Tag Archives | writing

Exercise your writing muscle – train to be a better writer

Use your writing muscle - writer wearing a hoodie, holding pen and note-book

Like physical training, your writing can benefit from exercise. Just like challenging your body, heart and lungs to take on new challenges, you can improve your writing by focusing on your writing practice and trying new things. Here’s how I exercise my writing muscle and keep myself in top writing shape.

Make time for writing

I swim, cycle and run so that I can take part in triathlons. I do weight training to keep me strong and in good shape for my sport too. Yes, it is sometimes hard to fit in physical training. But I know that if I don’t put the effort into consistent training, I’m unlikely to reach my potential, and I risk injury. Training challenges me, and I enjoy it. So I make time for it.

I make time for writing too. Not just as part of my daily routine, which involves creating content for my writing clients. I make time to explore writing outside of my work commitments too.

Time to try new writing challenges. Time to write with no expectations or judgement. Time to play around and enjoy it.

Time for writing can be a regular 20 minutes free-writing to warm up my writing muscles for the day. Or, it can be more intense and concentrated, in the form of a workshop or writing retreat with Dark Angels, or a training event from 26 Characters.

Become a better writer by reading

Most writers start out mimicking their heroes. I did. Somewhere in a box in the attic, there’s an exercise book filled with a story about a girl who runs off on horseback in the dead of night, in the style of C.S Lewis. Reading was how I first learnt the elements of stories, about heroes and conflicts, about character, place and action.

It may seem like a long path to go from writing fantasy tales to writing marketing materials for businesses. But business writing has its heroes with their obstacles to overcome too. It’s just a matter of seeking them out. Call that my daily quest.

Writing stories of my own taught me about structure – about the importance of beginnings, middles and endings. These are important elements in business writing too.

You need a strong headline to catch attention. You need to draw people in, take them on a journey. And then at the end, you need to persuade them to take action.

Become a better writer by analysing technique

While studying English Literature and Language at Leeds University, one of my tutors used to set us the task of writing essays in the style of the writers we were studying – Philip Sidney, John Milton, Alexander Pope.

This was very different from modern writing, but in mimicking the rhetoric, structure, and language of different writers, I learned to appreciate the craft of their writing even more. That meant I could write about it from a position of understanding.

Using metaphor, drawing on all the senses, writing from another person’s point of view, choosing a potent word – these are all techniques I have learned through studying language and literature. And they serve me well as a writer for business today.

Become a better writer by finding your voice

As a writer, the ability to adapt my writing to different styles is a very useful skill. It helps me sound like the brand or company I’m writing for. And I can still do a decent impression of Jane Austen or Charles Dickens, should you need that kind of thing.

But to be authentic, it’s not enough to mimic someone else’s style.  You have to develop your own.

While a brand and business may borrow and adopt words and language from its own industry and environment, as a tone of voice consultant, I advise them to look for the things that make them different.

Just as in speaking, we all have our own individual, distinct and recognisable voices, it’s important to find your own voice when you write – whether that’s writing for business or writing for yourself. It’s what makes you different, unique and memorable.

To exercise your writing muscle and improve your writing

  1. Make time for writing

  2. Make time for reading

  3. Try on different voices and see what fits

  4. Use what you’ve learned and make it your own

For more tips to help you improve your writing, sign up to my mailing list.

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Free writing – how to start writing anything

Just write.

It’s one piece of advice I always offer about writing of any kind. If the blank page fills you with fear, find a way to defeat it.

Free writing

person writing with a pen in a notebookJust write. Take your pen or pencil and move it on the paper. Write as quickly as you can, without thinking too much about what you want to write.

Don’t worry if it’s a scribbly mess. Pay no attention to grammar or spelling or any of the usual things that demand your attention when writing. Just take your mind for a walk and let the words follow as you write.

This is free writing and it’s a great technique to help you get over the hurdle of starting to write anything.

Writing as part of a creative routine

For creative writers, it’s a technique popularised by Julia Cameron in her book The Artists’ Way. She calls this practice ‘Morning Pages’ and encourages writers to start each day with 3 sides of long hand writing.

Much of what you write may be nonsense, or fairly dull practical stuff about what you need to do that day, but given time and focus, other elements start to appear if you can just let go and write.

