Words matter. And I’m not just echoing the sentiments in Dictionary.com’s choice for word of the year.
Or, I’m echoing those sentiments, but by way of framing a project we’re working on about climate truth.

The research required to complete the project is powerful—it makes the stakes of climate change clear and tangible, and it also illustrates the impact of language and usage on an incredibly high-stakes issue.
 
Most people implicitly know that if language doesn’t exactly shape the world, it nonetheless shapes our understanding of ourselves and our shared experiences. The fact that this knowledge is implicit (which is to say that it goes unexpressed) just makes it harder to really grasp how words can change comprehension.
 
The impact of language is more explicit in political discourse. Take “truthiness”—a word coined in 2005 to describe the tendency among politicians (and others) to vacillate on facts when politically expedient. In 2018, the phrase “fake news” is preferred, although it is most commonly deployed to undermine information with which the speaker does not agree, regardless of truth value. Both terms work to define “misinformation,” but in opposing ways that can change the sense of what constitutes “the truth.”
 
When it comes to climate change, Dr. Genevieve Gunther, director of endclimatescience.org, argues that language has shaped “the truth” so as to prevent action. In “Who is the We in ‘We Are Causing Climate Change?’” Gunther points out that the use of “we” defines a collective in which everyone is assigned equal blame. The problem? This is demonstrably false: Millions of people—in America and elsewhere—have nothing to do with a structural reliance on fossil fuel and couldn’t affect meaningful change no matter how hard they were to try.
 
While the job of “we” in any piece of writing is to establish a collective identity, by doing so, it establishes a boundary that can be coercive and—in the case of climate change—completely unhelpful. Using language that ensures that everyone is responsible effectively disables any one person from pointing out that some groups (people and entities) are a whole lot more responsible…and have the power to make the kind of real change that many, many people want.

It’s but a tiny word in the comprehensive ocean of language, but—like “misinformation” and “the truth”—”we” turn out to matter quite a lot.

If you’re prepping to labor over a big writing project, you’ve likely got a lot to consider. Maybe you’re hammering out the logistics of collaboration. Maybe you’re plotting your strategy to avoid self-handicapping during the writing process.
 
And maybe you’re considering hiring a professional editor. For a high-stakes project, the cost–benefit analysis of working with a professional editor is a no-brainer. The right editor will efficiently and exponentially improve your final product. Full stop.
 
But, as with any specialized professional, the more you understand about what an editor can do for you, the more satisfied you’ll be. So, what will the process look like, and what should you expect in the end? That depends on a few things—first, on the type of edit you’re hiring someone to perform.
 

  1. Developmental edit: If you’re looking for feedback on a draft-in-progress, a developmental (or substantive) edit may be what you need. Developmental editors will identify areas for development and elaboration, suggest ways to streamline structure, and suss out other big-picture concerns. If you need support with the creation, development, and tailoring of your content, a mid-process developmental edit might be the way to go.
  2. Line edit: If you have (or plan to have) a pretty complete draft but you want someone to address the writing style, language, and clarity, a line edit is for you. Line editors will improve overall readability at the paragraph and sentence level. If you’re confident in your content but need help making the document more engaging and audience-friendly, a line edit is likely for you.
  3. Copy edit: If you’re confident in the strength of the writing in your document but you want to give it professional polish, a copy edit is an all-important step. Copy editors will correct grammar, syntax, spelling, and punctuation; collate usage for internal consistency; and ensure adherence to style rules. Even if you think your document is perfect, chances are it would still (and often greatly) benefit from a copy edit.

 
While there’s not always a hard-and-fast line between the different types of edits (a handsy copy editor might tend to veer into line edit territory, for instance—self-identifying here), make sure that you know what kind of edit you need, and that you and your editor are on the same page about those needs.
 
In a future post, we’ll talk about what to expect in terms of the process of working with an editor.

​“Well, if I work really hard and can’t get it done, at least I’ll know I just didn’t measure up.”

​ My client’s words about the project’s viability disturbed me. Not because I hadn’t heard them beforeI hear them all the time!but because they’re so misplaced.

