Happy New Year from Sydney!

You can’t beat being in Sydney for New Year’s Eve. I love walking along the foreshore watching the crowds gather before the big event. This guy got in very early for his prime position – many people sleep overnight or reserve their spot by placing large tarpaulins on the ground and then disappearing until the afternoon. That could be annoying but most people are pretty laid back about it – and there’s plenty of foreshore to share.

Getting in early

And before you know it it’s midnight! Here’s the view from Kurraba Point where I was standing.

fireworks

It’s always spectacular. What a way to kick off my gap year!

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It’s not as easy as we make it look

This post from Live to Write, Write to Live generated quite a response. It certainly hit the mark with me. Unfortunately I find many companies would rather do their own writing than hire a professional with often dire results. But even when their poor grammar and spelling is pointed out they still don’t think it matters.

Live to Write - Write to Live

'State of mind' photo (c) 2007, tshein - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/“No one what’s to study engineering, they all want to study the easy stuff like communications.”

This statement was made to me during a recent conversation. The commenter knew I was a writer. I didn’t call the speaker out on the statement, because it wasn’t an appropriate time, but boy did it stick with me! Because yeah, I sit at my computer and the right words come flying out of my brain every time! Isn’t that how it works for you? *ducks for fear of flying tomatoes*.

We do not all leave 12 years of education with the skills to design a building or engineer the next computer processor. We do leave 12 years of education with the ability to write. However, there is a misconception that just because you can write, that means you are able to communicate effectively. Most people can’t, trust me.

I write news updates for several…

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It’s not who you know, it’s who says hello

There is an art to early morning walks around my way. And because Spring has arrived and brought with it warm and gentle clear mornings I’m getting more walks in than usual.

The art comes with knowing who to say “good morning” to. Incredibly, many fellow walkers don’t respond to cheery morning greetings and after careful observation and trial and error, I’ve worked out which walkers fall into the responder category and which are the ignorers.

It takes a bit of getting used to but while out walking with a girlfriend recently I was able to pick who would respond to my “good morning” with the same accuracy as Dynamo the Magician can pick what card you’re thinking of.

Don’t even bother saying hello to the yummy mummies who are out with their friends after they’ve done the school drop-off. They are focused entirely on each other and their conversations – supposedly private but always expressed in voices so loud you can hear them long after you’ve finished your walk and are back in your own home with the radio on.

Still how could they expect to hear my hello when they are deep in conversation about how their renovation is going, where the family will be holidaying this year, whether to buy another investment property, and how the annoying younger brother of their husband is again trying to hit them for money.

There’s also no point in trying to get a hello out of the older, slightly overweight men, with bright red faces and bright white new walking shoes. They shuffle along with their heads glued to the ground, as if worried they will fall flat on their faces if they take their eyes off the path. I tell my friend I suspect they are out on doctors’ orders: perhaps after a recent heart attack or diagnosis of high blood pressure.  They certainly don’t look happy to be out and about.

Of course there’s also the serious walkers and runners who thunder pass as we walk along checking out the views of Sydney Harbour. It’s not that they have no breath to return a cheery “good morning”, it’s just they have disdain for anyone moving under speeds of 20 kilometres an hour.

Is there any point revealing what category a teenager gets lumped in? They always have the security blanket of earphones hanging out their ears; those who don’t, appear naked and uncomfortable so I don’t want to scare them with real-world conversation. I know what I’m talking about here: any time I say hello to my son’s teenage friends they look at me as if waiting for a punchline.

There are only two types of people who respond to “hellos” on my walk. The retirees with their dogs who are happy to amble along the path and occasionally stop for a chat. And the women my age (the invisible age) who appreciate being acknowledged and know how a genuine smile can get your day off to a great start.

I took the photo below this morning. It’s my favourite halfway stop on my walk and looks out over Mosman Bay towards Taronga Zoo. Perhaps I’m being too hard on my fellow walkers. Maybe people don’t say hello because views like this just leave you speechless.Image

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Generating repeat business: meet the brief, meet the deadline

I was recently given a facial as a birthday present – an activity that’s completely foreign to me. When I arrived home after having it (and after having stopped at the shops) I looked in the mirror to see if I could see a glow and discovered large patches of the face mask had been left on my face and up my nostrils.

