Friday, 2 November 2012

36 years of forbidden language

Today Stumbleupon took me to the LSSU Banished Word list.  It's a list of phrase and words deemed entirely overused.  It was started as a bit of promotional material but carried on for 36 years,  its amassed a reflection of all that is trite, tautological, obtuse and worn-out in Western culture.

I rather liked it.  Not only because I agree with masses on it and want to add to it ( I find "amazeballs", "for the win", "cool beans" and "awesomesauce" particularly vomitous) but because it also struck me as rather useful for Lovely Copywriters.

It's a nice historical document, right, because it shows you when words were submitted.  So, for instance, my partner's personal vomit-phrase - "At the end of the day" - was added in 1999.

It's not going to be the most culturally balanced or representative of documents but it did strike me as useful for when you're really tailoring your writing.  So, say you're aiming at business folks in their 40s, you probably don't want to use "best kept secret", "impact" (as in 'being impacted'), use messenger as a verb or <whatever>-aholic.  Looking at the 1990 list (when out hypothetical 45-year-old customer was 23 and no doubt starting out in the big world of business), these were all starting to get rather worn out.

So no:

"Let us messenger over our best kept secret.  It'll really impact on SEO-aholics!"

Generally, making your prospect vom is frowned upon in copywriting.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Does your writing need to go for a jog?

The lovely Good Copy, Bad Copy published a blog recently that lists three online services for checking the readability of your text.

These are useful as there are times when you just can't step outside yourself or 'kill your darlings' (as they say).  Although we all know that copywriting is not art, you can still find yourself a bit overattached to the flowery bits.

Writer's Diet, the Gunning-Fog Index and the Campaign For Plain English's (CPE) Drivel Defence are all designed to help you pare down when needed. 

I tried the last article I wrote; an SEO-driven piece on residential support worker jobs, designed to be accessible but decently informative and interesting whilst encouraging people to use that site for jobseeking.  And what do you know....

It was 'fit and trim' and readable by those with a reading age of about 17 and a half! 

However, the Drivel Defence found that about half of my sentences were longer than the maximum recommended for readability (15-20 words).  The longest one was 42 and I think it's safe to say it was a 'darling' I should have killed:

"It’s about being able to think about things from their point of view and employ your emotional intelligence skills to understand when they need space, when they need extra explanation, when they need their fears assuaged and, sometimes, when they need nagging! "

So easily cut into two sentences but I missed it.  I should have punctuated it better too.  I failed to notice at the time because expounding on another area of my employment expertise made me feel important. Busted by CPE!

I think I'm going to be bookmark these sites and start using them as a a bit of an automated editor to pick bits up I don't miss.  I'm pretty good but two heads are better than one (even if one is a computer).

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

I guarantee you're making this mistake on Pinterest

I'm supposed to be getting on with some work right now but I just had to take time out to mention this.

Pinterest is (at least, temporarily) firmly established in the social network at large.  I like to pin - I use it as a way of keeping track of all the ways I'm going to make my new cottage completely beautiful and wonderful.

But there's a problem, Pinners.  I see 101 blogs about How To Use Pinterest but bloggers still are making a really fundamental mistake that bites them in the bum.

Your blogpost's image title.  Man, are people missing a trick here.

So, I go to pin an image today because it was beautiful, a fantastic colourway and the kind of aesthetic I want in my life, right?

I pin it, the standard window opens where I choose my Pinboard and description. And it just said 'peachpots3'.  Sometimes, it comes up with one of those strings-of-letters file names and sometimes it comes up with some of the right words to describe and some other words that tell you it's from a site that you might be interested in but rarely do I see a Pinnable title that I could just use straight away without editing.

I am rarely going to take the time to give a shoutout to a blogger on Pinterest - sad but true.  This is because I'm fairly lazy/busy. Do you know what else I wouldn't bother to do?  Change a picture image title that attractively and functionally describes an image and the blog it came from.

If it's relevant, take a moment now to check out how your images Pin - it's a shame to miss a marketing opportunity when it would be so simple to change such a small part  of how you carry out your workflow.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Commas, commas, commas

I'm a bit of a comma-junkie. I absolutely refute any relationship with today's 'grammar nazism' (I find it vulgar, mean and very trying to encounter) but I do like the simple pleasure of a well-placed comma.

