Why do you need such a big fridge/freezer?

Several years ago, between the second and third years of university, I clinched a summer job as a repair guy for several student accommodation blocks.

Now, truth be told, I have all the DIY prowess of a five year old – so, quite how I got the gig is anyone’s guess.

The days consisted of painting walls, manoeuvring sofas, checking inventory sheets and talking to each other in silly voices over the walkie talkies that we carried.

Also on the site were a large group of cleaners. We were just a bunch of students looking to make some summer money whereas they were very serious and at a completely different stage in life.

Both sides kept themselves to themselves, asides from the occasional lunch time conversation.

It was during one of these lunches that I learnt an important truth. Something which we can apply to marketing, advertising, writing and life in general.

Don’t over-complicate things. Sometimes things are as simple as they seem.


As I sat there, munching on my £4 convenience store sandwiches, one of the cleaners was talking about buying a new fridge/freezer in his characteristically gruff way.

He was going to buy the biggest one he could see.

He didn’t care if he had to move his house around to fit it in.

He wanted the biggest one money could buy.

I thought about it. All sorts of questions went round in my head. Did he have an extra large family? Did he have loads of pets he wanted to keep feed for? Did he bulk buy food from one of those stores that only sell things in industrial sized packages? Did everything in his house have to be a certain size?

And so, with a mouthful of slightly stale bread, I asked him:

“Why do you need one so big?”

There was a moment of silence as he, and the rest of the cleaners, looked at me incredulously.

Another moment passed. A few of them started to laugh.

Then came his reply:

“So I can get more fucking food in it”.

And that was that. Simple.

A lesson learnt. Sometimes things are as simple as they seem on face value.

Why do our minds naturally look to over-complicate them?

If you’re selling a big fridge. Go for the natural USP. The customer can store more food in it! Simple.

I do miss that summer, although it did show me that my future wasn’t in being a maintenance man.

I’m not clowning around…

So, a lot of my regular readers have said that they want a bit more insight into my day-to-day and why I’m not writing, as well as the usual creativity quotes and inspo.

That’s good – I pride myself on being able to deliver an anecdote, so here we go.

I haven’t written as much over the last few days as I’ve been engrossed in a book. Which is nothing new for me – these days it’s mostly non-fiction, but this one was actually fiction. I’ve bought into the hype of the new “It” film that’s coming out soon, and after I mentioned my excitement to her, my girlfriend was kind enough to buy me this copy:

IT
(Beautiful cover & the fact that there’s a quote from ‘The Guardian’ on the front just makes me like it more)

It takes me back. As a teenager the first real adult fiction books I got into were written by my main man, Stephen King. It made me love the ‘supernatural’ genre. As a creator, and as someone who likes to write fiction, I just love stories that bend reality and take the reader somewhere else. A place where things get eerie and where the usual, ironclad linear quality of life is bent way out of proportion.

So, here I am again – losing myself in one of King’s worlds. Back in the day my obsession started with the Dark Half, then Salems Lot – closely followed by The Stand, Firestarter, Insomnia, Rose Madder, Four Past Midnight and ultimately ending in King’s brilliant non-fiction work ‘On Writing’.

Shocked and entertained in equal measures, those stories were an elixir for my imagination – night after night I’d sit in my teenage bedroom. Tapping away at my keyboard until the dark, quiet hours of the night. Lost in a world of spooky stories and weird encounters – all inspired by Stevey King (and, after a while, James Herbert).

Anyway, back to the case in point.

So, it was the morning after I started “It” and the sun was shining down on another day full of possibilities. My girlfriend and I work at the same place – and as we walked in I ran-over the plot of ‘It’ to her. Taking time to mention ‘Pennywise’ – who, for those of you not in the know, is a villainous clown in the story.

My explanation soon ended, and as is the way of conversation, things drifted to another topic and then to another topic. Until our talk of ‘It’ was far, far away – drifting somewhere in the never-ending labyrinth of the past.

Thus the day ticked away. Some seven hours later we found ourselves walking back – the conversation about my current book far from our minds.

That was until I saw it.

