How to Use Storytelling to Persuade an Audience

I’ve just started work on a new presentation (about Parenting Generation LIVE, the kids who are growing up with always on technology), which reminded me of my favorite resource for presentation development: Duarte. If you’ve not picked up Nancy Duarte’s excellent book Slide:ology, I urge you to get it right away. (The team at Duarte helped create Al Gore’s award-winning presentation, An Inconvenient Truth.)

Nancy has analyzed many presentations and identified the best method of storytelling to influence and change opinion. It’s all very scientific, and her discussion at TEDx (below) is worth watching. A good way to spent 20 minutes on a chilly Fall Friday! Enjoy!

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These Two Men Will Disrupt the News Industry

I’m not convinced that newspapers are dying, even though there’s plenty of financial evidence that they are. (Poynter analyzed the latest revenues and predicts the industry will lose another $1 billion+ this year.)

However, I do think the industry is in a prolonged period of painful disruption. But two disrupters have entered the game, and I’ve a strong feeling they’ll reshape the news industry in a way that no publisher or tech company has been able to do.

Cynics may say that these men can only put more publications out of business, but I see it differently. I think they may just make news profitable for all of us. Ultimately, this will bode well for brand journalists, technologists, and perhaps even the news organizations of the newspapers themselves.

disrupt the news industryJeff Bezos – one of the original disrupters of the digital era – completed his purchase of the Washington Post earlier this month.

Pierre Omidyar – another original disrupter – is launching a major news organization with Glenn Greenwald, the investigative journalist who broke the NSA story.

Bezos spent $250 million (of his own money) to buy the traditional media company. Omidyar is spending the same amount to build something brand new.

Both see a future in news – especially in investigative reporting, the area that arguably has been hit hardest by belt-tightening at newspapers.

How to Disrupt the News Industry

People have been rethinking the news business for a long time. I got my start in journalism at the very beginning of the digital era and spent all of my career working in or alongside teams that were re-imagining the future of news. I’ve always believed that news has value and strong investigative reporting is essential to freedom and democracy.

Over the years, I’ve heard about every type of revenue generator: paywalls, content tiers, freemium models, per-article pricing, advertising, custom content and yes, non-profit. Most news organizations have a mix of these payment types, but no combination has been especially lucrative.

Most traditional newspapers have seen their revenues decline in an intensely crowded media market. Even digital publications, despite the hoopla over the “Internet killing the newspaper star,” struggle. Salon.com, for example, has had losses since its inception.

I’ve also seen the best minds in journalism try to start or turnaround news properties. Some have been very successful. The Wall Street Journal has always been a subscription model. ProPublica has won two Pulitzer Prizes in its short history.

As a nonprofit, there’s more to ProPublica’s goals than revenue, but no publication is making the kind of cash that Bezos and Omidyar have made with their technology ventures.

Invest, Invent, Innovate

Three attributes set Bezos and Omidyar apart from your typical managing editor founding a new journalism venture:

  • Their willingness to invest to invent and experiment and then innovate the results.
  • Hordes of cash that they’re willing to use – to an extent.
  • A track record of using technology to disrupt an industry. Retail hasn’t been the same since Amazon and eBay arrived.

It will be interesting to watch these two as they reinvent the news business. As any technologist knows, it’s much easier to start from scratch than to retrofit an entire system. Omidyar might have the advantage.

It’s possible that we’ll get not one but two new business models to consider. Let’s hope so. The industry needs some new thinking.

We can no longer afford to treat news as a commodity. It’s never going to be uniform in quality, and we should never – as a free people – delude ourselves into thinking that it is. But I do believe that there is a business model that will subsidize the high costs of top-notch journalism.

Bezos and Omidyar: let’s see what you can do.

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High Quality Content Defined

high quality contentThere seems to be a perception that all content marketers have a common understanding of what high quality content is. But do we really? Is there a common definition of high quality content that we can all agree upon? For those of us who started in editorial and became brand journalists, I think there is.

In some ways, I think high quality content is the same as newsworthy. Like porn, I know it when I see it. But unlike porn, I can define it.

