Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Why Editing is Important

November begins tomorrow -- and with it, a new month of Create.Compose.Communicate, my weekly writing newsletter in collaboration with Sarah of Inspiration-Driven Communication.

The theme for the upcoming month is "Put on Your Editor's Hat" and will focus on tips and tricks for improving your rough drafts.

I'll be honest though... I don't love editing my own work.  (Other people's work is another story... I love helping others improve their writing!)

Most of the time, when I finish a blog post or an article or a paper, I'll go back through and reread it.  I'll change a few words, re-phrase a couple sentences, maybe pull some information to a different paragraph.  But I don't usually make a lot of changes.

One reason for the lack of changes at the end: I self-edit as I write.  With each sentence I type, I revise as needed before moving on.

The other reason: it's hard to look at your own work critically.  It's tough to "kill your darlings," as the saying goes.

As annoying or difficult as editing can be, I've learned that it's a crucial part of the writing process.  There is nothing worse than seeing an error in your work at a point when it's too late to make changes (yes, editors are human and don't always catch everything!).

Here's why it's important to edit:

1. Editing establishes and maintains your credibility.
Typos and errors will distract or confuse readers.  And it may make them question the validity of your content.  Whether you're writing for an editor, your boss, a client, or a friend, editing ensures that what you're saying isn't overshadowed by how you're saying it.

2. Editing gives you a different perspective.
While writing, you have a million thoughts running through your head and out your fingertips. Afterwards, switching to an editing mindset allows you to look at the words with new eyes and see inconsistencies or inaccuracies. Overall voice and tone become more apparent too.

3. Editing provides clarity.
When you edit, you have the ability to view the big picture, something you can't see while in the midst of writing. Upon review, perhaps you'll find that your conclusion now requires a slightly different introduction than you started with. Or maybe your main point shifted in the process or your paragraphs need to be re-organized.

4. Editing boosts creativity.
Playing with sentence structure or word choice comes into play once your draft is complete. You'll be able to spot repetition or weak sentences and then mix things up, making your writing sharper and stronger.

If you haven't signed up for Create.Compose.Communicate, be sure to sign up today. Our first newsletter of the new month goes out tomorrow, November 1.

Bonus: get Sarah's thoughts on why editing is important by visiting Inspiration-Driven Life.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Halloween at Home

This year, we didn't dress up for Halloween.  Scott loves scary movies and I love candy, so we combined the two for our Halloween celebration.  A few friends came over to watch the Notre Dame game (woo hoo! 8-0!) and then view some parts and pieces of scary movies.

I tried out this Glitter Guide recipe for Halloween Compost Cookies by Clara of Channeling Contessa for the occasion.  As our grocery store didn't have black and orange M&Ms, I used Reese's Pieces and they worked perfectly!  (Yes, there are crushed potato chips in the dough... trust me, you'll love the sweet + salty combo.)

I also made another batch of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles.  Yum!  It was the perfect way to celebrate the holiday (and the Irish win!).

How are you celebrating Halloween?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles

Cookie dough without the "dangerous" raw eggs?  Yes, please!  For K's bridesmaid lunch and nails last Friday, I made these chocolate chip cookie dough truffles.  So darn good.  If I didn't have to bring them to share, I might have been tempted to eat them all myself.

You can find the recipe below and on which I discovered via {av} and her recent "chocolate fix" post. [I did not use the popsicle sticks in my version, but be sure to check out the Bakerella link for another really cute and creative variation!!]

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles
from The Cookie Dough Lover’s Cookbook
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
chocolate candy coating
popsicle sticks, cut in half (use kitchen scissors to make a clean, smooth cut)
  • In a large bowl, beat butter and sugars with an electric mixer until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes).
  • Mix in milk and vanilla.
  • Add flour and salt and mix on low until combined.
  • Stir in chocolate chips.
  • Chill dough in refrigerator for about 30 minutes until firm enough to roll or scoop into 1-inch balls.
  • Place rolled balls on a wax paper lined baking sheet and place in the freezer for at least 15 minutes. (I had mine in for about an hour so longer is okay, too)
  • Melt candy coating following instructions on the package. Remove a couple of balls from the freezer at a time and insert the cut stick into the ball. Dip in candy coating and let any excess fall off back into the bowl.
  • Add small sprinkles on top and place on wax paper to set. If the chocolate pools at the bottom of the ball, dot the balls on the wax paper until most of it is pulled off the ball and then place it on a clean spot of the wax paper to set.
  • Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to a week.