At first I thought it was my imagination, but then we both saw it. At exactly the spot on the road where we’d been having a chat about clowns one had appeared. You can see it in the picture below.

Weird, ey? I’m sure it’s just a coincidence, but it wasn’t there before and had gone by the next day!

clown

The water

There’s something about being in the water.

The sense of freedom when you’re underwater is almost second to none. 

Laws that normally hold you back, such as gravity, don’t even register.

There’s also a little bit of danger with water. After all, it isn’t our natural habitat.

And we can only be there for a little while.

For a second we touch lives with those who dwell there. But then, as our human limitations kick in, we have to return back to where we came from.

But while I was there, floating upon the edge of another life, I couldn’t help but think creatively.

Do you know what the scariest thing about writing is?

…it’s not the fact that only a small % of us will ever actually make it as professional writers.

…it’s not even the fact that the Twilight series was published.

Nope.

The scariest thing about writing is that every sentence that you write for an audience is a battle in its own right.

Because every sentence that you write is fighting for your audience’s attention, to get them to read the next one.

As you well know, we live in a time of constant distraction. The humble writer has to compete with Tinder alerts, PPI sales calls and Call of Duty deathmatches.

Never has the written word faced such a challenge. How many people do you know who genuinely find it easy to read long articles, or finish books these days?

This is especially applicable if you’re writing content for marketing. In ‘feeds’ full of other shareable content every word you write is a warrior of its own, fighting to slay the other posts around it so it can reel the ‘scroller’ in.

If you’re writing a book or a story, I guess you have a little more leeway – as your readership will have (most likely!) paid for what you’ve done.

And, when you’ve paid money for something, you want to give it the chance to prove that it was worth your money. I mean, no one wants to look like they make bad financial decisions do they?

Heaven forbid.

But, even then, too many pedestrian sentences and too little flair will soon turn your fans away.

So, there’s the thought for today. Every sentence that you write should promote the fact that it’s worth the reader’s while to read on.

You’re only as good as your last sentence.

How can you make time to do all the things you want to do?

Have you ever had so many things to do on your day off that you just didn’t know where to start?

…and, how often have you not got as much done as you’d like?

Can you relate to this quick clip from Channel 4’s ‘Peep Show’?

I know I do – particularly when it comes to writing. For those of us who aren’t yet making it as full-time writers we need to snatch time whenever we can to pursue it.

It’s also the same if you’re trying to become a sportsperson, a designer, a singer…etc.

But, when little problems and constant life admin get in the way, it’s hard isn’t it?

I guess that’s one of the reasons why ‘time management’ is such a buzzword, and has been for a long time now.

But…let me blow your illusion of time management out of the window by delivering the following news:

There’s no such thing as time management.

It’s all about how you manage yourself around time.

Because, let’s face it, there are no plans to extend the day any time soon so the playing field is going to stay the same.

You can use this to your advantage. After all, when you know what’s going to happen it’s easier to plan around it or for it.

Here are a few things that will help you maximise your creative potential:

GAIN AN EXTRA HOUR IN YOUR DAY

When I first started full-time work I worked out the exact time that it took me to wake-up, shower, dry-off, get dressed, eat breakfast and start my morning commute.

On the off-chance that you care, all of the above took me thirty-five minutes.

My bus left at 7.45. So, allowing time to get to the stop, I’d wake up at 7.

It worked well, but the slightest complication could slow me down.

It also meant that I had no time in the morning to do anything apart from get ready.

So…I set my alarm for 6.00. And kept doing it. After the initial ‘gah, this is early’ it soon became a habit. I found that I was less rushed in the mornings, got into work feeling more awake…and, most importantly, I found I had an extra 40 minutes to write.

Try it.

EMBRACE ‘ESSENTIALISM’
essentialism
There’s this great book you should read. It’s by a successful guy called Greg McKeown and it’s called ‘Essentialism: The Discipline of Less‘.

Like Mark, the character in the Peepshow video at the start of this article, when we do have spare time it can almost be over-whelming as we have so many things we want to do. And, let’s face it, the more things you spread yourself over the less of an impact you tend to have.