High quality content that is also reader-worthy has three core attributes:

  • It’s not an advertisement. Marketers tend to break this rule, thanks to a longstanding tradition of believing that everyone will be as captivated by their products or services as much as they are. But those days are over, as Google and other search engines tinker with algorithms so that they return content that is interesting and relevant to the searcher. It’s why so many content marketers tell us to stop talking about ourselves.
  • It’s new. The best content tells readers something they didn’t already know. It’s one of the reasons that education and how-to videos are so popular.
  • It’s interesting. It’s something that readers want to read – and probably can’t get enough of.

There are other attributes as well – it can be funny, or heartwarming, or emotional – but these three are the common core.

As content marketing evolves into something more robust, we need to take a few lessons from journalists about creating high quality content. It’s not a coincidence that the best types of content originate in traditional media.

Five Types of High Quality Content

Here are five types of content that if you produce, you have a good shot at creating high quality content worth reading or viewing.

  • News analysis. What does a recent event mean to your readers? Analysis is the objective description of the potential implication of change.
  • Interviews. You can’t go wrong with a Q&A. All that’s needed is an interesting guest and 4-5 questions. Most people love to talk about themselves. And you don’t have to be the Larry King of interviewers. Look at the popularity of Reddit’s AMA’s: the questions are asked by everyday people. Good or bad, interviews make for fascinating content.
  • Features and profiles. Here’s your chance to be creative or hard-hitting – take your pick. Choose a leader in your field and write a human interest piece about him, exploring how he structures his day, what he eats for breakfast, how he got to where he is. Or, dig deep into a new development such as a rule or regulation. Investigate the background, interview the players and uncover the real motivators.
  • Opinion. All news outlets stake a position. Some are conservative, some are liberal, but none are neutral. Don’t just regurgitate the facts from “trusted” sources around the Web. The best brand journalists take a stand.
  • Trends predictions. Most of us are busy working in the weeds, so sometimes it’s hard to pick up our heads and see the bigger picture. Your readers need to know where their industry is heading, and what they need to do to head off disaster and seize opportunities. Be their beacon.
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Cory Booker’s Twitter Love Goes to Washington

cory bookerIn the recent campaign for Senate in New Jersey, Republicans tried a completely predictable communications strategy. They blasted Newark mayor Cory Booker as a “celebrity” candidate, who was interested mostly in his own reputation, something he’d carefully built using Twitter.

It is true that Booker is the Twitter mayor, and critics have denounced his Twitter feed as narcissistic, disingenuous, and self-promotional. There may be a bit of truth in all of that – one doesn’t run for office without a bit of chutzpah and ego – but the impact of Booker’s Twitter feed is far greater than his reputation alone.

I live and work in New Jersey, so I’ve a bit of perspective not just on the race, but also on the cities in our state. I travel about quite a bit, and I have business meetings everywhere from bucolic Hunterdon county to gritty Trenton. One of the big disappointments of New Jersey is that almost all of its cities are under assault: too much crime, too much corruption in government, too much apathy, too much decay.

Newark traditionally has been one of these cities. Its reputation, for as long as I can remember, has been poor. Most people never go beyond the train station, a transition point for the trip into New York City.

But Booker’s Twitter feed has succeeded in reacquainting the rest of the state to what is our largest city. Whatever you think of Booker, he is the face of Newark. More importantly, to the city-shunning suburbans, he has introduced the people of Newark. The rest of the state must now acknowledge: There are folks who live and work in Newark, and who love it. To the many Twitter followers outside the boundaries of Newark, he shone a bright light on these residents, and gave them a megaphone.

This could become his biggest legacy, if the next mayor chooses to carry it on.

Booker was successful because he connected personally with the people of Newark. This new way of governing – of giving everyday people a real and intimate voice – was a promise extended by the Obama campaign in 2008, but never realized during the Obama presidency. It has been a huge disappointment, because the opportunity to listen to the unfiltered opinions of the electorate seems so, well, democratic.

Booker’s election reignites that hope. Maybe it’s not possible for him to answer every tweet from every Jersey Girl or Boy, but I’d sure like to see him try. Even simple analytics on his Twitter feed – measuring the sentiment of the people about the government shutdown vs. defunding Obamacare, for example – would be an amazing act of political insurgency.

My vote is always with the people. Let’s hope Booker represents it well.

