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Teawords…

Prone to mystify and exclude rather than clarify and engage – jargon is more often than not a bad thing. More often, but not always. Take teawords, for example….

While waiting for a cappuccino in my local coffee spot, I picked up a copy of the SCA Journal (“A Biannual Publication of the Specialty Coffee Association“). Inside, I found an exploration by anthropologist Sarah Besky of the ‘specialized lexicon of tea’. Teawords – the highly specific words used by tea traders among themselves when discussing, assessing, grading, buying and selling the stuff that ends up in our cuppas.

In teaworld, “seemingly straightforward words like cheesy, minty, and fruity do not reference the sensations of cheese, mint, or fruit. These words signal different “taints” in the teas imparted during storage or transport.” As a Kolkata tea broker Mr. Chetal explains: “The language of tea is an intra-trade language. Tea is unlike wine, whose language is applied toward the consumer. [Wine] terms are evocative, finely tuned, and pleasing. They generate emotion.” Tea terms, in contrast, are all business – helpful shortcut language created purely and simply for tea traders to oil the wheels of tea trade.

It just goes to show that occasionally, as with tech tea language, there can be such a thing as good jargon.

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Listening forward…

“As I write, I listen. The words forming in my mind are sounds. Listening forward in time, I sense and feel you: the reader, listening as well.”

As Ione underlines in her introduction to Pauline Oliveros’ Quantum Listening, writing involves not just paying close attention to the sounds of the words you are using but to the audience listening to them, too. It is a super-empathetic auditory art.

To write well, write with your ears – for your reader.

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Way with words…

It is common for copywriters of a certain vintage to laud David Ogilvy, but there’s a reason why the greats are, well, just great.

For proof, look no further than his classic book Ogilvy on Advertising. It is chock full of examples, such as these opening lines for a corporate ad designed to foster international friendship:

“The Japanese have a wonderful way with words. What we call a back porch they call a moon-watching platform. A fountain pen is a ten-thousand-year brush. Their name for a motorcycle truck is bata-bata because that is the noise it makes. And do you know a word in any other language that sighs good-bye as wistfully as sayonara?”

Their sense, their sound, their meaning, their melody – a master of words on the wonder of words.

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Ruthful roots…

As an uplifting end-of-year read and/or last-minute festive gift, I’d like to recommend Roots of Happiness: 100 Words for Joy and Hope, by all-round word wizard Susie Dent.

“I am on a mission to find light in the deepest darkest corners of our language,” says Susie, on the back cover of her brill book. Lovable language like “forblissed” (extremely happy). “Lost positives” like “ruthful” (full of empathy and compassion) that have fallen out of everyday use, rather than their easily-found negatives.

We could all do with a lot less ruthlessness in the world, a lot more joy and hope. That starts with the language we use between and about each other. Susie’s setting the tone. I’m all ears.

 

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Toasty, not scalding…

As the great Ed Ruscha says, “Words have temperatures.”

A master at choosing and using words with care, Ruscha plays not only with their meaning but also their look, their sound, their all-round feel. Take, for example, this work, currently on display at Tate Modern:

According to the FT’s Ariella Budick, Ruscha likes words that are “toasty, not scalding”. “Sometimes,” he says, “I have a dream that if a word gets too hot and too appealing, it will boil apart.” Ouch! In this spirit, here are a few of my favourite phrases to gently warm the head and heart:

sun-kissed

honey-tongued

loon-hearted

Keep it toasty.

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Unsung hero…

“The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘out there’.” So begins Truman Capote’s classic In Cold Blood. Lyrical, loaded, a touch ominous – as all good openings should, it sets the mood while encouraging you to read on.

But it didn’t start out that way. Indeed, as Capote’s recently published manuscripts and notebooks reveal, it was initially a more detailed, less captivating description: “Holcomb is a very visible village located on high wheat plains of western Kansas, where the air is Swiss-clear and the flat views lonesomely, awesomely extensive.” Which is where editing comes in. Capote took the key parts of the statement, cut out the rest (no matter how appealing, such as the spot-on ‘Swiss-clear’), and created a sentence that sings his song, strong and true.

It’s a great example of the power and point of revising your writing. Sometimes seen as an afterthought or poor relation of drafting, editing is in fact more often than not a critical part of the whole writing process. So here’s to good editing – unsung hero of great storytelling.

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Do…you…

Good to see an uptick in support for the age-old art of rhetoric, AKA persuading people through words.

