Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

Tying together poetry, parenting, and advertising in a neat little package

Archive for the tag “writing”

Interview with poet and anthologist Lee Bennett Hopkins

I don’t know how they do it. I have so many writer friends who somehow find the time to not only write stories and poetry, but update their blog every other day, maintain a family, run errands, and do all the other stuff that life requires…and yet for me, it’s always a struggle. I really don’t know how they keep it all together! Myself, I’m taking care of the kids, trying to keep on top of my voiceover business, keeping the house and yard from looking too shabby, trying to be a good hubby, AND find time to get all my writing in. And invariably, every day ends with me wondering where the hours all went.

That said, I’m reposting this interview with Lee Bennett Hopkins today. I’ve been out straight lately with commercial production work and writing children’s poems to submit to a few select publications, and since this interview was first shared in the fall of 2012 (Nov. 13, to be exact), I thought it remained on the shelf long enough and deserved a second posting! I hope you like it…

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Lee Bennett Hopkins’ name is synonymous with children’s literature. He has written and edited numerous award-winning books; he’s worked with a veritable who’s-who of authors, from Dr. Seuss to Madeleine L’Engle; and he has even been an elementary school educator.  In addition to the numerous awards he’s received over the years, he was recognized by Guinness World Records in 2011 as the world’s most prolific anthologist of poetry for children:  at the time, he had edited 113 different titles. and he’s not slowing down.

I recently wrapped up an interview with Lee for Poetry Advocates for Children and Young Adults (PACYA), which we just finished editing and formatting yesterday….you can find the interview HERE.

PACYA is featuring all the recipients of the prestigious National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children; in addition to Lee, you can read biographies and interviews with poets like Karla Kuskin, X.J. Kennedy, Myra Cohn Livingston, Nikki Grimes, and more.  (I had the honour of interviewing U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis a few weeks ago, and that interview will be posted in a couple weeks.)  See the complete list of all the featured poets along with links to their pages HERE.

My thanks to PACYA for helping to promote children’s poetry, and for giving me the opportunity to help them in their efforts!

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

In copy writing, it’s all about the details

Last week, I wrote and produced a short video commercial for my wife’s business.

There are two problems with that statement.

ID-10021920 (Times Square)

Advertising: These folks know how to do it right.

First, I’ve never produced a video commercial before, ever. I’ve written hundreds of commercials – and produced thousands of radio commercials – but never produced a video commercial. Second, if you have no experience doing something like that and it’s going to have a big impact on the impression people get about your business, I always say it’s best to have a professional do it.

If you’ve never patched a roof before, you’re going to call a roofer. If you need your car repaired and you don’t know the difference between a carburetor and carbon dating, you’re going to bring it to a mechanic. So if you need a commercial or corporate video produced, seek out someone who has more experience than you do. It’s your livelihood, and it should be important enough for you to have it professionally handled.

As I said above, I didn’t do that. I did have some good reasons, though…

Understanding what I wanted to accomplish

Unlike many folks who have never written commercials before, yet decide they need to be the ones to write, produce and/or voice the things themselves, I knew before I even began how the commercial was going to be used and what I wanted to accomplish. This was not going to run on television – it was to be used via the internet (social media, etc.) only, and it was to garner the attention of a specific group of people who were unfamiliar with the specific benefits of the products my wife sells.

I also had 25 years of copy writing and multi-track audio production knowledge behind me (along with some basic video editing experience), so even though it probably wouldn’t be perfect, I suspected it would be suitable for her purposes. And trust me, I’m my own worst critic, so if it was even slightly subpar, I would’ve scrapped it and gone a different route.

Oh, and due to my ACL reconstruction surgery back in March, a major car accident in late winter, and a leaking roof (see above!), I had a zero budget.  So a one-man DIY project was born.

It all starts with the script

Like a novel or short story, there are several things a good commercial script needs to do. In chronological order, they are:

  1. Attract the listener’s or viewer’s attention
  2. Connect on some emotional level
  3. Develop interest
  4. Create desire
  5. Compel action

A commercial should also showcase the product’s or service’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP) – the feature or benefit that makes the product or service stand out from all the others. And in the case of a television commercial, it should be able to get its point across even if there’s no audio. Doctor’s offices might have the sound turned down and sports bars are often so noisy one can’t even hear the person they’re with, much less the TV – so visuals are extremely important.

Knowing the benefits and USP of my wife’s products, I put the script together and realized I wasn’t going to need to provide a voiceover. (Ironic, isn’t it, that a voice guy produces a video commercial he doesn’t even get to voice?) But it didn’t need it, so I didn’t do it.

The commercial and the breakdown

First, let me show you the commercial and then I’ll break down some of the details I was particular about…

As I mentioned before, I knew the specific audience I was after: health-conscious folks who are not opposed to the vegan lifestyle. Of course, one does not need to be a vegan to appreciate botanically-based products that don’t test on animals, but the word “vegan” is so well-known these days that if you hear or see the word, you immediately understand its connotations.

