It gets busy. You know how it is. You bumble around, nothing quite clicks, there’s no real pressure and the weather is really, really dispiriting.
Then you look at your diary (old school paper version) and realise that the magazine articles you enthusiastically pitched at the start of the year – and even drafted slightly – are due in two weeks.
At first, it’s a drag. The world’s in a conspiracy against you. You need MORE TIME. And a cup of tea and a biscuit and a tidy desk. And a blanket.
Oh please. Just write the things.
So you start slowly with the points made in the rush of ‘oh, fantastic! They want my stories!’ bliss, and the world gets lighter and less words are deleted and it’s how it’s all meant to be…not all the time, but when you actually do what you are meant to do.
You tell stories that give people a spark in their day.
Here I am, walking up and down (exam supervision), no other possibility than to draw entertainment from my own mind. I can’t sit down for very long, have to keep moving around the students, and can only jot down occasional words and reminders.
‘Get petrol’ features heavily at the moment.
So…Clancy Of The Overflow it is. My grandfather loved AB Paterson’s poems, and I went on to study them in Australian Literature. As with many aspects of reading and absorbing, I found that excessive analysis sometimes soured the enjoyment. A couple of decades later, however, that analysis has mellowed to an innate understanding of the writer’s background, and an appreciation of the times and circumstances in which they wrote. It’s much better this way.
‘He was shearing when I knew him’…
Someone needs a script book. But Clancy remains poised in the mid 1800s, a figure of our pioneering past, steadily being overtaken by Paterson’s city based workplace.
‘Get more hand sanitiser’. This is cold and flu season, and the exam halls are a soup of coughs and sneezes.
‘…we don’t know where he are.’
‘in my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of Clancy gone a-droving down the Cooper…drover’s life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.’
It’s a chant now, and all is quiet except the shuffling of papers and steady brush of pens and pencils. What subject is it? Engineering-Information Technology-Immunology. I am sure there is ‘poetry’ of a sort in any of those.
And in my fancy, I can see the ‘vision splendid’ and recall many nights seeing stars in cool air on the edges of suburbia. Those ‘everlasting stars’ propel me through another two turns of the room.
Paterson’s stuck in the city like I’m marooned (entirely voluntarily) in this big barn of a place, and you can feel his sadness and see the half light as it ‘struggles feebly’ between the buildings.
He doesn’t like the people – ‘eager eyes and greedy’.
He doesn’t like the noise – ‘fiendish rattle, Of the tramways and the buses’.
He doesn’t like the bustle and busyness – ‘as they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste’.
Do I need more lemonade? I think so.
Poor ‘Banjo’ Paterson…there is nothing like being in the middle of nowhere and having the ‘seasons come and go’. But at the same time, there is nothing like finding a patch of loveliness – an oasis – in the middle of a big city, and finding your own people to share it with. Both have their charms and detractions.
‘And I somehow fancy that I’d like to change with Clancy, Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go, While he faced the round eternal of the cashbook and the journal – But I doubt he’d suit the office, Clancy, of “The Overflow”.’
And with that, the ten minute warning announcement is delivered. The timing, and the final verse, are both perfect.
In a varied writing and reading life, interspersed with some absolute highlights, I often have to balance the good and bad. So it is that:
I don’t remember having to track down hundreds of ‘lost’ footnotes (keeping track of them was a horror, and not a highlight for me!), but I do remember being complimented on my ‘clean’ referencing.
I don’t remember the trauma of travelling to meet my interviewee for a magazine article, but I do remember the good humour, great conversation and ‘highlight’ article that resulted.
I don’t QUITE (qualifier – this was huge and messy) recall redoing a heap of thesis work, but I do remember the graduation that followed, and the sense of achievement and worthwhile research.
I don’t remember the messy proofreading involved for a client who didn’t have time to write well, but I do remember the polished final result and the sound of relief in their voice.
I don’t remember having to trek into university on winter weekends to do track down resources, but I do remember the joy of finding wonderful books and hidden gems that I’ve retained ever since (not the actual books, just the good quotes and passages. I’d hate to imagine a late fine for those books – this was the early 1990s!)
Now it starts to head down to a new generation. As the aunt of two little girls – aged two and ten months respectively – I’m building a whole new list of moments. One day, when they’re both a bit older, I will say to them, hopefully while reading a book or writing a story:
I don’t remember when I started reading and writing – but I’ll always treasure the worlds and wonders I’ve found through both.
Some discussions I’ve had recently have been around what it is I actually do with words. Occasionally, people see my role as strictly technical, spelling/grammar focused and boring.
In fact, that’s not what I’m about at all. I will try to make written material work as effectively as it possibly can, including the mechanics of spelling and basic grammar. But I’m not here solely to try and trip people up for mistakes they’ve made. That’s not my focus.
I’m here to show empathy. Yes, empathy. That is, I like to understand your material, your reason for putting it together, and your motivation. Part of this comes from my background in historical research, where giving the past a voice and understanding long gone characters has been – and continues to be – a wonderful challenge. With empathy, I can give your words, your story and your information the best possible shot of speaking out and conveying your message effectively.
Empathy is also important in opening the world up, which is vital for everyone. I don’t mind writing/editing about football, solar power, olive growing, knitting charities or financial services (or anything, in fact). All these topics have crossed my desk recently, either in terms of me writing stories and undertaking interviews from scratch, or tweaking and polishing already existing material into a better state.
Even when the work is long and sometimes arduous, it has helped to expand my knowledge, forge connections and share some wonderful stories. I’ve had some amazing conversations, been to some great places and had the chance to help some growing enterprises in some small way.
Empathy – it’s even more than the most important word in writing…it’s the best!
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!