Five ways to stay awake when you’re burning the midnight oil

My six-month-old baby is fast asleep in the bedroom. So is my husband. I’m sitting here listening to their little sleep noises and looking at the clock: it’s 03:22. I’m working, and I won’t be stopping for some time.

sleepybabyOne of the questions I’m most often asked as a new mum is “does he sleep well?” Yes, yes he does. Infinitely better than I do, as it turns out. I’m not just a new mum; I’m also a (relatively) new business owner with an ever-growing amount of work. It’s a luxury problem, of course, and I relish the challenge. I also have the good fortune to be working with some fantastic freelance writers. But often I find myself sitting here burning the midnight oil because I’m in a flow or on a deadline.

As a result, I’ve mastered the art of staying awake and maintaining concentration – even in the absence of caffeine. Here are my top tips for staying focused if you’re facing an all-nighter.

  1. Drink cold water. It sounds simple but it really works. It does the trick in several ways: the cold literally wakes you up, it keeps you hydrated so your brain has enough water to work on, and it makes you take regular toilet breaks, which involve standing up and walking a bit (see point 3).
  1. Be uncomfortable. Within reason, of course. I often sit on an exercise ball, which requires continuous small movements to stay balanced. It’s better than slouching on the sofa (tried that, fell asleep with my finger on the kkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk).
  1. Get up and move. I could fall asleep leaning against a wall if I stayed in one position for long enough, so moving regularly is really important for me. Every half hour I consciously move a bit – I stand up and get a fresh glass of water, bend over and touch my toes, shake my hands out (my fingers get sleepy when I’m typing a lot) or jog on the spot for a minute.
  1. Work in short bursts. I use the Pomodoro technique, which involves working full-throttle for 25 minutes, then taking a five-minute break and starting a new 25-minute burst on something else. It keeps me focused and interested and makes sure I have five minutes every half hour to move.
  1. Listen to music. Noise keeps me alert, as long as it’s disruptive. My choice of genre depends on the task at hand: for writing I prefer something without lyrics (I tend to sing – and write – along otherwise). Energising classical music works pretty well. For other, less concentrated tasks, such as admin or emails, I might go for some rock or metal. I rarely fall asleep listening to Metallica.

*Needless to say, my tips come with a few warnings and caveats. Firstly, we all know it’s bad to work through the night. It’s much better to be organised enough to get all your work done during the day. Don’t be like me. Secondly, be careful on the ball. I nearly fell off it when I started to drift off the other day. And lastly, sometimes I do fall asleep listening to Metallica.

Now go to bed. I’ve got work to do.


How reading stuff I wrote as a kid has helped me break bad writing habits

I’ve been writing everything from non-fiction essays to poems since I could string a sentence together. I was a prolific writer as a kid: little me would scribble notes and the beginnings of many (many) novels on scraps of paper, napkins… anything I could get words onto.

A few years ago I convinced my Mum to whittle down her enormous box of my ramblings and I took away a small folder of some of the best* things I’d written. Reading them was very revealing, and it highlighted some of the bad writing habits I’d managed to nurture and grow over the years.

Seeing my bad habits in black and white really helped me squash them.

*Read: funniest

Bad planning.

CaterpillarPlanning is a really important part of the writing process. Knowing where you’re going with an article, story, report, book or poem helps you structure it properly, providing the best possible support for elegant, well thought-out writing. Skip the planning process and you risk your work caving in on itself.

The little version of me didn’t know this. Take my caterpillar “poem” for example. (Come on, it’s not really a poem, is it?) I had one side of A4, minus some pretty generous margins, to work with. I knew this; I’d drawn and decorated the margins myself. What I should have done was draft the “poem” somewhere else first, then work out if it needed to be shortened.

I didn’t do that.

What I did was this: I saw a glorious blank page and started filling it with whatever spilled out of my head. It was going (relatively) well until I saw the end of the box and panicked, shutting the whole thing down abruptly (see the next bad habit).

