June 22, 2015 § Leave a comment
The brilliant thing about being a writer is that a large portion of your time must be spent reading. If you don’t like reading, you won’t be a writer – no more than a musical innocent would become a rock star (except maybe Oasis – I’ve always thought they sound like they don’t much like music beyond racist chants on the terraces).
I’m rereading On Writing by Stephen King because I just finished his Bag of Bones and needed some more of him, right away please. I think my best writing traits come from Steve. From him I learned rhythm, and particularly breaking the rules when they must be broken to get the mood right. Today I wrote “We all know smoking is poison awful evil for your health…” This is classic King: forget grammz if you must. The one I’m not quite bold enough for (I’m not a fiction writer after all) is emotional spelling. Steve does a lot of this, to STUPENDOUS effect in building characters. Fuckin and ooo and all sorts.
My worst writerly traits come from Janet Fitch, which is no reflection on her – I just flogged her poetic prose to death as a youngster. Similes and adverbs ABOUNDED.
In the name of ‘it’s my job’, I bought six books last week in an eBay frenzy:
- Brighton Rock by Graham Green (loved Travels With My Aunt and this is supposedly his best)
- Troublesome Words by Bill Bryson
- The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
- The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis
- London Fields by Martin Amis
- The Road Less Travelled by Scott M. Peck (heavy shit)
Who will I try on next?
April 9, 2015 § Leave a comment
That is a list of words I used once (as opposed to used multiple times) in a blog for Yell. I found this delightful tool called – wait for it – Word Frequency Calculator! As always, this is a nerd fest and boring to most people.
But what I enjoy about the tool is that it not only lets you see which words you’re using WAY TOO MUCH but also celebrate how many weird words you used. This Yell blog was about boring businessy phrases you should avoid and I’m tickled that I used words like coy, shebang, frantic and umbrella. Isn’t that joyful? 🙂
March 5, 2015 § Leave a comment
I love Google. I love Chrome. On Monday morning, my laptop wouldn’t boot up and the only thing keeping me sane was the knowledge that whatever replacement I was given would instantly feel like home because of Chrome. All my bookmarks, my page ruler, my social shares tally app, my passwords…my life.
It’s a Chrome extension, but it sits in Google Docs. I never use Google Docs except for document storage, no editing. That might have to change now though, because Draftback has made the impossible possible: it stores every edit to a document and replays it at the click of a button. Sure, we have tracked changes but those are so ugly and Draftback makes the editing process a STORY. You can watch your ghost typing your words in real time. That’s magical.
It’s a poncey writer thing, obviously. It’s self-indulgent. But it could also be a very useful thing. Not only do you have a record of the stuff you deleted; you have a way to examine HOW you write and edit. It’s just stunning and I love it.
It also gives you some stats: when you made changes and how long you were writing for. How many changes, activity charted. I may be a determined ‘creative’ who panics at the sight of numbers, but I sure do love analysing my own work. This tool is the BOMB.
January 12, 2015 § Leave a comment
Did another one. This post is about how amazing data is for writing amazing content. Numbers, blah. BUT: the only way to write content that is just oh so perfect for your target audience is to look at the numbers.
Before, to tell you what they liked in the past. And after, to tell you if you got it right this time.
Go see >.
January 8, 2015 § Leave a comment
How nice, another two blogs for Yell’s Knowledge Centre. It’s so weird seeing my stuff on there. I have used up hours of my life correcting Knowledge Center to Knowledge Centre and vice versa for US/UK application.
So, we have one on the anatomy of a blog post – the individual pieces that make up a nice structure to keep things tidy and easy to scan. I liked this one because the idea of a blog post structure as a head-to-toe body actually fitted quite neatly.
And the other is about testing web copy. I use Hemingwayapp.com and Wordcounter.net all the time (mainly for geeky thrills) and I do find it keeps copy in line, especially for things like reading age and highlighting naughty adverbs.
Take a look – they’re not boring I promise.
January 6, 2015 § Leave a comment
The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees oneself of the chains that shackle the spirit… the arbitrariness of the constraint only serves to obtain precision of execution.
You know how I’ve been getting off on how restrictions in writing actually help you create more freely?
Sometimes you stumble across something that is so so so perfectly right for a thought you recently had…this article is one of those times: Oulipo: freeing literature by tightening its rules.
Oulipians are into literary bondage. Their fetish is predicated on the notion that writing is always constrained by something, be it simply time or language itself. The solution, in their view, is not to try, quixotically, to abolish constraints, but to acknowledge their presence, and embrace them proactively. For Queneau, “Inspiration which consists in blind obedience to every impulse is in reality a sort of slavery”… “I set myself rules in order to be totally free,” as Perec put it, echoing Queneau’s earlier definition of Oulipians as “rats who build the labyrinth from which they plan to escape”.
By example, from the Oulipo website: “Among the many peculiar procedures developed by Oulipo is the S+7 method, where each substantive or noun in a given text, such as a poem, is systematically replaced by the noun to be found seven places away in a chosen dictionary. The results are far more provocative than might be expected.”
Finding this stuff was SO thrilling to me because it mirrors ideas that I’ve had, and of course I am most interested in myself. The question of “Whether or not constraints should be disclosed to the reader” is fascinating. I do usually say if a piece I’ve posted is a slow writing exercise or similar, but I think that’s less because I believe the reader deserves to know and more because I had to compromise – I need people to be aware I was not acting entirely of my own volition. And that’s pretty contradictory, isn’t it? I love the strict framework because it sets me free, but I must have people know I was restricted. It’s like a kid drawing some pictures. Like, big woop y’know? But if that kid is dying or blind or was raised by wolves…that’s special.
I was reading about corpus linguistics just this morning; that is to say, the study of language through the VAST banks of material we have at our fingertips these days. Now I realise that I have been using the corpus approach to create poetry: the random strings of phrases generated by hellopoetry.com. 100% human creation, collated and stored in a completely dehumanising fashion, then rejigged by a human to be read by humans. And then fed back into the machine ad infinitum.
UGH, so much joy to be had in this world of words.
Algorithmic love letter, Strachey 1954
December 20, 2014 § Leave a comment
The Guardian’s style guide is written how I would write – HAVE written – a style guide.
lc, no hyphen; plural attorney generals (there will be those who tell you it should be “attorneys general” – See berks and wankers)
is not a superlative of thin. Anorexia is an illness. Like schizophrenia, it should not be used as a cheap and lazy metaphor. Anyone who thinks of using a phrase such as “positively anorexic” should think again
Things fall against a backdrop, not amid one. If something is amid the backdrop, it’s part of it, and thus completely unremarkable. Some cliches make the news sound tired; this one makes the news sound as if it’s not news at all
This particularly exotic dangling participle somehow found its way into the paper: “Though long-legged and possessing a lovely smile, gentleman journalists aren’t looking up her skirt and wouldn’t even if she weren’t gay…”
the arrival of a baby, letter or parcel; also widely found in such gruesome examples of marketing-speak as “delivering care” or “delivering quality and value”
administer digitoxin (extracted from foxglove leaves) to treat heart conditions; digitise transcribe data into digital format
Useful to know.