Need some help with your creative writing? Grab these tools now

Writing creative material that’s good enough to grab publishers by the short hairs is always big challenge. Here, guest contributor Gloria Kopp shares her top tips on the tools she finds invaluable for getting manuscripts ready to, er, grab prospective publishers by the short hairs and with luck, lead to a publishing contract. (And best of all, these tools work for most other types of writing, too – for business, blogging, web content, and more.) Go, Gloria …

Essential proofreading and editing toolkit for creative writers

book writing help on HTWB

Writing a book, or thinking about it? Here are some tools you may find very helpful.

Everyone has always got that secret weapon hidden in their back pocket – that trick that helps them get the job done easily, quickly and properly. For creative writers, your secret weapon is right here; a cache of essential proofreading and editing tools to improve the quality of your writing, and turn it from something good to something spectacular. [Read more…]

Business and marketing messages: think first, write later

There’s no doubt about it, clear
Business and marketing messages: think first, write laterthinking is the most important part of getting a business or marketing message right, before you even attempt to write anything down. Sure, you’ve got all your background information together. But without the benefit of your creative little grey cells, as Hercule Poirot called them, that information isn’t worth much.

To make that information morph into a powerful message, it needs to be brought alive by a clear, unobstructed thought process on your part.

Trouble is, that isn’t always easy with the pressures of modern business to contend with.  Here are some of the obstacles that can get in your way, and some ideas on how to overcome them.

We’ve got to respond NOW or lose the opportunity

Not really. There aren’t many opportunities that can’t wait five minutes, even if it means saying you’ll call right back or email them immediately with a fast message to help close a sale. You’ll benefit enormously from those five minutes even if all you do is walk over to the water cooler and back before responding.

Business and marketing messages: think first, write laterPeople prone to temper tantrums are told to count to ten before they say anything, and the theory behind that works here too.

To react with a knee-jerk can make you look like one, so don’t take a chance on it unless a snap decision really is unavoidable.

The deadline isn’t for another week

This is the other side of the same coin. Because you’ve got other things you have to finish before that week’s up, your deadline keeps getting shuffled to the bottom of the deck.  Before you know it, it IS another week.

Of course, long lead times can be demotivating, and often if you start working on a message too early you then spend the rest of the time tinkering with it. The result is the message loses all its momentum and has about as much energy and spontaneity as a mouldy tomato.

Don’t let deadlines drive you. Take the wheel and drive them, without rushing, but with just enough time pressure to focus your mind sharply on getting your message right.

I know this subject matter backwards

Yes, and that’s the trouble. Familiarity breeds contempt. It also breeds tired, worn-out marketing messages. Don’t reach up to the top shelf in your brain and pull down last month’s solution, no matter how well it worked that time.

By all means add your past experience into the message. But remember to keep experience in its proper place – the past. No matter how many similarities there are in surrounding circumstances, never assume you can get away with producing a clone.

It’s fresh, original thinking that makes business/marketing messages work, and most things in life are only fresh and original once.

I know what the audience wants to read/see/hear

Not necessarily. Just because a message got them clicking or calling or buying in their droves last time it doesn’t mean they’ll respond the same way now. A couple of weeks or even a couple of hours can make an enormous difference to the way an audience will perceive you and receive your message.

A workforce before and after the announcement of a plant closure? Consumers before and after a media exposé about the dangers of a chemical sweetener in your chocolate bars?  Shareholders before and after a market crash?

Always, always take a fresh look at the circumstances of your audience, and ensure your message takes those into account.

I’d love to do something new, but it’ll never get approval

Oh, those corporate politics again. Yes, approval can be hard to obtain, especially when it involves getting through a committee of umpteen experts all with their own agendas and axes to grind. Well, no-one said being creative and original is easy. I’ll bet even the person who invented the wheel got a hard time from his or her committee to start with.

Provided you can justify your marketing message with solid evidence and common sense, most superior beings (even committees) will see the logic and give you the go-ahead. It never hurts to try, anyway, and once your message gets out there and proves itself successfully, the next time should be easier.

I can’t think straight with all this racket in here

Clear thinking is relatively easy if you happen to work in a cozy log cabin set in a verdant pasture or forest or whatever with not a single soul, cell, or cellphone for that matter, to mar the magnificence.

Business and marketing messages: think first, write laterGiven that large offices are to log cabins what express trains are to bicycles, clear thinking in this environment can be more of a challenge.

Here’s a trick. Go and sit quietly somewhere other than at your desk. At the risk of offending some of you, the toilet is a good choice. Yes, in a cubicle, sitting down. I’ve done some of my best thinking and got some of my most useful ideas in precisely these surroundings. (And I’ve heard all the jokes about it, too.) I think it’s because you’re cocooned in a small, plain space with absolutely no external mental stimulation. That frees your mind to focus on what you want it to focus on.

If the restroom doesn’t appeal to you, then go sit quietly somewhere else – like your car, or the staff restaurant outside of meal times, and close your eyes. Discard irrelevant thoughts one by one as they occur, and keep nudging yourself back to the project. Don’t “rack” your brain; just let it work by itself. Soon you’ll find things settling into place and you’ll be able to prioritize and organize your thoughts.

