Tag Archives: writing

Wise words from Sting shock!

Sting – him off The Police obviously – said something strikingly wise in a TV show I was watching the other night. It was during a programme called “Secrets of the Pop Song” which is still available on BBC i-player if you’re quick – it’s a great series.

He said that as we get older or better at something, the critical faculty starts to strangle the creative one, bringing the whole process to a grinding halt. He talked about his kids, who are now young musicians – they write songs all the time, sometimes several a day but for him creativity has slowed right down, leaving him with only a handful of songs a year (and some of those on a lute!)

This seems to me to be true. As we get older, we sabotage our efforts with our  fears; “what if it’s no good – how does it compare to Every Breath You Take – can I actually write anymore?”

Seth Godin refers to something like this when he talks about the lizard brain which jumps in to mess up our work. That lizard is only trying to protect us – but unfortunately it is trying to protect us from the inconvenience of success.

The Sting thing though – this is something slightly more nuanced – the fear that comes from having done something naturally and exuberantly once, only to find the critical voice creeping in.

Well do you know what – I feel a bit like that right now.

Sadly Mr Sting did not leave us with the answer, that’s something for you and me to work out but whatever it is, let’s hope it doesn’t involve anything too tantric.

Where Do You Find Authenticity?

I often suggest that one reason to blog is to discover what you really feel about something. The act of writing helps us sift through ideas and bring them into focus. With any luck we end up with work that says something about who we are and what we think.

But of course we are bombarded with messages, both written and spoken, everyday which fill our heads and makes it hard to think.

The question I would like to pose is, at the end of that process, does writing reflect some essence of true self or do we sift and sort but end up writing a pastiche of what we consume?

The thought was prompted by my husband’s reaction to a fun piece I wrote about going on holiday. To him it sounded like some rant from a right-wing newspaper. To me it was a bit of fun. Was I unconsciously adopting the tone of the Daily Mail columnist to make the piece funnier or am I deep down closer to that stereotype than I thought? (Help)

I was thinking this through at the same time as reading the excellent novel “The Other Hand” by Chris Cleave which makes the opposite point. In the book one of the central characters, a journalist and columnist for The Times, realises that he can never live up to the lofty ideals he espouses in his copy. He thinks of himself as an outspoken crusader for justice but the reality turns out to be somewhat different.

The contradiction is exposed in the most dramatic fashion on a beach in Nigeria and the rest of the novel explores what it might mean to be authentic and true to ourselves.    

Those of us who write must imagine ourselves in all sorts of situations, many we have never been in. You have to try to see life through a thousand different lenses. Whether novelist or copywriter you have to put yourself into the minds of others to produce your best work. Yet that must be believable and authentic. 

So where is the truth? In the imagining, in the writing or in the actions we take in the real world?

It’s certainly something to think about.

Write Your Way to the Top

I met an old friend at a party the other day who told me she had written her way to the top of Google.

I was impressed.

How did she do it? Well she’s an art lover with a web-based business selling limited edition prints. Starting from nothing, she decided to target certain key search terms and set about using article marketing to get her business known.

You may have heard of sites like Ezine and Squidoo which let you post informative articles in your niche which both direct readers back to your own site and give you a much-needed boost up the search-engine rankings.

You do have to work hard at it and I could see from the slightly manic look in her eye that it hadn’t always been easy to write an endless stream of articles around the subject of original art. The more pieces you put up the better the returns, so you have to be very focussed on this strategy if you want it to work for you.

On Ezine you get expert status after posting 10 articles, on other sites you get kudos from being rated by your peers, a site called Helium will even give you a cut of the advertising profit.

I take a slightly different approach, preferring to target my writing at blog swapping and guest posting, this way I connect with the people I’m collaborating with and make valuable contacts along the way.

My latest offering was published on a site called Be fabulous! an inspirational website for women just like me. I have also had some success matching clients with web magazines which are looking for great new material in return for publicity and a link, for example She plc’s Business Buzz magazine.

Fledgling magazines may not deliver the same hit as a high-profile glossy but we overlook the web-based media at out peril. So whether it’s a boost up the search engine rankings or some much-needed exposure you’re looking for, keep an eye out for new opportunities to write your way to the top.

How To Be A Better Writer

Relying on tired metaphors and figures of speech is lazy, and it muddies our ability to understand one another.  When you’re writing or speaking, be conscious of every word you select.  It’s better to use your 1000 word vocabulary well than to sleepwalk through a minefield of ambiguities.

So says Justin Kownacki in a recent blog post.

Good advice from Justin. But why is it so hard to follow?

When you first start writing, maybe a blog or some other form of communication, it’s disappointing to find that you haven’t produced quite what you had hoped.