A cloud in the shape of a question mark on a clear, blue sky
Commas make for questions

Many people are successful copywriters (and are clearly paid a lot of money for it) but still do not place their commas properly. Here are some of the things I've noticed that other copywriters miss.

The biggest comma sin

When adding in a little introductory and descriptive clause, it is correct to use a comma. To my eyes, not putting in a comma looks ugly.

  • When talking about those of us who don't put in commas after their introductory clause I find their sentences ugly.

See what I mean? The comma's got to be there. It just ain't right without it! Apparently, if the introductory clause is less than 3 words, the comma is optional.  With this, I still disagree.

A nice little rule for your descriptions

A new rule of comma placement that I didn't know:

If you could put an 'and' or 'but' in your clause, a comma is probably correct.

  • "I produce sparky and well thought-out copy."

  • "I produce sparky, well thought-out copy."

Both are nice, no?

  • "I showcase concise but descriptive copy."

  • "I showcase concise, descriptive copy."


But if the 'and' and 'but' don't fit, you don't put the comma in between the adjectives!

  • "I have short and brown hair." Noooo!

  • "I have short, brown hair."? Noooooo!
  • "I have short brown hair."   Looking lovely again!

Another facet to this rule is that of showing difference.

  • My hair is currently partially shaved, but also comparatively longish in places.

  • I call my hair short, but I could really describe it more accurately by engaging in lengthier descriptions.

Making, and highlighting, interjections

And finally, one that reassures me, as I do have a sweet tooth for parenthetical elements, such as interjections.

  • When writing a sentence with an interjection, as I often like to do, you definitely should encase your interjection with commas.

Who doesn't love a good comma-ntary piece?

See? All useful; all attractive; all better than their alternatives. Dear copywriters of the world, take note!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Probability really is your friend!

I wrote before about how probability is your friend and am going to have to again.


Because it worked again!

A couple of Saturdays ago, I was kind of tired and having a quiet afternoon in bed.  I started off doing something else on my to-do list and ended up cold-emailing a mass of people. I didn't even get as far as asking if they wanted freelance work; I just asked the main administrative email addresses who I should email to ask about freelance work.

To make a long story short, I now have a new, fairly lucrative, monthly contract to write articles!

Probability is your friend, especially in this line of work. Let it do the work for you...   I'm not saying fate will drop things in your lap. 

But, if you do your homework and find out what you need to do, then try it often enough, then statistically you will have to get the result you want eventually. 

I am being convinced that half of failure is a lack of tenacity.  Get to!

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Making your daily writer tasks fun

I mentioned last week that I would tell you about my strategy for getting writer things done and here it is!

I talked about a grab-bag of appropriate freelancer options to help deal with writer despondency.  Half the trouble sometimes is just deciding what to do - when the pressure's weighing down and you're feeling stressed, making choices can be difficult.  There are a lot of things that need doing when you work for yourself and some are things you could certainly do on any given day.

I spent some time reading my favourite resources - Carol Tices' Making A Living Writing, Problogger, FreelanceFolder, FreelanceSwitch, and Remarkable Communication amongst others  - and compiled a list of suggestions that would be definitely useful to do.  I took this list and printed out some sheets that I was then able to cut up and fold to put in a nearby paper bag.

Not only was it fun, it got me excited about getting things done and even encouraged me to bump a few things of my general to-do list so that options from the paper bag would be more effective.  For instance, making sure every single freelancer and social profile I had was search engine optimised for my career and location.  A couple of days later, someone contacted me directly after seeing me on  I can't say for sure if my rewriting and SEO work had anything directly to do with that but it certainly can't have not helped!

So, let's show you the paper bag method.  Pretend you're me and you're sitting down to get some stuff done - what are you going to do?


- Find a relevant and successful site on Technorati/Alexa and prospect/comment/study it.
- Generate more options for sales packages.
- Make sure my website shows how my work will make my prospect's life easier.

Nice, eh?  Let's do it again.


- Look at people who looked at me on LinkedIn and contact them offering my services  [I actually did do this today.].
- Find some industry-relevant B2B businesses to prospect.
- Pitch for a technical writing job.

