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Writing For Your Life Today

What is Cumulative Advantage?

Since Merton’s original paper debuted more than 50 years ago, the Matthew Effect is also more commonly referred to as Cumulative Advantage. 

The most accepted description of this idea is that the advantage of one individual or group over another grows over time, which means that the inequality of this advantage grows, too.

Cumulative Advantage magnifies small differences over time and makes it difficult for somebody who is behind to catch up.

  • Research shows that those who start with an initial advantage attain better career positions, wealth, social status, educational opportunities, and even health.
  • The Matthew Effect has been connected to those receiving Oscar nominations.
  • A research study of 20,000 athletes across four sports leagues concluded that those who had the initial advantage of early coaching as children had longer and more profitable professional careers. 

From “Cumulative Advantage: How to Build Momentum for Your Ideas, Business, and Life Against All Odds” by Mark W. Schaefer

Creative Writing as a Spiritual Practice

              

by Debbie Bronkema

I say these words, and whatever room I’m in, I see a light go on in somebody’s eyes.  There are stories in us that are too hard to tell straight on.  There are ways we are desiring to grow that need words put to them, to feed our souls and connect us with the power of God.

Whether we are writing fiction, or telling our own stories through memoir, or putting poems to the page – we can feed our spirits by connecting with writing as a spiritual practice.  We can learn to be intentional, and attentive, to listen, and to experience gratitude. 

In the past ten years, as I’ve explored these places of intersection, I have witnessed the power of words to connect us with the Presence of God in our lives.  I have seen stories transform people’s relationships with each other and with God.

How does it work?  Here’s an easy place to get started.  Do you remember the haiku format –the three line 5-7-5 syllable pattern for poetry?  Slow down for a moment today, and notice something you want to remember, or something you are grateful for.  Then use this format to describe it.  You’ll notice you need to be extremely intentional with each word to make it convey what you really want it to say.

Want to know more?  Visit my website, www.debbiebronkema.com  or email me at djkbronkema@gmail.com to learn about upcoming retreats and workshops,  or to connect with me through being part of an online writing or creativity group.

Humble Beginnings

Our exploration of the inner workings of Cumulative Advantage starts in 1968 with a Columbia University professor named Meyer Robert Schkolnick 

Meyer was born into a poor family of Russian Jews who had immigrated to the slums of South Philadelphia in 1904. “We were living the lives of those who would come to be known as the deserving poor,” he later wrote, “fueled with the unquestioned premise that things would somehow get better, surely so for the children.”

The immigrant family had trouble making ends meet in their new homeland, and a bad situation turned into catastrophe when his father’s uninsured dairy shop burned to the ground. Meyer had to go to work as an hourly laborer at an early age to help his struggling family. 

But despite his off-and-on schooling, Meyer became a serious scholar. By the age of five, he was walking by himself to the nearby Carnegie Public Library, immersing himself in books on science, history, and especially biographies. He was such a frequent visitor that the librarians adopted him as family.

As an adult, he later remembered that through this library, the “seemingly deprived South Philadelphia slum was providing a youngster with every sort of capital – social capital, cultural capital, human capital….everything except financial capital. 

From “Cumulative Advantage: How to Build Momentum for Your Ideas, Business, and Life Against All Odds” by Mark W. Schaefer

Memoir’s Small Frame

Memoir revolves in an orbit of its own choosing, and therefore its pieces are often unified by a theme or period of time. The material is always the author’s life, and the narrator, (the speaker, or “I” voice), is always the author. Unlike autobiography, which attempts as complete an account of one’s life as possible, starting from the beginning, memoir begins where it wishes and concludes when its story is told. Memoir is more elastic, unpredictable, and crafted than autobiography. Because memoir does not strive for a complete accounting of one’s life, it depends on other elements, typically themes, to give it form.

What are some of the grand themes of your life (abandonment, coming out, fear, courage, letting go)? What are the questions that you ponder when you wake up at night (or that recur in your journal) that you wish you could ask others about at potlucks or over tea? Make a list. The grand themes of your life become the grand themes of your memoir.

from “Writing the Sacred Journey: The Art and Practice of Spiritual Memoir” by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew, Skinner House 

Understand the Difference between Personal and Public Writing

         

I’ve lost track of all the manuscripts that have come to my editorial desk from people who survived tragedy, who processed the experience through writing, and who then came to feel strongly that their written accounts would help others dealing with a similar tragedy. We editors dread the arrival of such manuscripts because we know that (1) 98 percent of these are not publishable and (2) regardless of their quality, they needed to be written. That is, people often need to process their lives by writing about their experiences, but needing to write is not the same as writing something that should be published.

