Can You Read By Yourself? Yes. Yes. You Can.

Straight Talk About Graduate School is an insightful and lengthy examination of the topic with many comments. I’m gonna comment on a comment.

The commenter said that you can’t understand what an author means unless you have a grad school teacher as some sort of interpretative gatekeeper. That just set me off. Writing is telepathy. I have some thoughts, I write them down, you read my words in another time and place, and you know what I was thinking. If that doesn’t happen, that’s my fault, not yours.

I’ve seen university students in China argue passionately about whether or not Hero should have given Claudio that second chance and married him after all. That’s what writing means, but apparently some professors would tell you otherwise because Shakespeare didn’t do any graduate work.

If I don’t understand what Kant wrote, it’s Kant’s fault, and I’m allowed to say that. We don’t need the Unseen University at Ankh-Morpork. We don’t write in runes on this world. We write to communicate, and anyone who says otherwise is just talking out of his ass.

In the same conversation, somebody asked if grad school was like a cult. I said it’s not, because at grad school you buy your own Kool Aid. Heh heh.

Creative Ownership

I do not write websites. Do not ask me to.

Yeah, I wrote in 1997 or 1998. My employer asked. That’s different.

Yeah, I wrote and maintain but that’s because I’m too cheap to outsource. That’s different.

Yeah, I wrote and maintain but that’s because my lovely wife asked. That’s different.

Okay, I wrote a site or two for Phillip Johnson in Thailand, and maintained the Chiang Mai Expat site. But — repeat after me — that’s different!

Last month I learned what Intellectual Property is. Oh, not as a buzzword, a vague phrase, or something the aforementioned Eastern Instruments is loaded with. No, in plain English, I know what it is now.

Did you ever create a book, or a painting, or some jewelry, or some clothes, or a poem, or a song, or a yoga studio, or a winery, or just anything at all where you started with nothing except your imagination and created a new thing?

There you go. That’s Intellectual Property. And once you make it, you don’t want anybody to steal it.

That’s where comes in. Not only does Paula Yost have the know-how to take care of you, but she’s so damn friendly and caring and just plain cool that she convinced me to write the website.

Yeah, the colors of might be ugly, but that’s on me. The information, which totally kicks it, is all hers.

And don’t ask me to write your website. I don’t do that.

Thank you.

An uncomfortable conversation? Why is it uncomfortable?

If you didn’t show up at the office one day, because something came up so suddenly that you just couldn’t warn anybody it was coming, what would happen? I bet there’s already a plan in place so that people could cover the most important functions, at least in the short term.

Meanwhile, your home life is more important, but if you suddenly couldn’t get to your house or in touch with your family one day, what would happen?

I’m not talking about anything dramatic here. Does someone else know how to pay the bills, feed the cat, or whatever else you’ve always done around the house?

You might remember that I once left behind hidden written instructions before I vacationed in Hong Kong, just in case I didn’t return. Hidden in case I did. When I made my decision, I emailed a buddy saying “Look in the closet behind my desk…”

Can you do that? Will you time it right? Will the instructions still be up to date? Will you forget something? Don’t you just wish someone who’s thought about this stuff more than you could give you a simple checklist?

Visit I didn’t write it. I’m not that organized. But I did join it recently.

You don’t share anything confidential, by the way. You tell someone where the confidential stuff is.

The instructions say it’s easy. It is. You fill in some notebooks, checklist simple, and they’re not intimidating at all the way I thought they’d be. The Torch does all the thinking so you don’t have to. Damn this stuff’s easy.

The Torch estimates fifteen minutes or less. That’s probably accurate. I only needed five or ten myself, but I’m more organized than you. And The Torch is more organized than either of us. Sign up for the free trial and see what you think.

Oh, I can guess what you’ll think. You’ll think it’s easy, kinda fun, and kinda cool. You’ll feel relieved and proud and wonder why it took you so long.

Enhancing Government Leaders’ Critical Thinking Skills

American Management Association is headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. In April 2013, I attended a seminar on Enhancing Government Leaders’ Critical Thinking Skills. Y’all can just write your own punch lines.

John Dewey defined reflective thinking as “active, persistent and careful consideration of a belief or supposed form of knowledge in light of the proofs put forth for that belief or knowledge.”

Critical thinking involves distinguishing the probable from the certain.

The R.E.D. Model is to Recognize assumptions, Evaluate arguments, and Draw conclusions.

Recognizing assumptions includes distinguishing between facts and opinions. There’s nothing inherently wrong with an opinion, an assumption, a hypothesis. Just know it for what it is and evaluate it against the facts. Also, distinguish between relevant and irrelevant facts.

Evaluating arguments includes recognizing bad arguments, which can be categorized into false dichotomies, slippery slopes, ad hoc, jumping on the bandwagon, red herrings, and others I could bore you with if I’d remembered to write them down.

Pitfalls of decision making include seeking only confirming evidence, gambler’s fallacy, throwing additional resources at a lost cause, too small of a sample size, etc.

