I was going to write about various hobbies I've tried and would like to try. In preparation, I looked up the word “hobby,” because I wanted to see what a hobby really is — for example, could writing about a hobby be considered a hobby?

When I pulled out my trusty Merriam-Websters's Collegiate Dictionary, my plans for writing about hobbies quickly got dashed, as the first definition for hobby is not what you would expect at all (gardening, model railroading, etc.).

Guess what the first definition of hobby is? It's "a small Old World falcon that is dark blue above and white below with dark streaking on the breast."

Huh?

I've been in plenty of hobby shops over the years, and I've not once seen a cage with a large, falcon-type bird of prey hanging from the ceiling. Seriously though, I find it amazing that, at my advanced age, I could find a word that has a totally different primary meaning than what I (and probably you) thought it was.

I mean, can you imagine if Atlanta's football team were called The Hobbies instead of The Falcons? Give me a break.

This got me thinking about quirky different usages of words and odd patterns of speech. When I was small, I vividly remember my Uncle Carmine. He liked big cars and often had a Cadillac or some other beautiful large luxury car.

I can remember very well him telling me, if you wanted to take care of your car, you had to "change the Earl" very often. Of course he meant "oil," but for a long time I thought he had some guy named Earl who worked on his cars and who for some reason he had to change for another guy named Earl every now and then. I'm not even kidding about this.

Then I had a friend who liked football. He was always disappointed when the team had to settle for a "field gold" rather than a touchdown (it's really called a field goal, of course).

This kind of pronunciation thing drives me crazy (and, no, I don't have that much free time, ha ha). One of these that really drives me up the wall is "acrost" instead of across, as in, "The park entrance is acrost that bridge." This seems to be a regional thing, as I've never heard anyone in the media or outside the Capital District say it. One more thing that makes us so cute and lovable, I guess.

Another one that gets butchered on a regular basis is "relator" when of course it's Realtor. You can forgive a layperson for making this mistake, but I've even heard Realtors mispronounce it. Since you'd think they want to present an air of competence and professionalism, this can't be good.

Perhaps their "ant" (meaning aunt) should tell them. I'm guilty of this one myself — I still lovingly refer to my Ant Lena. I know a lot of us do this, because saying aunt sounds a little fancy and pretentious. I hope all the other lovely ants out there don't mind.

Speaking of Ant Lena, when you went to her house, you could always count on having some "bizza and breadsels," that is pizza and pretzels. Ah, the good old days. You would have liked Ant Lena for sure. She's been gone for a long time now and I still think about her all the time.

How 'bout when you're watching the national news and a story comes on about Al-bany, not All-bany? I can sort of forgive them for this one. If you've never heard a regional pronunciation, how can you know what it is?

If you weren't from around here, how would you know how to pronounce, say, Valatie (val-LAY-shuh)? Still, Albany is the capital of New York, so mispronouncing it is kind of inexcusable when it happens.

If someone has a "couple a three" beers, how many beers did they have? My lovely wife says six but I know it's three. Don't ask me how I know this, I just do.

She did get me on one, though. Say you're listening to a ball game and it's the fifth inning. Guess what, look up “fifth” and you’ll see the pronunciation is listed as "fith" and that's the way she says it. The first time I heard her say fith I honestly didn't know what she was talking about.

I used to watch a lot of Met games and it was always the fifth inning, not the fith(!) inning, fer crying out loud, but it is in the dictionary so she's right as usual. I just know I'll never be able to get used to "fith." Sounds like some kind of a bad sickness to me. ("It's too bad, the poor thing's got the fith.")

Whenever I get a new GPS, the first thing I do is change the speaking voice to British English female. There's nothing like coming up to the end of Route 155 in Voorheesville and having that lovely English lady say in her fancy accent "enter roundabout."

Gotta love it. I get a kick out of it every time. You feel like pulling over for some tea and scones.

Without doubt, the most annoying pronunciation faux pas has to be the phenomenon known as "uptalk." This is where a declarative sentence is spoken as a question. If you've by some miracle avoided this auditory disaster, turn on the NPR radio show "Car Talk" and wait for a young female to call in.