Yet coming as they do, clothed in the relatively arcane and unfamiliar terms of the ancient Greeks (anaphora, anastrophe et al), the techniques can seem daunting. Happily though, much of the effect can be achieved just by focusing on the music of your meaning. Its rhythm, rhyme and melody.

I recently came across an example of not quite getting this right, while waiting for a tube train at my local Underground station:

Put to one side the questionable use of “most original” and linger instead on the ending: “…whatever it is you do, there’s a space for you here.” Clunky, isn’t it. But easy to fix: move the last three words around and you have the more musical “…whatever it is you do, there’s a space here for you.”

Not long after that, I spotted this in a pub garden:

Simply sings its sunny advice.

As the poster on the Underground and the notice in the pub garden affirm, to write well, write with your ears. Happy listening!

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The full meaning, colour, and harmony of words…

As Herbert J. C. Grierson says in his Rhetoric and English Composition, “Words are the material with which we have to work in composition, the bricks of our building, the simplest elements available for the communication […] of our thoughts and feelings.” No matter how lovable a word might be on its own, “The full meaning, colour, and harmony of words depend on their combination with others in sentences; the sentences themselves on their interaction in the paragraph; and the paragraph itself […] in other, larger divisions – chapter or canto or act – in the whole composition.”

I was reminded of this in the wake of the sad departing of Martin Amis – a king of composition. As Ian McEwan puts it, Martin Amis “really was one of those writers who cares a lot about the sentence. He had a real dedication to getting things right. He didn’t just think onto the typewriter.”

‘Writing is thinking’, so the saying goes. But this is only part of the story. Writing is thinking rethought, rewrought – composed. And like all the best compositions, it has meaning and melody, substance and style. Here’s one of many such compositions from the late great Amis – the opening to his article for The Guardian in the aftermath of 9/11:

“It was the advent of the second plane, sharking in low over the Statue of Liberty: that was the defining moment. Until then, America thought she was witnessing nothing more serious than the worst aviation disaster in history; now she had a sense of the fantastic vehemence ranged against her.

I have never seen a generically familiar object so transformed by effect. That second plane looked eagerly alive, and galvanised with malice, and wholly alien. For those thousands in the south tower, the second plane meant the end of everything. For us, its glint was the worldflash of a coming future…”

“The second plane, sharking in… galvanised with malice… its glint […] the worldflash of a coming future…” Words full of meaning, colour, and harmony – words composed with great care not just to capture our thoughts and feelings but to bring them into sharper focus and augment them. So that we are somehow made more from that moment on.

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We can be heroes…

In her brill book The Sound of Being Human: How Music Shapes Our Lives, Jude Rogers touches on the power of hero narratives not just to guide but to galvanise us all.

She draws on ‘Hero Worship’, a paper by psychologists Scott T. Allison and George R Goethals, which cites the importance of said narratives for both ‘human survival and human thriving’. According to Allison and Goethals, hero stories serve two functions: an ‘epistemic’ function and an ‘energising’ function. Epi-what?? Happily, Jude is on hand to explain: “By epistemic, they meant hero stories imparted knowledge and wisdom to people that needed them. Its energising function related to these stories elevating people to believe that they were capable of positive action.”

So the next time you want people not just to understand but to act, add a little heroism to your story. Or maybe even add a lot.

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Happy walking…

While following the South West Coast Path, we came across this handcrafted message – a welcome complement to the super-minimal and somewhat confusing official signage:

Friendly help for all befuddled ramblers, care of a kind Cornish stranger. Happy walking indeed!

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Scrappy oracles…

I was going to write something about the implications of ChatGPT for writers, but there are already many eloquent voices out there on that subject, notably Nick Cave and iA. So instead, I would like to show my hand:

As Patti Smith says, while showing her own hand at the beginning of her brilliant A Book Of Days, “The hand is one of the oldest of icons, a direct correspondence between imagination and execution… Social media, in its twisting of democracy, sometimes courts cruelty, reactionary commentary, misinformation, and nationalism, but it can also serve us.  It’s in our hands. The hand that composes a message, smooths a child’s hair, pulls back the arrow and lets it fly. Here are my arrows aiming for the common heart of things. Each attached with a few words, scrappy oracles.”

In a world awash with hoo-ha surrounding generative AI, the mysterious alchemical magic of the human hand, head and heart remains as powerful and precious as ever, reminding us that we humans, in all our messy, marvellous, thinky blinky, scrappy oracular glory, are essentially, thankfully, unalgorithmable.

