Sunday, 31 May 2009

My favourite mentor - before the term was invented

Years ago I worked with a woman whose life was and still is long after her death, an inspiration to me. She had a 'can do' attitude which for her included taking her children to live in France while her husband was in the navy and starting an antiques business at the age of 57.

It would have been her birthday today and since occasionally I have wobbles about what I'm doing with the Writer's Little Book Club, she's been in my mind quite a lot recently. She pushed and poked and prodded me to try things and long before I ever thought of going into business told me that I should do it.

She was one of those people who despite what was happening in her own life always had something fun to say to encourage other people.

So thanks Madame for all your inspiration and I still feel you egging me on.

Who was your favourite mentor?

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Wacky words


Means the whole range, especially coming from the musical scale.

Dorothy Parker once remarked of Katherine Hepburn that "She runs the whole gamut of emotions from A to B"

Friday, 29 May 2009

Political absurdity by Jimmy Carter in Writer's Almanac I've mentioned Writer's Almanac before but if you haven't found it yet then I recommend it

Everyday I'm reminded of writers famous and not so famous with poems and pieces of their work. Today a short poem by Jimmy Carter about the absurdity of votes for the dead. Yes really.

I can't reproduce the poem here without permission so I recommend you take a look.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Writer's block - a tip to clear it

Sometimes I just feel overwhelmed by words. And when I get to that point I simply can't write.

So following on from David Bach's advice I have a clear out and tidy up. I've just been through my filing cabinet disposing of unwanted records and long out of date files.

It feels so good and I feel virtuous with my clear desk and tidy cabinet. Tomorrow I'll be able to see the wood for the trees with my current writing project.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Story telling in non-fiction

What's the use of story telling in business books?

If we were lucky then right from our earliest memories there were stories. 'Once upon a time' is the most exciting opening for a child to hear. What's next? What will the story be today?

We don't lose that need for stories. Because I can travel for free on my local buses, I'm often on the bus surrounded by people telling stories. About what's happened to them. About what they've heard. And about the things that concern them the most.

If we ignore that when we think about writing business books, we're mssing a real opportunity to help people relate to what we're offering them by identifying similar challenges and solutions to their own.

At the moment I'm helping my colleague Babu Basu with a book for one of his clients. It's about the story of this man's upbringing and business life seen through his mother's dismissal of his talents and potential.l

And it's a great read because it's full of stories. There are very few people who haven't been rejected at some time. In childhood, in school, in work or in love. We can all relate to the feelings of rejection.

So even if you think you're not a natural story teller, just mull over the stories of how you've helped clients solve problems and think how you can weave those into your sales and marketing.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Wacky words

Lounge lizard

I love this phrase - it reminds me of the villains in all the 1930s romantic films. Men with sleeked back black hair and striped suits.

Would fit well with lotharios and gigolos - looking for an easy life with a rich woman.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Bookshops and their future

Two weeks ago I spent a week in Mallorca including a visit to Palma. Lovely city and a great place to linger.

What struck me walking round was the number of bookshops. Coming from Nottingham where a decent bookshop is becoming harder to find (Waterstone's aside), it amazed me that in a side street in the old city, I found not one, not two but three separate bookshops plus a shop selling regional food which had a substantial book section.

And I hadn't even been round the main shopping centre so I have no idea how many I would have found there. Given that Palma has about the same population as Nottingham, it made me really sad that we seemed to have lost that popping into a bookshop habit, corralled as we are by Amazon and the supermarkets.

Is it any better in your area?

Conan Doyle's birthday

I read in the Writer's Almanac that it's Arthur Conan Doyle's birthday today. With all the TV channels available, there always seems to be an episode running of his stories.

As primarily a writer for business, I always try to think what I can learn from other types of writing. I haven't read many Sherlock Holmes stories but like Dickens, Conan Doyle is a cracking storyteller. Vivid language and edge of the seat situations lead to us paying attention.

I love Elmore Leonard's quote about leaving out the bits that people skip. And I think it has a big lesson for us in business. Tell people what they need to hear and they'll stick with us. Bore them and they'll lose interest... fast.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Non-fiction books - an endangered species?

