What’s Your City’s Icebreaker Question?

Each city has one. The get to know you question that EVERYONE seems to ask. Be it baby shower or a business networking event, you’re bound to hear it from someone.

In DC, be prepared to answer “What do you do?”

Some people find this a materialistic and status probing question. I did too at first. There’s something a little intimidating that automatically rouses your defenses when you feel like you’re being judged. But after years of living in the city, I found myself asking this question not because I was curious of someone’s occupation, but rather their activities.

Washingtonians are renowned for their go-go-go (when they’re not in traffic) mentality. I think this question is more a reflection on the active nature of the culture, rather than a direct inquiry about someone’s professional life. Often, I would receive a reply of hobbies that would segue and blossom into a conversation about common interests.

“What do you do?”

“You know, recently I’ve been really into Salsa dancing. I’ve been going on Monday nights to the Clarendon Grille and met some really great people!”

“Really? I love salsa dancing. I’ve been to the Salsa Room, but never the Clarendon Grille. What time do lessons start?”

When I moved to Richmond last November, one of the first things I noticed was the complete lack of  “What do you do?” In fact, if I asked it, people seemed insulted, and it took me a while to navigate the icebreaking etiquette of this smaller southern town.

In Richmond, you’ll be asked “Are you from here?”

Richmonders are all about a sense of history and roots. Growing up 20 minutes north of the city, I remember not being considered “from here” because my parents moved here when I was 10 months old. Most of my classmates had generations anchoring them to this region, while I wasn’t even born here.

I think another reason it’s a popular question is that so many people (like me) grow up here, move away, and then move back. If you grew up in the area, there’s an immediate sense of camaraderie and more detailed questions that follow (i.e. “What high school did you go to?”)

If you grew up outside of Richmond, the standard follow-up seems to be “So, what brought you to Richmond?” I ask this often because I’m amused at why people settle in such a seemingly obscure place.

So, what’s the icebreaking question in your town? Have you noticed a trend in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, San Francisco, Boston, or another metropolis? What about across the pond? Do Europeans have an opening question? Eager minds want to know and would be thrilled if you left a comment below. 🙂

50 Ideas to Immediately Combat Writers Block

Help image

Writer’s block – the dreaded enemy of all authors. This post features ideas on how you can scale it, get over it, and be on your merry way in a flash.

1. Read blogs about your subject.

2. Cover your computer screen and go stream of consciousness.

3. Get some fresh air and go for a walk/run.

4. Visit a museum.

5. Browse photos at istockphoto.com.

6. Interview people regarding your topic.

7. Visit an online forum and see what others are saying.

8. Change your scenery. Move your writing to a coffee shop or park.

9. Look around your house and make associations with inanimate objects.

10. Organize your workspace. A clear desk means a clear mind.

11. Draw instead using storyboards.

12. Ask a question to your network on LinkedIn or Facebook.

13. Take a bubble bath.

14. Go to a busy place and people watch.

15. Meet with other writers using meetup.com

16. Mind map your subject.

17. Browse Youtube for videos regarding your subject.

18. Go to the library and check out books.

19. Use the visual thesaurus to get ideas for new words.

20. Talk to a kid.

21. Stare out a window.

22. Record yourself talking – then transcribe your thoughts.

23. Go to itunes or napster. Type your subject into the search box & listen to those songs.

24. Paint or draw a picture of your subject.

25. Cook a meal that your character or target market would enjoy.

26. Take a nap.

27. Outline the big picture.

28. Write about your goals for this project.

29. Meditate.

30. Work backwards. Write the ending first.

31. Read inspiring quotes.

32. Listen to “Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield.

32. Dance.

33. Look at a lava lamp.

34. Write a list of nouns synonymous with your subject.

35. Write a list of adjectives that describe your subject.

36. Write a list of verbs that your subject would do.

37. Lie down in a patch of grass & watch the clouds go by.

38. Call a friend or family member and get their opinion.

39. Braindump all of your “to dos” onto a piece of paper to clear your mind.

40. Eat a stalk of celery.

41. Paint your toenails a pretty pink. Not your thing? Try using a powertool to make something.

42. Sing at the top of your lungs.

43. Close your eyes and take 10 deep breaths.

44. Stretch.

45. Balance your chakras.

46. Visit freerice.com & expand your vocabulary

47. Change your font or writing instrument.

48. Work on a different project.

49. Change the lighting in your room.

50. Add your idea in the comment section below, bookmark this page & reference it again the next time you have writers block.

