Structure

In my last article about writer’s block, I talked about how my ideas for stories or articles sometimes need a little time to take shape in my head. Once they do? I can start writing. And that’s true when I’m writing from experience because then I have a story to tell and the structure of the piece is obvious. It’s less true when I’m writing something that needs to be researched.

As a fiction writer, I know that stories need a beginning, a middle and an end. Blog posts are much the same.

  • Beginning
    Opening lines are very important. You need to engage your reader in that first sentence, and then lay out in the next couple what it is you’re about to say and why they might be interested in it.
  • Middle
    This is where you fulfill the promise of the opening paragraph. Lay out your points in an order that makes sense, great articles have a flow where one point segues nicely into the next. It’s not always possible, but there’s usually a way.
  • Ending
    Wrap up what you’ve said, summarise it or bring your piece to a conclusion. Add a call to action, whether that’s encouraging someone to order a product, get in touch or leave a comment on the post itself.

Info - StructureTo use a real-life example, last week I wrote an article for a client on how to make an office more productive. I started by making some notes of things I thought would be helpful: Colour, Layout, Efficiency (Time & Motion) and Decluttering. Then I googled to see what others had written on the subject to see if I had missed anything key.

After that I went to my old friend psychology and looked up information as to why these things made a difference to productivity. I also remembered reading about how Google’s office design helped creativity but had a negative impact on productivity, so I checked my memory on that one too.

With that done, I sorted the points I wanted to make into a logical order. Then I wrote it, using the process outlined in this nifty infographic. I’ll add a link to the piece here when it gets published.

And that’s really all there is to it. Structure isn’t a great mystery. It’s just about taking a minute or two before you start writing to get clear on what you want to say, and what the best way to say it might be!

Advertisements

Writer’s Block

writers-blockI used to think of writer’s block as a dearth of ideas. Lack of ideas is not something that I’ve ever experienced; in fact, my usual problem is deciding which idea I should focus on next. The best description I ever had of my brain was a thousand browser windows open at once. Fortunately, I can focus on the one thing I want or need to, and put the others into the background. So, I confidently expected to never get blocked as a writer.

Until I did. It was the weirdest thing. I wanted to write. I knew what I needed to write. But when I sat down at the typewriter to start the download from my brain via my fingers, nothing happened. I just couldn’t get started. That’s when I came to the realisation that is is so beautifully expressed by Joyce Carol Oates up there.

The best analogy I can come up with for when I know an idea is ready is the creation of the universe. Inside my mind, I have an incredible assortment of information floating around. I’ll do my research for an article and add to it. The ideas swirl around in my mental firmament until a couple collide and stick together. Then another, and another, until the idea starts to have gravity. It attracts other things and I get a pleasantly unpleasant feeling of fullness in my head. That’s when it’s time to write.

For example, today I am going to write a blog about digital marketing. I know the subject I want to write about. I’m interested in it and excited to get started but…I’ve written the opening paragraph about eight times and the words are still not flowing. I could sit down and force myself to write it, paragraph by painful paragraph, but I know it wouldn’t be my best work. Instead, I’m going to give those ideas a little more time to swirl and connect and do something else.

Cogs

Change Mental Gears

I think, when you’re blocked, that your conscious mind just gets in the way. If I try to work the problem, I’ll just get more frustrated, so instead, I’ll let my clever subconscious work on it while I do something else. What? Well, that depends. Here are some of the things I do to get into the right frame of mind:

