Writing about, er, donkeys! Bravo, Benjy


A short and totally true story of how we can learn so much about relationships from children and animals…

freeimage-1844359-webAt the farm where I kept my horse, there were two donkeys. One of them, Benjy, was very fearful of humans – with some justification, as he was a victim of cruelty and mistreatment before the farmer rescued him from his former home.

Even when I walked into the field brandishing carrots in my hand, Benjy wouldn’t approach. Although the other donkey trotted up to me expectantly, Benjy would hang back well out of range, longing to come forward but held back by his fear of what might happen next. If he was approached by someone he didn’t know, he became defensive and would bite or kick rather than let himself be caught. [Read more…]

Urban written slang: an update on grunting

urban slang,writing,insults,meh,whatever,humor,jokes,funny,hilarious

Your new idea is about as exciting as watching paint dry
… MEH me something new, for a change

A while back, on another platform I wrote about some gloriously featureless words that had crept into every day speech and still, Heaven preserve us, hang around today.

The first, was “meh.”

Much as I think it has as much charm as a pile of dog sh*t, the phonetic value of the word does express what it purports to mean, quite well. Especially if accompanied by shrugging of the shoulders and rolling of the eyes. [Read more…]

Writing about horses: why stallions should have their teeth extracted

medium_340848452“Oh, you little b*stard,” I shouted as the stallion’s jaws snapped shut around my shoulder blade for the umpteenth time that evening – each time, in fact, that I walked past his box pushing a barrow as I mucked the horses out.

I tried tiptoeing. I tried crawling along so my head was level with the barrow handles. I tried giving his box a wide berth by pushing my barrow along the grass beyond the concrete path. But each time he was waiting for me, and despite being a horse he had a neck like a giraffe and jaws built on an extending gantry system… [Read more…]

Writing about horses: surely ewe are joking?

small__8644933753“B*gger off!” I screamed at this particularly large and pesky ewe. Day after day she would hang around while the horses were eating their feeds out in the field and no sooner had one come up for air for two seconds than the great white woolly head would zoom down into the feed bowl.

“You great wimps!” I’d yell to the horses who would just stand there, staring meaningfully at me to do something about it.

Usually shouting and stamping of feet and the odd Greek expletive (only words I ever manage to learn in a foreign language) would get rid of her but on this one occasion nothing would budge the woolly head.  [Read more…]

Horsin’ around: new words to use when you write about the “neddies”

Suze with "Merrylegs" ... (Suze is the one on the right...)

“Moi” with the delightful “Merrylegs”
who wanted to bite my fingers
but decided against it…

Horse jargon is spreading beyond horsey types, although some journalists try to use it and get it wrong, hence making prize fools of themselves, especially when writing articles about equestrian Gold Medallists and Zara Phillips, the UK Queen’s grand-daughter who is a wonderful rider and must grit her teeth when she reads the cr*p such journalists write about her.

Here is a brief look at some new horsey terms that might give those journalists a bit more than a run for their money. Read on for some good (horse) laughs… [Read more…]

Do you let your writing walk all over your personality?

Writing guides like me always preach that you should write as you speak, whoever you are. But often there are big-bully barriers that get in your way, making your writing dull, long-winded and not like the real you at all.

Does your writing walk all over your personality?

Here’s how to get over those barriers to achieve fluent writing that sounds like the you, and to make sure it never walks all over you again.

You feel you have to reflect the importance of your job

There’s no reason why what you write should be any different from the way you speak to your colleagues, staff, customers or clients, stakeholders, etc., when you’re in a relatively informal meeting with them.

Provided that you’re confident in yourself, your skills and talent, those will shine through in your writing without your needing to resort to long words and pompous phrasing. Keep it simple, have some faith, and your readers will hear your voice coming through those words.

You’re not too sure exactly what it is you want to express

Another thing we pro writers often admit is that once we get writing, we often delete the first paragraph because that was us just “warming up” before we really got to the point. It’s not just pro writers; everyone does that, especially when they haven’t really decide a) what they want to say or b) how to go about saying what they need to say.