There was a very interesting article in the Guardian Review section on 16 May about the fate of serious non-ficiton in today's market.

Having worked in academic libraries for almost 20 years, I know there is a place for serious texts with a small readership. But it has to be said that too many books were published in the past without making them the slightest bit interesting. Many of the academics I worked with would have thought they were letting the side down by being easy to understand.

Certainly any academic writing books that a wider audience could enjoy were regarded as selling out. Even today, there can be a high level of peer criticism about books that appear short on seriousness and high on "easy to read".

I think that's nonsense. Of course we need people who aren't swayed by any need to be popular, but at the same time opening up subjects can have a major impact on people who suddenly have a door opened into a topic that had been difficult for them before.

BBC Radio 3 Poetry at breakfast

I've just finished listening to an experiment in poetry writing that has run since 7am. Sara Mohr-Pietsch and Ian Macmillan have invited readers to create a poem, with Ian supplying the first line and listeners creating the rest of the 6 line poem.

Maybe you've never had a go at poetry because you think it's too arty for you. If so this exercise underlines that writing about the practicalities of the morning routine isn't beyond any of us. In the past I've written poetry, mostly very bad but it's another great way of widening your writing skills.

You can find the poem on the BBC website at

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Practical Writing Tips

Writing tools: what’s essential for a writer?

Lately in the Guardian Saturday review section they’ve run a series of pictures of writers’ rooms with explanations from the writer about the room and what’s in it. Every week it fascinates me to see how varied the rooms are; as varied as the writers featured.

Part of writing is creating the atmosphere in which we write. For foreign reporters their ambience has to be created on the hoof, literally, and at speed. For most of us it can be done in a more leisurely way. But I believe it’s a tool that can enhance your writing.

Often tools are thought of as things like dictionaries, thesauruses and the like. Books that help us search for that word or phrase that makes a difference. And depending on what you’re writing there may be research sources for your current project.

I think one of the most important tools isn’t talked about very often but is vital to success.

That’s your writing mindset.

What often distinguishes the professional from would be writer is mindset. That attitude that you can write or carry out some part of the writing process as you choose. I work with a lot of businesses and their work is usually specific to deadlines and often word length.

What I had to teach myself when I started working with business clients was how to force the inspiration you need to complete projects quickly. Such as a recent project for a client who wanted the job turning round in 24 hours.

Waiting for inspiration wasn’t an option and the mindset kicked in that I could do it.

Like anything else in a writer’s armoury of tools it’s something that becomes stronger the more you use it. So work out what fires you up to write at your most powerful and use it as a conscious tool. Find a way to create that mindset whenever you have a deadline or the inspiration seems to have disappeared.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Writer's block - and how to cure it

According to Writer's Almanac, today is Jodi Picoult's birthday today.

Very successful and producing a book almost each year. She puts her lack of problems with writer's block down to having to produce text quickly in her job at an ad agency.

That's my experience too. If you only have half an hour to write something then you do it. It still might need fixing but that comes later.

Sometimes I think we lose the urgency when we allow ourselves all the time in the world to write.

Katherine Hepburn on chocolate

"What you see before you, my friend, is the result of a lifetime of chocolate. "

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Edward Teller on faith

"When you come to the end of all the light you know, and it's time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: Either you will be given something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly."

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Theodore Roosevelt on helping others

"There is not a man of us who does not at times need a helping hand to be stretched out to him, and then shame upon him who will not stretch out the helping hand to his brother."

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Writing tools: do they work?

I love the story, maybe apocryphal about NASA spending a lot of money to research and create a pen that works in space while the Russians took pencils.

They’re both writing tools at their most basic but a step up from the quill pen. When I was at school we were still using pens with nibs and inks. Because of that I swear the skin on my middle right finger still has a dent and in a certain light looks Quink ink colour light blue.

To perform the physical act of writing on paper we still need those tools, otherwise it’s a keyboard and some form of word processing package. That moves us on to producing text but how do we get the ideas for the text and improve our efficiency rate at writing and our results rate with what we write.

