The Alchemist's Lair
Thoughts on writing, language, life as a freelancer,
and what comes to mind.
and what comes to mind.
Over the last few weeks, my beautifully detailed planning bombed.
For good reasons, you know. A new client, a couple extra projects in the pipeline, some CPD. But there’s only so much you can squeeze in - and keeping it all together can be tough.
And guess what? Instead of treasuring the positive, I obsessed with what I wasn’t doing according to plans.
Looking at it now, the negative wasn’t even an issue. Postponing the long-term stuff would have been a no-brainer, because it really is long-term. I could have just trusted my planning skills, and celebrated the results of all the hard work.
But I started beating myself up instead.
Fast forward to last week, when I came across an article about a new suite of wait-learning apps. Even though I found the project’s paper interesting, the concept gave me shivers.
And I realised that my self-sabotage had a lot to do with the over-productivity myth.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all in for productivity tools – and even wrote an eBook about the topic. But there’s a difference between “being productive” and “filling every minute of your day”.
People aren’t robot. People don’t have idle times.
Our brain needs downtime. We are allowed to wait for the elevator … just waiting, and looking at the clouds. But that’s so easy to forget when all you hear is DON’T STOP, DO MORE.
That’s what happened to me. I forgot.
When you remember, things get better.
Post pic: screenshot from I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK – a 2006 film by Park Chan-wook. If you’re in for a surreal, poetic and somehow dark movie about the normal/weird dichotomy, that’s definitely a keeper.
One of the trickiest things copywriters need to master is white space.
Whether it's print or online, white space matters. It gives readers time to process key information, and assimilate important messages. When used wisely, white space also provides your copy with structure and texture, to best guide the readers through.
I believe the same applies to mental white space.
For freelancers, developing long-term projects is often an issue. With "paid work coming first", we keep pushing our own projects towards the bottom of our to-do lists - which are often jam-packed, and messy.
As a result, our long-term projects seldom make it to our desk.
And when they do, we have little energy left.
When you're flying solo, making time for your projects is key. But how?
In this inspiring TED Talk, Laura Vanderkam shares some insights that will make you reconsider the whole issue, and simple strategies to make time for your professional and personal projects.
Enjoy it, and let me know what you think!
Earlier in March, we touched on the benefits of using sensory language to power up your e-commerce website, and help customers "see and feel" your products.
If you need more inspiration, this infographic is for you: 91 captivating words that will help you enhance your sales copy - and more.
In fact, sensory language is a powerful ally.
Like a fragrant mix of herbs, it adds depth and vibrancy to any kind of writing - and helps you captivate and seduce your audience.
Third post in this mini-series about revamping your online and offline communications - and this week is all about positive habits that nurture your writing skills.
Develop a reading habit
The first rule of Writing Club is: read more.
The second rule of Writing Club is: READ MORE.
(forgive me, Mr. Palahniuk)
Reading expands your vocabulary, and nurtures your imagery. As "good writing" starts with the ability to select the best words for a given context, this pays off by itself.
However, this means you need time to experience language, and assimilate new words and expressions. That's why you should form a skimming-free reading habit - and good ol' paper books work best for that.
Forming and nurturing a reading habit isn't hard. You just need to make time for reading, and enjoy the ride. Plus, it can reduce your stress levels as a bonus.
Familiarising with different styles and techniques also supports the development of a critical eye for writing itself. This makes it easier to recognise the positive or negative features of a text - and refine your own writing over time.
When your reading session is over, consider the following:
This quick exercise only takes 10-15 minutes, but making it a habit will increase your writing awareness. Also, it helps you define specific actions (or corrections) you can focus on to refine your writing skills over time.
Revise your early works
Revising your older texts (blog posts, emails, website pages, ...) is a great way to train your critical eye, and improve your writing skills. After a few years of sticking to this habit myself, I can promise it comes with solid results.
To get started, decide on a sustainable routine (e.g. revise two pieces of writing a month). Starting small will help you reap the benefits of the exercise, and stay motivated.
As you go through your early works, focus on the action steps defined in your critical reading exercises. We all know that (educated) practice makes perfect, right?
Second part of the mini-series about spring-cleaning your online and offline communication.
Step 1: Focus on your hard skills
When scanning resumes, profiles or LinkedIn search results for freelance help, customers look for elements of differentiation. They need to understand who is the best fit for their projects, and what this person can tangibly do for them - quickly.
That's why including soft skills (or personality traits such as being reliable) in a professional headline is a waste - unless your services are heavily soft skill-based (e.g. business coaching). To increase your chances of getting noticed, focus on your hard skills - i.e. the specific, technical skills you need to excel in your work.
Step 2: Select your highlights
When the skills list is complete, it's time to select the highlights to include in your headline.
Even though length limitations might not apply, concise professional headlines maximise the impact - and resonate best with your audience.
Try narrowing your list down to 4-5 elements.
Step 3: Add a personal touch
The skills and features you selected are probably common to other professionals in your industry or niche. To make your professional headline stand out, you need to sprinkle some personality on top.
Consider complementing your headline with your business slogan, a snappy title or other elements that make your unique self shine through. Just remember: avoid marketing-speak at all costs - when it comes to headlines, every word counts.
Step 4: Select your top candidates
With the brainstorming session hopefully resulting in plenty of options to assess, now it's time to wear your hyper-critical glasses. Your goal here is to shortlist 2 to 4 headlines.
Remember that your professional headline should be as unique as possible.
To get started, check the headlines your direct competitors use. Knock off your list all options that look too similar to your competitors'.
Step 5: Test your professional headlines
The last leg of your journey: testing your shortlist.
To do so, you just need a small panel of friends, family members, colleagues or other professionals you cooperate with. To maximise results, aim for a mix of backgrounds.
Drum roll: you have a winner! A professional headline that works, and holds the key to more meaningful connections with prospects and peers.