Monthly Archives: December 2014

My January invention challenge: a word a day

In the second half of 2014, a good friend of mine (and a fantastic designer – check out his stuff) set out on a challenge: to master a new 3D image tool by creating a new image every day for 100 days. It was a huge success. I’ve rather over-simplified that, but the thing that really got my attention was doing something every day until you’re great at it.

WordsI’m not a designer, but one thing I’m very interested in is the design of words. Contrary to popular belief, language does evolve; we can shape the future of our words and their usage. People – me included – are hesitant to do this. But you know what? I think it’s time to get inventive with the alphabet and inject some creativity into our words. One person who can wax lyrical on this topic is the wonderful Erin McKean – lexicographer and maker of online dictionary Wordnik.

In her TED talk, Erin explains that we should invent new words because “every word is a chance to express your idea and get your meaning across. And new words grab people’s attention.” I completely agree. Creating a new word has been on my to do list (silly, I know) for years and I’ve always avoided it. Not any more.

In January 2015 I’m challenging myself to create a new word every day. I’ll be honing my word inventing skills using a variety of techniques, including the six that Erin shares in her talk:

  1. Stealing – from other languages, e.g. kumquat, ninja
  2. Compounding – squishing words together, e.g. bookworm, sandcastle
  3. Blending – squishing words together with force, e.g. brunch, electrocute
  4. Functionally shifting – verbing, e.g. friend (used to be a noun); or nouning, e.g. commercial (used to be an adjective)
  5. Back forming – creating a smaller word from an existing one, e.g. edit (came after editor) and burgle (came after burglar)
  6. Creating an acronym (acronate? Acronomize?) – making a word from the first letter of a series of words, e.g. Nasa, omg

I’m not going to challenge myself to 100 new words, and I’m not under any illusion that I’ll get good at inventing words during the course of this challenge. Instead, my aim is to break out of my avoidance and fear of word creation, and to have some fun.

So every day in January 2015 I’ll make up a new word. I’m going to need your help, so I’ll share my words on social media and ask for your opinions. I might even do a weekly vote for the best word.

Keep your eyes peeled – the first word will appear on 1 January 2015!

A New Year’s resolution that will make a difference

Four easy ways to improve your writing and reap the benefits

It’s that time of year again – wrapping up 2014 and planning 2015. We’re thinking about priorities and coming up with new paths to the land of success, whether that’s a place with more clients, new customers or stronger relationships. Whatever your objectives, there’s one simple resolution you can make this year that will give you a better chance of reaching success in 2015:

Improve your writing.

Simple, right? And yet so many people and companies are failing to put in the effort year after year. Good writing and high quality copy is falling victim to our perpetual state of panic and lack of time – we’re just too busy. Too busy to notice, let alone invest in improving.

photoHere’s the problem: other people notice. They care. If your text is sloppy, your customers will assume that your service is sloppy. If there’s a mistake on your product, it looks lower quality. If your annual report is littered with typos, your funders will start to doubt their investment. And if your website is grammatically disastrous, your potential clients will go elsewhere.

So how can you avoid all this and make sure your text is top quality, even though you’ve got no time? Firstly, there’s no magic wand to make your copy flawless with no effort at all.* Let’s get real: you’ll have to work at this. It won’t take you hours, but you will need to invest a little bit of your time. That’s why now is the perfect moment to make a resolution: you’re making plans and setting goals for 2015, why not make this a priority?

There are a few simple tricks that will help improve your text, even if you don’t have that magic wand.

  1. Spell check

Aren’t those red squiggly lines annoying? NO I DIDN’T MEAN TO USE A ‘Z’! I’m right with you. But they’re extremely helpful, especially if you’re in a hurry. Sure, spell check often misses typos that are still words, but it’s really handy for a quick check, especially if you’re short of time. (And did you know you can switch it on in emails too? That could really help protect your professional reputation.)

  1. Get a text buddy

We never see our own mistakes. When you’ve written something, you’ve probably seen it dozens of times and can no longer see the wood for the trees. That’s totally normal, and it’s why every writer has an editor. If you don’t have that resource, why not get yourself a text buddy? Check out my tips on how to choose your buddy.

  1. Sleep on it

Everything looks different in the cold light of day. You might even see that mistake you overlooked last night. Sleep refreshes everything, and gives you the distance you need to be more objective about the quality of your work.

  1. Read it out loud

This is my favourite. So many long, grammatically incorrect sentences would be avoided if only people would read things out to themselves. It’s simple: literally read out the text with your voice. If there’s a mistake, you’ll hear it before you see it.

Now’s your chance to resolve to improve your writing – and your image – in 2015. Here’s to a beautifully written new year!

* Unless you wave one at an editor:

In praise of the pencil

Pencil1As we accelerate towards 2015, with its promise of smaller computers, bigger phones and hover boards, it’s easy to overlook some of life’s simple – but wonderful – technologies. Like the humble pencil.

I love pencils. Seriously, I have a whole drawer of them. I want you to love pencils too. Here are five wonderful things you can do with a pencil that you can’t do with something electronic.

  1. You can hand-write something. Isn’t that lovely? It must be so easy to go for months without hand writing – we don’t even need to sign stuff these days, what with PINs and e-signatures. It’s like going back to the Dark Ages – we’ll all be signing with a shaky cross before long. Use it or lose it!
  2. You can emphasise and whisper. The graphite in your pencil responds to the force of your fingers. Want to make a point? Underline hard! [Ed – I realise the bold and underline functions in Word help with this too, but doing it with a pencil is so much more natural – it’s a direct extension of your feeling, coming out through the force of movement. And it feels way better than hitting ‘ctrl-b’.]
  3. You can enjoy the music of the sweep of your pencil across the page. Every pencil sounds different – this one sings in a high, husky voice. [Ed – I wrote this with a pencil, in case that’s not clear.] It’s such a peaceful sound, and one you don’t get with a pen.
  4. You can erase your mistakes. Isn’t that great? When did we give up and decide it’s acceptable to cross through our messy scrawl in pen? Our teachers would be ashamed! [Ed – actually you can do this with a computer, but it’s not as fun and it doesn’t leave behind a slightly visible legacy of previous ideas. You can’t do it with a pen though. Not unless you have one of those pens with an eraser pen on the other end, which only work for about five seconds.]
  5. You can sharpen a pencil, and that feeling you get when you write with a freshly-sharpened pencil cannot be beaten. Sharpening pencils is also wonderfully relaxing – if I need a break to unwind and de-stress, I sometimes sit back with a cuppa and a sharpener and attack my pencil drawer. (I know, I know.)

So there you have it. Pencils are great. There are loads of other reasons they’re better than computers and pens. Perhaps one of my favourites is that my pencil collection holds some great memories – I buy a pencil at every museum I visit. Sadly I couldn’t find one at a place I visited last week.

What do you think is the best thing about writing with a pencil? Let’s remember their value and protect them from extinction (in the writing world at least)!