Spotlight or Area light?

We have been doing “Spotlight on the Art of…” for 3 books now, We have 3 in the works: 2 that are not Spotlight books and one that spotlights Fear, and we’re in the conception phase of another one. You have been to plays and concerts where they had a follow spot on the main players. In using a spotlight you are illuminating a “spot” on the stage.

If you are running the light, you really HOPE that your artist is Standing in that light. My friend, Ruth, was an expert in follow spot, and her favorite saying was, “If there’s a dark spot on the stage, my guy will find it.” The problem with using a follow spot is that performers and actors especially tend to move about the set. The director does the blocking saying, “You must be at This spot at This point in the scene.” Now how the actor gets to that spot is somewhat an adventure. Ideally, the follow spot operator is in on the rehearsal and has the notes on the blocking. Why? Because if you FOLLOW the actor, you MISS the actor. You have to anticipate his moves so you’re not trying to catch up to him.

What does this have to do with writing? When you set your theme for your book, and choose the main point, you are effectively putting a spotlight on it. You add the characters or the information you want to include to bring your readers’ attention to the thing standing in the spotlight.

Area Lighting

You do NOT spread out the spotlight so it’s an area light in order to include everything you’re writing. There are some things in your book that are interesting but not vital. There are things that are not essential that may pull your audience’s attention away from the spotlight. This may be useful in a mystery. If you do not want the readers to guess the ending, you do not put too much foreshadowing or too many hints in. You don’t want them to solve the mystery before they’re half way into the book! But if you’re trying to guide people to a conclusion and make a point, you need to keep that spotlight small and evident.

Maintaining focus

In the International Speech contest for Toastmasters, one of the techniques the winners use is a “tag line” that keeps pointing to the spotlight of their speeches. You can do that in your book as well. You must have a purpose in your book. It can be to simply entertain, or to make a point, or to discover another level of awareness in the reader. If you have your purpose firmly in mind, figure out a reminding device that keeps people’s focus on what you’re spotlighting.

A reminding device can be as simple as a recurring phrase, “I had never noted his shifty eyes before.”  It can be a location or description, “Nothing ever good came of a new moon, and tonight was no exception.”  It could be a recurring character, “When I was low, Bob, you were there.  When I broke my leg, you were there.  When my dog died, you were there.  Bob?  You’re a jinx!”  Remember, you’re always trying to focus your readers’ attention to the main point of your book.

When you have written your first draft, take a look at how many times people can see the focus of your story.  Are you getting to the point?  Do they know it?!  Then you’re off to a great start!


Thoughts on Persistence

Have you ever watched a child who is learning to walk?

She first pulls herself up using the couch or a table leg, then turns and takes a step. Or two.

BAM! Down she goes.

What occurs next is a minor miracle – she pulls herself up and tries again!

Eventually, she succeeds! (and the peace of the household is forever gone.)

What’s happening here?

The baby shows resilience, the ability to get back up after she falls.

She also shows persistence, the ability to keep going after the fall.

You may have heard that insanity is repeating the same actions while expecting different results.

Clearly our baby is doing something that allows her to, ultimately, succeed!

I believe she is learning from her experience and applying what she learns to do better the next time.

That, in a nutshell, is the theme of my chapter in Resilience.

If you want to be resilient, you need two things: persistence and planning. Persistence to help you regain your feet when you lose balance and planning to help you move forward toward your goal.

— Presented at the Bookworm in Omaha, Nebraska, August 19, 2017


When writing a book, a speech, a song, or blog or any type of communication to members of the community, the presentation can make or break your message.  Picture a Lobster dinner with pasta and a lovely green vegetable.  Can you see it on the plate?  Are you starting to drool?  What happens when you take the lobster meat, the butter, the pasta and the lovely green vegetable and throw it in a blender 1st.  Is this something you want to eat?  YIKES NO!!!!  The presentation of the food is what opens up our senses of smell and sight and gets our salivary glands working and our tummies prepared for a marvelous feast.

