Too much waffle? Here’s how to write clearly and concisely

There’s no magic in learning how to write clearly and concisely. But there are a few tricks involved.

There’s a real benefit to being able to write clearly and concisely – it can supercharge your other skills. If you’re able to get your point across and make it easily understood, you will appear more confident, authoritative, and even more persuasive.

Interested? Here’s where you begin…

How to make your writing more refined

Coco Chanel famously said, “before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory”.  It’s an analogy that’s perfect for decongesting stodgy copy.

That’s because the best thing to do before you hit publish or send to print is to take a good hard look at your writing and remove the things that aren’t necessary. This will make your writing flow and read more smoothly – ultimately, you need to take things away to get clear, concise copy.

And let’s be honest – we’ve all been there. Writing emails, presentations or webpages in a rush, against a deadline. You tap away, creating a stream of consciousness. You give it a quick proof to make sure it reads OK – you check that you got your apostrophes in the right place and make sure you haven’t got any typos. And then you save it and move on to the next thing.

Then one day you come back to it. Or worse still, someone else reads it. And you realise that your writing is horrifically rambling. Some of the sentences don’t make sense. The call to action isn’t clear; no wonder you didn’t get the result you needed.

Three easy ways to write concisely and clearly

If you know your writing is wordy how can you fix it?

Here are three easy things you can do:

  1. Cut out the waffle. Step away from the long phrases. Never use five words where one will do. Replace phrases such as “in order to”, with plain old simple “to”. Instead of “by way of introduction”, write “introducing”. Adding too many words won’t appear polite or refined. It will complicate and distract from your main message.
  2. Lose the big words. Unless you’re writing a QI appreciation blog, it’s unlikely you’ll need super-duper long words. Use simple English. Long words don’t make you look clever, but they do suggest you don’t care whether or not people understand you. And worse still, long words are easily misspelt which makes you look daft. Stay in touch with your reader and don’t give anyone a chance to doubt you – use simple, direct language.
  3. Basic punctuation. Use your full stop. Long sentences are prime fodder in creating wordy text. They go on and on, using a record number of commas and confusing everyone. Keep your sentences under control and stick to one or two ideas only. If you find yourself bringing in lots of commas, “ands”, and “buts” etc. it’s a good idea to take control and get out your full stops. Chop down those sentences – let your reader take a breather.

Another thing to help you write clearly and concisely

Here’s a bonus tip for you… download the Grammarly app to your computer. The free app is just fine (it’s what I use) and will call out any rambling sentences for you to examine. It can be a bit pernickety, so don’t feel you have to do everything it tells you. However, it’s a useful tool for anyone who writes.

 

If you found this post useful, you might get something from one of my other blog posts. How about my guide to using alt-texts? (It tells you how to make the images on your website SEO friendly and more accessible).

(The frankly mouthwatering photo at the top of my blog is courtesy of Cristina Matos-Albers on Unsplash.)

Finding inspiration & creativity hard to come by? Start here.

Creativity is a fickle mistress. Inspiration isn’t much better.

There for you in the middle of the night. Whispering sweet temptations, teasing you with wild thoughts.

They flirt with you as you drive on empty roads.

Ideas, dreams, what ifs.

But call on them when needed? They might come. Bounding towards you so readily you have to stop and catch your breath. But other times?

Not so much.

And if you have a deadline they’re guaranteed to miss it.

Creativity is a tease. Inspiration is a flirt. Coquettish in the extreme. They’re responsible for your greatest moments and biggest breakthroughs. But will send you insane with despair when suddenly, without warning, they stop returning your calls.

 

I’m writing this as I sit in a café. It’s almost a parody of the freelance writer. Flat white? Notebook? White noise of the coffee grinder? All present and correct. Creativity and inspiration have chosen to bestow me with their company today. It means I’m working at speed – with dreadful handwriting and writer’s cramp.

Another way of looking at creativity and finding inspiration

I’m going to stop with the sensual, womanly metaphors now. Because in truth, as much as it might be fun to think of creativity as a seductive and wayward lover, creativity is more like a bottle of water. You can’t drink from it infinitely without topping it up. When you get busy, you miss those opportunities to refill and before you know it, you’re sipping at an empty bottle.
It’s little wonder that as time goes on, the creative spark that sets you apart dulls. Your work becomes vanilla. Beige. Limp.

