#30ThankYous “Day 27”: You.

Dear reader,

I have been blogging on and off since 2002. When I first started blogging, I was on the cusp of a job-and-relationship-collapse, and unfortunately the internet bore the brunt of my overblown emotions. After a while, I found my groove, I think. I talked about pop culture, church life, my feeeeeeeeelings, and other trifles. For some reason, people kept reading. (What shocks me beyond words is that some of you are still reading, after all these years!)

My online writing has evolved, as I have grown and (hopefully) matured. I’m learning how to write things that actually benefit others, rather than treating my online presence like a public diary with which to vent my spleen. Over the last few years, I’ve had more and more people follow my progress and subscribe to my site–as of yesterday, The4thDave.com is almost up to 100 followers!

Those kind of numbers don’t really move the needle for the “platform-building” gurus and social media experts. But you know what? They really matter to me.

You really matter to me, dear reader.

I want you to know that I don’t take for granted the time and attention you generously give me. I want to make sure that what I write is encouraging, inspiring, provocative, and entertaining. I want to keep growing as a writer, so that I can be a blessing to you and others through my work.

Years ago on another blog (don’t dive into the archives, it was really terrible), at one of my really low points, I wrote that the reason I blogged was to pretend that I wasn’t alone. While a good deal of that was just the self-pity and lingering break-up hangover talking, there was a glimmer of truth there. That old blog became the one “friend” who always had time for me. Praise God, life kept moving, things changed, I grew up quite a bit, and my heart has healed. Now, my life is full of people I love who love me. Blogging isn’t a lifeline or a drug; it’s a joy and a responsibility. It’s a gift that I can give to others, and a gift that they–you–give to me.

So thank you, dear reader. Thanks for giving me and this blog a chance. Thanks for being patient when my posting schedule has been erratic at best (or, more often, non-existent). Thanks for supporting my work here. Thanks for sharing my posts, and interacting in the comments. Thanks for just being there.

I plan on doing this for a long while, Lord-willing. I’m looking forward to sharing the adventure with you.

Your friend,

Dave

#30ThankYous: Lightning Round Part 2!!!

Let’s go with another lightning round of #30ThankYous posts! Today, I’d like to highlight 4 writers whose work has deeply affected me creatively, emotionally, and/or spiritually. (And please forgive the seemingly-random numbering–I’m trying to keep track of the days I skipped this month!)

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#19 – Ray Bradbury

Ray,

I don’t remember when I first encountered your work–it may have been a short-story that was given as part of a reading assignment for school. But from the first time I read your prose, I was hooked. I loved your imagination and the way you highlighted the enchantment and magic of everyday things, the mystery hiding just behind the ordinary. I think most people know you just as the Fahrenheit 451 or Martian Chronicles guy, but you had so much more to offer. Books like Dandelion Wine and The Illustrated Man captured my imagination even more, and made me want to be a short-story writer. Even now, I love the short-story format, and I find myself drawn back to it every time the writing bug bites. Thank you for sharing your magic with the world and inspiring a generation of writers who came after you.

#20 – John Bunyan

Brother John,

Your testimony is powerful and convicting, and your passion for the truth, no matter the cost, humbles me. But I want to thank you most for The Pilgrim’s Progress. Your little book has had a mammoth impact on me. Every page drips with Scripture, and every scene reveals truths about human nature and the Gospel. The stories of Christian and Christiana have become more and more affecting to me in recent years, and each time I read them, I am gripped again by the power of grace and the faithfulness of God. This is a book I encourage every Christian to read because it reveals a vault of wisdom and a treasure trove of insight with each reading. I praise God for your ministry, your witness, and your words.

#25 – Tim Challies

Tim,

It’s hard to think of another Christian writer or blogger today who has as much influence as you do and uses it so well. Your book reviews have become a trusted resource for me, and your frequent blog posts full of links and recommendations are helpful in directing my attention to edifying and insightful content. Your books, like your blog, are written in a clear and compelling style, full of humble exhortation. I was particularly helped by The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment and have used it more than once to prepare for Sunday School teaching. Even when you had to shift mediums due to your recent physical challenges, you have still kept your focus on serving your readers (and now, viewers) well. Thank you for honoring the Lord by striving for excellence and consistency in your use of the written and spoken word. Your contribution to the Church should not be underestimated.