Related Links

Top 10 Tips for Overcoming Writer’s Block – by Ginny Wiehardt

Overcoming Writer’s Block: 5 Writing Exercises – by Genevieve Thiers

Generating Story Ideas and Overcoming Writer’s Block – by Mignon Fogarty

Brainstorming vs. Editing

So I have the green light to continue with the blogging (you may notice the lovely disclaimer under my picture, just to be on the safe side). Horray! Let the blogging continue.

Here’s a thought…

How should you respond to someone who says “OMG – We could (insert crazy idea here).”

a) “That would never work.”

b) “Maybe, but we’d have to do a lot of things to make it work.”

c) “What a great idea! We could also (insert a different crazy idea here).”

The correct answer is c.

There are two parts to creation – brainstorming and editing. You brainstorm first and edit later.

In brainstorming mode, rules do not apply. You have an unlimited budget, no legal problems, and zero logistical hurdles. The goal is to purge the crazy and wacky ideas from your brain and get them down on paper. The sky’s the limit – dream big!

Then….much later…..

You edit. You look at your crazy ideas and say “This is a great idea, how can we make it work in the real world?” You’d be surprised how achievable many of those crazy ideas actually are. Don’t kill them – incubate them!

What Happens to Creative Accountants?

gapp-jail.jpgThey go to jail – or at least that’s what Dr. O told me upon my third attempt at Managerial Accounting. Here’s how the conversation went:

Dr. O: This is the way you apply this to the balance sheet (scribbling on board)

Andrea: (hand raised, while others in class roll their eyes) Dr. O?

Dr. O: Yes, Andrea? (slight sigh of annoyance)

Andrea: If you swapped step 3 and 5 and deleted step 8 you would get the same answer in half the work. Why do you have to do all the extra steps?

Dr. O: Andrea – creative accountants go to jail. Just do it the way it’s written.

Andrea: (grumbling under her breath) I hate accounting.

While Dr. O had a very valid point (weeks later revealed the Enron and Arthur Andersen debacle), I disagree.

I think the world is in need of creative accountants. Not ones who will manipulate the rules like I tried to do, but accountants who can see the big picture, understand the tax implications and honestly, legally and ethically find ways to save me money on my tax liabilities. No one wants a bean counter – I can buy software for that. What I need is an accounting consultant (hard to find, by the way).

I didn’t come up with this idea on my own. I’m currently reading Dan Pink’s book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future (excellent read – you should check it out). Next on my list is Richard Florida’s Rise of the Creative Class.

Basically, Pink states how we are leaving the Information Age and entering the Conceptual Age where the ability to create, see the big picture, make connections, etc. will be necessary for survival because bean counting type jobs will be either replaced by a computer or shipped overseas for a 16th of the cost of doing it domestically.

So, in this new Conceptual Age what happens to creative accountants? They get hired.

Cranking Out Quick Copy

pictures-for-blog.jpgI’m lucky. I’ve been inundated with projects over the past week (which explains the slump in my posting schedule).

But yesterday I found myself taking way more time than usual to get my ideas out of my head and into the computer. I was stressing, feeling the pressure of an impending deadline compounded with the need to be absolutely brilliant. At the end of the day, I felt drained – knowing that I wasn’t nearly as productive as I needed to be and seeing deadlines piling up for the next day.

Today I awoke determined to make it a better day. I remembered a post I wrote a few months ago about covering your computer screen when you feel writer’s block. I debated in my mind as to whether or not I actually had the time to brainstorm ideas today. With the deadlines piling up – I was still feeling the time crunch.

So I made the decision to take 5 minutes to color a black piece of paper with the words “Just Think” in big letters. Then I scattered inspiring phrases around the page:

  • You’re an excellent communicator!
  • Just type it.
  • There are no bad ideas.
  • Edit later.
  • Just get it down.
  • You’re brilliant!
  • Don’t overthink.
  • It’s already there.
  • You can do it!
  • Listen to your muse.
  • Write like you talk.

The result? I’m caught up. After allowing about 10 minutes of pure brainstorming, a phrase jumped out that inspired me.

I’m not sure why I stopped this practice in the first place, but I’ve learned my lesson – brainstorming time is essential to cranking out quick, quality copy.