Category Archives: Challenge

Read something good this week, for everyone’s sake

Join my 2018 Ditch the Drivel Challenge

At the start of this year, I had silently hoped to read less drivel – fewer poorly written articles, pointless social media posts and dreadful books. My hopes were dashed, I’ve managed to subject myself to all of these things and more. So for the rest of the year I’m taking a stand: I refuse to read any more crap. Who’s with me?

The enthusiastic babbling of my toddler roused me from a deep sleep yesterday morning, interrupting a rather curious dream in which I was watching him play charades in front of a crowd of rowdy socialist voters in The Hague. I recoiled at the bluish light coming from my phone when I checked the time. 06:52. Pretty good going.

I went to put my phone back on my nightstand, but something stopped me; my thumb hovered over the unlock button, springing it into life. Without thinking, I scrolled to the second page of apps and touched the big blue F.

Oh look, someone’s posted an inspirational, motivational, follow-these-rules-and-you’ll-win-at-life article on a group I’m in. I read it. It was a pretty poor rehash of a million other versions I’d read in that group and plenty of others before, but it was so familiar and so easy to scan that my brain hardly had to wake up to feel some sense of achievement, albeit empty.

Those three minutes spent on my phone felt productive – I was developing myself, after all – but in the cold light of day, I realize it was a giant waste of time. It’s not only a problem for me, either; I fed the monster by reading that article. I validated the drivel by scanning it, so whoever published it gets a tick and a thumbs-up to produce more of the same. This puts me – and all of us, actually – in a terrible cycle: people publish rubbish, we consume it, they publish more, we lose the ability to make judgment calls on quality, so we keep clicking…

This content is ubiquitous online. It’s splashed across websites, it fills blogs and it comes at us through hyperlinked promises in marketing emails. Everyone has something to say, everyone’s an expert and everyone’s a writer. Only they’re not all good at it. The articles and blog posts and books aren’t all valuable, or even true. We’re feeding our brains the literary equivalent of a soggy quarter pounder meal every chance we get – with a side order of nuggets and enough cheap sauce to drown in.

It’s time for me – all of us – to do something about this. We must start demanding quality when we decide whether something’s worth our time. Welcome to my 2018 Ditch the Drivel Challenge.

Information overload is killing our quality radar

It’s hardly news that we’re overloaded with information. We all complain about it, often on social media, giving each other even more information to deal with. Information expert Dr. Martin Hilbert published a study showing that we were bombarded with the equivalent of 174 newspapers worth of information every day in 2007. And that was more than a decade ago – just imagine what we’re facing now.

A lot of that information hits us through apps like the big blue F that stole my attention yesterday morning. Facebook and its affiliated apps, like Instagram and WhatsApp, are reported to hold our attention for 50 minutes a day. Add to that a whole host of other social networks, like Twitter, Pinterest, FourSquare, Reddit and so on, and we’re now spending on average 135 minutes a day looking at what other people are doing, saying and writing.

Think about that for a moment. 135 minutes. That’s 2 hours and 15 minutes. Long enough to run a half marathon, drive over 200 kilometres or watch the 2017 adaptation of Stephen King’s IT (which is only slightly scarier than some of these statistics, even for someone who’s terrified of clowns).

The problem is, in the depths of our information overload, we lose the ability to see what’s good. The strength and focus we need to wade through the relentless attack of links and status updates and motivational quotes overlaid onto whimsical images and automatically-playing videos with mistake-ridden subtitles wanes the more they’re piled on to us. That inability is carried over to other areas too, and before we know it we’re reading Fifty Shades of Grey and the Daily Mail.

A new reality emerges – one in which a listicle of the top 17 things you never knew about the Royal family’s baby-related traditions, with commentary from a writer you’ve never heard of, who is altogether too lax when it comes to typos, seems like engaging content. It’s a world in which a headline swallows you up and spits you into a sales funnel, and you’re powerless to do anything about it by the time you hit the first catch. It’s a world in which good writing has given way to ‘engaging content’, where it’s hard to tell whether you’re being informed, entertained, manipulated or sold to.

It’s a world I’m checking out of.