The "dough" rolled up and ready to be dipped!
Dipped and decorated with gold sprinkles!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Book Club: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Our book club meeting last week was at I.'s place.  All six of us (finally the whole crew!) gathered around her beautifully set table, and she served up an Italian feast, complete with appetizers, salad, turkey meatballs, pasta and sauce, grilled chicken, veggies... and wine... and cookies and pie for dessert.

Before we delved into our discussion of Dare Me, E. had a big announcement for us: she had gotten engaged a couple of days prior!  We were all excited to hear the story of how L. proposed, see the ring, and find out more about their plans for a destination wedding.  Such a fun surprise!

Once we settled down a bit, we talked about Dare Me and its dark, disturbing story of a high school cheerleading squad.  As a writer, I found the author Megan Abbott's unique syntax, sharp dialogue, and fresh descriptions completely fascinating.  At some point while reading it, I had to let go of the idea that it was a realistic story and envision it more as a fictional TV show or movie instead.  The suspenseful plot and fabulous writing kept my attention (I read it in about three sittings!), but some of the events were over-the-top.  And throughout the book, the cheerleaders and their coach's relationship seemed inappropriate, including drinking and sleeping over at the coach's house, getting involved in her family and her relationships, etc.  Definitely a page-turner though -- mysterious and intriguing and shocking.

Our next selection is the classic book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.  I read it years ago as a young girl, so I'm excited to re-read it and discuss it at our next meeting.

via Review:
Francie Nolan, avid reader, penny-candy connoisseur, and adroit observer of human nature, has much to ponder in colorful, turn-of-the-century Brooklyn. She grows up with a sweet, tragic father, a severely realistic mother, and an aunt who gives her love too freely--to men, and to a brother who will always be the favored child. Francie learns early the meaning of hunger and the value of a penny. She is her father's child--romantic and hungry for beauty. But she is her mother's child, too--deeply practical and in constant need of truth. Like the Tree of Heaven that grows out of cement or through cellar gratings, resourceful Francie struggles against all odds to survive and thrive. Betty Smith's poignant, honest novel created a big stir when it was first published over 50 years ago. Her frank writing about life's squalor was alarming to some of the more genteel society, but the book's humor and pathos ensured its place in the realm of classics--and in the hearts of readers, young and old.

Monday, October 22, 2012

How to Cultivate Gratitude

Part of A.J. Jacob's talk during Chicago Ideas Week's "Storytellers: The Power of Perspective" panel has resonated with me over the past two weeks.  While he was doing research and writing his book, "The Year of Living Biblically," he tried to live out the idea of giving thanks at all times.

It wasn't always easy, but over time, he cultivated an attitude of gratitude.  He noticed that hundreds of things go right every day, but we usually focus on the three to four things that go wrong.

What a powerful reminder.  Too often, I take the good things for granted.  But what if we gave thanks for all those small, everyday blessings?  What if we gave thanks constantly?  It would be challenging to do all the time, but the actual act of giving thanks is quite simple. 

In the process of meditating on those words--"thank you"--throughout the day, I would not only cultivate gratitude, but I believe I'd also take on a more positive mindset.  I would look for the good and let go of the bad more easily.  I would recognize how blessed I am.

While visiting Kansas, my parents and I talked about Catholicism and our faith.  While so many of us want to "get something out of Mass," and so many of us pray for help or turn to God only in the tough times, we may gain more by simply giving thanks.

Offering gratitude to God, even when life is hard and we don't have answers and we don't understand why or how or when, brings peace and grace and a sense of trust.  The gifts and blessings we have are evidence of His love.

Especially in these weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, I am making a commitment to cultivating gratitude, to recognizing all the good in life and giving thanks every day.

What are you grateful for?  How do you cultivate gratitude?

I'm thankful for the food we eat...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Chicago Ideas Week: "Storytellers" Talk

[On Monday, I arrived back in Chicago after a long weekend visiting my family in Kansas.  It was just what I needed... time to relax and catch up with people I love, lots of food and some shopping too.  I took a little blogging break, but I'm back now!]

