Writer in Residence at Bloomsbury Festival 2019

I was excited and honoured to be a Writer in Residence for a day at this year’s Bloomsbury Festival in London. This annual celebration of arts, science, literature and creativity invited ten writers from 26 Characters to enjoy a varied collection of exhibitions and performances and to create a piece of writing in response.

The festival itself takes place in various locations around the Bloomsbury area – part of London that has a long association with writers, thinkers and scientists. It’s not an area that I know well, so I enjoyed the chance to walk the streets, spotting blue plaques on buildings commemorating famous people who had lived there in the past and stumbling across its green squares and community spaces.

The theme of this year’s festival is small steps and giant leaps, inspired by the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing, and the moon featured large in my inspiration and imagination on the day.

I was happy to wander and explore and leave things to chance, but also wanted to make sure that I saw something of the festival programme, so checked the programme and booked in for a couple of events.

The first was Bodies in Space, a contemporary dance performance at Goodenough College, with choreography from Helen Cox and sound design by Dougie Brown.

The piece involved three dancers moving to an abstract composition created by turning recordings of light waves from NASA’s Kepler space telescope into sounds. The dancers moved in changing orbits around each other, sometimes connecting, at other times moving as if pushed and pulled by invisible sources.

I marvelled at how the dancers remembered the choreography and responded to one another, and how they kept time and rhythm in a space created by abstract beeps and buzzes.

I love contemporary dance. To me it’s like poetry without words. When it’s done well, the movements tell a story and conjure emotions. And like poetry, the interpretation, the meaning, exists in the space between the performers and the audience. This performance and the short discussion afterwards gave me a real starting point inspiration for my final piece.

Refugee Astronaut III by Yinka Shonibare at the Wellcome Collection

Refugee Astronaut III by Yinka Shonibare at the Wellcome Collection

From there I went to visit the Wellcome Collection and its exhibition Being Human. There’s a mixture of science and art among varied exhibits that invite questions about medical knowledge, climate emergency and our changing relationships with our planet and beyond.

There were some really striking and simple ideas on show, such as the friendship bench which has helped reduce suicides and mental health in Zimbabwe. And how adding a photograph to a hazmat suit helped bring a human face to ebola care.

But the most striking piece for me, and the one that made it into that day’s writing was Refugee Astronaut III by artist Yinka Shonibare. This lone figure in a spacesuit and helmet carries a pack of possessions on their back including books, photographs, a lantern and a teapot.

From the colourful spacesuit, which reminded me of a costume worn by David Bowie in his starman phase to the pack of goods it carried on its back, this artwork invited many questions about where this figure was going, what were they leaving, how had they chosen what to take with them.

The Wellcome collection also provided a quiet space in its beautiful library, a respite from the drizzly rain where I started to assemble my thoughts and ideas in my notebook.

The last event of the day was an evening walk with writer and author Rob Self Pierson. He’s written a book called Moonwalking about a year of adventures walking on the night of the full moon.

Rob had previously kindly asked me to contribute a blog post about business purpose for his copywriting and tone of voice business The Table and I was fortunate enough to meet him on a Dark Angels creative writing for business course in France earlier this year, when he read the first chapter of his latest book.

Together with a small group we spent a magical couple of hours walking the streets, searching for the moon between the buildings and trees and hearing Rob read extracts from Moonwalking. From meeting paranormal investigators to gardening by moonlight, he gave us a insight into some of the characters and adventures he encountered in his own discoveries.

I had to scurry away to catch the last train north, and although it was late, my head was full of ideas, images and thoughts which I assembled into my Writer in Residence piece which you can read on the Bloomsbury Festival website.

In my daily work as a copywriter, much of what I write is business as usual and although I always try to bring a creative sensitivity to the words and phrases I offer, I don’t often have the freedom to really stretch myself in my writing. Membership of 26 Characters gives me the opportunity to work on creative projects, and the confidence to project my own thoughts, feelings and experiences in work that I hope will connect with others. It was a real treat to be invited to spend the day at the Bloomsbury Festival and enjoy the freedom to explore randomly, be inspired by art, science and the environment to create my first piece as a Writer in Residence.

