I met Frances Booth recently at an event where she gave a 20 minute taster workshop on how to approach a piece of writing. She gave the group a couple of quick tips which I have found an invaluable basis for any written work.
Frances Booth runs writing training and is a writer and photographer. Sign up to newsletter to get more tips about writing for social media and writing for the web.
In your professional life, what is the single best thing about what you do?
As with many creative pursuits, one of the best things is that element of ‘getting lost in it’. This is one of the things I most love about photography. Nothing exists other than the camera and what I can see through it.
When you are in that space your breathing slows and you become completely relaxed and at one.
The same happens when I’m absorbed in writing a piece. With writing, I also love what words can do. I love shaping them, and I love creating images that trigger thoughts and stick in minds. (Think about whether a phrase actually means something or is just an automatic sentence that you’ve heard so many times it loses meaning.)
Words have got so many possibilities – they’re amazing to work with.
When I’m editing (I analyse websites/blogs/articles for other people) I love re-shuffling and re-crafting to include exactly the right word.
When I’m teaching (writing) I love being able to motivate and inspire people to be brave and confident with words. Often it doesn’t take much (just a couple of hours) for a person to transform their attitude to their writing. It’s really common to get stuck at some point. Often just talking through your words or message can open up massive insights about messaging or the purpose of a blog, for example.
Do you have a creative hero / heroine and if so, why?
I do love it though, when I come across a really well written piece or book (I love Ian McEwan’s work for example).
What piece of advice do you wish you had been given at the beginning of your career?
That your voice and your style of writing is enough – write it how you would write it – that is why the editor (or the business) has commissioned you.
Finding your ‘voice’ can take a long time for a writer. It’s your own personal style of writing, the thing that makes you you. If you know a writer well and you read their writing, you’ll often be able to ‘hear’ them speaking.
How do you find your voice? Be confident. Don’t try and write for everyone. Write as if you’re writing for one person (your ideal reader) who will get everything you say. You don’t need to over-explain it.
One aspect of my style is I like going in circles (rounding things off where I started) in a feature-type piece. I also love clear language and finding exactly the right word. I don’t like waste.
If you hit a creative block, what is your top tip for getting through it?
If you write every day, writing becomes something with less ceremony attached to it. You also need to keep topping-up your inspiration, and switch off distractions.
To get inspiration I spend time outdoors, in nature (this is what I take photos of too). I also often switch off entirely (from email and Twitter and To-Do lists) so I can actually think.
These are three tips I teach on my courses for defeating the blank page:
Set yourself 20 minutes and just write for that long (you’ll find you write for 30, 40, 50 …)
Don’t edit at all, just write. Then you’ll have something to edit later
It’s also important to listen to when you are trying to stop yourself being creative. You’ll be able to hear yourself saying: “But there’s not enough time” “I really need to get to x-a-place as soon as possible” “I’ll just do y first”. Ignore it.
Deciding to go and do something creative (for example take photographs of the autumn leaves), is a great start. But it’s not enough. Enough is hearing the voices that try and sabotage it, putting them to one side, and actually taking those photos, writing that piece, or painting that picture.
That said, there are some uses for procrastination (or – not to sugar-coat it – faffing). The kitchen will be sparkling, the skirting boards, even, pristine.
I often get to the point where I have faffed around so much that I am desperate to start writing.
Then, once I actually sit down, I focus entirely. In a way, it’s a fast way to do it. The words usually fly.
And finally, for fun, if you were a shoe, what type of shoe would you be and why?
I’d be a pair of dance shoes. I love salsa dancing.
These would be no ordinary dance shoes, however. They would go – magically – with every outfit. They would also be the most comfortable pair of shoes you owned.
There’s not really a parallel, but I do also love the way rhythm applies to writing. It’s often what makes the difference between a piece that is great to read, and one that you lose track of and switch off mid-way through. The second one just doesn’t ‘sound’ right.