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Miniature marvels…

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the impeccable grounds of The Newt in Somerset. Owned by Koos Bekker (AKA Canniest Investor In Tech), the Newt is a wonder to wander, not least because of its attention to every last detail. Yes, the big draws include a reconstructed Roman villa and grand gardens, but my eye was caught by the scatterings of little infopanels around and about. Miniature marvels of communication, such as this one:

In a handful of well-chosen words, it takes you from when the surrounding beech trees were planted to what was once a Somerset Boxing Day treat, by way of the chatting, digging, steaming, weeping badgers who live in the sets beneath your feet.

Jugged badger may no longer be on the menu, but characterful communication is never out of fashion.

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Good song…

For less than the price of a Starbucks latte (other brands are available), I bought from a charity shop Beethoven’s Own Words – “a little book,” as the compiler Philip Kruseman describes it, “in which a choice of thoughts and expressions of the greatest among the great tone poets is collected”:

This little book is indeed packed full of choice thoughts and expressions. Here’s my favourite:

“Good song has been my guide; I have tried to write as fluently as possible, and I dare to answer for this before the judgement seat of healthy intelligence and good taste.”

An encouragement to make our words sing, from the great master of organised sound.

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Echoing patterns…

In episode 1 of the BBC’s Great Poets In Their Own Words, UCL Professor of English John Mullan notes that “It was often said that WH Auden had this peculiar gift of making ordinary words sound terribly poetic by putting them into echoing patterns of sounds.”

This strikes me as a neat reminder of how putting ordinary words together in ways that sound right and ring true is at the heart of all forms of good writing. The meaning of our words is, of course, critical, but so too is the music. Indeed, the music reinforces the meaning. On this front, it’s not just the sound of each individual word that counts, but the patterns they create when we combine them – not just the single note but the rhythm and melody of the piece as a whole.

So whether it’s a famous poem or everyday business communication, it’s always good to write not just with your head and your heart but also with your ears – to create patterns that echo positively.

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Familect blinkies…

The readiness of the English language to welcome with open arms mighty fine new words is one of its great strengths, and family slang, or familect, is one of the more entertaining and inventive sources.

This particular strain of lovable language finds a happy home in Kitchen Table Lingo – an ideal summer book to dip into while “bibbly” (tipsy) or “incatacipated” (when you are trapped beneath a cat asleep on your lap). To add to the pot, here’s a homespun neologism courtesy of my daughter: “blinky” – when a great idea suddenly appears in your head, making your eyes widen in wonder.

If you have any familect blinkies of your own, please feel free to share – the more the merrier!

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Paris Pernod parties…

Currently at the door of my local bookshop is a brilliant idea, Blind Date with a Book:

For £8 (c$10) a pop, you can choose from a selection of identically brown-paper-packaged mystery books, with the help of a few enticing descriptions. Half the fun is in detecting a book you know and love – such as the one that lies beneath ‘Expatriates, Spanish bullfights, Paris Pernod parties, Jealousies, Classic’. (I won’t spoil the experience by revealing the title, but it is indeed a classic.) The other half is in not having a clue what book it is – ‘Cosmic collision, Princess, Dynamite, Love and lust, Quirky’ anyone?

Whether it’s an old favourite or a new read – whichever book you choose, enjoy your date!

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A good story…

“All the best facts, figures and arguments in the world can’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story,” says Richard Powers, in his sylvan epic The Overstory.

So what counts as a good story?

For me, it’s a story about something that matters, well-told. Substance and song. A story that holds and rewards our attention, and changes us for the better along the way.

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Meaning, colour, and music…

In a Norwich charity shop not so long ago I picked up, for £2.99 (c$4), a copy of Herbert J. C. Grierson’s Rhetoric and English Composition. Published back in 1944, it is full of insights that still hold true. Insights such as this one, in the chapter on The Choice of Words: “To the poet and orator [words] are living things, the winged messengers of their thoughts and feelings, and like the birds they have three properties – body or meaning, colour, and music.”

Alongside their dictionary definition (their meaning), words also have colour “the associations which gather around a word by long usage”, and music – their melody and rhythm. Taking all three together, every word has the potential to make us think, and feel, and hear different things.

This is powerful stuff. In choosing the right words to tell our stories, we can play with all three properties – meaning and colour and music – to appeal to the head and the heart and the ears. So our stories not only convey clearly, but feel right and sound good, too.

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Pilipala, papillon…

Pilipala, papillon, farfalla, mariposa, babushka, borboleta, pulelehua, húdié – butterfly.

Welsh, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, Hawaiian, Chinese, English – lovable in any language.