A Writer’s Manifesto

Hawkwood College

Back at the beginning of June, at the start of that glorious golden summer, I took a trip to a magical place called Hawkwood College, near Stroud in the beautiful Cotswold countryside. A magical place not just for the fresh water spring that rises beneath the tree beside the labyrinth in its wild grounds. A magical place not just for the creative courses and wonderful fresh food served there. But forever a magical place because it was where I met a host of Dark Angels and spent time in their company, drinking in words.

Dark Angels is a series of creative writing courses for business writers who seek something deeper and more authentic than corporate ‘how to increase your audience and win sales’ type writing. Writers who want to tap into the power of creative writing to connect.

My first Dark Angels course gave me the confidence to say ‘I am a writer’. Subsequent time in this select company has enriched, encouraged and improved my writing both personally and professionally in more ways than I can measure.

Group of people talkingMy time at Hawkwood was no different. Inspired by exercises set by our tutors, I wrote alone and in collaboration with wonderful poet Susannah Hart.

I read, I listened, I enjoyed long conversations with fellow writers. Some of us took a pilgrimage to Slad, walking in the footsteps and drinking in the pub of writer Laurie Lee.

We were treated to moonlit scenes from a Midsummer Night’s Dream. And we sang together – around the piano in the evening, and on the grass outside the house. A choir of angels summoning sonnets of thanks to our surroundings and what we encountered there.

Each Dark Angels course is different. What each writer takes away is individual and personal. But I’d like to share something I wrote at Hawkwood. Its form comes from a exercise devised by writer Richard Pelletier which resonated strongly with many of the group.

There is much I could say about the writing process. But one thing I have learned from Dark Angels is to make room for the audience. As a reader, what you bring to the experience is just as important as what the writer presents.

Sonnet with sunscreen

  1. I wish to say true things in a voice that is true. 2. Nowhere worth going is easy. The path climbs but falls short of the summit. There are brambles. Scratches leave scars. 3. History is written by the winners. There’s always another side to the story. Ask the monsters. 4. Reading is the closest thing we have to time travel. Step back into another life. Imagine forwards into the future. Read. 5. No one is every truly gone as long as they are remembered with love. 6. Nothing bad can happen while you listen to your favourite music. 7. Music, drama, comedy, dance. See it live. There’s an emotional intensity that you can never really capture. It’s called the audience. 8. I am an introvert. Some of my happiest moments have been in crowds. 9. Be yourself. The people who belong in your life will find you. 10. Restless minds do well to be restful for a while, but not too long. Restless bodies do not. 11. Steal. Steal from everywhere. Books, lyrics, conversations, shopping lists. Forget what you have stolen. 12. There are books you will never read. There are stories that will never be told. 13. Writing is easy. Just crack open your breast bone and reach in for your heart. 14. The way out is the way in.

There are a few more Dark Angels courses coming up this year, in England, Ireland, Scotland, America and Spain. And there will be a book, currently being crowdfunded on Unbound.

If you’re interested in communication that’s creative, engaging and human and want to develop your writing skills in a fun, challenging and supportive environment, I can’t recommend them enough.

100 words for 100 years since WW1

Black and white photograph of five young girls in 1918

This November marks 100 years since the end of the First World War. After four years of unprecedented violence and devastation, Armistice was declared. As part of writers’ group 26 Characters, in partnership with Imperial War Museums I am taking part in a project to mark this centenary through new creative work.

As one of 100 writers I was invited to choose a person alive between 1914 and 1918 and tell their story in poetry or prose in exactly 100 words. The piece should start and finish with the same three words, to create a new form, called a centena.

The first pieces, and the stories behind them have been published online at http://www.1914.org/armistice-100-days. We have heard stories inspired by the Archduke’s chauffeur, Belgian refugees, a Guyanese soldier, a northern suffragette and a conscientious objector. They are thought provoking, imaginative, touching, moving and, like the people who inspire them, unique. I invite you to read them.

