Monthly Archives

March 2014

creativity, Uncategorized

Zentangle: Getting the Creative Juices Flowing

March 18, 2014

Day 17 of the 31-Day Blogging Challenge (#31dbc)

jpg of a zentangle tree; pen and ink drawing

Zentangle Tree by Kit Brown-Hoekstra

At an STC conference a couple of years ago, Andrea Ames, Brenda Huettner, a few others, and I were sitting in the bar. Andrea told us about this cool meditation technique that involved drawing. She then introduced us to Zentangle. For the next hour, we drew shapes on pieces of heavy paper that looked like bar coasters. Andrea instructed us in the most basic shapes and we all drew the same thing. Yet, everyone’s drawing came out differently.

I was hooked! I don’t do it as often as I would like, but when I do, it always amazes me how different my drawings look, even if I use the same shapes and patterns in the drawing.

Andrea uses it to play with patterns that she often then incorporates into her incredible quilts. Brenda has done some really cool stuff using the outline of an animal, plant, or object. My niece drew a face and used the zentangle technique to draw her hair and clothing. Mine are still pretty rudimentary, but the point is to play and have fun, not to be perfectionistic.

As technical communicators, we spend so much time using the analytical side of our brain that we often don’t nurture the creative, non-verbal side enough.

I did the Zentangle Tree yesterday. It’s the first time I’ve tried to draw and actual object rather than abstract patterns. It took me about an hour. When I started, I was feeling a bit stressed about work, but by the time I finished, I felt calm but energized. And, the solution to a thorny problem popped into my head as I was working on this.

I find myself needing to be reminded to step back and play a little. Try this out if you need a mental break! The Zentangle website has insteructional videos and an online store where you can order supplies.

I also found a book, The Art of Zentangle by Walter Foster, at the library. It contains even more patterns and ideas. Have fun playing!


Blogging Challenge: An Update

March 17, 2014

Day 16 of the 31-Day Blogging Challenge (#31dbc)

Well, you might have noticed that I missed a few days this past week. Life happened, and between work, STC, and home, the blog fell by the wayside for a few days. But, it’s been bugging me that I haven’t worked on it.

Lesa Townsend (the 31-Day Blogging Challenge leader) says that this is normal and that it’s OK as long as you don’t quit. She’s been great about sending suggestions and ideas every day, and my topic idea list keeps growing and growing.

One thing I am realizing is that I need to block time out in my schedule at least once a week to do the blog. And, if I’m feeling inspired or have a lot of pent-up creativity, I can create multiple posts and either schedule them to publish automagically, or push Publish on a day when I’m not feeling inspired.

With work travel every other week for the foreseeable future, this knowledge will help me keep posting even during my busy times.

I realize this isn’t earth-shattering news to anyone who has been blogging for awhile, but for us newbies, it was helpful advice.


STC Elections This Week! Vote By 21 March 2014!

March 11, 2014

Day 11 of the 31-Day Blogging Challenge (#31dbc)

The Society for Technical Communication (STC) is currently holding its annual election for the Board of Directors and Nominating Committee. You can read about the election and candidates at

We have a great slate of candidates this year! Please take the time to review their qualifications and to vote.

These positions are key to helping the Executive Director and the staff meet STC’s strategic goals and fulfill its mission statement. Yet, less than 16% of the membership typically votes. Let’s change that this year and increase participation and engagement.

The new Board and Nominating Committee will be sworn in at the annual meeting on 19 May 2014. I will be Society president in 2014-15.

Note: You must be a member in good standing as of 31 January 2014 in order to vote in the Society level elections. If you meet the criteria and did not get an email with voting instructions, please contact the STC office.

global communication, language, localization

Meeting People Where They Are: Speaking Their Language

March 10, 2014

Day 10 of the 31-Day Blogging Challenge (#31dbc)

(This post originally appeared as a comment on Val Swisher’s blog, Content Rules, on Feb 11, 2012. The post was called. “Everyone Speaks English, Right?”)

One poster on Val’s blog commented that, if you want to truly connect with people, you have to meet them where they are, and do it in their language. I’m a firm believer that many (if not most) of the problems we have on this planet are a direct result of poor communication and lack of cultural understanding.

Language by the Numbers

To put some numbers around this, as of 2012, approximately 1.9 BILLION people spoke Chinese as their native language, compared to 406 Million who spoke Spanish natively or 335 Million who spoke English natively ( Millions more people speak English as a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th language, but at what level of fluency?