I have no idea what people who saw my face would have thought – maybe that I’d just come from having a facial – but I was pretty irritated that the beauty therapist didn’t take a few extra seconds to ensure all traces of the mask were cleaned off.

This inability to finish a job properly and in a way a client would expect, led me to think about how I approach commissions from editors.  A number of new clients I’ve been doing work for have been quite specific about how I present the finished articles.

With one client, I have to use their template and be specific about filling in sections of my work under the categories: headline, byline, intro and body text.

Another client specifies the font type and size, including a different size for the headline as well as a mandatory footer that follows a particular format that has the date and a slugline.

Complying with this adds a bit more time to the job and a bit more resentment that it’s expected of me. But comply I do. As a result I feel I’ve got more work from them. They know that because I present the job exactly how they want it, they don’t have to do as much at their end.

In their mind, it’s become easy to get me to do the work as I give them what they want.

When I taught journalists about how to ensure they received regular repeat work from editors I always stressed: meet the brief and meet the deadline. There is no point sending through something that only partly answers the brief and think the editor won’t notice: they wrote the thing.

The same goes for the deadline. Even if you feel that you’ve been given an early one and that it’s not essential you meet it, you must. Editors will not give work to journalists who they feel are unreliable; they can’t risk it.

If you give the editors what they want, when they want it – and these days it seems if you also present it in the way they want – you will be right there at the top of their list when they are commissioning articles.

Sometimes it’s all in the presentation. Just like this dessert I had with friends recently at Esca in the Hunter Valley to celebrate my birthday. Being served something like this would keep everyone coming back for more.

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The art of listening

Sitting around drinking coffee isn’t all about talking. Sometimes you have to listen. And this can be tough, especially when friends say something you disagree with, and which, in your humble opinion is a life choice you feel will end in tears.

It’s difficult not to jump in and give your two cents worth.

Coffee this week was with a beautiful soul. I’ll call her Zena. She’s just back from San Francisco where she attended the End-Of-Life Practitioner program at the Metta Institute. Meditation is a large part of the program and so she had recent experience at dealing with what to do when you feel an overwhelming desire to give someone the benefit of your opinion.

According to Zena, you say nothing and in a situation I had recently where I let a friend know I disagreed with them, she said I should have just shut up and let my friend do all the talking.

I reacted strongly to this, letting Zena know I felt my friend was going to do herself emotional harm if she went down this particular path. On and on I spoke until I reached the point where I said “but it’s her own decision and I guess I should have just been supportive”.

Zena immediately said: “Did you see what I was doing there? I didn’t say a word and you just talked yourself around until you found the best solution. This is what you should have done with your friend. Just listened; she didn’t want your opinion.”

I guess she’s right. People usually know the right path for themselves and they just need to talk through all the options before they get there. But listening is a real art and it’s difficult not to want to step in and “save” friends with our “superior” advice.

I wish I was a better listener recently when I was given a gym wear gift voucher for a birthday present from a friend who happily explained why she chose this particular shop for me. I went off and spent a happy hour trying on different items of clothing before choosing several pieces.

They were all wrapped and the prices rung up when the shop assistant took my voucher before saying “Wow – lucky you. Pity this is for a different shop.”

And of course I was too embarrassed to say I didn’t want them. Another listening lesson.

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Laughter proves to be life-giving medicine

This is my favourite story from my past week of coffee catch-ups.

I know a couple who always have something crazy happening to them – let’s call them Mack and Mabel. Anyway, a couple of months ago they were waiting to cross the road in their street while a car drove slowly past.

Just as it drove past, Mack started yelling and began to chase it down the street.

“What are you doing?” Mabel yells as Mack throws his car keys at the retreating car, hitting the back windscreen and taking out a chunk.

