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Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Buildings – the perfect backdrop, and a thousand stories in its own right

As I type, I’m sitting here with at least three different varieties of writing to complete.

I have to:

  • Provide captions of up to 100 words for a range of historical photos
  • Write an article about a family of cheese makers
  • Complete a report about business activities.

In between, I am also researching a long lost soldier for an article due in about three weeks’ time, as well as drafting an article about a knitting charity, and researching some other ideas for future articles. I have a newsletter to redraft for an accommodation business, and the prospect of a big spell checking job by the end of April.

Sometimes, when your work depends on words, you can feel that there’s just not enough out there. But there is usually more than you think. Make a list of your interests and abilities, and pursue assignments along those lines. I can spell, have extensive qualifications in historical research, and know how to edit effectively on a small scale. I am also good at creating slightly quirky articles, and specialise in sports and military history, as well as craft enterprises. It’s an odd mix, but at least it gives me some avenues to pursue, as well as confidence in my abilities.

I can also adapt my activities around finding other topics for articles, and adding to the list for possible future subjects. For example, I went to Melbourne’s Flower & Garden Show – based in the Royal Exhibition Buildings and surrounding gardens – a few days ago. As well as being a lovely excursion, it was a scouting trip. I picked up brochures, took notes and had ideas generating even as I walked around; small businesses, interesting profiles, amazing products – all are now in the mix for future pursuit and consideration. I often have a ‘research day’, on which I follow up topics, checking websites and other sources such as local newspapers, and I now have at least a dozen ‘possibles’ to add for consideration.

It just goes to show that sometimes, when your work depends on words, there are more ideas out there than you can imagine!



Sometimes, it just doesn’t work.

You’re sitting there, and the words have disappeared.

The problem is that you need the words to reappear. So what do you do?

It’s no good cruising the internet; those are other people’s words and ideas. You need your own inspiration to sally forth.

There are only so many lists you can make before you start repeating yourself and running out of sticky notes.

You can only have one or two cups of tea and walks around the garden before the day starts to slip away.

Of course, I know this because I’ve been there…quite a few times. I’ll probably head there again at some stage, but I can’t really afford to let it happen too often.

So I’ve developed my own technique of overcoming blocks and apathy. I write a letter to myself, detailing what it is I need to do, how and when.

By the time I’m halfway through, I’m usually doing the writing that was so difficult in the first place. Of course, it typically needs a bit of editing and tweaking, including removal of the salutation that marks completion. But it is a sound step on the way to a completed piece of work.

This, almost without fail, is my method of ‘writing through’, and a good way of realising that the best way of overcoming blocks and barriers is to apply a steady dose of perseverance.

Yours sincerely




Well, Christmas was – surely – a month ago, not two weeks as the new calendar indicates.

It is a wonderfully busy time of year, but I also welcome the opportunity that comes with the post-Christmas lull to be sitting and collecting thoughts and plans for the days and months ahead.

As well as shortly starting on my Simple Things challenge, I am splitting the days between writing, research and craft work.

Research is probably the most important thing for me in the long term. I thoroughly enjoy finding stories to turn into writing pieces. My favourite stories are those of historical nature, or those which reveal people learning and achieving with dedication to their chosen field.

At the moment, I am delving into artisan food producers, which is extremely rewarding and interesting. There are people out there with huge amounts of energy and enthusiasm, putting long hours and resources into building up a small business.

My other pursuit – and here comes a tip – is undertaking craft work. I primarily crochet, both first thing in the morning and during the evening. Not only does this help with producing gifts and small saleable items to keep my budget ticking over (Resolution 1A.32, vol. 64 – market stall), but it provides another rich vein of possible stories.

More importantly, perhaps, my craft work gives me a quick tangible boost in the pursuit of larger goals. Making something material gives my brain a chance to tick over with other matters (more so if it’s an easy pattern in progress), and I receive an ‘I can do it!’ zing once a project is finished. So, if you are like me and working in a largely intangible field – or if you’re muddling around with something new and scary in general – here is my tip.

Make sure you have something tangible to keep you going. If you cook, take time out to create something special. If you garden, get out there and plant or prune. Photography (another of my brain break activities), woodwork, sewing, painting – whatever it may be, keep it going, use it as encouragement, and don’t get bogged down in the larger, more imposing WORK that hits you in the face every morning. If I woke up and tried to head straight into full on research, I’d fade pretty rapidly. Tangible achievements help me to keep the energy going on the intangibles and unknowns.

I look forward to sharing both the tangibles and intangibles with you in 2016!

Everything's coming up roses in 2016
Everything’s coming up roses in 2016


Many photos, many captions – Instagram at work

Like many others who venture into Instagram (for me it’s crochet, books, my nieces, the garden and clouds…I am definitely a fan of evening light), I often pack a lot of detail into the description and hashtags.

However, I wonder if everyone using Instagram realises that they are being taught an elusive art? They may not realise it, but they are learning how to caption – adding the written information needed to adequately identify an image.

I have done this before for books, magazines and newspaper pieces, and often found it difficult to pack in all the information needed in the two to three lines granted. You have to name the people involved, and give an idea of when, why and how they are important in that image, as well as provide the location. Sometimes you even have to give source information in the space granted.