Whatever the style of writing you want to do, there are hundreds of courses and workshops out there to help you. Depending upon the type of writing, there are actual templates you can fill in the blanks to get you started. Particularly if you are writing for the web these can certainly help you.

Business letters, website text, sales letters, reports; they’re all available at various costs.

If what you want is to concentrate on something other than the writing they’re probably enough to satisfy you. If you want to understand the nuts and bolts of writing then you need to delve deeper.

It’s like going on holiday where you don’t speak the language. You can learn enough to get by or you can study in depth. I was once living for a short period in Germany and for most of my time it sounded like linguistic chaos every time I was with a group. Then towards the end of my stay I began to realise that I understood without having to concentrate on every word.

When that happens in writing you know that the tools have become less important and that you’re now free to allow nuances, idiosyncrasies and your individual style to flourish.

Dale Carnegie on reputation

"Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely what others think you are."

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Malcolm Gladwell on instinct

"There can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis."
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, 2005

Monday, 11 May 2009

Chocolate corner

Quotes about chocolate

"If you can't eat all your chocolate, it will keep in the freezer. But if you can't eat all your chocolate, what's wrong with you?"

Counselor Deanna Troi, Star Trek: The Next Generation

Bertrand Russell on instinct

"If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence. he origin of myths is explained in this way."

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Frank Tibolt on inspiration

"We should be taught not to wait for inspiration to start a thing. Action always generates inspiration. Inspiration seldom generates action."

Wacky words


A good word for those difficult letters in Scrabble.

Means feeding on wood - like termites

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Aaron Copland on inspiration

"Inspiration may be a form of superconsciousness, or perhaps of subconsciousness - I wouldn't know. But I am sure it is the antithesis of self-consciousness."

Friday, 8 May 2009

J.E. Buchrose on happiness

"Happiness comes more from loving than being loved; and often when our affection seems wounded it is only our vanity bleeding. To love, and to be hurt often, and to love again - this is the brave and happy life."

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Writing Clubs;how being a member can help you

Have you ever had one of those days when the words seem stuck somewhere down at the end of a very long tunnel? And the computer throws a wobbly and deletes the few words you’ve managed to get out- I swear I didn’t answer yes to the delete question in my fog.

It’s those days that I think being part of one of those writing teams for TV shows might be a fun place to be instead of slaving away by myself.

Of course on the days when the words flow in an unstoppable river and you need to prune only 5% instead of the usual 25% it’s the best job in the whole wide world. Except you shouldn’t call it a job because it’s such a pleasure.

Either way, sometimes we need support. That is the support of other writers who understand what we go through to find the exact word or phrase that communicates with your reader.

That’s what writers groups, clubs and mentors are for. On or offline we need to be part of a community. I read some of the top commercial writers on the planet and they need their imaginations stimulated and their hurt pride restored from time to time, just like us lesser mortals.

There’s nothing like it for recharging the batteries and advancing the cause of writing in general and your own in particular.

Minna Thomas Antrim on men

"Man forgives woman anything save the wit to outwit him."

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Mallorca holiday

Off on holiday to Mallorca for a week. Looking forward to a new stimulus for the senses and to be by the water.

Hope to visit Valledomosa home of Chopin and Georges Sand also Deia home of the writer Robert Graves

Chocolate corner

"The superiority of chocolate, both for health and nourishment, will soon give it the same preference over tea and coffee in America which it has in Spain. "--Thomas Jefferson

Monday, 4 May 2009

D H Lawrence on religion

"It is a fine thing to establish one's own religion in one's heart, not to be dependent on tradition and second-hand ideals. Life will seem to you, later, not a lesser, but a greater thing."

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Oprah Winfrey on confidence

"It is confidence in our bodies, minds and spirits that allows us to keep looking for new adventures, new directions to grow in, and new lessons to learn - which is what life is all about."

Wacky words


Sounds a bit like a port in the ancient world but it actually means the forehead.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Steve Jobs on Life

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what your truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."

Friday, 1 May 2009

Ralph Waldo Emerson quote

Don't be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.

Inspirational quotes

"I could tell you my adventures - beginning from this morning," said Alice a little timidly; "but it's no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then." Alice in Wonderland