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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Experience of Time When Writing in the Workplace

Often while teaching business writing, the class discussion would rightly veer off into a discussion of time management.  That’s a natural move because college execs-to- be were often in school and had jobs at the same time, so they said the phrase “time management” often.

We all do in our respective ways, but we don’t talk much about the management of time in terms of how technology has changed our experience of time and the pace of our human experience affected by technology and the demands of the workplace that often require writing.

There are two chief considerations to bear in mind when thinking about workplace writing and time:  writing takes longer than we want it to and the natural pace of human experience matches more comfortably to a healthily beating heart than a zooming fraction of a second transmission via the internet.

We call the speed and colors of technology for word processing and transmission the flashiest form of bells and whistles right now, but the dynamics that separate the bells and whistles from substance and persuasion are still the same.  For all of the speed and tools available to us, the dynamic of persuasion still rests upon how well you understand the reader, how well you present your message in light of a benefit for that reader, and whether you make as few mistakes as possible so that the style of your message does not hinder the reader’s ability to comprehend it.

Most of the time, good style is simply meant to keep the writer’s presence in the background and the reader’s attention in the forefront.  The dynamic that runs that persuasive power is simple courtesy. That answer is so simple—so easy—that we don’t want it to be true.  We want the answer to be complex and mysterious, because if it is complex and hard to understand we have a built-in reason to fail at reaching a reader with a message or information that needs to be integrated into the workplace experience called productivity, and, yes, time management.  However, good business writing is based on the dynamic of courtesy, and the more courteous you are the more naturally you assume a position that will cause your reader to trust you. 

The part of this answer that is hard is that it requires the writer to be more and more selfless while becoming more and more interested in what the reader needs and wants to know.  To do that—to do that—one must be assured that he/she understands who  the reader is and can separate the twin goals that run simultaneously through all business writing:  what purpose does the document being created need to achieve and what benefit does the reader need to receive in order to accept the intended purpose of the document.  In short, give the reader a benefit while you are trying to achieve your persuasive purpose for the document and you will have a much stronger hope of succeeding.

Naturally the question follows:  how well do you understand other people?  Can you prove you understand them or are you rationalizing your inclinations and making the situation fit what you want it to be?  Ultimately, through trial and error you can find out who other people are, how adept you are at perceiving who they are, and what it is they need that you can provide while also fulfilling your workplace goals. To do that, one must simply grow in mindfulness about writing, about people, about using words, about what punctuation really is, and how facing your fears by acknowledging them can help you become a fearless writer in the workplace whatever your innate relationship is with language.  The difference between business writing and all other kinds of writing is that it can learned.

Daphne writes about many topics.  Her latest book is Christmas in Fountain City

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Off to College (an excerpt from A Cookbook for Katie)

Katie Goes to College
(Excerpt from A Cookbook for Katie  pg 145)