Wherever in the world you are, here’s to a tip-top 2022 for one and all.

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From aguaje to zaperoco…

Popping into a charity shop the other day, I purchased for just 99p The Criollo Way:

Between its sunny covers you’ll find a selection of the finest Venezuelan slang – from ‘Aguaje’ (“rarely heard in its literal sense of the wake of a vessel in water but very common in figurative use to mean worthless talk, hot air, blarney”) to ‘Zaperoco’ (“a commotion, riot or tumult”). But it doesn’t stop there. The Criollo Way also shares local proverbs, like ‘Cada pulpero alaba su queso’ (‘Every storekeeper praises his own cheese’), and similes, such as ‘Más fastidioso que una piña bajo el brazo’ (‘More irritating than carrying a pineapple under one’s arm’).

As this delightful guide demonstrates, lovable language knows no boundaries.

 

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Made up words…

“Yes, my words are made up – but then, all words are made up. Every single one. That’s part of their magic,” says John Koenig, author of The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.

His Dictionary takes on the task of finding words for feelings which, until now, have not been pinned down. Words like ‘nighthawk’ – “a recurring thought that only seems to strike you late at night”. ‘Gnasche’ – the intense desire to bite into the forearm of someone you love. ‘Witherwill’ – the longing to be free of responsibility. And his big hit, ‘sonder’ – “the realisation that each random passer-by is living a life as vivid and complex as your own”.

In so doing, he joins that mighty fine tradition of making up new words for the English language – from Shakespeare through to Douglas Adams and John Lloyd. As John Koenig says, “The English language is a magnificent sponge.” Indeed, the degree to which English happily opens its arms to neologisms is one of the things that helps make it so enduring and enjoyable.

So here’s to my lovable mother tongue, and the people who continue to enrich it.

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Take this book…

‘I came across a magazine with an inscription that said: “Civilisation flourishes when men plant trees under which they themselves will never sit.” But to me it’s not only plants – putting something in somebody’s life, a young person’s life, is the same as planting a tree that you will not cut and sell during your lifetime. That has helped me a lot in my work. Sometimes the more you give, the more you get.’

So says James Barnor, on the wall at the start of his arresting Accra/London retrospective. Indeed, looking at this master photographer’s work, you can see that he gives a great deal of himself to get images that really let the personalities of his subjects shine through.

Walking homewards from the exhibition through Hyde Park, in one of those happy moments of timely connection, I came across a tree bearing books for people to freely pick:

These particular offerings are part of a wider network of sharing, courtesy of The Book Fairies. “Take this book, read it & leave it for the next person to enjoy” says the sticker on each one.

Civilisation does indeed flourish when men plant trees under which they themselves will never sit – and when people plant books on trees for the world to enjoy.

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The one who tells the story…

There’s a Native American proverb that says “The one who tells the story rules the world”, says psychologist Dr Zoe Walkington in a brilliant BBC feature on the power of stories not only to influence or persuade us, but literally to change our minds.

People who read a couple of chapters of a story about vampires genuinely believe that their teeth are slightly longer than other people in the population. But it doesn’t stop there – if, for example, you read the word “jump”, you fire up the areas of your brain that are activated when you actually do jump.

Just goes to underline how potent stories are, and how important it is to tell your key stories as well as possible.

 

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Stay odd…

Back in the late 1990s, cheeky smoothies start-up Innocent Drinks revolutionised on-pack communication with the simply brilliant step of bringing their true character to life on the bottles and cartons destined to end up in consumers’ hands:

Rather than just contain the product or carry the logo or convey the smallprint, Innocent’s packaging sung the personality from the rooftops (and supermarket aisles). These days, characterful on-pack communication is pretty much the new norm. Take for example, “Wow no cow!” milk-alternative Oatly:

These days too, as Oatly demonstrates, there is an increasing on-pack appetite to communicate not just personality but responsibility, in line with the global sustainability megatrend.

For me, the standout company here is Oddbox. A Certified B Corporation, Oddbox regularly delivers to my door a box full of fresh fruit and veg “rescued from going to waste”. Oddbox’s boxes live and breathe their purpose and personality, summed up in their mantra “Eat Good. Do Good. Stay Odd.”:

And what’s inside the boxes is pretty good, too:

 

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Keep it fuzzy…

In her FT article exploring the need for a second kind of AI – anthropology intelligence, in addition to artificial intelligence – Gillian Tett introduced me to the  wonderful term “fuzzies”.

