Tag Archives | writing

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.

For more writing hints, tips and details of training and workshops, sign up for my newsletter.

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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.

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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.

5 creative writing prompts to spark fresh ideas for your business marketing

5 creative writing prompts to spark fresh ideas for your business marketingDo you ever think I don’t know what to write? I’ve said all that already? There’s nothing new to add?

I hear that a lot from businesses I work with. Most of the time you’re thinking about what you’re doing, your customers, your products, making sales and generally getting on with business. Thinking about how you write or talk about what you do to market your business doesn’t cross your mind until you find yourself stuck for inspiration.

If you’re looking for something to say in a blog post, facebook update, newsletter, instagram post or any other place you market your business, try one of these creative prompts to get you started.

Ever think I don't know what to write? Try one of these creative prompts Click To Tweet

1. Write in the style of… a detective novel, a fairy tale, a science fiction adventure…

How would you sell your products and services on a space ship? What would happen if the local outlaw came into your store?

If you feel like you’re always saying the same thing the same way, deliberately adopting a new and alternative style can shake up your thinking and give you some new ideas.

Open book2. Pick a sentence at random

This works well with a fiction book, but a newspaper, magazine or other printed item can work too. Choose a sentence at random, write it down and continue on from there.

An alternative starting point can give your writing a whole new direction.

3. Choose an object and tell its story

Select an item on your table, in your pocket, or just something you can see. Now write about life from its point of view. How did it get there? What’s its purpose? What are its goals and dreams?

This is a great creative prompt if you’re looking to freshen up the way you talk about products or services that you sell.

A great creative prompt if you're looking to freshen up the way you talk about products or… Click To Tweet

4. Write ten sentences

Write ten things about your day. They can be simple and mundane, or detailed and elaborate. They don’t have to link up or follow on from each other, so you can write something about having breakfast and then something a customer said to you. The only rule is to write complete sentences.

If the thought of writing anything feels daunting, this is a great way to grasp the confidence to do it. It’s just ten sentences after all.

Direction sign post

5. Write about a journey

It could be something as simple as a walk to the bus stop, or a trip into town. It doesn’t have to be that tale of the time you walked the Macchu Picchu trail.

Think about a journey and how you would tell the story of that journey to someone else.

This is a great way to get you thinking about structure and order as you write, because all journeys have a beginning, middle and end.

Think about a journey and how you would tell the story of that journey to someone else. Click To Tweet

How will any of this help me write about my business?

Writing creatively is about having fun, loosening up and forgetting about what you think you can or should be writing.

These creative prompts won’t necessarily give you something to use in your business straight away, but they will shake up your thinking and give you a fresh new place to start.

Look for the unexpected words and phrases that come from writing with a different set of expectations. Are there any that you can use?

As a copywriter, I often have to write about stuff that can seem pretty boring at first glance. I have used all of these tips and more to help me come up with fresh ideas and new perspectives.

Creative prompts will shake up your thinking and give you a fresh place to start. Click To Tweet

Want support and encouragement to write more creatively?

Try out some of these creative writing tips for yourself and join me for a day’s creative writing retreat at Christmas Farm in Northumberland on Saturday 23 September.

Fuel your creative inspiration with lunch fresh from the farm garden, plus plenty of tea, coffee and cake.

Book your spot at the writing table today 

For more hints and tips on great writing for your business, sign up to my mailing list

Why creativity is important in writing for business

Painting of peacock and peahen by Gail Armstrong

Peacock and peahen by Gail Armstrong

During the creative writing workshop I hosted in June, I set a free-writing exercise using animals as a prompt. Gail, an artist who creates paintings and drawings of people and places around the North East, wrote about a peacock.

The idea took such a hold that she returned to it as part of her own free-writing practice. As an artist, she was able to visualise her words and draw the beautiful picture of the peacock protecting a peahen that I’ve used to illustrate this blog post. You can see more of Gail’s work on her website.

I hadn’t planned to use that particular exercise in that workshop, but conversations around the table in Beth’s cabin sparked the idea and I felt confident enough to go ‘off script’ and try it.

Creativity inspires creativity. Look at the world of professional creative art. You’ll hear music inspired by books and poems; paintings inspired by music; dance inspired by stories; sculpture inspired by movement. Creativity inspires.