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Photo by Drew Coffman

​Her words confirm the pretty much universal truth of every social scroll: When it comes to self-knowledge, it’s always the wrong people who think they know too little (uh, or too much). And I’m only slightly tongue-in-cheek about “universal truth,” too. So much research tells us that we frequently (maybe even usually) overestimate our abilities in some areas (Dunning-Krueger), while radically underestimating our abilities in others (Imposter Syndrome).
 
Of course, my client may not be suffering from anything at all, but she was certainly deploying a related (anti-)strategy–self-handicapping
 
When a person self-handicaps, they put up obstacles to thwart their potential achievement. I might, for example, put off researching a project until it’s too late to do it at all. This (rather obliquely) lowers my own expectations and thus deactivates my potential anxiety—I didn’t give myself the time to do the necessary work, so it’s no big shocker when it doesn’t go well.
 
In the case of my client, the anxiety produced by embarking on a giant, life-changing project seemed to cause her to self-handicap—lowering her bar for achievement at the outset to just “getting it done.”
 
I completely understand the sentiment, and not just because I’ve heard it before. I’ve felt it myself (who hasn’t?). But self-handicapping, a cognitive response to the anxiety caused by the strength of our desire for achievement, keeps us from succeeding, even when (especially when) we really want to. It may not seem like it has the capacity to thwart ambition and derail projects, but it absolutely does. I mean, the aim to “get it done”—ever for a big project—isn’t much of an aim at all.
 
There’s a better way to tamp down this kind of anxiety, and that’s to articulate your goals. It sounds new-agey, or maybe Big Magic-ky (sorry), but it’s actually the opposite. Naming what you want your project to achieve forces you to figure out why (sometimes if) your project matters to you. This seems like it would ratchet up anxiety intolerably, but in fact it helpfully delimits both the project and your goals. More importantly, it helps displace anxiety away from the project, ensuring that it functions as a vehicle and not itself an end.
 
Ultimately, if you have something that you want to create—something big—don’t tell yourself if doesn’t matter, or that all that matters is that you get it done. Instead, buckle down and articulate (to yourself, to a colleague, to a professional) why it matters and what, exactly, you want to achieve with it. I helped my client do this before doing anything else, and I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to soon report back on her mileage.
​Sometimes (maybe often), a big or ambitious writing project can suffer esoteric emergencies.
 
A writer might experience a crisis of confidence (or might suddenly birth a punitive inner editor). A writer might experience a crisis of interest (an initial effluence dries up). A writer might experience a crisis of life’s mundane (or monumental) messiness.
Broken confidence, eclipsed interest, and interrupted work are annoyingly inevitable. Sometimes it’s pretty easy to ensure a project’s survival (if, by “pretty easy,” we agree to mean “biting a stick and bearing down through streams of sweat and tears”).
 
But sometimes these crises, when left untreated, threaten survival. For big, ambitious writing projects, there is no inoculation (for either project or writer), but a little preparation and a lot of triage can ameliorate some damage.
 
Preparation (if you’re like me) means: 1) reading the books on maximizing creative productivity, 2) prioritizing/scheduling your time, and 3) “mastering” the enigma of a balanced life. Also 4) making spreadsheets, to-do lists, and/or bullet journals (that will eventually/inevitably mock you as you miss deadline after [self-imposed] deadline).
 
Preparation is important, of course, but it’s probably best understood in the service of endurance (not success).
 
Triage is different, though. Triage helps you identify and treat your project’s emergent issues…and it’s actually more effective when it happens after you realize your project is gasping for life and in need of an SOS.
 
Triage often involves sending a particularly ill part of your project to a trusted friend—a good thinker with a respected readerly opinion (who will refrain from offering excessive and/or grad-school-style critique)—or to a smart, detached professional.
 
Who is this trusted confidante? Hard to tell! But merely sending a project out into the world forces it into a new environment where you can better diagnose and treat its problems. In some ways, it almost doesn’t matter if you reach the exactly right person.
 