Reading my caterpillar story made me laugh, but it also put a spotlight on my problem. Of course, I’m not restricted to pencils and paper these days, and typing makes it much easier to play with words on a page. But I really had to force myself to focus on planning.

Now when I start working on something, I begin with a skeleton structure: a word or two to represent what each paragraph or section would contain. Having a skeleton helps me organise notes – I can cut and paste them into the relevant section – and then all I need to do is add flesh to the bones. Planning in this way means I know how many words I have to play with in each part of a piece of writing, and it means I don’t have to cut the work from the bottom.

Abrupt endings.

At the end of the bridgeAs you can see from my amazing caterpillar masterpiece, I had a big problem with endings. This was partly because I would get really excited about every book I was writing, only for my excitement to dissipate by mid-way through chapter two (confession: this still happens, I have countless partly written novels floating around). One of my biggest issues was finishing everything I wrote far too abruptly.

The ending of a piece of writing is really important. Sure, not everyone will make it to the end of an article, but those who do will remember the last few sentences they read better than the rest.

Again, little me didn’t know that. Take “At the end of the bridge” for example. Even the title suggests that something brilliant is awaiting the protagonist at the other side of the bridge. But when she gets there she is “amazed”. I don’t go into detail, despite there being plenty of space in which to do so.

“The girl that traveld [sic]” ends rather cryptically too: suddenly, in the final sentence, the girl can talk to the animals. Nothing like an unexplained revelation to end a story.

The girl that traveldOk, so I’m not that bad any more, but endings weren’t my strong point for years. Reading these stories, I was so disappointed when I reached the end that I realised how my readers must have felt in the past, albeit less obviously. I now include my endings in the planning process, making sure they reflect and build on the introductions, and leave the reader with something to think about.

Over-enthusiasm.

JohnI love exclamation marks! Really, I’m pretty sure you can find one in just about everything I’ve written. I tend to over-use them – and superlatives – in emails to this day, but it’s only because I write the way I speak. And I speak enthusiastically.

In the lovely (untitled) story about John, little me got over-enthusiastic without getting creative, and emboldened the word “very” a couple of times. Over the years, my vocabulary improved, and with it my enthusiasm became more colourful. Things were “really brilliant”, “totally awesome” and “completely amazing”. Add a sprinkling of exclamation marks and you get an out-of-breath reader.

In my head I was just excited and optimistic; on paper, I looked like a lunatic. Reading John’s story reminded me how important it is to check the tone of what I write. These days I write however I feel like it at the time, then make a point of checking for tone when I run back through what I’ve written. If I seem a bit nutty, I cut adjectives and exclamation marks.

Not editing.

Cats 1Actually, my over-enthusiasm was part of a bigger problem in my writing: I wasn’t editing my own work properly. This was probably the toughest habit I had to break.

Check out my treatment on “Cat’s”: a little intro, a song, a poem and a couple of cartoons. Cat’s what? Cat’s disappointed that I used several grocer’s apostrophe’s (that one was on purpose). Even as a kid, I knew how to punctuate and spell properly. Reading this it was obvious to me: I was being lazy.

Editing a piece of writing is almost as important as doing the writing in the first place; it can make the difference between an ok article riddled with mistakes and a compelling article that’s polished and professional.

Of course I want the latter, so now I make sure I factor editing rounds into my writing process. If it’s possible within the deadline, I schedule time to sleep on a piece of writing (figuratively speaking) so I can attack it with fresh eyes the next day. It’s definitely improved my work, and I’m happy to say those painful apostrophes don’t litter my writing any more.

——-

What terrible writing habits did you develop as a kid? How have you tackled them? Share your stories in the comments!

 


My baby was due yesterday. Here’s why I’m still working (and why that’s ok)

Yesterday my due date (and my birthday, incidentally) came and went, as they often do with first babies. It marked the start of what I’m optimistically calling my ‘baby holiday’. Only it’s not what you might expect: I’m still working.

