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From Phoenix to Magnum:
Meet Matt Moss.
Matt started out writing Phoenix Theory back in 2010 or so, and then along came Magnum with those fancy-shmancy RHPEs (say "Right Hand Phrase Enders"), and those time saving outlines that were too good to pass up, not to mention how quickly Mark's students were getting out of school.
Recently, Mark Kislingbury asked Matt if he could explain how he went from writing Phoenix to Magnum. Matt was up to the challenge, and this article is the result.
Here are a few tips and tricks I picked up while retooling my writing style with Magnum Steno. The first is to look at it through that framework; it’s a power-up, not a wholesale "change." I’d note that quick changes are not deep changes.
Much of what I'll share here had to be drilled relentlessly before it became my new instinct and caused hesitation until it was drilled out. Additionally, I’d point out most of my multi-stroke game is still Phoenix-based, though I have found areas where four and five strokes can be whittled down to two, and the version of Phoenix you learned may have introduced some of these concepts as it underwent some retooling of its own since I learned it in 2010.
One piece of advice Mark gave me early on was not to try and change my "and" (SKW-) to his "and" (SKP-), this would be a slight change with only mild impact in the overall retool. Far better to filter Mark's briefs dictionary for phrases that start with the word "and" and modify the entries to utilize SKW-. As you go through this process you'll be able to spot areas like this where change is an option but won't yield much efficiency versus the time it’ll take to reinforce the new instinct.
That caveat aside, there are a few routes you can take in your shortening journey. One place to start is to follow the instructions in the Magnum Steno Club Instructional Videos folder entitled "Really Great Way to Shorten Writing." Mark explains the process of mining your personal dictionary for your most common multi-strokers by ordering the dictionary in descending order of most translated words and picking out the first several high frequency two-stroke words from the list to convert to one stroke. This yields a personalized list of areas to attack that will have high impact immediately.
For a deeper makeover related to Phoenix specifically, there are some theory principle changes to consider. These are very worth working out because they allow for inflections across a wide swath of the English language, opening up a realm of accuracy and precision that accords with principles and thus aren’t "briefs." If you still have your Fast Track Drills book, you'll want to work on these drills:
4 (-V sound changes from -FB to *F)
16 (use -S for "-SS" words, so you can pluralize with -SZ)
17 (-SH changes from -GS to -RB, opening up easy inflections)
19 (-TH changes from -GT to *T, also opening up inflections)
57 (-TH reinforcement) 67 (-SH reinforcement)
70 (-MP changes from -FPL to -FRP)^^
71 (-SK, on stroke Magnum principle -FBG)
79 (-RTH endings different with *T for -TH)
80 (-RCH ending changes to -FRPB from -FRP)^^
81 (-NCH ending changes to -FRPBLG from -FRPB)^^
82 (-PTH, -LTH, -NTH, -NGTH endings all different with *T)
84 (-SHUN changes from -GZ to -GS, -KSHUN stays -BGZ)^^
85 (-SHAL changes from -LGS to -RBL, -SHUS from -GS/-S to -RBS)
86 (-VER stroking option becomes *FR)
87 (-VEN stroking option becomes *FPB)
88 (-FL/-VL reinforcement of *F for -V sound & expansion)
90 (-BL words with -BL)
91 (ex- changes from EBGS to KP-)
103 (-SH reinforcement)
105 (-SHUN reinforcement)
^^ Denotes principles where I've retained the original Phoenix concepts in my dictionary where possible, allowing myself some leeway if I hear something and write it the way I used to.
Following those reforms to our basic theory principles, we're ready to build in further Magnum Steno principles. Feel free to utilize the drills I’ve shared online for theory concepts that were new to me in Magnum Steno at https://soundcloud.com/matthew-moss-10/sets/ms-theory-concepts.
At this point (or any point prior) it'll probably be helpful to start going chapter by chapter in the book and picking up briefs and word pairs. Don't fret if these conflict with Phoenix word parts as you can make a change in the standalone stroke oftentimes while retaining the Phoenix principle in its multi-stroke function. The Magnum brief concepts tend to stack up on one another later on with further efficiency gains, so they’re pretty beneficial changes. And be mindful of Mark's Write-It-Out words, as you might be able to locate spots where you can turn four strokes into two, which can be as helpful as whittling these higher frequency words down to one stroke with the aforementioned principles.
Then there's the joy of conquering the Right Hand Phrase Enders. This actually may be a preferable starting point for the working reporter as these concepts open up worlds of efficiency and have few or no counterparts in Phoenix. Your familiarity with these ideas will depend on how heavily phrasing was emphasized in your original theory courses. Some will look similar (-FPL for ~them, *PBG for ~think, etc.) Here you may have to slay an old idea some of us were convinced of, and that is the notion that every phrase must have an asterisk in its outline. On the other side of conquering this beast lies even further versatility and short writing power.
Again, I’ll refer you to the drills I used to incorporate these ideas into my writing. Notice they're succinct, moderately paced ("gettable") alternations between disparate concepts:
You might consider becoming your own drill master. A large part of what helped me succeed in this endeavor was the process of uncovering areas that felt unnatural or challenging, creating a drill for them, and then writing that drill until I couldn’t make a mistake. I usually had to get to that point before I’d really hear the concepts and deploy the new strokes at high speed. Dictate drills for your problem spots into your phone.
Another point of entry, or further mastery, would be to spend a large chunk of time with the "families" later on in the book. Studying a group of briefs and phrases organized around the domains of Jury Charge, Political, Auto Accident, Law Enforcement, Medical, and Science Terminology provide concrete anchors for us to associate clusters of new neuronal pathways around with our arsenal of short writing techniques.
And, of course, there's a multitude of further information in the Magnum Steno Club, the Olympic weight-lifting room of stenography. Our CAT software is an essential ally in this odyssey. For my conversion at Mark's online program and through most of my reporting career I’ve used at least two dictionaries. Mark helped me understand that if I rename my Phoenix dictionary something other than Personal Dictionary, and renamed his briefs dictionary "Personal Dictionary," I could load them both in my translation settings, with the Phoenix dictionary prioritized above the Magnum briefs (Personal Dictionary).
This is a little in the weeds, but it's an option that's available for the extreme makeover. This allowed me to open up entire concepts simply by learning them and rooting out and resolving conflicts as I went along. It also allowed me to always be able to examine the way Mark might handle a word or phrase. Early on I kept a "changes" diary in case I decided this path was a mistake and wanted to go back, and of course, I backed up all of my system files and my personal dictionary in several places before even attempting this. If this approach is too radical or extreme, just filter and copy new concepts from the Magnum briefs dictionary into your dictionary as you incorporate them.
Recently I merged the dictionaries. It's not all Mark and Phoenix either. I've developed a distinctly Matt Moss style as I've picked up concepts I like from Facebook groups and seminars (shoutout to Ed's Steno Pro) and my colleagues in the courthouse where I currently work. This dictionary contains 270,000+ entries, and it's growing every day. Part of what I came to understand through this process is that I am the author of my writing style, and that style will continue to grow and evolve as long as I do. Mark and many others have pointed me in amazing directions and shown me things that have made me a much stronger writer than I ever imagined I would be.
Let me know if you have any questions or if I can help you resolve any conflicts or pitfalls you encounter along the way.