There’s nothing like being asked to take part in a ‘blog relay race’ to make you finally pull your finger out and write that frightening first post. I’m such a novice that I’m not even sure where this will end up when I press the big blue ‘publish’ button – I hope I’m not going to be the one to drop the baton!
Last week Christina Longden, author of the hilarious, socially aware Mind Games and Ministers, asked me to help her with something called Blog Tour Monday. I assumed she wanted me to find a couple of authors for her – not take part myself. I felt a bit like an impostor. ‘I’m not a proper writer!’ I protested. ‘I just re-write other people’s writing – I don’t even have a blog yet!’ But you don’t have to be a fiction writer to jump on this ‘sort of blog bus’ (as described so appropriately by Peter Cooper the previous week) – any writer can take part. And that includes people who write for organisations, like me.
So, what is this Blog Tour Monday and how does it work? Every week, writers chosen by previous bloggers share their thoughts and experiences of authorship and find at least two others who will answer the same questions the following week. Monday by Monday, the tour is weaving a writerly thread from blog to blog, bringing us all together. Christina was kind enough to nominate me as well as my good friend and editing colleague Liz Broomfield, who has actually written a few books – here is her post.
What are you working on?
At the moment – this post! I’m also doing quite a lot of re-writing – I’m a copy-editor too, and this week most of my work is to support other writers. I’m working on a large environmental report, a couple of thesis chapters for some PhD students whose first language isn’t English, and some instructions for sending and receiving parcels (that one’s for a translation agency in Latvia). So it’s quite varied!
How does your writing differ from others in its genre?
I’m not sure if you can call writing text for organisations a genre as such, so I’m interpreting this question very loosely. But what’s different about my writing is that it’s usually in plain English. So, I use active instead of passive sentences (e.g. ‘I made the cake’ rather than ‘The cake was made by me’), avoid jargon, keep sentence lengths to a reasonable length, make sure nouns aren’t used in place of verbs (so, ‘extracting’ instead of ‘the extraction of’), and avoid obscure or academic words when a more common one would do. There’s more, but I won’t go on. Of course, there are lots of organisations out there writing in plain English, but it’s more unusual to find it in some types of documents, especially policies, terms and conditions and reports.
Why do you write what you do?
Truthfully, when I write it’s usually because people pay me to. But I do really believe it’s important to use plain language (in appropriate contexts), and I want to help make things clearer for people to read. If public information is provided in a clear and direct way, people can understand it without too much trouble, and organisations can build their reputation and avoid misunderstandings. These days there is a lot of emphasis on involving people in making decisions about the things that affect them or their local area, but to be able to get involved people need to be able to understand what the issues are and what’s being done. Plain language doesn’t have to be boring – but perhaps I’ll write more about that in another post.
I’ve always written, and I also do some personal writing without any real purpose – just for the sake of it. It’s not all work, work, work!
How does the writing process work for you?
I like to write in isolation, away from interruptions and noise (although I do like to listen to music while I’m writing – Mogwai, Foals and Adam Green and Binki Shapiro are on my ipod a lot at the moment, and I like a bit of classical, too). Writing on behalf of other people for a specific purpose involves a lot of research, so I spend quite a lot of my time looking things up and thinking about who’s going to be reading the text, what they’ll want to know and what’s the most logical way to present that information.
I type fast, but change a lot of what I’ve written. I don’t know what I’d do if we all had to go back to writing by hand or using a typewriter – I’m naturally very wordy, so I love being able to go back and lop chunks off what I’ve written to make it more concise. Even with messages in birthday cards I always end up wanting to edit what I’ve written in some way!
What really helps for me when I find myself in a bit of a writing rut is to go out into the countryside and do an hour’s walk. It’s even better if I can get up what I like to call Bastard Hill – the combination of getting my heart going and the view from the top towards Kinder Scout clears my head and inspires me. Oh, and dolly mixtures always help!
Next Monday …
Next week, you’re in for a treat! The tour will be stopping off at the blogs of the lovely Charlotte Baker, a horror and true-crime writer based in Derby who’s an editor and proofreader, too, and the fantastic Kimm Walker, author of Once Removed (which is now on my reading list!) and A Life Less Lost.