Photo of the Week: Car Culture, A Nod to Photographer and LENSCRATCH Founder, Aline Smithson

Posted By on August 14, 2014

photo of week: car culture abandoned vehicles behind a fence

To help you shoot intentionally to make your headlines work harder, I’ll comment on and publish a new Photo of the Week every week.

I took an inspiring photography workshop in Portland this past weekend with Aline Smithson, photographer and founder of LENSCRATCH, one of the top ten blogs on photography. The focus of Aline’s workshop was “shooting with intention” i.e. figuring out what you want to shoot, rather than just snapping at everything and hoping something turns out. One of the assignments Aline gave the class (at NewSpace in Portland) was to go out on the streets and shoot Car Culture. The shot above is my answer to Aline’s prompt. (more…)

How to Tell a Personal Disaster Story without Manipulating Your Audience

Posted By on August 12, 2014

> Benjamin Drummond tells his personal story of the Carlton Complex Fire in a series of photographs on his blog. Copyright 2014 Benjamin Drummond  Storer Creek Stories

Benjamin Drummond tells his personal story of the Carlton Complex Fire in a series of photographs on his blog. Copyright 2014 Benjamin Drummond Storer Creek Stories


To cover disasters, the news media selects the most dramatic photos to snag the attention of its 24/7 bleary-eyed, tragedy-weary audience. The personal and/or community story is often reduced to a clip of a person weeping, an effective trick because we are always interested in what humans (and animals) are feeling.

Today the true stories of disasters are being told on blogs and social media. The question is, how do you do that without being as sensational and emotionally manipulative as mainstream media?

Last week a friend of Cynthia’s read my blog post on the Carlton Complex Fire in north central Washington and sent uhttp://twopens.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=5006&action=edit&message=1#s a link to an amazing blog post about the fire by Benjamin Drummond, a member of the Methow Valley community. He tells his story in an understated, almost quiet way, by using realistic photos with minimal text, creating a sense of time and space that helps us feel the community’s loss. (more…)

Pre-Write Five Minutes on These 10 Topics and Voila! (Almost Instant) Blog Post

Posted By on August 5, 2014

The Writer's Portable Mentor cover photo

Priscilla Long’s book, The Writer’s Portable Mentor, is the writing craft guide you will use again and again. Get it.

“Pre-writing” or “free writing” is a tradition in creative writing. But it’s not a tool that’s used much in business writing. That’s odd, considering that using a timer to write for five or ten minutes without stopping in order to discover what you think about a topic is one of the quickest and most efficient ways to quick-start everything from a blog post to a trade article. (more…)

How Social Media is Helping Fight the Biggest Fire in Washington State’s History

Posted By on July 29, 2014

Sagebrush hills on fire in the Methow Valley, Washington State

We stopped to fill up in Marblemount, the last town with gas before we headed up and over the Cascade Mountains. Inside the minimart, the cashier was losing her mind. Every person who walked in wanted information about the Washington State’s largest ever wildfire raging out of control on the other side of the mountains.

“Is Twisp under Evacuation level 2?” “Have the gas stations run out of fuel?” “Has the fire reached Pearrygin Lake?”

A woman pulled into the parking lot and exchanged two kids for two five-gallon gas cans delivered by grandparents who were going to babysit until the flames died down. She said no one except local residents were allowed into Twisp.

Twisp was where my partner and I were headed to move heirlooms from our cabin out of harm’s way. We planned to turn back if we ran into danger or before we became part of any problem. Two hours later when we were about eight miles from Twisp, we could see that the high sagebrush hills across the river from town were on fire. They looked like orange glowing goals with purple-red flames shooting up whenever another house or unburned gully became fully engulfed. (more…)

What An Old Broad in a Rowing Shell Can Teach You About Blogging Consistency

Posted By on July 23, 2014

Cynthia Hartwig rower

If you think Blogger Cynthia Hartwig would show you what she looks like in a Spandex rowing uniform, dream on.


Before I get to the old-broad-rowers, let’s see if you can relate to this scenario. You get the urge to blog and you go out like a rabbit, blogging once a day for—whoopee!—two whole weeks! Then, life interrupts: doctor appointment, root canal, kid’s science project, client “opportunities”, out-of-town-guests, or a flood in the basement forces you to drop your blogging schedule to once a week. Pretty soon, a business emergency calls all-hands-on-deck and before you know it, your blogging average over six months has dropped to once a MONTH and that’s counting your initial flurry of posts.