Refuel your creativity

Refill that bottle of creativity – or if you will, tempt back your wayward lover. Take action.

1. Stop. Give yourself a break. Exhaustion stops your brain working and leaves you good for one thing only; a good night’s sleep or even better – a holiday. Listen to your body and give yourself the night off.

2. Take inspiration. Head off and soak up someone else’s creativity. Visit a gallery. Read a book. Go to a gig. Now honestly, Instagram or Pinterest don’t count. You need to physically experience something for it to truly affect you. You need your synapses to fuse together in excitement. That ain’t gonna happen on your Insta feed.

3. Work at scale. Creativity needs space. Big rooms. Large tables. Enormous pieces of paper. Visit a gallery and have your mind blown by the scale of some of the pieces of work there. Sure, there are some gorgeous miniatures too, but creativity works best without constraint – give it some space.

4. Get outside. Maybe this is why so many freelancers have dogs. Fresh air, nature, trees – it doesn’t matter what it is, but the sense of otherness you can get from being anywhere other than your desk or studio might be just what you need to tempt back creativity.

5. Exit distractions. If there’s something nearby that needs my attention, I just can’t get creative. Kids, the washing machine bleeping that its finished its cycle. Oh yeah – my phone… Put me in the corner of a room with people I don’t know and I can produce my finest work…

6.What’s your poison? OK. I know this is contentious, but the relaxing properties of a G&T or glass of red wine can’t be underestimated. Hemmingway famously said that one should “write drunk, edit sober”. I’m not suggesting you habitually get legless at 1.30pm on a Wednesday, but an evening of creative reflection can certainly be improved with a glass of the good stuff.

7. Phone a friend. Sometimes it’s a case of chatting things through. Friends, family, other freelancers. Even the barista at your café, different people have different perspectives, so chat away and replenish your creativity.

But above all, there’s one thing that NEVER helps. Beating yourself up about it. Self-flagellation – the metaphorical or actual – won’t help. Switch off your phone. Close your laptop. Step away from your desk.

And she’ll come. She’ll come running – you’ve just got to give her time.

 

Need some extra help in finding your inspiration? Book a call with me. We’ll have a quick chat and then schedule in some time to brainstorm ideas and thoughts together.

Beyond Awesome. Better Ways to Say “Great Job!”

It’s nice to give praise. To tell people they did a great job or that you really enjoyed the coffee/meal/cake they made you. Positive feedback helps reinforce desired behaviours and sends a message of appreciation. Something that’s much needed in the workplace and home. But have you stopped to consider how you give praise?

“You did a great job Sally, well done”

“That presentation was awesome. Great job!”

“Amazing cake, thank you!”

Do you spot a theme?

Yes, the words are positive. But then if they weren’t, it wouldn’t be praise.

The other thing you may have noticed is that the words are all fairly general. They’re not specific and are easily swapped around with one another. “Awesome” could apply to the cake, presentation or job that Sally did.

So what?

The problem with using generalist vocabulary is that it lacks true impact and doesn’t really say what you were impressed with. The effect lessens with each usage. The problem with telling everyone that they do a great, awesome or amazing job, is that over time, the effect of that compliment diminishes.

How to give more constructive praise

It all comes down to the words you use. Be more thoughtful in your choice of vocabulary. Perhaps Sally did a “meticulous” job, or maybe she was “right on brief“. Both of these give Sally an idea of what you’re so happy about, helping guide her with future projects. She’ll be just as, if not more pleased than if you’d said “great“.

And that “awesome” presentation may well have been “inspiring“, “thought-provoking“, “highly competent” or even “well-judged and very funny“. So much more helpful than an over-used statement of  “awesome“.

And of course, you’d be absolutely right to describe a delicious cake as “amazing”, but how about getting a bit more creative with your compliments – “so rich and chocolatey”, or “light and delicious”, or even “just the sugar hit I needed right then”. You’ll be so much more likely to be offered an extra slice…

Let’s face it, no-one’s going to get grumpy with you if you happen to tell them they did something awesome. I certainly wouldn’t. But to give them a thoughtful compliment or well-considered piece of praise could well make their day.