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Brand Storytelling Lessons from “Breaking Bad”

Brand Storytelling Lessons from Breaking BadSo, it’s over. Walter White is gone, the “Breaking Bad” story concluded. Pundits and critics will be discussing the series finale for weeks. But I’d like to focus on something altogether different: the long narrative arc, the short story that is each episode, and what marketers can learn from Vince Gilligan to improve their brand storytelling.

Let me start by saying that I’m a latecomer to “Breaking Bad,” having  started the series just a few weeks ago. At least I have the pleasure of continuing on, while many fans now are in the unenviable position of series withdrawal. I’ve still got three and a half seasons to view, which I’ll watch leisurely over the next few months – if I can stand to slow it down.

And I have another advantage: I’ve read ahead. Don’t be shocked! I do this all the time when I read novels. I like to know where the story is going, but I’m also keenly interested in story construction and character development. And I’m always looking to borrow from other disciplines to hone my own brand storytelling skills. So I’m glad I’ve read the dozens of articles about White’s transformation and the eventual end to his story. I now have time to fully appreciate and learn from Gilligan’s talent in storytelling.

There’s much that brand marketers can learn from Gilligan and this series. When we think about how to tell our brand story, we often think in terms of corporate messaging and individual campaigns. In an ideal world, these two types of narratives need to snap together. More realistically, in large organizations and fast-moving markets, that may not always be the case. Consistency of story is always a brand challenge.

Brand Storytelling and the Long Narrative Arc

Vince Gilligan pitched Breaking Bad to the studio with this one line: “This is a story about a man who transforms himself from Mr. Chips into Scarface.”

That sentence says a lot about what Gilligan sees as White’s brand and direction. It answers the question: What does Gilligan want Walt to be? To support that vision, he weaves a narrative in episodes that turn Walt into a badass.

Every company has a vision for what it wants to be, although it may not exactly want to be known as a badass corporate entity. Nearly every one will want to be known as innovative or the best in their class. How they express that ambition, however, is widely different.

Apple, for example, has built a its reputation for innovation on the idea of originality. Its campaigns (“Think Different”) and product development (Mac, iOS, iPhone) have all supported that broader vision. Another example: Pepsi targets a youthful audience with its soft drinks. And of course it wants its customers to associate the brand with fun and entertainment. Its long narrative arc therefore taps into pop culture.

The long narrative arc is where brand storytellers and strategists must start. It’s ground zero. The questions are:

  1. Who are your customers and what do they think of you?
  2. What products and services do you offer?
  3. What is your promise to your customer?
  4. What does the brand want to be?
  5. What is your big picture story?

Some of these answers are very concrete, but others can and should be aspirational.

Campaigns as Short Stories

Each week, Walter White made another step toward Gilligan’s vision of badass. In season 1, the catalyst was a diagnosis of cancer. The first action toward building his badass brand was to start cooking meth. Each week after, Gilligan unveiled another proof point, whether it was Walt cutting deals with drug lords, abusing Jesse, lying to his wife, or cutting down adversaries.

With every episode, we had more proof of who Walt is. Each installment snapped neatly into the longer narrative arc.

Marketers must align every campaign that they run with their longer narrative arc. If a campaign isn’t consistent with the storyline, it needs to be rethought or even killed. Every campaign must be another building block in the story.

But here’s another thing that Gilligan did very well: He helped his audience become emotionally invested in Walt himself. In literary terms, Walt is an anti-hero, and by the end of the series, fans had divided on what they felt should happen to the man. While this division isn’t quite the fan investment brands desire, we do want our fans do care about us emotionally.

Here are the questions that brand storytellers and campaign managers need to ask:

  1. How does this campaign build our brand?
  2. How do we make an emotional connection with fans?
  3. What is the mini-story we want to tell?
  4. What do we want our customers to believe and feel?

Of course, brands can run campaigns without the bigger picture narrative or an emotional connection, but they’ll never build the kind of loyalty and love from customers that will insulate them from pricing and market challenges. For this, they need to develop that longer narrative arc and support it with proof-point campaigns – over and over again.

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Can Brand Journalism and Ethics Co-Exist?

brand journalism ethic coexistDo ethics matter in business? Do they matter in journalism? How about brand journalism?

Let’s consider a fictional example.

“Did you use exceptional measures?”

“IF we used sarin, here’s how we used sarin.”