Last week, I attended one of the Chicago Ideas Week talks, "Storytellers: The Power of Perspective."  (The full week's agenda included so many amazing topics... I wish I'd had time to go to more of the events!)

Storytelling is important to me as a writer, but beyond that, it's a part of all types of art forms.  To that end, the talk presented different perspectives on the topic of storytelling.  Bonus: due to a last minute switch, the moderator of the talk was Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (one of our book club picks!).

I wrote pages of notes during the 90-minute presentation.  Here are the highlights... phrases and paraphrases pulled from my scribbles:


There is a need to share in each other's human experiences.
Delivery methods of storytelling may change.

Rebecca Skloot - Author

Use storytelling to teach people.
Memory and emotion are connected.  Emotional stories are the ones we remember.
Good storytellers follow their curiosity and their passion.
Start with a "what" moment.  Ask "what" and go in that direction, look into it.
It's possible to trace stories back to something the storyteller was interested in before age 18.
Obsession is an essential part of story telling.
The biggest mistake of young writers is trying to figure out where the story is going before they finish their reporting.  It skews the story.
You never know how one sentence can change someone's life.
Stories are what you can learn from others.  Pay attention to your own stories.

Arun Chaudhary - Political Artist, Former Official White House Videographer

Craft the narrative.
At the heart of every story is authenticity.
Time on camera reveals who a person is naturally.
Video allows you to show, not tell.
Old adage in politics: when you're explaining, you're losing.
It's not just about the facts.  People want the story.
Transparency is a discipline.  Consistency is important.
Give information even when people aren't asking, not just as a response.

Susan Credle - Chief Creative Officer, Leo Burnett USA

Brands do have stories to tell.
"Storytelling will be over when the world is perfect."
Stories show us worlds we've never known, get our attention, shift us.
On our best day, we start to change the way people feel and live, the world.
Ads have finite time - 15, 30, 60 seconds.
Brands are like characters - what's their role or purpose?
The traditional way of telling stories is shifting a bit, moving from broadcast to an oral tradition.
Ads start stories that people are passing around, adding onto, etc. (for example, Secret's "Mean Stinks" campaign).

Carol Edgarian - Co-Founder, Narrative Magazine; Bestselling Author

"We become what we think about all day long" - Emerson
Fiction: people want to know if it's true.
New technology provides immediacy and intimacy.
If it isn't fact, is it less real? (for example, reality TV vs. a classic novel)
Reading addresses our want for connection.
Slow down enough to look behind and beneath things.
Where do stories come from?  It's a mystery... where I feel most urgent, afraid.
It's as if the book is already written, up on a high shelf.
Stories ask questions.
How do stories today find readers?
Readers are confused by the uncurated noise.
We need standards of excellence online.
The book as a vehicle for story is fairly new.
Death of the book does not mean death of story.
How people get our stories--that's structure.  What's important is quality.

A.J. Jacobs - Bestselling Author

His writing: "immersive storytelling" or "method writing"
Anthropology allows us to observe and participate.
In reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, he found the good outweighs the bad and progress is real.
In reading the Bible and trying to follow all 700+ rules within it, he learned that if you act as if you're a better person, you become one.
Change your behavior, and your mind follows.
Gratitude: give thanks all the time.
Hundreds of things go right every day, but we focus on the three or four that go wrong.
Stories allow the reader to see the world through different eyes, encourages empathy.

How is storytelling a part of your life?  Did any of these speakers' points resonate with you?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Why I Started Journaling Again

The last time I kept a journal and wrote in it on a regular basis was my senior year of college.  I was going through a lot of change at the timeliving off campus with friends, wrapping up both of my majors with senior papers and projects, dealing with a breakup, dating new people, turning 21 years old (finally!), looking for a post-graduation job, figuring out plans for after college...

I had thoughts and worries and questions rolling through my mind constantlyand I couldn't bore my friends and family with the contents of my crazy mind every day.  I needed a place to work out my questions and express my feelings.  And for me, writing has always been a way to explore emotions, to clarify thoughts, to relieve stress, to document my life.

A Look Forward and a Look Back
Now, I'm experiencing another transition.  This time, I've finished graduate school, I've started my own business, and what's to come is kind of a question mark.  That unknown is exciting and scary.  I'm at another point in life where things aren't neatly mapped out for me.  There is no set "what's next," and I can't control all the opportunities and outcomes.