You first have to capture the imagination.  You have to make people curious enough to take the next step…take a bite, turn the page, get out the notebooks, get out the checkbooks.  In Toastmasters master speeches, they say something loud or shocking, or present a question to the audience; then they introduce their topic with a few tantalizing statements and finally say, “Mister Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters and honored guests…”  The writer has an opening line, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…”  The song writer starts with an introduction.  Even if you are writing a text book, your tester needs to be captivated on opening the book.  If you bore the teacher, the class will fall asleep.

I went to a seminar on mentorship.  What catchy opening were we, the audience, expecting?  I don’t know.  Some were expecting a story about how the speaker met his mentor.  Some were expecting a statement or a story about why mentoring is important to seek out.  Some were thinking they might get some how-to tips on how to mentor other people.  The expectations were all over the field.  We were surprised.  He opened up with his background, where he lived and where he grew up.  It didn’t serve any purpose except give us information about him that was not germane to the topic.  That lasted nearly 5 min and it was supposed to give us some insight into his background so we could connect.  At this point, some of us were not sure we wanted to connect with this guy.  He hadn’t said anything that would make us want to turn the page.

He then spent a good 10 minutes on the first section of his hand out.  He was using the 6 human needs that Tony Robbins teaches in his seminars.  He had them divided into 2 columns, and he had 1 word and its “mystery” companion on each row.  The companion word just had a first letter followed by a set of blanks and he spent a good deal of time trying to get us to guess the word he was thinking.  “Think of a word of 7 letters that starts with V and is the opposite of Certainty.”  He was in a room full of Toastmasters.  We know a plethora of ‘V’ words that could be used as opposites for Certainty.  So after a minute of so of guessing, he finally gave us the word. He then did the same thing with Connection.  The last word, Growth, he wanted a word starting with C that would enhance the meaning of the word.  He did the same exercise in the Toastmasters meeting he was invited to the next day.  One person actually guessed the V word because she was a crossword enthusiast.  He was surprised.  This tells me that NOBODY guesses the words.  What was the point of the guessing game?  Was it to improve our vocabulary?  Was it to change our perspective?  Was it to bring out a point in mentoring? It did none of those things.  In fact, 2 days later, people who’d gone to the seminar did not remember the words.

The second part of his presentation had to do with actions teams should be able to do to be successful.  The most interesting thing about one of his points, trust, was in the 5 levels of trust.  That wasn’t on his worksheet.  He then did an exercise in edification. He played the part of the intermediate manager and had a new low level manager that was just learning the ropes and had questions and the top manager who’d been in the business for a long time.  The first conversation was between him and the low level manager where he edified the top manager.  He then introduced the low level manager to the top level manager and then said, “Go.”  What is the point of introducing a low level manager to the upper level manager?

  1. It gives the low level manager the feeling of being valued
  2. It breaks down the wall between the low and high level manager so they see it’s a team effort
  3. It gives the high level manager a feeling for the newest member.

What he didn’t do is give these objectives to the upper level manager.  She didn’t know what the ultimate goal of the introduction was.

  1. You want to take in the qualities of the newest manager.
  2. You want them to go to their immediate manager instead of bypassing them to get the best information and clogging your day with things that could be handled further down the line.
  3. You want the intermediate manager to take a leading role in teaching and mentoring this new manager.

When he introduced the lower manager to the upper manager, she thought she was supposed to answer all the questions of the lower manager.  She didn’t, therefore, edify the middle manager and actually did the opposite.  The assumption of the lower manager was then that the middle manager didn’t know anything and just passed questions up to the top dog and was a middle manager because he didn’t qualify to do anything else.  Would this lower manager be more or less likely to go to the middle manager for wisdom and knowledge?  As far as the presenter was concerned, this upper level manager completely failed in the exercise.

He ran out of time on the third part of his presentation.  We never did get the connection between what he presented and mentoring.  He did not make clear the use of the worksheet in mentoring.  There were no examples or stories about how this information applied to mentoring.  Did I take notes?  Certainly.  Will I use this information?  I have to fix it first.


Practicing your story

I love to tell stories!  Things that happen to me, things that happen to my friends and family, things that amuse me, and things that come to me in my sleep are all fodder for my stories.  I have a story about room service.  I have all sorts of stories about my travels and adventures.

