More questions. More help. Introducing Mastering Table Topics Second Edition.

Why community service is now more important than ever

Saddleback Little League Opening Day, 2009I can always tell when it’s time for youth baseball and softball season to start. The weather gets warmer. We get more hours of sunlight. And I get more people reading my Little League opening day speech. But would I still be involved in a position like a Little League president today, especially with all the disincentives of getting involved in the community?

The changing political environment makes community service more important than ever. Here’s why, and why you should step up and volunteer.

Read more »

Wars of attrition

Trench warfare in World War I from Wikimedia CommonsDifficult challenges turn into wars of attrition. When we realize that victory won’t be quick and easy, we entrench ourselves and brace for a long struggle.

This applies to our current political situation, and it also applies to personal challenges. Health issues, financial crises, family conflicts, office politics, addiction battles — they all become tests of endurance against seemingly intractable foes.

Even striving towards goals can turn into wars of attrition. We work to lose weight, but we hit a plateau and give into temptation. We write a book, and we must wait to hear back from prospective agents and publishers.

How do we deal with a problem when there is no solution in sight? How do we keep fighting in a war with no end?

Read more »

Why you need bad writing to get to good writing

WGA pamphlet from the mid-1990sI was cleaning out some old files when I came across drafts of screenplays I wrote in the 1990s. They were awful. Eye-achingly awful. So awful that I shredded them and put them in the recycling bin.

But when I wrote those scripts, I thought they were so wonderful that I registered one of them with the Writers Guild of America and sent it to an agent. He rejected it. I could see why. That script was so bad that DC couldn’t have turned it into a superhero movie.

Did I waste my time and effort writing those screenplays? No. They were just another example of why you need bad writing to get to good writing. Here’s why.

Read more »

Slaying the dragon

By Paolo Uccello - The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain,

Spoilers ahead.

Fiction involves some sort of conflict. Usually, the source of the conflict is visible: another person, the environment, or some other physical threat. Even conflicts within ourselves are made visible through our actions.

What if the source can’t be seen? What if it is something powerful and overwhelming, but abstract? What if the adversary is something like greed, racism, political repression, social stratification, or ignorance? How do you slay the dragon, especially when it can’t be seen?

Here are some tips on creating and slaying the dragon in our stories.

Read more »

How to tell the truth

Motto at Northwest Missouri State UniversityLying is easy. We’ve been lying since childhood when we were first caught doing something we know we shouldn’t do. In time, we got so good at it that we believe the lies we tell ourselves.

Telling the truth is hard. It requires that you make yourself vulnerable, own up to your flaws and mistakes, and face the consequences of your actions. Even harder is to convince others that we are telling the truth. People are so used to lies that they distrust true sincerity. How do we tell the truth?

Read more »