Young women are the most notorious "uptalkers" by far. For example, the hosts might ask her where she's calling from. She's supposed to say "I'm from Philadelphia" but instead she says "I'm from Philadelphia?"

Then they will ask her what kind of car problem she is having. She is supposed to say "The check-engine light is on" but instead she says "The check engine light is on?"

This making every statement into a question, for me, is way worse than the cringe-worthy gold standard of chalk squeaking on a blackboard. It simply makes the speaker sound vapid and annoying.

I'm to the point where I have to change the channel when one of these women come on, or, if I'm at a party and someone starts uptalking, I'll remove myself from that conversation faster than Billy Fuccillo can say, "It's gonna be huge, Capital District, huge-uh."

So where did uptalk come from? One theory traces it to the late great Frank Zappa's only top-40 hit, "Valley Girl," where his daughter Moon Unit rapped and uptalked for three minutes in what was then known as "valspeak,” the language of southern California teenage girls. Back when it first came out in the early ’80s, it was kind of quirky and fun, but then it caught on big time and that of course ruined it.

Incredibly, many young girls and women still goofily talk like that today. I'm sure Frank Zappa is laughing his long dark curly locks off wherever he is, but I, for one, have had enough? Sorry, couldn't resist. Gag me with a spoon, as Moon Unit would say.

Now to get back to thinking about hobbies, and by that I mean leisure-time activities, not birds of prey.

There was an article in a local newspaper about learning how to do remodeling and home-improvement projects. It told about the many benefits of doing such work; including learning new skills; the pride gained from doing it yourself, and, of course, saving money.

It also noted that doing these kinds of projects, especially for first-timers, would naturally take longer than having a pro do it, or even an experienced amateur. One way to find this extra time, it said, was to drop any exercise program from your schedule, and use that time to work on the project.

Now, I've read hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles on getting in shape over the years. These articles always explain the importance of getting enough exercise and offer plenty of tips on how to squeeze exercise into our busy lives.

That's why I was so blown away when I read something telling me not to exercise. It was like my conception of reality was turned upside down.

I thought about this recently as I undertook refurbishment of a bedroom, hallways, and stairway in my home. This was a large-scale project — a lot of Sheetrock repair; a new door; new flooring; and, of course, fresh paint.

Like the newspaper article said, I took time that I'd normally use to exercise to do this work, but it wasn't by choice; I had arthroscopic shoulder surgery a couple of months ago, and I'm still waiting to get my full strength back so I can start exercising again. The funny thing is, even though I wasn't exercising in the normal sense, I sure got plenty of workouts.

When you're working on the second floor and your tools are in the basement, you face a dilemma — how many tools to bring up? You don't want to bring up so many that you'll have a ton to put away, but not so few that you need to make a lot of up and down trips either. No matter how you do it, the exercise you get from traversing two sets of stairs over and over adds up, let me tell you.

I had to remove lamps from the ceilings and patch and paint up there. Just working overhead is quite taxing, not only for the strength required, but also for craning your neck to see what you're doing.

Ouch.

It's also nice when the paint splatters on your hair and face; that way, when you look in the mirror later, it really looks like you accomplished something. Hey, some people pay big bucks to get their hair colored. I got mine colored for free.

I truly admire guys who do this work every day. I have a feeling that their own houses need work, because I'll bet the last thing they want to do at the end of the day is more of the same.

Think about that for a minute. You're a painter yet your house needs painting; you're a carpenter yet your house needs repair. No wonder why so many people play the lottery.

Do it your way

Aside from the workout you get (whether you want it or not), the really good thing about doing your own remodeling is you get the final say in every aspect.

For example, a lot of places sell painting supplies, but I only buy one very well regarded brand along with the best brushes when I paint. Painting is so involved that I only want to do it once.

The only time I've ever heard any valid reason to use less than the best was a landlord telling me he cuts his paint 50 percent when the tenants change because he's really just painting to clean.

If you can wait for the sales — and you can if you're doing it yourself — you can get the best at a good price, so that's what I do. Painting is just too much work to have to deal with inferior materials.

Don't forget, of course, when you work on a room, you have to get the stuff out of the room first. It's times like these when you realize just how dusty and dirty things can get when you don't deal with them for a long time.