This was actually the fourth adjusted date of the start of my baby holiday. Initially, I had intended to stop working a week before my due date, then the Friday before, then the Monday. When I attempted to stop working the day before the baby was due to arrive, I learnt three things: it’s ok to ignore advice (even if it’s given with love and the best of intentions), ‘relaxing’ doesn’t look the same to everyone and it’s great to love what you do.

An avalanche of advice

Just like every other pregnant woman in history, I’ve been showered with advice for the last nine months. Eat this, don’t drink that, go for a walk (but not too fast), relax, stay active… But nothing compares to the opinions people have shared about working during pregnancy.

My approach – which is basically to work for as long as possible and see how it goes after the baby’s born – has resulted in an array of reactions, from support (it’s so great you can be flexible!) to amusement with a hint of condescension (oh really? You think you’ll be able to do that?) to downright anger and disapproval (that’s really bad for you and your baby).

This mix of reactions isn’t new to me. As a freelancer, there is no clear divide between my ‘life’ and my ‘work’ (which suits me brilliantly, because my work – writing – is what I like to do for fun). This situation isn’t ‘normal’ – I don’t work to live, my work is just a part of my life – and that makes it difficult for many people to understand. If I had a penny for every time someone’s told me to slow down, take a break or have a day off, I’d have enough to kick back with a G&T (post-baby, of course).

EscapeaBut add a bump into the mix and it all gets a bit emotional. People started to worry about my wellbeing and the health of my baby. Surely all the stress of working can’t be good. If you were employed, you’d have to give up work a month before your due date, there must be a sensible reason for that rule. You really should switch off and spend time nesting and thinking about babies instead of writing about pesticides and bees, tuna slaves and urine fuel cells.

Eventually, the voices set up camp in my mind and I compromised: I’d start my baby holiday one week before my due date. That day arrived much more quickly than I’d expected, and I still had several articles to write, a book to edit and a load of invoicing to do. So I postponed. Just one more article. One last document. A couple more emails. Then there were no more excuses.

Attempting to ‘rest’

The day before my due date I got up early and sat down with my sewing machine (which I’d never used before) ready to turn some curtain cut-offs into a cushion for the cats to sleep on. Two hours after starting I admitted defeat and moved to the living room with a cup of tea, a needle and thread and How to Make a Murderer on Netflix. I made a little catnip toy and a tiny felt heart filled with lavender. They were both a bit rubbish.

I felt completely empty. Useless. Pointless. I wanted so much to be enjoying myself, relaxing and doing something creative (why sewing? No idea…) but I was just bored and frustrated. I watched my lovely Facebook friends send me thoughtful, caring messages in response to my ‘look how crap I am at sewing’ post, urging me to stop doing stuff and just kick back with a cuppa. Rationally I understood, and even agreed with, their comments. But I still sat there feeling guilty, conflicted, confused and bored.

When my husband walked through the door that evening, he knew exactly what had happened. ‘Why don’t you do some work tomorrow?’ he suggested.

At that moment the day’s three lessons hit me hard. I became a freelancer almost 18 months ago so I could make a living doing what I love: writing. Writing makes me feel excited and happy. It makes me feel useful and fulfilled. And it relaxes me. Sure, sometimes deadlines can be stressful, especially if they pile up. But I thrive on the pressure (and stress can be good for you anyway).

And I’m not good at sitting still; for the last few years not a single day has gone by when I haven’t done something. No PJ or TV days, and when I do watch a film (or, I admit it, the occasional soap) I’m usually writing or editing something at the same time. When I’m not writing, my version of relaxing is seeing how many things I can tick off my to do list.

Of course I wasn’t happy when I tried to do nothing. It’s not right for me; I was trying to do other people’s version of relaxing and getting ready for a baby. Advice is there to advise, not to instruct, but I’d let myself get swept along with the wave of opinions and hadn’t stopped to think about me. The 9-to-5 office job doesn’t suit me, so it makes perfect sense that the ‘normal’ approach to maternity leave doesn’t either.