Of course, in other ways, the exactly right person is much better than any old person, so take the opportunity to ask for a short evaluation. What works, what doesn’t, and what’s their best advice for treatment? Whether or not the you receive practical help,  you’ve at least narrowed down your second-opinion pool.

The bad news is that for most writers, there’s is no cure for a big, ambitious project. It’s more like pyrotherapy: The fever must run its course. Help it along by finding the most effective treatment to minimize your pain and maximize your project’s vitality.

We frequently work with organizations on collaboratively produced documents, from annual reports to training manuals to white papers and more. Coauthorship for these kinds of projects is inevitable: Large or complicated documents almost always require the expertise and input of people from different organizational vantages.
 
It makes sense to produce these projects collaboratively, but it’s logistically challenging. Like so much in work (and life), careful, advanced planning and open, formalized communication offer the cure to almost any collaboration ailment. 
Just think, you could be part of a big team fist-bump like this! (Or not. It’s not really our thing either.)

Here are the most important things to consider:

1. Designate a project manager. Maybe you’ve already got a dedicated project manager—lucky you! If not, consider who’s likely to be the de facto project manager, and formalize that role. Contributors will bring different levels of commitment (ahem) to a project, and having one person whose focus is to see it all the way through (and who’s charged with the authority to do so) is crucial.

2. Clarify the division of labor. Now that you’ve got a project manager, make sure other collaborators’ tasks are clearly delineated. Organizational structure will determine some, but not all, roles. Other factors to consider include team members’ facility with writing and their availability at key points in the project. Crystal clarity regarding project-specific roles makes it easier for colleagues to get on board, and to execute what’s expected.
 
3. Make sure the project goals and timeline are clear from the start. This big-picture plan—the macro-view to complement the micro-view of individual roles—is crucial to ensure that collaborators understand the importance of their (timely) contributions. No one wants to be the wrench in the delicately balanced project machinery on which their colleagues depend. Determine the optimal workflow for your project, and make sure that it’s communicated to everyone involved.

4. Make use of technology. Start with your project timeline: there are many tools available to help you create the sort of detailed timeline you need to track tasks, milestones, and project dependencies. And when it comes to creating and polishing content, determine how to best harness your organization’s file sharing or collaboration tools—or which to introduce—and get your team on board with using them.
 
5. Use an editors’ trick of the trade and create a style sheet for all of your collaborators to follow. If your organization already has one, all the better! This upfront time investment will ultimately—and exponentially—simplify the process of collating individually authored sections. Once the your content is complete, consider designating the most experienced writer (who may or may not be the project manager) as the document’s ultimate editor—or, better yet, hire an expert who can suss out inconsistencies and correlate usage, house style, organization, and more.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
by John Carreyrou

​If you haven’t followed the story of rogue startup founder Elizabeth Holmes, you won’t regret time spent googling. Holmes was a darling of Silicon Valley, propelled to media stardom (and billionaire status) in short order after the launch of Theranos, which offered seemingly game-changing blood testing technology. The Theranos device, with which the company claimed to be able to use just one drop of blood to obtain results for hundreds of tests, was long on inspired promises and appallingly short on results. Simply put, it was an utter failure. 
 
Nonetheless, Holmes successfully cultivated a cast of supporters including giants from industry, finance, and politics. Theranos negotiated multi-million-dollar deals with Walgreens and Safeway, and saw interest from the U.S. military—all based on the smoke screens that Holmes and her boyfriend/COO (that’s right) Sunny Balwani created.
 
In Bad Blood, John Carreyrou, the Wall Street Journalinvestigative journalist who broke the story, pieces together the company’s rise and details its fall. Carreyrou offers a fascinating glimpse into the ugliness of Silicon Valley, where ethical and financial recklessness (to the point of criminality) is enabled by the cult-of-personality mystique that surrounds successful founders. 
 