So after attracting the attention of people who can appreciate veganism, I list other facets of Arbonne’s product’s USP: they are gluten-free, kosher, botanically-based. Then, rather than telling the viewer they need to buy something or they need to improve their lives or they need to do something else, I ask a simple question. Having just seen the benefits of the products – without me telling the viewer these are the benefits – the viewer can now make that connection on their own.

And when you can encourage a viewer or listener to draw their own conclusion and subconsciously take part in your commercial…it’s much more powerful than you telling them this and telling them that and hoping they believe you.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

No need for a voiceover; the sounds of nature worked quite well on their own.

Just like most commercials, I show a problem (your health & wellness products are not vegan/gluten-free/etc. even though you are) and I offer a solution (try Arbonne) – but I do it subtly. The call to action is subtle, as well – I don’t command the viewer to buy now, save now, limited time, blah blah…I simply suggest they learn more.

I wanted this video to be almost like a conversation, and being too heavy-handed with my approach would have been counterproductive. That’s why I opted to use some light sound effects of a natural setting rather than a voiceover; I didn’t want the commercial to feel like a commercial.

Three more details you didn’t even notice

One comes immediately after the words “botanically-based.” From the moment the commercial begins, there is a rhythm to each of the words that flashes on the screen…but then there’s a pause before I ask my question. I deliberately did this to allow the viewer to consider what these words have to do with each other and where I’m leading them. If I posed the question too quickly, the USP – those benefits I listed – would not have had a chance to sink in quite enough.

Remember, it’s a conversation – and I didn’t want it to appear the commercial was doing all the talking. As I said previously, I wanted to allow the viewer some time to process the information and become a “part” of the commercial, and “part” of this conversation.

Another detail is that I did not mention the product name until slightly more than halfway through the spot. Some folks will tell you the name has to be front-and-center right from the get-go – but those are the folks who feel advertising is done best when it’s a one-way conversation. The way I look at it, if I’ve been able to keep you compelled long enough to view the commercial, you’ll stick around for the payoff.

The third detail is the little child and mother at the end, which I didn’t include just because it’s my son and wife. The Arbonne company sells its products via independent consultants who are often moms and daughters – and even dads. I wanted to evoke a familial feeling to the spot to underscore not only the Pure-Safe-Beneficial tagline, but the fact that families are buying, selling, and using these products to make their lives better…and a little child with a mom is about the best representation there is of that!

Pay attention to the details

So when you’re writing – whether it’s a commercial, short story, whatever – don’t lose sight of the details. Some might be superfluous (I could have included another word at the beginning and crammed too much info), some might not be on target (I could have listed products, but that wasn’t the point of the spot), and some might just be too wordy.

Know when to leave those out.

But other details – like knowing who you’re writing to, understanding what you want to say, and spending some time determining the best way to connect with the viewer/listener/reader – are imperatives.

If you write a picture book, short story, or commercial in less than one day, you’re either really lucky or you’re doing it wrong.Please don’t do it wrong.

If you don’t know how to do it, hire a professional. Your commercial and your roof will be better for it.

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

 

“I can see clearly now, membrane is gone…”

By the time you’re probably reading this, I’ll be able to read it, too.

Since sometime in early spring, I’ve noticed my ability to focus my left eye has been increasingly difficult. It got to the point while we were on our vacation trip to Maine that I couldn’t even focus on road signs, sailboats, or women in bikinis.

It was very confusing to me why this would be happening, because I had undergone cataract surgery about 4 years ago and had a brand-new lens stuck inside my eyeball. This had given me perfect distance-vision (I still needed reading glasses, though). Because I was still near-sighted (naturally) in my right eye, I lived with monovision: I’d use m y left eye for distance, right eye for reading. For some people, this drives them nuts; for me, I was already nuts, so it worked out fine.

Fast forward to this  past June, after we got back from vacation…

As you can imagine, I couldn’t stand not being able to see properly. Which made it doubly worse is that I have now developed a cataract in my right eye, too – which limits my ability to see anything in focus farther than 4 inches away. I kid you not.

So I made an emergency appointment with the eye doctor, who told me I had a cloudy membrane. It seems there’s this thin, clear little sheet that separates the front and back of your eyeball. Surgeons leave it there to help hold the new lens in place during cataract surgery, and 50% of all patients never have any problems. for the other 50% – of which I’m part – our membranes start to become cloudy, much like our lenses did when we developed the cataracts.

In the words of the doctor, “This membrane should look like Saran Wrap; yours is more like wax paper.”

Great.

Fortunately, I’m told it’s a simple procedure to fix it. They’re going to give me a couple of eye drops, hold my eyelids open, focus a laser beam at that pesky sheet of wax paper, and blast it to smithereens.

And thanks to modern medicine, it’s a 30-second procedure.  Seriously. 30 seconds to blow the membrane apart – after which I’ll probably see some ‘floaters,’ as they call them, which the body will simply absorb over the following week. There’s no recuperation period, I’m told; no restrictions, no side effects, other than a possibility that my eye pressure might increase, although the doctor says that has never happened.