A new centena and story will be published every day leading up to the anniversary of the Armistice on November 11. They commemorate the famous and the unfamiliar, those who fought and those who didn’t and reflect different experiences from all over the world.

The piece I’ve written is inspired by a family photograph, showing my grandmother and her sisters, taken in 1918 to commemorate the return of my great grandfather from the war. It will appear on 27 October.

I had hoped to find out more about what he did during the war, but sadly it seems his was among many thousands of service records destroyed in a fire at the records office during the Second World War.

That’s one of the many reasons why this project is so important. Preserving memories, remembering people from the past and giving voice to their experiences.

There will also be a book. It’s being crowdfunded so that we can raise money to print copies, but now that those costs are covered profits will be donated to War Child, a charity that helps children all around the world trying to survive current conflicts. Find out more about the Armistice100Days book. 

Rumpelstiltskin – a backstage review of the latest production from balletLorent

balletLORENT Dancers Gavin Coward and Natalie Trewinnard - Photo Khara Pringle

balletLORENT Dancers Gavin Coward and Natalie Trewinnard – Photo Khara Pringle

Rumplestiltskin is the third in the trilogy of fairy tales brought to life by the incredible creative talents of leading dance theatre company balletLORENT. The show, which premiered at Northern Stage, Newcastle earlier this year, was filmed live and will be released online in time for Christmas family viewing.

This modern adaptation of the Grimm’s fairy tale brings a cast of 24 professional dancers together on stage with local school children and older people from a Knit and Natter community group in Benwell.

Director and choreographer Liv Lorent says this kind of outreach is a vital part of balletLORENT’s unique approach: “We’ve been making work in the North East for over 20 years, and we know we’ll always find an amazing original cast here,” she explains. “We normally go to places that don’t have the most provision. We don’t seek out stage school kids. Most of them have never been on stage before. They’re not coming from privileged upbringings.”

The additional cast provide an earthy authenticity to this fantastic tale of a shepherd’s daughter who is imprisoned by the King when her father boasts she can spin straw into gold. She is helped in her task by a strange youth called Rumplestiltskin who demands her first-born child in return.

Rumpelstiltskin young dancers

Young dancers bring joyous energy to the production

Help from the Poet Laureate and a Game of Thones star

The opening scenes are a rush of joy as children and adults dance through an idyllic pastoral landscape of rolling hills, unfurling the ribbons of a maypole, bouncing on trampolines and snuggling up to the flock of sheep who steal the show whenever they appear.

The story, re-imagined by Carol Ann Duffy and narrated by actor Ben Crompton (Game of Thrones) refocuses on Rumpelstiltskin, as a kind of anti-hero. We learn how this strange, unloved outcast is rejected by his grief-stricken father, the King and lives as a creature of the landscape.

“All of us are keen on celebrating the one who’s different, the anti-hero, not the popular one…finding the compassion and beauty in them,” comments Director Liv Lorent. “We’re all messy, faulted human beings.”

As the adult Rumpelstiltskin, dancer Gavin Coward, moved me to tears: “Rumplestiltskin is not your normal type of fairy tale hero… he’s complex and tricky,” he explains. “You have to use your own demons and parts of your own life to portray that. And when you hear the music and put on the costume, all the elements help bring that to life.”

Rumpelstiltskin - Ballet Lorent

The backdrop to incredible dance and storytelling in Rumpelstiltskin

Adapting the themes of a classic fairy story

At times it’s a dark tale that touches on themes of abuse, neglect, control and greed. But while balletLorent’s production doesn’t shy away from these disturbing themes, it is ultimately a joyous and uplifting performance in which the redeeming power of love triumphs.

As narrator, actor Ben Compton worked closely with the production team throughout rehearsals, adapting and changing the language, and adding real warmth and engagement to Carol Ann Duffy’s script.

On being asked how it felt to tinker with words written by the award-winning writer and Poet Laureate he says: “Carol Ann brings this great text. It’s tight, but it’s all there. But sometimes when you’re rehearsing you hear something doesn’t quite fit, or realise you can see that, so you don’t need to say it as well. I see it as tent-poles really. We’re creating huge canvases of movement and sound and we need these tent-poles to help the audience understand where they are.”

