Write without fear, edit without mercy
I love to tell stories, and I have done for as long as I can remember. And I'm often asked 'how' to write, especially in recent years when so much emphasis has shifted towards storytelling as a PR and marketing tactic.
My writing career started as a journalist 26 years ago in London. Writing for a business that produced editorial for public sector employees I was thrust into a world of the unknown. I knew I had a voice and I had to find it, but I was timid. Somehow the idea that to get the story I'd have to spend a lot of time making telephone calls to people I didn't know escaped me. I hated making those cold calls as much as I disliked walking into busy events on my own. I loved writing, I knew how to put words together, but I had no clue where to begin when I wasn't writing my own story for my own eyes.
I procrastinated over many a first line, until my quite lovely and very patient editor advised me to scribble the story down in my raw thoughts and come back to the headline later. And I still write like this today because it works. Whatever you're writing, whether it's white papers or analytics reports, front page tabloid news or blogs and social media narrative.
I've learned that not niching down into a particular subject as a freelance editor suited my butterfly brain. I loved the see-saw between long, purposeful technical content and uplifting, often short-form frothy consumer news. And because it is the words that I love, the process of writing that I enjoy, I'm happy writing for and working with all kinds of content - and all kinds of business.
A writer's voice
Writing is like exercising - we can struggle to see the point of putting pen to paper for no other purpose than watching the words flow. It can be hard to measure results or even define what success looks like. It can all seem like too much hard work in a day with many other pressing priorities. But the more we do it, the better we get.
I don't know 'how' I write, but I know that I use the same tricks writing PR releases and Instagram captions as I did all those years ago on the news desk. I take a breath, I look out the window, and I write with the first thing that comes to mind.
If I shut the door laptop lid gently & screw my eyes closed tightly I can imagine myself here. I can smell the bluebells and the moss, fresh with dew. I can hear my niece giggling and her elder brother sighing, reluctant to be asked to walk this path again.
My sons are tramping through long grass and taking every possible route except the path in front of them. And among the blue carpet there is an occasional flash of primrose. The gentle rhythm of family and companionship is the backdrop to our familiar tales and our new stories. There is no sound of silence here, the hubbub is continuous... until we reach the woods.
I take a moment to savour it. To put my own emotions aside so I can make way for those which I recognise, but which do not belong to me. Every time I write for someone else – light-hearted socials or a long-form, lyrical blog – I have to put my own narrative aside and remember it is not my story to tell. This is not journalism, there is not the same requirement of balance. This is the flow of words that tumble onto the page as if the businesses who employ me were to write for themselves.
It is a discipline I’ve become accustomed to and while I jump at the chance of technical or academic writing, creative content offers a different challenge. It balances my own natural ebb and flow with the words I can hear around me... but which do not belong to me.
Pictures like this bluebell wood are often the start of my connection as I switch from technical writing or data work to creative content. They are my time hop to memory... all 18,000 of them catalogued in the Cloud. This is how work starts when the story begins...it frees my imagination enough to set the scene, but it moves me on to a blank vista before it settles and my own voice takes over.
I shut my eyes and I cycle back to the place I know the real storyteller, the business for whom I'm writing, would like me to start. I use my lexicon of trusted words, the language may that I build for every client that tells me the words that work and the phrases their readers enjoy. It's a clear, peaceful place to start.
These are my words but it's never my story.
I haven't written for my own blog for some time, and the inspiration for this post came from my Instagram feed. Find more words and pictures @thehammondagency.