How gratitude can benefit your life

Thank youHappy Thanksgiving!

We all give thanks on this holiday. Cultivating gratitude throughout the year can have tremendous positive effects on your health and your relationships.

Here are seven scientifically proven benefits of gratitude, from an article by Amy Morin in Forbes.

1. Gratitude opens the door to more relationships. If you thank a new acquaintance, they are more likely to seek an ongoing relationship.

2. Gratitude improves physical health. Grateful people report feeling healthier than other people.

3. Gratitude improves psychological health. Gratitude increases happiness and reduces depression.

4. Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. People who feel grateful are less likely to retaliate against others.

5. Grateful people sleep better. Writing in a gratitude journal improves your sleep.

6. Gratitude improves self-esteem. Grateful people don’t resent others’ accomplishments but are able to appreciate them.

7. Gratitude increases mental strength. Gratitude helps reduce stress, overcome trauma and make you more resilient.

So take a few moments to focus on all that you have–and give thanks.

You can read the entire article here.

John McPhee and writing by omission

John McPhee is one of my favorite authors. He makes me feel like I am present in the place and with the people he writes about. Coming into the Country, his book about Alaska, introduced me to a wealth of fascinating characters. He makes potentially boring subjects captivating, such as geology in Basin and Range.

So when my news feed turned up his an article in The New Yorker about how to write, I read it right away.

The article is titled “Omission: Choosing what to leave out.” The question for the writer is how much to say about the subject and when to stop.

McPhee says, “Writing is selection. Just to start a piece of writing you have to choose one word and only one from more than a million in the language. Now keep going. What is your next word? Your next sentence, paragraph, section, chapter? Your next ball of fact. You select what goes in and you decide what stays out. At base you have only one criterion: If something interests you, it goes in—if not, it stays out.”

He continues, “Ideally, a piece of writing should grow to whatever length is sustained by its selected material—that much and no more.” Now that’s the tough part. McPhee relates various arguments he’s had with editors over the year about the amount they cut from his articles. Sometimes he won the argument, sometimes he lost, and sometimes he ended up agreeing with the editor.

McPhee talks about the need to leave white spaces: the writer should provide enough details to evoke a scene but allow the reader to fill in the details. “To cause a reader to see in her mind’s eye an entire autumnal landscape, for example, a writer needs to deliver only a few words and images—such as corn shocks, pheasants, and an early frost.”

He also quotes Ernest Hemingway: “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.”

I’m going to suggest that you read the entire article. It will make you think more about how you write. And you’ll also find out why General Eisenhower left the grapes out of the still life he was painting.


Three great leads to engage your readers

Your lead needs to grab people by the collar or get them asking questions, said Ann Wylie at a recent workshop sponsored by PRSA Puget Sound.

There are three good types of leads, according to Wylie:

  • Concrete: Engage one of the five senses or offer a startling statistic.
  • Creative: Use words that involve suspense or conflict. Talk about something weird, unusual or surprising. Or be descriptive, paint a picture with your words.
  • Provocative: Give concrete information that will provoke your readers to ask the question.

Some leads to try: human interest, wordplay, prescription, metaphor, anecdote, juicy details or startling statistics.

Some leads to avoid: abstraction, background, throw-away, question that’s broad or abstract, quotation, pack of facts or announcement. Those tend to be boring. They may be appropriate elsewhere in your story, but not in the first sentence.

Breeding Grounds film premieres

Breeding Grounds premiered last night at Northwest Film Forum. This post-apocalyptic movie explores the relationships among a small group of people thrown together in a “breeding camp” designed to repopulate the United States. The Seattle Filmmakers’ Collective produced the film with an all-volunteer cast and crew.

A few months ago I visited the production site to do behind-the-scenes interviews with the cast and crew. You can see them all on the SFC website. I conducted the interviews and edited them into short videos.

Here’s a direct link to my favorite interview. Telisa Steen plays Ellen in Breeding Grounds.

Ben the Bear: Ann Wylie and online storytelling


PETA photo

“The bear, known only as Attraction #2, lived in a cage the size of a child’s room.”

That is one possible lead for a story about Ben the Bear, said Ann Wylie. She was speaking at a PRSA Puget Sound workshop on writing for the web called “Get Clicked, Read, Shared and Liked.”

Wylie described Ben’s story in a classic story template.

  • Introduction: Make the lead concrete, creative or provocative. What is a  critical moment or interesting fact that will draw people into the story and encourage them to keep reading?
  • Problem: Describe Ben’s dismal life in a North Carolina roadside zoo. Paint a picture for readers.
  • Solution: Talk about how your actions (by your company, nonprofit organization, agency program or other) improved the situation. In Ben’s case, PETA and other organization filed a cruelty-to-animals lawsuit that eventually got Ben out of the zoo, and FedEx transported him to his new home. Don’t use too much detail to describe your actions. Other people don’t care about those details. They want to know what happened to the story’s hero or protagonist.
  • Result: Ben now lives in a bear sanctuary, where he has green grass and his own pool. Happily ever after.