I don’t stick strictly to the ‘Morning Pages’ routine, but do use variations of free writing in my own writing practice, whether I’m writing for business or just for my own amusement. I always start with something handwritten as I find thoughts flow more readily from brain to pen than they do from brain to keyboard.

Finding creative gifts

Use free writing to spark creative ideasFree writing is useful for any kind of writing, not just for self discovery. It gets you started and gives a structure.

I recommend setting a timer and writing for between 10 to 20 minutes. And importantly, doing nothing else in the meantime. Just focusing on writing, but trying not to think too much about what you’re writing.

Writing in this way allows you to tap into your subconscious, which is a great source of creative ideas. Once you get your conscious mind out of the way, you may find that your subconscious throws in something completely unexpected. That’s an absolute gift for generating original and creative ideas.

I remember using free writing to start a piece of fantasy writing about a monster. After a while, letting my thoughts flow, out of nowhere came an image of a reality TV show contestant singing into a microphone. The clash of the two images gave my creative piece an unexpected twist and the final story was shortlisted for a writing award.

Free writing for business

Girl breathing Free writing also helps me reflect. I turn off the screen, eliminate any distractions and just spend time with my pen and notebook. My handwriting becomes very untidy and often I don’t write in full sentences. But as I do it, I can feel a sense of calm, like I’m taking deeper breaths, or spending some time meditating.

For business focused writing I adapt the exercise by giving myself a starting point or a topic at the top of the page. For example, this blog post began as a free writing exercise around the theme of writing workshops.

Discover your writing inspiration

I’m putting together materials and exercises for a creative writing workshop next month and free writing is very likely to be one of the exercises I will use. I may start people off with a sentence or a phrase that they continue such as: “I’d write more if…”

If you’re interested in starting to write and developing your writing creatively for business, blogging or just for your own enjoyment, check out details of my Get Writing, Keep Writing workshop.

For more business writing tips, sign up to my mailing list.

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Dove Cottage – creative writing inspired by place and objects

Did you know that writer William Wordsworth born on this day in 1770? It’s a date that’s lodged in my mind as it links to a creative project that I was part of, linked to the poet and his Lake District home of Dove Cottage.

I was one of 26 writers who took part in in a creative writing project inspired by postcodes. The letter and number combinations identified a place that we used as inspiration to write a piece of 62 words exactly – a form known as a sestude.

Dove Cottage, Grasmere

Dove cottage

My postcode was for Dove Cottage in Grasmere – home to the famous poet William Wordsworth and his family from 1799 to 1808.

I immediately felt lucky to have such a place rich in writing history from which to draw inspiration, but also a little daunted. Although I knew of Wordworth’s work, and had studied some of his poetry, he wasn’t one of my favourites. I dismissed him as a bit safe and chocolate boxy.

But I was very wrong, as I learned when I visited the house and the exhibition space that now sits alongside it. Wordsworth was a great walker and adventurer. He visited France during the Revolution and had a relationship and a daughter there. His poetry reflects changing social and political landscapes, and together with his sister Dorothy and his family, they were a real part of the small community they lived in.

Taking inspiration from objects

I visited Dove Cottage on a bright, sunny day, perfect for the tourists that now flock there. In the museum and the house, I was fascinated by the objects that would have been familiar to Wordsworth and his family.

The page of Dorothy’s diary, open at the day they saw the daffodils, that inspired his most often quoted poem, shows how important her records are in shaping Wordsworth’s work.

Pens, a writing desk, a small suitcase – these told the story of a man who once travelled, but came to settle and write in this place.

And, displayed in a glass case, was the rich velvet coat he wore when he was presented to Queen Victoria as poet laureate. In all likelihood, the most expensive piece of clothing he ever wore. I imagined him feeling rather uncomfortable in it, being more at home in the tough boots that carried him miles in walks over the hills.

From scribbled words to published piece

I drank in so much information among the exhibits, and then went and sat, in the garden behind the house and wrote a  few words in my notebook.

Notebook and 26 Postcodes pamphletAfter many further scribblings and through many more pages of words,  I eventually condensed my thoughts down to the 62 that make up my sestude. It was  was published online and in a beautiful little pamplet along with other pieces that reflect places as diverse as Seamus Heaney’s football club to the Heinz factory.

Looking back, I can trace every thought and idea in those 62 words to my time at Dove Cottage.