Happy thinking!

An earlier version of this article first appeared on the USA marketing site,

More good thinking for your business and marketing messages:

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

“English to English: the A to Z of British-American translations”…more than 2,000 business and social terms from the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

photo credit: Humphrey King via photopin cc

Email clichés we love to hate. And why.

Do you sometimes groan when you open an email and find it starting or finishing with a cliché that may be well-meant, but comes across as being as genuine / friendly as a cornered rat? And that’s just in your day-to-day eCorrespondence. It gets even better when it’s spam.

Email cliches we love to hate. And why.

Friend, foe, or someone trying to sort out my penile erectile dysfunction

In this run up to the Holiday Season when we’re focusing less on hard-nosed business and more on its lighter (but nonetheless important) aspects…do you agree with the following? [Read more…]

How to write meeting minutes people want to read

Talking of written clarity … when was the last time you received some business or social meeting minutes and actually found them easy to read?How to write proper meeting minutes on HTWB

What’s the problem with meeting minutes as they are today?

[Read more…]

What NOT to write on staff performance reviews…

These individual quotes were reportedly taken from actual employee performance evaluations in a large US Corporation. They were passed on to me some while back by fellow professional writer and good friend, Jonathan Priest. The original sources are unknown…

“Since my last report, this employee has reached rock bottom – and has started to dig.”

“His men would follow him anywhere – but only out of morbid curiosity.”

“I would not allow this employee to breed.” [Read more…]

How to write powerful proposals that win you business

Although any form of business writing should be benefits-led, with proposals it often doesn’t pay to be too blatant about “what’s in it for them.” To head such a document with a line that says “back my suggestions for a new company gymnasium and your promotion prospects could be enhanced” might be true, but you won’t score many points by rubbing readers’ noses in the fact. Benefits to the reader should be strongly implied rather than spelled out.

Don’t be intimidated by format constraints

Some proposals need to follow set formats – either those of your own organization, those decreed by institutions (e.g. public sector tenders), or those decreed by etiquette like, for example, business plans. Even with the latter category, the etiquette for which was developed by bankers and accountants and management consultants and other noble professionals not normally known for their creative writing skills, you can still write in a way that grabs and holds readers’ attention. The trick is not to be intimidated by the formality of such formats. By all means stick to the defined sequence and format, but that needn’t stop you writing simple, clear stuff that’s benefits led.

People are people, even when wearing expensive suits and stern faces

Always remember that no matter how faceless and terrifying you imagine business angels or venture capitalists or senior civil servants might be, they’re all human beings who react in a human way to human words. In fact if anything they will warm to good, clear, strong, human writing (provided the proposal itself is valid) rather more than they will to the long-winded, boring, stuffy prose they probably have to wade through in 95% of cases.

Make sure the structure is solid

Another key issue with proposals is getting the structure right. Assuming you don’t have a set format to follow and you can choose your own way forward, it’s worth remembering that some if not all of the people who will read your document haven’t got much time to spare. Even if they have, they’re likely to want to move swiftly on from a business document to the sports page of the newspaper or an e-mail from a friend. So no matter how much detail you and your colleagues feel should be included to substantiate your proposal, keep that in the back and focus the front on the key points.

In fact try to get the key points of the whole story into one page, using subsequent pages for expansion. Your readers will be grateful to obtain the gist of your proposal quickly, and assuming the rest of the proposal makes good sense that will place you in the front line for a “yes.”

Create a logical flow

Staying with the structure issue, it’s also important to work out the flow of the content so that your information and your argument are presented in a logical way. This is not as challenging as it sounds.  Once again, assuming you’re not obliged to follow set procedures it pays to forget whatever old-fashioned precedents may exist and trust your instincts. Provided that you have informed yourself thoroughly about the people who will be reading your proposal, your instincts will tell you what they will want to know, what elements of it will really ring their chimes, and in what order. If the audience is diverse (e.g. some management, some finance, some technical) you can attach their individual categories of detail as appendices, keeping the central flow of the document focused on the main issues that are common to all. That makes it much more powerful.

Write simply in an informal “tone of voice”

Finally, whatever you do don’t think that because you’re writing a business proposal the style has to be dry, dull and boring. Especially if you know the people who will be reading it (but even if you don’t) be informal and use friendly, natural language.

My old boss years ago – one of the best direct response copywriters the UK has ever seen – used to say that the right tone of voice for good sales copy is as if you were standing next to the reader, chatting to him or her in a pub. 

With business proposals I suppose we should forget the pub, but I believe they should be written in the same tone of voice as if you were talking to the reader over a cup of coffee at an informal meeting. One of the great advantages of written communication is that people don’t have to live up to their external images when they’re reading it. Even if they’re pompous, conceited bigots in company, when they’re alone they’re just like you and me.

That means they are likely to respond better, in private, to informal, straightforward, honest words than they are – ironically – to the sort of elaborate garbage they themselves speak and write to others. It helps to remember that point when you’re writing anything for business, and especially when you’re writing in a politically upwards rather than sideways or downwards direction.

And now for some more help with your business proposals:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English