This is a pivotal exchange from an episode this season of Aaron Sorkin’s Newsroom, which just ended its second season on HBO. Actually, the turning point is not this interview of a general who is – in the hopes of the questioning TV producer – whistleblowing on the illegal use of nerve gas during a Marine rescue in Pakistan. It’s the surreptitious editing of the clip after the interview to remove the word “if” by the mission-driven producer.

Of course, he was wrong to do that.

It’s easy to sit back in the armchair and throw darts at journalists in the heat of a story. Boo them even. Tell ourselves that yes, they are as devious and evil as we believe them to be.

Not that what the character Jerry Dantana did was right, but we CEOs, marketers, brand journalists, and PR pros all need to take a hard look at our own ethical behavior. How different are we, actually? We use influence every day to earn more revenue. And when we do, how truly honest are we in our drive to land that big contract?

For businesses, whether they are media companies, retailers, food giants or manufacturers, the line between persuasion and truth is fine indeed. But it’s important for us to hold that line. After all, we hold social contracts with our markets. Customers expect businesses to treat them well and fairly, and they should expect us to try to make the world a better place.

One thing I’ve learned from working in big corporate media companies: They are run by people, most of whom are well-intentioned. Yes, there are employees who, like Jerry Dantana, will believe that sliding the line just a little bit is okay if it helps the greater good. And I believe that many people come to work each day convinced that they are making the world a better place.

But when things go wrong – and they often do – it’s because it’s hard to see the big picture when you are just one small cog. The food industry is a good example of this phenomenon. I recently finished reading Michael Moss’s book, Salt, Sugar, Fat – How the Food Giants Hooked Us. It would be easy for me to cast the food giants as evil, greedy corporations. After all, they’ve engineered our food to encourage us to eat more calories than we need – literally expanding their market.

But what I took away from the book is that many of the players believed they were doing good, by giving consumers what they wanted or solving the hunger crisis by making food more affordable. Over time, they held onto these beliefs even as they played a role in changing consumer behavior and shifting the problem from hunger to malnourishment (and making quite a lot of revenue and profit).

Journalists and businesspeople aren’t all that different from each other, much as we like to think they are. Both have the same goal: to persuade and influence. (No editor, producer or journalist will admit to this, of course. They’ll say that it’s the truth they’re after. But they do influence, whether intentionally or not.)

What sets journalists apart is a strong code of ethics to tell the truth for the betterment of society. Businesses might also have internal codes of ethics, and they might say that they’re doing good. But they also have a fiscal responsibility to owners, shareholders, and yes, customers. That fiscal responsibility means that brands have an inherent conflict of interest.

Their mission is to make more revenue and to do that they must sell more of their products. Objectivity plays a much smaller role. The only place you’ll find Macy’s Santa directing customers across the street to Gimbel’s is in the movies.

As brands become publishers, though, we need to reconsider the ethics of providing one-sided or incomplete information. There’s good fiscal reason to lean toward objectivity at the risk of sending customers elsewhere. People buy from brands they trust, and socially responsible companies tend to have higher revenues.

As marketing becomes more fact-based and news-driven – more focused on brand journalism – we need to recognize that it might be in our best interests not to edit the clip.

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Become a Guru: Be a Thought Leader in Your Field

Whether you’re a brand, small business, or an individual, establishing thought leadership in your industry is critical to your success in content marketing. But I’ve seen some people hesitate when describing themselves as a thought leader. The truth is: we’re all experts in something.

So, what does it mean to be an authority on a topic? A subject matter expert? A guru? Let’s look at some commonly accepted definitions of these terms:

guru teacher expertGuru: teacher, leader, a leading authority

Expert: A person with exceptional skill or knowledge in the field

Authority: an expert

Master: A person with exceptional skill in a certain thing; a person qualified to teach

These are high standards, aren’t they? Perhaps, but we have to remember that they’re imbued with a certain set of expectations that are sometimes just a bit over the top. For example, when I hear the word “guru,” I usually think of that wizened old man at the top of the mountain, who knows with absolute certainty what is the truth.

The Internet is full of gurus, though. Is it possible for each and every one to be as all-knowing as the guru on the mountain? Of course not. Like most of us, they’re still learning – and they’ll always be learning – new things in the area in which they’re experts. What they do have is a preponderance of knowledge in their specific field that they’re willing to share.

