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Frankly-incensed by Christmas spelling mistakes? We have a few helpful turkey tips…

For many of us, Christmas is one of the few times in the year when we pick up a pen and remember that handwriting exists. This is great and no doubt good for us but, after a year in the company of spellcheckers and predictive text, it can be hard work grappling with Christmas wordage. We have a few Christmas spelling and grammar tips for you so that your stables remain steady, your mangers don’t go mangey and your holly and ivy behave.

Christmas – always requires a capital letter, as do Christmas Eve and Boxing Day

New Year’s Day – capital letters and yes it does require an apostrophe because this is the day of the new year

New Year’s Eve – you guessed it… capital letters and an apostrophe here too

Bethlehem – fairly phonetic but it is a place so needs a capital letter

Herod – we don’t like him but he was a man, so he also has a capital

Mary and Joseph – capital letters and not just because they travelled so far with a donkey

The innkeeper – his name was probably Matthew but he doesn’t need a capital letter for his occupation

Christmas turkey – Turkey the country requires a capital letter but turkey the unfortunate dinner centre-piece doesn’t

Rudolph – this is a tricky one because you have to decide between ‘The Red Nosed Reindeer’ being his name or his occupation. I would refer this one to the National Union of Reindeer (almost all capitals)

No capitals for sleigh bells but be careful because ‘sleigh’ is a homophone and we don’t want any seasonal ‘slaying’

No I can’t see the poinsettia of these strange plants either but they might crop up in your Christmas thank you letters and, although tricky to spell, do not require a capital letter

No capitals for gingerbread unless you are referring the the cheeky, buttoned one who should be addressed as ‘The Gingerbread Man’ because that is his name… or is being ginger an occupation?

And finally, but perhaps most importantly, mistletoe; nothing to do with toes, this one is strictly for kissing but don’t be tempted to ‘missile-tow’ instead… this will bring about an entirely different type of explosion!

Seasons greetings…

Paradise Lost? 5 life skills we could do with remembering

2018, my third year of full-time freelance content writing work, has brought about an unexpected, but much appreciated side effect. I have started to remember some of the old skills. I’m not talking here about ancient skills or even specialist ones, the skills to which I am referring are ones I remember from my childhood. Simple things like shopping in the high street and picking apples, or more complicated ones like preserving (easier than you think). It’s hard to fathom how change can have happened so quickly but it has and this particular brand of change has not been good for us, our environment or our planet. Here is my list of lost skills that we perhaps could all do with holding onto a bit more tightly.

Making soup

There’s no shortage, it’s true, of recipes for soup but I’m not talking about the unusual ingredients and complicated methods type of soup found in these recipes. The soup to which I am referring is composed of an onion, a potato, a tin of baked beans and whatever is left over in the fridge. Wilted salad, chicken bones, stale cheese, floppy carrots and cauliflower leaves… all of these can add flavour and nutrition. The domestic stock pot provides sustenance, warmth and something on which to feed the grown-up kids when they all appear at once. Instead of thinking ‘waste food bin’, life would be cheaper and tastier if ‘stock pot’ was our first thought.

Keeping warm

It could be argued that the combination of central heating and lack of outside exercise is in danger of turning us all into heating wimps. I grew up sleeping in an attic bedroom, which, during the winter, had ice on the inside of the windows. I loved my bedroom, and hot water bottles, thick socks and wooly hats kept me warm. We have central heating now but, working from home, I worry about the cost (to myself and the environment) of turning it on too much. I have resorted to my childhood skills, alongside regular exercise stops, to warm up and have, for the most part, enjoyed it. I keep a pair of fingerless gloves on my desk and a rug on my chair… and I probably drink too many cups of tea.

Reading a map

I was bound to bring this one up as teaching navigation is one of my other freelance activities but I am firmly of the opinion that the ability to read a map brings the outdoors to the masses in the same way that the printing press brought them access to God. Satellite navigation is very clever and can be useful in its own way but it has been designed to aid destination rather than exploration. With a satnav you head straight (usually) there, with a map you can explore, find new things and, maybe most importantly, meet new people. Next time you follow the satnav, can I recommend that you take a look at the map first… who knows what you might find.

