Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Dream Manager

A few weeks ago, my work department was given homework. We were assigned to read a book titled The Dream Manager. I was a bit surprised, though silently excited to have the chance to read a book on company time.

In short, and according to the website, The Dream Manager is: "A business parable about how companies can achieve remarkable results by helping their employees fulfill their dreams."

Further, "Managing people is difficult. With disengagement and turnover on the rise, many managers are scratching their heads wondering what to do. It’s not that we don’t dream of being great managers, it’s just that we haven’t found a practical and efficient way to do it. Until now…

The fictional company in this remarkable book is grappling with real problems of high turnover and low morale--so the managers begin to investigate what really drives the employees. What they discover is that the key to motivation isn’t necessarily the promise of a bigger paycheck or title, but rather the fulfillment of crucial personal dreams. They also learned that people at every level need to be offered specific kinds of help and encouragement—or our dreams will forever remain just dreams as we grow dissatisfied with our lives and jobs.

Beginning with his important thought that a company can only become the-best-version-of-itself to the extent that its employees are becoming better-versions-of-themselves, Matthew Kelly explores the connection between the dreams we are chasing personally and the way we all engage at work. Tackling head-on the growing problem of employee disengagement, Kelly explores the dynamic collaboration that is unleashed when people work together to achieve company objectives and personal dreams.

The power of The Dream Manager is that simply becoming aware of the concept will change the way you manage and relate to people instantly and forever."

While I wasn't overly impressed with the book in regard to its aesthetics-- forced dialogue and an unsound plot for the fictional portion-- the message was simple: we all have dreams, personal and professional, and we owe it to ourselves to develop a plan in which to pursue those dreams.

In addition to reading this book, we were assigned to write our "top five dreams" for our work department. I probably put more effort into this than was necessary, as I quoted passages from the book, using proper citation and punctuation. I suppose that's just the English Major in me.

What do you want to get out of life? What do you want to pursue?

I'll let you ponder that for a few days before I present my list of dreams...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Spring Season Tribute

The sports spring season at Disney is coming to an end. We had our last games of the season this week, and we're entering the tournaments next week.

On Monday, the "Swingers" (below) finished with a 2-8 record...

...but we had fun doing it.
On Tuesday, my 6v6 volleyball team, the Serve-ivors, (below) in which I retained my Captain duties for the third season, completed the season with a record of 4-6.

Most of us work together... and my coworkers are the best part of my work day.

And tonight, my 4v4 volleyball team, "Hey-O" (below), wrapped up the season with a 1-9 record.

We work a lot harder than our record indicates...

Jeff, Jolyon, and Ricky (above) are ready to receive the ball. Sorta.

Jeff's arms (above) are crossed. Good thing I hit the ball straight. Once.

Ah, now this one's more like it....

All in all, it was a great spring. It's anyone's game in the tournament, since our records are erased and everyone starts fresh. We'll see what happens!
On an unrelated note, for all the mothers out there-- happy Mother's Day! My mom is in town from Michigan for an extended weekend, and we're making the most of the time we have together, since we only see each other a few times a year. Send your own mother a card, or, if you're lucky enough to be in the same city, go visit her.
Until next time...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

My Favorite Writing Genre

I wrote this article three years ago to the date. Seems like a good reason to share it.

How To Write Creative Nonfiction

Writer’s block. It happens to even the best writers. But one genre provides an easy escape from the mental headaches. When writing creative nonfiction, the writer must simply choose a personal experience, relay a theme, and mix in some characters, dialogue, and imagery.

Or maybe it’s not so simple.

“You have to find something that others relate to and find insight from it, but you also have to be original,” said Professor James Lang, an Assistant Professor of English at Assumption College. “Make a general appeal about your subject and then offer new insight.”

In addition to numerous literature courses, Lang teaches a creative nonfiction writing workshop to upperclassmen. An avid writer of the genre, Lang has recently published two nonfiction novels, as well as several shorter pieces.

Many writers remain confused about the essence of creative nonfiction, mainly because when used together, the words “creative” and “nonfiction” seem like oxymorons.

“Some [writers] are attracted by the word "creative" and think that because their prose is unusual or distinctive, and because the stories they are telling are true, that they are writing in the genre of creative nonfiction,” said Lee Gutkind, editor and founder of Creative Nonfiction Magazine. “Others, usually people with a journalistic background, are put off by the word "creative," maintaining that if it is creative, then it certainly can't be accurate, believable or ethical, which are the essences and anchors of nonfiction prose.”

According to Lang, the key to writing good creative nonfiction involves the use of multiple perspectives to convey a universal message. He says that creative nonfiction should not be merely a personal reflection on a subject.

Gutkind agreed. “Creative nonfiction should have a purpose and meaning beyond the experiences related by the writers,” he said. “Good essays embrace a larger audience. They strike a universal chord.”

