Posts made in June, 2014

This Business Writing Tip is Freaking Elite

Posted by on Jun 28, 2014 in Business Writing | 0 comments

This Business Writing Tip is Freaking Elite

I’ve dedicated more of my life than I care to admit to an admittedly fringe sport that requires much more athleticism than the public realizes and may or may not involve a Frisbee. In fact, this sport may or may not have just received official IOC recognition earlier in the week. And my old, slow ass may or may not have tossed a pretty sick behind the backer from my knees for a goal in a summer league game earlier this week – prompting the following response from my buddy Jared to a teammate who’d missed it.

“Don’t worry. If you didn’t see it, he’ll be telling us all about it for years. Watch – he’ll figure out a way to work it into his damn blog on creative writing.”

Jared, you are a freaking soothsayer. You say sooth.

So why am I talking about Ultimate Frisbee in a writing blog other than to highlight my wicked awesome play in a lame attempt to convince myself that I’m still good? It’s all because of a single word.

That word? ELITE.

Many of you may be surprised to learn that there are top-level Ultimate teams in just about every major city who travel all over the United States to battle against each other for the club national championship each year. In the men’s division, two of those teams reside in my hometown of Pittsburgh. And one of them has the annoying habit of always describing everything they do as “elite.”

(In the interest of full disclosure, I played on the OTHER Pittsburgh team for the last two years.)

Seriously, there isn’t a single article, email, or press release about them that doesn’t say, “Pittsburgh’s Elite Men’s Ultimate team makes an elite run through an elite tournament because of their elite skills and general overall eliteness.”

“Man, we thought we couldn’t get any more elite,” said team captain Eli Teness. “But then we managed to find a whole different level of eliteness. Like we kicked our eliteness into elite overdrive and just out elited all the other teams because they weren’t quite as elite as we are.”

And I mean, they’re good. They’re very good. In fact, I’m going to go ahead and say that they are in fact elite. So what’s the problem?

The problem is that I’m not the one saying that they’re elite. THEY’RE the ones saying they’re elite. And uh, that’s just kind of… what’s the word I’m looking for?

Eh, the first thing that popped into my mind was kind of harsh. Let me flip through my Thesaurus here for something softer… Damn it, it doesn’t have any synonyms for douchey.

Yeah, so I’ll just skip that part.

So what’s the point? As a writer, what can you learn from the elite Pittsburgh Men’s Ultimate Team? Well, there’s a lot you can learn, especially as a business writer or marketing director. And that lesson is – nobody likes the guy who goes around telling everyone how handsome he is. Let OTHER people heap accolades on the business. If you’re going to use higher-tier praise words like “elite,” have it come in a quote from a customer or another professional.

For instance, the following is totally cool to put on your website…

“Cupcake World has truly evolved into one of Denver’s elite dessert establishments.” – Willard T. Plumptummy, Good Eats Denver Magazine

What’s not cool to put on your website is…

“At Cupcake World, our cupcakes truly ascend into the realm of elite.”

See the difference there? It’s just one of those things. The business doesn’t have the authority to internally make that claim without sounding,…

Still trying to come up with a synonym for douchey…

But you get the point. There are all kinds of great adjectives you can use to describe your business, or the business that’s hired you.


All those terms are cool to use. Using the word “elite” is only a problem because it promotes exclusivity and you don’t just invite yourself into an exclusive club. Typically, other people have to grant you access.

“Hey there bouncer, I know I don’t have a VIP pass, but you can take it from me that I’m VERY freaking important. So out of the way Creatine Dan.”

What? You ended up underneath a dumpster with a broken scapula? You don’t say.

Anyway, I can’t believe how elite this blog turned out. And it just goes to prove how freaking elite the Pittsburgh Elite Men’s Ultimate Team actually is. Simply by being so elite, they’ve spawned the most elite article in the history of the Internet.

And how do I know it’s the most elite article in the history of the Internet?

Because I freaking said so.

That’s not an obnoxious claim at all.

OBNOXIOUS! YES! YES! That’s the word I was searching for all along. I knew I didn’t have to use douchey.

That’s a relief.