Speaking of fluency, here are some numbers that provide context:

  • Basic Oral: 2,000 words; this is the level of a 1.5-2 yr old and, while you can get your needs met, it’s difficult to have a real conversation.
  • Basic Written: 3,000 words. You can read street signs and maybe a simple children’s book. You can probably understand basic oral directions.
  • Technical: 4-5,000 words. You can understand technical terms in your specialty, most safety and warning information, and simple instructions. You would struggle to understand most user’s documentation. You can have simple conversations
  • University texts: 10,000 words. You could follow most discussions and understand the textbooks (with lots of help from a dictionary).
  • Fluent: 20,000 words. You can have conversations on a variety of topics, read literature and articles in the language and communicate effectively with native speakers. You probably still struggle with idioms and some cultural nuances, however.
  • Native Speaker(adult): 30-40,000 words. This is an average. Translators, people in Tech Com and others who work with words regularly often have a higher vocabulary. (

BTW, Google estimates that there are over 1 million words in English as of 2011. (

There are also different kinds of fluency: comprehension (listening), speaking, reading, writing. People tend to progress in one area faster than others, depending on their learning style and on what they are exposed to most…

The Bilingual Brain

Then, there are the studies that have come out recently that indicate that learning multiple languages helps your brain be more flexible and has a protective component against dementia (see Science News, search “bilingual” or “language acquisition”

Even if you aren’t fluent, it’s just more polite to at least attempt to interact in the local language. You will get better service, maybe make a new friend, and have a lot of fun (especially if you can laugh at yourself). In addition, knowing even the basics of another language and culture can help you create better content.


consulting, working virtually

Working Virtually: The Extravert’s Dilemma

March 9, 2014

Day 9 of the 31-Day Blogging Challenge (#31dbc)

I am an extravert living the life of an introvert; I work from a home office, often with only my dogs to talk to. On those days, I sometimes pounce on my poor introverted husband the second he walks in the door because I need to see live humans and talk to them. He, on the other hand, has spent the day talking and interacting and would just like to shut down for a few minutes. When my husband goes out of town for several weeks (like he is now), it’s even more challenging.

Don’t get me wrong; I actually love working from home, and like being alone—just not constantly. I need to see people; that’s where I get my energy—from the interactions I have with live humans.

“Help I’m Talking and Can’t Shut Up” Syndrome

The problem is, and I think this is true for a lot of extraverts, if I don’t get enough live human time, I come down with “help I’m talking and can’t shut up” syndrome. It isn’t pretty…Symptoms include a buzzy feeling, a mouth that goes at the speed of sound, brain going at warp speed, talking without stopping for breath, dominating the conversation, bouncing from topic to topic, interrupting someone else’s cool story to add your own anectdote, etc. Behind the symptoms is often a fear of being invisible (yes, introverts, extraverts have social fears, too.)

And, when the syndrome happens, it has the opposite effect of what I want, which is to learn about the other person, exchange ideas, and get to know them better, as well as to be seen and acknowledged. Instead, I overwhelm them with my enthusiasm, ideas, and need to talk, which then causes them to back away slowly as they search for escape.


This post is for all of you extraverts who find yourselves in a similar situation. Here are some strategies for preventing this deadly syndrome:

  1. Schedule face time into your day every day. Whether it’s your a visit with your local barista, lunch with a friend, or meeting a local client, see people every day. Block time out of your schedule if you have to, but make it a priority.
  2. Enlist a buddy to help you. I have a couple of equally extraverted friends that I try to connect with at the beginning of conferences for a gab fest. This helps run the motor down for the other interactions with my more introverted colleagues.
  3. Practice meditation to ground yourself. I know this seems counter-intuitive; after all, meditation is generally a solitary activity. But, before you go out to a meeting or gathering, take 10 minutes to ground yourself and take deep cleansing breaths. Picture how you want the day to go. Find a calm center.
  4. If you catch yourself displaying symptoms, take a deep breath, smile at the other person, and ask them a question. Then, listen without interruption to their response (this can be hard if you are really wound up and excited about the topic). Keep practicing, and don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t perfect at it.
  5. Count to 10 before jumping in. Doing so will help you avoid interrupting people and to make sure that they are finished speaking. Especially if you are with an introvert, focus your energy on drawing them out and letting them talk.
  6. Maintain variety in your life. Make sure you are feeding your whole self: the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual sides. Try to do one small thing a day in each area. When we work virtually, we tend to get stuck in our heads too much. Eventually, this leads to burnout. Having variety also keeps us from feeling isolated.
  7. Smile and be friendly to everyone. Running errands and doing chores can be an opportunity to see people. I chat with the cashier at the grocery store, tell new moms that they have cute babies, wave at the neighbor, and so on. I make sure that people who look lonely or sad know that they are seen and acknowledged. It can’t hurt, and it might make someone feel less isolated. It makes my day when someone smiles at me as I walk by.
  8. Step away from the phone and social media. We have to be connected to that stuff for our profession, but we need to step away once in awhile and really look at our immediate surroundings and the people we are with. Be fully present when people are in your presence.

What do you do to keep yourself sane?

I’ve talked enough. Now, I want to hear from you. What do you do to keep yourself sane? What’s the hardest part for you about working virtually? What’s the best part? What are your experiences?