But I feel like there are a lot of possibilities, a lot of good things ahead, things I want to write down as they happen.

In the future, I want to be able to look back at my journal and see the path that got me to where I am.  While I'm living life, day to day, I don't always understand how some small moment might have a larger impact.  But in looking back, in flipping through journal pages, I have the ability to gain an understanding.  I see the twists and turns, and they take on a deeper meaning.  I see how I've grown and what I've learned, those changes that I can't always perceive as they occur.  I understand the big picture a little bit better.

A Private and Imperfect Space
While some people use their blogs as journals, I think of those forms as distinct entities.  All along, I've resolved that my blog doesn't have to be polished and perfect.  But my journal is even less so.  I don't edit, re-structure, or title my journal entries.  I don't use the correct punctuation all the time.  I write myself in circles and draw arrows and just get the words on paper.

Though I like to share pieces of myself here on my blog, it is still a public forum.  My journal is for those private thoughts, those scary or silly thoughts I don't really want to "publish" to the whole wide world... the world wide web.

So I'm journaling once againto document my thoughts in this time of transition and uncertainty, to look back from time to time and gain perspective, to let go of the need for perfection, to relish a space of privacy in this oh-so-public world, to put my heart and mind on paperto write about the little things and the big things... because I don't always know which are which until I reflect on my words, on my life.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Book Club: Dare Me

I'm not sure where the last two weeks have gone, but two weeks ago, I hosted book club.  My mother-in-law gifted me these napkins... so of course, they were a part of the spread!  She also contributed a bottle of champagne (so great!).

While discussing the short story collection You Know When the Men Are Gone, we ate sub sandwiches and chicken enchilada crockpot soup.  The soup was just as amazing as the first time and one of the easiest recipes I've made... plus it makes a lot and is easy to reheat.

For dessert, I whipped up pumpkin spice cupcakes with cinnamon cream cheese frosting (inspired by Lara; found the recipe here).  Per the reviews, I used oil instead of butter and the whole can of pumpkin rather than 1 cup, doubled the salt, and left out the cloves.  The cupcakes were perfect for fall, not overly sweet, and dense, almost like a muffin.

As for the book, we all enjoyed it.  The stories gave us different perspectives on what military families go through and opened our eyes to the difficult situations they face, which prompted a great discussion for our group.  And Siobhan Fallon's writing was superb.

For our next meeting, we're reading Dare Me by Megan Abbott.  Since we are getting together next week to chat about this pick, I've already finished the book... which was pretty easy to do considering the plot totally sucked me in.  More to come in my next book club recap!

via Book Description:
Addy Hanlon has always been Beth Cassidy's best friend and trusted lieutenant. Beth calls the shots and Addy carries them out, a long-established order of things that has brought them to the pinnacle of their high-school careers. Now they're seniors who rule the intensely competitive cheer squad, feared and followed by the other girls -- until the young new coach arrives.

Cool and commanding, an emissary from the adult world just beyond their reach, Coach Colette French draws Addy and the other cheerleaders into her life. Only Beth, unsettled by the new regime, remains outside Coach's golden circle, waging a subtle but vicious campaign to regain her position as "top girl" -- both with the team and with Addy herself.

Then a suicide focuses a police investigation on Coach and her squad. After the first wave of shock and grief, Addy tries to uncover the truth behind the death -- and learns that the boundary between loyalty and love can be dangerous terrain.

The raw passions of girlhood are brought to life in this taut, unflinching exploration of friendship, ambition, and power. Award-winning novelist Megan Abbott, writing with what Tom Perrotta has hailed as "total authority and an almost desperate intensity," provides a harrowing glimpse into the dark heart of the all-American girl.

Amazon Review:
Oh my, these beautiful, terrible girls, with their "Aruba-tanned" legs and their ferocity and fears, for whom the smallest slights become life-and-death matters. This brilliantly dark and uncomfortably real story, sharp and suspenseful and chilling, made me desperately glad I have sons. The author is so attuned to the "witchiness of girls" and the drama of high school, and then she takes us to the darkest corners of that world. These aren't Mean Girls or Breakfast Club teens--more like Glee on steroids. Megan Abbott is a scary genius. Her voice is fierce and fearless.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

How to Find the Secret to Success

After having dinner with Bethany last night and watching this interview with Danielle LaPorte this morning, I have so many thoughts running through my head.  Thoughts about business, writing, blogging, and life...