What’s not clear from Carreyrou’s exacting reportage is HOW IN THE HELL Holmes was able to take in so many people (and their many millions of dollars). Her device neverworked. Her grasp of the science behind her own technology, as many former employees report, was tenuous at best. The lies and false evidence used to promote the company—which was unable to deliver on any of its promises—were flimsy to the point of laughability. And yet tech gurus, billionaire venture capitalists, and world leaders were utterly fleeced
 
Carreyrou tells a fascinating story, and his reportage shines is in the latter third of the book, when he details his own investigation and the subsequent undoing of the company (in the wake of the book’s publication, Theranos announcedthat it would dissolve after Holmes was indicted for fraud). But the story is missing certain pieces—namely, Holmes herself. The book’s insight into Holmes doesn’t go much further than the image that she strove to perpetuate, though her worship of Steve Jobs, down to her adoption of his signature sartorial style, comes across as almost childlike. Holmes and Balwani (who seems to be just as obvious a charlatan) remain complete ciphers throughout the telling.
 
This lack is perhaps expected, given that Holmes refused every request Carreyrou made for interviews or access of any sort. It’s a work of investigative journalism after all, so there’s no room for speculation or creative filling-in-the-blanks.
 
Nonetheless, the story of howshe was able to build the empire she did on so flimsy a technological pretense is what’s missing. It clearly depended on the force of her personality; but in Carreyrou’s rendering, Holmes comes across as little more than an egomaniacal, ruthless bully. And whatever deep passion that motivated her blind (and seemingly sociopathic) promotion of herself and her company goes unexplored and unexplained, as does her willingness to literally put lives at risk with her fake device. Novel addict that I am, I wanted more of the latent narrative about Holmes the person. I guess I’ll have to wait for the Netflix version of the Theranos story for that.



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As longtime users of MS Word, we experienced some real pain when we began migrating to Google Docs.
 
We’re not complete luddites, though, so we put in our hours, and we now embrace Google Docs with open (if slightly enervated) arms, at least for simply formatted, collaboratively edited docs.
 
If you want an easy interface and straightforward formatting, or if you’re co-authoring or co-editing a document (ideally, with just a small group of other writers/editors), Google Docs is pretty great.
 
Docs benefits include:

  • Multiple device use: Open your doc anywhere, on any device
  • Interoperability: Open any kind of doc anywhere, on any device
  • Collaboration: Easily write and edit with others in real time (best ever for remote, [small] team-driven projects)
  • Simple writing, editing, and formatting interface: Work without Word’s (so-called) distracting toolbar options

 
However, if you’re a macro-loving editor working with multiple versions of densely commented and edited docs, Word is still going to be your project’s best friend.
 
Why? Because Docs doesn’t support macros, doesn’t have enough easy-to-access and finely-tuned formatting options, and doesn’t seamlessly integrate (and, crucially, dis-integrate) multiple comments.
 
And in some cases what constitutes a Docs strength is also a weakness. The simple interface? Not enough formatting options! The revisions history? Absolutely (and automatically) complete but not always easy to access or to view. Further, when the history is viewed, the revisions are privileged, not the revisions within the document as a whole. This means it isn’t easy to decide which version of a particular paragraph is the strongest in situ.
 
Ironically, the revisions history can also reveal way too much information. Readers can see past prompts (like a fact-checking reminder you might have written to yourself) or comment-based discussions with other writers and/or co-editors (possibly awkward).
 
For some, the choice between Docs and Word will come down to comfort; for others, it’ll come down to price; and for still others, it’ll come down to convenience. For us, we like to have it all ways: Our heart is with Word, but we moonlight with Docs. 




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As last week’s judicial committee hearings made very clear and very present, anger can be a very powerful tool of expression.

​It’s powerful when it rips the seams of expected rhetorical discourse; it’s powerful when it sears through the superficial niceties of extemporaneous speech. It’s powerful—sometimes even especially powerful—when it is expected and yet does not appear.

As a rhetorical tool, anger is as old as the Old Testament (Leviticus is often cited as a relevant example here, but so, too, is Genesis). Aristotle defined anger in Rhetoric as a compelling means of persuasion—a speaker (or writer) can provoke an audience’s angry response simply by identifying the state of mind conducive to the audience’s anger, grasping the object of the anger, and understanding the reason for the anger.
 