“They’ve got our dog!” Mack screams. “They’ve got Rosie*!” [*Not the dog’s real name].

“Are you sure? Are you sure it was her?”

Mack is convinced. “I was looking into her eyes. She looked so confused. She’s been kidnapped!”

Mack yells at Mabel to run down a side street to block the car as it comes down the main road. She sprints towards the road – despite having recently had a knee operation – just as the car drives past at speed. However, she sees that it’s gone into a cul de sac and that it will need to come back out again.

For the next 30 minutes she pulls over every car that comes out of the street. She describes the dog-napping car and asks whether anyone has seen it. No one has.

Mack and Mabel are keeping in touch by phone as Mack is stationed up at the other end of the street in case the dog-nappers have found another way out. In frustration, Mabel tells Mack to check their house “just in case it wasn’t Rosie”.

A shamefaced Mack calls back to say Rosie was indeed at the house, exactly where they left her.

“The dog-nappers must have let her go,” he said, refusing to admit he had made a mistake.

“That poor person in the car; being pursued by two mad people for no reason,” Mabel tells me.

But although funny this isn’t the part of the story I like. Clearly, Mack and Mabel have been dining out on this tale because it perfectly describes the chaotic craziness that so often affects them. And as they told one person, they told another, and they told another and so on.

One guy who heard the story had a son who had been in a serious car accident and was in a coma in hospital. The father, knowing that his son was likely to still be able to hear, began to recount the tale to him.

As the story progressed, the father noticed something amazing: a smile was beginning to play around his son’s mouth. And soon the smile was a broad grin, and then a laugh. And then the most beautiful thing – his son came out of his coma, laughing.

He is now on the mend and will apparently soon be going home.

So yes, I certainly felt sorry for the dog-napper who wasn’t a dog-napper after they were chased down the street. But wouldn’t you love to find them so you could tell them about the role they played in a young man’s recovery.

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Setting the right tone

Despite the name of this blog I’m not that fussy about coffee so I was surprised to find myself reminiscing about how much I enjoyed the flat white I had at Don Adan Coffee House in Cremorne. So much so I convinced today’s coffee buddy to drive further than I suspect she normally would during peak hour to share a brew with me.

 We were happily enjoying the warmth of the winter sun when we noticed one poor man who had just parked his car being bailed up by a rather fierce traffic warden who was telling him off for putting coins in the parking meter. I couldn’t quite work out what the problem was: he was paying for parking his car but she seemed annoyed he did it just before she could book him for not doing it.

 It was clear English wasn’t his first language and he was more confused than we were. The traffic warden eventually stormed off leaving a bad feeling among everyone who witnessed the scene – more so because we really couldn’t work out what her point was.

 Anyway, our conversation turned to how words can be easily misinterpreted, especially when they are written in an email or text.  Because it’s almost impossible to get the right tone across in these types of messages it is very easy to unintentionally upset someone.

 We’ve all had occasions when we’ve felt we’ve crafted the perfect email but then received a one-word response in reply. This is happening more with editors I know – you might put your heart and soul into pitching a story and when you get a simple “no” reply, it’s difficult not to feel slighted.

Yes, editors are busier than ever but even a “no, but thanks” would soften the double blow of not only having a pitch rejected but being made to feel like your suggestion was completely useless.

If you have a good relationship with an editor, the short responses don’t matter so much. You are more likely to put it down to their having a bad day. But if you’re pitching to someone new, it’s more difficult not to feel demoralised.

Unfortunately you will always encounter brusque editors – increasingly so. But you do have to steel yourself against those one-word rejections and move on. Don’t let it put you off pitching to the same editor again and definitely don’t feel upset by it.

Yes, you are worthy of more than a one-word response if you’ve spent time crafting a pitch that is relevant to the publication you’re pitching to. But I’m pretty sure any editor would be surprised to know they were causing you actual angst with their rejection.

The best thing to do is send the pitch to someone else. If it’s worthy of publication then it will almost definitely be accepted somewhere and that’s the best cure for being slighted.

And whatever you do, don’t let the galahs get you down.

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