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Writer’s Block: World Cup Edition

Posted by on Jun 20, 2014 in Business Writing, Creative Writing | 1 comment

Writer’s Block: World Cup Edition

I’m going to let you all in on a secret. If you’re a writer, it’s a secret that’s going to make you outright want to slap me across the ears. It’s a secret that I’m sure many writers keep, but almost no one wants to admit for fear of being ostracized by other writers. Ready? I’m going to lower the boom.

I’ve never had writer’s block.

I know, I know, what a bleephole, right? Writer’s block is a rite of passage. You’re not a writer if you haven’t stared blankly into the backwaters of your mind for hours, days, weeks in an attempt to reel in the perfect idea. How dare you claim it’s never happened? HOW DARE YOU!

All right, I lied. I lied. In fact, it happened to me just today as I tried to come up with something to write about this week. Unlike a lot of writers, I’m not a fountain of ideas, so my main source of anxiety in relation to this blog tends to revolve around coming up with a different subject every Thursday morning. There’s some dread there. Not a lot of dread. A very tiny bit of dread. You probably wouldn’t notice it unless you were peering into a microscope. Yup, there’s definitely some dread in there. And some microbes. And mold spores.

Sometimes things jump out at me. Hey, you just spent a few days on the set of a TV pilot you wrote. You should write about that! What a great idea, italics! But most of the time, it’s not that easy. A lot of times I’ll get suggestions from other writers, readers, and most often my sister, who manages this blog. (Hi Kelly) But sometimes she’s busy location scouting for commercials all week, so I’m left to my own devices. And you know what my device has been this week?


I don’t in fact know if soccer is a device. In fact I’m pretty sure it’s not. In most circles it’s considered a sport. But I do use a device to turn on the television in order to watch soccer, so I’m pretty sure that counts.

In case you haven’t been paying attention to the world AT ALL since last Monday, there’s a soccer tournament going on in Brazil that’s kind of a big deal. Like if you ran into it at a party, it would be that guy with the sunglasses clipped to his Polo who sips on his martini and tells you, “I don’t know if you realize, but I’m kind of a big deal.” And he actually is a big deal instead of most of the piss ants at parties who tell you they’re a big deal but they actually sell after-market car stereos out of their cousin’s van.

I’m going to freely admit, I’m the worst kind of USA bandwagon soccer fan there is. I’m the guy who doesn’t pay attention whatsoever for damn near four years but when the World Cup begins, I watch EVERY SINGLE GAME. I’m the guy who has no idea what the difference is between a fullback and a midfielder but runs home from the gym so I don’t miss a single minute of Belgium vs. Algeria. And then I spend the entire match thinking, “Wow, I can’t believe Algeria is up one to nill,” (I even use nill instead of zero like some speedo wearing European) Also, I amuse myself by pretending to be the British announcer and saying things like, “Wow, look at all those Belgians! That’s quite a lot of Belgians, Roger,” because I don’t know any actual soccer phrases other than “Well, Suarez sure played a good ball there,” and “What a terrible ball by Suarez.”

So what does the World Cup have to do with writer’s block? Well, quite a lot actually. First of all, soccer is amazing in that it’s about the only team sport you can watch while simultaneously focusing on other things. This makes it absolutely ideal to have on in the background while you’re writing. Even soccer fans will admit that a large portion of every game is dedicated to things ALMOST happening.

“My God, Roger, the chap from the Netherlands almost got free there. If it weren’t for the six defenders in the way, he could’ve really mounted a challenge!”

You can turn away from the game for ten to fifteen minutes at a time and literally miss nothing. Try writing during a hockey game. Impossible.