Sometimes you'll even find something you'd thought you'd lost forever; I once found a much-loved belt-carried multi-tool, which had been missing for years, when I moved a desk. No such luck this time, but rooms look so much better when they're less cluttered that it's worth a painting job just as an excuse to clean things out. Less truly is more

With any kind of painting, the trick is in the preparation. If you can feel any kind of bump or ridge with your fingers, you'll see it when it's painted. So now you're into endless spackling, sanding, and priming; the problem is in knowing when to stop.

I always tell myself I'm not going for House Beautiful or whatever other magazines there are that celebrate such stuff, and the truth is you tend to focus on the flaws because you know where they are, but others may not even notice.

Others in this case does not include my lovely wife, because she has the impressive talent of being able to spot any drips, runs, or unspackled holes the instant she walks into the room, no matter where they are, in about two seconds. They say that all men make mistakes, but married men find out about them sooner; how true, how true.

Once all your prep work is done, the interior design aspect of the job begins; you have to chose colors and styles. Here is where I lose it totally.

I have absolutely no sense of style or what matches what. Believe it or not, I go by the names of colors more than anything else. For example, the color I used for the bedroom, a cool and calm light blue, is called Niagara Falls.

Doesn't that have a nice ring to it? I know, it makes no sense, but I have a wife to deal with color schemes and all that. She picks by look, I pick by name, and somehow or another it just works out, how about that.

You don't normally think of painting as exciting work but have you tried painting a stairway ceiling lately? You can use a roller on an extension for the main part, but that won't work for cutting in the sides.

Here — there's just no way around it — you need a ladder. I have a fancy new one where the legs can be adjusted separately, so I set it up on the stairs. Looking at it was weird; it just doesn't seem natural for a stepladder to have two unequal length legs.

Since I've had a ladder collapse under me, I'm very careful around them now. I gingerly got on it and, yes, it held and I was able to cut in the sides and corners, but I never felt real comfortable on it. Once bitten, twice shy and all that. It's going to take me quite a while before my faith in ladders is restored.

The finale

 When you're done and showing off your handiwork, People will admire it unless they're married to you or using a microscope; as long as you get things mostly smooth, you should be OK. If you want absolute perfection — true glass-like smoothness on all visible surfaces — be prepared to pay for it with lots of time or money. There is no other way.

I truly think most of the value from a painting project comes from the cleaning and overall freshening up that goes along with it. My new rules are: No shoes on the new carpets and less stuff in the rooms, including only the bare minimum of stuff hanging on the walls. I hope that following these rules along with the normal vacuuming and dusting  will mean I won't be doing this work again any time soon.

The good news is the project got done and the one bedroom along with the hallways and stairway now look terrific. The bad news is the rest of the house now looks way overdue for the same treatment, sigh. Once my shoulder gets better I hope to get back to exercising, so I guess now is the time to buy more paint while I still have some free time. I wonder if they have a color called Serenity Now?

Novel way to read a classic novel: Charles Dickens’s 1859 A Tale of Two Cities, can be read in electronic form now. Frank Palmeri sees both good things and bad — the best of reading and the worst of reading — in this.

An e-book is an electronic version of a traditional book that can be read on a computer or on an e-book reader like a Kindle from Amazon.com or a Nook from Barnes and Noble. About two years ago, I purchased a Kindle.

I liked it, but, around the same time, I seemingly became a magnet for regular books; I started picking up cheap or free books from the library, all kinds of charity events, and even my old books from my parents' basement when they moved.

For a book lover like me, this was just terrific, so I rarely used the Kindle. Lately, though, I decided to immerse myself in the Kindle, just to see, once and for all, what the e-book experience is really like. When it comes to real books versus e-books, I think one phrase the kids like to use is appropriate: It's all good.

My Kindle is called the Kindle Touch. There is only one main button on the thing — when reading, you simply tap the screen to turn pages.

If you're thinking of giving a Kindle as a gift to a book lover, the one caveat I'd say is that the person has to be at least semi-literate with a computer to take full advantage of it.