So if you’re having doubts about whether or not you too can be a guru, have no fear.

If you’ve been running a small business or following an interest or a passion for some time, then you’ve probably accumulated knowledge that others would find useful to learn.

Think about it: How many formal classes have you taken? Do you have a degree in your field? How many clients have you worked with? How many new scenarios have you faced? How many problems have you solved? How many industry, trade journals or blogs do you read?

Chances are, you’ve mastered your field of expertise, and you’re uniquely qualified to teach others how to be successful.

And that’s what a guru really is: a teacher. It doesn’t mean that you must know everything, or to be that expert or that guru on the mountain who knows all. You just have to know more than those who want to learn.

That may seem like a trite concept but that’s really what’s playing out on the Internet right now. Many people were sharing their expertise through blogs, videos and online courses.

Here are five steps to becoming a guru in your field.

Be confident. You know more than you give yourself credit for. And you certainly know more than your clients (that’s why they hire you) or the people who are just getting started in your field.

Don’t stop learning. Many of us believe that we must know “all” before we can teach. But if gurus waited until they learned all they could learn, there would be no teachers.  The experts are constantly educating themselves about changing developments in their field, and they learn new things all the time. Does this sound familiar?

Share your knowledge. Blog about it, create a video series or an online course. Your authority increases with the amount of knowledge you share.

Share what others are saying. Don’t keep what you’re reading and watching to yourself. Share it in social networks and offer commentary.

Connect with other gurus. Reach out to influential experts in your field and make those connections public. By building your network, you’re also building your reputation.

Continuously sharing your knowledge with a ever-widening range of people can draw huge benefits. You’ll connect with new clients and partners, your fellow experts will ask your assistance with problems, and the media will seek commentary on breaking news. Not bad, guru.

“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”

Albert Einstein

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

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What the Perfect Editorial Calendar Should Include

editorial systemI have a problem with editorial calendars for content marketing. Maybe it’s just that I’m spoiled by my years as an editor in the newsroom, but spreadsheets and Word docs just aren’t cutting it for me. And yet, today, as I download yet another “how to plan your content marketing strategy” ebook from a marketing agency, here’s what they recommend: a spreadsheet.

Yep.

Editorial calendars are the nervous system of your content marketing strategy. Heck, they’re the nervous system of your whole marketing strategy. But they really need to WORK for you. And spreadsheets are just clunky. They aren’t easy to edit, to insert images into, to capture links, or use for collaboration in teams. You can’t hold a discussion or leap nimbly from Web to spreadsheet to social network.

What’s more, there’s no easy way to create a bird’s eye view or effectively manage dozens of social accounts. It makes both strategic and tactical planning cumbersome and inefficient.

But if I’m really honest with myself, what I really want is an editorial system. I want something that allows me to plan several months out, manage the process and all the specifics easily, allow for agility and flexibility when situations change or opportunities arrive, and distribute across my marketing channels effortlessly.

Dear journalist friends, does this sound familiar? That’s right. Media outlets do this every day. They have publishing systems, style guides, and processes that make it possible.

Here are my requirements for the perfect content marketing editorial system (and this is just a start):

  • Ease of planning
  • Short term view
  • Long term horizon
  • Ease of sharing (with clients and teams)
  • Ease of collaboration (for clients and teams)
  • Integrated real-time monitoring of topics (to easily curate)
  • Ability to distribute and share to multiple channels
  • Ability to customize messages for each channel
  • Ability to repeat posts easily (copy / paste)
  • Copyright compliance detector
  • Plagarism detector
  • Analytics (graphics, customizable data points, ability to download to a spreadsheet)
  • Mobile enabled
  • Fully integrated with all platforms from CMS to social network

How about you? What are your requirements? Tell me in the comments below. I’d love to hear them. And I promise to consolidate them into the ideal wishlist and publish it here for reference.

I’ll even go a step further: Over the next few months, I’m going to test, evaluate and review tools for managing editorial calendars and social media. I’ll use our ideal list to do that. So, comment away!

Photo Credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

 

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Brands Need Discussion Guidelines to Keep Out Rattlesnakes

Community and discussion guidelines are essential for civil discourse and effective brand marketing.