Strength in collaboration

Speaking to members of the cast and production team after the premiere of the film, at the Tyneside Cinema, the spirit of trust which comes through working together is obvious. It is a key strength of this production, with experts in choreography, music, costume, set and lighting design collaborating to create an intensely emotional experience. This organic approach to developing Rumpelstiltskin adds to the drama and authenticity of the storytelling on many different levels.

Talking to Murray Gold (Doctor Who), whose stunning score intensifies the emotions of love and grief, joy and pain portrayed on stage, I am surprised to learn how little is actually fixed in place before the opening night.

He starts composing after seeing the show in early development and then is present at rehearsals in the final two or three weeks. And he reveals that one of the challenges in recording the final version of the narration in a mobile studio in Newcastle was getting Ben Compton to complete a take before Murray’s young daughter piped up.

On the inspiration for the score, Murray says: “I wanted the music to reflect a pagan, peasant ideal that goes with the look and feel of the design.” On watching the finished production he gets just as caught up in it as any member of the audience saying, “I burst into tears in the first 10 minutes of watching it at Northern Stage. It has this rush of emotion that comes from seeing the joy on the stage.”

Dancer Gavin Coward as Rumpelstiltskin

Dancer Gavin Coward shines as Rumpelstiltskin

Unique dance style

Rumplestiltskin showcases balletLorent’s unique mix of dance styles. Rougher, edgier and more organic than most contemporary dance, it brings in elements of acrobatics, with dancers working with hoops and poles, and displaying superb balance and bravery as they climb and dance high among the scenery. John Kendall, as the King, spinning upside down in a noose of his own gold is a particularly breath-taking moment among many.

The costumes designed by Michelle Clapton, best known for her Emmy winning designs for Game of Thrones, have to withstand the considerable rigours of being thrown and tumbled around the stage as well as helping the cast portray their characters.

Principal dancer, Natalie Trewinnard, who plays the shepherd’s daughter, explains how the costume helped her to define how her character moves at different points in the performance. “I tried to rehearse in the wig I wear as much as I could, because it really changed the way I move and hold my head. It weighs 1kg with the bulk of the plaits. And when I put the collar of gold on, the restrictiveness of that really feeds the character at that point.”

Your chance to see Rumpelstiltskin

Maintaining the theme of opening the world of dance to people who may not normally get the chance to experience it, Rumpelstiltskin will be released as an online film on Friday 8th December. The stage version will tour venues across the UK throughout Spring and Autumn 2018.

The first of balletLORENT’s fairytale trilogy, Rapunzel, which I saw in 2012, left a lasting impression on me that’s now shared with the latest production of Rumpelstiltskin. My mind has been a whirl of dancers, glittering golden tears and soaring emotions ever since.

Stunning, sumptuous and sensational, it’s a performance with tremendous energy, vision and soul. Watch it online or catch it live on tour next year and you’re in for an excellent treat.

Find more information about the tour and online film at www.balletlorent.com.

Soup – changing communities over dinner

Soup - changing communities over dinner

It’s Bob and his tale of Gateshead kids shaming parents into litter picking; mixing leftover paint donated from sheds to cover up graffiti and motivating a local community to get together, that wins over the crowd this evening. But everyone at this Soup gathering is lending their support to small actions that lead to positive change.

It’s a simple idea. Turn up and pay £4 on the door. Listen to four people pitch an idea to improve the local or wider community. Presentations are a maximum of four minutes, and the audience can ask up to four questions. Then, as you enjoy some warming soup, decide which of the four causes gets your vote. The winners get the evening’s takings to help fund their project.

Soup, this community crowdfunding initiative, is a global event that started in Detroit. Newcastle’s version is hosted by Ernest, the Ouseburn based independent cafe/bar. They not only generously provide free soup, but also the space to host the event, plus staff to promote it on social media and help out on the night.