It can be a battle sometimes, but it is also a fun challenge. It exercises your skills of expression, and is like fitting a puzzle in a framework.   And so it continues into the sphere of Instagram. Sure, you can go on for as long as you like, but if you want people to grab that quick snippet of your life, you soon realise that you need to cut back on the words.

I’m going to take an example from the image compilation above. In the collage photo on the right, second row down, there is a huge amount happening. I have flowers, seed packets, crocheted shapes and the rainbow lorikeet that haunts our back garden. It’s very busy.

I had to caption this image with something that put it all in one succinct phrase. So, I went with ‘At first I thought today was all washed out – but then I took another look.’ To me, that grabs the basic idea that the weather wasn’t ideal, but there was plenty of colour around anyway. The hashtags then provide the hooks for any further investigation.

It’s a great little exercise, so take a look at a captioned book to see what happens there, and then see how you can transfer your own wording skills into developing the art of captioning – all thanks to Instagram.






One element of writing that is actually quite enjoyable to deal with is finding different words.

Why is this necessary?

Well, you have a think about it, dear reader. You’re cruising along, taking in a piece of text, and then you realise; the poor writer has used the same word three or four times in a couple of paragraphs.

Your brain starts to go numb. Repetition will do that to you.

The good thing is that awareness of the need for wording diversity is – these days – being built at secondary school. Senior students study persuasive writing, and as part of this they build ‘word banks’ in order to expand their relevant vocabulary.

Everyone can – and should – do this if they are going to write consistently. Let’s take an example. You are working in a nursery and have to write a newsletter every so often. Spend a bit of time to create a document with alternative words for ‘plant’. Off the top of my head, you can use some of the following:

Foliage, greenery, vegetation, seedling, tree, shrub…and I am sure that there are many others. But these few can act as the building blocks to make writing life easier for you, as well as ensuring that reading is more enjoyable and interactive for your reader.

My rule of thumb is to not have the same distinctive word repeated within two paragraphs. I’ll either have a ‘word bank’ on standby, or a traditional dictionary/thesaurus; or even be ready to press ‘shift + f7’ (in Word) for a quick list of alternatives.

It is worth the effort, makes writing a bit more of an adventure, and helps to build your vocabulary strength. Enjoy!


Following on from my last post, a vital tip – of which I often need to remind myself – regarding writing is:

If you can help it, don’t write when you’re tired!

Fresh eyes are always good, and if you have the chance, get outside sources to check and pick up that rare but annoying – like a mosquito bite – typo. You need that. You also need adequate time to tweak the words, freshen the expression, and enjoy the process, rather than feeling the millstone of obligation.


When weary….

Read. Comfort read. This reading is the sort of activity that will stick with you in good times and bad alike, with poignant quotes and captivating stories lodging themselves in your memory bank.

The Simple Things – a small bundle of goodness

My favourite comfort and inspiration read is a beautiful magazine called The Simple Things. It hails from the UK, and while it’s seasonally out of step with Australia, it has enough universally appealing content to hold its own. Every month has a new theme, and this month – fittingly – it’s ‘Comfort’.

From this issue – No. 41 – some of the topics I’ve enjoyed and learned about are:

  • Bobble hats (I make these! Kindred spirits)
  • How to make cinder toffee
  • Lauren O’Farrell and yarnstorming
  • Grey Sky Thinking: the enjoyment of rainy days and how ‘…in Botswana, where rain isn’t seen for months in the dry season, to wish someone luck you say “Pula, pula, pula”. It means “rain, rain, rain”…’
  • The festival of lights in Mumbai
  • The history of arboretums
  • Bibliotherapy
  • Wildlife photography (complete with the most captivating shot of a Northern Gannet soaring over the Shetland Isles)
  • Indoor gardens
  • Subversive cross stitch
  • How to make a magazine stool (I could probably create a few dozen of those)
  • The anatomy of a tree trunk
  • Pasta shape identification
    …and a few other bits and pieces besides.

I often dip into a bundle of The Simple Things as a supreme but necessary indulgence. In fact, in the New Year I’m planning to make my way through each issue, from No. 1, and try at least one project or challenge a month. There is too much goodness in this magazine for it to idle away in my bookcase.

I look forward to sharing it with you!


When you know your way around the written word, it makes life in general a great deal easier.

Just think about it; everything from workplace reports to writing novels requires a level of familiarity with words and how they work.

The primary key to gaining this familiarity?  Read.  Yes, it’s as easy as that. The more you delve into words around your area of interest, the easier it will become to put together your own version of words. You will also learn from constant contact what works, what is good material – and not so good – and how you can create your own voice.

Here are a couple of tips born of experience:

  • As well as reading widely, make sure to read your own work. It is then that you will find your own sense of rhythm, identify problem areas, and generally feel more comfortable with your creations.
  • Don’t be afraid of writing. You can always easily check spelling, add punctuation, and take assurance that grammatical conventions are just that; conventions, not cast iron rules. Some tweaking is always possible, and – if in doubt – there are many resources for checking.

In general, just get out there and write. The more you put your world into words, the easier it becomes; and what better way is there of making your mark in the world?