For example, I could take a Kindle, load it up with a hundred books, and give it to my mother, who does not use computers at all. I'm sure I could get her reading on it pretty quickly, but many of its functions and features would be so unfamiliar or unavailable to a non-computer user like her as to make the experience more frustrating than fun.

The last thing you want, when you give someone a gift, is to see it used once and then tossed in a drawer.

E-reader pros

Here are the pros of an e-book reader like a Kindle:

— Anything that gets more people reading is a good thing;

— You can literally carry thousands of books around with you;

— Besides books, there are newspapers, magazines, shopping, all kinds of games, and more;

— You get access to thousands of titles, many free or dirt cheap, at the click of a button;

— Font size can be changed on the fly. This alone is one terrific reason to read on something like a Kindle;

— E-ink (electronic ink) technology is really great. Though currently limited to black and white only, the stark black text on a plain white background looks just like a page in a real book. Unlike a computer monitor or a tablet screen, e-ink is very easy on the eyes, even for long periods;

— E-ink e-book readers have really long battery life (e-ink uses no power when just displaying a page). You can go a month without recharging;

— Just tap on a word to get its definition;

— Think about how much less shelf space you'd need if all your books were e-books;

— E-books are very environmentally friendly since there's no paper required;

— You can take out e-books from the library from the comfort of your home;

— You can lend and borrow e-books from friends with e-book readers;

— A specific word or phrase can be "x-rayed" to show all places where it occurs;

— Passages can be highlighted, and you can share your highlighting and view other's highlighting;

— There is a text-to-speech mode, where the Kindle will read out loud to you. You can choose male or female voices and the rate of speech, but it's so robot-like as to be almost comical; and

  • You can share what you're reading with social media like Facebook if you want.

E-reader cons

Now here are some cons of an e-book reader:

— Even though the battery lasts a long time, you still need to carry a charger around;

— Who really needs to carry a thousand books with them?;

— The user interface is not great: The book title and chapter title should be on each page, and, to read footnotes, you have to tap on the asterisk, leave the page, then use the go-to function to get back to the page or location where you came from;

— With so much storage, you need to spend lots of time sorting books and applications into Collections, or else you wind up with yet one more cluttered mess to deal with;

— It's too easy to use the thing just to play games;

— Any mechanical device can break at any time;

— Be careful how you hold it, because an inadvertent touch can change a page or do something unwanted;

— Like any gizmo, it will become outdated;

— It's not good for technical manuals (diagrams are too small; it’s hard to bounce back and forth between text and diagrams; and it’s not easy to photocopy specific pages);

— E-ink is currently only black and white;

— E-ink is hard to read in the dark (newer models have supplemental lighting);

— Giving or lending a book requires the receiver to have an e-reader as well; and

— It’s harder for older people to use all the features without at least some computer skills.

Book advantages

Of course, there are plenty of plain old books available. The pros of regular books are:

— No battery required;

— Excellent user interface;

— Available everywhere, often free or really cheap;

— Books can be dropped without any problems;

— Easy to copy diagrams or pages from technical manuals; and

— Easy to borrow, lend, or give away.

Book drawbacks

The cons for regular books are:

— You can't change the font on the fly;

— If you lose it, it's gone;

— Highlighting a phrase makes in appear black when you make a copy;

— Some are too expensive, big, heavy, or no longer available; and

— Many don't lay flat, which can be a pain (think recipes or technical articles).

Recently I read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair on my Kindle. This is the classic workers’ rights book from 1906 that inspired the cleanup of the meat-packing industry. Reading this book on the Kindle was seamless and wonderful.

Then I wanted to borrow and read the e-book versions of New Yorker staff writer Malcolm Gladwell's latest books, Outliers and Blink, from the Guilderland Public Library. (Anything by Malcolm Gladwell, like his earlier The Tipping Point, is well worth your time, trust me).

For both of these, I was put on a waiting list — just like with popular real books, popular e-books are often all "out" at the same time. When they finally became available, reading them was fine. Getting to read two great books for free simply by using my Kindle, without ever having to visit the library, was great. Can't beat that with a baseball bat.