In order to prove my point, I’m going to use actual statistics rather than emotion and pure speculation. The other day Mexico played Brazil in what was widely described as one of the most exciting games of the tournament’s first week. (We’ll look past the fact that the final score ended up nill to nill) Why was it so exciting? Because the Mexican goalkeeper made spectacular save after spectacular save to keep the Brazilians off the board. I mean, in soccer terms, he was under constant bombardment, fending off shot after shot, not letting a single ball cross the line. At the end of the game, I wondered just how many saves he’d made. It had to have been an insane number. And it was. But not for the reasons I anticipated. The number was indeed insane. Because that number was…


The guy had made six saves. And it was like the most saves a Mexican goalie had made in the World Cup since 1950. SIX! Now let’s say Brazil had four other amazing chances that barely missed the net. And let’s say Mexico had seven or eight amazing chances as well during the match. That averages out to be one moderately interesting thing happening every five minutes or so. That’s more than enough time to write a paragraph or an entire block of dialogue. The key is to have the volume down so low that you only notice when the crazy British announcer starts raising his voice…

“And here we go, Hammarschlooben making a run toward the box…”

This is where you quit writing and look up.

“And oh….oh, his shot goes forty feet over the crossbar. We almost had some real honest to Christmas action there, Roger.”

What’s the second thing that soccer has to do with writing? Well, I’m not sure yet. But as I was dreading this blog, I had a curious thought. What if I write something about the World Cup? I’ve dedicated disturbingly large chunks of my day to it. Surely there has to be something I can do to merge writing tips with the world’s largest soccer tournament. It’ll be easy.

That was Sunday afternoon. Sunday night came and went.

Monday – Nuthin’.

Tuesday – Nada

Wednesday – Nah, bro.

It’s now Thursday morning. I’ve watched parts of twelve matches since then. I’m set to watch England vs. Uruguay here this afternoon and I haven’t thought of a single thing to write. I still haven’t come up with that perfect idea to meld the World Cup with writing in any meaningful way.

Oh wait. Wait a second. I have over a thousand words here. It may not be the most informative piece I’ve ever written, but it’s moderately entertaining and makes a pretty good point if I do say so myself. What’s that point you ask?

Writer’s block is bullshit.

Yeah, you heard me. Writer’s block is crap. It’s something writers invent to torture themselves into feeling superior when all they’re really doing is putzing around. Other professions get this too. But you never hear of mathematician’s block or contractor’s block. Why? Because they explore all their options, make a decision and freaking go with it. They don’t just sit there sipping coffee and staring at their keyboard going, “Well no use now, I got the block.”

Great ideas don’t often come about when you’re putting pressure on yourself to come up with great ideas. They hit when you’re not thinking about it. Like when you’re watching a bunch of Ecuadorians you’ve never heard of kick a ball from sideline to sideline for nineteen straight minutes.

Writer’s block is only the monster you think it is because we’ve given it a name. Now it’s something tangible that we all have to battle instead of what it actually is – a very temporary lack of direction. Taking the soccer reference way too far, it only happens when you’re focused on the five guys in the wall in front of your free kick instead of how easily you can bend the ball around them. It doesn’t do any damn good to keep drilling the ball straight into the wall of bodies. It’s not going to go through.

Here’s a crazy suggestion – if you have “writer’s block,” just go ahead and start writing. Start typing the random crap that pops into your head. Don’t worry about where it’s going or if it fits in with your theme or tertiary story arc. Get your mind working. Free the blockage. Maybe you’ll realize that writing really is like soccer. Sometimes like Clint Dempsey versus Ghana, you score a goal almost immediately. But a majority of the time, it takes a lot of boring passes through the midfield probing the defense for weakness before you bury one in the back of the net. It’s all part of the process. And like soccer, sometimes that process is very, very slow. But that’s ok. It’s all part of the game.

And if all that fails, just flop to the ground and roll around holding your shin with an anguished look on your face. I’ve heard that works.

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Grandpa Hank’s Writer Interview – Molly Gross (Part II)

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in Writer Interviews | 0 comments

Grandpa Hank’s Writer Interview – Molly Gross (Part II)

And now the exciting conclusion of the Molly Gross interview!

