that contemporary comedians like Sarah Silverman create stand-up personalities that make their jokes hilarious when spoken in character, but useless for most other comedians.
  • As writers know, hitting on the right idea can be serendipitous—but inspiration isn't created ex nihilo. In his book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, released last week, bestselling author Steven Johnson offers a sevenfold path to fostering a creative, open environment that will stimulate new ideas. He discusses the value of cultivating your hunches, taking on diverse hobbies, and keeping your mental space slightly messy so that cross-currents can flow. "Being right keeps you in place," he writes, while "being wrong forces us to explore." In an interview with The Daily Beast's Josh Robinson, Johnson unveils the gradual growth of the ideas behind book itself, which have been circulating in his mind for over a decade. What are your strategies for nurturing ideas for books, articles, or other projects?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Around the Word

From Malaysian publishers to American copy editors to Australian bookmakers, today the BloGG is celebrating wordsmiths of all stripes from across the globe:
  • Corporate communicators may want to take a peek at slide:ology author Nancy Duarte's new book on the art of communicating, Resonate: Visual Stories that Transform Audiences. Carmine Gallo hails it as the "bible of corporate storytelling"—high praise from the guru behind The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. You can hear Gallo and other guests at yesterday's launch party comment on the book, courtesy of technology speechwriter Ian Griffin's blog.
  •  Copy editors are the unsung heroes in many a writer's quest for precision, clarity, and freedom from typos. Now Baltimore Sun's language blogger John McIntyre invites grateful writers to nominate great copyeditors for the American Copy Editors Society's annual Robinson Prize. Have any doughty copyeditors saved you from endless public embarrassment?  What was the worst mistake that (almost) got by you?
  • New words still flow from Twitter into the mighty stream of English, and since neologisms like "to tweet" have no usage rules, grammar sprouts up spontaneously. For instance, what's more correct: do I "tweet him" or "tweet to him"? UPenn's Language Log blogger Geoffrey Pullum plugged different syntactic possibilities into Google to see what garnered the most hits, but couldn't discover a consensus. The fact that he used Google to research language trends (which I've done to ferret out correct usage) itself flags the internet's gradual influence on the contours of our language.
  • Books, books, books! The world's biggest bibliophile-bonanza—the Frankfurt Book Fair—is winding to a close this weekend. Business and corporate writers may want to check out this year's winner of the Fair's Abstract International Book Award, Accelerating Out of the Great Recession by David Rhodes and Daniel Stelter, two senior partners at The Boston Consulting Group. The book offers a detailed account of how companies should respond to the Great Recession. On the international front, Malaysia is angling to be declared Southeast Asia's publishing hub. Plus, a behemoth book is on display: the world's biggest atlas is a six-by-nine foot tome published in the land down under. It doesn't quite take the Guinness record, which is reserved for a Hungarian book weighing 1.2 tons. Anyone for a little light reading?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Around the Word