Uncivil discourse can harm a brand. Crafting discussion guidelines is essential.Louis C.K. has this hilarious bit about road rage in his recent HBO special, “Louis C.K.: Oh My God.” He observes that once behind the wheel, we give ourselves permission to treat other drivers with vehemence and hatred. As Louis says, when he’s behind the wheel, he has “a different set of values. I’m the worst person I can be.”

In addition to being a perfectly written piece of comedy, this is dead on accurate. But I’ve noticed that such horrific behavior isn’t limited to cars. It’s also found on blogs, news sites, Facebook, and YouTube. More than I’d like, I see people posting scathing and offensive comments as “anonymous,” but increasingly, they’re also doing so as themselves.

What is it about “comments” that makes us the worst people we can be? Where are the decorum and the civility? Do we acquire a different set of values because we aren’t face-to-face with whom we disagree?

I’ve become increasingly appalled at the lack of civil discourse in comments. Why do we think it’s ok to call someone an idiot or illiterate, or to brush them in a broad and insulting stereotype?

Anonymity gives us a false sense of superiority, closes the door to reasoned discussion, and blunts our sensitivity to respecting others.  This insidious behavior can have a detrimental effect on the building of a brand community because it creates an unfriendly, unwanted environment for members.

That’s why community and discussion guidelines are essential for your digital marketing platforms.

All too often, we focus on our own internal social media policies, but spend little time thinking about how we want our communities to function. Just as news media have a responsibility to foster reasoned discussion of a topic, brand journalists must ensure that all opinions are welcome as long as they adhere to the rules of civility.

Here are five ways that you can make all members of your community feel welcome and unthreatened.

1)   Define appropriate behaviors. How do you want your community to act? Some basic rules for commenting will keep forums useful and pleasant, encouraging return visits. You should absolutely forbid offensive remarks.

2)   Make it clear you will delete. Actively monitor your comments and don’t be afraid to remove those that are offensive. Your guidelines will be clear about this: personal attacks, spam, and off-topic comments should be banned from the discussion.

3)   Promote your guidelines widely. Don’t hide them at the bottom of your webpage. Post them front and center, write a blog post about them, tweet the links occasionally, and most importantly, live the values.

4)   Don’t allow anonymous posts. Ever. Require an email address for commenters or have them sign in using Facebook or Twitter.

5)   Use a community voting system. Commenting systems such as Disqus allow visitors to vote comments up or down, allowing your members to self-police. Public shaming works well.

Be careful to penalize poor manners, rather than opposing viewpoints. Contrarian opinions can create lively discussions and should always be welcome, as long as they don’t cross the line into insult.

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Tips for Staying Creative Every Day So New Ideas Will Flow

I’m a creative person by nature. But even I − a brand journalist who is faced with the need to generate new ideas for custom content every…single…day −  even I get burned out. You can’t create custom media without fresh ideas.

I do have a few tricks to help me find my creative mojo again.

  • Golden Gate Bridge is reflected in a soap bubbleTroll the Web. OK, admittedly, this sounds like a poor idea. And really, I wouldn’t recommend it as the FIRST thing to try. Maybe not even the last. But there are some amazing things on the Web. Museum websites are great sources of creative inspiration, especially for new types of custom media. Just don’t let yourself get TOO distracted or hours will go by in a flash. Oh…and stay away from Perez Hilton.
  • Watch a TEDTalk. I don’t consider this surfing the Web because I watch these on my iPad while doing the dishes. They either have me running back to the computer with 15 new ideas − or leave me up to my elbows in soap bubbles and tears.
  • Take a shower. Without singing. (I’m banned from singing in the house after a disastrous attempt at the Happy Birthday song a few years ago.) On slow days, I’m squeaky clean.
  • Play the “I wonder if” game. You know, ‘I wonder if this story would be more interesting if told it in Q&A style.’ or ‘I wonder if things smell the same way to cats as they smell to us.’ 
  • Get outside. Take a run along the pond, walk to the local coffee shop, sit outside the local library and people watch. This often brings out the journalist in me, which often leads to new ideas.
  • Welcome the bad ideas. One thing I’ve learned over the years about the he process of generating new ideas or new ways to tell stories is that bad ideas often spark good ones. Don’t be afraid to let the dogs out.

Golden Gate Bridge is reflected in a soap bubble (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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