#26 – Charles Spurgeon

Pastor,

It’s unavoidably trendy for a young (or, I suppose, now middle-aged) Calvinist to be an admirer of yours. Frankly, it’s almost become a cliche. I’m sure the surge of “Spurge” fandom would be embarrassing, if not infuriating, for you. But if you will allow me a moment (and how can you not, since you’re in heaven, enjoying the presence of God, so why would you care?), I want to express my gratitude for your writing.

Your preaching ministry is renowned and rightly so, but your writing has made a huge impact on my spiritual walk. Lectures to My Students and your articles in The Sword and the Trowel have been challenging to me both as a preacher and teacher and as a follower of Jesus. Books like All of Grace have brought me comfort and hope. Your handling of the “Downgrade Controversy” demonstrates a constancy and perseverance few in my day could muster. No doubt, the opposition you faced wore you down all the way to the end of your life, but while your candle burned, brother, you shined brightly, and generations who have come after you have seen your good deeds and praised your Father in Heaven.

Thank you, pastor, for your faithful pen, and for your faithful heart. You have strengthened multitudes with your work.

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Okay, that almost catches me up! Four more “Thank You’s” to go! See y’all tomorrow!

#30ThankYous: Lightning Round!

It’s the 27th day of month, and if I have any hope of hitting all #30ThankYous, I’m going to have to pick up the pace. So tonight, a handful of thank-you notes to a very wide-ranging group of individuals!

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#15 — Jeff Goins

Jeff,

I can’t think of anyone who has been a bigger influence in the last few years on my writing or my approach to creative communication than you have. You produce great content on a consistent basis (the 3-bucket method is genius!) and you have a clear love for your audience. You’re not just another writing guru or platform builder; you actively seek to make the lives of your readers better.

What impresses me most about you is that you are generous with your words and work. It so impressed me when I not only got advance physical copies of your books to review, but that you even follow up with additional material. You and your team are rock stars, and any success I have in growing my audience or reaching new readers is thanks in part to your great work.

Thank you for teaching and inspiring people like me to remember why we fell in love with writing in the first place. Keep it up. You can always count on me as a faithful reader and fan.

#16 — Dr. Albert Mohler

Dr. Mohler,

Thank you for providing clear, measured, and insightful commentary on cultural touchstones and world events. I can’t tell you how much your podcasts The Briefing and Thinking in Public have influenced and informed my understanding of current events, and your books continue to fill my shelves with helpful analysis of our cultural moment. Even your productivity and reading habits have become the stuff of legend–you’re basically the bibliophile equivalent of Chuck Norris, in a bowtie.

More than all this, your passion for and commitment to the Word of God inspires and challenges me. Your preaching and teaching were one of the major factors in my decision to begin taking seminary classes online with Southern. The rigor of thought and careful exegesis that you employ are an example I want to follow. Thank you for your commitment to the Lord, His Church, and the thousands of seminary students under your care. We are forever grateful to God for your faithfulness.

#17 — JJ Watt

JJ,

I try to keep spectator sports in perspective. For folks like me, it’s entertainment, a hobby, a fun activity to watch with friends and family. As such, I regularly remind myself that it’s just a game, and that the athletes who work and train to put on that uniform are just regular guys who have worked really hard for the opportunity to play the game they love as a career.

All that said, I’m a huge fan, man. I admire your tenacity and your hard work. I appreciate the way you lift up others on your team and cheer their successes. I am amazed to see how far you’ve come in bouncing back from serious injuries, and through it all, you champion hard work, perseverance, and responsibility. From all outside appearances, it looks like you’re going about things the right way, and conducting yourself with respect and dignity. This is not always common in professional athletes. Thank you for doing it the right way.

Not only that, but you demonstrate how much you love your adopted hometown. Houston has had a couple tough years, but guys like you have used your platforms to shine light on local needs and lend a helping hand to those who needed it. I respect that so much. As a “naturalized” Houstonian who has lived most of his life here, let me say on behalf of our community, thank you for caring about your neighbors.

I’m looking forward to cheering my Texans on through the rest of the season and into the playoffs. So please, stay healthy, boss. (And tell Deshaun to slide more, for goodness sakes!)