  • Make a drink or snack
    Sometimes this is all that’s needed to get me back on track. Especially if the drink is coffee or Berocca 🙂
  • Brainstorm
    If the idea isn’t developed enough, then take a little more time to refine it. I brainstorm. Looking back through my notes from research and trying to pull together a narrative thread.
  • Take a nap
    I’m a single Mum of two incredible kids. Tired is my default state of being. A fatigued brain isn’t going to work at maximum capacity, so I ask Alexa to play me rainforest or ocean sounds, and I nap. Napping is awesome.
  • Do something practical
    Unload the dishwasher, hang the laundry, mow the lawn, pick up the million and one nerf bullets that are scattered around the house from last night’s epic battle.
  • Work on something else
    Reconcile my accounts, polish my CV, go on a scouting mission for more work, or write a blog post for myself – as I am doing right now!
  • Go out
    I’m lucky to have a little wood just a few minutes walk from my house. I can go out into nature, listen to the birds and the swish of the wind in the trees and be back at my desk within about half an hour.
  • Laugh
    Mr. Stephen Colbert is often seen on my recently watched list. I also like listening to the BBC Friday Night Comedy Podcast. I think the laughter probably releases stress and helps the creativity to flow!
  • Leave it for another day
    Of course, this one is no good if you’re the sort that leaves your work to the last minute. I’m not, I always build myself in some time, if I can, so that if the time isn’t right, I can defer it.
  • Just get on with it
    Although I’ve put this last on the list it’s actually my first choice of action. I try. If I can’t, and deadlines allow other options then I use those. For some types of writing (especially bids and tenders) the deadlines are usually so short that you have no other choice than to crack on. It’s easier to do that with bids, though, because the question you’re answering gives you the structure of your answer.

And if after all that I really can’t connect with the idea? Well, then there’s a good chance that I’ve either got the wrong idea or the wrong client. The wrong idea means going back to the drawing board and coming up with something new – it’s not the best idea for me, because it means I’ve worked more hours on a piece that I had budgeted for, but ultimately it’s worth it to have a happy client. And if it’s the wrong client? Well, then it’s time to get this piece finished and then have a conversation with them about how we might work together better, or who might be able to help them better than I can. It’s good to have a network of copywriters that I can pass work that isn’t right for me, on to.

How about you? What do you do when you need to get past ‘writer’s block’?

 

 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I love words. I love being able to spend my time using them to help businesses, like yours, achieve their goals. But my first love is writing stories, to help people escape, unwind, and feel things. I always share something romantic on my author blog on this day. This year, I’m sharing a romantic comedy. If the idea of a story involving laxatives, lizards, and desperate mothers floats your boat, you can find it here.

PS: I’m sorry I haven’t been able to write more in the blogging basics series lately. We all had Aussie ‘flu and it’s thrown the start of the year into disarray. Normal service will resume, just as soon as we are sure what is normal anyway.

You talking to me?

As promised back in my Blogging Basics post on Communication, today I want to talk about who you’re addressing your blog posts to. Knowing your audience is fundamental to knowing what you want to say, and how you should say it.

Take this post for example; as I write it I am imagining it being read by small business owners looking for help in creating better blog content for themselves. The language I choose to express myself will be different with that audience in mind than it would be if I was addressing other writers; and different again if I was talking about this to schoolkids as part of my work as a children’s author.

So, how do you know who you’re talking to? If you’ve been running your blog or business for a while, then the chances are that you already know who your readers and customers are. If you’re starting a new venture, then you’ve probably thought about the people who you’d like to do business with.

If you haven’t? Then your first step should be to get clear about that. Read a book, or talk to a business consultant or a marketing expert. The only way that you can make someone feel like you’re really trying to communicate with them is if you tailor what you want to say to that audience.

For example, I write blog posts for a number of different clients. One is aimed at IT professionals – when I’m writing for them I know it’s OK to make Star Wars references. I’d leave those out if I were writing an article for the blog targetted at women who work in financial services. When I’m writing about coffee? I’m communing with hipsters. Cat Care? That’s Millenials with fur-babies.

If I cracked Star Wars jokes to high-level female professionals (and trust me, Sci-Fi references leak out of me at the most inopportune moments), there’s every chance I’d alienate the reader. Of course, that’s a generalisation, but as you can’t write a blog post that’s tailored to each reader, that’s the best we can do.

So, knowing your audience means keeping them in mind when you express yourself. If your audience is highly educated, you can pull out the 50p words. For young professionals in a hurry, keep it brief and to the point. You get the drift.

But perhaps more important than knowing how to address your audience is knowing what you want to say. That takes some thought for two reasons:

1 – The chances are you’re passionate about what you do, and that you geek out on the details of it. But if I spent a post patting myself on the back of my clever use of alliteration, subjugated clauses, and fresh similes…well, most of you have fallen asleep already, right? That’s why sales and marketing types will tell you to talk about benefits, not features. If I tell people my blog posts are created to be easy to understand, engaging and to lead the reader on a journey to discover the product or service? That’s a lot more relevant.

