Welcome to my Podcast Series of Blogs!
Feel free to have a listen, read the blog and download the podcast to listen to later. If you have any questions about the material or services I offer, please don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With three traditionally published books sitting proudly on my bookshelf now I can attest to how thrilling it is to become a published author. Holding final copies of each of them represented a dream come true and I have to say that was no less true of the first one, my novel, Shades of Teale, as of the last one, a book about how to write powerfully called The Write Way.
Hyrum Smith stood on the stage at this year’s eWomen Network conference and in a stirring talk that enlightened as it entertained, he challenged audience participants to strengthen our language skills.
As many readers of this blog know, I’ve built my business on providing services in the areas of copywriting, book editing and personal coaching. Each area requires insight into human motivation and behaviour, and I love what I do, no matter which hat I am wearing.
Since a lot of people I meet are either dreaming of, or working on, their own book manuscript, I thought I would take a few minutes today to look at some of the issues that commonly crop up in my work.
Shocking as it may seem, when I started my professional writing career more than 30 years ago there was no such thing as a lap top, and smart phones, the internet and email had yet to revolutionize the way we communicate.
Finding the right resources for keeping a professional writing career motoring along at full speed can be a challenge and I am often asked for help in the area. I thought I’d share some of the contacts and websites that I, personally, have found very helpful in the past, in the hopes that readers will also benefit:
I gave a talk a few weeks ago to the Periodical Writers Association of Canada and the topic of conversation was how to start out as a freelancer PR writer. I began my professional writing career in 1982 and started freelancing in 1992. If you are considering doing likewise, these five tips might be helpful:
Personally, I find it very hard to provide a ballpark for how much editing a manuscript will cost. It depends on the length of the manuscript, the level of my involvement and the language skill of the originating author. I tend to do suggest clients decide how much of my “me’ness” they want me to provide and start me off with a five-page sample, From there I can identify what the primary challenges are going to be and provide an estimate for editing the entire manuscript, along with an assessment of their overall writing strengths and opportunities for improvement. I do charge for this service and if you’re interested please get in touch.
My last blog post looked at why you might hire an editor to polish up your manuscript. As a writer and editor with 30 years of experience in many different aspects of writing and editing I work with other authors to help them bring out the best in their work.
Most writers are very protective of their Voice and there’s a fine line between “fixing” a text into technical perfection and utterly destroying the mood and intention the writer had in mind. (Believe me, I’ve been edited too and I know how awful that can feel!)
One of the many fun aspects of being a writer with 30 years of experience is that I’ve had an opportunity to try my hand at a lot of different types of writing. I started out in journalism and have learned the conventions for government and corporate communications, marketing, PR and creative writing. While most of my work now centres around writing for businesses I’m finding that I’ve been doing a lot more editing in the past few years
I’m celebrating in Technicolor today as I greet the arrival of my novel, “Shades of Teale” on amazon.ca. I began writing the book in the late 1990s to bring my dream of becoming a published author to life and it never occurred to me that writing one book could take such a long time!
Granted it wasn’t my full time gig.
During the past 13 years I’ve also worked on business writing projects for Crossman Communications, given birth twice, moved numerous times, walked my terminally ill husband to a painful death by cancer and embarked upon a new uncharted life as the widowed mother of three children, two of whom are still in public school.
Signing a publishing contract with Manor House Publishing this past summer catapulted me straight onto Cloud Nine!
Like many other people I know, my professional path has been anything but a straight line from start to here. Opportunities and surprises have cropped up unexpectedly and the best laid plans have sometimes gone awry. But my years of experience as a journalist, government communicator, marketing copywriter, PR professional and creative writer have given me an interesting perspective on how to hire a freelance writer and I’d like to share a few thoughts.
Many businesspeople struggle a little with the task of writing with impact and although good writing might seem like a mysterious skill, I believe it’s something almost anyone can develop. We are each on our own writing continuum and while some people are working to improve their grammar, others are trying to catch the knack of writing fluidly. There is no right or wrong in all this. It’s a personal project.
Which brings us to the question of writing with style. It’s quite personal as well and I’ve narrowed the effort down to five basic steps. (If you’d like to read my thoughts on the topic, please check out my earlier blogs on Grammatical Accuracy, Smooth Linkages, Liveliness and Depth. There is an Overview as well which might add some value if you’re interested.)