I was recently at a big event in Orlando where I got certified as a John Maxwell teacher/trainer/coach, and one of the activities was standing up and introducing myself to my table mates in a 5 minute speech.  I had told this story to my family, then to my toastmaster club, and eventually to all of my friends.  I published this story on FaceBook.  I had to tell it that many times to refine it.  I found areas of description that did not advance the story and cut them out.  I found conversations and streamlined them to make them an integral part of the story.  I looked for ways to hold off the end of the story so it would come as a surprise.  I crafted the words for the most impact.  Mark Twain once said, “If it is a ten-minute speech it takes me all of two weeks to prepare it; if it is a half-hour speech it takes me a week; if I can talk as long as I want to it requires no preparation at all. I am ready now.”  Once I have my story just the way I like it, I rarely change my delivery.  My choice for this project was “Don’t worry, I’m a Professional!” and it was a humorous look at my adventures at the last Big Event where I broke my hip.  It came in at 4:47 and I got all kinds of good reviews.

You have to listen to where people laugh.  You have to listen to your delivery.  You have to watch the people in your audience to see when you need to slow down or speed up.  Are they getting the point of the story?  This is a 5 minute speech.  A book is a 5 minute speech stretched out to 3-5 days.  Craft each scene carefully–each character, the setting, the dialog.  You cannot be careless lest you run yourself into a rabbit hole you cannot escape.  Write down your inspirations and expand on them.  Write down your stories and then look at them with a critical eye.  Does it conform to your plot?  Does it get a good reaction from the reader?  What do you want to accomplish with this paragraph?

Craft your stories as you would a vase.  Don’t leave anything to chance, and do not assume you can just wing it and get it right.

What’s on your mind? Write it down!

What IS on your mind?  You have a story you just have to write because you cannot share it one on one with everyone fast enough. You have an issue that needs to be in the forefront of everyone’s mind. You have a ground breaking idea. You have a hero you want to write about. There is something on your mind that you cannot share unless you write it!

Then you sit down to your blank page and write the 1st sentence. Then you erase it. Then you try again, and again, and again. How do you start?  How do you get what’s on your mind on paper?

Every writer goes through a different process. There are some that have not only the 1st sentence but the whole 7-book series blocked out in their heads! There are some that are stream-of-consciousness and just sit down and write, and later organize it. In between those extremes, there are a plethora of different processes. You cannot assume everyone writes the same way. But you have to start somewhere.

The first thing many do is get down on paper the main reason they need to write this story.  Is it to explore a character?  Is it to change someone’s mind?  Is it to place beings into a new and alien setting?  Is it to instruct?  I know one writer that uses this model exactly, and then writes an outline and keeps adding detail until his book is done.  Then he erases the I’s and the II’s and the A,B, and C’s of his outline.  Another author writes down what’s on his mind: the subject of his book.  Then he goes off on bunny trails and collects his stories and illustrations.  He next eliminates or at least puts aside the parts that are irrelevant to his subject, organizes and reorganizes these pieces until he has what he wants.

“That Guy” is a cute little fellow in bright yellow Hawaiian shorts and an unmatching shirt that stands on his front lawn watering his flowers and waving at everyone that drives by.  We will take him through several scenarios and see that in the end, he is a very wise man.

So you think you’re a leader because you are the one with the whip?  After reading this book, people will take a new approach to leadership.  We take a look at who real leaders are and why they command their followers so well.

It was just hours before the second sun would rise and it was already hot.  What kind of challenges would humans face on an extraterrestrial planet with two suns?  We will explore different challenges and aspects of life in a non Earth environment.

Which end do you blow into?  We will explore the first steps in learning to play guitar and be delighted that we don’t have to blow into anything!

Try coming up with some things you’d like to write about on a legal pad and why you want to write them.  See what happens!

Spotlight on the Art of Grace is Now an eBook!


Spotlight on the Art of Grace is now a published eBook!spotlight-on-the-art-of-grace

I’ve just adapted our book to a eBook format.  This format works for Ipad, NOOK, and other eReaders, with the exception of Amazon Kindle.

The next step will be to build Grace on Amazon’s CreateSpace platform so as to release the book on Amazon.