When I started this technique, it was before my time really became consumed with work.  It was designed to stop me feeling demoralised and procrastinating.  Now that I have plenty of work, I use it as a Saturday task.  For me, Monday-Friday is paid work time; Saturday is market-yourself day.  However, it can work as a daily thing too or just when you have an hour or so spare and you need a break from creating!

Please note that this is not designed to replace your to-do list.  Not even a little bit. You need the structure of your to-do list as your tasks grow.

But the paper bag method makes the rest of it fun.  When I'm not working for myself, I run a board-games group.  I likes games.   This makes work more like play without losing the focus needed for good self-employment.

What do you think?  How do you decide how your work will flow?  Tell me below or tweet me on @marmaladecopy.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Coping with writer despondency

I've Googled this subject before.  I'm an impressionable, soft-hearted little thing and sometimes I can't separate work from life.  Or work from work, when work temporarily equals no work.  Or when the weather outside is just so sodding grey (welcome to England) that it drains your spirit out through your pupils.

And I've run out of coffee and the money that I buy coffee with.

How does one cope with working as a freelance writer when you feel despondant and just straight-up plaintive?

Write about it

Struggling to write?  Write about that.  You don't have to show it to anyone but it will solve the resounding problem you're facing.  You might write about it in your journal, on an online board you frequent or maybe, like me now, in an informative blogpost designed to help others.  Whatever form of writing you plump for, it will at least keep that part of your brain ticking over. This kill some time until a more pressing or timely option is available (whilst writing this, I got some clarification on some volunteer copywriting I am doing so, once I've written this, I can get on with that!).  At the very least, it will be therapeutic or act as a kind of mind-mapping exercise.

Solve your basic needs

I've struggled with depression for a long time and there are three things I will always do when I feel a mope creeping up.  I put on a big jumper so that I'm warm and comfy (sometimes, extra socks too); I have a cup of tea (black, green, white or herbal - it doesn't matter) so that I'm hydrated, get a change of scene, warm up and maybe natter to the people I live with; and thenI turn on another light in the room I'm in.  I'm not saying that my bedside lamp is on a par with a SAD lamp or the like but it always seems to work for me and light exposure has been scientifically linked to serotonin production (serotonin makes you feel better and more able to cope).

I worked out this little strategy through basic anecdotal living choices but if you read around the area, you'll find science to back it up.  It also puts me in mind of Maslow's hierarchy.  Maslow was a psychologist who developed a theory that behaviour is based on meeting needs.  The most basic needs we have are physiological;  warmth, security, sex, oxygen, food, water, excretion.  Try withholding any of those and you'll notice it  (with all respect to asexuals - I gather some people really, really don't feel a need for sex).

Make sure you are clear on what you need to do

Half the battle is knowing what you're supposed to do next.  Working as a writer can be a real storm of options; social media, mentoring, networking, blogging, cold-calling, content mills, reading endless blogs on what to do without quite managing the actual doing of it and most importantly - the writing itself.

One way I've coped with this is to make a grab-bag of options and I pull out 3 every day.  I know that these things will be useful for me because I compiled all the information I've learnt into one long list of 'things that will help my career' (more on that to follow later).  It makes the work fun, challenging and less like a slog that I have to force myself to do.  I like games (I run game sessions - click here) so it makes sense to incorporate that.

The other is to make a flowchart of things that are really, really fundamental to getting myself set up as a freelance writer;  the business plan (not as hard as it seems it has to be - see here), the 'Dream' (so you know what you're working towards), your prices, your price packages and so on and so on.  If I'm really stuck, I do something with a tangible benefit so even if it's not writing per se, it contributes towards the likelihood that someone will pay me money to write.

Have these three strategies in place and the mundane blues will be easier to cope with.  I really believe the biggest problems in finding your motivation are basic discomfort, not knowing what you should be doing and feeling unproductive.  I think of them as swampy holes.  Walking down a road is much harder when you have to wade through three claggy, swampy holes of discouragement.  Get the road paved - as it were - and the basic act of walking along will come a lot easier to you.

What helps you get up and go when it's the last thing you want to?  Have you tried the tea/jumper/lighting solution?