Today we’re going to look at one of my favorites, Editing…
Much as we sometimes gloss over the issue of writing in businesses these days, there is simply no arguing with the fact that strong writing supports the bottom line. While many factors affect a person’s ability to use the written word to communicate powerfully, I enjoy talking about style because it speaks to our individuality. If you missed my first few posts on style and are interested in the topic, I invite you to read my overview, as well as my blogs on grammatical accuracy, smooth linkages and liveliness.
Today’s post is about depth and by that I mean careful use of analogies, metaphors, mood and the judicious use of questions. I look at depth in writing as similar to the seasoning in a great meal: you can get along without it, but you enjoy yourself much more when it’s deftly applied.
The first few posts in this series have touched on the elements I think are important to writing with style – if you missed them please feel free to check out my overview, my blog on grammatical accuracy (yes, it’s key!) and my explanation of the importance of smooth linkages . While those topics might seem too technical to qualify as stylistic elements, I can tell you that if there’s anything nearly 30 years of writing have taught me, it’s that strong structure and solid technicals always underpin great writing.
Today’s blog post deals with something that is probably a little more fun, however, and that is the importance of liveliness in writing. Lively word choice keeps people interested in what they’re reading and complements the solid foundation you’ve laid by embellishing it.
Have you ever noticed that some written documents seem to flow more smoothly than others? While there are a number of factors at work, one of the most important is the strength of the writer’s linkages.
I define a linkage as the small piece of geography that steers the ending of one sentence or paragraph into the beginning of the next one. You want that nexus point to be as natural, normal and unobtrusive as possible – in a way, you want to turn the spaces between your sentences and paragraphs into tiny little bridges your readers can easily cross.
I use a number of techniques to do this and here are some of my favourites…
As noted in an earlier blogpost (see Writing with Style), writing with impact requires excellence in the areas of structure, style and engagement. This series focuses on improving your writing style as painlessly as possible – but it’s a good idea to keep in mind that good writing is not always completely painless; it often involves the selection, examination, dismissal, replacement, repositioning and deletion of what could amount to hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent words. It can take hours of writing and rewriting to get it all just perfect. And even then it’s possible someone else might be able to find ways to improve the text. We give it our best shot, though, and having organized our information well, (see my series on structuring your writing for maximum impact), we can then segue into the fascinating area of writing with style.
That means focusing on…
Earlier this year I completed a blog series on Writing with Impact and the information focused primarily on the structural processes involved in strong writing. (See the overview on Writing with Impact). Although structure is a fundamental component of good writing, most people consider it to be only slightly more interesting than leaf lettuce so I thought I’d move on to the next block of lessons in my personal writing curriculum. They deal with Style.
The word “style” stems from the Latin “stilus,” a word originally used to denote a writing implement that was used to scratch messages on wax tablets. Today, the word style might refer to a way of dressing or living and in the context of writing, it denotes a way of writing. The internet is rife with definitions of what “writing style” actually means. And many news organizations maintain their own style guides that set out exactly how language is to be used by reporting staff. Writers are expected to learn their employer’s style conventions and editors are expected to be vigilant in ensuring there are no deviations. The Canadian Press Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style are two authoritative sources used in North America and there are many others out there as well.
There’s something almost compulsive about being a writer and if you define yourself with that word – even secretly – you probably can’t remember a time when you weren’t writing something. Personally, I count the scribbled diary entries that I hid under my pillow at age eight and the self-conscious poetry I sighed over at 14. University essays fall into that category almost as much as the news articles I wrote for the Queen’s Journal when I probably should have been writing essays, reading more research papers or listening in on extra lectures.
As time blossomed and my experience deepened I began a quest to learn as much as I possibly could about language and its importance in the human experience. I learned French and Spanish well enough to argue with insurance salespeople and I tossed in a handful of courses in German and Italian. I took creative writing classes and waded into the mysteries of Canadianization, search engine optimization and social media marketing.
After nearly three decades in the writing business I’ve learned to appreciate the improvements editing can bring to a written document and although it’s sometimes intense work, it’s also crucially important.
Good editing results in a solid, well-written document that presents a strong impression of the writer and his or her organization; writing that rambles makes the writer seem disorganized and ineffective. This is no surprise to news organizations and publishing houses who keep reams of editors on staff to ensure the articles they handle…
As a career writer with a passion for my craft I have long been intrigued by communication in all its forms and although I’m very focused on creating outstanding written documents, most experts agree that non-verbal communication expresses as much as 93% of our message. This is especially important for the public speakers who hire me to create speeches for them – tonality and body positioning can help or hinder the meaning of their communication and I often find myself adding the title “Speech Coach” to my role as Speech Writer.