Ditching the drivel

When I woke up this morning, I ignored my phone, picking up one of the books from my nightstand instead. Bird by Bird, written by the altogether brilliant Anne Lamott. I’ve just finished reading Operating Instructions, a frank, insightful and heart-rending journal of the first year of her son’s life, and I’m now an addict in the very best way. Reading her books inspires me, touches me and teaches me, and I intend to make sure I read a lot more things that do that.

For the rest of this year, I’m challenging myself to read something good every day – and I’m challenging you to join me. I’m not going to kid myself that it’s possible to completely give up the drivel, but I’m going to ask myself a few questions before I read anything from now on. Here’s my very own literary sewage filter: Will this help me? Is this good? Will I be somehow better after reading it?

I want to make sure that each time I pick up a book or click on a link it’s to read something fulfilling. Something beautiful. Something good. I want to look up to the people who have written the words I’m reading, take notes from them and become a better writer myself as a result.

I challenge you to set up your own literary sewage filter. And who knows? If we stop being baited to click and say no to the dregs, maybe, just maybe, we’ll avoid the overload, get better at spotting – and choosing – quality and actually help lift the stuff we’re subjected to out of the gutter.

I’m off to read George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London. What’s next on your list?

(Want some ideas for great books? Check out Joe Queenan’s One for the Books for a fascinating journey through an avid reader’s memory, or The Novel Cure for ideas of books that will match your mood.)

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#ShitWordSaturday: Resonate

Whenever someone says “that idea really resonates with me,” I wish I could manifest* that idea and twang them on the head with it, like some kind of tuning fork for the brain.

tuning-fork-1906402_640The bad thing is that I use it myself sometimes; it just slips out, to my utter horror. What’s worse is that no one bats an eyelid. I don’t see people lifting pens to play bullshit bingo in meetings any more (now there’s a game we should revive), which makes it so easy to leave the corporate butchery of words like this unchecked.

Resonate comes from resound – it means to produce a deep, reverberating sound or vibration. These days it’s used to mean something is appealing on a fundamental level: “that really resonates with me.”

Yuk. Maybe it’s my aversion to the idea that we’re all ruled by some kind of mystical vibration (again, see *) or maybe I’m clinging to proper usage too tightly and should let the world’s chief storytelling officers run wild without complaining.

Either way, I’m setting myself a challenge on #ShitWordSaturday: for the coming week, I will not use the word ‘resonate’ (unless I’m talking about sound or some kind of physics-related wave). Are you up for the challenge too? Or is there another word you need to ban from your textual toolkit?

 

* Not really. Manifest is a worrying trend in self-help books (my guilty pleasure) – even more worryingly, the ones written by and aimed at women.

“We just need to want something badly enough and it will manifest,” they say. “Hey girl, just connect to the higher power and manifest yourself that money you deserve.”

What?! Don’t be sucked in by the industry’s latest butchery of the English language. What they’re implying is that these things will materialize. But that’s not how life – or physics – works. (If it did, I would be sitting here cradling a first edition of The Count of Monte Cristo, not You are a Badass.)

Here’s my take: if you want that Ferrari/house/holiday you need to (*shock horror*) WORK FOR IT. Of course some ways of working are smarter than others, but just wishing something will appear from thin air and happy thoughts is not a good strategy. (It does remind me of that episode of Bagpuss when the mice make chocolate biscuits out of butter beans and breadcrumbs, though. Classic.)


What I learned by recommending someone on LinkedIn every day in October

Every day in October, I recommended someone in my LinkedIn network as part of what I creatively call my LinkedIn Challenge. I didn’t just ‘endorse’ them (let’s face it, this can be pretty meaningless – I’ve been endorsed for things I’m not good at by people who hardly know me). Instead, I took real time to write actual words about my experiences working with people.

After 31 days of writing recommendations, I’d like to share a few of the lessons I’ve learned.