#18 — Wretched Radio

Dear Mr. Mr. Mr. Mr. Mr. Friel, Tony, Joey, and the rest of the gang at Wretched,

Thank you, thank you, thank you for the ministry of Wretched. I have listened to hundreds of hours of Wretched Radio over the last several years. I haven’t agreed 100% with some of the finer points Todd or Tony have argued (but after that much time, you can’t expect anybody to!), but for the overwhelming majority of the time, I have been edified, encouraged, and convicted by your teaching and commentary. You’ve helped me to improve not only my discernment but also my prudence and tact in how I speak about issues in the church. Your work on Wretched has made me a better disciple, as well as a better Sunday School teacher and preacher. Thank you.

One thing in particular that has really impacted me lately is Todd’s intentional choices not to name names in certain discussions. It seems like the bulk of “discernment ministry” or theological analysis hits either of the two extremes (name all the names and burn them all down, or never say “boo” about a false teacher), but Wretched walks the tightrope of warning about wolves while at the same time seeking to avoid gossip and gleeful tale-bearing. This has been so instructive for me on how to handle delicate issues in the wider church with a mind to what is edifying and what is just salacious.

Thanks also for highlighting great ministries that your listeners can support. My hope is that my family can start supporting some of these Gospel ministries financially (along with Wretched, Lord-willing) in the coming years.

God bless you with many years of fruitful work ahead, because there is much, much still to do.

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That’s all for tonight. 3 more days of #30ThankYous to go! Be sure to check back for more tomorrow!

 

#30ThankYous Day 9: Frank Peretti

Dear Frank,

The first book of yours I ever read was a Cooper Kids adventure (maybe The Tombs of Anak?) when I was in fifth or sixth grade. I was not yet allowed to watch the Indiana Jones movies, but I had somehow already become fascinated with archaeology and ancient civilizations, so the adventures of a brother and sister digging around in ancient dungeons and tombs was a blast for me.

A few years later, I started reading your more grown-up fiction, and the book of yours that really grabbed me was The Oath. I had never encountered an outspoken Christian author use horror or fantasy elements to tell a story like that. (Aside from Lewis’ Narnia books, which were more fairy tale than fantasy.) The mental image of a dragon or monster chasing down his marked victims was captivating. I read it over a very long week in high school when I was sick at home with pneumonia, and your book made the time fly. (The feverishness only added to the experience, I think.)

I had played around with writing since middle school. I used my vocabulary homework as an excuse to create serialized chapters of adventure stories to entertain my teachers. (No doubt, there was some Cooper influence there as well; I think the first year I did this, it was about scientists exploring an Egyptian tomb.) I’ve read most of your bibliography (though I’m delighted to find I missed a few of your recent ones, and will be looking for those at the library!). But reading The Oath opened my eyes to the idea that genre fiction can be used to tell spiritual stories beyond historical fiction or Biblical epics. I started aping your style a bit, as I tried to write short stories that were more or less morality tales. (I almost typed “moralizing tales,” which may have been closer to the truth.) I was shooting for a mix of Frank Peretti, Rod Serling, and Ray Bradbury, my 3 favorite story tellers–but I’m pretty sure I fell far, far short of that lofty goal. I don’t think those stories will ever see the light of day in their original form. (But who knows, maybe I can go back and mine for story ideas…)

Nevertheless, from that point on, I was hooked–I wanted to be a writer. I got an English degree from my undergrad studies, I’ve been blogging on an off for 16 years, and I have maybe a half-dozen unfinished novels in notebooks and hard drives all over the house. While life circumstances always seem to get in the way of finishing these projects, the dream doesn’t die. I still want to be a novelist. And if I were to trace that crazy dream back to its roots, your books would be there at the inception.

So thank you, Frank. Your love of telling stories and sharing truth have been inspiring readers for decades now, and I’m one of many fans who remember fondly how your books have blessed my life.

Here’s to more years and more words!

–Dave

#FridayFive, NaNoWriMo Edition: 10/26/2018

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Happy Friday, gang! 

Well, there’s (finally) a cool tinge to the air down here in Texas, which means the arrival of fall, the ramping up of football season, the near-availability of cheap Halloween candy, and of course the kick-off for  National Novel Writing Month (or, NaNoWriMo)!

If you’re not familiar with NaNoWriMo, it’s a worldwide challenge to write at least 50,000 words of a novel during the 30 days of November. You can find more info here.