So, take a look at what’s truly essential to your day. If you’ve got a day off, would you rather look back at something you’ve created or would you rather reflect on the endless games of FIFA you played?

Here’s a cool technique you can use to maximise your creativity in a short amount of time.

AN ALARMING TECHNIQUE

Not so long ago, I had a day off and I had several writing projects that I wanted to do. I’d also recently bought an XBOX One game that I wanted to play.

So, once I got up and got sorted I thought I’d invest an hour into the game. An hour became another hour, which became half the day. By the time I’d stopped it was mid-afternoon and nearly all that writing time had slipped away. I was annoyed at myself.

So, here’s what I do now. I still do things such as watch shows and play games to unwind or procrastinate, but I set myself a limit. After half an hour of procrastinating, my alarm goes off and I move onto the next thing.

It’s so simple I know, but it works. You just need to remember that the alarm is sacred, and that the ‘just one more…’ mental argument needs to be overridden.

So, there we go – just a few things I practice myself when I need to make time to write. I often use them to make time to do this blog.

There’s plenty of reading available on time management – so it’s worth a Google. Plus, the Essentialism book is a must-read.

A year or so ago I did a Dale Carnegie course on ‘Time Management’ – if you have the resources I recommend checking their courses out.

I do realise that my advice is all really obvious and there’s no amazing, super life-changing fix. But, as I always say, sometimes someone needs to point out the obvious as it can often be ignored for being too obvious.

It’s the same with weight loss really, for example – making small life changes will lead to success in the long-term.

 

 

Great storytelling starts in the street.

I studied journalism at university. It was interesting.

After four years I graduated with a broken ankle, upper second class honours and a handful of social skills.

While there I went to a talk by the journalist and documentary maker, John Pilger.
(check out his site or his books if you’ve not heard of him before)

He said a lot of great stuff.
But, this was the line that has always stuck with me:

“Great journalism starts in the street”.

He’s right, you know.

But let me edit that quote to something more relevant to us:

“Great storytelling starts in the street”.

After all, writing is storytelling.

Writing your C.V? You’re telling the story of your career.
Writing an advert, or copy for a site? You’re telling the story of your product.
Writing a speech? You’re telling the story of why others should think a certain way, or do a certain thing.

It’s all kinda obvious really, isn’t it? But, sometimes I think someone needs to point out the obvious, because it’s so easy to discard or forget.

I guess that someone is me.

Next time you’re out take in your surroundings. Listen to the people around you.

Soak everything up and look for inspiration.

9 times out of 10 you’ll find that the audience you’re writing for will be made up of normal, everyday people.

Where will you find them? In the street, of course.

The more in touch you are with what every day people do and how they react, the easier it’ll be able to change your style to one they’ll connect with.

I once had to write an article about coffee tables.
I know nothing about them.
So, I spent an hour in House of Fraser – hovering around the furniture section, listening to families as they discussed their purchases.

I learnt the things people look for, and the things that put them off.

Do I need to get a life? Probably.

Did I learn a lot? Yes.

So there you have it, you can be inspired and you can learn from the world around you.

Great ideas start in the street.

33.3 ways to beat writer’s block

Let me introduce you to someone.

It’s the guy in the featured picture. His name is Eugene Schwartz – I don’t know if you’ve heard of him? I’ll be honest, I hadn’t until fairly recently.

Why should I write about him? Because he had an interesting theory on maximising productivity and beating writer’s block. Reason enough, right?

He made an absolute mint as a copywriter. He also wrote several books that you might want to check out if you’re interested in advertising and copywriting – mostly published in the 1950s and 60s.

He only wrote for (roughly) 3 hours, 5 days a week. Not a lot, is it? I mean you’d think a professional writer would be pulling in 12 hour days, seven days a week – wouldn’t you?

He measured out the exact time in which he could be creative for (without being distracted) and set an alarm.

The time would be 33 minutes and 33 seconds.

During this time he wrote. He made himself write, working in intense spurts where his thoughts were only on the blank page in front. Kind of like high intensity training, where you work out at a really difficult level for a short amount of time, before slowing it down.