That being said, good creative nonfiction should include characters, in addition to the narrator. And the inclusion of characters usually warrants the use of dialogue.

“I love using dialogue in my writing,” said Leandra Smollin, a senior English Major at Stonehill College. “It makes my stories more credible when the audience hears voices other than my own. Nobody wants to read an essay about love if the only source is from the brokenhearted narrator. How about the guy who broke the narrator’s heart? Maybe he had his reasons.”

Lang agreed. “Dialogue also gives the reader a visual and a nice break on the page,” he said. “Dialogue is easier to read than large blocks of text.”

According to Gutkind, creative nonfiction is a genre that encompasses all other forms of writing.

“Creative nonfiction heightens the whole concept and idea of essay writing,” he said in an introduction to his magazine’s web site. “It allows a writer to employ the diligence of a reporter, the shifting voices and viewpoints of a novelist, the refined wordplay of a poet and the analytical modes of the essayist.”

In order to master such a complex genre, Lang recommends including research on the topic.

“It gives the reader a sort of payoff for reading your piece,” Lang said. “It also gives the reader new insight they may have otherwise not known.”

For example, a writer who crafts a travel piece on his year abroad in Spain should consider including information about famous museums and architecture. The prospective reader may be interested in such aspects of Spanish culture.

Gutkind agreed. “Even the most personal essay is usually full of substantive detail about a subject that affects or concerns a writer and the people about whom he or she is writing,” he said in his Editor’s Corner in Issue 6 of Creative Nonfiction Magazine. “Read the books and essays of the most renowned nonfiction writers in this century and you will read about a writer engaged in a quest for information and discovery.”

But one of the most difficult aspects of writing creative nonfiction involves the use of imagery.

“You should try to appeal to as many senses as possible,” said Lang. “The goal is to make the reader feel as if they’re in that scene. The more senses you appeal to, the more the reader can put himself into that scene.”

Describe the sunrise. And in doing so, narrate the texture of the sand, the smell of the ocean, the sound of the waves. When done successfully, the reader will be right there, too.

Lang, like many creative nonfiction writers, finds inspiration when least expected. Recently, he played in a band with some friends in Charlie’s, the campus hangout at Assumptio College. Having never played in a rock band before, Lang was excited for the new opportunity, despite the fact that he would only be playing chords on a keyboard he borrowed from the college.

“I’m 35 and I had never done something like that,” said Lang. “Now I’m asking myself, ‘how will music have a place in my life?’”

Lang took his newfound experience and put it into writing. In a mere two hours, he crafted his latest piece of creative nonfiction— an essay titled “New Stories Yet to Tell.” As is the case with most inspiration for creative nonfiction, Lang struggled with how to get his point across.

“I told the story of music and paired it with a scene from Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ,” he said. “Hopefully in that juxtaposition I can make a main point.”

In his essay, Lang explores the idea that although it appears we have sucked our creative juices dry, we can’t foresee what new ideas the future holds.

“We all pick up new stories along the way, from the trip to Europe you took last summer to your conversation
with that talkative weirdo behind you in line at the grocery store,” Lang writes. “I believe that—whether we actually embark on these tales or not—some part of our human nature wants to believe that we always remain capable of living new stories, ones with no set endpoint. Some part of us wants to believe that we have not yet exhausted all of our possibilities.”

The same theory applies when writing creative nonfiction. The writer with the trained eye knows what to look for in everyday life. For college students, a conversation with an old friend from freshman year could spark an idea for an essay based on moving on, juxtaposed with the impending graduation day. For parents, a brutal day’s work could evolve onto the page as a story dealing with the sacrifices made to assure the positive aspects—one’s family—are cared for. The key is to remember that there is an audience.

“You have to try to get more than one perspective on an issue,” Lang said. “Share an experience and compare it with something else. The more looks you can get on a topic, the better. It helps [the piece] reach more people when you pull in as many examples as possible.”

Assumption College senior Andy Primeau, author of the humor column “Prime’s Time” in Assumption’s newspaper, Le Provocateur, feels the only way to reach the audience is to be truthful.

“You can't pander to your audience; you have to stay true to yourself,” he said. “Writing is only authentic and reasonable when there’s thought and care behind it, and the only way that'll ever happen is if you care about what you're writing about. And it has to be your voice; it can’t be a compilation of flowery words and things you looked up in a thesaurus.”

Choose a topic that the audience, whomever it may be, can relate to. If the audience is a reader for Trucker Weekly, chances are he doesn’t want to read about a woman’s competitive knitting experience. Include characters, dialogue, sensory images, and when possible, research. And most important, teach your audience a lesson.
“When I write creative nonfiction, I have an idea that I feel others can learn something of value from,” said Lang. “I feel that I can capture their imagination and change their life in some way. I can impact them even if I now know something I didn’t know before. That’s the goal for creative nonfiction.”