As you prepare to go to college I think about what I need to say to you as you head out the door.  I know you heard me about being leery of bald-headed men who drive convertibles and don’t have enough sense to wear a hat, and I know you heard me when I pointed out that man jogging around the neighborhood in his underwear and the implications of both his self-possession and our response to his comfort level of exposed vulnerability in front of strangers (us). We decided he posed one of those questions that we don’t need to answer.
He is, Katie.  That man jogging in his underwear is emblematic of many oddities in life that do not require you to make sense of them.
Let the memory of him remind you to turn your attention to the questions relevant right now for you on a college campus.
For the most part I have left the questions about romance and religion to your mother, except for those occasions when you have asked me a direct question about my own faith.  I have told you the truth about Jesus. What you need to remember always is that Jesus is real and the Bible tells the truth about Him. Although you will be going to college where they teach you questions and offer you often pat answers about the creation of life and its meaning, I can tell you that while the experience of college will be exhilarating in its open-ended exploration of the best ideas that men and women can come up with, there are many paths that lead nowhere in particular.  Some ideas require no more serious cogitation than that man jogging by us in his underwear did.
You’ve heard of wilderness experiences from the Old Testament.  Sometimes the freedom to explore tantalizing questions doesn’t turn out to be discovery at all—sometimes, those experiences are mainly circuitous meanderings-- wilderness experiences where the explorer wanders around looking at various strange trees, believing that by knowing the number of trees, time spent in wandering, and the amount of money spent on text books and tuition that you are going somewhere that will ultimately be validated as meaningful or a destination called progress.  Sometimes, the only real measure of that experience is that you survived it, but you don’t always learn something distinctively true and life or faith enhancing.
A big subject in college that often leads to a wilderness experience is the blanket assertion by scientific thinkers and logic advocates that evolution disproves the supremacy of God as the creator of you and this planet.  Evolution is a wonderful dynamic to explore.  It’s true in many aspects, by the way, but its implications are not.  The theory of evolution does not disprove that God made everything.  He made the dynamic of evolution.   To me, evolution’s most tantalizing feature is the creative dynamic of natural selection upon which an understanding of evolution is based. You can look at the scientific evidence and agree with what you see, but it does not disprove that God made everything.   You will need a different faculty in yourself to know this, and it won’t be reason alone, although, ideally, reason can take you there eventually, my dear. You will need to trust that part of your curiosity that is fused with imagination and which explores what reason alone cannot—you will need to let your soul keep company with the Holy Spirit of God and allow Him to lead you into all truth.  Jesus says that he will, and He will, because Jesus does not and cannot lie.  You will follow the history of dates and changes in human kind and animal life, and depending upon how far you pursue the investigation, you will find interesting data about the intersection of viruses on human life and the small big bangs of jumping genes as they inform our understanding of the human genome.  You will encounter many big words, beautifully constructed paradigms of science and also philosophy and poetry, but you will never get to the root of an explanation for why we humans are here that is more tantalizing or true than God created us for himself so that he could have someone to love.  And then He waits for us to love Him, and He asks us in excruciatingly tender ways to love one another.
Because we are paradoxically attracted to and terrified of being loved intimately and completely, we tend to leave or try to hide from God, so He sent Jesus to first find us and then explain Love to us again—to live and die Love.   Jesus didn’t leave us orphans when he finished his work here.  The Holy Spirit uses the intellectual advances of humankind to hint at aspects of God-Is-Love’s nature, but never mistake the ideas of men for the absolute truth about God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit.
 Even the very best preachers only come close occasionally to getting this right.   By this, I mean, the characterization of the nature of eternal love that is possible right now in communion with God which happens only because the Great Lover of Mankind (and Creator of it, too) has made this communion possible.  Your soul intersects with the Holy Spirit. In the Bible, this is referred to as tabernacling.  That gift fits inside what we call grace, and it means that God makes everything that is good that can happen between us possible.
To begin to experience grace, we simply have to believe God and put Him first.  Anything that comes before our love for Him is what He calls an idol.
            I suspect that because I have always called you Beloved and you have rightly signed your cards to me that way, you believe that I have made you into an idol of sorts.  There have been times when I felt you resisting my love because it was oppressive to you; I know it has been.  Unconditional love can feel like that to others, but it is not intended that way. I have loved you unconditionally, and you have never been an idol to me.  You have always been only a gift from God. But do you see how big that is—you, Katie Ellen, a gift from God?
I greatly admire you, Katie, my Beloved.  Most of the times I only tell you this in ways that you are used to hearing—pretty hair, pretty face.  But I see you much more deeply than that, and I know you are an authentic human being who is only temporarily seventeen and works at a pet store where you do not find the task of cleaning up pet poop beneath you. I admire that—as I enjoy how often you come home wanting to buy one of the dogs that you are responsible for showing to others.  It must be difficult to function something like a person in an adoption agency who must try and find needy animals homes and to make judgments (and how can we help it?) in that moment about whether the prospective parents—your store’s customers-- are good enough to raise the animals you already love.
As you weigh and assess the dangers of your customers becoming the parents of the dogs you love, think of how I must consider trusting you to strangers to raise—people like college teachers who are bound by their own pressures, driven by their own egos, and biased by questions that have haunted them all their lives and for which they are still looking for answers and may try to justify their inclinations and their answers by telling you information that isn’t always true.  They don’t usually know they’re lying.  They don’t usually know they have denied the truth of God because they are afraid of being completely and deeply loved by God.  They can’t believe that.  I know this is true mainly because I am a college teacher and some of my friends are people who are afraid of unconditional love. Sometimes I am, too, still.  I am as capable of being fearful and wrong as anyone, and I regularly monitor myself to make sure that I am not trying to justify my faith at the expense of people who don’t believe as I do and don’t want to.  They have that right.  It’s called free will, and I respect it without reservation.
Ultimately, as you begin your studies in college and soon declare yourself in a field of study, be happy and enjoy that pursuit, but the most open-ended intellectual and spiritual pursuit of yours or anyone’s life is the continued worship of and longing for Jesus and more of Him.  Listen carefully at college, and as you hear invitations to think about all kinds of ways that people organize meaning out of human experience, remember that all of them have an end.  All of them have a conclusion.
You are about to go and see more of the world than I can control, and I don’t want to.     The adventure is thrilling. But there is far more to being alive than learning the pieces of puzzles that fit inside a cerebral paradigm.  There is life itself, and that happens inside the living love of the Resurrected Savior whose ongoing mission is to keep talking to the Father about us, and all the while he is calling to us, whispering, beckoning, waiting.  He is there, is my point.  He lives.  Live with him and the puzzles of cerebral enterprises find a different place in what you value, and when you do, you are more alive, more thrilled, more free than in any other kind of simple thinking.  You are going off to college, and it is quite an adventure; but you will never find a greater adventure than following the Shepherd who will not lead you astray or unto any kind of death that you need ever fear.  Let every day begin with his name on your lips as you ask him to keep you company, and let every day end with gratitude for what he has given you, for he gives you your very life. As he has given me mine.
I cannot give you life or much more than words of encouragement like these as you go off to college.  In this world I have mainly been a college teacher, and I can only speak of what it is like on campus and what I have seen and what I can remember from my own days of venturing out.