“To introduce Wordsworth into one’s library is like letting a bear into a tulip garden,” said Thomas de Quincey. The quote illustrated on one of the displays made me smile, and painted a picture of a robust, and vigorous man, with a passion for books. It also gave me that key word ‘library’ – a good one to use in relation to a writer.

The coat appears, as does Dorothy’s diary, and the garden path that I took at the back of the house. And seeing the house in its context, I wanted to reflect a sense of the landscape that inspired the writer and me, with its distinctive fells and lakes. That gave me a structure for my poem.

I still have the notebook. The first words I wrote were: hill, lake, hearth, home. They remain in my finished sestude, as a tribute to the power of place to inspire. Here it is:

Your library, these rising hills

Your reflections, these sun-dappled lakes

Your muse, these dancing golden flowers

Your wistful words, whispers of valley voices

Your fine court coat, the mossy earth

Your eyes and ears, a sister’s diary

Your heart, the swaying sycamore green

Your wanderings stilled by slate paths

Your poetry etched by nature.

 

Hill, lake, earth, stone

Pen, ink, hearth, home.

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How to find your business blogging confidence

There’s been a lot of chat about business blogging in my online networks this week, with several people expressing a lack of confidence about doing it.

I’m a writer. I blog and I have done for years. I’m not saying I always do it as well or as consistently as I could do, but I’m not afraid of writing blog posts for my own and other businesses. By addressing some of your worries and sharing what works for me, I’d like to help give you more confidence to blog for your business.

Why blog for your business?

There’s lots of advice about this, so I’ll give you the short version. Blogging is a relatively easy way to generate new content for your website. Search engines like new content, so your site appears higher in their rankings than static sites, and more customers find you.

Blogging is also a great way to establish your knowledge and expertise, to give your customers a chance to get to know more about you and your business and to build up a relationship with them.

I don’t like writing and I’m no good at it

photographerWho says you have to write a blog? Why not use video or photographs?

You don’t need fancy equipment and editing software for video or vlogs – a smartphone or the video mode on a digital camera will do. Film them selfie style, or fix your camera onto something. I’ve balanced mine on a pile of books before now.

Pictures also make great blog posts. A series of photos of an event, product or experience are an excellent way to show what your business does. You can add captions or let them tell their own story.

I am not great at using pictures in my blogs. I prefer to use my own to avoid rights issues. But I have found pixabay and Unsplash useful for sourcing rights free images and have created some of my own using Adobe Spark and Canva.

Or, best of all, hire a professional photographer to get some great pictures of you and your business that you can use time and time again. That’s on my to-do list in the next six months.

As for being confident or ‘good’ at writing blogs, all I can say is that if you don’t try, it won’t get any easier. Let your audience or customers decide how good you are. And if you need some help, then ask your friendly local writer for help with subjects, structure or writing style.

I don’t have any ideas for blog posts

This is quite difficult for me to understand, because I have ideas all the time. I watch the news, sign up for alerts to subjects I’m interested in, go for a walk, talk to people, look through photos on my phone. I read, I dream, I cook, I run – I mash things up from one area of my life and another. I have more ideas than I will ever get to write about.

Working in creative industries means I’ve always had to think of ideas. As a BBC Radio journalist I had to source at least two news stories a day, which meant generating a lot more than two ideas and working on them until I ‘found’ a story.

Wordstruck notebooksAs a creative copywriter, I had to generate lots of ideas for marketing campaigns. Here, working with other creative people really helped me to bounce ideas around, and spark new ones from others’ input. The trick was not to dismiss any idea straight away, to keep on generating them and only then start to apply filters about what would work well.

I take the same approach to blogging now. If I’m asked to write about a particular theme or subject, I’ll do a bit of research and then jot down as many ideas as I can.  I’ll leave them for a while before coming back to them to decide which ones to present to a client.

I write ideas down in OneNote, and in my notebooks. Nowadays, I normally have a phone or notebook with me, but I have scribbled things on the back of bus tickets in my time. Most of my ideas are a sentence, phrase or question that acts as a prompt, but sometimes they can be a quote or an observation.

I don’t think my ideas are any good

If you want to be strategic and smart about blogging for your business, then think about your audience or your customers and what they would be interested in. Here are a few themes to get you started:

  • What advice can you pass on?
  • Share  your view of what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ – what goes into your product or service?
  • Review an activity, event, place, product or service
  • What do you wish you’d known when you started in business?
  • Think about questions that your customers always ask you – can you answer some of these in a blog post?
  • How can you help your customers do business with you or a closely related business? For example this guest post for Whiteacres Design offers great tips for choosing a commercial photographer

If those aren’t enough then here are 50 ideas for your business blog.

