Read/Write

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?

WORD NERD KLAXON: Word Frequency Calculator

April 9, 2015 § Leave a comment

would
worry
work
wonder
wishing
whack
well
week
wasted
wanting
use
up
unsure
unique
underestimate
under
uncertain
umbrella
um
trained
time
though
this
think
things
these
thesaurus
theme
than
terms
term
tbh
talk
take
systems
surprisingly
super
suggesting
subjective
stop
start
staff
spend
special
space
sources
sound
someone
snipping
situation
single
simple
show
shebang
send
semantic
selection
searcher
screed
same
rule
rid
really
real
range
provide
proud
propositions
promises
product
processes
problems
probably
prim
potential
point
play
plans
plaaaaaayyyyyy
phone
personality
percentage
people
painting
own
overnight
outcome
other
organisation
only
on
old
often
offerings
off
obviously
numbers
nothing
non
next
new
name
mysterious
menu
means
meaning
mean
maybe
made
loses
local
little
licensed
let
left
leave
learnings
kind
kill
keeping
it’s
issue
insurance
instead
instantly
injecting
individual
imagine
Hull
house
happy
had
guess
going
go
general
gaps
fully
full
fulfil
friendly
free
frantic
following
five
find
fill
favours
favourite
fast
fair
explicit
exact
everyone
etc.
especially
escort
entertainers
entailed
embarrassed
either
easy
ears
each
done
distraction
discount
discerning
Dickens
detail
demanding
delivered
decorating
customer
coy
course
costs
cool
conditioned
competition
comes
come
cliché
clear
clean
claim
choose
cheesy
checking
checked
charity
calling
call
business
builds
building
brag
boxes
both
birthday
bigger
beyond
best
being
been
because
beat
awesome
avoiding
asking
architecture
architectural
anyone
another
annoying
amazing
always
already
air
adding
actually
act
accounting
absolutely
absolute

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? 🙂

Draftback: The Most Brilliant Chrome Extension Ever

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.

Then on Tuesday, Andrew Bruce Smith (online marketing man) shared Draftback.

Oh, Draftback.

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.

Draftback

Yummy, Yummy Data

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 >.

Are you getting the data you need to write amazing content?

Oh Look!

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.

The anatomy of a blog post

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.

Testing web copy

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.

 

Oulipo and Constraints in Creativity

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.

Igor Stravinsky

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.

3336451.0014.209-00000001

Algorithmic love letter, Strachey 1954

Faves From The Guardian Style Guide

December 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

The Guardian’s style guide is written how I would write – HAVE written – a style guide.

attorney general
lc, no hyphen; plural attorney generals (there will be those who tell you it should be “attorneys general” – See berks and wankers)

anorexic
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

amid
not amidst.
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

dangling participle

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…”

delivery
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”

digitalise
administer digitoxin (extracted from foxglove leaves) to treat heart conditions; digitise transcribe data into digital format

Useful to know.

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