Jonathon Edwards flips this masterfully in the (slightly) more contemporary 1741 classic, Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God. His sermon, which ecstatically describes the hellfire and damnation awaiting his audience, is an ur-text for an orator’s hyper-controlled performative power. Among its unforgettable images is Edwards’ admonition that “the God that holds you over the Pit of Hell, much as one holds a Spider, or some loathsome Insect, over the Fire abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his Wrath towards you burns like Fire.”
 
Anger is often powerful in rhetoric because its expression flouts the rules of control that ensure social civility. And its evocation of danger, as Edwards’ sermon makes clear, prompts fear (another useful rhetorical tool). But anger’s persuasive power depends on an acknowledgement of the legitimacy of its expression. Edwards’ congregation must first acknowledge the validity of Edwards’ anger—and God’s—before they can be persuaded to feel afraid.
 
Of course, as Rebecca Traister argues, such acknowledgement is contingent on an audience that shares common ground with the speaker. When, for example, Kavanaugh expressed his outrage, it was deemed persuasive by those audience members with whom he most identified (and who most readily recognized their own anger—and perhaps their own fears—in Kavanaugh’s remarks). This is one of the reasons why so many powerful men in the room viewed Kavanaugh’s opening statement as persuasive, and why women like Amy Klobuchar and Traister and Kate Harding and Megan Garber (and me) saw it as an out-of-control, illegitimate appeal.
 
A perhaps more powerful instance of rhetorically persuasive anger is extemporaneous anger. This was the anger expressed by Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher in their confrontation with Jeff Flake. Its power is different from that exercised by Edwards or Kavanaugh because it depends on forcing identification and recognition where no basis for such identification exists. This is why, without any discernible common ground between Archila and Gallagher on the one side and Jeff Flake on the other, Archila insists that Flake look her in the eye. By her insistence she forces his recognition of the emotion that could push a person to engage in such an audacious social act.
 
But what of the persuasive power of the anger that remains unexpressed? Sometimes this is the anger that provokes the most powerful response of all. Christine Blasey Ford’s opening statement was, as so many women furiously and empathetically noted, calm, candid, and apologetic; in it, she admitted that she was “terrified.”
 
Why didn’t Ford use the anger that many women argued was rightfully hers to express? Perhaps she recognized that unlike Edwards, she was not facing an audience who viewed her as powerful and who would be convinced by her hyper-controlled, performative rage. Perhaps she knew that unlike Kavanaugh, she was not a member of a powerful elite quick to be provoked by threats to self-preservation and more readily convinced by an angry display. Perhaps she realized that unlike Archila she was not a silent survivor and could not have forced an identification through the pain and rage of an extemporaneous, previously undisclosed admission.
 
Or perhaps, to echo Traister, Ford simply recognized that she is a woman, and so she behaved as an angry woman is expected to behave.
 
In the days following Ford’s testimony, however, it has become clear that her absent anger  provoked a fiery and intense response. This is partly due to the fact that Ford, by rejecting anger’s rhetorical power, appealed not to her immediate audience (who, infuriatingly, seemed to accept her terror as tacit acceptance of her “appropriate” place), but to an audience that recognizes the legitimacy—and the urgency—of an anger that cannot be expressed.
 
Anger, after all, is not only a tool of persuasion. It is also sometimes the means for catharsis. Because Ford was disallowed anger’s expression, she—and by extension the women who recognized themselves in her silence—were disallowed the catharsis that Kavanaugh claimed. This doubled denial is one reason for their rage: There are simply too many women who haven’t yet been able to express, much less purge, their pain.


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​Happiness, if the long and prosperous history of the self-help genre is any indication, is generally considered a fundamental human aim. If we aren’t feeling it, and we aren’t striving for it, then we’re doing something wrong. 
 
But is that really true? Is it necessary to be happy—or, hold up, let me tamp down the intensity of that verb—to even try to be happy in order to make the most of the time and the opportunities we’re given?
 