Since using a Kindle means you can take advantage of the library without ever visiting it, I'll include here a little song I wrote that was inspired by trying to make a left turn onto Western Avenue when leaving the Guilderland library.

If you've ever tried to do this, especially during rush hour, you'll get the drift I'm sure. You can sing this to your favorite blues riff or play along on harmonica:

Left Turn at the Library Blues

The Guilderland Library
is a place I like to be for programs, books, magazines,
seminars, movies, and DVDs.

All's just fine 
'til it's time to leave
'cause then you have to wear
your heart on your sleeve.

CHORUS

Look out left, look out right. Don't jump out
before the time is right!

Look out left, look out right.
Maybe someday
we'll get a traffic light.

A traffic light
would make it right;
hope no one gets killed
before they see the light.

Repeat Chorus

The community gathers
at the library
so coming and going
shouldn't be so scary.

Repeat Chorus

Go west, young man,
is what they say
but at the Guilderland library,
better hope it's clear and OK!

Repeat Chorus

E-book readers like the Kindle certainly have many advantages, and I'm glad I'm finally making full use of mine. Still, there's nothing like the tactile feel of devouring a good old-fashioned page-turner by someone like Tom Clancy or Mary Higgins Clark that you got at a used book sale for a quarter. Truly, it's all good. 

Picture this: You're crossing the street downtown in a big city like New York or Chicago. As you approach the curb, you glance down and see, amid the cigarette butts and beer-bottle caps, a single, spindly weed growing in a tiny crack between the hard, weather-beaten curb and the grimy, sticky asphalt.

The crack is maybe a millimeter wide, yet this weed has the audacity and tenacity to boldly poke itself up into the blustering, windy city, only one misplaced footstep or bad parking attempt away from destruction. Even putrid runoff from dogs relieving themselves at the nearby hydrant and toxic car and bus exhaust fumes can't keep this weed down.

This sucker is more than just a weed; it's a survivor, an underdog, and that's why you have to like it.

Now I live in suburbia, where the landscape consists of widely spaced houses separated by lawns that would love nothing more than to be like the manicured fairways of the world's greatest golf courses. The fact that many are not is only because of the immense expenditure of time (endless mowing, weeding, feeding, and watering) and money (mowers, fertilizers, pesticides, automated sprinklers) that it costs to have such a lawn.

I don't really care that much about landscaping, and I'm not very good at it, but I'm so trained that carpet-like grass and bountiful shrubs are the things to have that often I'll be walking along somewhere and have to stop myself from bending down to pick up a stray stick or pull out a choking vine. Living in landscape-obsessed suburbia does that to you.

That's why you have to love that single, solitary, growing-in-a-tiny-crack weed. It doesn't care about pristine suburbia or lush golf courses. It just is.

When there's a sport I don't know much about, I'll always find out which is the worst team and root for them. It's fun to root for the underdog.

No one wants to lose, so you know the underdogs are going to try hard, plus they may not even be that bad; sometimes, the ball just doesn't bounce your way. There is even camaraderie in rooting for a bad team.

The fans in New Orleans spent many years sitting next to each other in the Superdome with paper bags over their heads. You may not know the person sitting next to you, but, when you're both wearing paper bags with eye, nose, and mouth cutouts, there's a bond there for sure.

It's fun to root for an underdog. With no expectations, there's no place to go but up. Yes, it may take a long time to get there — look at the Red Sox — but, when you do, it's phenomenal. I just hope my favorite team, the Minnesota Vikings, can win before I get too old and senile to actually enjoy it. Come on, guys, I'm not getting any younger here.

Let's get back to the dichotomy of that pesky weed. On the one hand, it's a true underdog, living in such a volatile environment, so you have to love it; yet, on the other hand, it's a weed, something random and not at all attractive or wanted, so (especially if you live in suburbia like me) you have to hate it.

This is rather painful, when you think about it, and I have thought about it quite a bit. It's a classic example of cognitive dissonance — a psychological conflict resulting from incompatible beliefs held simultaneously.

Is it any wonder I don't have a good time at parties? I'm sitting there feigning interest in small talk while mentally contemplating how weeds can thrive in cracks in city sidewalks. Yes, I really do this. Ah, the conundrum of the thinking man.