  1. It’s easy to be vague. ‘Carol is hardworking.’ ‘Derek is a great team player.’ It’s so easy to share vague opinions about a person’s strengths; the way we get to know them is to stack up individual experiences into a general feeling. The first few recommendations I wrote fell straight into this trap (sorry to my guinea pigs!) and will probably not be as valuable to readers as the ones I wrote later, which were way more specific. It’s best to think about the individual moments that add up to the vague feeling: did that person defend you in a meeting? Offer help at an event? Teach you a new skill? People want to know about encounters like this so they can build up their own vague picture of someone.
  1. Recommendations are a total gush fest. I didn’t write a single negative thing about anyone the whole month. Of course, the point of a recommendation is to highlight someone’s strengths, but reading back over all of them I see a rather skewed version of reality. I chose the 31 people I recommended because I respect and admire all of them, but it would be unrealistic to think that at least some of them didn’t have flaws. I sure do. Would I do it differently? No. LinkedIn isn’t designed to take ‘realistic’ recommendations, and I don’t think we are either. Reading something flattering is great, but if I received a short paragraph saying ‘Lucy came up with some innovative ideas but many of them didn’t get off the ground because she isn’t always very organized’ I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t publish it to my profile.
  1. Writing good things makes me feel good. Thinking about the people I recommended, reflecting on why I respect and admire them, writing it down and sending it to them was an exercise in creating joy – for me and for them. I found myself smiling as I wrote, partly because I was enjoying remembering working with them and partly because I knew it would make them feel good to read what I had written. I also got inspired to focus more on certain aspects of my work. Breaking my vague feelings down into individual experiences gave me ideas about simple things I could do to be more creative, empathetic, organized and helpful.
  1. We should give each other feedback more often. Being so happy to write these recommendations made me realize we probably don’t take enough time out to praise each other for a job well done. The first few times I submitted my feedback about people I felt nervous and even embarrassed – who was I to think they would value my opinion? – and that in itself suggests to me that I’m not forthcoming enough with feedback and praise. October might be over, but I intend to keep recommending people for the brilliant work they do. Just not every day.

In my messages to the people I recommended I asked them to pay it forward (or back, if they wanted to). I want to try and spread some praise on LinkedIn and replace the empty endorsements with meaningful tales of teamwork, stories of super salespeople and experiences of empathy. So I challenge you to recommend someone on LinkedIn today. Then maybe do it again tomorrow. Try it until you feel like you’ve mastered it. That way we’ll all be better at giving – and receiving – feedback.

(In case you’re feeling brave and want to try it for a whole month, here’s what I did: I trawled through more than 800 LinkedIn contacts and wrote down the names of the 50 people I most admire and respect. I then randomly chose 31 of them, put them in a random order and started at the top. I’d love to say I stuck to one recommendation a day, but that would be a lie. But I did write 31 in October.)

Are you up for the challenge?


Word invention challenge: Week four

Week one
Week two
Week three

The more I work on this challenge, the more words seem to just pop into my head. My list of rejects is growing much faster than the daily list (maybe I’ll publish that one day too). Actually, all the listing is one of my favourite things about this challenge. I’m quite listy myself, I don’t think I’d get anything done without my ‘to do’s and ‘action’s. Every now and then a word just pops up from a jutch, sometimes even from someone else. Unfortunately, jutches are so common that the words they often produce have integrated into the language already (like snain and fantabulous).

I’ve learnt a lot about words, language and my own creativity this month. I tend to constrapolate, for example – I hold myself back by building walls that don’t need to be there. So I fought against this: a few of my new words (indlewink, okigollop) are just made up from nothing. They sound nice and are fun to say. I approached this challenge rathely – by the end of day three I already had a list of 20 words – and that’s the way I approach all my work as a wreditor (as long as there’s a deadline, of course). In fact, sometimes I’d sit so long without even blinking, let alone taking a break, that my leg muscles would constretch beyond belief. One of the many reasons I now have a ball to sit on.

I’m not sure how I feel about this challenge coming to an end. Actually, I think it’s made me realize that making up new words is fun, so I might just continue to do it (as appropriate, of course) forever. Some situnarios call for special terms (special swear words could be fun) and there are certainly words in other languages that don’t (yet) have equivalents in English (like gezellig… if only that was easy to pronounce).

For now, I’ll take a break from the formality of the challenge – I’ve made my 31 words in 31 days (and a whole lot more besides). Now it’s time to enjoy the weekend and think about what February may bring. I think today calls for a bit of wine drinking, okigolloping and chatting in Amsterdam with my lovely visitor. So farewell January, goodbye word invention challenge, and hello new perspective on language!