I can imagine much. But I know this:  God loves you, Jesus is real, the Bible tells the truth, and if you would work on your penmanship and take care to use it when you are writing those essay exams in your college classes, your grades will shoot up.

Excerpt from  A Cookbook for Katie by Daphne Simpkins

Sunday, April 9, 2017

That Should Have Worked

My father was a handyman who solved problems through trial and error.  He always succeeded but he failed along the way, muttering memorably for me: "That should have worked."

But his first tries often didn't work, and that puzzled him.  Stepping back from his projects, he would eye the recalcitrant leaking faucet or dead light fixture and go through his projected problem-solving steps out loud, concluding once again, "That should have worked."

Since then, I have heard computer guys do the same thing.  They understand technology, maneuver through it fearlessly and intuitively until one day they get stuck like the rest of us, and step back and say just as a handyman does:   "That should have worked."

Happily the opposite also happens, for I find that a book that shouldn't have sold as well as its sisters sells better, and essays ( entries) will inexplicably gain a greater readership than the key words in the title would suggest they could.  The best read essay on this blog has the title "Thank you for your patience."

There is nothing grand about the title; all the words are common and the ideas in the blog entry are based upon good manners alone.  Yet, the essay is the most popular.

A book I wrote for my niece when she married A Cookbook for Katie shouldn't sell four times better than the other books I've written, but it does.   The premise of the book is that it is for someone who doesn't know how to cook written by someone who is an ordinary cook at best. It also has the specific name of someone in the title; yet people buy the book in e-format and paperback every day, and they can't all be named Katie, can they?

In short, instead of saying, "That should have worked" I find myself saying, "That shouldn't have worked."  

Life continues to surprise us, and maybe it's a good idea to focus more often on the happy surprising endings than the dull process of problems that didn't resolve as logic dictated they would.

Daphne Simpkins writes about life in the South, church, cooking and caregiving. Her most recent novel is Christmas in Fountain City .

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Ben Hogan's Golf Swing


  After having heard one time too many the reference to the runner in "Chariots of Fire" proclaim that he can feel God's pleasure in his running, I, without really planning to, began to look around for a sports quote that I could launch and use for myself as an inspiration to keep running my own race, which is writing.