My baby holiday

Despite what people have been saying about me needing to slow down since I went freelance – and particularly over the last nine months – I’ve come to realise what my husband already knew: what I need is the opposite. I need to feel useful and busy, to keep ticking things off my lists and adding new things. I need my own version of a baby holiday.

So here’s my five-point baby holiday plan:

  1. Keep writing.
  2. Take on one deadline at a time (this makes sense logistically, since I could go into labour at any moment).
  3. Stop trying to sew. It’s not going to work.
  4. Focus on enjoyment rather than relaxation.
  5. Drink tea and watch Netflix if you feel like it (but you’re not a weirdo if you don’t).

Of course I have no idea what’s in store for me in the next few hours, days, weeks and months. But finding out is half the fun, right?

 


How a year of living the dream has changed my life

One year ago today I sat at my shiny new green desk, sharpened my pencils and switched on my laptop. I was terrified. Not just nervous, but knee-tremblingly petrified of how my first day was going to go. I put a Dream Theater CD on (which has become one of my best work buddies this year) and opened my emails. I started to write, nervously, my heart beating fast with every keystroke.

I’ve written every day of my adult life (almost every day of my whole life, actually, since I was four) so I shouldn’t have been scared of what I was doing. So why was it having such an effect on me?

I had pretty high expectations of that day. Ever since I’d announced a few months earlier that I was planning to ditch the 9-5 and go solo, people had been applauding my bravery and telling me how they wished they had the courage to follow their dreams and do what they’re passionate about. If I hadn’t already been nervous, I definitely was after hundreds of people making me out to be some kind of career hero.

My view of taking the leap to freelancing was actually more pragmatic than it might seem. Sure, I love writing and, like millions of other people, had always dreamed of working from a remote cottage on a lake somewhere, with a pencil in one hand and a coffee in the other (think Colin Firth in Love Actually). But I’m a bit too sensible to do something just because I love it. I did my research, and it actually made better business sense than staying where I was.

I came home from work late one day and my husband was sitting waiting for me with a cup of tea. “I need to talk to you about something,” I said. The colour drained from his face. “No, no, it’s nothing like that, I’ve had a mad idea.” Now this was far from unusual – in the five years he’s known me, my mad ideas have included getting pet bees for the flat (I’m still working on this), running a half marathon five months after running my first ever 100 metres and turning our dining room into an indoor allotment (we got two cherry tomatoes). So when I told him I was thinking about quitting my job and going freelance, he agreed without hesitation and made me a spreadsheet showing how much I’d need to earn to survive.

My shiny green desk

My shiny green desk

That was my first lucky break: the most supportive husband in the world. This year, he’s cooked, cleaned, made me thousands of cups of tea, kept me awake, made me go to sleep and made me smile when I was ready to cry. There aren’t enough words in the world to thank him enough.

I leant on a lot of other people for advice before I resigned. I called mentors, friends, colleagues and family, especially people I knew would tell me not to be stupid. But nobody did. The clincher came when my good friend and long-time advisor Myc, who taught me everything I know about science PR (and wrote a brilliant book about it) said “I’ve been waiting for you to say this, it’s a brilliant idea. Say yes to everything in your first year.”

So I quit. I spent every available moment planning the next few months, making sure I’d have enough work to get me through the remainder of 2014, at least so I could enjoy Christmas, even if I ended up having to get a proper job in January again. My colleagues gave me a great send-off and I felt thoroughly loved, appreciated and sad to be going.

Two days later, there I was, green desk, pencil and laptop awaiting my input. The first few weeks were liberating and fun – I was still terrified, and learning how to pitch, quote and wrap up projects. It felt like I was running on adrenalin, and I was enjoying every minute of it. I had time to think, plan, clean and go for a run. I really was living the dream.