Why creativity is important in writing for business

For all that’s so impersonal about the word ‘business’, business is essentially about people interacting with other people.

From the simplest of individual transactions (“I want that. I’ll pay you for it”), to more complex and subtle negotiation (“I want to be part of that. I’ll give some of my personal data in return”), business is about the exchange of goods, services and ideas between people.

Writing is a creative pursuit. In a world of business, it’s easy to lose sight of that in the midst of targets, focus groups, measurements and ROI. But I hope that in writing for business I never have lost the motivation and desire to be creative.

Connect with readers through empathy

tango dancersWhen Robert Frost wrote: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader,” he was talking about the power of poetry to connect writer and reader through empathy and shared experience.

In business writing I say: “Boredom in the writer, boredom in the reader.” If I don’t find something interesting in what I write, why should you read it?

It’s up to me as a business writer to find something that excites, intrigues, delights or concerns me and to use that as a means of connecting with readers, customers, audiences.

All business thrives on creativity. Audience, targets, focus and goals are all important, but playing, trying new things, looking for inspiration outside the world of business is vital too.

Looking for creative inspiration?

If you’re looking for inspiration and time to write, join me for my next writing workshop in Northumberland. We’ll enjoy an environment that nurtures creativity. I’ll give you some prompts and time to explore your own writing. And you’ll be fuelled with tea, cake and lunch to keep your inspiration flowing.

Find out more and book your place.

The word is on the street – how to find writing inspiration

Words always catch my eye. There are family tales of me reading the sauce bottle at the dinner table, and the cornflake packet at breakfast. Maybe even then I was developing the skills that serve me well as a copywriter.

Having an eye and an ear for words is a good thing for a writer, as it means I’m never short of inspiration. I often find words and phrases in unexpected places when I’m out and about.

Words that make you laugh

Sign saying: sweet dreams are made of cheese

Sign outside my local deli

My local deli is a great place to find tasty local food, try new things and find a friendly welcome. It does have an amazing cheese selection. But how much more did I love it when I saw this on their blackboard? A little humour and an earworm to make me smile for the rest of the day.

Words that make you think

Ordinary people build worlds within worlds, ordinary people make a good life out of living

You can find metal discs engraved with words all along a walkway besides the Manchester ship canal. Some tell the story of the effort, industry and history that formed the industrial and social landscape of the city. Others, like this one, are more reflective and invite you to make your own sense of their meaning.

I love the thought and care that went into creating something that many will simply walk over.

Words that lead you to new experiences


I love this quote, first discovered on a canvas book bag at the Edinburgh Book Festival. It absolutely captures how I feel about a good book and it’s by a brilliant writer Patrick Ness, who I discovered after picking this up.

I’m not great at taking photos. Even with a phone with a pretty decent camera in my pocket, I forget. Even though I know images are great for engaging blog posts and social media, I still fall back on that old familiar technology of seeing, feeling and remembering sights, sounds, experiences.

But I will snap words and phrases that catch my eye. Words that make me laugh. Words that make me think. Words that spark ideas.

Words that inspire your writing

words at the Hartley Pit memorial
Last summer I took part in a creative writing project with a theme of walking in the landscape. The project identified 26 short walks in the UK going from a place name beginning with each letter of the alphabet to a place starting with the next letter in sequence (e.g. Boarhills to Crail) and asked writers to walk the route and write exactly 62 words about their experience.

The route I chose went from North Shields to Old Hartley, and in researching it, I visited nearby New Hartley, where I found these words. They feature in the memorial garden commemorating over 200 men and boys who lost their lives in the 1862 Hester Pit disaster.

Read my piece inspired by local history on the 26 Steps website.

What words will you discover?

What words will you spark your imagination as you’re out and about this summer? Once you get your eye in, you’ll be amazed at what you find.

I’d love to hear your stories of finding words and phrases in usual places. Tweet your photos to @I_am_wordstruck #wordonthestreet and I’ll send a Wordstruck notebook out for my favourite.

Looking for more writing inspiration?

Join me for a day of creative writing at Christmas Farm in Northumberland on Saturday 23 September.

Together we’ll banish the banish the blank page, put pen to paper without everyday distractions and enjoy a delicious home-grown lunch with produce from the farm.

Book your place today.

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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.

If you’re looking to build your physical muscles, Mass Gain Source offers these essential body building tips for beginners.

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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.

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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