Posts Tagged ‘writing’

on writing and story telling

Like most people I started writing at school where essays were regularly required on a range of topics according to the subject being taught. Although we were usually given a target number of words, 500 being common, we were rarely kept to this, 10% under or over would normally be OK and, of course, you had to have addressed the subject.

The only time that I can remember being given a specific target was as a punishment when I was found with a Free Nelson Mandela badge on my duffle bag, such adornments being forbidden, and was told to write two essays, one in support of his release and the other in support of his continued confinement and both of which were to e exactly 500 words. I had a week, and delivered both. I’m not sure if they were read, they were not commented on, but the words were certainly counted.

After I had left school my first couple of jobs involved me writing about properties for sale and here an economy of words was required to attract people rather than bore them. After those jobs I moved into areas where the only writing that I did was to fill in forms and, this being the early days of computer input, such forms were filled in using capital letters set into pre-printed boxes. My handwriting skills faded along with any ability that I might have had to write.

In the late 1970s I moved into a job where I wrote invitations to tender for major engineering and construction projects. I had to re-learn handwriting to a standard good enough for the typing pool to interpret and how to tell stories in a way that would produce responses that would do the jobs that were were asking for. It was another opportunity to be economical with language in order to be very specific.

Then I got into computing and wrote programs using the very structured language of business machines (BOBOL was my genre, for want of a better word). It was story telling of a sort, in that you told the computer what to do to make things happen. It was an intellectual challenge to apply the specific syntax required, but was almost like learning to write in a foreign language. It was called pseudo code and was a staging post between English and the machine code that would be generated from it.

Business report writing followed that and here I was back in the world of writing in my native tongue, or at least sort of. It was story telling in that you had to write words that would lead to a conclusion and the tale that you had to tell did not always lead conclusively to the end that was required. There was a skill in biasing the facts so that the reader would follow your path to where you wanted them to go. Paths that might have led to other conclusions needed to be there, but written of in such a way that the reader would not choose to follow them. This allowed for the situation where the chosen solution proved to be the wrong one, but you could show that the right option had been there, but was not selected. The technical term for this is arse covering.

Until the advent of desktop computers and word processing in the mid-1980s the typing pool ruled business correspondence and the typing supervisor’s word was law. The house style ruled and no matter what you wrote it would be tidied before it was allowed out (unless you had upset them; I recall a colleague who misspelled warehouse with an h after the w and did not make the next letter clearly an a. The result was a proposal for an whorehouse). One could learn a lot about writing well if one courted that typing pool supervisor.

I became reasonably good at writing business correspondence in all forms and it was some help in advancing my career until Business Speak, or Management Speak, came to the fore and my penchant for writing plain English went out of fashion. The ability to write, or speak, completely meaningless bollocks became the skill to have. I loathed it.

My first efforts at blogging came after I went freelance as a business consultant. A web presence of some sort was necessary to keep my name out there and I dived in looking for my cyberspace voice. It was in an airport lounge in the US that I found my muse. I was sat with one of those yellow legal pads that are the norm over there scribbling down ideas for blogs. Sat next to me was a rather frail looking lady and we began to chat. She was a journalist who also worked as a freelance editor and was suffering from terminal cancer. She had been making a visit to former colleagues and was heading home to die, but she took one of my business cards and said that she would look at my writing. Her advice was to aim for 600 words each week and to say something at the beginning of each blog that I could bring the story back to in the last paragraph. “Become a columnist” she advised.

I took that on board for some time and if you dig back into these musings you will find that I hit 600 words week after week and a lot of those blogs I am quite proud of when I look back on them (which isn’t often). It was hard work and I admire the people who do that sort of thing for a living. When I began to earn money from writing features three years of banging out 1600 words once a month was hard enough, but to write a daily, or even weekly, column is a talent that I admire immensely.

As may be obvious if you are following me I have begun to write regularly again. I am trying to find my way back into writing more often if not regularly. Part of the issue is having something to say. but there are five part completed novels sitting in my files and to get one of those over the finishing line would be an achievement. I could re-visit some of the other books that I have written and revise them perhaps (they are still selling).

To be able to write for pleasure is a great thing and as long as I can stop it becoming the chore that it did at one time then maybe I can get back to a regular pattern. If you are happy to read what I write then it is nice to have an audience.


on blogging

I know that I am no longer very consistent in blogging here. I would like to get back to the days when I would write exactly 600 words to go out at 0600 every Monday, but my life now is very different to the one that I had back then.

Early in my blogging I was a road warrior and frequent business traveller. There would be time on trains and ‘planes (and waiting for them) to rough out blog posts and time in hotel rooms to polish them. Even whilst driving I could, if nothing else, capture Ideas for I used to have a voice activated digital recorder on a lanyard around my neck. I started using it when I first had a hands free ‘phone kit in my company car and could not always be relied upon to remember exactly what someone had told or asked me. Having the digital recorder was a help later in the day and I soon came to use it for recording ideas. It also captured my occasional thoughts on other motorists…

So I would have all of these ideas, many based on something that had happened that day and could be caught whilst fresh and then developed. Initially I wrote blogs as individual stories that were as long as they took; one might be 450 words and the next over 1000. It was a chance encounter in an airport that changed things for me and developed my approach as a writer.