I've purchased plenty of supposedly squirrel-proof birdfeeders over the years. All of these have some special feature or design that theoretically should prevent squirrels from getting to the birdseed.

Too bad nobody contacted the squirrels first, because, for every one of these I've put up, the squirrels have had zero problems getting seed from it. They do it so cleverly it's hard not to root for them as well.

Talk about underdogs — these fancy feeders are designed specifically to thwart pests, and the pests just find a way to gorge themselves anyway. The crafty squirrels are truly amazing at it; I've seen them eat heartily while hanging upside down, using their little fingers to paw at the seed, while the chipmunks scoop up the spills. If these little *)%!@s didn't make holes all over the lawn and scare the beautiful birds away, you'd have to admire them.

There's one other thing that reminds me of hearty weeds and persistent pests — things you love and hate at the same time — and that's mob movies and TV shows. As an Italian-American, I am saddened that this genre reinforces the stereotype of Italians as mobsters.

There are some people I'm sure who don't know how warm, loving, funny, and family-oriented Italian people are. When they see these productions, they are sure to get the wrong idea about Italian people.

Yet I can't deny that these movies and TV shows make for compelling entertainment; there's not one bad scene in any of the Godfather movies, and many say The Sopranos is the best TV show of all time.

Instead of pulling that weed from the crack in the curb, I admire it; instead of scaring off the squirrel at the bird feeder, I'm amazed by it; instead of scorning the despicable characters mob shows celebrate, I'm endlessly fascinated by them.

It's this conflicting set of emotions that make many aspects of life so wonderful and frustrating at the same time. Oh well, guess it's time to go down to Robinson's Hardware and try to find a better squirrel-proof birdfeeder.

I'd like to use this column to give back in a way by providing some tips on how to write. Though my college degree is not in journalism, I've had much success with the written word:

— I won a New York Press Association award for humor writing;

— I've been published in many different publications including major magazines;

— I've edited several different club newsletters; and

— Around town, I'm often told how well-liked my Enterprise columns are.

I'm hoping that qualifies me enough to offer some tips. Writing, whether for fun, profit, school, or work, can be great fun. It's a wonderful creative outlet, too — you get to build something without getting your hands dirty (unless your quill pen leaks).

If you've never tried it or have and are looking to get better, here are 10 tips that might help:

— 1. Read, read, and read some more. All my life, I've been an avid reader. Reading anything and everything exposes you to so many different styles and words, you can't help but absorb some of it.

I've read interviews with many different authors, and they always say they read everything they can get their hands on in their chosen genre because it helps make them better writers. In your reading, be sure to include The New York Times, because it is considered the paper of record, as well as the award-winning Altamont Enterprise, especially the editorial page, because of the quality of the writing.

Reading for fun and pleasure and learning to write at the same time — it doesn't get any better than that.

— 2. Learn the rules so you can break them. All good writers break the rules now and then for many different reasons, but, before you can do that, you have to know what the rules are — grammar, spelling, parts of speech, and the basic tenets of journalism.

Pay attention in English class or get a good grammar book if you're an adult. (Strunk and White's The Elements of Style is a timeless classic for a reason.) Once you learn the rules, you can then tweak them to your advantage, which will really make your writing stand out.

— 3. Write about what you know. When I was a kid, I wanted to write but didn't think I had anything to write about. How wrong I was. We all know something.

For example, you can write about: what it feels like to get a sloppy wet kiss from a dog, going to the dentist, or locking yourself out of your car.

Quick example: For a writing class, my lovely wife wrote about buying a new purse. In this short piece, you got to know her whole outlook on life, how she was taught the value of a dollar, her value system, and more. Even if you'd never met her, from reading this amazing piece, you'd have a great idea of what a hard-working and thoughtful person she is — and all this from writing about something as simple as buying a new purse.

That's the power of good writing. The point is, there are endless things that you know about that would make for fascinating reading — all you have to do is let them come out.

— 4. Know your audience. Writing a love letter is different than writing a term paper. You have to know who your audience is and write accordingly.

When you tailor your writing like this, you're setting yourself up for success because you know the expectations and can plan and execute properly. Think about who you're writing for and you're on your way to getting great results.