     Strangely, though I am not a golfer, I found my inspiration in Ben Hogan's comments about practicing his golf swing.

  • The only thing a golfer needs is more sunlight. 
  • Placing the ball in the right position for the next shot is eighty percent of winning golf.
  • I learn something new about the game almost every time I step on the course.  
  • Don't ever just swing the club. Always know what you are trying to accomplish with each swing. 
      That last idea drawn from an old book I read years ago about Hogan caused me to rethink drafting and brainstorming in writing.  Built in to the writing process is an idea that you have to brainstorm and create drafts, but over time, you learn enough about writing to not need the brainstorming/drafting process as much. 

      In short, those early steps of any new writing project become over time, a warm-up, and after a while, your muscles stay warmed up all the time.  To continue drafting and brainstorming was no longer a helpful step in the process; it was a procrastinating, self indulgent habit that impeded my productivity, but because those two steps are so deeply ingrained and stamped with approval by others I didn't see the problem for a long time.  

     Remembering how Ben Hogan thought about swinging his club with intention checked me on it--disciplined me.  His discipline made me more disciplined, and I think that's what a sports metaphor can do.  

     Since then I tell this story to as many preachers as I can--not because I don't like that "Chariots of Fire" movie or like to be reminded that a runner once upon a time felt God's pleasure in his movements; it is just that I can feel God's pleasure in Ben Hogan's swing as well, and there are a lot more people sitting in church who play golf than run.  And there are some of us who don't do either but can imagine both.

Daphne Simpkins doesn't write about golf except when a character needs to understand a swing. She writes about church life in the South. Her first Mildred Budge Novel in a series about church ladies: Mildred Budge in Cloverdale

A Cure for Church Apathy: Better Flyers Part 1

As an ice breaker at a recent church luncheon I asked the audience, 
"What's the biggest problem in church fellowship today?" 

     "Apathy," replied a retired minister sitting at a front table.

      Around him other church people non-apathetically nodded agreement.  Me, too.

      While I was looking out at an assortment of happy faces at well-filled tables, I have faced other kinds of audiences and been sitting in the midst of audiences that were sluggish, disinterested, snoozing--enduring a church event in the name of good church citizenship or duty.

      Since then I have paid attention to ways we could change that dynamic, and though I am now a writer of books and on a speakers bureau, once upon a time I was a teacher of business writing, and there was one central idea that I used year after year in a college classroom which was:   Understand that the purpose you have in writing a document may not be the benefit an envisioned reader or audience will need to respond to that document.

     In any business document, you need to accomplish your purpose while providing a projected benefit for a reader, or in the case of churches, congregants.

That is sometimes hard to do, if you have not stopped to think about the benefit for the reader or church member. Sometimes in the planning of an event we are simply focused on trying to get the date, time, occasion and name of the speaker spelled correctly that we forget that the audience we are inviting is not obligated to care about our event.  We must give them a reason to care--we must provide the hope of personal gain, a promised advantage.

       This goal is further stymied by the now heavy reliance upon word processing templates to produce flyers, and these pre-designed formats with blanks to fill in are a seductive tool of business writing in churches and elsewhere.  They create attractive documents and are often prepared by people who are donating their time.  Their time and efforts of volunteers are appreciated and the attractiveness of the produced documents so unembarrasingly good that we think the result is a good flyer. So often, the flyer itself fulfills its potential as a template design and lets us mark a check by the box:  job to do: create template.  Job done.  But that purpose completed does not always meet that sister goal of providing a benefit for the reader or invited audience.

        Most likely you will simply add the name of the event and factual pieces of information.  To install a benefit for the reader you are going to have to look carefully at the various blanks or modules you can fill in and choose the place where you can attract the reader's eye and interest with a benefit of attendance linked to the subject of the event. Sometimes the benefit is information needed. Sometimes the benefit is entertainment.  Whatever the benefit is, know it and couple it with the title of the event.

     As for artwork, it is tempting to simply use a head shot of the guest speaker. But unless that speaker is famous or especially attractive, that head shot will not necessarily do more than introduce the face of someone to strangers.  If you are hosting the event to build fellowship and introduce members to one another even that is not enough of a benefit to create an audience. Personal loyalty and politeness to other church members wears out as fast as emotional appeals and requests for money.