Grandpa Hank: How do you balance your life as a playwright with the myriad of other things going on? Basically, how do you survive and still do what you love?
Molly Gross: That is a very good question, and I’m always trying to find the answer to it! HA! You’re right that there certainly are a “myriad of things” happening on a daily basis, as is true for all working parents. Between teaching, cooking meals, cleaning messes, grading papers, and attending school and community events, I often get very little sleep and very little “me time.” I’m very fortunate that my husband and I work at the same college where he’s a theatre professor who likes my work. We recently produced a murder mystery I wrote that I also got to perform in. This made it easy to blend my passion with work obligations to end up with a finished product, but I know that is a rare blessing. I’m the kind of writer that needs both chunks of time and deadlines to motivate me, and because writing makes me feel whole, energized, and simultaneously at peace, I see it as part of my survival. So I have to carve out that time, even if gets to be 1:00AM (like it is now). 
GH: But why sleep when you can answer more questions? Let’s take this one for instance. Can you feel a change in your stories over the years? If yes, then how so?
MG: Honestly, I think I’ve become a more selfish writer, which I don’t necessarily see as a bad thing. I find myself wanting to write about things that really affect me deeply – things that make me think, things I don’t have answers to, but need to explore or purge, things that frighten me, mostly because I have no idea if anyone else will understand. I used to think about what would make audiences laugh, what would make them cry, what’s popular, or what I thought people would want to see onstage. Now, I try to generate stories that I want to read or see come to life, and I try to read more often to learn more about myself. Ya know, in all my spare time.
GH: And now that you’re deliriously tired, please finish this monologue. (Character of your choice) “Back when I was young, my grandmother had a saying. She said….”

MG: “…never hide a pig in your pantry.” Oh, Granny. She had a bunch of them. “Keep your kernels on the corn,” “You can’t clean a white cow.” She grew up on a farm. I could never figure out what she was saying, but I’ve tried hard to over the years. Anyway, the pig one comes to mind, not because I have a pig in my pantry, that would be ridiculous, but because of what I think is going on in your cubicle, Brad. Brett? Brad. I think I finally realize what Granny meant. Look, I know you’ve only worked here a couple weeks, but you’ve got to trust me, okay? The boss, he uh… OH HI CHERYL NICE SCARF! Phew. She gone? Anyway, the boss is bound to figure out what you’ve got in here, it’s just begging to be found. We can all smell it. It’s very distinctive. Especially today, when I walked by, that’s when it hit me. Your stash of donuts is like a pig in the pantry! You think it’s out of sight but it makes itself known. A pig’ll eat everything! Can you imagine the mess? The noise? Someone’s bound to fi—You know, I have to uh… I think I’ll go home for lunch today. Be back in a few. Got some pig I mean big, uh… business. To tend to. See ya Brad. Brett? Brad.


Both Grandpa Hank and coffee joints all over southern Georgia would like to thank Molly for her time and her very thoughtful answers. What a great insight into how writing and real life simultaneously enrich, enhance, and roadblock each other.

And now, in Molly’s honor, Grandpa Hank is going to go take a nap.

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Grandpa Hank’s Writer Interview – Molly Gross (Part I)

Posted by on Jun 10, 2014 in Writer Interviews | 0 comments

Grandpa Hank’s Writer Interview – Molly Gross (Part I)

What time is it? Well as I’m writing this it’s 11:03AM. Ah, crap, now it’s 11:04. And most likely it’s a completely different time for you as you read this. (Although if it’s indeed 11:03 or 11:04 for you as well, what an insane LIFE CHANGING COINCIDENCE!) Nothing you thought you knew about the world makes sense anymore. Chaos is your only reality, an unsettling freedom that causes you to toss your underwear into the sky and yell to the heavens, “It’s all finally, gloriously come together!”

No? No? You’re still just sitting there reading? Ok then.

What time is it? It’s writer interview time. This week, we’ve got a very insightful interview from an incredibly talented playwright who got her BA in acting and directing from the University of Arizona and followed it up with an MFA in playwriting from the University of California-Riverside. She is currently the Assistant Professor of Learning Support Reading at Andrew College in Cuthbert, Georgia. Her plays have been seen all over central and southern California, and most recently her mystery “Murder at Buckhorn Manor,” was produced in Fort Gaines, Georgia. Grandpa Hank welcomes to the shack – Molly Gross.

GRANDPA HANK: What tends to inspire you? Do you get plot ideas first or do you find characters and figure out a way to revolve a plot around them?