Peeling a potato

Instead of picking the low hanging fruit, wouldn’t life be better if we all reverted to choosing the ugly fruit? We appear to have lost contact with the earth so much that potatoes or other vegetables no longer arrive in the supermarkets with any more than a speck of soil on them. The need to clean or peel potatoes has been lost amongst super-clean plastic bags, frozen chips and smiley faces, and all of these are sold in supermarkets that still sell potato peelers. This year I’ve swapped to buying my veg from a local greengrocer who stocks from local farms. Down here in Devon, our Maris Pipers come in sacks with free clods of earth; they require a little bit of effort to prepare but make for stunning mash, ravishing roasties and a clearer conscience.

Mending clothes

If you find the words ‘darning’ and ‘mushroom’ tricky to combine in a sentence, might I recommend that you take a look at the picture below.

That strange wooden device isn’t for eating (not even after a day in one of my stock pots), it is to help you darn socks. In the UK we send around £140 million worth of clothes to landfill each year. I am not adverse to new clothing, although I have cut down on spending a fair amount but I do try to mend instead of replace. Sewing and mending skills are in short supply but that doesn’t need to necessarily put the kibosh on the matter, by sending your clothes to a local business to be mended, you will experience the triple-whammy of saving yourself money, using less landfill and supporting the local economy.

I am lucky, I know, to be a freelance worker and have more flexible time at my fingertips. Peeling potatoes, mending clothes and using a map instead of the satnav all require time but, for me, this has been time well-spent and lost skills safely regained (and hopefully passed on to my own children).

The day I taught Brexit to read a map… or did I?

My name’s Fi Darby and, when I am not busy freelance writing, I teach people to read maps. I don’t often get lost but have recently found myself wishing the irritating news elf Brexit would take himself off up into the hills and do just that. I have, however, so far resisted suggesting this as a possible solution to our current troubles because the hills are just about the only place left where it’s possible to hide from the latest ‘B’ news. It was an interesting thought however, to consider what would happen if, when out walking, I discovered Brexit, lost and confused at a summit (I have a feeling I wouldn’t be the first person to whom this has happened).

Me: Hi there, is everything okay?

Brexit looks up from his huddled position on the floor.

Brexit: No it’s not! I was out applying my right to freedom of movement when I realised I was lost. I think I crossed a border but it was too soft to tell and now I appear to have got myself a divergence.

Me: (Scratching my head) where’ve you come from?

Brexit: Last thing I remember, I was on a cliff edge and on the verge of crashing out. Or I might have been in Brussels… I’m really not sure.

Me: Would you like me to help? I could teach you to read a map and find your way home.

Brexit stands up and faces me.

Brexit: Have you got any food? I had all my cake and ate it months ago and, when I tried cherry picking earlier, I got poked in the eye by a branch. I was a blind Brexit for a short while, or maybe I wasn’t, I’m not really sure.

Me: I’ve haven’t got any cake but I did buy a packet of biscuits at a shop a while ago.

Brexit: Was that a frictionless trade?

Me: (Confused) well… the chap behind the counter was quite friendly.

I hand Brexit the packet of biscuits, which he opens messily.

Brexit: (Crumbs spattering) was it a single market?

Me: (Even more confused) I guess so; there’s only one shop in the village.

Brexit: How did you get to the village?

Me: I got the bus.

Brexit: Was it the Brexit bus?

Me: No, it was the number 32. Here’s my map, shall we have a go at reading it?

Brexit: Are we in Norway?

Me: No, why?

Brexit: I like Norway. Are we in Canada?

Me: No, why?

Brexit: I like Canada even better.

Me: Well we’re in Devon… just about here (pointing at the map)

Brexit: I need to get to Brussels, is it on your map?

Me: (Sighing) No but we can get you to Exeter airport and then you can leave…

Brexit: (Shouting) don’t say, ‘leave’ it sends me into a panic.