I suppose reality hit home the first time I worked through the night. In an office job, you can manage your work and say no without any financial implications. As a freelancer, I could manage my work around other people’s deadlines, and saying no would simply mean not getting the job and the money that comes with it. So, following Myc’s sage advice, I said yes to everything. Somewhere around March, I started to realise I had more work as a freelancer than I’d ever had as an employee – was I going to make it?

As spring turned to summer, I spent more and more nights tapping away at my keyboard, rather than sleeping. I missed parties, concerts, coffees and trips to the zoo, but I did all the work, and I’m proud of the results. It seemed the more I did, the more work came in – I was getting emails and calls from friends of colleagues of friends, with all sorts of assignments, from writing press releases about flower bulbs to sustainability website copy and feature articles on theoretical biology.

I was exhausted, but ecstatic.

People liked my writing. They enjoyed reading my articles, thanked me for helping them improve their websites and called to tell me how happy their professors/managers/editors were about the work I’d done for them. For the first time in my life, I felt in complete control of my professional success, and I knew it was going well. I was in The Zone, writing thousands of words every day on eclectic topics for various different channels. It was exhilarating.

But it was also eating into the rest of my life. I was missing my husband and the kids, even though I was sitting in the same room as them. My mind was on the next deadline, not the film everyone was laughing at on TV. I might have been happy professionally, but I was missing out personally.

Announcing Escapea

Watch out, world.

Then something changed: I got pregnant. It was planned, of course, but we didn’t expect it to happen quite so quickly. I’d decided long before that I would just carry on as normal until it was time to push – after all, writing isn’t exactly strenuous. But the baby had other ideas. The baby made me very sick. So sick, in fact, that I could hardly look at my computer screen without having to run to the bathroom. A tiny embryo had effortlessly fixed my dilemma: no more all-nighters, no more forgetting lunch, and no more staring at the screen for 14 hours at a time.

For six weeks I took my foot off the throttle and did only what was necessary. I still worked my A game, just for fewer hours every day. I even took the odd day off at the weekend. That was a few months ago now – little Escapea is 5 months and counting – but I’ve learnt a lesson. I can only enjoy my work if it’s part of an enjoyable life, and for that to happen I need balance.

It’s been a year, and today I’ve taken stock of what I’ve done. Since 1 November 2014, I’ve written more than 140 articles (check some of them out on my website), completed 123 projects (with 17 more currently underway) and given six training sessions. I’ve taken a 10-day holiday, and had a day off for our first wedding anniversary, but have worked the other 354 days of the year. I’ve generated almost 10GB of files (which is quite a lot for someone who’s not a designer) and edited three books. I can’t even begin to work out how any words I’ve written, but I’d say a (very) conservative estimate would be 200,000.

So what’s next?

I’m excited about year two. It’s like year one, but without the terror. I’ll have the added challenge of a baby, but I can tell little Escapea likes writing (judging by the kicking I’m getting right now) so we’ll have some fun.

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be treated to a tour of the rare books library at Teyler’s Museum (thanks to my wonderful husband), which has given me some ideas. I want to carry on bookbinding and actually get good at it. My lovely family gave me a quill as a first anniversary gift this morning, so I intend to use it.

Teyler's Museum

In awe of the Teyler’s Museum library.

I’m already having a fantastic time writing for The Canary, an awesome new media company that’s free, fair and fearless, and I’m carving out some time to get stuck into my bee book again (I swear I’ll finish it one day).

I don’t intend to work less hard, or get less done in year two. In fact, I think I can improve my productivity and efficiency and probably get more done in less time. But after a year of saying yes, I’m now giving myself permission to say no to not sleeping, not seeing my family and missing the fun stuff.

I don’t think my decision to go freelance was brave. And, looking back, I don’t think it was as mad as I’d expected. It has shown me what I’m capable of, and where my limits are. It’s given me the confidence to try new things and write about what I love, and it’s taken the breaks off of my ideas (which may or may not be good for me).