MOLLY GROSS: Ah, we’re starting with the tough one, eh? To answer the first part, it sounds hokey, but anything can inspire me. I’ll drive by a lonely tire swing and want to work it into a play, or I’ll see a woman with a tear in her purse and imagine how she just used it to fend off a rabid Chihuahua, or one of my kids will shout “Get to the spankery!” and out comes the lap top.
To answer the second part, I think I have just as many plot-driven ideas as I do character-driven ones – it just depends on where that initial spark comes from. The image of the tire swing on stage, for instance, makes me think about how it became lonely more than who is involved, while the woman who sacrifices her purse to a rabid dog will make me wonder who she is. I’m pretty forgetful, so I carry around these little notebooks in my bags and in the car and jot down anything interesting to me. That way, I can flip through my inspiration when I’m ready to write, and I find the plot and character get mixed up pretty quickly as soon as I start outlining. With two kids and working full time, I unfortunately don’t write as often as I’d like.
GH: What is your favorite character you’ve ever created?
MG: How does a writer narrow that one down? Aren’t we all in love with our own characters?
Some characters are my favorite because of their voice, like a re-invention of Juliet in a play of mine who speaks in iambic pentameter but with a contemporary, sassy flare. Other characters I love because of what they do, like Rowan, a hermit-like teenage boy who breeds flies in corpses. It was kinda neat being in his head for a while. (Hmm….I don’t know what that says about me) I guess my favorite might be a little girl from a one act, who looks up to her parents and tries to keep them from getting divorced, because creating her made me laugh and broke my heart at the same time.
GH: What play or production do you consider your biggest success as a playwright?
MG: I wrote a one-act in grad school called “Wish of an Almost Widow” that got produced at a local theatre in Redlands, CA. It’s a drama set during the Dust Bowl that I later developed into a full-length play, but I felt I never quite captured what the one-act did. Towards the end of its single performance, there was a woman in the audience behind me, crying. It was one of the best sounds I’ve ever heard.
GH: How is your life as a playwright the same or different than you envisioned when you first got accepted to your MFA program?
MG: Picture a thin, long-haired blonde sitting alone outside of Starbucks in Hollywood, dressed in Ann Taylor, a sleek lap-top and a latte that’s being temporarily ignored while she finishes a phone call with a director in New York who’s about to begin rehearsals for her newest play. Her desktop is crowded with dozens of completed plays and screenplays, many of which have been produced or recently submitted to theatres or competitions around the world. She is waiting for the other members of her weekly writing group to show up, and wonders if she has time to book her flight to NYC before they arrive.
Now picture a not-so-thin, scraggly-haired brunette, sandwiched between a three and a five year old on a couch in her living room in Georgia, dressed in her pajamas, a scratched-up lap-top and cold coffee that’s being temporarily ignored while she finishes a phone call to her husband who is about to pick up the milk and bread they need from the store. Her desktop is crowded with dozens of ungraded essays, many of which will be filled with grammatical errors like “He would of seen it,” and “The facts shows its true.” She is waiting for the dryer buzzer to go off, and wonders if she can squeeze in an hour today to outline an idea for a play that’s been nagging at her, but before she can give it another thought, her son plants a big wet kiss on her shoulder.
So, yeah, it’s pretty different. But aside from needing to create more writing time, I wouldn’t change a single thing.

End of Part 1

Grandpa Hank here once again. Picture him running around with his arms over his head like Kermit the Frog backstage at the Muppet Show yelling “THIS IS WHY WE DO WRITER INTERVIEWS!”

Stay tuned for Part II coming up later in the week.

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It’s Time to Play Everyone’s Favorite Game, BAD NOTE/GOOD NOTE!

Posted by on Jun 6, 2014 in Creative Writing, Stories | 0 comments

It’s Time to Play Everyone’s Favorite Game, BAD NOTE/GOOD NOTE!

“And welcome to the show everybody. I’m your host, the handsome and impeccably dressed Grandpa Hank. You know the rules by now. I’m going to give you a typical note you’re likely to hear about your story or screenplay. Your job is to tell me if that note is worth a damn. Let’s meet our contestants. Marcy is a homemaker from Yumblestown, New Jersey. Tell us a little about the stories you write, Marcy.”