While I’m not participating this year (next year? Possibly…), I do have a slew of links to help you brainstorm for your NaNo sprints next Thursday! 

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Don’t Waste Your Words: How to Write A First Draft that is Crappy but Usable — If you have ever participated in NaNoWriMo before, you know that the trick is speed, not polish. In this post, Jeff Goins helps those of us who try to perfect every line to get over that habit. He also gives a great basic definition of “planners” versus “pantsers” and provides some useful questions to consider, no matter which approach you take to planning your novel.

Start Writing a Novel Without Having A Clue What to Do — Another Jeff Goins piece, this time providing some useful starting advice about story, genre, and plot. He also links to Shawn Coyne’s “Story Grid,” which is a great resource.

I Wrote A Novel Entirely On Evernote — This post from the Evernote blog by Forrest Dylan Bryant is obviously meant to entice you to use Evernote. But you know what? I love Evernote, and I’ve found it to be incredibly useful for blogging and capturing story ideas. I even have half of a short story on there right now that I’m hoping to finish and share with you later this year. So, if you haven’t used Evernote before, this may be a helpful introduction to the program for you.

How to Construct a 3-D Main Character — A novel lives or dies by how interesting or compelling its protagonist is. This immensely practical piece from ProWritingAid gives you prompts to help flesh out your main character. I’m definitely going to be revisiting this post soon.

Losing NaNoWriMo is Not Necessarily a Bad Thing — You know I love providing counterpoints at the end of these lists. You may want to save this post from Mitzi Flyte in your back pocket in case you need it at the end of November. Let’s face it–cranking out 50,000 words in 30 days is HARD. And if you only get part of the way there but can’t quite reach the finish line, this post is a good reminder that a half-finished NaNoWriMo attempt does have its merits.

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There you have it–5 posts about NaNoWriMo and the craft of writing a speedy story.

If you found these helpful, I’d very much appreciate it if you would “Like” this post and let me know to keep providing content like this.

And if you are participating in NaNoWriMo yourself, let us know in the comments, so we can cheer you on!

Otherwise, I’ll see y’all next week!

“I’ve been thinkin’ ’bout you…”

“Do you think about me still? Do ya? Do ya?”

It’s been a while since I’ve just sat down and started typing a blog post. The last few months…I don’t know. When it comes to this blog, I think I started out trying too hard to do it “the right way”–not writing, but “creating content,” not communicating but “building an audience.” And then it started feeling fake, so I pretty much stopped. My words dried up. I want to keep writing, but I don’t know if I want to keep doing it this way, you know? (And it’s not like I’ve been posting that much content, generic or otherwise. We both know I haven’t posted much of anything lately. Every time I sit down to write, I start getting all knotted up over it. Not writer’s block as much as writer’s rebellion. I’m not sure what my problem is.)

While working on something for a friend, I started digging through my past blog posts–I mean the early, early days of my blogs. Have you ever read diary or journal entries you wrote more than 15 years ago? Cringe-y is the word.

And yet, while I’m embarrassed by my emotional immaturity on display in those best-forgotten days, I was struck as I read the posts by how much fun they were to read. (No, I’m not humble-bragging or post-facto-bragging or any such thing.) It was just so clear that I loved writing. I loved writing blog posts, stringing together turns of phrase and pop-culture references and song lyrics. I was much more open and unvarnished and emotive. I bled on the screen.

I think I miss doing that, a little.

Things are different now. Times have changed. I’m no longer a young man in my early 20’s with a keyboard and a broken heart. I’m now a middle-aged man in my late 30’s, with a wife and a daughter and responsibilities–not quite where I hoped I would be by now, but getting there. At this stage in the game, I don’t need to be giving full-vent to my spleen in this format. I’m an adult. I need to act like one. To be honest, I don’t really want to go back to treating blogging like a public diary–that’s what Xanga is for. (Any of you kids remember Xanga? No? Just me? Okay.)

(No, I don’t actually have a Xanga. Actually, I think I did at one point years and years back, but the log-in has been long forgotten.)

[What was I on about? Oh yeah.]

I haven’t posted anything “from the heart” since mid-July, it looks like. And who knows, maybe that’s for the best. Maybe that’s what you readers want: that I should stick to book reviews, interesting-link aggregation, a bit of this and that about writing and freelancing, and some Bible study blogging. Maybe that’s why you’re here, really. Maybe that can be enough.