Of course, now that he made that bold claim, I’ll probably be the shlub who breaks the record.

“But wait!” you ask. “If you can’t see out of either eye, how have you been writing and doing voiceover work?”

The simple answer is: I haven’t. Or, if I have, it’s been taking me forever.  I can’t read or write unless I’m 4 inches away from the computer screen – which, I don’t have to tell you, is as challenging as it is unhealthy. Reading glasses and magnifying lenses are useless because they help a person’s eyes to focus – yet in my case, there is no way for me to focus.

So unless I blow up the font size of a script to 24-point, recording audio has been a real trick. And writing just gives me headaches after awhile…which is why I’ll wrap this up now. My appointment for membrane-destruction is Tuesday morning, which is why I hope that by the time you read this, I’ll be reading it, as well.

I’m looking forward to seeing what I wrote.

I’m also eager to go back to the beach.

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

 

You Can Learn a Lot From a Boysenberry

This post was originally published nearly two years ago, on Sept. 18, 2012. With summer here and berry-picking in full-swing (well, blueberries and strawberries, anyway), I thought it would be a good time to dust this off and share again, especially for those of you who have recently started following my blog and may not have had a chance to read it the first time.

Hope you’re enjoying your summer!

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Several weeks ago, I was picking berries around my property when it occurred to me that what I was doing could actually be applied to writing and producing – as well as to life in general.  (What can I say – as a writer of poetry, I’ve developed a sort of radar for metaphor!)

Seriously, though, I started thinking about it and came up with five life lessons I’ve learned from berry picking. Consider these:

Patience

Just because a boysenberry looks ripe, doesn’t mean it is.  The pericarp, or outer wall of the seed, may be nice and indigo-black, but leave it on the branch for another couple of days, and it’ll be practically bursting – plus, there will almost no seed left.  If you can’t wait, go ahead and pick ‘em when they’re ready…you’ll definitely enjoy them.  However, in berry-picking, as in life, those of us with a little patience will be rewarded greatly!

Group Effort

Speaking of seeds, have you ever tasted one boysenberry or raspberry seed by itself?  Even if you did, you’d barely be able to tell, because they’re so tiny.  Individually, the flavour is difficult to discern – but when you have en entire berry of bulbous seeds, that’s when you can really taste their true deliciousness.  Although each one might be ripe, full, and perfectly developed, by themselves they would barely be noticed.  But put them all together, and you’re talkin’ some good eating!  A boysenberry truly is greater than the sum of its parts.

Tenacity

Don’t judge a bush by its branches.  The berries you see hanging are likely not the only berries on the bush.  Lift a few leaves, and SURPRISE!  There may very well be a plethora of sweetness waiting for you underneath.

Then again, you might have to just keep looking.  I love the bushes that have big, juicy berries dangling from every branch, but sometimes there just aren’t any.  Sometimes you need to not only lift the leaves and poke around, but go in search of other bushes you may not even know exist.  I’ve discovered plenty of good, healthy boysenberry bushes because I had to.  When what you want can’t be found, it doesn’t mean it’s not there…it just means it hasn’t been found.  Keep looking.

Diversity

When you think of ‘berries,’ what comes to mind?  Raspberries? Blueberries?  Strawberries?  Even if you’re into the more exotic varieties like wolfberries (also known as goji berries) or acai berries, we all tend to think of berries as having a particular ‘look.’  Most people don’t realize how diverse the berry family actually is.

Case in point:  which of the following is, botanically speaking, a berry?

- grape
– persimmon
– tomato
– banana
– pumpkin
– pineapple
– avocado
– watermelon

If you guessed “all of them,” well, congratulations – you obviously studied hard on your Botany 301 exam while your drunk college roomates were having that wet t-shirt contest the night before finals.  Yes, every single one of these is, indeed, a true berry.  I’ll save you the details on why; suffice it to say that it has to do with how they grow and develop.  And you know what?  Boysenberries, raspberries, and strawberries aren’t true berries.

Ain’t that a kick in the head?

Rebirth/Renewal

This final point is not as metaphysical as it sounds; it’s actually a fact of nature.  Boysenberry bushes grow on a two-year cycle – one year, they will produce tons of berries, the next year, hardly anything.  Then the following year, the berries are back!  So in order to try to guarantee berries every year, the bushes need to get cut down to only about a foot high at the end of the season.  Pruning puts the bushes in ‘regrowth’ mode, so to speak, so that the following year will be berry-ful.

Likewise, in writing, audio production, or even life, sometimes it helps to just stop what we’re doing and start over from where we started having problems, if not from the beginning.  Is there a friend or family member who is constantly causing you grief?  If they are a drain on your emotions, perhaps it’s time to simpy end the relationship and move on.  Are you having trouble reconciling a plot point or fleshing out a character?  Perhaps you need to consider revising your plot – or eliminating or significantly changing the character.  Can’t get the right sound you’re looking for in your audio production?  Yes, you might just need to keep working on it…or it could be that you need to rethink your entire approach.  Quitting and starting over can often be a wonderful thing, if you’re willing to try it.

