Challenging myself

Orange sky over Rye, NY - November 2011For those who don’t know me well, I am not a religious person. I don’t hold claim to any one belief system or ideology, nor do I reject any. I hold a high level of respect for everyone’s individual beliefs or lack thereof. It’s not my intent to prove or disprove, rather, it is to learn facts, listen to stories, and understand our world as it exists today. This level of comprehension includes the natural world and human societies and cultures, for which many are built around belief systems and have significantly impacted on the natural world – good or bad. I am also a strong advocate of the sciences.

In needs to be stated with regard to our current polarized climate of religion versus science, that science does not exist to debunk or counter religion. Nor is science a belief system. It is a methodology applied to the pursuit of facts in how things function in our world. It is the exploration of our intelligent minds, the ocean depths, and the minuscule building blocks of the trillions of atoms that make up each of our bodies.

My views on religion – of any faith – are straight-forward, if not over-simplified. When the supernatural elements are removed they provide frameworks that help some people live their lives, to cope with difficult situations, to provide a community of like-minded people, to serve the less fortunate in times of need. In this high-stress, fast-paced digital era of individual isolation – think of how often people are outdoors talking with neighbors as compared to the pre-Internet days of twenty-plus years ago – religious organizations hold an invaluable role in fulfilling a need to belong to a group and provide a purpose in life. I acknowledge that not everyone seeks these fulfillments, or maybe not in a faith-based setting.

So here I am, embarking on what is the most challenging journey yet in my professional creative life. Without giving much detail away at this early stage, I have committed to writing a biography following the lives of two sisters, where religion and gender identity are major factors in their life stories. Funny enough, the challenge for me is not in taking on the subject of gender identity, it’s learning in close proximity about the high value and trust in a faith that is rather foreign to me, one that I may not agree with at times.

Through this writing exercise I have finally reached a point of clarity consistent with my views: a story about another’s beliefs is not reflective of my own.


Win a copy of Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel

This is a cool travel writing book. Nonfiction for those who might wonder. Fascinating stories almost lost to history about the people commemorated in various cemeteries around the world. And stories about how these places came to be.

Cemetery Travel: Your Take-along Guide to Graves & Graveyards Around the World

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Wish You Were Here by Loren Rhoads

Wish You Were Here

by Loren Rhoads

Giveaway ends October 31, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

I know Goodreads is controversial these days, but I’ve been an author there for years — and the last giveaway I did through them was really fun.  Hopefully, this one will be, too.

You should be able to click on through their widget above and enter to win your very own copy of my book of cemetery essays.

Good luck!

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Where do I begin (in writing for business)

A common question for anyone with a concept that merits exploration and writing about: Where do I begin? This was the first thought that came to mind as I prepared to write this blog. The blur of ideas swirling through my brain right were each vying to surface, holding each other down to drown rather than allow any the opportunity to escape unscathed. My ideas were composed of hardened exteriors with spines and claws capable of taking anyone’s fingers off, yet malleable amorphous bodies lay beneath the surfaces waiting to express themselves.

I’m sure everyone experiences this difficulty when they set out to write something, some may call it writer’s block or procrastination, for others it’s seen as a matter of organizing thoughts. Whatever your perspective, they are all essentially different terms for the same thing.

So where do I begin to apply this blog to effective writing that is applicable to any reader who may stumble across this  article? Good thing I kept asking myself this, it’s like I’m working through another cycle of missing motivation – see my previous blog entry on motivation to learn more. And now I’ll step outside of my head.

Grab attention

In business writing, the example I’ll use throughout this exercise, it is important to begin with a succinct message that immediately grabs attention. No different than journalism or fiction, really, though the intended audience of any corporate communication is expecting another doldrum memorandum or speech. You can’t let dull happen. Ever. Let’s use a speech here, don’t ever start a speech with “I’m so glad to be here, my name is _______ and I’m really happy to meet you. My accomplishments include….” Everyone’s heard that intro before, it’s expected and exhausting, the audience is already staring at the light fixtures or shutting their eyes to take a nap. Instead, begin with, “Here’s your solution…..” or “Tomorrow we will begin….”