I will call my mentor Janice for the sake on anonymity. She saw what I was writing one day and struck up a conversation that led to her following my Monday Musings and she contacted me later to suggest that I set a word count and tried to develop my blogs to fit it exactly. She gave me a framework to write to and encouraged me a lot. Through her tutelage I began to write things with a tight focus and the challenge of sharing a sentence here and a word there to get to the 600 word target was one that I began to enjoy. Janice died less than a year after we met, but I tried to keep up her standards for some time.

Later I became a professional writer in that I began to be paid for regular magazine features. I had written a few features and short pieces going back to the late seventies, but had stopped when I was not paid by two publishers, one of whom not only used my words, but also my photos. That soured my interest in writing for publication until I was approached for an article. That commission was used and paid for and led to a series followed by another series and for nearly three years I had an article out every month. Carefully reading what appeared in print against what I had submitted gave me a lot of respect for the skill of a good editor in making small and subtle changes to enhance what appeared on the pages.

The Summer of 2016 marked a turning point for me professionally and changed my lifestyle considerably. No longer did I have the periods on solitude to capture ideas nor the lonely periods in hotel rooms where I could work those ideas up into blog posts, each carefully sculpted to an exact length. The magazine for which I had been writing closed down and that took away one of the disciplines too; there is nothing like writing to a publishing deadline to focus the mind and a personal target is no substitute.

It is rare now for me to be in the position where I have had seven or eight weeks worth of blogs written and scheduled here. I did manage it briefly last Spring, but then personal projects took over my time and I lost impetus again. Can I get it back? I don’t know, but I do like to write and it is something that I want to try and get back into.

Thank you to those who have followed me so far. I hope that I can maintain your interest.

the art of handwriting

January 25, 2016 1 comment

To hear that a number of schools are ceasing to teach pupils handwriting saddens me. I understand that the generations coming through make use of portable devices to write upon, but I don’t agree that these things make the art of handwriting redundant.

I am of an age where we were taught to write with pen on paper. Lined pages where we would use two lines for a capital or tall letter and just the lower line for smaller letters, scratching away with a pen and ink as we developed our own styles around the standard form.

As we mastered to letters and how to assemble them into words we began to learn sentences, paragraphs and beyond and we began to understand grammar. There was a lot more to understanding our language than just writing out words, but the ability to write  helped a lot in communicating.

In my early years at work computers we beginning to make an impact. Computers then were big things that we didn’t ever see, but we had to cater for the people who fed the information and for about four years the majority of the writing that I did was to complete forms where there was a space for each letter (or number) and all letters had to be in capitals. When that job came to an end and I moved on to one where I was drafting contracts for one of the ladies in the typing pool to turn into a document that we could send out I had to pretty much teach myself to write all over again for I had not written a sentence let alone a paragraph for so long. It took me almost three months before I could manage legible joined up writing on a consistent basis and since then I have tried to keep up a regular writing regime.

The advent of the word processor was, to some extend, a boon in that it became so easy to redo something that you didn’t like the look of and then the ability to check your spelling and grammar were other benefits, but these things are not fool proof. As we used to say in the early days of computing; garbage in, garbage out and as someone who writes a lot (25,000 words is a slow week) it is easy to miss some of the silly things that can occur. Why else would so many people turn off predictive text?

Language is a living thing and it evolves all of the time. I don’t want to stop that, but if we lose the basic skills of forming letters and words I don’t believe that it is going to help. Over the last thirty years or so I have encountered so many young people coming to work for me who cannot do any basic mathematics because they have used calculators from an early age and have little or no understanding of how numbers work. They trust entirely anything that comes off a spreadsheet even when there is a blatant error. I see the loss of handwriting as bringing the same problems with words and it saddens me.

Change is all around us and it is inevitable, but not everything that we do brings progress. Each generation of children represents the future of our various civilisations and I don’t think that we should deprive them of basic skills. Sooner or later we will regret doing so.

the road to hell

With another working trip coming to an end I find that, yet again, my list of things to do during dead time is pretty much untouched. There were so many things that I was going to write while I had time to myself, but almost nothing got done; so much for good intentions. Read more…

A Patient’s Progress – The Book

For those that remember my series of stories on life in hospital, the 20 or so stories that appeared here were a little under half of what I wrote during my stay, and I have pulled the whole work together in an eBook.

As with my previous book it is on Kindle to begin with, but I will start looking at the paperback options in a week or two. You can buy the Kindle edition here: A Patient’s Progress

My hospital sojourn interrupted the process of another book that was also almost ready for publication, and I want to resume work on that with the aim of having it on Kindle before Christmas, so watch this space.

2013 could see a number of publications from me depending on how other work goes; writing is a very time-consuming activity!

thursday news from monday musings

A rare mid-week post, but I have a couple of pieces of news to broadcast.

First off I had some kind feedback on last year’s Christmas Story and so I am working on a couple of humorous posts again for the next two, maybe three, Monday Musing columns and the first of these is already scheduled ready to run.

The other piece of news is that, having become aware that I need to prune the archives here to maintain space I have put together a collection of the older posts that seem to generate repeat traffic and added a lot of new and original material to be published as an e-book. The completed volume is with Amazon at the moment and will be exclusively available via Kindle to begin with. If you don’t own a Kindle, then  Kindle for PC can be downloaded from the Amazon site at no cost. Click here to buy the book from Amazon.

I Don't Have My Decision Making Trousers On

As 2011 runs out I’d like to thank all those who have followed my blog(s) and supported my efforts over the year. Seasonal greeting to all and best wishes for a good 2012.