What I’m getting at is this: the blog is just starting to feel a bit shallow to me. I don’t want that to be the case, but I’m not sure if or how I should change that.

Maybe nothing ultimately changes. Maybe I just need to start writing more and trust that it will start feeling natural again. I don’t know.

I’ve been wanting to say something to y’all for a few weeks, but I kept waiting for some great idea to kick me back into gear. The idea never came.

Here’s the update from my side of the screen: I’m busy with work, with church, with life stuff. I’m still putting off creative work that I am a bit too afraid to really commit to finishing, but even more afraid of giving up thinking about. There are a dozen things right now that need attention in my life and I’m constantly having to assess and reassess which priorities are most important.

But I miss talking to you, gang. So I’m checking in to let you know I’ve been thinking ’bout you (ooh na-na-na). And I hope you think about me still.

Happy October.

#FridayFive: 09/14/2018

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Here are 5 Medium posts to boost your writing/blogging this weekend!

How to Stop Blogging like It’s 2009 — Shaunta Grimes argues that writers and creatives should build an audience using a platform with a built-in audience (like Medium!) and an email list. Hmm… not a bad idea.

3 Minutes, That’s All It Takes To Get Better At Writing — Tiffany Sun provides some EXTREMELY PRACTICAL tips on how to improve your style and punch up your prose. Take 3 minutes and read this.

Forget About Being A Good Writer, (And Do This Instead) — Here’s my weekly recommendation of Jeff Goins (I just have to–his stuff is that good!). In this post, Jeff argues that there’s something more vital than being a “good” writer.

How to Write Medium Stories People Will Actually Read — Quincy Larson provides a nuts-and-bolts approach to improving your readership stats on Medium, and his advice is really useful. This is one I’m going to go back to a few times.

How to Easily Overcome the #1 Problem with Writing Challenges — If you’ve every tried and failed to complete an online “writing challenge” or you’ve just fallen short of goals you set for yourself, Nicole Akers has some great advice for you.

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One more thing before you go: Can I ask you for a quick favor?

If any of these articles was helpful or interesting, can you comment below and let me know? I want to make sure I’m providing content you enjoy and find valuable.

You can find my other work on Medium. You can also reach me on Twitter.

Have a great weekend, and keep the good folks in the Carolinas in your prayers as they weather the hurricane. See y’all next week!

3 Gifts That Convert Readers into Fans.

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I’ve almost become immune to being “pitched.”

It’s practically a given these days that when you’re consuming online content, there’s a hook–an e-book for sale, an online seminar registration, some sort of monthlycoaching or one-on-one training.

Honestly, I don’t have a problem with this. In fact, at some point, I may be asking you, dear reader, to purchase a novel or two from me (assuming, of course, I actually get around to finishing them).

I’m not mad about it when an article on how to tighten up my blog posts or punch up my Medium headlines ends with a link to the author’s premium content. You know what? You go get your money, baby. (Although, I’ve shared elsewhere how likely I am to pay for premium online content.)

Premium-content pitches have become the highway billboards of blogging: ubiquitous and usually benign, but with the most flamboyant and obnoxious offenders turning away more people than they attract.

That’s why I was stunned and pleasantly surprised when a writer/blogger who’s making a living with his words took a few moments to give me something for free.

I can’t recall how I found out about Jim Woods’ “Finish Your Book” Summit, but I signed up for his mailing list anyway. I figured if nothing else, I’d receive some useful tips and encouragement. I had interacted a little with Jim on a Publishous Twitter chat (shout-out to #PubChat!), and he seemed like a good dude.

But I noticed something unexpected when I received a “welcome” email from his mailing list: Jim asked a question, invited the reader to reply, and promised a personal response.

Confession: I didn’t quite buy it. I figured, if anything, it would probably be a canned response that he had stored in his drafts folder to fire off, depending on the question. But, what the heck: okay, Jim, I’ll bite.

I wrote back with a question about the struggle with balancing family, work, and creative life. To my delight, Jim responded with an actual email. He provided some advice that was pertinent to my situation, and encouraged me to keep at it. And that was it. He dropped a link to his blog at the end, but didn’t try to up-sell me on anything.

