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?

6 tips on how to write good English from the bloke who did ‘1984’…

You can write, right? You can construct a sentence, hold your audience and get your point across? Or at least you like to think so? Even the best of us can improve though, you should take a look at this…

As you may have seen, the novel ‘1984’ has had something of a second birth recently – due to a mixture of the current political climate and the simple fact that true classics never die. Like fashion, classic books tend to be reinvented by shifts in culture.

It’s been sitting in bestseller lists since it was first published in 1949. I vividly remember the first time I read it, some thirteen years ago.

I’m not sure if you were aware, but Orwell actually came up with a few succinct rules that anyone who wants to write English (well) should follow. I thought I’d share them with you on this Tuesday Evening, and I’ll add my own two bits underneath each one.

– Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

Be original and don’t sound like every other soul out there. This is especially relevant now, as with the internet everyone has a voice and a platform to broadcast it from. Any two-bit writer (ahem) can start up their own blog with a silly name and starting typing! To stand out, the majority of your words need to be cliche free.

– Never use a long word where a short one will do.

Long words may go down well with an academic audience, but not every audience member is going to have a MENSA membership. Big words tend to break sentences up and if a reader snags too much while looking at your piece their minds and their eyes will soon wander…and you don’t want them to go off and buy ‘The Sun’, do you?

– If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

Less is more. With every sentence you write you’re fighting to keep your reader, so don’t drone. Be your own editor too – look everything over, and don’t be afraid to cut bland words out. You’ll also be surprised at how many typos you make when you look back at what you’ve done.

This isn’t your ‘6000 word’ University essay – you don’t need to ‘pad it out’.
(Ignore this if you’re still a student – pad away!)

– Never use a passive where you can use the active.

Active makes for exciting writing. Who gets off on reading boring stuff?
Active: The dog bit the man.
Passive: The man was bitten by the dog.
See this example here? Admittedly it’s not the longest sentence either way, but the former grabs you right away – it’s snappy (pun!) and to the point, and you’re instantly waiting for the next sentence. Whereas the latter feels a bit slow, and you have to almost compute it before you read the next sentence.

– Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

Goes hand in hand with your audience – by all means use exciting words and turns of phrase – but if everyone was well-versed in jargon they wouldn’t call it jargon. Think of the internal frame of the business you work for – would your average joe (or reader) know all of your office slang and corporate terms?

Err…wot’s ROI?

– Break any of those rules sooner than say anything barbarous.

I Googled what barbarous meant. It means brutal. I guessed that because it sounded like ‘barbarian’ and barbarians aren’t known for being gentle, especially Conan.

Come on – you were wondering why I had a pic of Arnie instead of Orwell, right?

If you’re interested in Orwell’s essay, ‘Politics and the English Language’ check it out here.

Weekend or writing week beginning?

If you’re lucky enough to have your weekends free you should make some time to write.

It’s easy to lose your days off in a whirlwind of chores and life admin tasks.

But in 30 years from now, would you rather look back and think that was the weekend that I started my path to become the greatest writer who ever lived or that was the weekend I mowed the lawn?

Who knows you just might make it onto The New York Times Bestsellers list…

What’s life got to do with the colour of the sky?

It took me twenty-five years to realise that I was a goals-orientated individual. I guess until someone pointed it out, I was so caught up in the way I was doing things that I hadn’t realised.

I mean it’s not a bad thing, in many ways life (and writing) is all a series of goals – an invisible checklist that exists only in your head, presiding over your waking life. A multitude of boxes waiting to be ticked off as you go. Just in this week alone my goals have ranged from getting a haircut (failed) to becoming the greatest, most influential writer who ever lived (also sadly failed).

It’s the same with writing…if you don’t have goals you’re going to struggle – since I started this blog I’ve said that every day, rain or shine, I’ll post something. And I’ve stuck with it. On some days I’ve felt tired or been busy, so I’ve written a shorter post – but I’ve still achieved that goal and it’s kept me writing.