Fine advice, innit? Sure. For a philosophy major to turn this into something for the business world, and to pitch it to government employees, and for them to agree that it has value, is impressive. But is this worth a three-hour seminar? I tend to think it’s all common sense myself, but I’ve long since accepted that I’m not the best judge of what sense is and isn’t common.

At least it was free. Just like this blog post, and you don’t have to drive 13 hours round trip to read it or pay $21 for parking. So, while I’m glad I had the experience, I’m not glad enough to have it again.

In Arlington, the day before the seminar, I bought some Subway sandwiches from an elderly Indian gentleman. India Indian not American Indian. He told me that I have a pleasant manner and a nice disposition. He likes that my hair is back neatly, not flopping in my face.

As I was leaving the register with my food, he said, “May the lord make you less tired and more happy.”

After I ate, as I was leaving, he yelled, “Very nice man! Very nice man!”

My ponytail is untied now, but we won’t tell him.

Success Is An Attitude

When you start actively networking in a town like Charlotte, you never know who you’ll meet. I met the world’s first African American female Navy carrier pilot.

Brenda Robinson flew many different types of airplanes for 35 years. So she knows about courage, hard work, planning, persisting, success, and having a bit of fun too.

Her goal is to travel to all schools in our nation and offer her motivational program. It’s for all students, all teachers, and all parents. It will open all sorts of opportunities these students would not ordinarily hear about.

Oh yeah, and she delivers her message at no charge.

That’s right, it’s free.

Her website, , is also free, and loaded with information. I’ve been tweeting a few of its pages, but let me try to summarize them here: explains that, quite simply, success is an attitude. (That’s also a trademarked phrase, so I’ll resist the urge to tweet it every day.) is a special message for teenagers. is First Black Female Navy Pilot Teaches Courage. She’d bloody well have to, wouldn’t she? is a Public Service Announcement called See Something, Say Something, about bullying.

Networking in four words – You’re Doing It Wrong

People keep telling you that networking works for them, but when you go to networking events, you try to sell sell sell but nobody buys.

That’s because you’re doing it wrong.

Selling is not how you network. People can smell your desperation, but even if they couldn’t, selling is not how you network. Nobody wants to be sold to. You don’t, so why should they? Stop doing it. It doesn’t work.

You may never do business with someone you meet at a networking event. But you might know someone who needs what they do. You meet people at networking events, and you connect them with other people you’ve met at networking events, and they do business with each other, and they’re both happy.

Meanwhile, they’re doing the same thing for you.

You will feel more comfortable when you network this way, because you will not be selling. Not your product, not your service, and not your integrity. You’ll be helping people, which is what you’d rather be doing. You’ll be more comfortable that way. More natural. More human.

You’ll also be more successful.

Let’s face it. Ratcheting up the quantity of cold calls because only 0.1% converts is painful. You don’t want to do that. You want to network the way I’ve described. Now you have my permission.


The above was inspired by an excellent presentation given by Terri DeBoo, Business Growth Advisor, Ideas @ Work, Nope, she doesn’t have dollar signs in her eyes.


I saw Terri at the NorthWest Chapter of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce. You may have noticed how well I network online. I recently noticed that I really got good at it when I quit posting sales pitches. The same applies to in-person networking.

Last year, I met Tom at an event, then introduced him to Trish at another event without actually knowing what business either of them was in. Tom became Trish’s customer, he was happy, she was happy, I was happy. The end. That’s what networking is. Story over.

Until, six months later, when Trish’s company wrote some ebooks about Tom’s business and decided they needed editing. Guess who they called?

Networking 101, and I hadn’t even met Terri yet.

Thank you Terri!

5 Common Marketing Myths Debunked plus 3 Truisms

1) Social Media is Magic
“This really works, and if you don’t believe me, look at what the big companies are doing.” Um, you’re not a big company. You don’t have their budget. You didn’t write a 300-page business card of a book, full of bad advice to help you sell seminars to big corporations with more money than sense. Their advice doesn’t apply to you.

2) Email Lists – Buy, Rent, Spam, Win
Just like junk mail but you don’t have to buy stamps. I focus on being easy to find, not knocking on doors and screaming “buy my stuff.” If somebody needs an editor, they’ll look for one. If they don’t, all the emails in the world won’t turn them into customers. So not only is it annoying to send and annoying to receive, but it doesn’t work. Don’t buy lists, don’t harvest, don’t do mass emailing.

3) Search Engines… Yeah, that’s the ticket
If you know what terms your ideal customer would look for, use those terms in your content. But write your content for humans first. Always be useful. Always be helpful. Ask yourself, “Would I do this if there were no search engines?” If the answer is “no,” then don’t do it. That’s how you make yourself findable by search engines, not by keyword density and SEO voodoo from pseudo-experts who are just guessing anyway. One algorithm update and they freak out because they’re not adding value, just gaming a system. Not only is that a bad way for you to actually connect with potential customers you can actually help, but it doesn’t work. Let Google punish you one time and you’ll regret every slurp of the snake oil, because that’s worse than paying for something you never receive. That’s paying money to actively screw yourself over.

