Category Archives: writing

The magic words

Today I’m going to talk about magic words.

“Hang on a minute,” I hear you cry. “Ein minuten, bitte! You just said not even a month ago that there are no magic bullets, and now you’re saying there are magic words?! What gives?”

Here’s what gives. There may not be any actual magic words…but words themselves are magic.

Have you ever been talking with a friend and, without meaning to, said something that so perfectly encapsulated your thoughts that the conversation just paused for a moment to let it sink in? Have you ever looked back a few pages (or a few years) in your journal and found a phrase that was so beautiful that it inspired a whole new journal entry all on its own? Have you ever read a book that seemed like it was written specifically for you, or even to you like a novel-length letter? Have you ever heard or told the perfect joke for the moment you’re in? Have you ever heard exactly what you needed to hear from another person, in exactly the moment you needed to hear it?

That’s part of what I mean by words being magic. Words can transform an ordinary moment into an extraordinary one. The difference between a good story and an amazing one can be the words used to tell it. Mark Twain, likely the preeminent wordsmith in US history, once said “the difference between the right word and the almost-right word is like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” That quote summarizes one of the major duties and highest joys of my work as an editor: helping people find their right(est) words.

But words have magic in other ways, too.

When you read the title of this post, I’m guessing a few words popped immediately into your head. Maybe words like “please” and “thank you” (we all learned those magic words in kindergarten, right?), but also words like “Alacazam!” “Hocus pocus!” “Wingardium Leviosa!” or “Klaatu barada nikto!” And of course, the magic word most commonly called the magic word: “Abracadabra!”

Now follow me here. When editing an article for writer Roman Korver recently, I ran across this fact: the ancient Aramaic phrase evra kedavra translates to “with my language, I create.” J.K. Rowling has confirmed that the killing curse avada kedavra is also Aramaic, meaning “let the thing be destroyed.” It is in fact avada kedavra that is the true root word of Abracadabra, the “magic word,” though the original use of that Aramaic phrase was in destroying disease, not people.

Evra kedavra: with my words, I create. Avada kedavra: with my words, I destroy. Abracadabra: the “magic word.”

Words have power.

With our words, we create and destroy our realities.

Think about it.

When was the last time you made a mistake and reflexively said “idiot!” to yourself?

When was the last time you looked at your bank account and said “I’m never going to have enough money?”

When was the last time you looked at your business, your relationship, your side hustle, your life, and said “I’m not good enough?”

When you say those things, what do you see in your life? And when you make a conscious effort to change those negative and self-critical words to more positive and accepting ones, what changes in your life do you see?

Evra kedavra. Avada kedavra. Abracadabra.

The most powerful life coaches and gurus I know have this idea on lockdown. They police their own words and the words of their clients, sometimes pretty harshly, in an effort to create better lives through better words. Some of these people are very woo-woo, some are very pragmatic, but they all know this power of words. And you know who else knows it?

Happy people.

There are studies showing this is true (Learned Optimism, by Martin Seligman, talks about several of them), but just in my own experience, I know that when things are going well, I am happiest when I say things like “I’m really proud of myself for getting here” and “This is the way my life naturally works” rather than “This can’t last” and “Damn, I hope I don’t screw this up like I did last time.”

Similarly, when things aren’t going well, I find it easier to persevere and remain positive when saying things like “I’ve got this, I don’t know how yet but I’ll figure it out” and “I got through the last struggle okay, I’ll make it through this one too” instead of “I don’t think I can do this anymore” and “I can’t believe I fucked things up again.”

And the more I use the first kinds of words instead of the second ones, the more I choose evra kedavra over avada kedavra, the more easily I get through the tough times and enjoy the good ones. The happier I make my words, the happier I get to be.

I’m not talking about being a Pollyanna or closing my eyes to reality. When times are tight or I make a mistake, I know I have to step up and take responsibility for myself. But as I do so, I have the ability to use magic words to create my reality, and I get to do it in real time, every moment.

And so do you.