And if you’re still struggling, then drop me a note in the comments below or contact me through the Wordstruck facebook page.

I don’t have time to blog

As a business writer, one of the services I offer is to write blogs for your business. So, it may seem a bit odd that I’m writing this blog post, as I could be doing myself out of business. But I recognise that not everyone has the budget or inclination to hire a writer. And I love writing so much that I want to share that with you.

Here are some of the things that helped me:

Set a time and place for blogging

Wordstruck writing deskMy brilliant writing mentor John Simmons has written a weekly blog post for years. He sets aside a specific day and time to write.

I wrote a weekly blog on a writing theme for over a year, following the same discipline and setting aside an hour a week to do it.

I didn’t always complete my blog post in that hour, but I made a start. Sometimes I could extend that time, sometimes I had to find it somewhere else. But I made it a goal to get it written and published.

Make yourself accountable

I set myself a weekly blogging goal because I wanted to generate content, and because I wanted to test my ability to come up with new ideas on a consistent basis. This was actually the start of convincing myself that I had the right attitude to set up in business for myself.

If it helps, tell someone what your business blogging goal is, or at least write it down e.g. I will post a blog about my business once a week for 6 weeks. I announced mine on my twitter profile.

Take on a bet, or promise yourself a reward for sticking to your blogging goals. Buddy up with your social or business network and challenge and support each other.

Just do it

Blogging is a great way to develop your confidence in writing and talking about your business. Remember, you’re in charge of what you publish and when. And, you can go back and edit things (even delete them) if you want to.

So, try not to get too hung up on writing the perfect blog post . Just write it and publish it. After you’ve taken a deep breath and calmed down, go back and look at the responses, comments, views and analytics and use them to help you decide what to post next.

Special business blogging offer

Writing this blog post has made me realise there’s a lot more I could say about business blogging. So I’d like to hear from you. What challenges and concerns do you have about blogging for your business? What more would you like to know?

Please add your comments below or get in touch with me via the Wordstruck facebook page. I promise to respond to every comment.

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Always learning

As a writer and trainer, I’m always keen on learning new things, that I can pass on to the people who come to my writing workshops or just to keep my own interests and knowledge up to date.

Here are a few things I’ve learned recently:

Simple visuals using Adobe Spark

A writer, I think, is someone who pays attention to the worldHypeStar provide training in digital and social media from their base in the North East, and are very generous in sharing some great hints and tips on their blog. That’s where I learned about Adobe Spark – a free tool to create graphics and simple video animations. Check out HypeStar’s simple guide to Adobe Spark and give it a try yourself:

https://www.hypestar.uk/make-stunning-visuals-videos-adobe-spark/

This has been a great way for me to add some visual appeal to some of my Twitter and facebook posts. A professional designer can create something more creative and stand out for your business, but for a quick post, I think this is a great tool.

How to avoid deleting shared files when using Dropbox

I picked up some more tips from technical writer John Espirian, including this reminder about the rules of dropbox sharing.

I’m starting to work with a client using Dropbox at the moment, so this was a very useful and timely reminder.

Contender for word of the year

I love a good discussion about words, so I always enjoy seeing what The Writer has to say in their email newsletter. They’re making an early prediction about the word of the year in 2017. 

I also enjoyed hearing how paying attention to language helped turn customer experience from bad to good for games company EA on their podcast. You can listen to it on iTunes and on everything else.

The black hole of Calcutta was a real place

Finally, Lucy Worsley always does a great job of engaging me with stories from history. I’ve really enjoyed the series of British History’s Biggest Fibs, and this week I learned about the origin of the phrase ‘the black hole of Calcutta’. Watch it again on BBC iPlayer.

I really appreciate it when people share their interests and knowledge and add to mine. Is there anything you’d like to know more about in the realms of copywriting and business writing?

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Why use a copywriter for your business?

Most of us can write. Most of us can explain our business, what we do, what we offer, what’s brilliant about it. So why would you hire a copywriter, like me, to write for your business?

Knowledge and experience

Do you need a business website, an advert, a blog post, a flyer, a report, a bid document, a video, a case-study, a speech, or some social media posts?

microphoneA copywriter knows what style of writing works best for different media.