      To strengthen the appeal of the event, consider which part of the story of your event you want to emphasize, and find artwork that does that.  The head shot can usually be placed in a less prominent position somewhere lower on the flyer or left off altogether.

      If the head shot is an extract from a church directory, most likely the speaker would prefer you don't use that picture at all.  For example, I recently gave a talk at a church luncheon on Will Rogers.  The preparer of the flyer used my lackluster picture from the church directory; an easily obtainable picture of Will Rogers holding his signature lariat would have been a much more effective art choice for the wisdom and humor of Will Rogers was the draw to the event--not me. I was just the one talking about him.

     That's the real dynamic of the presentation I give, and as I think about ways to help future preparers of flyers for this talk create those flyers, I think about churches, which struggle with church attendance to various very worthy events, and I think, 'Apathy could be overcome, if you remember to add a benefit while you are fulfilling your own purpose in planning the event.'

      Don't just tell them about an event.  Give them a reason to attend, and if they can see a benefit for themselves, they will come.   According to Will Rogers, they have time: "Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save."

      A template will help you save time in preparing a document, like a flyer; but unless you add a benefit for the reader that helps you fulfill your purpose, you are simply filling in blanks that will perpetuate apathy--not solve it.

Daphne Simpkins writes about many subjects, but her novels are about church life.  The most recent is about raising money in a church  at Christmastime, Christmas in Fountain City

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Kisses in the workplace

Increasingly while I continue to tweak my signature block for all kinds of emails, people writing to me keep blowing e-kisses using icons instead of providing contact information in their work documents.

I thought blowing me a kiss an oddity at first—figured it was just a person with an affectionate nature on the loose blowing kisses to me over the Internet. Now I get these  puckered lips, yellow and red e-kisses all the time in personal and workplace documents.

In personal emails, that’s okay with me--amusing even. I blow a few kisses myself now, and in real life, I have to stop myself from blowing fingertip kisses to people coming and going and sometimes the preacher when he first stands up behind the pulpit, all lonely and high up with the light in his eyes and his stomach rumbling because sometimes our guy fasts before he preaches.

There are a lot of reasons to want to blow a kiss to your early morning preacher who has to talk meaningfully and inoffensively to a great number of sleepy, also hungry people who have their own ideas, and sometimes, because there is such a great gulf of a distance between us and because I am so fond of him, I want to shout out, “Morning to you!” but we don’t shout out in our church either.  About the best I can do is waft a blown fingertip kiss to him, but I don’t because it would make him nervous I think—all that windblown affection and good will coming at him when he’s trying to talk about sin and heaven.

So I restrain the gusto of my affection and good will for him by not blowing him a kiss and use it in emails and texts to say yes to invitations to lunch,😘 see ya later😘, and happy birthday😘.

But at work?

I don’t blow kisses at work.

I don’t blow e-kisses in work documents.

I use my words instead to communicate as clearly as possible what I mean to say, and they are professional words of helpfulness and expressions of gratitude and apologies and words carefully chosen that respect the boundaries of discourse and prove, I hope, that I would not care to be misunderstood by someone thinking that a blown kiss is an invitation to some real kissin’ cause there are serious rules about no love explored in the workplace that could become litigious (sexual harassment) or cause people up and down a workplace hierarchy to question whether getting work done is the same as doing and getting favors.  Real work relies upon good will, and good will can actually be misunderstood if it shows up at work in a blown kiss.

Good will expressed at work happens in other ways. In writing formal letters and e-notes it often shows up at the end in the complimentary close right before the signature and which some people reduce to one word "Best" and others write out "Best regards" and still others write, "Yours truly" and sometimes, "Sincerely."  However, I have never cottoned to that word "Sincerely" as a complimentary close for it refers to an odd state of emotional integrity that asserts in one word  "I mean what I say" and one assumes that others always mean what they say.  The same is true of blowing e-kisses.  Be careful out there.  On a certain kind of windy day--and you never know which way the wind will blow--those sincerely blown e-kisses could set off all kinds of alarms and a few fires.