Evra kedavra and avada kedavra are a true dichotomy. They’re Harry and Voldemort, Gandalf and Sauron, good music and Justin Bieber. In the end, neither can live while the other survives.

The choices are yours, and yours alone.

What will your magic words be?

Exercises in self-love: the professional bio

I’ve written a few guest posts for a few other blogs recently. And for each, I’ve been asked to provide a bio, so the readers of these blogs will know who I am and why I’m awesome. And while like most people, my favorite topic of conversation is myself (ha, ha), I realized that writing about myself is not easy.

It’s not because I haven’t done anything. I know I have. And it’s not because I can’t think of fun ways to write about the things I’ve done. I know I can. It’s something different. Actually two somethings.

First, I feel like a rookie. A noob. A tenderfoot. I feel like trying to write about the things I’ve done so far in a bio is like a recent graduate padding his resume for a job interview. I know I’ve done some cool things, but a lot of those cool things have happened in the last three months, or at most the last couple of years. Talking about them out of context and timeframe seems almost disingenuous.

And second, the way I want to talk about who I am and what I do is still taking form. I know that I want to describe myself from the perspective of the mission I’m on and the impact I want to make and the WHY of what I’m doing, but I haven’t figured out the perfect words for those descriptions yet. All I know is I want to say more than just “I’m an editor and a speaker coach” or even “I’m a word coach and a professional giver of feedback,” which is the next step up I’m playing around with at the moment.

So when I had to sit down tonight and produce another bio for a podcast interview I have tomorrow morning (and can I please take a second and FREAK THE HELL OUT that someone who does a PODCAST wants to INTERVIEW ME?!?!?!?!), I really had a hard time getting started. I knew I had the bios I’d written for guest posts to inform me, and that I wanted to use some of their language, but I didn’t want to just copy and paste–not entirely.

I’d like to say I thought of some inspiring things that made me a lot more comfortable writing about myself, that made me feel less like a noob and more okay with imperfect wording. Unfortunately, I can’t say that, because the things that came to me in that vein didn’t explicitly surface in my memory until well after I’d finished agonizing through this version of the bio. But here they are anyway:

First, something Mike Hrostoski talks about: don’t be humble. Own your shit. Whatever things you’ve done, be fucking proud of them, because it’s your power and your awesomeness that’s enabled you to do those things.

Second, something several speakers at World Domination Summit talked about: take imperfect action. A decent plan executed today will beat a fantastic plan executed next week nine times out of eight. Don’t worry about it being perfect, just do it.

And third, which applies to both being new and being imperfect, writing a bio is just one more way of saying “I absolutely fucking love myself.” It’s simply the form of that statement that goes “let me tell you about who I am and what I do, because I absolutely fucking love myself and I can’t wait to share with you why I feel that way.”

So for those of you that ever need to sit and write a professional bio for yourself, take a few deep breaths and look at it as an exercise in self-love. You may still struggle with language, and you may feel like a rookie, but you’ll know those feelings are part of the perfection that is you doing your best, right now. Bet you anything changing that outlook will make the process easier and more fulfilling.

P.S. Here’s the bio I came up with. What do you think?

After several years of feeling life was holding him for ransom, James decided it was time to hold life for Ranson instead. Now he is an itinerant word coach and professional giver of feedback on a road trip across North America that has no set itinerary and no final destination. His mission: to enrich and amplify the impact of stories the world needs to hear. His superpowers: wordsmithing, listening, laughing, and giving amazing hugs. James contributes content to Start Young Financial, Next Stop Who Knows, Career Indulgence, and One Week Without, has edited pieces for Overachieve.Us and Huffington Post, has coached speakers for four TEDx events, and is a staff editor at Highly Conscious Man. A recently reestablished Crossfitter, an all-purpose tenor, an avid life experimenter, a travel and solopreneurship blogger, and a huge a cappella and Game of Thrones geek, James isn’t sure who or where he’ll be tomorrow, but he can’t wait to find out. 

If you feel moved to, write a practice bio for yourself in comments. I’d love to see how you guys absolutely fucking love yourselves. :)