Stories are a powerful way to communicate online. Stories that involve human (or animal) interest and personal stories are more likely to be read.

To find stories, look for where your company, agency or program touches your customers. What have you done that is “aw”-inspiring?

Storytelling is half research and half structure. You need both for good stories.

Watch for more from Ann Wylie and her co-instructor Shel Holtz in future posts.

Videos on how to water for healthy plants

I’ve been working with In Harmony Sustainable Landscapes to produce a series of videos teaching people proper watering methods. The idea is that if you water slowly and deeply, your plants will be healthier and less prone to drought stress. The videos, featuring In Harmony co-owner Ladd Smith, explore watering systems, timers, gauges and sensors, and specific tips for new plants and trees.

Here is the first video that explains watering principles.

You can find all of the videos on In Harmony’s blog. I created and am writing posts for the blog as part of our effort to improve In Harmony’s content marketing and online presence.

Empowerment marketing and the VW Beetle

Volkswagen Beetle

Volkswagen Beetle ads with headlines like “Think Small” flew in the face of inadequacy marketing approaches. Route 66, photo.

In a previous post I talked about inadequacy marketing. This is marketing that reinforces our insecurity and tells us that if we just buy a certain product, we will feel strong, safe, secure or sexy.

Here’s another idea. What if marketing helped us realize our potential, tapped our better instincts or engaged us with something more than self-interest? In Winning the Story Wars, Jonah Sachs calls this approach empowerment marketing.

I grew up in Michigan, a state whose economy was based in the auto industry. I remember my parents (and my friends’ parents) buying a new American-made car every two years. They were supporting the industry, but they were also influenced by automobile advertising.

Auto advertising was a great example of inadequacy marketing. The ads said that your status, taste and social acceptance resulted from the car that you drove. My father’s car was very important to him. He babied it, washing it every week so it gleamed.

The Cadillac was THE status symbol. According to Sachs, Cadillac ads “sold a whole set of values–values about happiness, identity and the good life.” Owning a Cadillac showed that you had made it, you were on top.

But that sense of achievement only lasted until the next year’s model–bigger and better–rolled out. Then your car was no longer the height of fashion. It might look small and worn out. Do you think people were feeling anxious and inadequate?

Then in 1959, full-page newspaper ads began to appear with a simple image of the Volkswagen Beetle. The headline said “Think Small.” The ad copy talked about the car being modest and efficient. The antithesis of a Cadillac ad.

People found the ads funny and honest. They flew in the face of traditional advertising approaches, allowing people to celebrate something small and clunky rather than a fashionable status symbol.

“Live Below Your Means” was the headline of another Beetle ad campaign. It celebrated the fact that the car’s design had not changed for almost two decades. New model year, what model year?

Fifty years later the VW Beetle ads are “still widely considered the stand-alone best marketing campaign of the twentieth century, number one on the Ad Age list,” according to Sachs. The Beetle became a symbol of the counterculture revolution. It celebrated not the suburban dream, but freedom and the open road.

The Beetle ad campaign was creative, but it was also powerful because of its values. As Sachs said, “While Cadillac was celebrating an endless quest for status and wealth, VW celebrated joyful modesty of material desire and truth in the face of insincerity.”


How to focus a story, and other tips from pro storytellers

“How do you focus a story?” asked Joe Fryer of NBC News at the Northwest Storytelling Workshop. You could center it around a character, around a place, or around an idea or concept. Once you’ve determined it, get rid of everything that doesn’t help your focus, Fryer said.

Fryer was one of several speakers at the recent storytelling workshop sponsored by NPPA, the National Press Photographers Association, at KING-TV in Seattle. [Read more…]

Inadequacy marketing and the magic solution

Magic solution

A magic solution may reduce your anxiety, but at what cost to you and to society?

Marketers are letting us down by making us feel inadequate, says Jonah Sachs in Winning the Story Wars.

Marketing has enormous power and reach. Each of us has received more than one million marketing messages in our lifetime, and they have a big effect on how we see ourselves and the world. In other words, in many ways marketers are mythmakers.

Marketing stories and myths could raise us up, help us grow and mature as individuals and as a society. Instead, for many years marketers have told us that we are somehow incomplete.

Most advertising reinforces emotions like vanity and insecurity. It tells us that we only need to buy a certain product to feel strong and powerful, safe and secure, or sexy and desirable. Sachs calls this inadequacy marketing.

Inadequacy marketing is a two-act story: [Read more…]

Rainbow Bend video wins Hermes Gold Award

Another of my videos has won an award. “Restoring Rainbow Bend: Good for People and Fish” won the Hermes Creative Gold Award.

Hermes Creative Awards is an international competition for creative professionals. The Gold Award is presented to entries “judged to exceed the high standards of the industry norm.” There were about 6,000 entries from the US and 22 other countries in the 2015 competition.

My role was director and scriptwriter. Tim O’Leary, King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks, was videographer and editor.

The video tells the story of a restoration project on the Cedar River that moved 55 families out of harm’s way and allowed the river to expand into the flood plain. Hundreds of fish now use the site throughout the year, and nearby Highway 169 no longer floods.