5 Steps to Simplify Complex Topics

One of my college journalism teachers told me to write my stories so my grandmother could understand them. His point was that stories need to be written so that anyone can read and comprehend them.

dscf4270How do you write a complex story in a way that my grandmother (or yours) can understand?

Take a lot of notes when you interview your subject matter expert or source. Even if you don’t use all of them in the story, they will aid your comprehension.

Use Google to help with your understanding. If the person you interviewed used words and terms you don’t know, Google them. If it still doesn’t make sense, find a video that might explain the concept.

Distill the information. In other words, keep digging until you can boil the story down to a few key points. From that you can build your and the reader’s understanding by adding layers to the story.

Find the holes. As you build the story, identify any holes and find the missing information. You may have to call your source back or complete additional research.

Write to make people interested. Ultimately, you are telling a story. What is that first attracted you to the story? Why do you want to tell it? If you keep those questions top of mind as you research and write, you will interest others in reading the story.

4 Time Management Tips to Help With Writing

Sheri Reynolds, whose novel the Rapture of Canaan was an Oprah Book Club selection, says she likes to think of herself as a little gifted. What she really is, though, is persistent.

And being persistent is key to not only writing and editing a book but to getting it published. She has published six novels and one play and has developed some time management tips to help with her writing.

One tip is to go on an overnight trip once or twice a year to push through on your writing. When Reynolds does this she will work for about three hours and then take a walk. After another writing push, she will go to dinner.


The beach is one of my favorite places for writing. When I need a break, I can go for a long walk. 

My most successful writing has happened just this way. I think of them as mini sprints. In fact, I have three days scheduled this holiday season at the beach where I will do just as she prescribes — write, walk, dine. I have daily goals and look forward to celebrating reaching the goals each evening.

Reynolds also is a proponent of scheduling some time each week with your characters. “I have a little liaison with my fiction life,” she said.

I haven’t done this yet, but I’m looking forward to having lunch with Frank, a detective in my novel. During our lunch, I’ll learn more about his character and think about how he is conducting the investigation.

When you are forced to attend a lecture or concert, don’t dread it. Instead, Reynolds said to think of it as mandated day dreaming time. When she does this, people think she is taking notes, but she is really writing. Airports also are a good place for writing.

A final piece of advice is to always keep a notebook for writing. You can jot ideas and record research. Best of all, Reynolds said, you won’t stress when the train or your doctor is running late.


Dial Down Your Stress

Here’s a conversation I have all too often with friends:

Me: “Great to see you! How is everything?”

Friend: “Crazy busy! I just don’t have any time.”

When I ask what is happening, the friends shares a few things but nothing that sounds “crazy busy.”

The friend asks me how I am, and I reply: “Great. Things are great.”

I tell this story not because I don’t have stress, because I do, but because when I was sharing how busy I was, how crazed I was, how much I was working, I found that I often exaggerated based on what others said. I’ve observed my friends doing it, too.

It’s as if we are in a competition to be the busiest, the craziest, the most sleep deprived.

For the past few years, I have worked really hard to dial down the stress. I routinely get my required sleep. I rarely work weekends, and I manage my work hours. Of course, there are times when work is a bit busier and I might have to work some extra hours, but it’s not routine.

When a friend tells me they are staying late regularly, I’ll ask why. Often the person doesn’t have a great explanation. It’s so easy to slip into bad habits, which is why I don’t want to get into a contest with my friends about who has the worst schedule.

Here are some tips to dial down the stress –

Don’t overcommit: Michael Hyatt, co-author of “Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want,” talks about triaging your calendar. I’ve learned that I need one evening during the work week in which I schedule no activities. It’s my night at home to be a slug. It’s usually Tuesday night when some of my favorite shows are on. I need an evening in which I am being entertained. I also know that I need one weekend a month to hibernate. That means no commitments (no matter how much fun), no traveling, no making long to-do lists. Instead, I enjoy the weekend as it unfolds, and I mainly sp20140727_180844end it in my home or yard and going for long walks or bike rides in the neighborhood.

Plan: A few years ago I realized that there are seven days in the week (five in the work week), which means I don’t have to do everything on Monday. I’ve learned to plan better and spread out deadlines. When I return to my office from a meeting, I schedule my action items on my calendar so they don’t get lost. In December, I plan my vacations for the coming year.

Reduce the drama: Be careful of the words you are using. Overemphasizing your situation is not helpful. One way to recognize all the good in your life is to keep a gratitude journal. Each evening I write down three to five things from the day for which I am grateful. Some days, it’s a struggle, but when I pause and reflect, I come up with the items, and I realize life is good.

How do you dial down the stress?