Me: (Sighing again) what we need to do is find a footpath.

Brexit: Are those green lines borders? They look a bit soft to me.

Me: No, they’re footpaths. If we follow one we’ll get back down from this summit.

Brexit: Are they hard or soft?

Me: Hard… No soft… Look, does it really matter?

Brexit: To be honest I’m not sure anymore. Are those black lines borders?

Me: No, they’re walls or fences.

Brexit: I like sitting on fences… At least I think I do.

Me: (Sighing even more) if we follow this footpath we’ll eventually get to the main road.

Brexit: What are those blue squares?

Me: (Raised voice) they’re grid lines that show a square kilometre of ground.

Brexit: (Pouting) Oh! I thought they were Chequers. I liked Chequers.

Me: Shall we start walking down this footpath?

Brexit: Are there any cliffs? I’m not sure how I feel about cliff edges.

Me: We’re on Dartmoor not in Snowdonia… No! There are no cliffs or cliff edges.

Brexit: Keep your hat on… I was just negotiating.

Me: Negotiation usually requires compromise… shall we walk down this footpath?

Brexit: I don’t like compromise… Or do I? I’m not really sure.

Me: Look, I need to get home before my curfew. Are you coming or not?

Brexit: What’s a curfew?

Me: It’s like a deadline only stricter.

Brexit: I don’t like deadlines.

Me: (Starting to walk down the hill) I’m going… Are you coming or not?

Brexit: Not! I’m not coming!

Brexit sits back down on the grass with his back to me.

Brexit: I don’t like cliff edges, I don’t like deadlines, I don’t like cherries and I don’t even like cake!

Me: (Over my shoulder) Well you’d better remain then hadn’t you!

How to Write – 5 Different Types of Blog Post

How many times have you waited for blog post inspiration to arrive, only to find that the blankness of your mind is reflected on the page in front of you? Writers’ block is as common in bloggers as it is in all authors but help is at hand. We have 5 different types of blog post that will keep your blogging head thinking and your blog writing flowing.

Write a listicle

People who say they hate lists are lying when it comes to blog reading. Lists make popular posts because they give key information in the quickest possible written form. The listicle is a development of the list. Create a list, explain each list item, then add a pithy or intriguing introduction and conclusion.

Write How-To Guides

These days you can learn to do pretty much anything on the internet, which means that there is a keen audience out there for instruction type information. People want to learn how to do things, without necessarily having to do them. That’s where how-to guides come in.

Interview Someone

For blogging purposes, interviewing doesn’t have to be a long-winded, face-to-face affair. Send a polite email introducing yourself to an industry expert and then ask if they mind answering a few written questions. Keep the questions short but interesting and you will have the basis of a popular blog post.

Make a News Comment

A wise writer always keeps up to date with news breakthroughs in their niche. Being the first to comment on a piece of news enhances your ‘expert’ status and gives people plenty of reason to respond. Don’t forget to look out for trending social media hashtags to boost your readership.

Review Something

You don’t have to be an established influencer to review a piece of kit, gadgetry or even an experience. Get into the habit of considering the pros and cons of your purchases and committing what you find to writing. Write enough reviews and sooner or later someone will approach you with an incentive to write one for them.

 

The important thing to remember about establishing your own blog is that you need to stand out from the crowd. Using a range of blogging techniques can help you to do this. Just remember not to use any of them too often and risk boring your audience.

How to choose your blogging niche

My website needs a blog – where do I start?

You just got the sack – 5 English idioms from the world of work

There’s no doubt about it, the correct use of English idioms can be tricky to grasp. We have all experienced it, the unsolicited email that tries hard but exhibits a touch of over-ambition in the phrase department. One thing that can help copywriters to correctly use idioms is to understand their etymology (origin). A particularly interesting set are those related to the world of work. Here are our 5 favourites.

I like the cut of your jib (I like your style)

Anyone who has sailed will know a jib is a triangular sail that sits forward of the mast and be adjusted according to requirement. A well shaped (or cut) jib can add propulsion and decrease turbulence, and sailors in times past learnt to recognise approaching ships by (the cut of) their jib.