Set little goals for yourself. It works. Even if you only manage to write 50 words you’ve still written – you’re not gonna be able to whack out a whopping 70 thousand words every day. Keep the momentum going. As I’ve said before, writing is a bit like working out – if you suddenly miss a few days, it can soon turn to weeks and the absence can create a warm spot for the parasite of laziness to develop and you can soon find your New York Times Bestseller (every published book ever) thrown onto the wayside.

When I started this post I didn’t intend to mention goals as much, but hey I’ve got nothing against freestyling.

I wanted to mention that, as goals-orientated about life as you maybe, take a moment every now and then to notice the colour of the sky as you go from A to B. You’ll appreciate it. I spent many years smashing objectives and achieving goals, but lost count of things along the way. Missing the journey as my mind was only set on reaching the destination.

People-watch, look at the colour of the sky, take the route less travelled on your usual commute…whatever it is do something different and, most importantly, look for something different. After all inspiration is often in the unexpected, but if you’re only concentrating on the road ahead then who knows what you’ll miss on the sides of the roads.

Sure, on most motorways you’ll only miss seeing a handful of McDonalds and Little Chefs (other fast food joints are available too)…but inspiration will always be grazing somewhere along the grass – like a unicorn waiting to be found…or at the very least a carrot-chomping donkey.

The rhythm of creativity.

One of the hardest things about being creative is actually getting the momentum going and finishing the thing.

Whether you’re writing a story, typing up your memoirs or jotting down the lyrics for a power ballad – at one time or another you’re more than likely going to want to stop mid-sentence. Perhaps you’ll realise you fucked up something in the first paragraph, or maybe you’ll decide that the second verse isn’t quite right. Whatever the case, the likelihood is that you’re going to stop prematurely.

The lesson for today is simple.

Don’t do that.

A creative flow can be hard to find and once we get into one it’s important to do all you can to preserve it. On the various laptops and PCs that I’ve had over the years there are files and files full of unfinished novels and stories. They were either abandoned because I went off to chase the next shiny project I saw in the distance, or because I stopped writing and started editing – thus, breaking my flow and meaning that when I tried to come back to it the words weren’t coming as easy.

A good creative flow is like an incredible looking butterfly – amazing when you see it, gliding along at a good pace. But also very, very delicate – you just know that those wings are so flimsy that the slightest heavy touch could damage them beyond repair.

(Although, unlike butterflies, when your creative flow dies don’t pin its corpse to the inside of a collection book. That’s just weird.)

Your creativity is like this – once you get into the swing of it do as much as you can to keep it going, get those words out and don’t do anything heavy-handed that might affect it. If the words are coming naturally, don’t worry about those typos in paragraph one – don’t worry that you accidentally typed the name Maggie, when you meant to write about your character called Jed.

Concentrate on getting those words down, it’s easier to edit a page full of words than to take on a blank page with a mindset of fragile creativity.

Even if you suddenly decide you want to go back and change a full chapter of your story – just make a quick note of it, and then go back to your flow.

Once the words start to naturally get a little harder, or once that thing called life gets in the way – then you can come back to it and make those changes. Or maybe you just continue writing your story/blog post/etc as you now want it and go back once you’ve completed the draft.

When things flow and the job’s a good ‘un do all you can to keep it going. Don’t over-analyse until afterwards. If you ask a child to write you a story or draw you a picture, 90% of the time they’ll finish it.

Sure most of their work won’t make the ‘New York Times Bestsellers’ list (although maybe it would? Nearly every paperback I see has that on the front) – but they’ll get to the end. Because they just go with what they feel, and their inner-critic doesn’t break things up for them.

So, yeah next time someone calls you ‘childish’ or tells you that you’re acting like a ‘kid’ thank them and go smash something creative.

Beer.

I didn’t write because I took tonight to be social.

As important as writing is, sometimes you do just need to unwind and make sure you keep up with your friends.

I’ll be honest this is abrupt because I’m on my phone and my thumbs are none too dexterous.

I’ll raise my Brewdog beer to you…until tomorrow when I’ll do a proper post…