From prizes to ePaper, here's news for fiction and nonfiction aficionados alike:
  • Pop the champagne! Mario Vargas Llosa—novelist, essayist and playwright—is this year's Nobel Laureate in Literature. The Swedish Academy announced the award today, citing the Peruvian writer's "cartography of the structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt and defeat." Llosa is the first South American to win the prize since the Colombian novelist Gabríel Garcia Márquez was crowned with literary laurels in 1982. Garcia Márquez's masterly acceptance speech, "The solitude of Latin America," is the lynchpin in his new collection of speeches, I Didn't Come to Give a Speech, to be released October 29. According to the Latin American Herald Tribune, the book follows his public speaking career from his high school graduation address though orations on nuclear proliferation, ecological disasters, youth in Latin America, and other topics of civic concern.
  • How much is a great speech worth? The New York MTA got flak from PIX 11 reporter Greg Mocker for advertising for a $100,000 speechwriter in the midst of layoffs and scalebacks. Speechwriter Cynthia Starks admits it's bad PR, but wants to know: aren't speechwriters worth their weight in gold? Communications expert Mark Folie has weighed in on her blog, and we're curious to hear your thoughts as well.
  • Here's "20 under 40," nonfiction style. Inspired by the New Yorker's fiction it-list, the New Haven Review is giving nonfiction writers their slice of the pie. n+1 founder Keith Gessen, poet Dan Chiasson, ESPN contributor Chuck Klosterman are among the scribes the editors have tapped for the honor. What illustrious ink slingers would you add to the list?
  • We like the sound of this new reading app: Instapaper. The app, described in Capital New York, allows users to bookmark articles they find online and read them in a custom template that strips away distracting formatting and hyperlinks—and lets you access your "clippings" sans WiFi. Ex-Tumblr technologist Marco Arment developed Instapaper to smooth his own smart phone reading, and has since attracted 800,000 users.
  • Yesterday, we heard that the Washington Post's former inside-DC gossip columnist and national reporter Mary Ann Akers would be co-authoring Rep. Patrick Kennedy's addiction memoir. Today, FishbowlDC reports she'll be taking a leave from the paper—the full internal memo is here.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Around the Word

Today's spin around the word is equal parts corrective and reflective:
  • Ghostwriting in broad daylight? Reporter and gossip columnist Mary Ann Akers will help Rep. Patrick Kennedy (son of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and Joan Kennedy) pen his memoir about alcohol addiction and growing up as a Kennedy. FishbowlDC blog wants to know: what are the rules? Does Akers need to abstain from reporting on the "national" beat while working with a lawmaker? Can she accept book profits at the same time? Akers's Washington Post "Beltway Gossip" blog The Sleuth went dark in 2009, but she wrote a story about Edward and Joan Kennedy for the Post this August. We wonder if any of our ghostwriting friends have encountered conflict-of-interest tangles and how you handle them?
  • Who's afraid of the big bad style manual? Writers navigating the wilds of accepted usage can consult a bewildering array of guides and tools—and may feel more lost than when they started. Communications director Denise Baron, writing in Ragan, advises getting cozy with your thesauri and stylebooks so that you know what's in there—and how to find it—when you actually need it. Practice using Roget's International Thesaurus (this is more fun than it sounds) and familiarize yourself with the Associated Press stylebooks or the Chicago Manual of Style. Baron's polestar is Strunk and White, a small but staunch ally. Which writer's tools do you keep at arm's length?
  • For most writers and editors, the QWERTY keyboard is sliced bread. Typing speeds up the process of transcribing thoughts into sentences and eases editing, but it also alters our interaction with the words we put down, and at a more micro level than you might imagine. According to studies published in the Wall Street Journal, the act of physically shaping letters triggers portions of our brains connected with memory and information management. Learning to write out letters (or Chinese characters or mathematical notation) impresses them more strongly on our minds and gives our neurons a workout. According to a neuroscientist at Duke, handwriting retraining later in life is good "cognitive exercise." Not to mention the uncanny character analyses that handwriting experts can conduct using handwriting samples.
  • À la Jon Stewart, here is your daily Moment of Zen: short story writer Lorrie Moore, speaking at the New Yorker festival, says she gave herself until thirty to become a writer, and names two indispensables for aspiring writers: your own permission to try, and desire. Plus a day job. The Rumpus's Elissa Bassist jotted down Moore's remarks from the festival, including some personal wisdom that sounds like a Zen koan: "You can't carve solitude out of loneliness—you need people to get away from them." What are your tips for keeping afloat—mentally and monetarily—as a freelance author?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Around the Word

