games writers play

JoystickNo, I’m not talking about creative justifications for billing your client for the time you spent surfing the web, or writing off your cruise to the Bahamas as a business expense.

I’m talking about video games.

And I’m going to try to convice you that you shouldn’t feel guilty for playing them during working hours — because, admit it, you do. Instead, I’m going to try to explain why game breaks are an essential component of the creative process.

And I’m also going to recommend some good games to play.

Image courtesy iBand.com

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mail.app for freelancers (mac)

Mail screenWrapping up my discussion of the three techniques I use to manage my freelance writing business, today I review how I’ve configured Apple’s Mail program to manage work e-mail.

(Note: while the tips are Mail-centric, other mail management programs like Thunderbird probably have similar features and plugins that you can tweak to get similar results.)

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path finder for freelancers (mac)

My Path Finder ConfigurationI rely on three things to administer my freelance writing business: paper files, electronic files, and e-mail. I’ve already written about how I use PaperJamming and Rollabind to administer my paper files; today I’m going to write about how I’ve customized Cocoatech’s brilliant Path Finder app as my ultimate electronic file manager — and how you can, too.

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quick tip: getting to “thanks”

Do you thank people when you want something from them? Or when you get something from them?

The phrase “thank you in advance” is an accepted technique for encouraging recipients to act favorably on your request. But it’s not the same as acknowledging their time and effort on a task. The latter type of “thank you” conveys appreciation, not anticipation.

A quick, polite expression of gratitude is rarely wasted. It can even double as an acknowledgment of receipt — “thank you for the file.” But it also conveys your professionalism and competence.

Perhaps some correspondents fear that saying “thank you” conveys a familiarity or an informality that does not really exist. Or perhaps they think that saying “thank you” makes them appear vulnerable, that it incurs a debt that the other person can now hold over them.

If so, the issues underlying those concerns won’t be corrected simply avoiding a courtesy. So they might as well thank them first and then deal with the real problem, whatever it is.

In my own experience, thanking someone after the fact is more effective than thanking them in advance. By thanking someone before they do something, I might get that one result, but by thanking them afterwards I stand a better chance of getting even more results in the future.

thoreau and the economics of adverbs and adjectives

“Not that the story need be long,
but it will take a long while to make it short.”
— Henry David Thoreau (1817-62)

If you’ve ever taken a class on writing fiction, chances are you remember your instructor admonishing you to eliminate adjectives and adverbs from your writing. Or perhaps you were told to make a great effort to eliminate them ruthlessly (if you had my witty instructor). This advice applies just as well to nonfiction writing as it does to fiction.

Some writers believe that using gobs of adjectives and adverbs conveys erudition, emphasis, or importance. But to a discerning reader — your reader — it will convey precisely the opposite.

Why? Because most nouns and verbs already provide their own accompaniment. In the presence of a well-chosen noun or verb, adjectives and adverbs are redundant. Use them and your reader will assume one of two things: either that you lack the vocabulary, or that you don’t know the real meaning of the word.

In other words, taking the time to pick the right nouns and verbs conveys the message that you care about what you wrote. And your readers will care, too.

Still too abstract? Here’s a handy tip that I recommend for eliminating unnecessary adverbs and adjectives, using a metaphor that any businessman or -woman can understand: money.

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paperjamming for freelancers

Not only are freelance writers their own bosses, they are also their own administrative assistants. And every doubling of duty results in a halving of available time. That’s one of the reasons that freelancers represent such a large proportion of the audience for organizational systems like David Allen’s Getting Things Done, Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders, and planners like Day-Timer and Franklin Covey.

Here’s the thing, though: no matter what organizational system you adopt for your freelance business, you still have to interface with the legal, financial, and contractual requirements of the rest of the world. And those requirements can be complicated. Plus, you still have to manage all those paper and electronic files you create. And store them somewhere. All of this while trying to develop and manage your business.

PaperJamming templates help you manage your files on the fly. These handy templates, featuring the distinctive and popular Active Voice design, distill professional information management practices into clear, easy-to-grasp guidelines. Now you can control your files right from your hPDA.

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burying the lede in technical writing

“Burying the lede” is a common stylistic error in journalism. To bury a lede (rhymes with “bead”) is to hide the most important information within a news story instead of putting it up front where readers can find it immediately.

Technical writers can bury the lede too, and with the same results — the audience leaves, never to return, without ever reading the crucial message you wanted to convey.

Learn how to spot these four common style errors before they cost you your audience — and their business.

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new hpda templates: proofreader’s marks

Proofreader's Marks hPDA TemplateFor editors on the run, we offer two templates with the most commonly used proofreader’s marks grouped into handy categories (Insert, Appearance, Position, and Correction). Plus, there’s an additional quick-reference section spotlighting common grammatical mistakes — all packed into two highly-readable 3×5 hPDA templates for your convenience.

Active Voice offers templates as free .png graphics that you can drag-and-drop to your desktop and use in your favorite planner. They are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 License.

Check out the new proofreader’s marks templates on the downloads page.

paperjamming: file management 2.0

Cluttered DeskWhen I was a full-time records management and archives consultant, one of my tasks was to conduct surveys of our clients’ files and assess their recordkeeping practices. Despite the wide range of business conducted by our clients, the themes of their file-management stories were depressingly similar:

  • Outdated or nonexistent file management plans
  • No centralized colllection points or dedicated staff
  • Uncertainty about who was responsible for keeping what
  • No guidance on how long to keep files
  • Paperwork management not integral to day-to-day operations

Their combined inertia inevitably fueled a downward spiral: I don’t know what to do with these files. I’ll deal with it later. The same goes for these files. I’ll just add them to the pile. Now the pile is way too big for me to manage. I don’t know what to do with these files. I’ll deal with it later . . .

Sound familiar?

Maybe the trick for those of us living in the era of life hacks and wikis is to find a way to turn the old model on its head and shake the useful loose change out of its pockets, to improvise new and better ways of managing files for our wired world. Welcome to the world of PaperJamming.

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where does the writer fit?

Remember that famous Sidney Harris cartoon with the two mathematicians standing in front of a blackboard, working on a complex equation that features as a crucial step the words, “and then a miracle happens?” That’s often how managers view what writers do. Too often, the second-to-last step in the document development process reads, “and then the writer wordsmiths it.”

But that’s not when you want the writer to start getting involved. A successful collaboratively-written product — a user manual, a proposal, a textbook, an online help file, an annual report — needs to have the writer involved from the beginning, as an integral part of the team.

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