  1. Listy (adj.) – a person who bases actions on lists; a very organized person
  2. Rathely (adv.) – quickly, promptly; eagerly, vehemently
  3. Constrapolate (v.) – to constrict possibilities when extrapolating
  4. Jutch (v.) – to say a word that is a mix of two other words unintentionally; to switch and jumble two words (also (n.) – a word that results from jutching)
  5. Contretch (v.) – of muscles: to tense backwards; relax extremely
  6. Situnario (n.) – a situation in which a scenario takes place; usually referring to a negative or stressful event
  7. Okigollop (v.) – to eat something without thinking when someone tells you to
  8. Wreditor (n.) – a person engaged in writing and editing as a profession

Thanks to Emily for situnario – a word we invented in Australia far too many years ago.

That’s it! 31 days of January, 31 new words. What do you think? Are any of these usable? I’m planning to stick them on my wall, and will attempt to use each of them at least once this year, for real.

Have you been inspired? Have you made up any words? Share them in the comments!


Word invention challenge: Week three

It’s been almost three months now since I started full-time with Tell Lucy, and I’m getting used to the freelance life. Correction: I’m loving the freelance life. I work from home almost exclusively, give or take a meeting here or a coffee there. Aside from the (sometimes relentless) preowing of my content cats, it’s quiet in my home office, so I can hear the schwip of my pencil as I draft articles and make notes. It’s brilluous.

So when my husband suggested I look at WeWork – a shared office space for entrepreneurs and freelancers – I was slightly hesitant. Do I want to give up my lovely quiet private office? I ignored my concerns and hopped on my bike to visit the office space. It was freezing cold outside, so by the time I got there I had an unrelenting icitch and numb fingers. The WeWork sales rep – a bit of a shumpsky – asked me all sorts of questions, and was surprised at my quickcess when I told him I was in my third month of freelancing.

I cycled home via the gym, my selfivation being too strong to skip another day of training. As I spun away on the bike, I realized I had forgotten to eat all day (one of the downsides of freelancing alone at home) and suddenly felt starving. My mind wandered to thoughts of pizza, burgers and giant kapsalons… I took a big gulp of water and shook it off.

Back at the office, after relieving my hunger pangs with something far less greasy than I’d wanted, I sat back with my pencil, and listened to the schwip as I pymed. Do I want to give this up? I still don’t know.

  1. Schwip (n.) – the sound a pencil makes when it sweeps across the paper; the sound of writing with a pencil
  2. Pyme (v.) – to force a rhyme to make a poem work
  3. Quickcess (n.) – the speedy accomplishment of goals
  4. Kapsalon (n.) – a Dutch dish of fries, kebab meat and lettuce, topped with cheese and toasted
  5. Brilluous (adj.) – so splendid or magnificent that it’s difficult to believe
  6. Icitch (n.) – an itch brought on by extreme cold
  7. Selfivation (n.) – motivation brought on by a wish to take an attractive selfie
  8. Shumpsky (n.) – a laid back person; an over-familiar person

This week’s list is dedicated to my lovely office companion Zeus, who is a total shumpsky.

So are any of these brilluous? Which one’s the best?


Word invention challenge: Week two

I was beeing around in London during the second week of January this year, resting my head on various pushions around the city as I jumped from sofa to sofa. It was great to start the year visiting friends I hadn’t seen in a long time – catching up face-to-face is different to Skype or FaceTime, however regular they may be. A virtual hug is never as lovely as a real one.

But my visit wasn’t just pleasure – I was working hard, having a great time helping out on different projects and cracking through some editing. I was trying to be as googsey as possible in meetings (which had earned me my nickname many years ago); it’s always good to resolve issues and think up new approaches on the spot, without having to break to check things online.

After a few days in London I hopped on a train to Surrey for the weekend, to see my family. Unsurprisingly, there were works on the track, so the train took a (very) long route, chugging through the countryside and giving me plenty of time to tap away on my laptop. An indlewink that jumped out of the river we were passing left me temporarily blinded, so I was doubly shocked when the loudspeaker next to my ear blasted out its mundane announcement, leaving a squelp in my left ear.

