Writing with impact: OHF

“Writing with intent – with a solid grasp of your purpose for writing and disseminating your work – inevitably improves the end result.”

I wrote that right here a few years ago with a purpose I hope is obvious: to help other writers identify and focus on and achieve their own goals, whether those might be writing clear, informative articles, great books, persuasive essays or anything else.

Now I’m writing to share a prime example of writing with intent: Pick any Our Human Family article.

Backlit laptop keyboard

I’ve been an OHF reader for at least a couple of years now and subscribe to OHF Weekly.

Why? Because the writing overall is excellent, compelling and persuasive, and it’s focused on issues that should be important to all of us humans.

Any other questions?

Write on,


Flash fiction: brain workout

There is nothing quite like a tight deadline to focus your writing and sharpen your skills, whether it’s part of your job as a daily newspaper reporter or a self-inflicted challenge like a flash fiction contest.

For the past few years, I’ve challenged myself to write a few hundred words over the course of a couple of days to submit a story in the University of Iowa Alumni and Friends Flash Writing Contest.

I nearly talked myself out of it this time around once I saw the choices of writing prompts, which aren’t revealed until the Friday before the Sunday deadline. Having to choose between historical fiction and romance genres, which aren’t among my top favorites, I mulled it over before giving it a shot, choosing the historical route and a story that had to include:

  • No more than 1,000 words
  • A specified character: dog walker
  • An object: paper clip

After submitting my entry a couple of hours before the Sunday afternoon deadline, I’m confident that I now know a whole lot more about the history of paper clips and popular dog names from 100+ years ago.

I also have a new appreciation for what it takes to write historical fiction. Research, research, research, and I submitted somewhere between 500 and 600 words. Imagine writing a book in that genre! When it comes to writing fiction, I’ll stick to contemporary.

We’ll find out who wins in the multiple age categories in a few weeks. I always look forward to that, not because I expect to win – as fun as that would be – but because we all get to read a lot of flash fiction written by children as well as other adults. That’s a reward all by itself.

Write on,


Tweet, toot or something else?

My good old friend Chuck introduced me to Twitter in 2008.

It seemed like something a writer should get familiar with, and it still does. Unlike some, I’m not planning to stop being either* @bjsmith or @BJSmithWords there any time soon.

Hanging around that long has been good in a number of ways. Ditto for my various forays into websites, blogging and publishing. Curiosity about how these things work has paid off for me in my day job, for example, and helped me sell some crime novels and make some great connections.

Curiosity also led me to poking around in other social media. I was hooked on Facebook for a while and I have a little fun on Instagram now and then. In 2018, I gave Mastodon a try. I’d almost entirely forgotten about it until this week, when everybody (not literally, of course) starting talking about it on Twitter.

I’ve now “tooted” on Mastodon a few times to see what might happen, and I’ve put the same content on yet another alternative someone suggested: Counter Social. I might stick with one of them. We’ll see.

For now, I hope to see you around somewhere, my friends. Just let me know where to look.

Write on,

* Why two handles? I’ll save that for another time. Maybe I’ll write about why I quit Facebook a few years ago, too.

About our names

Photograph of B.J. Smith

Let us suppose you like your first name, your “given” name.

It’s yours. You respond to it.

You feel good when you hear it, except maybe when a parent says “Bernard Joseph Smith, you’re going to be sorry…!” for whatever you just did.

Even then you might not mind the tone so much if your first name is pronounced correctly. In my experience, you can count on parents getting it right.

Also in my experience, most people get Bernard wrong when talking to me, at least for the first time. They default to the common U.S. pronunciation, as if we’d all been named for a legendary breed of dog that rescues people in the Alps.

Some members of my extended family, and maybe your own, can attest to how important it is to at least attempt to pronounce names correctly. It’s a matter of courtesy and respect.

A tiny, tiny percentage of people who see my full first name in writing ask how to pronounce it. I smile, pronounce it for them, and thank them profusely for asking.

It’s understandable, of course. There is more than one way to pronounce many names. You can’t tell from the spelling if Bernard is BER-nerd or ber-NARD, but to me they are quite different. One is mine, the other is not.

If you don’t know for sure how to say someone’s name, just ask.


P.S. A man of many names and nicknames, I’ve been known to some as B.J. since U.S. Navy bootcamp in 1973 when one of our first chores was stenciling last name and initials on every shred of government-issued clothing, down to and including the white boxer shorts. Recruits on laundry detail would yell out names and initials so you’d get the right skivvies back.

Life is too short for FAQs

If I’ve ever found the answer to one of my questions by sifting through an FAQ, such an event was so rare that I no longer look at FAQs. There may be a few useful ones here and there, but I don’t waste my time hunting for them. Life is too short.

As a person who writes and edits for a living, I confess that I’ve been involved in creating an FAQ page or two for a website. I hope they’ve long since been deleted, and I would not be surprised if they were never updated. FAQs are prone to being neglected.

Your first question

A few tips:

  • When someone wants you to create an FAQ, ask your first and most important question: Why?
  • Whatever the response is, ask your second and third questions: What are those frequently asked questions? What are the answers?
  • If you get a list of questions and answers, make sure the information – not the Q&A – is easy to find, in context, where the web visitor can find it without having to go to an FAQ.
  • If you don’t get a list of questions and answers, be glad you don’t have to create an FAQ.

Life is too short. Don’t waste anyone’s time on something that is almost always a bad idea