What we need to keep in mind is that most of our communication is non-verbal and it passes below the radar of conscious awareness.
Social media keeners have done a great job of hyping the marketing revolution that’s unfolding around us but the unanswered question haunting many water coolers these days seems to be: “What’s the point?”
Of all the networking websites popular today, my personal favourite is Linked In. I find it an elegant way to…
Corporations have managed the loss or retirement of key personnel in various ways over the years but the massive sweep of Boomer retirements coinciding with the influx of Millennial employees presents new challenges, many of them rooted in issues relating to communication.
For a generation that prided itself on its revolutionary approach to everything from music to relationships, the Boomers confirmed many bureaucratic business practices and surprisingly reinforced the status quo often. That led to some great accomplishments.
A solid vision stemming from a sincere commitment is important in generating and sustaining employee engagement — but in my experience, the unsung hero in the operation is usually consistent communication founded upon strong writing.
Employee engagement is more important today than ever: with economic uncertainty shaking confidence at every turn, businesses need the best efforts of every employee all the time in order to compete effectively. While most businesses have always had a contingent of unmotivated employees, studies show that as many as 46% of global businesses experienced a decline in employee engagement last year (Hewitt Associates, July 29/10); other studies have indicated a high percentage of employees are planning to leave their current place of employment as soon as job prospects brighten.
Writing to build reputations and inspire commitment is a key part of corporate communications and decades of writing experience have taught me that there are many variables involved. Solid organizational skills, excellent research abilities and a great command of grammatical conventions are all important – but they’re only part of the story.
As a writer, you can maximize your impact by ensuring the language you use targets all members of your audience and not just the ones who think exactly like you do.
Here’s the thing…
I am ashamed to say it but my last trip to a public library occurred almost a decade ago and it ended in tears as my two youngest children, both toddlers, ran through the stacks pulling random books off shelves and laughing loudly as I raced behind them trying to regain control.
This was not my finest moment and the trauma ever after lay not so much in the memory of their misbehavior as in the realization that my children might never sit still long enough to learn to read.
The months rolled on and life was busy…
As a writer immersed in language and communication I sometimes forget I’m in a specialty area more accessible to some than others. When I came across a Conference Board of Canada report showing only 21 per cent of Canadian adults have high literacy skills, however, I had to take note. The January, 2010, report analyzed information collected earlier this decade as part of an extensive comparative global study of literacy skills in adults aged 16 to 65.
High literacy skills mean an individual can integrate several sources of information and/or solve fairly complex problems; the Conference Board asserts a country’s economic potential is strongly correlated with its literacy levels.
Writing is a foundational skill businesses need to meet internal communication goals such as…
Although marketing is often poorly understood it’s probably one of the most fundamental issues businesses face today and as a professional writer I spend a substantial amount of time crafting materials businesses need to promote their products and services. It’s fun work and can be very creative but it’s also highly disciplined and complex, and one of the reasons I’m still in this business is that it is absolutely fascinating.
But what is marketing?
The definition I like best is this one…
I launched my second generation website two years ago and found the process of replacing my original site fascinating. Although its still fairly new, I’m already tinkering with plans for updating my capability and strategy – there’s always more to learn.
Web design is available through numerous channels and if you don’t have in-house capability it can be tough to pick a supplier that fits your business model and your budget. The area is sometimes poorly understood and the pace of evolution means determining value can be a challenge.
Here are some thoughts on a few different website development channels…
When I was a frazzle-haired eight-year- old with buck teeth and knobby knees I spent hours of my life sitting in the safe arms of the backyard apple tree munching on sour green fruit and scribbling in my journal.
I wrote magnificent stories about imaginary creatures, moralistic fables about runaway kitty-cats and complaints about my older sister, who forced me to make piles of peanut butter sandwiches for her and her friends whenever she babysat.
Somehow, the act of writing channeled my childish thoughts and dreams into a private library no-one ever saw and now, decades later, one no-one can even imagine any more. Not even me.