For example, my first job was working with BBC Radio, so I understand the difference between writing things that will be spoken, and things that will be read.

I  can adapt my writing style for print from a detailed business report to a snappy postcard or flyer. I can write SEO friendly content that helps customers find your website, product or service in the vast world of the internet.

A fresh perspective

You’re the expert in your business. But sometimes it’s possible to get a little too close to be able to see things clearly.

spanner, hammer, nail and screwDo you talk the language of your customers? Are you trying to sell a drop-forged, chrome-coated,open-ended spanner, when your customer is looking for a tool to loosen off a nut?

A copywriter will ask questions, find out about you and your business and get to know your customers too.

As a writer, I can explain things clearly, and write about your business in a way that your customers understand and engage with.

Stand out from the crowd

How many other businesses do something similar to yours? How do you attract attention, and make yours the company that customers choose?

A copywriter can help generate creative ideas, and approaches as well as choosing specific words and phrases that can set you apart from the rest.

Quality focus

glasses and notebookHow often do you find yourself in the middle of something, when your phone rings, or someone asks you a question, or an email pops up to distract you?

If you ask me to write something for you, I promise you my full attention. I’ll be 100% focused on writing quality words for your business, with no spelling or grammar howlers.

I’m used to working to deadlines, and getting to know a subject quickly, so whether you need some attention grabbing words in the next month, week or even day, then there’s a good chance I can help you.

Get it done

Hiring a freelance copywriter means you can have writing when you need it, not just when you can get round to it.

Sometimes you know what you want to say, but scribbling it down or typing it out just isn’t your priority. So that blog post, brochure, or website update never sees the light of day and never drives any customers your way.

A quick conversation with a copywriter will set that right. A professional will be able to write it more quickly than you can.

Lee and Beth at The Christmas Farm are really busy growing organic fruit and vegetables and looking after the animals that provide the meat and produce for their organic box scheme. They love sharing recipes and ideas for eating seasonal and local food with their customers, but don’t always have time. I help them out by writing newsletters and adding blog posts and recipes to their website.

Trust an expert

Working with a copywriter is just like working with any other professional who can help your business. It’s a bit like working with an accountant. While you could do the sums and spreadheets yourself, isn’t it reassuring to know there’s someone who understands all the ins and outs of tax and finances; someone who can save you a lot of hassle and money?

A copywriter, like me, can do that. I understand the rules and tricks of writing. I can advise you on the best approach. And I can write for your business, leaving you to focus on the nuts and bolts, or hammers and spanners.

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Wordstruck 2017 – goals and plans

I believe you can set goals and make plans at any time, and shouldn’t wait until a specific date to set them down. But the start of the year is often a time when people and businesses take stock, and look ahead.

I’ve been doing that myself over the Christmas break, and I thought I’d share some of my goals and plans for my writing and training business with you. Writing down plans and sharing them with other people is one technique for making them stick.

1. Help more businesses tell their story

We all have a story to tell whether we whisper or yellAt Wordstruck, my purpose is to help businesses tell their story through words that attract attention and engage customers.

To help more businesses do that, I need to connect with more of them. At the moment, I’m focusing on raising awareness of who I am and what I do – building the Wordstruck brand.

That means being active as a business on social media platforms including twitter and facebook, joining networking groups, taking part in #northeasthour and attending events like the Mussel Club.

I’m also making use of my personal and professional connections through LinkedIn, contacting people who I’ve worked with in the past and letting them know about my new venture as a freelance writer.

This isn’t about chasing likes and followers, but encouraging real life engagement and conversations. By making connections, I aim to find people and businesses that I can work with, learn from and help in 2017.

2. Expand my writing training and workshops

Writing training workshop table

I love creating and delivering writing workshops. They take a lot of time, and always challenge me, but I learn so much from doing them and get great feedback from people that attend them.

When I was thinking about what to do with my business, I knew that I really wanted to continue doing training and workshops because I know people really get a lot out of them; because I’ve benefited from some amazing writing training and want to give something back.

In my career as a corporate copywriter, I had a captive audience and easy way to publicise sessions that I ran on a monthly basis. As a freelancer, I have a lot more to think about from venues to participants, content and costs. But I find that exciting.

So, rather than retreating behind my keyboard and writing all the time (which I also love doing), I intend to maintain the thrill and the skill of writing training this year.