Daphne's book about cooking for the one you love is called A Cookbook for Katie

Friday, January 6, 2017

Begin workplace documents where the reader's interest ignites--not when you began to think about it.

Nothing gets said more often by a frustrated person who needs to write a workplace document than “I don’t know where to begin!”

References will be made about fear of the blank page or maybe he or she will claim to have writer’s block.

Whatever the real cause or excuse for not knowing how to start a document, there is a way to think about beginning a document by remembering tiresome ways not to begin a document:

Start where the content of your information needs to be released not with a report of when you started thinking about how to organize it or your thought processes behind the document. Speakers and preachers often do this and throw away their best opportunity to connect with a listener by explaining why you have been thinking about a subject and how you plan to speak about it. When a speaker does that or a writer explains how he or she is going to express something and why you create a very big yawn in your reader that he or she struggles to stifle from then on out.  Keep the explanation of why you are going to write and how you came to write it to yourself.   Find the real beginning.

To find the beginning try writing that information down and then watch yourself shift to the content that you need to provide. It will show up on the page but perhaps not until page three or so.  Then, delete the very long preamble or explanation and start at the real beginning, where the content that needs to be shared or released takes hold.

Learning to recognize where that beginning exists in your writing process will solve that mystery of where to begin for many other documents that you will need to produce for we each have an organizing pattern that is a part of our own process, and the more you write the more familiar you will become with your pattern of organization.

Start writing, and write towards the truthful beginning.  That beginning is where you think the reader will find his or her starting point of interest--not a report of when and how you began to think about writing the document.

Daphne's latest book is Christmas in Fountain City

How to write a thank-you note for work

Do you write thank-you notes these days?

Most people don’t, but they are still vitally needed in professional situations especially.

Expressions of gratitude don’t need to be as formally crafted as Thomas Jefferson might have written one on a piece of personalized stationary, but in professional settings they should appear in a timely way on company letterhead, especially if the gratitude being expressed is for a requested donation of goods and services for some kind of charitable event.

Three considerations to keep in mind when taking the time to be courteous:
1.       They should be written to the liaison who arranged for the contribution and any other person involved in the delivery of the contribution should be acknowledged in the body of that letter. 
2.       The company’s name should also be stated as part of the thank-you note because the company will often contribute to a cause or foundation in order to build good will in the community.  That good will doesn’t grow unless the company’s name is recognized.
3.       The amount or type of gift or action should be expressly named because thank-you letters become part of the documentation that companies needs to keep records and report actions to others who are trusting them to fulfill these tasks with integrity.

Satisfying the urge or need to say thank you in other ways will often backfire if they don’t provide the needed documentation, seem carelessly written, or lack the professionalism that others expect in their workplace colleagues. Here are three ways not to send a thank-you note for a gift or contribution:

1.  A text message sent only to the liaison of the gift places the liaison in a very uncomfortable position of looking as if he/she stole the company’s glory—hijacked the good will and reputation the company deserves.   

2.  Sending only a text message to the liaison will determine whether that person will be eager to play ambassador again.  He or she won’t because it puts his/her job or reputation in jeopardy.

3.  The same content used in a direct message on Facebook or an email doesn’t serve the receiving party well either.  Why?  It doesn’t provide the good will that the company needs or the tool the board or the people responsible for making the decision to give need in order to prove that the monies or goods were put to worthwhile use.  The thank-you note functions as a kind of documentation for the board, and without it, the board or other management members have only word of mouth.   Making a one-size fits all Facebook update post adding the names of the contributors doesn’t do the job of saying thank-you either.  It isn’t personal, and hoping that announcement will reach all of the people responsible for making the gift is cavalier and ill considered.

Writing a real thank-you note takes the carelessness out of other ways that people try to quickly say thanks without taking the time to say it thoughtfully, carefully, in ways that can be shared with all the people who had a vote in how to be generous for the good of all involved.

If you haven’t sent a thank-you note or letter lately, consider why not. Then, resolve that in order to work more harmoniously with others, taking the time to say thank you in all the ways that you can and in the ways where it is required more formally is worth the investment of your time and words.

Daphne's latest book is Christmas in Fountain City