In an industry and medium where writers and coaches must self-promote to survive, Jim Woods stood out by giving me 3 things:

  • He gave me his time. Sure, it was just a minute or two, but he made the decision to spend his time helping out a reader. I don’t know how many emails he gets, but I know that even with my minimal inbox traffic, it still takes me forever to respond to people, even my friends. (Also: Sorry, Mike. You should receive a reply by the time this posts.)
  • He gave me his word. It was right there in the email: if you email, I’ll respond. And when I tested him on it, he followed through. I’m reminded of all the times that I’ve told you, dear reader, that I’d post something at this or that time, only to show up, hat-and-excuse-in-hand, much later than promised. I appreciated that Jim said he would respond, and then did.
  • He gave me encouragement. He listened to my question, replied, and encouraged me to follow-through. On his website, he offers coaching for writers who want to finish their books, and I got a taste of that coaching in his correspondence, as he urged me to keep looking for inspiration to write.

These are all small things, to be sure, but meaningful and appreciated.

At the end of last month, I linked to Tim Denning’s Medium piece on building a following through giving. This is just another example of how that works. By just being a cool guy and taking a few minutes to write out a personal reply, Jim gained himself a new member of his digital tribe. Turns out, being a nice person pays off.

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Question: What is one way that a blogger/writer went the extra mile to earn your attention? Post that in the comments below!

 

#FridayFive: 08/31/2018

Here are 5 posts to inspire and challenge you over this long holiday weekend!

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The Secret to Networking? Stop Trying to network. — This piece by Brad Stulberg reminds us not to treat “building a network” like its a competition or game. Those contacts aren’t points on a scoreboard but people we have the opportunity to serve and bless.

The Answer is This: Give It Away for Free. — Tim Denning puts his finger on a powerful principle that I’ve seen play out in my own life: in a world of salesman, being a giver makes you unique and influential. As Seth Godin says, giving your work away produces loyalty with your audience. This is an idea I’m really trying to take to heart and implement in the coming years.

How to Use Your Tools so They Don’t Own You — Bryan Collins reminds us that getting a shiny new “tool” or gadget doesn’t mean much if we aren’t able to put the work in. Sometimes, going simple is the best way to do our best work.

The Top 4 Mistakes Every Writer Makes (And How To Avoid Them) — It feels like I can’t make one of these lists without including a Jeff Goins piece. Here, he points out four simple but powerful concepts that can help anyone write more compelling and meaningful work.

I Want to Quit. Right Now. — Jon Westenberg’s writing is visceral, searing, and insightful. This piece is a prime example, and every single word of it resonates with me. He gives us a peek into his inner battle over whether to persevere or give up on his passions, and in so doing, reminds us that all of us face that same battle. (Content warning: some strong language.)

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There you go, friends. Five posts to fuel your creative efforts on this Labor Day weekend.

May your labor be satisfying and your rest be refreshing, and we’ll see you back here next week!

#FridayFive: 07/20/2018

You know the deal–let’s do it:

Teens are Flocking to Youtube to…Study?: If you’re a computer-based office worker like me, one of the most important elements of your workday is background music to drown out the sound of your coworkers loudly calling out to each other. Especially your boss, who has no sense of–oh, that’s just me? Sorry. So yeah, background music is essential. I sometimes listen to podcasts, but when I need to focus just a bit more on the less-data-entry-like aspects of my work, it’s distracting. That’s why this article turned me on to what is becoming a lifesaver in my particularly slammed workdays: lo-fi streams on Youtube.

The Trophy: An Essay on Fatherhood: As the daddy of an…almost-one-year-old [*choking back tears*], essays about fatherhood hit me hard. Goins’ posts are always a good read, including this one.

5 Weak Words that Make Your Writing Less Effective: Another Goins post, this time on the weak/filler words that creep into our writing and water it down.

Why You Don’t Need to Read Those Productivity Guides: Although the author drifts dangerously close to “not having an act is your act” territory, he makes some good points here about “enough,” a word that is almost anathema in productivity discussions.

A Choose-Your-Path Twitter Fairy Tale: This is SO GOOD that I furious with myself for not thinking of it. Every so often, there’s a moment–one shining moment–where we all stop and realize, “hey, social media is actually a pretty cool invention that can bring people together in an interesting way.” I think this is one of those moments.

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Your Turn: Any cool stories or blog posts you want to recommend? Throw ’em in the com-box below!