Comma, comma, comma, comma, com-comma

James Taylor

James Taylor

(My goofy title is an allusion to the first line of “Handy Man,” of which Wikipedia says: “Handy Man” is a rock and roll song credited to singer Jimmy Jones and songwriter Otis Blackwell. It was originally recorded by The Sparks Of Rhythm, a group Jones had been a member of when he wrote it, although he was not with them when they recorded it. In 1959, Jones recorded the song himself, in a version which had been reworked by Blackwell [1], who also produced the session. “Handy Man”went to number three on the R&B charts and number two on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960, becoming a million seller [1]. The song was a hit again in 1964 for Del Shannon and again for James Taylor in 1977. Taylor’s version of the song was the most successful, peaking at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the adult contemporary chart [2].})

I’m a fair grammarian, but this NY Times piece taught me a lot. Here’s a snippet:

The Most Comma Mistakes

As I noted in my earlier article, rules and conventions about when to use and not to use commas are legion. But certain errors keep popping up. Here are a few of them.

Identification Crisis. 
If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it a thousand times. I’m referring to a student’s writing a sentence like:

I went to see the movie, “Midnight in Paris” with my friend, Jessie.

Comma after “movie,” comma after “friend” and, sometimes, comma after “Paris” as well. None is correct — unless “Midnight in Paris” is the only movie in the world and Jessie is the writer’s only friend. Otherwise, the punctuation should be:
I went to see the movie “Midnight in Paris” with my friend Jessie.

If that seems wrong or weird or anything short of clearly right, bear with me a minute and take a look at another correct sentence:

I went to see Woody Allen’s latest movie, “Midnight in Paris,” with my oldest friend, Jessie.

You need a comma after “movie” because this and only this is Mr. Allen’s newest movie in theaters, and before “Jessie” because she and only she is the writer’s oldest friend.

The syntactical situation I’m talking about is identifier-name. The basic idea is that if the name (in the above example, “Jessie”) is the only thing in the world described by the identifier (“my oldest friend”), use a comma before the name (and after it as well, unless you’ve come to the end of the sentence). If not, don’t use any commas.

Grammatically, there are various ways of describing what’s going on. One helpful set of terms is essential vs. nonessential. When the identifier makes sense in the sentence by itself, then the name is nonessential and you use a comma before it. Otherwise, no comma. That explains an exception to the only-thing-in-the-world rule: when the words “a,” “an” or “some,” or a number, come before the description or identification of a name, use a comma.


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Your mind is a vat of viscous fluid

It has all kinds of stuff floating in it, at different depths. The stuff that is near or on the surface is consciously accessible to you; stuff that is a little deeper show up after a second or two of reflection.

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Image by MHBaker via Flickr

Deeper things–memories, knowledge–are associatively linked. They only show up when triggered by associations, experiences, feelings. It’s all the stuff you know, but you don’t know that you know. You can’t list it.

The process of clustering that I teach as part of my approach to writing books lets you get at this stuff. It empowers you to list what you know, but didn’t know that you know. It thus makes it possible to quickly identify the things you’re going to have to research, so that you don’t waste a lot of time wandering around Wikipedia or libraries.

Of course, the lists you can then make are useful for lots more than just writing your book. You can create other products: Courses; articles; ebooks; presentations; and more. There are limitless ways in which you can package your knowledge for presentation and sale, and my process lets you get at them with little effort.

To find out more about it, click here.

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Be real

If you want to build an audience of people who know you, like you, and trust you, you need to be yourself. Which should be a relief, because you have no competition for that role.

But if instead you try to sound like someone else, or like something you are not, you are sure to fail. People are astonishing in their ability to smell the inauthentic, the phony. It’s not a conscious thing; it is intuitive. You are good at it, too; you know who sounds real, who sounds like a person you might get to like, and who is trying to sell you a bill of goods.

“Authenticity is the key. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made,” is an old cynical joke. But the truth is that authenticity cannot be faked or imitated. Your readers’ BS detectors will be ringing all over the world if you try to pass off some imagined image of who you think you ought to be on them.

Don’t bother. It has no upside. Be yourself. You are not only good enough; you are wonderful! You have something powerful and unique to offer, something that nobody else has. Yes, it may take some work to find out exactly how to express it. But you know what? You can get help from your public.

Start with a blog. Communicate on a regular basis with your audience. Ask for their feedback. Give them yours, respectfully. It won’t be long at all before you find out who you are and how you appear to your market.

You can use polls to ask your readers about things, too. And all of this interaction is fuel for your book, for the powerful message you will package and deliver to your readers.

But don’t wait to construct a flawless persona; nobody has one, and if you present one, it will be immediately recognized as phony.

Be yourself.

What will a book do for me?

Literally? Nothing. A book, even one with a  cover, and your name and face on it, and marvelous content describing your uniqueness, and the uniqueness of your approach to your clients’ greatest pain, will do nothing for you. Nothing.

However, you can do a lot with your book. You can use it as a key to unlock hitherto sealed doors, a credential to bring you the respect you deserve, a validation to allow you to charge the fees that are your due.

Moreover, the book-writing process–actually, my book-writing process–will empower you to take the stuff that is floating around in your head and turn it into an organized body of knowledge. That organized body of knowledge can become a book, and much more–ebooks; courses; keynote speeches; and many other products.

By writing your book my way, you actually inventory your store of knowledge. You see, if you are like most people, you don’t know what you know. That is, you can’t make a list of all the things you have learned. You just know them, and they serve you in your profession. But if asked to make a list of them, you’d be hard put to lay them out.

My book-writing process empowers you to do just that–to list all the things you know in a way that you can share them with others.

Once you have this catalog, this inventory of your peculiar expertise and experience, you can easily turn it into products. Each chapter in your book can be a string of podcasts. Each subchapter is, at the very least, a blog entry. The book’s title is a theme for a course, a membership site, a coaching program–you get the idea. It’s all knowledge, and it has value.

So do it. Try my book-writing process. Build your new business.

Use my approach to book-writing to create a course

I have been teaching that if you write a book following my method, (a) you’ll have a good book, quickly; and (b), you’ll be very well-positioned to start creating additional information products based on the stuff you’ve generated to write the book.

It’s time to be a bit more explicit.

First of all, if you haven’t done so, head to the link at the top of the front page of this blog and get my free book. Read it.

Done? OK, at least you scanned it. I hope it intrigued you enough to actually start doing what it says.

If you do, you’ll create what I call a BookProgram–a simple outline that is your book, in essence. The writing part is just a matter of filling in the blanks, once the BookProgram is done.

Now, whether or not you’ve written your book yet, you can use this outline to create a course. Your course can be based on the entire outline, or just a portion of it. The important step that the creation of your outline has taken you through is the one I call, “the diamond is your friend.” That’s the part that helps you think about, “What questions am I answering? And what must I explain to help my reader get from the question to the answer?”

When you’ve already done this for your book, it’s now easy to focus on, “What are the desired outcomes of this course for anyone who takes it? What will they know, what will they be able to do after taking it?” By answering these questions, you’ll be able to enunciate the benefits of the course to your prospects. You’ll be able to state clearly to them what they will gain by taking your course.

Mind you, I am not minimizing the craft of course creation. I don’t mean to imply that if you follow some general rules, you’ll be as good as any course creator out there. But just as I believe you can create a “good” book–one that keeps its promise–by following my method, I also believe you can create a “good” course by following these guidelines. A good course, by my definition, like a good book, keeps its promise.

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