Tag Archives: attention

Jason Falls is picking on me

Some people write newspaper articles. Some people write essays.

Newspaper articles have 85% of the story in the first paragraph.  If an editor has to cut paragraphs, the bulk of the story is intact.

Essays have 85% of the story spread through roughly 85% of the paragraphs, leaving the remaining 15%, including the point of the essay, for the rest of the paragraphs. Frequently, the point is contained in a pithy statement in the last line, forcing a reader to get to the end, pick up the key, and reread the essay saying “Ah!” and “Now I get it” and “How thoughtfully clever.”

Newspaper articles are written for skimmers and for deductive people.

Essays are written for readers and for inductive people, people who are willing to live long through an experience and then, afterward, say, now I understand.

I write essays.

That’s a perfectly acceptable thing, I think.

And now Jason Falls comes along and picks on me.

“Write good headlines,” he said yesterday.

But that would give away too much of the essay, I reply. It would ruin the clever surprise. I want people to read to the end to understand the story.

But Jason said, “I … subscribe to 350 other blogs and make efficient use of my time by skimming headlines looking for an inviting post.”

And suddenly I realized that he is right.

If I write enigmatic headlines, forcing busy people to read all the way to the end of the essay to get the point, I will keep people from even starting the essay.  If I write generic headlines, I keep my friends from being able to get their friends to read what I write.

As I thought about Jason’s point, I realized that my “8 ways” posts get attention. In fact, of my top ten posts, six of them are “8 ways” posts. Not just because they are list posts, I don’t think, but because I tell you in the headline what is in the post. (Like 8 ways to encourage a friend.)

Ironically, those are some of my best posts. The title reflects clarity in the posts as well.

So I think I’m going to try what Jason says: Take the time to actually craft a headline that might catch a reader’s attention and give a reason to read.

I’m guessing that this one catches his.


only if it’s my idea

I’m trying to learn to focus. It’s one of my words for the year.

Part of focusing is getting rid of distractions. I know this.  Even as I have multiple windows open, I know that I could close some. Even as I check email (again), as I take a moment with twitter, I know that these are, at the time, distractions.

Yesterday afternoon as I was driving home I thought, “What if I turn off the computer for the evening and don’t have that distraction?” It was a noble idea.

I got home, I went downstairs to check on what had come on our home email, and discovered that our Internet connection wasn’t working. I tried several things. I went back several times to find out if it had cleared. I called customer service to find out what the problem was. I waited. I finally found out that it was a problem in several places in Fort Wayne. I started getting twitchy about not being able to check on a couple things.

I didn’t remember my idea of turning off the computer for the evening until this morning.

I think I understand why I need to work on focus. It’s pretty much not a problem with what’s on the outside of my head.

every link costs something

Links, the internet kind, are easy to use. They are easy to find. They are easy to follow. They take us to information we never dreamed of. They help us learn and laugh and cry and have $2 million transferred to our bank account from Africa.

But they cost something.

I can tell you about a post I wrote about customer service this week, over at a great site called smallbizsurvival.com. You think, “If Jon wrote this, I can at least look at it.” But it will cost you. You will have to give attention. You will have to give time. You will run the risk of forgetting what you were going to do. You might get hungry. You might start thinking about your own customer service experiences.

I can tell you about a post I wrote about Hope helping a friend this week, over at a great site called gnmparents.com. You think, “this is another post about Jon and his kids. It will be sweet.” But it will cost you. It will cost you emotional energy as you think about Hope and then think about having kids or not having kids. It will cost you time. It will cost you focus.

I love reading. I love following your links. I’m honored when you follow mine. I know that there are horrible things people construct links to: things that are illegal, immoral, destructive.  I have internal and external filters for those. But there is this nagging little thing that I forget to bring to the front of my brain and then to my fingers.

“Am I willing to pay what this link will cost me?”

the color is not right

“That’s a wild aster,” Nancy said as we were walking through the small wildlife area close to our house. There were thistles, asters, and other flowers I can’t name.

And so I took a picture. It’s what I do.

Even as I took the picture with my phone, I was dissatisfied. The color wasn’t right. It was too blue, not enough lavender. And the focus isn’t great. And I had to crop it with piknik.

But it was fine with Nancy.

For me, it was a matter of getting it right technically. For her, it was about the focus, not so much technically, but in paying attention.

I have a choice in thinking about this picture. I can obsess about getting it exactly right. I can trade my phone for Andrew’s Canon EOS, which he uses with great precision. I can spend time and money on lenses and reflectors and perfection. And I could put it up on my photrade account to generate at least a little cash.

Or I can acknowledge that this is a less-than-perfect reminder of a delightful afternoon walking through the woods together. Technical perfection is less important than attention, than presence, than relationship.

It would, of course, been possible for me to walk with the better camera. But that would have made it a photowalk, a perfectly acceptable pursuit, except when you are wanting a relationshipwalk.

I think that this takes what Chris was saying about pirates out of the business setting and into the rest of life.

Forget the ship. Don’t preserve the ship. Go after the prize. Take on the far more dangerous-but-rewarding stance of seeking the treasure.

Whatever your focus is, that’s what needs your attention. Whatever is helpful to get there, that’s what needs to not be your focus. One comes at the expense of the other.

No picture is perfect. No relationship is perfect. But for most of us, most of the time, we have to choose which one will we will focus on to make better…and which one will be good enough.

The aster in the picture is probably already long gone. The picture of the aster? The color is not right. But Nancy was right. It looks fine.

Because a perfect picture isn’t the treasure worth pursuing.