Lessons Learned

Adapting the manuscript to an eBook format is a little tricky.  I’d like to take a moment to share a few of the lessons I took from the process.

  1. No text boxes.  In our original manuscript, I had included text boxes to provide captions for illustrations.  Text boxes are verboten in Lulu’s eBook building tool.I actually chose to copy the illustration and its caption to a picture editing utility to make both the photo and the caption a single .jpg image.
  2. Table of Contents.  eBooks are unique in that the a table of contents serves as a navigation tool for the work.  I had to remove the Table of Contents from the original manuscript. At the same time, I needed to retain the Heading 1, Heading 2, and Heading 3 styles.  These styles were used to populate the Table of Contents created by the eBook conversion tool.
  3. New ISBN.  Just so it’s clear, every format of the book requires a different ISBN.  Fortunately, both Lulu and Createspace provide ISBN’s for free and in real time.  Those ISBNs are tied to Amazon and Lulu, but since authors can simply republish under a differing free ISBN, there is no penalty, particularly for the first time author.

I am excited about taking another step down the road to success. I’m glad to share the journey with you!

What if you have nothing to say?

Writers don’t start out being writers.  They start out as thinkers.  Unfortunately, most thinkers don’t have that sounding board; the ideas are bounced about inside his own skull.  It’s not unlike singing in the shower, you sound like you should be in Carnegie Hall, until you’re IN Carnegie Hall and Simon Crowe is holding his head in his hands.

The writers of the “Spotlight on Grace” were all thinkers.  They were adept at coming up with topics for short articles and presentations, so they each knew how to be efficient and to the point.  They just didn’t know they were going to be writers.  How did this book, this writing exercise, this monumental learning experience come about then?

We were sitting in a Panera’s discussing our upcoming plans for a club we all belong to when the discussion turned to leadership.  Many of us felt that our club was being singled out for being creative, enthusiastic, seeking and filling needs of the district as necessary, and exhibiting a rapport among members, intelligence, long term planning, and dedication to the concepts and precepts of the parent organization that few, if any, other clubs had.  This should have been a good thing, but instead, we were getting censured.

Transition to book writing

The conversations got more detailed and specific incidents came out that had upset our sensibilities.   Then the fateful question was asked, “How would you have handled this situation differently?”  What was surprising is that each and every member looked at a different aspect to either the situation as it was posed, the long-term consequences of the action, reaction, or inaction taken by the subject of our conversation, or the motives behind the actions.  The main overarching theme of all the answers was that each of us would have handled the situation with more grace.

You could see the light bulbs popping up.  Slowly it dawned on us.  The purpose of our club was to help us transition from club members to professional speakers, trainers, coaches, and facilitators. Our adviser, Sheryl Roush said that the first step on this journey was to write a book.  We had a THEME!!!!  Writing a book together might be just the vehicle we needed to get our collective feet into the water.

The meetings we were having would allow us to get together on a regular basis and provide enumerable benefits to the members.  We could each corral our thoughts into a chapter instead of writing a full book.  We could get used to how book writing and publishing could be accomplished, therefore, if we decided we wanted to, each of us would have the ability to do a project individually as well.  Our newly formed group didn’t have to depend on luck or charisma or contacts from a personal standpoint, we could work with the expertise and connections of the members!

“Spotlight on Grace” project was born!  Each member chose an idea to base a chapter on, and each member reviewed and edited the other members’ contributions.  We gained a great deal of insight into our fellow collaborators, and a deeper understanding of how our lives intersected.  Most importantly, it was fun!  The bouncing of ideas around the table, the wide interests and approaches to the same subject were stimulating.  This collaboration opened the doors to help us transition from thinkers to writers.  Up until now, our writing had been limited to 500-700 words, and now our minimum was 5000!  Yet, the words flowed.

We were now writers!  But we also learned about publishing, copy rights, corporate law, accounting issues, and much more than just the writing.  We even got to the point where more ideas started flowing.  We started promoting our book, getting endorsements and testimonials, and marketing our group as a resource for other aspiring writers and professional speakers, trainers, coaches, and facilitators.  It is exciting!  It is fun!  It’s a great start. Get a hold of the book.  See what a group of thinkers turned writers can do with some proper collaboration!