Love and other metaphors…

Did you know that boysenberries, rasperries, and strawberries are part of the rose family?  For someone like me, who loves berries (even if they’re not true berries!), it makes perfect sense.  Roses have, for centuries, symbolized love or friendship, and being a guy, I’m not much into receiving flowers as a gift; but give me a slice of warm blueberry pie, a chocolate-covered strawberry, or even quart of fresh black raspberries, and I’m in Heaven.

Ah, yes…love is, indeed, a many-splendoured thing, and comes in a variety of shapes, colours, and flavours. And usually pint- and quart-sized containers.

Think I’ll go out to the garden and see how the tomatoes are doing.

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

My Life as a Lazy Bum (or, How I Went a Week Without Working and Still Survived)

Tork beach 1

York Beach, Maine…our cottage was a 30-second walk from here.

As you may know, I went on vacation with my wife and two youngest kids last week. I was looking forward to it, as I’d never gone anywhere for an entire week of vacation before, and I knew I’d be leaving work behind. I knew I would not even LOOK at a computer, much less perform work-related duties o one. I brought my cellphone, but with limited internet access, that was only good for keeping in touch with family if necessary.

We weren’t going to be online, I wouldn’t be submitting any auditions for voiceover gigs, I wouldn’t be keeping up with my Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts…everything was on auto-pilot.

Surprisingly, I didn’t even get around to doing the kind of “work” I thought I would be doing…writing!

York

Low tide at Longsands…so called because all the sand is wet and hard-packed – and easy to walk on!

Everything took a back seat to FAMILY

We drove about an hour and a half over to York, Maine to stay in a cute little summer cottage owned by some friends of ours. With a 30-second walk to the beach, you can imagine where we spent much of our time.

I love the ocean, so the fact that we were on the shore and in the water each day was a joy unto itself. That my 4-year-old son was thrilled to be there made it that much more enjoyable. Whether he was digging in the sand, splashing in the water, searching the shoreline for seashells after high tide, or simply running around like a lunatic, he was having the time of his life.

His 10-month-old sister, meanwhile, was content eating the sand, which we were constantly having to shovel out of her mouth. It may have been disgusting, but she seemed to enjoy it.

Then there were the walks downtown. It only took about 20 minutes to get to the center of town, so we walked there nearly every day, as well. One day we stopped by the playground area then had some ice cream. Another day we walked over to York’s Wild Animal Kingdom. Next day we went shopping and I tried a dark-chocolate-covered frozen key lime pie slice on a stick (That was almost the highlight of the week).

York - house 1

Our little home-away-from-home.

We ate breakfast on the deck each morning and I cooked dinner on the grill almost every night.

And between the walking and the swimming and the playing and the grilling and the eating…I never had time to write.

But I didn’t mind. I was too happy!

Plenty of inspiration

I had brought my moleskin notebook – the one my wife gave me several years ago – to jot down notes and lines and other ideas…but it didn’t even make it into my hand.

We were having so much fun, I realized that any effort to break away from what the family was doing was a detriment. Now, some writer friends may say that spending a week along the ocean without putting pen to paper just once is a sacrilege…but I think differently.

Although I had planned on writing, had wanted to write, and even could have found the time if I really tried…the experience allowed me to soak up more than enough inspiration – possibly inspiration I might have missed if I had been writing.

Ideas, ideas, ideas

York - Nubble lighthouse 1

The Nubble Lighthouse (aka, the Cape Neddick Lightstation)

At some point, I’ll get writing about the trip. Perhaps I’ll craft a poem about my little dude’s kite that he loved watching soar high, high in the air. I might also write about his experience watching a butterfly hatch from a cocoon at York’s Wild Kingdom.

Maybe I’ll write about seashells we found, or the dogs we saw running along the shoreline early in the morning and late in the evening.

I already have some ideas I’ve been fleshing out in my head about lighthouses, crashing waves, and s’mores.

So just because I didn’t submit any auditions doesn’t mean I’ll never get another voiceover gig again. And just because I didn’t do any writing doesn’t mean I don’t have plenty to write about. I’m looking forward to seeing what I come up with in the weeks ahead!

I just might even write a poem about the seagull that pooped on my wife’s head while we were walking downtown. Memories like that can last a lifetime.

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

 

 

 

 

I’ve never really done this sort of thing before…

Lots of people I know have done it. Many do it all the time…while others only do it now and then.

Some have never done it at all.

I am one of the latter.

My admission:

Oh sure, I’ve taken days off from work. I’ve had a week or more vacation time and usually spent it hanging around the house, going on day trips,. and generally doing everything I can to not work. (And really, it’s not that hard.)

But the one thing I’ve never done is plan out my vacation time – schedule my days so I know what I’ll be doing and when. And although to some folks that may seem a bit too…oh, I don’t know – “Type-A”…it’s not really going to be that hard or cumbersome.

Because my daily plans are all part of one giant, week-long plan:

The beach!