When I started my freelance business, I quickly became aware of the brilliant, supportive and largely hidden community of local entrepreneurs who were going it alone, getting out there and getting things done. It’s more than apparent that this positive spirit expands beyond the commercial world into doing good in the community too.

On a November evening I get to hear from:

  • Love Your Avenues who are tackling some of the visible issues around Saltwell, Gateshead to regenerate the area using a combination of creative ideas and people power
  • Acorn who take action to help tenants with housing issues
  • Mindful Therapies who offer donation based mindfulness and counselling services
  • Lendwithcare a crowdfunding initiative to provide loans for people in the developing world, to help them establish or expand a small business and work their way out of poverty.

Okay, so I’m there to support the Lendwithcare team. It’s an initiative I support and I’ve been privileged to see first-hand the difference that it makes to people’s lives when I travelled to Cambodia and Vietnam.

What’s in Soup?

For the speakers at Soup it’s not only a chance to attract money to help fund a project, but an opportunity to speak about a cause they care about to a room of like-minded people.

Our cause may not have won the pot, but plenty of people came to ask more about Lendwithcare, and I think we may have solved a few of those ‘difficult to buy for’ Christmas present dilemmas by suggesting Lendwithcare gift vouchers.

Having by chance stumbled upon the Love Your Avenues team in action, painting street furniture in their local area, I was glad to see them win a small fund that will make a big difference in helping them spread the word to bring a sense of pride to their local community.

For the Soup audience, it’s a relatively cheap night out, with food, entertainment, a chance to learn something and the warm satisfaction of contributing to some positive local action. There are local versions all over the UK, so give it a try.

Will twitter lose its character over more characters?

Twitter has given us more space. Doubled its character count and given us more words to play with. But is that necessarily a good thing?

BBC Ceefax pageDo you remember Ceefax?

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about – before internet access was commonplace and pre-multi-channel digital TV, Ceefax was a text service for news, sport, weather, and a few games that you could view on your TV set, selecting pages using your remote control.

I wrote local news and sport pages for Ceefax in my time as a BBC journalist. The content of each page was a tightly defined format. A headline and four paragraphs – about 80 words in total. That was all you had to tell a story.

How Ceefax helped me hone my writing skills

To tell a news story that fit onto one screen meant choosing short, simple and effective language. Writing headlines of exactly 33 characters (the space available on the top line), favoured short, powerful words. For example, ‘woe’ when something was wrong, and ‘joy’ when something was right.

It’s a skill I’ve adapted to writing copy for packaging; editing copy for a web page; writing social media posts and even poetry. All important skills for a copywriter.Write a sharp headline. Choose words with impact. How Ceefax helped me hone my writing skills Click To Tweet

Why more words don’t necessarily mean better communication

twitter and other social media iconsTwitter was different. In a proliferation of multimedia, its short and pithy format was easy to consume.

It looked easy. Anyone could write 140 characters. But those who did it well proved masters of it.

The irony is that as twitter expands its character limits, it risks losing some of its distinctive character as a social media platform.

Constraints liberate. Faced with a blank page, the possibilities can seem so endless and overwhelming that we fail to make a mark.

Tell yourself you only have to write four paragraphs, 80 words, and suddenly it seems a lot less daunting. But it forces you to consider every word and choose it carefully.

Being able to say more isn’t always a good thing. Being restrained means you focus on what matters. Clear messages require clear language. And in my book, that means keeping it simple.

As twitter expands its character limits, it risks losing some of its distinctive character. Click To Tweet

For words that can help your business cut through the noise, talk to me.

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Never miss a deadline – 3 time-saving tips from the newsroom

Never miss a deadline - 3 time saving tips from the newsroom

I started my writing career working in busy BBC radio and television newsrooms. The demand of hitting deadlines for hourly news bulletins and regular broadcasts was excellent training in being accurate, quick, and getting things done. Here are three top tips from the newsroom to help you in your business:

1. Plan and prepare

Even with a breaking story, there is always a little time to think about questions to ask interviewees, or what to say on air.

For more regular planned content, I’d always set off on a story with details of where I was going, who I was going to speak to and contact numbers in case of emergency. Having the basics written down, or easily accessible from your mobile device can save a lot of running around.