Coined to describe the folk with qualitative, as opposed to quantitative, analyses, fuzzies play a critical role in helping to humanise our increasingly data-driven, machine-determined world. Fuzzies temper techies’ often-too-narrow models and methodologies. They are vinyl records in a world of CDs and MP3s. With the former, you get sonic range and variability through warm, continuous waves of analogue sound (together with the odd pop and crackle). With the latter, you’re reduced to the cold precision of clinically sliced digital ones and zeroes.

Of course, just as many of us have both records and CDs in our music collections, so fuzzies and techies can complement each other in reaching decisions that are both emotionally and rationally more rounded and robust. Gillian Tett tells how the Internet Engineering Technical Forum likes to use collective humming to sense the mood of the entire group, rather than rely on simple, binary “yes-no” votes. The fuzzy, quintessentially human hum carries much more information than say, a simple show of hands.

Inspired by hard-core techies who are happy to hum, let’s all look for ways to keep it fuzzy.

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Let your pen run on…

Long before Jamie Oliver gave the world his 15-Minute Meals, back in 1948 Edouard de Pomiane published Cooking in 10 Minutes:

I happily picked up this delightful book for next to nothing in a local charity shop and found not only some super-quick meals to make, but also an appropriately bright and breezy writing style.

Edouard sets the tone brilliantly at the outset. No writer’s block for him: “My fountain pen is full of ink; I have fresh sheets of paper before me. I love my book because I am writing it for you. I feel that I need only let my pen run on and I shall make myself clear…”

And so he does – sharing a great array of easy-speedy recipes. My favourite?

MUSSELS WITH SAFFRON:

“Cook two pounds of mussels. Put them on one side. Warm their water with an ounce of butter and a little saffron. Thicken with 100 grammes of thick cream mixed with a teaspoonful of flour. Serve the mussels with the sauce separately in a sauceboat. This is a feast.”

Indeed it is, especially when you add a touch of wine to the water. (And a glass while you cook.) Enjoy, and let your pen run on.

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Tell your truth beautifully…

“Words, English words, are full of echoes, of memories, of associations… They have been out and about, on people’s lips, in their houses, in the streets, in the fields, for so many centuries…” So begins the only known recording of Virginia Woolf, who goes on to explore why it is so difficult “to create beauty… to tell the truth…” with the “half-a-million words all in alphabetical order” at our disposal.

Easy or not, and our current culture’s love of image notwithstanding, words are arguably our primary tool for telling the truth and creating beauty (ideally at the same time). As neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett says, “Humans have a special power to connect with and regulate each other: words. In my research lab, we run experiments to demonstrate this power of words. Our participants lie still in a brain scanner and listen to evocative descriptions of different situations. One is about walking into your childhood home and being smothered in hugs and smiles. Another is about awakening to your buzzing alarm clock and finding a sweet note from your significant other. As they listen, we see increased activity in brain regions that control heart rate, breathing, metabolism and the immune system. Yes, the same brain regions that process language also help to run your body budget. Words have power over your biology – your brain wiring guarantees it.”

Given the undoubted power of words, what can we do to up our chances of using them wisely and well? Virginia Woolf has some good advice at the end of her talk: “words…like us to think, and they like us to feel, before we use them…they like us to pause…”

So the next time you have to use one or more of those half-a-million plus wonderful words in our lovable language, take a moment. Listen for the echoes. Look for the associations. Think about what you feel. Do your best to tell your truth beautifully.

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Show feelings effectively…

Picture the scene: our hero walks down the road. Hang on a minute – ‘walks’? That’s not much help. Howabout ‘trudges’, or ‘skips’, or ‘saunters’, or ‘slouches’, or ‘rushes’, or ‘ambles’, or ‘totters’, or ‘strolls’ down the road. To tell a vivid story, choose your verbs with care.

As my daughter’s English teacher puts it so well: “Verbs show feelings effectively.” In Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style, Virginia Tufte drives the point home with the help of F. Scott Fitzgerald: “all fine prose is based on the verbs carrying the sentences. They make sentences move.” And in so doing, they take us with them.

For economy of style and poetic punch, verbs are your best friends. So if you want to add colour, sense, meaning and emotion to your story, resist the temptation to add adjectives or adverbs. Simply be precise with your verbs. And if you think this might be a tad limiting, take heart in knowing that there are well over 30,000 verbs in the English language. More than enough to play with. Enjoy!

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The sound I saw…

Conceived, designed, written and made by hand by master photographer Roy Decarava, The Sound I Saw brings words and images together brilliantly to tell its story. As Roy says in the introduction, “This is a book about people, about jazz, and about things… It represents pictures and words from one head and one heart.”

