I wrote a little book. The After School Club for Copywriters is a collection of nine lessons I’ve learned over the past year talking to other writers about writing, and it’s available now via Lulu.
I’ve been blogging here about the breakfasts I’ve had with the Club since last summer, and this collects the things that have changed in my thinking and working since I started doing that. It’s short and slips nicely into a coat pocket/satchel/handbag, as all good books should.
It’s not a playbook, and it doesn’t have clever things to say about specific points of copy style. It’s just a bunch of process hacks and approaches that have helped me.
What it is is badly titled. Lots of this stuff was most useful when used in the product and marketing work I’ve done over the last year, rather than the actual paragraphs I’ve produced for people.
Anyway, you can pick it up for a few pounds at Lulu now. Huge thanks to Chrissy, Russell, Anne, Quinns and Kat in helping me put it together, and to anyone who’s talked about process with me over the last year or so.
I used the phrase ‘creative midfielding’ to describe some of the stuff I was up to the other day. It was a quick way of saying “I know you don’t expect to see this camera in my hands, but I’m filling a gap because I can”.
I’ve no idea where I heard that phrase – I have to assume I didn’t invent it, although Google is useless to me in terms of possible citations – and I wish I hadn’t used it. Firstly because I’ve just been asked what position I’m in today, and without context that’s a strange thing for anyone to overhear. But secondly because it rubs up against what I said the other day about specialists mattering.
I suppose something like ‘proof of concept’ is better. “I’m using a camera to see if we should get someone in who can really use a camera”. Do the thing, then worry about getting it perfect if it seems to work.
I’ve been in environments where it’s applied to work and development, and now I’m straying into a world where it’s applied creatively too. It’s the thing I loved about Thorsten’s ‘Physic or Surgery’ beta comic (Minimum Viable Comics? Is that a thing?), and now I’m learning to do that too.
For the last week I’ve been working with some very clever people at GDS. They make things like this. The work is good. Also hard, but hard in a good way. It’s going to be fun.
Anne accidentally came up with a new way of testing copy. I’m going to call it the Lee-Morgan Method.
When you do something – anything – with words it’s often a good idea to speak them aloud to see if the sentence scans. But there’s a problem with that; if you’re familiar with the words, or comfortable with the rhythm of your writing, you can probably make it sound okay even if it isn’t.
Instead, try reading your work aloud as if you’re Stewart Lee doing an impression of Morgan Freeman.
(If you need to, you can listen to Stewart Lee doing an impression of Morgan Freeman on YouTube. If you aren’t wearing headphones, it’s not at all safe for work.)
(The actual logic here is that the Lee-Morgan Method slows my voice down quite some way. Picking any accent that snaps your usual cadence has pretty much the same effect; might I suggest the Bremner-Brown Method)
“I read your blog post the other day. It reminded me of a book. In it there’s– I don’t know if you’ve read it maybe? I don’t remember the author’s name. Or the name of the book. Anyway, I read this book when I was younger where this man builds a machine – a really big machine, the whole ground floor of an old terraced house – and it’s got all of these levers and buttons. And he pushes different levers and buttons, and turns different handles. It’s a bit like Bop-It actually. He pulls all this different stuff and sometimes he has to use his toes and his feet and his arms and hands are everywhere. And only he can use it, no-one else knows where the right things are. And when he’s done what he wants he gets a story out at the other end. Anyway, it reminded me of that.”
I am now looking for
two things one thing. One is something like the thing I described the other day. The other is the name of the book that’s being described above.
Jonty tells me that the story being described above was Roald Dahl’s The Great Automatic Grammatizator. Brilliant. At the moment the Wikipedia plot desription of it closes with the following;
The story ends on a fearful note, as more and more of the world’s writers are forced into licensing their names-and all hope of human creativity-to the machine.
Another reason I definitely don’t want that machine. The thing I’m looking for is altogether quieter. I described it on Twitter yesterday as “something that could mull over copy for me” which is about right.
But chains elicited categories;
1 fall machines
2 and suggestions, elicited machines
I’m post suggestions, chains. And quite I’m by Cut-up elicited of two categories; 1 by chains, and nice not into Markov.
There’s a phase in some of the copywriting that I do where I start using ctrl-c and ctrl-v to move fragments and phrases around a page. Sometimes the fragments are from several of my own drafts, sometimes they’re the voices of a bunch of other writers. Sometimes it lasts hours, other times just minutes. But the question is always the same; what shapes can I see if I move these around? After a while I find myself writing the sentence that needs to be written.
I realised today that when it comes to writing a biog or a positioning statement that job could benefit from a companion-bot/non-human actor.
What I want is something a bit like this
And a bit like this
As I moved words around today I realised I was looking at something a little bit like Tom’s Markov Chocolate Twitterbot. But putting the original documents through a Markov chain wouldn’t be enough, I’d want to be able to influence the outcome of the next iteration of text (to, say, pick two outcomes to propagate the next generation of text).
It wouldn’t have to be perfect. The idea is that it sparks enough connections to make me write the line I need to write.
So, does this exist? Can I have it?