I’d also spend some time thinking about the story I was going to film or record (often in the car on the way there). Plotting out a simple structure helped me to focus on gathering the interviews and information I needed and made sure I didn’t forget to ask an important question.

For example, the structure for a news feature could be:

  • Introduction
  • Viewpoint 1
  • Opposing viewpoint 2
  • What do members of the public think
  • Summary

Thinking about the structure of your business content, such as a blog post or newsletter can help you to focus on what you need and stop you getting distracted.

Check out how to write a blog post in one hour for more time-saving tips.

Never miss a deadline - time saving tips from the newsroom for your business Click To Tweet

2. Create once, use many

As a radio journalist, I had to write headlines for news bulletins every hour. Often the same story would appear on subsequent bulletins, but by changing the headline, I could give it a new focus. For example, a business story could appear as:

  • New factory brings £30 million investment to the North East
  • 500 new jobs come to the North East thanks to major factory investment
  • North Tyneside mayor says factory investment offers a ‘promise of prosperity’

How to re-use and re-focus content you create for your business

  • Record a video on your latest blog topic.
  • Create an infographic of a handy how to guide.
  • Offer a downloadable template to go with your time-saving tips.
  • Ask your customers and fans to vote on new designs for your logo.

There are loads of different ways you can put a new spin on a content idea.

3. Get it done

I learned very quickly that there’s no such thing as another 30 seconds in a newsroom. Content was ready for the deadline or it didn’t make it to air.

Adequate and on time always beats perfectly late. That’s been a valuable lesson throughout my writing and business career.

Adequate and on time always beats perfectly late. Click To Tweet

It’s understandable that you want the content you create or the tasks you complete for your business to be perfect. To sweat over every little detail. Change your mind a dozen times and then go back to how it was originally.

Remember, your customers, your audience only see the finished results. They can only respond to what you publish, or create. And if it takes you forever to do it, they may lose interest and move on.

You wouldn’t watch a blank TV screen would you? Or listen to static on the radio?

Set your deadline, stick to it and publish.

Additional tip: The handover

At the end of each shift in the newsroom, I would leave instructions in a handover note to the person on the next shift.

Even if you’re not handing over to anyone else in your business, think about what you can do to set yourself up for a good start each day.

At the end of each day at the writing desk, I write a to-do list for the next day’s activities. Plans may change, just like they do in the newsroom, but it’s always a good place to start.

For more on how lessons for the newsroom can help you make decisions, work to deadlines and trust in your team, check out John Young Media.

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Emergency back-up blog post – do you have a lifeline ready?

Emergency back-up blog post

When I worked as a journalist in a busy BBC newsroom, we used to have something called the emergency tape. It was a programme that we could put on the air in case of an emergency, for example if we needed to evacuate the studios because of a fire alarm, flood etc. It was rarely ever used. But it was a real lifeline if we needed it.

I was talking about the idea of emergency back-up content earlier this week. And wouldn’t you know it, I could have really done with a blog post ready and waiting in reserve.

I always schedule time in my calendar to write, edit and create images for my blog posts. But this week that time was demanded on another project, and then a family emergency meant I really had nowhere else to schedule it.

How back-up content can help you stay on schedule

When I set myself the challenge of writing a blog post every week for a year (on top of my regular writing work) I had a few emergency blog posts banked up in reserve. That meant that if I was travelling, or working away; if I felt sick or an important event clashed with my dedicated blogging time, I had a back up to rely on.

I didn’t use all of those back-up blogs that year, but they haven’t gone to waste, as I used them to create content for my website and inspire content that I now use in my freelance writing, training and brand storytelling business.

Always have ideas in the bank

As a BBC radio and television reporter, I also had a bank of  ‘rainy day/anytime stories’. These were ideas that I could pick up on a slow news day and turn into a radio or television package.

I’ve applied the same strategy to regular writing tasks in my time. When one idea has lead to another, or when I’ve got more research and information than fits the word count for that task, I’ve filed it away to come back to when I needed it.

Do you have back-up content ready to go?