3. Be a better writer

This is always a given. I have been writing for business for more than 10 years, but there is always something new to learn, or to be inspired by.

This year I aim to be a better writer by making writing my business. That means finding new clients to work with, getting my services and pricing right and seeking feedback that helps me develop what I offer to businesses.

Like many people in marketing, I understand a lot of the theory, but putting it into practice is where I really test my skills. Running my own business is the best way I know to connect with other people who do the same and I’ll be reflecting my personal experience on my blog, and on my business facebook page.

4 Maintain a healthy outlook

Photo of a path through some sand dunesOver the past few years I’ve kept pretty active, enjoying running, cycling, swimming and taking part in triathlons. So I have a good habit for physical health, although there are areas I could improve.

Maintaining a healthy outlook means continuing to make time for those activities as part of my day – making sure that I get up and move around and get out in the fresh air. Walking to my local shops and talking to local business people.

It also means looking after my mental wellbeing too. Accepting that it will take some time to find work and clients; that it’s okay to take a break sometimes. Learning from, but not getting too hung up on analytics about followers and impressions or engagement.

5 Keep my creative jar stocked up

I can find inspiration in almost anything. I once wrote a poem about the cardboard inner of a toilet roll.

Glass jar etched with the words 'Creative juices'I am naturally curious, interested and engaged with the world. I watch and listen to the news, music, read books, see films and theatre, visit art exhibitions, take part in singing workshops!

I generally carry a notebook with me, and use my phone to snap photos or take notes when I don’t.

It is hugely enjoyable to pick up a book I wouldn’t otherwise read; go and see a challenging film at an independent cinema (Oh Tyneside Cinema – how do I love thee!) or take myself off for the day to the Edinburgh Festival.

I’m not going to feel guilty about any of those pursuits. They are part of nurturing my creativity. And we all deserve a little artist’s treat sometime.

I’ll also be encouraging others to make use of their creative muscles, through my work with 26 Characters. Together with my creative collaborator, Sandy Wilkie, we have pitched an idea for a new writing project, which we hope will get the go-ahead very soon. Following on from the success of previous projects including 26 Steps and 26 Under A Northern Sky, I look forward to writing, reading and championing more creative output in 2017.

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Why be inspired to a greater love of words, in business and in life?

Why? It’s always a good question to ask when you’re trying to understand something. Why do words matter? Why are they worthy of love, thought and respect?

As a member of 26 I was asked to provide my answer, which is now included along with the thoughts, wisdom and humour of other 26 writers in ‘The Book of Because.’ Here’s my contribution:

Because words connect.

Photo of the Book of BecauseWords we love roll round our mouths like
ice cream on a hot day.

Because words conduct business.
Words on stone tablets saying “Pay this
soldier a pig and four sacks of grain”.

Words that fly through the ether to appear
on a screen.
Words link to our past and shape our future.

Because words can be as sharp as a blow or
as near as a whisper.

Words are a gift our bright blue planet
bestows on only one species.
Because, above all, words are human. 

 

Thanks to the editorial team at 26 Characters, Faye Sharpe, John Simmons and Neil Baker for bringing this project together and to Rodney Mylius for the elegant and tactile design.

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Wordstock 2015 – a festival of words and creative fun

Wordstock, the annual gathering of members of 26 is a place where words bubble up into a rich and fragrant stew; where the tick of time inspires the tock of activity. Where we celebrate creativity, learn, laugh and fire up new writing projects for the next 12 months.

I arrived a little late at the Free Word Centre in Farringdon, so missed the opening celebrations of projects that 26 writers have taken part in during 2015, including 26 Pairs of Eyes, 26 Under a Northern Sky and 26 Children’s Winters.

slide with the caption 'Think like a poet"

But I was there for the launch of the latest, which I’m also involved in. Over the next 26 weeks, 26 postcodes will reveal a sestude inspired by a postcode together with the story behind it. Gillian Colhoun kicked things off by reading her piece, based on the Gaelic football ground where Seamus Heaney played. My own contribution, based on Dove Cottage, the Lake District home of William and Dorothy Wordworth, will appear next year.

The day was split into a series of sessions, with a choice of workshops in the morning and afternoon. I first opted for Rishi Dastidar‘s session. As head of verbal identity at BrandPie and a published poet, he’s a mash up of Don Draper and Byron and showed us four ways to use poetry techniques in copywriting.