4) Blogging – Write any damn thing and they will come
If you have something to say, say it. If you’re trying to meet a posting quota, don’t bother. Quotas and schedules are artificial, there’s already too much content in the world, and the way to solve that is not to create more useless content. This is why the good stuff that you and I write is so hard to find. Why do you read the blogs that you read? Your readers will read your blog for the same reason. Quality, not quantity, meaning you have my permission to blog monthly instead of daily if you want. Yearly might not be frequent enough.

5) You Must Do This To Succeed
Whatever it is, no you must not. If you know why it would be good for you to do it, then do it. But if the only reason you have is that some internet guru said so… You know your business better than he does, and now I question his credibility because he insisted that we must do something. Don’t believe him unless he makes sense. For you.

If that doesn’t work, well, what does?

1) Your Website
Ten years from now, all your favorite social media sites will be gone. Your website and your email address won’t be. How many Twitter followers do I have? Over 75,000. How many visit my website? Maybe twenty. So I’m a loser. Are you?

2) Help People Find You
That’s the biggest challenge, isn’t it? But again, big ad budgets aren’t the answer. You’ll just spend money, which will make somebody happy, but it won’t be you. The way to help people find you is to be targeted, focused, and above all helpful. Feel free to use any tactic you’ve heard about, but blend them into your own strategy. My strategy involves minimal self-promotion, and just enough blogging and social media to stay “top of mind.” Since my name happens to be my USP, that’s enough. Anyone can find me without trying very hard. That’s what works for me, but I have no idea what works for you. You’ll just have to figure that one out for yourself.

3) Know Your Customer
This is the beginning of all that works. Know your ideal customer. Know his interests, know his problems, know what he’s looking for, know where he’ll go to find it. Keep that in front of your mind as you decide what to try, what to write, where to spend. If it’s a tactic that would never convince you to buy, it probably won’t convince him or her to buy either. To succeed, you need to build relationships and solve problems. This leads to satisfied customers, steady income, and the joy of making the world a better place.

Free Copy of Teach Yourself Creative Writing

At Zhejiang University, I spent a semester teaching Advanced English Writing to 59 students. The next semester, it was 158 students, and the following semester it was 193 students. A few years later, I taught about a dozen Americans online. These are my lesson plans. Work through them and be a better writer. Or use them in class. Or just laugh at them. I don’t care.

The usual Kindle price is 99 cents, but this week it’s free if you click right here.

The 78-page paperback is $5.70 and you should click the link just to see the cat on the cover.

The hardcover version is a figment of my imagination, and the stone tablets with the cuneiform aren’t ready yet because I carve slowly.

But I Don’t Have Enough Editing To Hire An Editor

Every author needs an editor. When you read your own writing, you don’t see what you wrote. You see what you thought. That’s why you’re so much better at spotting the mistakes of others than the ones in your own writing.

Anything you write must establish your credibility, which it won’t do if you’re unclear or if you make too many simple “oops” mistakes.

I probably haven’t told you anything you don’t already know.

And yet, most businesses just plain don’t produce enough literature for a full-time editor.

  • At All-Spec Static Control, I spent two weeks doing nothing but editing the new catalog. They printed one every three months. What would they have me do the rest of the time?
  • The English Channel was published in Hong Kong every month. I could edit an issue in an intense two days, but they had me in the office five days a week. What would they have me do the rest of the time?
  • I spent eight years at Eastern Instruments doing enough editing to make it part of my job title. (Titles are cheaper than raises.) They probably produced more literature than any ten-person outfit you’ll ever find. But even so, they couldn’t give me forty hours a week of it. Not even close.

I could go on, but we’d all get bored.

Ideally, you want everything you write to be edited by a professional, who had no part in writing it, before anybody else ever sees it. So, do you hire a full-time editor, find that person enough other job functions to do when there’s no editing to do, and hope for the best? Do you hire a part-time editor and let the editing pile up on that person’s days off? Do you give up on the “professional” part and just grab whoever’s walking by? Or do you outsource?

Outsourcing your editing and proofreading gets you greater expertise, a lower price, faster service, and fewer headaches than hiring an employee to do it.

The whole point of outsourcing is to lower your stress levels. Otherwise, fire that contractor.

Eleven Quotations Worth Sharing

The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion. (Thomas Paine)

Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened. (Winston Churchill)

Everyone thinks of changing others, but no one thinks of changing himself. (Leo Tolstoy)

A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be. (Albert Einstein)

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. (Aldous Huxley)

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished. (Lao Tzu)

All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone. (Blaise Pascal)

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. (George Bernard Shaw)

We would worry less about what others think of us if we realized how seldom they do. (Ethel Barrett)

It is never too late to become what you might have been. (George Eliot)

It’s not God’s job to make the world a better place. It’s yours. (Sara Robinson)