Clichés and tired figures of speech seem to creep in despite all efforts to ban them. It’s as though trash novels and tabloid newspapers have taken over your brain and the good stuff just won’t come out.

Don’t despair. This is the time to remember Justin’s advice.

If you give up or leave it like it is, then you’re not doing the best work you can do. It’s time to go back and take out the things you didn’t mean to say. Work really hard at choosing the words that feel authentic to you and that get your message across.

When we sit down to write, all sorts of stuff emerges from our heads, which is one of the reasons why it is so exciting. Some of this will be gold; fantastic ideas and figures of speech that seem to come from no-where. But there is also a lot of absorbed rubbish which you must cut down ruthlessly,like Marlon Brando in a fight. (Did you see what I did there, my brain told me to say ‘hack down like a jungle explorer’ but it felt clichéd and I like rough film stars.)

Justin advises us to ‘select’ the right word for each occasion, to make our meaning clearer. This is increasingly important; so much communication is now done using a restricted word count, think Twitter or text messaging. Choose your words carefully, they don’t have to be long or complex, they just have to do what you want them to do. They are there to serve you.

I reckon you get out what you put in, so reading wonderful books and well-written blogs is a key part of becoming a better writer. Then it’s all there when you need it.

Do you have a favourite blog that you turn to for inspiration?

P.S. I don’t normally plug my professional services in my blog, but if wrestling with words has become too much for you, I would love to help you write articles and blog posts. E-mail me at Lucy.Thorpe@btconnect.com

Zen and The Art Of Household Maintenance.

Never in the field of human endeavour has anything cost so much and given so little pleasure.

That was me when I realised that we really are going to have to carry out vital repairs to the outside of our house.

Spending large sums of money on anything brings me out in a cold sweat and I can see the point in lovely new floorboards, a fireplace or door handles, but brickwork re-pointing ? It’s just not that alluring is it ? When they compile the league table of sexy repairs it’s not going to be up there.

Well take a deep breath, get into Zen mode and focus. Structure is really important. Walls don’t give a lot of joy in themselves but if they fall down the door handles are pointless.

You can apply this to anything you like, from a blog, poem or song to an entire business.

And Robert M Pirsig, what did he think about it ? It’s a long time since I read the best-selling  Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance but he thought you could achieve a balance between the rational and the romantic in life.

So if I’ve got this right, the rational is all about diagnosing the problem and   getting the work done as Persig did with his motorbike. And the romantic ? Well maybe when he’s done with the repairs I should get our builder to buy us some flowers with the proceeds ?

How I found inspiration in Alan Bennett and a bruised bum.

A few days ago I went sledding with my family.

We don’t get much snow usually but this was perfect. The sun was shining and there was a blueish sheen over everything.

The kids asked me if I was going to have a go and I paused for a moment. Do I want to be the kind of mum who never joins in, or do I want to be someone who is always up for it and willing to have a go ?

It was great fun while it lasted. But I ended up in hospital with seven stitches to a rather inconveniently placed gash. The lump of rock definitely came off best.

Yes I am in agony and yes I am cheesed off that I am not at my best for Christmas but do you know what ? I don’t regret it.

You’ve got to be in it, you’ve got to take part. I am not prepared to let my life pass me by. That’s why I write my blog and get involved in twitter and immerse myself in the life that I want to live.

I saw a programme on TV with the fantastic writer Alan Bennett last night in which he said you have to turn off the voice inside your head that says ‘you ? you can’t do that.’

So I will write and I will share it  and I may well fall on my butt again. But so what ?Happy Christmas!

Jargon to make you smile.

We were talking last time about jargon and the way it clutters up your writing, getting in the way of the message. But sometimes jargon is just very very funny.

I have to confess a weakness for daft language, although you do have to be careful. People might just take you seriously. Here’s my top ten :

  1. Multi-slacking. Multi-skilling and multi- tasking’s lazy brother.
  2. Wet signature. Strangely off-putting way of referring to a hand fashioned signature.
  3. Strategic staircase. A plan for the future as opposed to some  fortuitously placed steps.
  4. Alpha geek. Head of tech support.
  5. Blame Storm. Trying to work out who’s going to get it.
  6. Power Loser. The person chosen in number 5.
  7. Idea hamster. Person least likely to be fired in a blame storm due to their constant stream of ideas.
  8. Long pole item. Pivotal, like the pole in an old-fashioned tent.
  9. Glasgow salad. Chips (one for UK readers I think.)
  10. Going postal. Losing it big style.

Once again many thanks to  www.rhymer.net and http://www.johnsmurf.com of MBA Jargonwatch  for some of their ideas.