It’s an open question, and one I’ve always considered myself too much of a realist to ask (particularly on days when my kids seem too young, my work seems too hard, the weather seems too bad, the politics seem too ugly, and the internet seems like too deep a void). Of course I (er, you) don’t have to be happy to live a fulfilled life! Sometimes (often?), happiness is too high a bar.
 
And yet I can’t not notice that I’m always in an at least passive pursuit of a lifestyle shift that promises a smarter, stronger, faster, more productive, more in-the-moment, more…happier…me.
 
Given this gap, I turned to The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking with curiosity. I had been researching manifestos and their connection to the can-do, imperative-voiced enthusiasm of today’s self-help books. I needed the break, and Oliver Burkeman’s critique of American-style positive thinking provided the medicine (wink [eyeroll]).
 
In The Antidote, Burkeman charms with a gently dry (and indubitably British) approach to analysis. Case in point: He introduces his subject while gathering intel at a popular business motivational seminar, Get Motivated! in San Antonio, Texas. There, Burkeman is swept up in Dr. Robert H. Schuller’s importation to “cut the word ‘impossible’ out of your life! Cut it out! Cut it out forever!” Then Burkeman notes, with well-timed irony, that mere months after Dr. Schuller whipped up an audience of fifteen thousand into believing that nothing—NOTHING!—was impossible, Schuller’s church, the largest church in the United States, filed for bankruptcy (“a word,” Burkeman says, that Dr. Schuller “had apparently neglected to eliminate from his vocabulary”).
 
Drawing on pop psychology and Pema Chodron-style Buddhism (especially the exceedingly comfortable When Things Fall Apart), Burkeman argues that trying to eliminate words like “impossible” from our vocabularies is, in fact, impossible. It does absolutely nothing to stave off associated feelings or events, and it hopelessly complicates happiness’s path.
 
We’re unhappy, Burkeman argues, because we’ve defined negativity as an obstacle and have single-mindedly focused on clearing our path of all impediments. Instead, we should look to the classical tenets of Stoicism and the Buddhist acceptance of egoless-ness. These paradigms teach us that there is no such thing as an easy and unhampered way. 

Indeed, attempting to reject the word “impossible” and its brethren (uncertainty, insecurity…bankruptcy) is utterly futile: It simply makes their presence all the more insurmountable. We would make our way a bit easier, according to Burkeman, by getting to know—so that we can get good and comfortable with navigating—our fears, our worries, and our sadnesses.
 
The Antidote offers a solace uncommon in self-help: It doesn’t urge, doesn’t exhort, doesn’t try to persuade, doesn’t offer any sort of goal-setting rubric. It argues against affirmations, against a hyper-focus on what we want, on what we desire, and on what we long to accomplish. Instead, it explores the possibility that we live our happiest life when we live our fullest life. And that means recognizing failure, sadness, and even death not as invisible or as enemies, but as possible friends.

In this way, the path toward happiness in Burkeman’s book turns backwards. 


​For organizations or departments that don’t have a dedicated project manager, it’s no small thing to get big comms projects out the door. In our last post, we talked about how not to let the actual writing process gum up the works—namely, by allowing adequate time for writing and editing, and by uncoupling the writing process from the design process. 
 
While that advice may be easy to heed in theory, it can be tricky in practice: Creating large documents involves tracking a lot of moving parts, including points of collaboration and project dependencies that can be challenging to accurately time. That’s why creating a detailed, realistic project timeline at the outset of any big writing project is key.
 
Luckily, there are a lot of tools that can help—many of them free. If you’re new to creating project timelines, you can start simple: Microsoft offers a free template for Excel that’s incredibly easy to use (if devoid of bells and whistles).
​The template allows you to enter dates, tasks or milestones, and people, and to manipulate the visual representation to optimize its readability.
 
Depending on the project or document management system used by your organization, you may already have tools you can configure to create project timelines. Sharepoint, for instance, offers a customizable project task list; and online tools such as Trello offer options for making more complex Gantt-style project roadmaps.
 
Whatever route you take, developing a project timeline for big writing projects will make your life easier, and your final product better.