The BloGG's Monday wake-up call explores ways writers communicate—or miscommunicate—with readers:
  • We writers sometimes have a touchy relationship with our readers: how many of you, for instance, felt excluded by the opening "we"? "I'm not a writer, so what am I—chopped liver?" you may ask, or else, "I am a writer...and speak for yourself!" As the Subversive Copy Editor notes, the editorial "we" encourages a variety of uses and abuses. At best, it can create a sense of community and shared feeling—think Obama's campaign-defining "yes we can." At the same time, "we" can take on less inviting—and more sinister—tones, enforcing elitism or erecting a smokescreen around an author unwilling to take editorial responsibility. Even unintended exclusivity or condescension will rub an audience the wrong way. On Language columnist Ben Zimmer records the retorts of feisty critics who classify first-person pluralizers as "kings, editors, and people with tapeworm." So, what do we think?
  • Huck Finn, Harry Potter and...the word "yahoo"? In honor of last week's Banned Book Week, The Word columnist Erin McKean examines banned words in the media and federal institutions. While many are the usual four-lettered suspects, McKean notes that clichés and euphemisms have also gotten the axe—just this summer the FDA forbade the use of misleading qualifiers like light, mild and medium on cigarette packages. Yet while it's true that euphemisms, deceptive adjectives, and sanitized acronyms can obscure ugly realities with alarming elegance, McKean warns that censoring language undermines the possibility of frank, upfront discussion. Do you agree? Do any of these word bans seem justified to you?
  • A perfect novel is a "cathedral made of fire," writes Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Cunningham—just as fiercely radiant and, unfortunately, just as impossible to actually construct. In the New York Times, the author of The Hours and By Nightfall muses on the Protean transformations that every artistic work undergoes, taking on a different shape in the author's mind, on the printed page, under the translator's pen, and in the mind of each individual reader. Cunningham compares the quest for perfection in art to a search for the Holy Grail, but—reassuringly—believes we may be elevated by reaching for the unattainable.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Around the Word

It's Friday Happy Hour here at the BloGG, and to smooth the inevitable barside awkwardness, we've stocked up on writerly ice-breakers for speechwriters, fiction-lovers, and anyone navigating the New York City streets:
  • Language nerds can go globe-trotting with two new books on how language shapes our thinking. On her blog, former journalist Nancy Friedman samples Guy Deutscher's Through the Looking Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages and Elif Batuman's The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them. Learn about the semiotics of Japanese streetlights ("green means go" is not a universal sign) and the riotous profusion of verbs in Old Uzbek (which has a word for "speaking while feeding animals" and for "gazing imploringly into a lover's face"). I've always wondered why English has no word meaning "to make more efficient"—efficate?
  • Speechwriters who follow politics across the Pond may have caught the maiden speech of new Labour Party leader Ed Miliband earlier this week. The Guardian breaks down the speech's strategy, noting that Miliband established ethos by telling his family's personal history, and zazzed his rhetoric up with chiasmus and alliteration. Check out the transcript here and let us know what you think—where does he dazzle and where does he goof?
  • Literati get their day of glory next Thursday, October 7, when the Swedish Academy announces the winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature. GalleyCat quotes a UK betting site that favors Swedish author Tomas Transtromer with 5/11 odds of winning. The only author we'd heard of on the list, Japan's Haruki Murakami, has 11/1 odds. Who do you think will take the prize? Who would YOU give the prize to?
  • eBooks in the 1800s? Charles Dickens and Leo Tolstoy brought home the bacon by feeding the hungry public monthly installments of their masterworks. Now there's a modern twist: instead of via newspaper, Neal Stephenson and Greg Bear will deliver their new novel, The Mongoliad, directly to your smart phone or computer. According to USA Today, the best-selling authors will release chapters weekly, and subscribers can pay $5.99 for six months of anachronistic adventure amid Mongol hordes.
  • Attention New York drivers! If you find ALL CAPS street signs dazing, you're not alone. Starting this fall, the city will replace uppercase with normal lettering on street signs, reports the New York Post. The new signs resemble the street signs in ever-modish Berlin, though NYC is skipping Helvetica in favor of a typeface called Clearview. The $26.7 mil copyedit will enhance readability and safety—and will score the city "hip" points with fans of e.e. cummings.