It seems as if we all want to know the secret to success.  Sometimes in the online world, it looks easy, as if people have found the trick to overnight fame, fortune, and happiness.  But in reality, that's rarely the case.

Here are some thoughts I keep coming back to, things I have to remind myself of, things I want to share with all of you who are striving for something in life.

Just do it.  Learn along the way.  Learn for yourself.
At some point, you have to stop reading all the self-help and how-to books and blogs, stop taking the courses and classes.  You have to simply trust that you have enough knowledge to start.  The only way to find personal success, whatever that means for you, is to make your own path.  That means trying, failing, learning, moving forward.

Stop looking around.  Stop comparing yourself.  Stop trying to do what others have done.
Since your definition and path to personal success is your own, you also have to stop looking around at others.  Sure, you can learn from and be inspired by other people's paths to success, but reading about their stories and connecting with them can only take you so far.  What they have done worked for them.  What they have done doesn't necessarily work for everyone and doesn't necessarily work for you.

Stay true to yourself.  You can't please everyone.
As you move down your path, there will be many obstacles, questions, and decisions.  To stay on the right path, the right one for you, you must look to your heart and stay true to what you want and believe.  Think about what makes sense, pray for guidance, ask advice--but ultimately, take the steps that feel right for you.  People may disagree, people may ask questions, people may criticize your decisions.  You can consider their comments, but it's up to you whether to let those comments influence your way.  Remember it's your path.  It's your life.

Don't take things personally or expect too much out of people.  We don't know.
Whether we interact in the online world or in "real life," we connect with other people along the way.  Sometimes you may feel like other people are ignoring you, not paying attention to you, excluding you.  You may feel insignificant, like a small fish in a big, murky pond.  But in looking from another perspective--a human perspective that sees how we are all working and struggling and striving--you may come to realize they don't mean any harm.  They are trying to find happiness and joy, success and fulfillment, just like you are.  And none of us knows what else is going on in other people's lives--even those we are close to, related to, in a relationship with.  We don't know the day they've had or what they are dealing with.  We haven't lived their exact experiences.  Let's be kind to one another.

Don't give with the expectation to receive.  Make genuine connections and see what happens.
So much advice about "getting ahead" is about making connections, networking, who you know.  While that may be true, it doesn't mean those interactions should be selfish or fake.  Think about it like making friendships.  Be open to those you meet and be genuine.  Give to others, help others without selfish intentions.  If you do this, something will happen.  Good things that you would never expect will happen.  And when those relationships bring you new opportunities, be thankful.

There is no secret to success.
Sorry, everyone... I guess the title of this blog post is a little misleading.  As much as we all search for it, there is no secret, no trick, no quick-and-easy way.  The best things in life require work and sacrifice and time.  But that's what makes them amazing.  That's what makes them worth working for.  If there was a secret to success, it would have to be universal.  But we're all paving our own ways, walking our own paths, growing towards our own best selves, working towards our own definitions of success, happiness, fulfillment, whatever that may be.  So there is no one-size-fits-all answer.  And knowing that can help you stop looking around for the answer and start moving forward.

I want to know what you all think!  What does "success" mean for you?  How do you determine which path makes sense for you?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Where I'll Be on Friday Evening

I was invited to an event via Facebook a little while ago.  Last night, I went back to read through the details and wondered why I hadn't checked it out sooner.  A quick email to some girlfriends and a ticket purchase later... and I'm going to the LUNAFEST Chicago Women's Film Festival.

The event, hosted by and LUNA Bar, includes a cocktail reception and a film screening of nine short films by women filmmakers.  Proceeds from the event also support the Breast Cancer Fund and Bright Pink.

Incredibly diverse in style and content, LUNAFEST is united by a common thread of exceptional storytelling - by, for and about women.

You all know how I believe that everyone has a story to tell... and that story can be shared through writing, film, art, photography, and more.  I'm looking forward to having a glimpse into nine unique stories (view the trailer here).

This traveling film festival may be making its way to a city near you, so if you don't live in Chicago, check out the list of other locations!  And if you do live in Chicago and want to join, here's a link for more info.

Is it Friday yet?

*This is not a sponsored post. I simply want to spread the word about this cool event - hope to see some of you there!


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