Now, the family and I  live just a little over an hour from the coast, so I usually try to spend several days – scattered throughout the summer – at the beach. But this year, I’ll be ocean side every day of the week!  One day we’ll spend with the kids along the shore…one day we plan on taking the kids to see some of the local sights near the ocean…the next day we’ll be back in the water and then get dinner out.

It’ll be just like a trip to the Bahamas but without the airsickness.

My premonition:

Sea Glass coverI have a sneaking suspicion that just because I’m on vacation doesn’t mean my blog will be on hiatus. I have too much planned!

In keeping with the ocean theme of next week, I’m looking forward to sharing a review of Richard Michelson’s new children’s book, S is for Sea Glass: A Beach Alphabet (Sleeping Bear Press, 2014) on Tuesday as well as one of my own beach-themed children’s poems for Poetry Friday.

Since these posts are being written and scheduled this week, I probably won’t be able to respond to any comments next week (I’m on vacation, after all!), but please know I’ll be looking forward to reading any and all that might get posted.

Why can’t I be bothered to respond to comments, you ask? It’s certainly not because I don’t value feedback or the time folks take to share their thoughts. I do!

My reason is fairly simple…

My admonition:

Even if you don’t plan every detail of your week or so off…try to let work go.

Vacation isn’t really vacation if you still feel the need to audition for gigs, answer emails, and carry on business conversations on your cellphone while halfway up the stairwell to the “Eye of the Storm” waterslide. I realize big gigs come along and you’d hate to miss out – but you’re missing  out on your vacation time! And if yo don’t get the gig…what do you have to show?

They call it “R&R” because it stands for rest and relaxation – not ‘replies’ and ‘retweets.”

I prefer the “Triple-Ds.” We all need to de-stress, decompress, and give those old brains of ours a little diversion. I’ll be the first to admit my work is fun, but so is playing in waves and building sand castles with your son while you try to keep the 10-month-old from eating sand. There’s plenty of pleasure in life if you’re able and willing to stop for a minute and indulge in it.

Fortunately for me, my work includes creative writing – which is also an immensely pleasurable pursuit perfect for vacationing along beaches.

If you need me, I’ll be in my office…

York beach

photo courtesy of exploremainetoday.com

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

 

Two magic words that can change EVERYTHING

Memorial Day commercial production. Voiceover business marketing. Children’s book manuscript submissions. Poetry anthology submissions. Church council meetings. And the responsibilities that come with being a stay-at-home dad to a 4-year-old and a 9-month old. A guy can only do so much and still have time to perform 18 physical therapy exercises each day to rehabilitate his knee following arthroscopic ACL surgery.

(And still be a loving and supportive hubby, too!)

Life continues to fly along at lightning speed – and for someone who’s still only moving at half his normal speed, I find myself falling behind quite a bit. So today, I’m dusting off a little something I shared in my early blogging days. This post originally appeared on August 20, 2012. It was one of my first blog posts, having just created the blog a couple of weeks prior, and I thought it was worth bringing back, for all the folks who’ve joined my blog community over the past year. I hope you enjoy it!

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It’s a question author/futurist Arthur C. Clarke, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs probably asked themselves all the time.

It’s a question we often ask ourselves when learning something new, like a computer program or video game.

And it’s a question subconsciously uttered in the mind of a 2-year-old, discovering how his or her world works.

Two words…that not only help us in our day-to-day lives, but can help us create anything from a groundbreaking piece of technology to a children’s poem.  Two words that might steel our resolve – or completely change our perspective.

What if?”

How many times have you tried to get your smartphone to do what you want, or couldn’t figure out why your spouse’s laptop keeps doing that annoying ‘thing?’  You experiment, you troubleshoot.  You think to yourself, “What if…I press Shift-Alt-Ctrl-Tab-Insert?”  And when that doesn’t work, you think, “What if…I just walk away and act like this never happened?”  We’re constantly debating choices day in and day out.

“What if Obama loses?”

“What if I take the ‘A’ train instead of the ‘B’ train?”

“What if we run out of hamburger buns?”

We ask ourselves this question all the time, so I’m really not telling you anything you don’t already know.  But ask yourself another question:  when was the last time you used these two words to help you create?

What if…you changed your story?

Certainly, the concept of asking this question can be used in any environment, whether you are an inventor, politician, or salesperson.  Where it gets really cool – at least from my vantage point – is in the realm of creation; specifically, creative writing.

Asking this question, especially when you get stuck on a character, a rhyme or a plot detail, opens up worlds (notice the plural!) of possibilities…

“What if…my main character was the opposite sex?”

“What if…this story was set in another time?”

“What if…I juxtaposed these two lines/stanzas/paragraphs?”

“What if…I could see things from a different viewpoint?”

Ask yourself all kinds of ‘what if” questions, and don’t just think about the answers…write them down!  It doesn’t matter whether you plan to use your ‘what if’ scenario or not; writing down a few lines or even a few paragraphs can help you see things from a different persepective, and that’s what you want.  How many times has a person reading your material suggested to you an idea you never thought of?  Quite often?  That’s because it’s being viewed in a different light; this ‘what if’ exercise can help you critique, inspire, or edit yourself.