As tempting as it is, you may want to avoid at all costs beginning a speech with the words “I killed your baby today, she deserved it.” Attention grabbing – absolutely. A few will find the humor, unfortunately, most will not. But think of a similar and relevant statement that will command the attention of even the most apathetic employee. Then carry that heightened moment forward with further supporting details.

In medias res

Then there is beginning in medias res. Unless you are a writer or have been enrolled in a writing program, you are less likely to encounter this term. Thing is, you’ve seen it used in movies, TV dramas, and books of all kinds. SImply explained, it’s beginning the story in the midst of action from the middle of the narrative, an abrupt flash forward if you will, that immediately draws the audience to an upcoming conflict that early part of the story is building up to. I find it a fun literary device as I don’t always like to tell stories in chronological order. Think about how this can apply to preparing a presentation or speech. Open with a teaser that immediately engages the audience, then transition to the beginning of the story you are about to tell. Just don’t lose the momentum that opener initiated.

Begin with the end

There are other aspects to where to begin, such as sorting out your thoughts, like my opening paragraph to this blog entry. Sometimes, those swirling thoughts are so overwhelming and cumbersome that the best place to begin is with the end. What is your intended result? Who are you talking to and why? If you are persuading an audience that a new process will benefit the company by reducing expenses thereby improve their bonuses, start there and follow with supporting information like how this came to be and why it will work, then close with a reiteration of your initial point. SImple, right?

Where this blog entry started and has headed I couldn’t fathom before I began. This idea was one of those soft-bodied cores beneath a spiny exoskeleton when it was first spawned, difficult to approach until I found exactly the right point to access its warm and bountiful interior. I hope that you have come away with something useful in your own writing endeavors, even if some strange visual metaphors to remember this by.

A Writer’s Exploration: Finding My Nonfiction Voice

I tried something new recently. It was risky – well, not really risky, let’s say daring – I applied my fiction voice to my nonfiction work.

Over the years, as I have developed my business writing prowess, I always felt there were certain molds I needed to fit in to and expectations to meet. Often times I found myself writing in a stilted, unnatural voice, like I was listening to myself on the other side of a two-story brick and mortar wall. It never sat right with me. It felt like a chore. I would spend countless collective hours revising and refining, restructuring and reworking – as I am sure any writer has had the good fortune of dealing with – to sound reasonably good. And the good was good, sometimes a little better than good, sometimes it was dry, business-like, professional, regimented, bland and craving a makeover of charisma and soul. Sometimes I hated the venomous amorphous beast that slowly gnawed at my psyche little bits at a time. It made me crazy; my mental wellness was not quite at stake, but crazy nonetheless. But I did what needed to be done, I stuck to my due diligence.

Now don’t get me wrong, I wrote well, when I was into it. And if not well, well enough for the sake of well enough. I wrote news articles and business information for the corporate intranet, website content, ad copy, various employee communications, a few press releases, a speech or two … whatever a Corporate Communicator would write on a regular basis. It did the job, it communicated clearly and efficiently, and I fulfilled my obligation. Nevertheless, it felt distant to me – like another shallow faceless automaton wrote it. I was starved to fight my way out of this monotony.

Since last August, I have been writing a short fiction piece for my MFA writing workshop course. You could say it is a psychological thriller among other things. During the process, I found myself seeing the story and interpreting it into the written language in a novel way. My writing voice, to my surprise, had evolved to a new level. Though it is hard to pinpoint the catalyst, I fell in love with the writing process all over again (I had to throw in one more cliché, really).

Then it hit me in a subconscious sense – because I did not actually speak or think these words – why not use this evolving fiction style, this new voice, in my nonfiction? I tried it out on a few small pieces. I found myself perceiving what I was writing in a new light with a different thought process. I introduced elements of this evolving voice to a recent book review … and it blew my mind. Reading the work back to myself aloud, I could not believe the barrier I had leapt over. The style was so fluid, so easy to follow, so full of humanity and personality. It was, and still is, an incredible feeling. My true nonfiction voice has emerged from the dark depths of white offices with beige carpets!