“I write mysteries about dead lumberjacks.”

“Wow, that sure is a niche. Next we have Brad, a homemaker from Stinkputter, Louisiana. How about you, Brad? What do you write?”

“Well, uh, it’s kinda hard to describe. They’re sort of these metaphysical, slapstick films about Uruguay. And like mugs sometimes. I write a lot about mugs.”

“Fantastic. And our third contestant, Pat is a homemaker from Dumptruckville, Oregon. Tell us a little about….”

“Graphic novels about a team of alligator repairmen.”

“Right on. Well, let’s get right into it. Round one, each correct answer is worth a cool $7.25. Hands on your buzzers. Your first note is….”


“Marcy, you buzzed in first!”

“Grandpa Hank, that’s a bad note.”

“Correct for $7.25. To double it, tell us why.”

“Because it’s a vague statement most likely based on personal preference and not on an actual flaw in the story.”

“Marcy, you’re in the lead with $14.50. Our second note is…..”



“That’s a good note, Grandpa Hank.”

“You are $7.25 richer. And why?”

“Because it was specific. Someone noting that a character is inconsistent often means they gave your story more than a cursory glance. This gives you, the writer, the ability to go line by line, action by action through the boat scene to see what doesn’t quite gel with the character’s actions in the rest of the story.”

“And we have a tie at the top of the leader board. Marcy and Pat both with $14.50 and Brad sitting there like a nincompoop with nothing.”

“Hey, that’s a little harsh this early in the game.”

“Story notes are harsh, Brad. Buck up and deal with it. Your third note is…”


“Brad, thanks for buzzing in.”

“That’s a good, specific note.”

“Brad, you truly are a nincompoop. You’re at negative $7.25. The answer we were looking for is ‘that’s a terrible, god awful note.’ For Brad’s $7.25, Pat and Marcy, tell us why. Anyone… anyone… Marcy.”

“Because the note giver is telling you how THEY’D write your story. They’ve gone off on a completely unusable tangent. Not to mention that Hollywood has created this myth where you can just go traipsing around through the sewer systems of every major American city and that’s clearly not the case.”

“And Marcy with another $7.25.”

“Sewers are not that roomy.”

“Thank you, Marcy. No extra credit in round one. Note number four is…”



“That’s a damn good note.”

“That IS a damn good note. Pat, you’re tied with Marcy. To take the lead, tell us why.”

“Because it lets the writer know that their scene felt a bit incomplete and could’ve been much more powerful – all while giving the writer room to figure out for his or herself how to best accomplish it.”

“Pat, you’re in the lead! And our final note of round one is…”



“That’s a bad note.”

“Brad, you really suck at this game. Clearly that’s a great note. Marcy and Pat, tell us… Marcy, you buzzed in first.”

“Because it’s an obvious typo that’s easy to overlook and the last thing you want is to send your manuscript out to an agent or producer when it contains something so ridiculous.”

“But what if you meant to say computer farts?”

“Computers can’t fart, Brad. What universe do you live in?”

“But what if you were writing a sci-fi picture about a society far in the future where computers could indeed fart like humans?”

“Well then you should’ve made it obvious enough in the script that your futuristic computers could fart like humans that the person giving the note wouldn’t think it was a typo. If your computers are farting all over the place and the reader didn’t notice until page forty-six, then it’s still a bad note.”

“I don’t know, but what if…”

“Let it go, Brad! And so at the end of round one, we have Marcy and Pat tied for the lead with $29 each and that knucklehead Brad way behind without a prayer in the world of catching up. He’s at minus $47,562.”

“Wait, how did I lose that much? Shouldn’t I only be at minus $14.50?”

“That’s a question a knucklehead would ask, Brad. It’s time for a break but when we come back, the always exciting ROUND TWO! Uh, sometime in the future when I get around to it and can’t think of a theme for the week. But now a word from our sponsors…”

We’ll buy your old gold jewelry!
No, WE’LL buy your old gold jewelry.
Don’t go to either of them, WE’LL buy your old gold jewelry. And some of your pants!

Just kidding, we don’t have any sponsors. Maybe I should work on that.

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