And wouldn’t that be awesome?

 

Looking for better ways to express yourself? Sign up to my not-very-regular email updates and you’ll get more ideas and suggestions. (You’ll also get a FREE downloadable checklist to help you write better blogs – feel free to pass it on if you won’t use it!)

Three Surprising Things I Learnt When I Went Freelance

 

Desk, flowers, laptop and herbal tea with the text "3 things I learnt when I went freelance"Time flies whether or not you’re having fun, so I figure you may as well make the time you have count.

Three years ago, I was working out my notice in a blue-chip multinational. I was also studying at night to retrain as a copywriter whilst looking after a 3-year-old, 2-year-old and (let’s face it) a husband. I was leaving behind the security of a good salary, health, life and dental insurance as well as the chance to wear good shoes everyday. Was going freelance really the right decision?

With three years’ experience under my belt, I’ve had my ups and downs. But I can honestly say I love my freelance life. But it’s not for everyone, and here are the things I’ve Iearnt:

A lack of accountability to others isn’t actually that great…

Working for yourself is so relaxed. You can meet friends for coffee, sneak in a cheeky massage, weed that flower bed that suddenly looks so overgrown.

But if you want to grow your business you need to pull yourself together and snap out of that approach. It’s way too easy to get distracted, procrastinate and focus on the wrong things, especially if you lack the confidence in your plans or ability to do what you need to do.

It’s incredibly helpful to set yourself up with a mentor, coach, or other form of accountability network. Someone to keep you on track and make you do what you said you were going to do. I was lucky enough to do a skill swap with a friend who was training as a coach. She coached me; I wrote blog posts for her family business. She helped me identify and start to resolve my incredible ability to procrastinate and made me tackle some of my deeper issues around self-doubt and confidence. She was also a brilliant sounding board who made me take things easy when I was beating myself up about not getting enough business and spurred me on to attend networking meetings that I dreaded the thought of.

I’ve learnt to treat office hours as if I were in a real office sitting with a team. Would I take that personal call if I had colleagues around me? No of course not… Would I come in late because I fancied a coffee after the school run? Only if I wanted to get fired…

Invest in yourself; no-one else will

Now the buck stops with you, you need to invest in yourself properly. In my early days, I overdid it. Once I’d got over the three-day migraine that comes with a poor diet, too little sleep, and not enough exercise, I wrote myself a “charter” to stay on top of things. First on that list was taking care of my health. I reasoned if my health went, I wouldn’t do my best work, my family wouldn’t get the best of me and I’d feel miserable. It’s hard to stick to, especially when you have kids to look after, but I work hard to prioritise my health. I know I’ll never manage a pre-breakfast meditation, but there are other things I can do.

I take a pilates class every week to look after my back and neck. I drink plenty of water, avoid caffeine after 1pm and try to have something other than cheese on toast for lunch every day. I also try very hard not to attack the kids’ chocolate supplies when I’m running low on inspiration and blood sugar. I invested in a very good office chair have set up my desk for good health with ergonomically placed screen and keyboard and plenty of houseplants around me. The result? I feel healthier, I enjoy my office time and I’m much more productive.

But investing in yourself goes further than physical self-care. There’s no-one to keep an eye on your professional development or mental health when you work freelance, and a year or so in, I found myself becoming quite isolated. It’s very easy to tap away on your laptop, go onto Twitter and pretend you’re interacting with people. An impulsive acceptance to a conference was just what I needed to realise the value of professional development in staying fresh and relevant. Professional interaction is also crucial for your mental health – networking has a low appeal for me (small talk and I don’t get on), but when I make the effort, I feel better for it. Speaking to others in your situation creates a sense of camaraderie. It also opens the opportunity for potential new work. What’s not to like?

You have to stay in touch with your original motivation

Everyone has a different motivation. Some people want to be millionaires. Others just want to cover the bills. I wanted financial reward, to be professionally challenged and the opportunity to enjoy time with my children. It’s a combination that can be tricky to realise…

I use my flexible hours to my benefit and help at school one afternoon a week, listening to children read. It’s a small thing but means a huge amount to my kids and the kids I listen to. It’s also one of the most amusing parts of my week. Kids speak truthfully and come out with the funniest things – it’s a real mood lightener. I clear my books over half-terms and holidays, just sticking to regular work for my long-term clients who know and understand the deal. Holiday club is an option for that “can’t refuse” project, but I’d rather enjoy the time with the kids while I can… in 15 years they won’t have the time for me, I’m going to get my fun time in now!