This has become my emergency blog post. Hastily pulled together when I’ve had ten minutes or so while travelling.

What I’ve learned this week is to make full use of that valuable newsroom training.  To go back to the discipline of making sure that I do have content ready to publish quickly if I need to.

Is that  a strategy you could use in your business too? What do you do when you’re short of time? Out of contact? Or if you just need some business content in a hurry.

As they say in broadcasting, normal service will resume as soon as possible.

How Strictly Come Dancing can make your writing sparkle

How Strictly Come Dancing can make your writing sparkle

Photo by Martin Barák on Unsplash

In a flourish of glitter and sequins, it’s back on our screens, whirling through Saturday night TV from Autumn until Christmas. In case you’ve had your head in a bucket, I’m talking about Strictly Come Dancing of course.

I make no secret of the fact that I’m a big fan of this annual extravaganza of celebs learning to perform the foxtrot, samba and cha-cha in pursuit of the glitterball trophy. Whilst I love watching the dancing, I’m reminded how it can be a wonderful form of expression – just like writing.

Here’s what Strictly can teach you about writing that sparkles:

Gotta have rhythm

The Strictly dancers, both professionals and celebrities, have to feel the beat of the music to move in time.

Writing has its own rhythms. Does yours plod along like a beginner stomping through a Paso Doble? Or does it zing and click like a high-energy Jive?

A good writer knows that using too many sentences of the same length, one after the other, becomes as dull and flat-footed as the contestant who gets ditched in week one.

Switch it up with a change of pace. Razzle dazzle ’em. Throw in an unexpected word. It’s the equivalent of a cheeky wink at the judges.

How Strictly Come Dancing can make your writing sparkle Click To Tweet

Style matters

tango dancersEvery dance has a different style –  from the romantic flowing movements of the waltz, to the hip action of the samba.

The same goes for writing. A good copywriter can switch between the smooth flow of a lengthy article that seeks to draw you in, and punchy eye-catching words that grab your attention instantly.

The professional dancers know that you have to start every dance by capturing the attention of the audience and finish with a flourish that will have them on their feet.

To write well you need to apply the same principle. Hook your readers with an engaging headline and leave them with a compelling call to action.

Hook your readers with an engaging headline and leave them with a compelling call to action. Click To Tweet

Master the technique

I’m no expert in dancing, but the Strictly judges will point out what they’re looking for from different dance styles. Woe betide you if you put an audience- pleasing lift into the routine when it isn’t strictly allowed.

In writing, that’s like understanding the conventions of grammar and spelling and knowing when to flout them.

Or knowing that changing verbs from the passive to the active will make your writing more direct and engaging – like facing down your partner in a Tango.

Practice, practice, practice

dancing coupleThe professional dancers on Strictly  make it look effortless, but it takes years of training and effort to do what they do.

Writing may not be quite as tricky as mastering the quickstep, but the more you practise, the better and more confident you become.

As a writer, I know that my first drafts are never going to be as clear, precise and powerful as the finished article.

It takes time to write, edit, review and rewrite. I’m always looking for improvements I can make to produce a polished performance for the final show.

Get the audience on your side

It’s not always the ‘best’ dancers who win through to the next round of Strictly Come Dancing. The watching audience votes for their favourites – the ones who have entertained them, made them laugh.

Thinking about your audience is essential for a copywriter. If you can appeal to their emotions, surprise, delight and thrill them in the same way that the couples do on the dance floor, you’ll be onto a winner.

Put your feet up and enjoy the show

I’m unashamedly a fan of Strictly Come Dancing. Just like music, dancing connects with me at a purely emotional level, that I don’t even pretend to understand.

As a writer, I’m like a dancer in the way I feel the rhythm of words, delight in a neat turn of phrase and express meaning through my creative craft.

Sometimes I stumble, sometimes I soar.  I always dream of sweeping you off your feet with some wonderful words.

Finding your writing voice and what that means

Finding your writing voice and what that means

A lot of writing advice talks about ‘finding your voice’. But what does that mean?