A packed session, full of useful content and some speedy writing. And I’ve already used one of the techniques to inspire a new brand name. Who says you can’t measure the value of inspiration?

Next up, more poetry from spoken word artist and Barnes’ answer to Eminem Charlie Du Pre. He serenaded us on ukulele, and left us wondering why we’ve never heard rhymes like:  ‘I engage with lots of faces pretty much on a daily basis’, before. Fast-paced, funny and rapping genius.

I spent the afternoon session with independent copywriter, author and trainer, Roger Horberry who loves alliteration even more than I do. He demonstrated that the forms of rhetoric pack a punch in modern marketing. And, for this writer at least, brought back memories of studying Spenser, Donne and Pope at university.

Images of the number 26

Celebrating the best in writing at 26

Self-styled biblio-fundamentalist Andy Miller was next, sharing his experience of actually reading the books that he always wanted to and some he even pretended he had. He finished by ‘persuading’ a handful of 26ers to commit to reading their own choice of books. For my part, I’ve signed up to read John Buchan’s 39 Steps, spurred on by another conversation I had during the day.

The final session was a fascinating insight into storytelling from John Yorke, former Eastenders script editor and head of drama at BBC and Channel 4. I love a good bit of story-theory and this so much fired up my interest that I’ve been looking for the mid points and reversals of fortune in every TV drama I’ve watched since.

I learned something new too. Did you know that the acts in Shakespeare plays were determined by the length of time it took to burn a candle?

Last time I came to Wordstock, I was introduced to the music of Nick Drake and on the journey home, sparked the idea that became 26 Under A Northern Sky along with co-conspirator Sandy Wilkie. This time we collaborated again and have put forward another idea that we both hope will be adopted as another creative brief.

I really couldn’t have asked more from a packed day of words, writers and mind-blowing creativity. The train journey north wasn’t nearly enough time to process it all. And the pile of books on my reading list has grown by at least 3 volumes. If you can make it next year, I heartily recommend it.

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Indian summer

I’ve been pondering the Indian summer. What can I say? I’m British. The weather is practically an obsession. But where does the phrase come from? And which Indians does it refer to – Native Americans, or people of the vast land in South Asia?

As ever, that other British institution, the BBC, offers an excellent explanation of its meteorological and social history.

Walking barefoot on the beach

Walking barefoot on the beach

Indian summer refers to a spell of fine autumn weather. It seems to have been commonly used in the USA from the late 1700s, and gained popularity in the UK from the 1950s, presumably as we experienced some spells of warm autumn weather.

For me, it’s a phrase that conjures up memories of forcing my feet into stiff new school shoes after a summer of going barefoot, or wearing sandals and trainers, and never having to bother with insufferable socks. I saw no need to change my clothing while the sun still shone and would stubbornly stick out in short sleeves until I couldn’t escape the goosebumps and the dreaded cardigan any longer.

In searching for the meaning and etymology of Indian summer, I looked for its use in literature. First stop was a poem by William Wilfred Campbell that begins:

Along the line of smoky hills
The crimson forest stands,
And all the day the blue-jay calls
Throughout the autumn lands.

I’m not familiar with Campbell’s poems, but it seems nature, the seasons and landscape are common themes. I imagine Wordworth transplanted from the English Lakes to Canada.

Then, via Wikipedia I find a glimpse of an Indian poet Jayanta Mahapatra writing about an Indian summer:

Over the soughing of the sombre wind
Priests chant louder than ever.
The mouth of India opens:
Crocodiles move into deeper waters.

I’m intruiged, but can find little more than this excerpt and a reference to the poem’s theme of ‘suffering woman’.

Indian summer can also refer to a period of happiness, success and contentment later in life. Maybe that’s what pulls me to the phrase. Dorothy Parker gives this idea her own inimitable twist in her poem ‘Indian Summer’

In youth, it was a way I had
To do my best to please,
And change, with every passing lad,
To suit his theories.

But now I know the things I know,
And do the things I do;
And if you do not like me so,
To hell, my love, with you

Good old Dorothy Parker – always raising an eyebrow and a smile.

For me this year, an Indian summer has offered the simple pleasure of the sun on my face as I walk along the sand, seeking out a spot to sit with my book, or watch the waves. Barefoot, naturally.

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