Even if you have no intention of turning Lucinda, your novel’s half-human, half-lizard bisexual alien heroine, into a half-human, half-nematode bisexual alien heroine, go ahead and get those thoughts on paper; play it out and see where it goes!  Odds are, it’ll go nowhere – but there’s a good chance that you’ll learn something about your character, his/her situation, or how to develop them.

Perhaps you’ll come up with another plot.

Perhaps you’ll come up with an idea for an entirely different project!

But without questioning yourself on these things, you’ll never know.  Heck, Marvel Comics even created an entire series based on this premise!

WARNING:  Moralizing tone ahead!

Well, ok, hopefully it won’t be too moralizing – that’s not my intention – but it just occurred to me how many of the problems we face in this country (and this world, for that matter) could be solved or at least be addressed in a meaningful way if we all asked that two-word question more often:

“What if…that person has a legitimate medical condition?”

“What if…one of the people in this checkout line suddenly needed me?

“What if…that guy who cut me off just lost his father?”

Did one of those questions catch you off-guard?  Would you be able to ask yourself a question like one of these if the situation presented itself?  Asking “What if” not only opens up that wide world of a different perspective, but can help stop us from jumping into defense mode as soon as something we don’t like pops up.  It’s all about thinking outside of yourself.  By considering the feelings, circumstances, and history of others, we’re slower to anger and quicker to understanding.

Final question:

“What if…I gave everyone a second chance?”

I’ll let you think about that one on your own.

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

No time like the present. Seriously!

It’s been a beautiful weekend, and today is just as nice as yesterday. As I am writing this, the sun is shining and a light breeze is helping to keep the 83-degree temperature from feeling too sweltering.

DaffodilsHere in the northeast, it’s not uncommon to have an overnight frost as late as Memorial Day, so the fact that this summery weather exists at all is a true blessing.  And for someone like me, who spent most of the long, sun-deficient winter indoors due to my ACL injury, this early summer is more than a welcome sight; it’s therapy!

So why am I here in the studio, writing a blog post?

First things first

First of all, I feel I have a responsibility to myself as well as my readers to be consistent with my posts. That’s not to say I’m going to write something quickly and haphazardly just to post something, but maintaining a habit of writing with regularity is good not only for my own purposes – keeping my writing skills honed, marketing my services, etc. – but for the good folks who have decided to follow my blog because they feel I have something worthwhile to offer.

Believe me, no one appreciates the fact that you’re taking time out of your day to read a blog post more than me.

Second, I’m writing this post because I genuinely want to share my thoughts on why I’m writing this post. Yes, that sounds like circular logic, but honestly, I wanted you to know what the weather was like and how beautiful the day is, to understand why I’m foregoing all of it right now to write this.

It’s because this sort of thing pops up all the time in our lives: you want to do one thing, but you feel compelled to do something else.

Time is not on your side. Or mine…

Mick Jagger’s declaration about time being on his side notwithstanding, the fact is, it’s not on anyone’s side. You may feel like you’ve got all the time in the world, but believe me, it goes by quicker than you think.

It feels like yesterday that I was struggling to find work after college, or helping my daughters with their homework, or moving into our first house. But I’ve been doing radio voice work and production for 25 years now, my daughters have graduated high school, and I’ve remarried and am living with my current wife and two young kids of our own.

If anyone can tell me where all the years went, please let me know!

Now I’m in the process of trying to become a published children’s writer…and I wonder how much time I’m going to have to accomplish that. When I was trying to rehabilitate my right knee following my accident, I was unable to walk very well or take care of the kids easily, so much of my writing (and my voice work) took a backseat. People would tell me not to worry, because I’d have plenty of time to resume my work once I was feeling better – even if it wasn’t until the knee was fully healed, which will be early next year.

But how do I know if I’ll have that much time?

“Hold on, Matt, this is getting depressing”

OK, sorry – that’s not my intention, really. I’m actually trying to be positive. I can’t assume I have another 10, 20, 30 or more years left to develop my writing and keeping sending out manuscripts in the hopes that someone decides to buy one and publish it. I don’t know if I’ll have one more day – none of us do. Being young and healthy doesn’t mean anything – a serious accident or unexpected health issue could put a quick stop to all of your plans.

Nothing screws up plans more than something you didn’t plan on.

So take advantage of any and all opportunities that come your way! Have a chance to go hiking for the first time in your life? Do it. Thinking of taking classes abroad? Go for it. Never eaten a raw oyster? I can’t say you’ll enjoy it – I’ve done it once in my life and would rather go bungee-jumping without the bungee – but do it anyway, so you can say you’ve done it!

Debating over whether you should clean the house or go outside and play with the kids? Face it, once you clean the house, it’ll be dirty again in a few days. (If you have young kids, that timeframe is drastically reduced) But playing with the kids…that’s something you can never know how much time you’ll have to do. I’m not saying to completely neglect your duties or shirk responsibilities; just take a moment to prioritize.