Last night, after a week of 16-hour days, my Mum asked me: “Are you still enjoying it?”

“I’m living the dream, Mum,” I said. And I am. I do what I love every day (and get paid for it), I’m in charge of my own professional joy and now I’m giving myself permission to say yes to the things I love and pass on the things I don’t. And because I’ve spent the last year building myself a solid base, I have the freedom to put some balance back into my life. For starters, I’m switching off my laptop and enjoying the rest of Sunday.

 


5 top tips for good #hashtag grammar

A hashtag isn’t a free pass for bad grammar.

We see hashtags everywhere these days – I even caught myself using one on a network that doesn’t support them yesterday (come on, WeWork, get with it). They’re useful, effective and funny. But they also make people careless. Here are my top 5 tips for how to use hashtags the right way, avoiding #LazyGrammar.

Designer Chris Messina is credited with the first use of a hashtag on Twitter – in 2007 he asked his followers: “how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?”

Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 10.23.52

(As an aside, what a shame that Messina didn’t put a couple more seconds into writing this Tweet. It’s been retweeted 815 times, and by now has reached potentially millions of people.)

 

Since then, hashtag use has exploded. Starting on Twitter, hashtags have become familiar features of messages on most social networks, including Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Pinterest, YouTube and even Kickstarter.

What is a hashtag?

A hashtag is a word or phrase preceded by a hash (or pound) sign, which is used in a social media message to identify a topic. By using # you can make a word or phrase (with no spaces or symbols) searchable on that network, identifying your message with a certain topic and enabling people to find other messages on that topic.

Thanks to its widespread use, the word hashtag was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in June 2014, and to The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary a couple of months later. (Incidentally, the word hashtag can only refer to the sign in the context of its use in a hashtag; the # is technically called an octothorpe.)

There’s a huge amount of advice out there about what to hashtag, how to sell something by encouraging hashtag use, and the etiquette of hashtagging. All great advice, of course, but one thing that’s missing from all this is hashtag grammar.

#edityuorhashtags

The last rule on this infographic from Social Times is “Use proper spelling”. Always good advice, especially when using searchable hashtags. But I think the language aspect of hashtagging goes deeper than this; hashtags seem to be distracting people from what they’re writing, leading to some real howlers.

Here are my top tips for good hashtag grammar

1. #Followtherules. You can’t use spaces or symbols, but other than that it’s wide open. When you type the #, anything you type that’s attached to it will become a searchable link, until you type a symbol or space. So read carefully before you post, to make sure you’ve hashtagged what you intended to.

Bad: #I love cheese
Good: #Ilovecheese

2. #Dontpunctuate. If you want a phrase to be linked, take out the punctuation. Sure, this is painful at first, but hashtags have their own special rules.

Bad: I’m crying because #it’smyparty
Good: I’m crying because #itsmyparty

#badgrammar3. #Pluralshavenoapostrophe! Hashtags can be used within a sentence as a #wordorphrase. But, like with any normal word or phrase, you have to use them in the right context. If you want to make a hashtag plural, the linked hashtag itself will become plural. One common workaround is to use an apostrophe… DON’T DO IT! Reshuffle the sentence instead.

Bad: Discovering people on #FollowFriday’s
Good: Discovering people every #FollowFriday

4. #UseCamelCase. Capital letters can help the reader identify what you’re saying more easily, or avoid ambiguity in hashtag phrases.

Bad: Join our #Susanalbumparty
Good: Join our #SusanAlbumParty

5. #Proofbeforeyoupost. Posting online is digital publishing, so it’s a good idea to make sure you’re happy with what you’ve written before you show it to the world. Proofread before you post – check your spelling (a misspelt hashtag is useless) and if you’ve used a phrase, check that it makes sense in the context – imagine it’s there without the #.

Bad: The importance of #proofreadnig
Good: The importance of #proofreading

Now let’s laugh at the whole thing.


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.


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!