Schwartz was strict on himself during that time and, unless a flying saucer or something landed outside, he wouldn’t leave the chair. He’d keep his focus.

Once that alarm went he’d stop whatever he was doing, even if he was half-way through, and go procrastinate for 15 minutes or so.

Then he’d go through the same process again.

His success speaks for itself. To use an old English phrase; ‘the bloke wasn’t short of a bob or two’.

It makes sense though. If you were a runner you wouldn’t run for ten hours straight, with just a short lunch break, would you? Creativity can be just as exhausting, albeit mentally, so maybe Schwartz’s method is the key to being productive?

Plus, I often wonder if forcing yourself to write for too long can inadvertently lead to writer’s block.

Here’s his most famous book, in case you’re interested.

(image credit: wikipedia)

by Ashley Brown

47 ways to turn your brain into a bulging bicep of creativity…

Here’s a riddle. What’s usually soft, occasionally hard, often truthful but frequently full of lies?

You’ll probably be thinking of a few different things. Depending on how far into the gutter your mind is you might even have visualised something after just reading the first two clues.

What am I on about?
The picture didn’t give it away?

Why, the humble book of course. They can either be hardback or paperback, and will either be non-fiction or fiction. Although, I guess some lines can occasionally blur – namely, in the autobiographies of celebrities who want to seem larger than life.

If you want to have ideas, you need to read. I often talk to people who want to be authors, journalists, copywriters, etc and I ask them what they read. It’s surprising how often others don’t read much or stick to the same type of genre/the same news source.

The more you put in your brain, of different themes, the more you’ll get out of it. I try and read as much as I can, and I’ve done this on and off ever since I was first taught to read. Now I’m older I never stop reading. I’ll always have one fiction and one non-fiction book on the go.

Horror stories, thrillers, philosophy, business books, pop psychology…all of these have disappeared into my metaphorical meat grinder of a brain.

Hopefully someday soon I’ll churn them all out in a masterpiece that will cement my claim for being the greatest writer who ever lived.

Or, at least it’ll get me onto the New York Times Bestsellers List.

In short, if you want to write and create you need to read.

Fill ya mind with new stuff.

P.S If there’s a day where you don’t feel like reading watch some films…but not Con Air and Die Hard on repeat.

100 ways to win an argument with yourself…

How many times a week do you argue with yourself?

By that I don’t mean to ask how often you sit in the corner of the pub and talk about politics to yourself. And, come on – who needs to spend time doing that when the internet has a pulsing community full of people waiting to argue over opinions and theories?

What I mean is…how often have tried to convince yourself to do something? To exercise, to get up earlier…or to write?

How often have you sat in front of your computer – ready to unleash your creative genius onto an empty Word document? Only to find that your games console was more appealing, or perhaps the lure of daytime TV was too much?

Is a day to yourself even a day to yourself without catching the Frasier double bill before ‘enjoying’ an episode of Jeremy Kyle?

As with many blogs today this one is, again, about motivation and how you need to fight that inner voice of distraction. After all the people you see as successful, they didn’t get there through not being bothered.

You know what quote I really like?

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”
– Laozi, Chinese philosopher (circa 600 BCE)

You’ve probably seen this on hundreds of t-shirts, mugs and posters. Quite rightly too. It is motivational and it is inspiring.

But what Laozi was really saying, to me, is that most people can’t be bothered, most people are inactive when it comes to following their dreams. So, the brave soul who makes that first metaphorical step may well be the one who gets to where they want to be.

I use this quote not to inspire me, but to remind me that there are loads of people around me who can’t be bothered.

For as long as they stay that way, there’s less competition for me.

Next time you have that argument with yourself, where the voice of laziness or procrastination tries to steer you away from your goals – think about our friend Laozi.

Not just his quote which has been demeaned by cheap coffee cups – but the fact that so many others won’t make that step…meaning that you’ll already be standing out if you do.

Will you remember the day you lost yourself to daytime TV or the day you kept your focus and started the ‘thing’ that cemented your dreams for you?