Friday, August 27, 2010

Toolbox for Writers: Bestseller Textbook

Hi, I am Mary Duffy, co-author of Toolbox for Writers. Welcome to our website! By using the proven techniques crafted by master writers, we believe anyone can produce excellent prose, prose that is exciting, fast-paced, and athletic. We call this prose 'No-Doze' prose.Many reviewers and testimonials tell us that Toolbox for Writers is not only more useful than the Elements of Style, but also more practical.

This textbook is structured in a natural and intuitive manner: Section I contains grammatical and syntactical tools; all explained and annotated. Section II contains rhetorical tools that mature accomplished writers use. And Section III contains fiction tools.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Jane Austen and Rhetoric

Cover of "Sense & Sensibility (Special Ed...Cover of Sense & Sensibility (Special Edition)
In Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, Mary --one of the Bennet sisters and a pedant—repeats words and opinions she draw from a book on rhetoric much in vogue then: Hugh Blair’s Lectures on Rhetoric. Which shows that Jane Austen was a student of rhetoric.

In Sense and Sensibility we find some rhetorical figures:
Hyperbole is rhetorical exaggeration: “Mrs. Jennings was a widow, with an ample jointure. She had only two daughters, both of whom she had lived to see married, and she had now therefore nothing to do but to marry all the rest of the world.”

With one hyperbolic statement, Mrs. Jennings has been characterized as an idle busybody.

Oxymoron is a logical contradiction: “The sort of desperate calmness with which this was said…” And: “…unsettle the mind of Marianne and ruin at least for a time the fair prospect of busy tranquility.”

Often an oxymoron is the result of careless writing, but in the case of Jane Austen, no one can accuse her of being a careless writer—quite the contrary. By using this rhetorical figure she achieves economy of words.

Zeugma: According to Mary Duffy’s textbook Toolbox for Writers, zeugma is a group of words governed by one dominant word; a rhetorical figure which is often used to inject humor. In Sense and Sensibility we read: “…in spite of its owner having once been within some thousand pounds of being obliged to sell out at a loss, nothing gave any symptom of that indigence which he had tried to infer from it; —no poverty of any kind, except conversation, appeared.”

In the above passage, the dominant word is poverty, to which the writer attaches the secondary meaning: dull conversation.





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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Michael Jackson Performs Billy Jean




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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Motivation Explained by John Wesley

Children at a Gospel presentation in Eau Clair...Image via Wikipedia
January 7th, 2007 by John Wesley

How many times have you started a new activity (such as a personal project or exercise routine) with a burst of enthusiasm, only to see that initial momentum evaporate? This often leads to depression and causes us to give up prematurely. I’ve experienced this letdown dozens of times myself. But fortunately, with a bit of thought and reflection you can turn this negative emotion around.

The key to harnessing your emotions is understanding them. The natural pattern of human emotion is peaks and valleys. When we start a new project we’re filled with tremendous optimism. All we can think about is the expected benefits, and since we haven’t started yet, we aren’t aware of the difficulties involved. This natural high causes a surge of mental and physical activity. The peak is a great thing because the energy boost gets projects off the ground. If you’re a creative type like me, you know that this period is euphoric. You feel like nothing can stop you.

The downside of this surge of energy is that it inevitably ends. Exerting large amounts of energy wears you down, and after the initial optimism wears off we feel extremely tired. However high you started off, you fall down just as low. This causes a loss of confidence. The combination of fatigue, scant results, and an awareness of impending adversity makes us want to give up. From personal experience I’ve learned a few ways to hold strong against negativity.
Be Prepared for a Letdown

Emotions, by nature, lose their power when we understand them. Prove this to yourself. Next time you get angry, take a moment to reflect on the reason behind the emotion. When I step back and reflect, it’s easy to see that my anger is caused by insecurity/selfishness/jealousy etc. After I understand the cause my anger fades away.

The same technique applies to a loss of motivation. Instead of giving into negativity, step back and analyze. Look at the causes. Are you tired, burned out, disappointed by the results? Are these feelings justified, or are they a by product of a low point in the emotional spectrum?

To illustrate these ideas, I’ll use my most recent project as an example, the creation of this site. When I launched Pick the Brain it took an enormous amount of effort. I was completely new to blogging, web design, and traffic building so there was a steep learning curve. Writing new posts, setting up the site, and trying to build traffic took up nearly all my free time. After about three weeks I was completely burned out. I got depressed and started to question if the site was worth the effort. I wasn’t seeing any returns and I started to find enormous faults in my writing and the purpose of the site. There were moments when I was resigned to failure.

One reason I was able to overcome this loss of motivation is that I prepared myself for a letdown. Beforehand, I researched blogging and learned that it generally takes 9-12 months before a site begins to see significant traffic. Knowing that my lack of success was perfectly normal helped me get over it. The same is true for other endeavors. If you know losing 20 pounds in a month is unrealistic, you’ll be able to accept losing only 5 more easily.

I also knew my own emotions and was prepared for the initial emotional peak to pass. When I was first inspired to launch a website, my expectations were through the roof. Dreams of AdSense revenue danced in my head and I pictured throngs of loyal readers as if they already existed. But because I understand my emotional pattern, I realized this optimism would give way to depression. In the back of my mind, I foresaw the impending motivational battle, and when it came I was ready.
Reevaluate Your Strategy and Motivation

The passing of the emotional peak is a blessing in disguise because it allows us to reevaluate our plans from a fresh perspective. At first we are blinded by our own optimism. When we lose our motivation we can see gaping holes our in plan. We can either get down on ourselves and give up, or we can use this negative emotion to discover our faults and correct them. After I pulled myself out of the motivational cellar, I went back to all the negatives thoughts I’d had and applied them to improving the site. Having a pessimistic attitude opened my eyes. It made me realistic about my abilities and expectations. Emotional valleys bring us back to reality. Without them we’d be raving lunatics with unlimited self-confidence.