By all means, take all your time to “warm up” with your writing, but be brave enough to go back with a hatchet and chop out the early sentences where you were getting the car running and the oil circulating smoothly around the motor.

You’re hampered by the need to use conventional structure and wording

This is especially true amongst “professionals” like doctors and lawyers, as well as throughout the scientific and academic communities.

Lawyers always come up with the excuse that to use sentences less than 95 words long with any punctuation at all opens them and their clients up to horrendous legal liabilities potentially costing millions. That may be true for a legal contract, but it isn’t true when writing a letter to a client or prospect. A short, snappy sentence in active rather than passive speech does not make you look like a moron; it makes you look human and alive in the 21st century.

Does your writing walk all over your personality?Doctors, despite repeatedly being asked by patient representative groups (and I speak as one of those, as well as doing my day job) to write letters about your healthcare in layman’s terms, invariably fall back into medical jargon – especially if they’re writing a letter to a medical colleague with you, as the mere patient, being copied in for good measure. If the correct terminology is “radical cystectomy with formation of ileal conduit” that’s fine, but to insert (in brackets if you must) “bladder removal followed by construction of a stoma on the abdomen” would be very helpful. After all, that’s how you, the doctor, would describe it to a patient face-to-face. It may feel comfortable to chat away in jargon, but get out from behind it when non-professionals need to understand it.

Academic writing makes my eyes cross. However I mustn’t criticize it according to my undergraduate son who sends me his university essays to proof-read. These are so tightly packed with long-winded sentences and paragraphs several inches long, I need a bottle of water and a sandwich to sustain me just so I can read them to the end. If your audience is entirely academic, OK, but if non-academics – or non-specialists – need to understand what you write, once again – write it as you would tell it to their faces.

You want your text or script to sound properly “corporate”

I’ll never forget an advertising agency wallah who once rejected some copy I had written for a corporate brochure because I had written a direct, no-fuss account of what the (his) client company did and how it could achieve damned good results for its clients.

Why? It didn’t seem “corporate” enough. What do you mean? I asked. “Well, you know, there should be more long words. More formal writing. More, you know, corporate stuff.”

Much as freelancers like moi  can scarcely afford to fire a client, I fired this guy and told him where he could stuff his business along with his corporate lunacy.

Don’t be silly. The fact that you and/or your corporate organization know how to use long words means nothing other than long-windedness. Don’t hide behind it and allow it to destroy the personality, zest and vigour of the organization: get off the corporate high horse and tell it like it really is.

You’re afraid to step out of a comfort zone that you learned years ago

Does your writing walks all over your personality?Particularly if you studied English (or the language of your own country if that isn’t English) through high school and into tertiary education, you may still be harbouring rules and conventions that no longer apply, and perhaps never did considering that we’re now out in the big wide world beyond school.

Many of us, me included, can still hear our old English teachers’ remonstrations when we strayed away from the norm with our writing, splitting infinitives and leaving participles dangling all over the place. The reality is that we do that when we speak, and so in theory we should do that when we write.

Apologies to older English teachers, and here’s a caveat … you need to know what the rules are, before you can break them effectively. So to write “I want to utterly trash that malformed opinion” is technically wrong, but everyone can understand it because it’s only a minor transgression from what’s correct and so is easy to grasp. However to write “I think it’s essential to utterly and beyond all serious, sensible doubt trash that malformed opinion” doesn’t work.

See the difference?

Moral of the story?

Writing today – whether for personal, business, “professional” or whatever other requirements, is all about sharing information in the quickest, most effective ways. It’s not about pontificating, patronizing, posturing or any of those turgid old affectations that pervaded literature a few decades ago.

Now, it’s about being you, writing as “you,” and connecting with your business and personal communications in an honest and worthwhile way.

Provided, as always, that you use sufficient discipline in grammar, spelling, punctuation and syntax so that you leave no-one in doubt as to what you really mean.


Some help to make sure your writing reflects who you  really are:

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

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

photo credit: mezone via photopin cc