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Writing and Publishing

Know Your Audience: My Ordeal of Writing About Perfectionism

I call myself a recovering perfectionist. Over time, I’ve learned its strengths, such as it propels me to produce quality work. I’ve also learned its weaknesses, such as a tendency to procrastinate or, even worse, to do nothing. I tap into its strengths and guard against its weaknesses. With this knowledge, I moved from being a perfectionist to being a recovering perfectionist.

I once wrote a facetious article about this for Connections Magazine. It was playful, lighthearted, but with a practical twist. I advised readers who were likewise equipped in how they could tap into their inner perfection for greater results, while at the same time suppressing its negative aspects. I also discussed when to, and when not to, hire a perfectionist.

I received many positive comments for my article, both for its subtle humor and its practical insights.

A few years later I reprised the piece for AnswerStat magazine, expecting a similar reaction. I was wrong. AnswerStat readers have a background in healthcare, some of them extensive, such as doctors and clinicians, not to mention nurses with more letters following their name than in their name itself.

These folks reacted with great concern for my disorder. Some advised I seek professional help, others expressed sincere concern, and one suggested an intervention was in order—even offering to help. But one woman perplexed me more than all the rest. Her former husband, like me, was a perfectionist—surely a contributing factor in their divorce—but we also shared a Dutch surname. She theorized perfectionism was a Dutch defect and presumed my marriage was likewise in jeopardy. She even wondered about doing a clinical study on the link between Dutch blood and perfectionism. Geez.

In the hundreds of articles I’ve written, this article received more feedback than any other, none of which was encouraging.

The article was a good one (as evidenced the first time it ran), but this time I had the wrong audience. Though I knew my readers, I forgot to consider them when I republished the piece.

Knowing our audience is the first step; remembering who they are is the second.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

Three Tips for Reader Engagement: Blog Comments Provide Quick Feedback and Encourage Interaction

Another successful blogging tip is to engage readers. Interacting with our audience is the best and easiest way to connect with readers and build a following (that is, grow our platform). The best way to engage readers is by encouraging blog comments. Having comments can also increase the visibility of the post—and the blog.

A side benefit of engaging blog readers is quick feedback. When we write books it will be a year or two before anyone outside the publishing process reads it. When we write articles it takes several months before anyone sees our published work. But in both cases, even after waiting, feedback is limited. Did our work connect with our audience? Was our message received and understood? What do readers think? We are largely left wondering.

Not so with blogging. With blogging, feedback is fast—if we engage with our audience. This is easily done through blog comments. All blogs should allow comments and commenting should be easy. Don’t make readers log-in, register, or jump through hoops to leave a comment. Many of them won’t bother. Since only a fraction of blog readers leave comments, make it easy for those that do.

Here are three tips to engage with our blog readers:

  1. Write a great post: Quality writing encourages readership. Be helpful; provide value. Cause the reader to think about the topic. Stimulate their imagination. Give them a reason to continue the conversation.
  2. Ask a question or give a prompt: It can be generic, as it “What do you think” or simply “Your turn.” Or be specific, tapping the post’s theme. That’s what I usually do. And I often ask two questions, giving different directions to consider. I also have a generic question and prompt as a heading to the comment section: “What do you think? Please leave a comment!”
  3. Respond to comments: Though we don’t need to—and shouldn’t—reply to every comment, often this is a great way to extend the topic, interact with commenters, and show appreciation.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

The Risk of Comparing Ourselves to Others

If we’re honest, we’ll admit we crave feedback – feedback of the positive kind. We want to know our writing is good, that our words connect with others, and that we inspire, entertain, or educate. We seek affirmation; we yearn validation. Whether we admit it or not, we have an ego needing to be stroked.

At the same time, we secretly fear we’re no good—and one day everyone else will know it, too.

So we compare ourselves to others. We do this to our destruction—seriously. Our self-esteem is at stake.

Some days we see only those who are better than we are: more talented, better connected, luckier, more successful, having greater sales, making more money (or any money at all), or published more. We’ll always find those folks, diminishing ourselves in the process.

Other times we see those who aren’t as good as we are: producing less, struggling more, not yet published, toiling in obscurity, and making mistakes we no longer commit. We’ll always find those folks, too, deluding ourselves in the process.

Every writer makes both of these comparisons. The only difference is the ratio we employ. Regardless, making comparisons is not a constructive exercise.

Perhaps the only one we need to compare ourselves to is ourselves. Are we improving? Is our work today better than our writing from yesterday, last year, and when we started?

Or maybe we just need to resolve to do the best we possibly can – every day – and avoid comparisons altogether.

May we all write well, with much excellence and abounding in joy, forgetting all others and pushing ourselves forward.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

Let’s Apply Olympic Scoring to Our Writing

In sports, such as the Olympics, results are often ascertained objectively by quantitative measurements, such as time, distance, or score.

Other competitions are determined in a more subjective manner based on the qualitative opinions of judges. To help screen out possible bias or bad judgment, multiple judges are used, with the highest and lowest scores (that is, opinions) being disregarded. The result is a more balanced and centrist evaluation.

I think that we need to apply this to our writing as well.

Some people—often family members, close friends, or those with a vested interest — will say that whatever we write is golden. They will only speak of the positives and when positives are lacking, they will spin innocuous platitudes. In short, their high score cannot be trusted and should be disregarded.

Conversely, there are those who tear your work to shreds—perhaps a word-wielding reviewer, an insecure colleague, or a self-righteous critic. Their painful bards are not helpful and often, destructive. Their low score should likewise be dismissed as extreme and untrustworthy.

With the high and low scores wisely jettisoned, the remaining scores—that is, opinions—represent a more balanced and centrist evaluation. They can be safely considered as a viable and realistic evaluation of your work.

Olympic scoring works well in both sports and in writing.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

How to Make a Dash

Once at a writers’ conference, I met with one of the speakers. I asked if he would provide feedback on an article I wrote. He readily agreed and carefully read my composition.

After a few minutes, he informed me I had incorrectly formatted my dash. That was his only criticism. Then he listed what he liked about my work. It seems we are not only judged by the words we use, but also by how we format our sentences.

I never took keyboarding in school—I took typing. (It was a fortuitous decision, given that a couple of years later the first PCs were introduced, followed by the first Word Processors.)

In typing class I was taught that to represent a dash, I should type “space,” “hyphen,” and “space.” Others advocated “space-hyphen-hyphen-space.” When you type either combination in Microsoft Word, it automatically turns it into a dash [an “en-dash”]. This is what I had done.

Alternately, you can just type “hyphen, hyphen” without the spaces, which Word will also convert to a dash, albeit a much longer one [an em-dash]. This is what I have been seeing lately in publications—and I find it most disconcerting since it looks to me like a hyphenated word and not a dash; it makes the sentence hard to read. This is why I don’t use em-dashes in my publications.

This post, by the way, uses en-dashes—which is how I like it.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.