The climb up the side of the hill in West Sussex was bathed in conversation, sunshine and all the delight of rediscovering a favored corner of a world I feared I’d left behind years ago. Gentle spring breezes played with hope and two of my children ran ahead on the footpath to scamper over stiles, chase stray cats and examine tracks in the mud that might have been made by a fox. Birds twittered, crocuses bloomed and at my side the girl who turned me into a mother chatted with the girl who knew me way back when I thought I might want to be a writer someday.
The years touched us kindly in England last spring.
Some people are surprised to hear that writing with impact requires a great deal of organization and I think that word “writer” is to blame. It is a highly romantic word. It conjures a soft-focus vision of a dreamy-eyed youth shut away in a cluttered attic room with nothing but a blotty pen and a tattered notebook for company.
Organization is not romantic.
Good writing has two main components – structure (which this series has been emphasizing) and style (which we will examine in a future series). While the style imparts personality to your writing, it is the structure that gives it iron-clad strength…
So you’ve determined the purpose of your document, put some thought into who your audience is, gathered far more information than you can humanly use and consumed way too much coffee in the vain effort to forestall information overload. The file facing you is a long dreary litany of unrelated and quite scrambled information and it is sitting there daring you to do something with it.
You think perhaps it is time to answer some emails or call your mother. This is typical writer behavior so you are in good shape for the next stage of writing which is to organize your information. This is not for the faint of heart but I have a dandy little template for wrangling all that information into a form that anybody can use and that will make instant sense to your audience.
So let’s just dive in…
In previous posts I set out the first few steps in my formula for writing with clarity. (See the Introductory Post, as well as Step One and Step Two.) Although the mechanical skills of good grammar and sentence structure are important, all written work should be intelligently organized so it reads well and is easily understood.
Just to review, my five-step kick-start is as follows…
The previous post in this series looked at the importance of clearly understanding the purpose of the document you’re writing. That analysis keeps your research, writing and editing focused and succinct. If you missed that piece, and would like to review it before moving forward, you’ll find “Step One for Writing with Impact” here.
Step two along the way to creating a doc that rocks, is to clearly understand your audience.
This is a big one.
A previous Crossman’s Crash Course lesson set out my five basic organizational steps for writing with clarity and I was amazed at the response the piece received. It really underscored for me how important clear communication is to people and it emphasized the fact that I’m obviously not the only one beating the drum for clarity in writing. If you missed that piece and would like to read it, please see Crossman’s Crash Course in Effective Writing here.
Today we’re looking at Step #1 in my personal process, which is so simple many people overlook it. Drum roll please:
Set Your Goals first.
We tend to think of writing as a mechanical skill that takes good grammar and a decent vocabulary and somehow blends it all together to create clear communication. That’s not a bad start but decades of experience have taught me that writing with impact is much more complex. One of the most important components? Good organization.
Before you can even hope to inform or influence a reader you absolutely must have an intelligent plan that focuses your thinking and guides your writing. I use a simple five-step kick-start for almost every document I write. Here it is…
I can sure sympathize with American journalist Gene Fowler when he sized up the challenge of writing by saying it was easy – “you just stare at a piece of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”
Amen, brother! I’ve spent many a sullen afternoon nursing cups of cooling coffee because the words stayed belligerently away. Why?
In my case it’s usually because “Information Underload” had a date with “Low Motivation”. Although I don’t have a perfect solution for either problem, when I solve one, the other generally slides into place.
Here are my quick fixes…
If you’re one of those people who would rather get your teeth drilled than write a report, take heart: you’re not alone. Many people find writing hard and, at times, a little embarrassing; as a writer and editor, I find some mistakes show up more often than others. Here are the three I see most often, along with suggestions, where possible, for a quick fix.
Ever wonder why some writing leaps off the page and into your imagination and some leaves you praying for an interruption? Truth to tell, there are numerous reasons for that and becoming the kind of writer everybody wants to have on their team takes time, effort, training and practice.
But there are some shortcuts and here’s one: incorporate charismatic language patterns into your work.
Here’s what I mean…
It’s taken me a while to get here but I’m starting to believe that almost everything in life comes down to marketing and almost everything in marketing comes down to how well we use language.
Whether we’re parenting a twelve-year-old or selling socks, we choose a goal, select a delivery method and create some urgency around motivating the response we want. Although the process is simple, the approach is an art form. Few of us have unlimited resources and choices must be made: do we launch an internet marketing campaign or print more brochures? Develop a blog or stage an event?