We all have a unique ‘physical’ voice. The tone, accent and language you use are formed from a unique mixture of your background and education; where you’ve lived and worked; who you’ve associated with, who you admire and whose customs you adopt.

Speaking vs writing

Studies have shown that we start to recognise human voices in the womb. In the early stages of human evolution, being able to distinguish whether someone was friend or foe in the dark, would have been an important survival trait.

In contrast, writing is something we’re taught to do. It’s a skill we have to learn and it doesn’t come as naturally as speaking. So our writing voice is more likely to be influenced by education, and what we’re taught about writing.

And that’s where there’s can be a disconnect between our speaking and writing voices. In being taught to write, we assimilate all these ‘rules’ about grammar, spelling and punctuation. And they can sometimes get in the way, making us fearful of making a mistake when we write.

What happens when we write?

I’ve seen it more times than I care to remember in business communications. When someone picks up a pen or taps their fingers on a keyboard, their ‘voice’ changes. It becomes more formal. It looks for clever sounding phrases. It adopts things it’s seen written elsewhere in a bid to sound professional.

Man in a suit tightening his tieThat’s how you end up with nonsense like “leveraging our partner ecosystem” and “assuring you of our best attention” (an email sign off that I used to see on a daily basis).

Say those phrases out loud. How do they feel?

That’s a tip I use in my business writing workshops.Read what you’ve written out loud. Ask yourself ‘Would I actually say that?

Read what you've written out loud. Ask yourself 'Would I actually say that?' Click To Tweet

If you have to mentally wrinkle up your nose, or adopt an unfamiliar tone to say it, then it’s not natural and authentic. And your audience, your customers will sense that.

Why our spoken and written voices differ

When we speak, our communication is spontaneous. We don’t use complete sentences. We get distracted. We intersperse our words with pauses, umms and errs that give us time to think.

When we speak, our body language, facial expressions and tone give clues to our meaning and intention. We understand if someone is being sarcastic, joking or being serious. Our spoken voice is full of our personality.

When we write, we don’t have these extra clues to illustrate our meaning. The words we use have to do all the work. So it’s important that they are clear.

But your written voice can represent your personality in the same way that your spoken voice does. Use words to paint a picture, tell a story, conjure up ideas in another person’s mind. Drop in a colloquial phrase or a favourite word. It’s all about being authentic.

Use words to paint a picture, tell a story, conjure up ideas in another person's mind. Click To Tweet

Finding a voice for my clients

Cup of coffeeIn writing for clients I have to adopt voices. It’s a bit like being a impressionist. I listen to them talk about their business. I read their written content carefully. I look for words and phrases they use and mimic their rhythm and style.

When I adopt a brand voice for a client, it’s often about dialling up or dialling down certain elements. One client has a lovely chatty tone of voice, so as I write for them, I imagine popping into their kitchen for a cuppa.

Another client is incredibly creative, bursting with ideas and enthusiasm. I throw in words that appeal to the senses and drop in a one-word sentence for impact.

How I help improve your writing voice

Sometimes my job is to give a client’s voice clarity. I edit out words that you don’t need, strip away the fluff and focus on what matters so that you present the best version of your business.

Sometimes my job is to give a client’s voice a confidence boost, so instead of words like ‘maybe, might, a bit’, I use words like ‘can, will and lots’.

singerOften my job is to give your communication clarity. That means structure and punctuation that makes it easy to read. It’s a bit like a singing coach showing you where to breathe when singing a complicated line.

When I correct grammar and spelling, it’s about avoiding distractions, and preventing you from looking stupid. Think of me as the friend who’ll tell you that you have spinach in your teeth, or your dress tucked into your knickers before you head out to impress someone.

Think of me as the friend who'll tell you that you have spinach in your teeth Click To Tweet

As a copy and content writer, I choose my words carefully. The trick is to keep my client’s voice, but give it a tidy up. Just like you might brush your hair more carefully and put on a clean shirt for an important meeting.

The voice I use in these blog posts is mine. A unique mixture of my background, education, influences and interests. You may not be able to detect my accent, but my writing voice is authentically mine.