What a head; what a heart.  And what a hand and eye:

Through big arresting black & white images, Roy weaves words in carefully crafted lines, rather than unthinking blocks of text. Lines are broken here, indented there, always in service of the story Roy wants to tell. It’s what the great information artist Edward Tufte calls content-responsive typography in his latest book Seeing With Fresh Eyes. In this way, Roy amplifies the meaning and melody running through The Sound I Saw.

Inspired by Roy and Edward and in lieu of a new year’s resolution, here’s a new year’s tip:

write with your eyes and ears.

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Feed the good wolf…

Top of my list of recommended reads from 2020 is Rutger Bregman’s Humankind, his essentially positive and timely take on our species. A chunky science-heavy tome that has the classic page-turning qualities of a great novel, Humankind questions and debunks the Hobbesian damning of people as brutish folk only prevented from descending into violence and mayhem by a wafer-thin veneer of imposed civilisation. Rutger’s view of us is more akin to Rousseau’s noble savage. But he neither romanticises nor idealises our state. As he says upfront, “To be clear: this book is not a sermon on the fundamental goodness of people. Obviously, we are not angels. We’re complex creatures, with a good side and a not-so-good side. The question is which side to turn to…

Floating around the Internet is a parable of unknown origin. It contains what I believe is a simple but profound truth:

An old man says to his grandson: ‘There’s a fight going on inside me. It’s a terrible fight between two wolves. One is evil – angry, greedy, jealous, arrogant, and cowardly. The other is good – peaceful, loving, modest, generous, honest, and trustworthy. These two wolves are also fighting within you, and inside every other person too.’

After a moment, the boy asks, ‘Which wolf will win?’

The old man smiles.

‘The one you feed.'”

As the old man says, we should feed the good wolf. But what do we feed it? Rutger gives us the answer further on in Humankind: “As media scientist George Gerbner summed up: ‘[whoever] tells the stories of a culture really governs human behaviour.'” Stories it is, then. But not any old stories. They must be good ones, in every sense of that word.

So as we head into a new year following a year like no other, let’s all look to feed our good wolves with a rich diet of positively good stories.

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The simple shapes of stories…

From Rags to Riches to Man in a Hole, Cinderella to Oedipus – you can draw the emotional journey of archetypal stories in a single simple line:

As Kurt Vonnegut says, “the simple shapes of stories… are beautiful.” So simple, as Kurt brilliantly shows, that you can map them out in minutes with chalk on board. And so beautiful that we keep coming back to them time after time. Kurt again, on the Man in a Hole story: “Somebody gets into trouble, gets outs of it again. People love that story. They never get sick of it.” So much so that it’s apparently the most popular storyline when it comes to Hollywood blockbusters.

So if you’re looking to write the next big movie hit, or indeed to craft a corporate story with mass appeal, you could do a lot worse than follow that down-then-up Man in a Hole trajectory. But of course, stories come in many different shapes and sizes. We’re not always looking to smash the box office.

Whatever your story, keep it simple, make it beautiful – follow your line.

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Today, we stockpile empathy…

“Today, we stockpile empathy

We supply love and good energy

We sing to each other across buildings…”

So begins Love in the Time of Coronavirus, a film made by artist Chris Ridell and poet Nikita Gill to mark National Poetry Day (yes, it’s today).

For me, every day is a good day to celebrate poetry. But if we had to pick just one it would be today, so let’s sing poetry’s praises to each other across buildings, over Zoom calls – whenever, wherever and however we can.

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Close to music…

As close to music as I can get is how I like to write.

As Oliver Reichenstein points out, “Being fully immersed in writing is like composing and playing music while we drum up our perceptions into letters, words, sentences, and paragraphs.” In his post on Music in Writing, he shares Martin Amis’s take: “What you’re trying to do is: Be faithful to your perceptions, and transmit them as faithfully as you can… You know I just say these sentences again and again in my head, until they sound right. And there is no objective reason why they sound right. They just sound right to me. So it’s euphony, sometimes it’s harshness you want. But it’s… it’s just matching up the perception with the words… in a kind of semi-musical way.”

Beyond the sheer pleasure of listening to the melody, beat and tone of your words as you write, why write this way? Grace Nichols nails it: “The rhythm and musicality of poetry is more direct in its appeal to the human heart and spirit.” In short, musical writing is more effective.

So, write with your ears, and let your sentences sing.