Or perhaps “re-prioritize” what you thought you had prioritized.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a blue sky calling my name.

chair

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Poetry Friday: “Things Worth Saying”

Inspiration really can come from anywhere: love, nature, childhood, crime. In the case of today’s post, it came from other poetry!

poetryfridaybutton-fulllA few weeks ago, I had been reading some poetry by a published poet whose identity shall remain hidden. I read two or three poems by this person – who, although he/she only has a couple of books out,  is quite critically acclaimed – and I couldn’t understand anything that was being said. Have you ever read poetry like that? Where every word or phrase seems utterly random and nothing makes sense?

Well, that’s exactly what I was reading…or so I thought. It took me a few days, but eventually some of the imagery and associations started to become a little clearer to me. And as I thought about this change of perspective, it occurred to me I might have the germ of a poem in my hands.

Turns out, I did!

Hope you enjoy it – and aren’t as confounded as I was when I read that other poem! To hear me read the poem, just click that giant head below…snd to see all of today’s Poetry Friday happenings, be sure to visit Katya at Write. Sketch. Repeat. for the complete roundup!

Things Worth Saying

I once read a poem about the moonlight
eating a hole
in the writers’ conscience
while violins played a jig
or a dirge
or something.
I recall thinking
the poem meant nothing
and would never have been written
had the poet felt an urge
deep inside
compelling him to do so;
otherwise, I could have understood his connections, emotions,
associative leaps.

As it was, these were words
on a page, confounding
only to the most erudite
in academia
not because of the sheer beauty
of words
or funereal longing
but because of some sort of
perplexing, esoteric
ambiguity
I was not privy to.

Setting the book down,
I ventured outside
to clear my head of alliteration
and assonance
and incongruence
and sat on the old rocking chair on the back porch.
Staring at a clovis moon sky,
I wondered about that poem
and its poet.
I wondered why
he wrote those words,
why he bothered.
I wondered if anyone
would ever know
what he was trying to say.

I remained there in solitude
for at least an hour
or more
or less,
pondering
the poet’s wasted thoughts.
Then the moon, round
and empty,
consumed me with its hollowness
as I listened
to the last few crickets of the season
playing for anyone
willing to hear.

- © 2014, Matt Forrest Esenwine

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

 

 

National Poetry Month: Thinking Like a Poet

I get asked many questions many times by many folks…all about the same subject:

NPM-2005-White“Isn’t poetry hard to write?”

“When did you start writing poetry?”

“Why do you write poetry?”

…and so forth. The answers, while simple, could be more elaborate if I wanted to take the time: Yes; almost forever ago; and because I have no other choice.

It’s not that I don’t want to take the time to offer more detailed responses; it’s just that most people aren’t really looking for that. It’s like when the cashier at the grocery store asks, “How are you?” She’s expecting a nice, short, “Good” so she can continue on about her duties. If you respond with, “Well, my dog died, I lost my job, and I just found out my wife is cheating on me with someone from the NSA…want to hear about it?” chances are, she’ll drop the eggs on the floor and not know what to do.

Better to keep the answers safe and simple, and not throw any curveballs.

But since this is my final blog post for National Poetry Month, I thought perhaps I could expand on some of my answers and try to explain – especially to non-poetry types – why poetry is not some sort of worthless academic pursuit and can actually be beneficial in your life.

Thinking like a poet: how?

First of all, it helps to think like a poet. Understanding poetry means understanding that there is always much more to life than just…life. By that, I mean, everything you see, touch, or experience is much more than what it appears to be.

coffee-mate_creamerA nonfiction writer friend once asked me to help her think like a poet. She wanted her writing to be less dry and a bit more creative and lyrical. So as an exercise, I placed a small, empty, white plastic coffee creamer cup on the table and asked her to make a list of everything that came to mind. Not just adjectives describing the cup, but every word, phrase, or vision that popped in her head – even if it didn’t make sense. I did the same, and timed us both for 2 minutes.

When we were done, we compared lists. She had words like ‘white,’ ‘drink,’ ’round,’ ‘striated,’ etc. Although we shared some of these obvious descriptors, mine were generally a bit more…imaginative:

‘Upside-down top hat.’

‘Cup runneth over.’

‘A White Hole. ‘ (Instead of a Black Hole.)

The exercise demonstrated that while she saw things as they were, I saw things as they could be. Just that one lesson opened her eyes as to how a creative type such as a poet views the world: with imagination, curiosity, and an open-mindedness that allows us to believe anything can be more than it seems. Indeed, there is more to nearly everything than meets the eye – and if you are willing to take the time to observe long enough, you can begin to view life through a poet’s eyes.

Thinking like a poet: why?

This is where things can get really interesting. I’ve found, over the years, that having a poet’s thought process allows me to conceive ideas from angles that others may not see.