That sounds cold, but honesty will take people further than polite denial will, and my desire is for people to move forward whatever their situation. So, for anyone out there who wants to understand the difference between personal and public writing, here’s what I’ve tried to communicate through more than a few carefully written rejection letters. 

  • Personal writing is for the person doing the writing.
  • Personal writing is too specific to one situation to translate well to anyone else’s situation. 
  • Personal writing helps those close to the event make some sense of it.
  • Personal writing has a specific purpose and needs no other justification.
  • Personal writing is usually emotional, passionate, and tunnel-visioned.
  • Public writing requires time to gestate and develop from the initial writing that generated it.
  • Public writing is shaped for the readers, not for the person writing it.
  • Public writing takes the concrete details of a single, personal experience to generate a discussion of the more universal experience readers will relate to. 

from “The Art of Spiritual Writing” by Vinita Hampton Wright, Loyola Press

Both environments are dense, liquid networks

A metropolis shares one key characteristic with the Web: both environments are dense, liquid networks where information easily flows along multiple unpredictable paths. Those interconnections nurture great ideas, because most great ideas come into the world half-baked, more hunch than revelation. Genuine insights are hard to come by; it’s challenging to imagine a terrorist plot to fly passenger planes into buildings, or to invent a programmable computer. And so, most great ideas first take shape in a partial, incomplete form. They have the seeds of something profound, but they lack a key element that can turn the hunch into something truly powerful. And more often than not, that missing element is somewhere else, living as another hunch in another person’s head. Liquid networks create an environment where those partial ideas can connect; they provide a kind of dating service for promising hunches. They make it easier to disseminate good ideas, of course, but they also do something more sublime: they help complete ideas. 

From “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation” by Steven Johnson

The Dramatic Opening

If you’ve got a dramatic story to tell, don’t shy away from it.

The French had collapsed. The Dutch had been overwhelmed. The Belgians had surrendered. The British army, trapped, fought free and fell back toward the Channel ports, converging on a fishing town whose name was then spelled Dunkerque.

Behind them lay the sea.

William Manchester, The Last Lion: Visions of Glory

The first short, rapid sentences pound away at us like Germans artillery that will not stop. Manchester then gives us a brief respite, breaking up the terseness with a long sentence before finishing us off with an ominous five-word image. “Behind them lay the sea.” He uses no emotionally charged words like disheartened, dazed, or desperate. He doesn’t have to. We feel it already. 

Next we feel the heat.

It was a pleasure to burn.

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

The sinister, almost sadistic, quality of this dystopia glows through this deceptively simple sentence. In grim irony, the firemen of the society Bradbury has created don’t put out fires. They start fires. And they love to burn books.


from “Write Better: A Lifelong Editor on Craft, Art, and Spirituality” by Andrew T. Le Peau, Intervarsity Press

How a Publisher Thinks / Vinita Wright – Part 1

… a series of excerpts from Vinita’s Writing for Your Life webinar presentation

 

Who is looking for this book, and why?

  • If you cannot answer this question specifically, the marketing department won’t know how to strategize.
  • You must have a specific audience in mind: young mothers trying to keep their prayer life vital, people who study the Bible in small groups, families trying to practice their faith at home, people at midlife who want to become faith mentors, etc.

 

What need is uppermost in the reader’s mind?

  • The person who picks up this book does so for a specific reason. “I want to know how to keep my faith strong while I’m so busy with small children at home.” “I need to enhance my skills in leading small groups through Bible study.” “How can our family pray together, do social-justice work together?” “I want to encourage younger people in their Christian life, but how exactly can I do that?”

 

Does the reader expect answers, inspiration, or instruction?

  • If she expects answers, then the chapters and material must be organized around providing clear answers and supporting information.
  • If he expects inspiration, then the writing must be personable, warm, and provide stories and various other means of inspiration.
  • If she expects direction, then the book needs to be structured and written as a how-to presentation.

The Principle of Cumulative Advantage

The Principle of Cumulative Advantage states that once a person gains a small advantage over others in their field, that advantage will compound over time into increasingly larger advantages.

But not always.

This book explores the fuel for that turbine of success. What is that difference that gives an idea, a person, or a business unstoppable momentum?

Even if you don’t see any apparent initial advantage in your own life, I’m convinced you can build life-changing momentum by understanding how others turn small ideas into big successes. 

At its essence, marketing today is about answering one single question, “How can we be heard?” How can we rise above the din of infinite options to create sustainable meaning with an audience or group of customers?

I’m convinced that following the old rules of digital engagement is not enough….not nearly enough. A content strategy isn’t enough. Social media isn’t enough. SEO isn’t enough. Being great at what you do probably isn’t enough. 

From “Cumulative Advantage: How to Build Momentum for Your Ideas, Business, and Life Against All Odds” by Mark W. Schaefer

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