— 5. Grab them in the first couple of paragraphs. As a writer, you are competing for your reader's time, which is precious to her. She has a zillion other things she can be doing. Why should she forgo any one of them to sit and read your writing?

It's up to you to make sure that, once she starts reading your work, she'll want to finish and not put on the TV or update her Facebook status. So do your best to reel her in at the beginning — it's the only chance you have.

Once you "hook" her, you can then make your point or tell your story in your own unique style. Then put the icing on the cake by wrapping up with a strong conclusion and you'll have created something you can be proud of and your reader will be glad she read. Good deal.

— 6. Keep it simple, direct, and flowing. There are writers like George Will who make a habit of slipping in long and fancy words as often as they can. He can get away with it because that's his thing, but, in general, you want to keep it simple.

Now, that doesn't mean you can't have fun with words now and then. In one of my columns, I decided to use the word "factotum" because I really like it and you hardly ever see it.

Just don't overdo it. Keep it simple, moving along, and flowing — almost like you're having a conversation — and you'll be on the right track. Reading your work, no matter the topic, should be an enjoyable experience. Don't make your reader work any harder than is necessary.

— 7. Respect your reader. If you expect someone to give you their time by reading your work, it's only fair that you treat them with the utmost respect. What does this mean? This means making sure your facts are dead-on, you're not BSing them, and that you're trying your best to make your point in as interesting and enjoyable a way as you can.

No one is expecting you to be Ernest Hemingway right off the bat, but they are expecting you to try hard. So respect your reader by trying your hardest to do your best work each time. Don't do it because it's necessary — do it because it's right.

— 8. Find your voice. You can rip a random page out of a book by Kurt Vonnegut, Edgar Allan Poe, Franz Kafka, Henry David Thoreau, and many other great writers and show it to voracious readers like me and we will be able to tell you in an instant who wrote it, because writers like these have a distinctive "voice" that is hard to miss.

It takes lots and lots of work to come up with your own voice, but, once you do, all your writing will be better. The only way to develop a voice is to write, write, and write some more. Practice works for musicians and athletes; why shouldn't it work for writers as well? Once you find your voice, you'll be well on your way to making a real contribution to society with your writing if you choose to.

— 9. Focus on a specific type of writing. The world of writing is as wide as the sky is blue. There are so many areas to focus on, you're sure to find one that you like. Focusing on a specific type of writing will give you the best chance of getting really good in that area.

I like reading and writing non-fiction personal essays in the Andy Rooney style. Others like thrillers, romance, poetry, or keeping up with a blog (a personal journal on the Internet) on any number of topics. The choice of what to write about is truly limited only by your imagination. How great is that?

— 10. Good writing is hard work. Like a simple weeknight dinner, you can slap a piece together pretty quickly if you want to, but good writing, like preparing fine cuisine, takes skill and effort.

I'm funny in this way — it can take me quite a while to get an idea, but, once I get the first sentence, I get the next thousand words pretty easily. Then, again like cooking, you need to allow the piece to "bake." This means you have to allow time to come back and edit it.

Unless you're covering a ball game or something else with a hard deadline, always give yourself time to let the creative juices stew, consciously and, believe it or not, sub-consciously. Editing (and having a good editor) is what can really make your piece great.

Famed sports writer Red Smith wrote: "Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed." Yes, yes, yes. All good writing must come from the heart.

Bonus Tip — writer’s block. Sometimes you hear about "writer's block," where you just get totally stuck. When this happens, you need to get your brain circuits rewired.

Try walking, traveling, sleeping on the other side of the bed, driving to work a different way, or doing a puzzle. Even taking a shower can help (some of the world's greatest discoveries have come in the shower). Just do whatever it takes — or do nothing at all (there's that sub-conscious mind working again) — until you snap out of it.

If you're currently writing, I hope these tips will help you in some way. If you're not writing, perhaps you'll be inspired to give it a try. It's really quite a fascinating hobby or vocation. Just look and listen — material is everywhere.

So don't be afraid to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard; you might be surprised at what comes out. It can be addicting, though — don't say I didn't warn you!

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