This has been especially useful in radio copy writing, believe it or not. On more than one occasion, I have had to come up with commercial scripts that are unique, attention-getting, and most importantly – relatable to the listener. While different copy writers use different means to find an emotional connection with the listener for the product or service about which they are writing, I find that thinking like a poet (e.g., trying to find connections and imagery others might not see) has served me well.

Not that thinking like a poet means you have to rhyme – I’m primarily talking about thinking more creatively and making unusual connections – but let me share an example of how poetry really did work in my favour. A local restaurant needed to let people know they existed – their location, while prime, was at a 4-way intersection and easy to miss. But it was a small, family-style restaurant that, at first blush, did not appear to offer anything out of the ordinary.

What to do?

Now, normally I absolutely detest rhyming commercials. You know the ones…they always sound amateurish and dumb, and are a total tune-out. But I knew I could write a good one – and if I did it right, it would be ear-catching, memorable, and successful at getting its message across to listeners. The following commercial was written out of a need for listeners to know who the client was, where they were located, and what they offered:

.
Note two important things about why this commercial worked and most rhyming commercials don’t: One, I kept the lines metrical. I was very careful about keeping the script flowing and fun – too many words per line (or the wrong words) and the commercial would just collapse under its own weight. The other thing I did was refrain from using “easy” rhymes. I could have written a line that ended with “toast” and rhymed it with “most,” or used “steak” and “bake.” but that would have made the commercial sound cheesy and predictable – which I definitely did not want.

The unusual rhymes and bouncy cadence of the verse is what made the commercial work, in my opinion – and although any person could write a rhyming commercial, without the skill of writing metrically and knowing how to rhyme effectively, the commercial would not have been as humourous or, more importantly, as effective.

Image courtesy of suphakit73 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Thinking like a poet: when?

All the time! The more you start to actively think about the things around you – from your home and family to things as simple as the car you drive, the road you travel on, or the food you eat – the more you’ll start becoming aware of all the possibilities for inspiration there are out there.

Think about possibilities, think about similarities and differences, think about “what if!”

“What would a picture of my kids look like, if I couldn’t include their faces?”

“A home with no windows or doors is like a _____.”

“If I could take this elevator anywhere, where would I go?”

“Why might a pencil be considered a religious talisman?”

“What if crows were a different colour?”

Yes, these are pretty random questions – but they can be examples of ways of thinking beyond what is comfortable and concrete. Question why an apple is red, but not because of any botanical reason. Imagine what love would look like if it could be held in your hand.

Wonder to yourself how to describe music to a deaf person or a sunset to someone who has been blind from birth.

Think about that little coffee creamer cup, and see what you can create out of it in two minutes. You might surprise yourself!

Poetry = Life

For me, I’ve always enjoyed the rhythm and rhyme of words and the imagery a writer can create – whether it is via a poem, short story, or other form of writing. Poetry, though, is a perfect vehicle for showcasing compact vignettes of emotion, enlightenment, pain, and all sorts of fascinating aspects of humanity. The poet takes a scene, feeling, or object and distills it down to it’s essence – and sometimes goes even beyond that, to create new associations with other scenes and feelings the reader had never before connected

I started reading picture books of poetry as a child, and began writing poetry in earnest in high school. Since then, I’ve written poetry and songs throughout my life because I have a compulsion to do so. Most writers will tell you the same thing, too – that they write because they have this urge inside, this burning desire to get something in their head out on paper.

Poetry can be quite hard to write, but also immensely fulfilling. Even short, 3-line haiku poems, which might seem simple, are much more complex than they may seem. Sort of like humans.

And come to think of it, that observation might make a good poem.

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2014kidlit_progpoemOnly TWO DAYS remain to poet Irene Latham’s 2014 Progressive Poem! Each day throughout the month of April, a different poet has added a line to the poem, and we are very close to completing our journey!

Today it heads over to Ruth at There is No Such Thing As a God-Forsaken Town, but here is the complete list of contributors:

1 Charles at Poetry Time
2 Joy at Joy Acey
3 Donna at Mainely Write
4 Anastasia at Poet! Poet!
5 Carrie at Story Patch
6 Sheila at Sheila Renfro
7 Pat at Writer on a Horse
8 Matt at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme
9 Diane at Random Noodling
10 Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference
11 Linda at Write Time
12 Mary Lee at A Year of Reading
13 Janet at Live Your Poem
14 Deborah at Show–Not Tell
15 Tamera at The Writer’s Whimsy
16 Robyn at Life on the Deckle Edge
17 Margaret at Reflections on the Teche
18 Irene at Live Your Poem
19 Julie at The Drift Record
20 Buffy at Buffy Silverman
21 Renee at No Water River
22 Laura at Author Amok
23 Amy at The Poem Farm
24 Linda at TeacherDance
25 Michelle at Today’s Little Ditty
26 Lisa at Lisa Schroeder Books
27 Kate at Live Your Poem
28 Caroline at Caroline Starr Rose
29 Ruth at There is No Such Thing as a Godforsaken Town
30 Tara at A Teaching Life

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

 

 

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