2 – You may have become nonchalant about what you do. You do it every day, so it doesn’t seem so special. You forget to tell people these things because you’ve come to take them for granted. I was talking to a client about working for them. I loved what they did. I told them that and explained that they were changing the world. The client looked surprised, blinked a few times and smiled, ‘Yes, I suppose we are. I hadn’t thought of it like that!’

Customer Engagement Venn Diagram

So, the ideal content lies in the overlap between what you want to say and what your audience needs to hear. How do you identify that?

What are the questions that people most often ask about your business? When you’re talking to customers, what things do they need to know? Make a list, of these questions – are they big enough questions for a blog post by themselves? Or are there recurring themes that could be clustered together into a post.

You can also take inspiration from other blogs. Look at what’s being written about in your industry, and in others. That might feel a bit like cheating, and I’m certainly not suggesting that you copy content, or even ideas. But seeing what other people talk about will give you a steer towards what you want to say yourself.

You can also gain inspiration from industry news. Set up a few google alerts for keywords that are important to you. You’ll then get daily emails telling you what’s new and what the wider conversation is in your subject area.

And I’ll end with an example of how to get more idea of what people want to hear and ask a question: What would you like the next blogging basics post to be about? Creating great titles? Opening lines? Something else entirely?

In all seriousness, do let me know what you think of this article in the comments below. I’d love to hear from readers, and see any examples of you putting these techniques into practice!

 

2018

I don’t usually put much store by the changing of the calendar year. For me, years pass by in seasons. I love watching the seasons slowly merge from one to another. I’m looking forward to the bite of winter leaving the air and welcoming the first fresh green of Spring.Months? They’re for invoicing purposes only.

But this year is a little different. I started 2017 anticipating the publication of Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter and a year spent working as an author. Then life did what it does, and threw me a curveball.

2017 was one of those transformative years. You know the ones, where you feel like you’ve been back into the forge and come out stronger. January the 1st 2018, felt like the day that I could emerge, phoenix-like, and begin to soar.

But January the 1st isn’t really the best day for that. With two kids at home for the Christmas holidays, and being a bank holiday, I had to wait until today to actually get some work done. I hit my first deadline of 2018 I had a great time writing the article. Quite simply, I love what I do.

January has some great opportunities for me. I’ll be starting work for a new client, writing bids. I’ve got meetings with some others. And of course, I’ll still be writing for all my current clients. Expect more blog posts soon, and hopefully some updates on grant applications for some of the wonderful projects I worked on in 2017.

Fiction hasn’t stopped, either. I’m still working on my MA, which includes my first ever ‘grown-up’ book (I say grown-up because adult novels are something else entirely!) And I’m working on getting Alfie Slider and the Frozen Prince published.

How do I feel about 2018, on the whole? Well, enthusiastic, of course 🙂

Happy New Year!

Blogging Basics: Communication

I’m a big advocate for blogging the way you speak. I think that’s the easiest way for anyone to start writing is to just…start writing. Use pen & paper or keys on a keyboard to start a one-sided conversation with your target audience.

If you’re going to be blogging more seriously, though, it’s worth thinking about some of the theory of communication. We’ve all had those experiences, where we think we’ve made ourselves heard but either the message has gone astray, or the person receiving it heard something completely different to what we think we said. Miscommunication happens, but it’s something you want to avoid when you’re talking to your audience.

I first studied communication back when I did my BSc (Health & Social Care) and came across the Shannon & Weaver Linear Model of Communication. There are other models, but I come back to this one because it formed the way I think about writing. Here’s a dandy infographic to liven up the post a bit!

My Morning Timeline (1)

I think it’s helpful to try and keep some of this in mind when you write. For example, I live in York. If I were describing to another local how to get to my house, I would use the word snicket. But what we call a snicket in York, is a ginnel in Leeds and an alleyway in other parts of the country. I need to keep the experience of my reader in mind when I’m writing.

And the noise? Actually getting heard (read) is an art form in itself, and something better left to marketing and promotion experts. There is a lot of content out there, competing for attention. I think the best tactic is to say something useful, in an interesting way. I’ll be giving more tips on how you can do that in the coming weeks.

Ultimately, though, effective communication isn’t so much about what you want to say, as what you want the audience to hear. To do that, you have to know who you’re talking to. No prizes for guessing the subject of next week’s post!