Use a loss of motivation as an opportunity to reconsider what your motivation really is. One reason I lost motivation is that I became too concerned with the financial aspect of blogging and lost sight of the real reason I started: sharing my passion for self improvement and the pursuit of happiness. When I realigned my motivation with my passion, the lack of results didn’t matter. My motivation returned because I realized connecting with people through my writing is an end in itself. Even if this site never makes I dime, sharing my ideas and experiences to help other people is worth the effort.

In truth, sometimes giving up is the right decision. If you started doing something for the wrong reasons you’ll likely lose your motivation. This is a good thing. It allows us to see what really motivates us. In these cases, the best choice is to move on to a new endeavor. Don’t fight self doubt, use it for your benefit.
Conclusion

Dealing with emotional highs and lows is an experience common to all people. We generally accept our emotions as beyond our control. They are powerful and mysterious and appear quite irrational. But if we contemplate our emotions, if we explore the inner workings of our minds, we find that like all things, emotions obey the law of cause and effect. Armed with this knowledge, we can continue to allow our emotions to dominate our lives, or we can use them to our benefit.

Don’t be surprised by a loss of motivation and don’t be disappointed by it. Understand it as natural effect of the human mind, and utilize this knowledge of self to make your emotions work for you.
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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Steve Jobs and Mona Simpson: Geniuses

Image representing Steve Jobs as depicted in C...Image via CrunchBase

I find the Steve Jobs-Mona Simpson story fascinating — biological brother & sister (with a Syrian father) raised in separate families, who never knew about each other until Jobs was 27 – In a nutshell: Jobs, raised in a modest middle-class family in California, becomes the highly successful genius head of Apple, then discovers that he has a sister who was raised by their (American) biological mother in Wisconsin, who is also a genius, novelist Mona Simpson. After meeting, they form a close relationship.

The 1997 New York Times Magazine article by Steve Lohr that’s excerpted below (which was written soon after Simpson’s 1996 novel A Regular Guy and also soon after Jobs’ return as Apple CEO) is the best source I’ve found on the relationship — Especially because it includes rare remarks by Jobs about it. Below the excerpt, I discuss the difficulty of finding information on the Jobs-Simpson relationship, and other sources of information. Here’s the NYT excerpt, taken from the middle of a long article on Jobs:

When Jobs found Mona Simpson, a sister who had grown up in entirely different circumstances, it was as if they had been part of some nature-versus-nurture experiment. He was struck by the similarity in their intensity, traits and appearance.

Since he was a teen-ager [Jobs] had made occasional efforts to locate his biological family. He had nearly given up when he discovered, at the age of 27, that his biological parents had another child later whom they had kept, his younger sister. For reasons of privacy, Jobs explains, he won’t discuss his biological parents or how he ultimately tracked down his sister.

As it turns out, his sister is the novelist Mona Simpson, whose new book, “A Regular Guy,” is about a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who bears a striking resemblance to Steve Jobs. After they met, Jobs forged a relationship with her, often visiting her in Manhattan, where she lived and still maintains an apartment. Theirs is a connection that, to this day, neither Jobs nor Simpson have discussed in the press, and now do so sparingly. “My brother and I are very close,” Simpson says. “I admire him enormously.”

Jobs says only: “We’re family. She’s one of my best friends in the world. I call her and talk to her every couple of days.”

A few words about how I found this article, and the difficulty of finding information on the Jobs-Simpson relationship — I started, of course, with a Google search for Steve Jobs Mona Simpson – The first two hits are the Wikipedia articles on Jobs and Simpson, which is an indication that there’s nothing very definitive about the relationship between the two — If there were, it would be more highly ranked than the Wikipedia articles. The Lohr/NYT article above is #3. It deserves this high ranking, because it has the best commentary on the Jobs-Simpson relationship, looked at from both siblings, instead of being from the viewpoint of one or the other of them, as in the other top 10 hits. Oddly, however, Google links to a reprinted version of the article instead of the original NYT version, maybe because it’s all on one page.

The Wikipedia article on Simpson has nothing on Jobs. The article on Jobs has rather oddly documented, brief mention of Simpson, with Notes 10 and 21-25 about her relationship with Jobs, but the NYT/Lohr article, above, is only listed in the general Articles on Jobs, with no acknowledgment of its discussing Simpson. Another puzzling ovesight in Wikipedia documentation — There’s an article listed in the Notes section that, while it doesn’t have much on the Jobs-Simpson relationship, does have good information on Simpson’s family background in Green Bay, where she was raised by her mother. It’s especially useful because it discusses Jobs’ biological Syria-native father. In the Wikipedia article Notes, there’s not a link to the actual article, only to the newspaper site:

22. Andy Behrendt, “Apple Computer mogul’s roots tied to Green Bay,” Green Bay Press-Gazette, December 4, 2005.

Presumably the article is unlinked because it’s no longer available from the Green Bay Press-Gazette. It is available here (scroll ca halfway down page for it).

Finally, one last little piece in this truth-is-stranger-than-fiction narrative — From the Wikipedia article on Simpson — Her husband is Richard Appel, and he is a writer for The Simpsons. Hmmm …

Picture Sources: Steve Jobs | Mona Simpson

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey
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