Do not hang your head in shame and hang up the Blogger after your name! Let’s reflect about race strategy. (more…)

Businesses are People When It Comes to LinkedIn

Posted By on July 16, 2014

Corporate two
How many company pages do you regularly check on LinkedIn? I’m betting not many. Businesses aren’t people, despite the Supreme Court’s recent decision, so we spend less time checking out companies than we do checking out people. If that’s the case, how do you grow LinkedIn followers for your company page? Through your employees. That means the Supreme Court justices — at least on LinkedIn — are right.
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Zombie Hands, Duck Lips & Pixel Pimples: Business Photo Mistakes to Avoid So You Don’t Look Lame

Posted By on July 8, 2014

Last week, Emily Warn and I sailed high above Puget Sound on the Seattle Wheel for a 360-panorama portrait of us for our new website. We wanted an interesting business photo of the pens who make up Two Pens in our local environment (Seattle) while conveying our passion for online technology. Digital wizard Bradford Bohonus of Bohonus Photography does the best work in this exacting art (IMHO). I figured the VR photographer who shoots amazing panoramas for Microsoft and Google would make us proud.

In conceiving our business photo, I did a lot of thinking a lot about what makes a commercial portrait pass or fail. So let me dissect a few of the business photo fails before I ask you to weigh in on whether we passed the test at the end of this post.

The Obvious Selfie

cyn silly (more…)

Emotions are the Network! How the Facebook Experiment Could Ruin Social Media Networks

Posted By on July 2, 2014

"Lifeguard on Duty"

The Facebook experiment in manipulating emotional content risks diluting the cultural power of networks.Photo copyright 2014 Cynthia Hartwig

Warning: There is no call-to-action in this post. By reading it, you will not learn how to write better social media content or how to use Facebook or Twitter. You will hear me rant with a purpose—to talk about how Facebook’s experiment in manipulating emotional content threatens the cultural value of social networks. I also write in hope that Facebook will return to fulfilling its promise to us in its mission statement:

To give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them

What Networks Are

Facebook’s revelation this week that they conducted research using the emotional content of people’s posts without their permission lays bare why Facebook is smothering social media. It has forgotten what fuels it—-the roles that affinity and chance play in organizing and sustaining social networks.
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How a Business Writing Voice Sparks Content

Posted By on June 24, 2014

Park sign demonstrates voice, saying "good dog, good dog" instead of "stay out"

Rather than ordering people to stay out, this sign from the Seattle Parks Department makes readers feel good about keeping dogs off the plants. You get the sense a human being is speaking in a friendly, reasonable tone of voice.

Consider the sign I walked by in my neighborhood park on Lake Washington Boulevard while walking my dog: “Good Dog, Green Dog” it said. Who wouldn’t lean in to learn why my dog has been given a pat on its black head for not stepping (or pooping) on the newly replanted flower bed? The sign caught my attention (always the first order of business), then taught me about the ongoing reseeding of a neighborhood park. It also spoke in the voice of a real person–not some faceless bureaucrats.

Voice isn’t just a speaking tool. It’s a powerful business writing tool.

A business writing voice reveals the warm, personable human being behind your words and subtly persuades the reader to believe and trust what you say.
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Meet Two Pens’ Visual Wit and How She Uses it to Build Our Brand

Posted By on June 17, 2014

visual brand image by Cynthia Hartwig of callas lily superimposed on a sunset by the Dubble App

Cynthia Hartwig’s obsession with developing a great visual brand means she’s constantly shooting imagery wherever she goes. Her callas lily went through the Dubble App and became something more than just another flower photo.


Out walking in Seattle yesterday, I bumped into Cynthia photographing a rain-soaked clump of blue bells at a park overlooking Lake Washington. Her camera was about 1 mm from the flowers as if it were an octogenarian’s reading glasses. Now what is she seeing, I wondered. I ask the same question every time she pulls her camera out of her purse and points it at just about anything, which is frequently. (Read her post on A Camera is an Unsung Creative Writing Tool.)

I also felt lucky. I knew she was stocking her already bursting collection of digital photography, and that every time I would need an image to help a headline tell a story–voila!–she would have the perfect fit.

Cynthia is a master at putting photos and other visual images to work. In the process, she has developed a visual brand for Two Pens that is unpredictable, quirky, fearless, colorful, unusual, and definitely as opposed to stock photography as we are to being marketing hack writers. Here are a few of my favorite examples of how she uses images to tell stories, and in telling the stories, how she is building Two Pens’ brand.
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