Finally, after an epic journey, dinner at Dad’s was wonderful – time to rest, relax, take time out from the tapping, and enjoy some great food. Far from being smurry, dinner was delicious, so I was unimpressed when I had an escapea – a morsel of yumminess I wouldn’t be able to enjoy.

The weekend was fabulous and inspiring. I spent lots of time with Mum, and my two super smart brothers, who put all sorts of exciting ideas in my head. So watch this space for a brilliant app, and some great stories (eventually)!

  1. Pushion (n.) – a cushion you use as a pillow when you sleep on someone’s couch
  2. Googsey (adj.) – knowledgeable; like an offline Google
  3. Indlewink (n.) – light that hits you in the eye by surprise after being reflected off of an object
  4. Escapea (n.) – a piece of food that jumps off of a plate; a pea that falls on the floor
  5. Smurry (n.) – a disgusting substance, usually sloppy or liquid
  6. Bee (v.) – to hurry around being productive
  7. Squelp (n.) – the wet feeling in your ears after hearing a loud noise

Two of this week’s words were inspired by (ok, invented by) friends, so they should be recognized here. Colin, the ultimate nickname-giving media mogul who I was fortunate enough to work with a few years back, invented the word ‘googsey’ when he gave me the nickname Googsey. I think it deserves to be a word. And escapea is an old one but a great one, and a word that has been successfully integrated into our family vocabulary after Philippe used it every time a pea jumped off his plate (which was every day). This rolled out into other words (escapotato, escapecarrot etc.) but I think escapea can be applied to all food.

What do you think? Which one’s the best?


Word invention challenge: Week one

My favourite week of the whole year is the week between Christmas and New Year. Seven days of excitement, of rushing around apily, tying up loose ends and sketching out plans for the year ahead. It’s the time I get tough with my to do list, ditching all those permending items in favour of more realistic, achievable objectives. It’s a week full of hope; a week fueled by reinvention and excitement.

HappyNewYear“Pop!” The champagne bursts free and we clink and embrace – here’s to 2015! I tell my husband that one of my (many, as always) New Year’s resolutions is to make up a new word. Actually, you know what? I’ll make up a new one every day in January. How hard can it be? He kwinks at me lovingly. Knowingly. Another mad idea.

We sit and sip our champagne, watching the fireworks and letting the grunkles melt away from our faces – it’s as if the evening’s celebrations are wiping out all of 2014’s negativity. It’s technically 2015 already, but the new start will come when we wake up. (Which gives us free reign to carry on enjoying the bubbles and snacks, one last time.)

After an unusually lazy lie-in, we are woken by the sound of two needy cats scratching the bedroom door. Even more unusually, we let them in and they leap onto the bed, bunting and preowing away, enjoying the cuddly attention (and giving me some wordspiration). Their pawing tickles, giving me a movitch that won’t sit still, so I jump up, ready to face the day. The year.

Like many people, I intend to be super fit and healthy in 2015. It’s nothing new, of course – I’ve been on a pretty intense training schedule for over a year now – but January adds something of a shine to the regime. I’ll be doing a lot more chegging and scoffing far less chocolate this month. I boil the kettle and put a couple of eggs in a pan, with a big grin on my not-so-grumpled face.

Hello, 2015. It’s nice to meet you.

Words of week one

  1. Preow (v.) – to purr and meow simultaneously
    Also (n.) – the noise made by purring and meowing simultaneously
  1. Permending (adj.) – permanently awaiting decision or settlement; permanently pending
  2. Kwink (v.) – to wink and air kiss simultaneously, usually directed at a person
  3. Movitch (n.) – an itch that starts in one place and moves when scratched, evading relief
  4. Chegg (v.) – the practice of eating mostly chicken and eggs. Common in bodybuilding and strength training
  5. Apily (adv.) – like a bee; to do something in a bee-like manner
  6. Grunkle (n.) – a small furrow or ridge on a smooth surface, usually a face, caused by grumpiness

Bonus (made in the writing of this article): Wordspiration (n.) – a word-inspiring influence; something that inspires the creation or use of words.

What do you think? How am I doing? What’s the best word so far? This is more fun than I could have imagined.