Blogging Basics: Finding Your Voice

One of the things that really makes writing come alive, is finding your ‘author’s voice’. When a writer knows their voice, reading their content feels like a conversation; there’s a connection. The writing is consistent, competent and compelling.

And all those C’s are exactly what you want in your blog posts. You’re blogging because you have something to say, and you want other people to read it. Whether you’re trying to explain the benefits of a product or service, persuade people to your point of view or share information, you need people to want to read it. To subscribe. To come back for more.

But how do you find that? If you haven’t written much before, getting started can be daunting. I’m willing to bet, though, that if you and I sat down for a coffee and I asked you to tell me about your chosen subject, you’d have no problems.

Start there. Talk to yourself. Rehearse what you want to say in your head, or out loud if you don’t have a shared office. Make notes of the key points and any phrases that you really like.

Then, sit down at your keyboard and write rather than speaking. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar or punctuation. Just use your fingers to make conversation rather than your mouth.

Yes, there are all sorts of writerly tips you can employ to make your blog posts more effective. I’ll be sharing some of those in the coming weeks. In the beginning, though? Just say what you want to say, as best as you can say it. Your readers will ‘hear’ you authenticity and respond to it.

Have you found your voice yet? If so, how? Let me know in the comments below!

Why

If you’ve been visiting this blog for a while, you’ll remember that I was shortlisted for a York Women Mean Business award.

ywmbshortlistAt the time, the categories were related to what you did, and I’d been put in the ‘Business Support’ category. I was flattered, and immediately wrote off any idea of winning because the other women in the category were all so incredible.

Friday the 10th of November rolled around, and I had the privilege of being in a room with hundreds of female entrepreneurs. We had a wonderful evening of fun, dancing and celebrating each other.

When it came to time to announce the winners, the fabulous event organiser Tracy Burleigh, Business Consultant (and if you need someone to help you find your path or your buzz for your business then she’s the lass for you) said the panel of judges had decided to change the categories.

Faced with all the incredible talent in the YWMB group, they’d felt inadequate to judge on quality. So, Tracy did what she does, which is to find a way that works better. The panel agreed to new categories.

I ended up in ‘The why’. That was a group of entrepreneurs who had blown the judging panel away with their motivation for their work. My full answer to the ‘why’ question is long but it can be summarised in this extract:

I have found that what I love is writing, plain and simple. Truth, fiction, it really doesn’t matter. I love seeking out the stories and telling them for people.

When I was called up to stand beside the other ‘Why’ ladies, I knew I wasn’t going to win. There were amazing people like Andrea Morrison in the line-up and one of my favourite people, Emi Ralph.

girls-compete-women-empowerEmi was the first friend I made after moving to York. She’s a remarkable person, full of passion and creativity. She has her own business, Mama Pixie, where she makes gorgeous things out of fabric. She’s also a doula, supporting women with their birth choices. She’s fabulous at both.

Emi won the award, and I completely agree with that decision. Had I won, I would have had the worst case of imposter syndrome! I was absolutely delighted to win a prize in the raffle though, a fabulous selection of re-usable kit from I am Reusable.

Friday was a great day for me. I signed a contract for a new associate role, which is going to open up some amazing opportunities to do what I love. I got to spend a wonderful evening in the company of like-minded women and I danced past midnight like no one was watching.

I certainly feel like a winner.

I Mean Business

Well, would you look at that! I’ve only gone and got myself shortlisted for a York Women Mean Business award! The results are announced at a celebration meal in November, so until then, I’ll bask in the bliss of the possibility of grabbing a trophy.

ywmbshortlist

This was a self-nominated award; anyone who is a member of the York Women Mean Business! Facebook group could submit an application. I’ll be honest, I didn’t have high hopes when I filled it in because I was in the ‘Business Support’ category and I know there are some incredibly talented and successful women who would have come in alongside. I suppose that something I said must have resonated with the judges, and I’m incredibly grateful for that.

Since going Freelance after many years of stable employment, it’s been a roller coaster. It’s a bit step to put all your faith in yourself and your abilities, and go out into the world with hope and expectation. I have to say, though, that I’ve been blown away by the support and encouragement I’ve received from friends, family, other freelancers, and clients.

I don’t expect to come home with that award, but oh my! It is nice to have been seriously considered.