Charging enough can be a struggle when you go freelance; too many people expect you to be happy to do the work for next to nothing, something reinforced by companies such as Fiverr. I did too much work for too little in my early days and know pricing appropriately is a challenge for most freelancers. I’ll be honest, it’s the part of my business I continue to struggle with the most, but with resources like the ProCopywriters network helping champion a realistic rate for copywriters, I feel like I’m getting closer to where I should be.

A lack of professional challenge was a part of the reason for me leaving my old career, but there’s plenty in my new freelance life. With the admin and legal side of managing a business (dare I mention GDPR?), relationship management with a variety of clients (all good by the way), and meaty projects that stretch my skills and teach me new things, I’m learning every day.

Freelancing. Is it for you?

Freelance working isn’t for everyone. It can be isolating, bad for your health and financially disastrous if you plan badly. But it’s liberating and incredibly rewarding when things go in the right direction. It’s undoubtedly hard work, but then if it wasn’t – everyone would be doing it, and where’s the fun in that?

 

This post was originally posted on Talentedladiesclub.com in May 2018. You can read the original article here.

The beautiful photo in my header image is by rawpixel on Unsplash.

Want to write a bad email? Start like this…

It slips off your tongue easily and finds its way off your fingers and onto a keyboard even more easily. But kicking off with an apology is one of the fastest ways I know of starting an email on the wrong foot.

Sorry. Forgive me. My apologies.  Whoops-a-daisy. My bad.

You get the picture.

Why you shouldn’t start with sorry

The person reading your email will be ready to wonder what you’ve done. Should they feel aggrieved? Impatient? Irritated? You’re certainly suggesting they have a right to be. As we humans are highly suggestible there’s a chance that even if they weren’t aware of the wrong you’d committed, and couldn’t have given two hoots, they may be a bit less than impressed with you than they were 10 minutes previously.

An example…

Let’s say you’ve sent something a bit later than promised. Train delays, kids off school, cat to the vets with a mystery cough… life happens. You finally whizz off the email to your contact, starting with an almost out of breath “sorry this is so late…”.

What’s the first thing the recipient thinks? “urgh… late again”. They sigh as they sip their coffee and add a little black mark against your name in their imaginary list of “people I deal with”.

If you were just an hour or so late, you’d have been better not mentioning it at all. There’s a chance they hadn’t even realised your note was late. If you were over a clear deadline or a day or so late, you could replace an effusive apology with a more assured “thank you for your patience…” – a trick you might have seen elsewhere.

Thank you for your patience

It’s something doctors say, you’ve probably heard it before…

You’ve been waiting in a stuffy waiting room with only copies of the “People’s Friend” for entertainment. It’s been 45 minutes and you’re ready to create merry hell. The doctor eventually calls you in and says “thank you for your patience”. They may even explain why they’re so over their schedule. Because your doctor is lovely and you know they do a good job, you readily forgive. After all, you don’t mind being patient do you? 

Instead of apologising for a small and understandable deficiency on their part, the doctor praises you for a positive behaviour. It’s a small thing, but it makes a big difference to the way you feel. “Thank you for your understanding” works just as well. You make people feel good about their behaviour, shifting the emphasis off yourself. But sometimes this isn’t appropriate; perhaps a big fat “sorry” is in order.

When the situation demands an apology.

You don’t need me to tell you this. In situations that require an apology, you should say sorry.

But you don’t need to start your email with an apology. Get into the solution, help resolve the situation. Something along the lines of “I see what has happened. I’ll get back to you with XYZ by lunchtime tomorrow”. Then add your apology.

In fairness, if you’ve made a mistake that demands an apology you probably need to get on the phone and talk it through. But because you’ll be following up that phone call with an email as well, you need to remember to think carefully about how and where you place that necessary apology.

Sorry? What was that?

Say sorry. Show sorry. But start an email with a “sorry”? There’s never any need to do that.

 

Do you agree? Or not? Let me know.