Strike while the iron is hot (do it now)

A clear reference to the trades of a blacksmith or ironworker here, as iron is only pliable when it hot. This one is often used as a kick up the backside when faced with hesitation and is usually good advice. After all, nobody likes Repetitive Strain Injuries.

A sea change (a completely altered state)

Definitely becoming a popular part of business parlance, this phrase can thank Shakespeare for its current acclaim. In The Tempest, Ariel sings a song to Ferdinand about his supposedly-drowned father and uses the words ‘sea change’ to refer both to his fate and his altered state of existence.

I’ll get the sack (I will lose my job)

This one has almost certainly come from a time when a workforce would use their own bag to carry tools borrowed from their employer. When the time came for employment to end, the workers would return their tools but be given back the bag (or sack).

Red tape (annoying paperwork)

This is an easy one to remember as the ‘red tape’ referred to in the phrase is that used to tie legal documents into a scroll shape. The term has come, over the years, to refer to bureaucratic rules that delay an action or event and are liked by no-one. We imagine that Charles Dickens’ circumlocution office was overflowing with red tape.

 

Idioms can add colour and effect to writing but all copywriters should be wary of using those which they don’t understand. Luckily help is at hand with some great online phrase definition tools.

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Writer’s block – if it is real, can we combat it?

All outdoor writers, even copywriters lucky enough to live in Devon, have moments when the words refuse to flow. You know the feeling, you sit staring at your screen, your mind starts to wander and then, bingo, you’re faffing around with one of the million and one other things your technology has to offer and your 1,000 words are as far away as 1,000 miles in a slow Toyota campervan (other campervans are available). The topic of writer’s block must be one of the most commonly discussed issues on the internet. I’m not sure I believe in this procrastination-ridden phenomenon but here are the 5 things I usually do when my writing reduces its usual flow.

I avoid giving the problem a name

Personally I don’t find the name ‘writer’s block’ helpful. If I am struggling to write, the cause is probably something physical like being over-tired or mental like worrying about an invoice. I tend to acknowledge the problem but refer to its cause rather than its effect. This works because causes can usually be dealt with in a methodical manner, leaving me free to continue writing once they are no longer an issue.

I take a look at my bank balance

I know this sounds a tad brutal but money, or the lack of it, can be a great motivator. If I find myself drifting away from my paid writing tasks, a quick glance at my online banking, and a reminder that my current article is going to pay the next month’s mortgage, can be a surprisingly good catalyst to getting on with the job in hand. The scientists will tell you that money doesn’t actually make the world go round but, in the microcosm that is freelance writing, it can certainly help put pen to paper.

I talk to my friends (or even my enemies)

The great thing about conversation and social interaction is that it is unpredictable. As a writer I have complete control over the interactions happening on my page. When I meet with other people, I lose that control and there is something about the edginess of conversation that reignites my creativity. Make no mistake here, although I enjoy and value social media chatter, this utilises the typed word and is no substitute, in this incidence, for face to face or at least voice to voice conversations.

I create my own deadlines

Although I do get the odd writing request that requires an immediate response, much of my writing has a far bigger time allowance than I need to give it. This is great but the knowledge of that ‘spare’ time can lead to procrastination and excuses not to write. At the start of each week I look at my work schedule and set self-imposed deadlines for each piece of writing. I genuinely find that writer’s block type issues only occur when I have given them time to do so.

Get outside

I left this one to the end because it is the most predictable answer to problems with writing. There is however a reason for its predictability and that is because getting outside works. Creativity flows best if given a stimulus and this doesn’t just apply to outdoor writing. By taking myself outside I am removing myself from my office and opening myself up to the elements. By stimulating the parts of my brain that operate my senses, I seem to be able to reignite the sluggish  brain cells that have stopped me writing.

Everybody experiences writing in different ways and we would be really interested to hear how you deal with those times when the words just won’t flow. Do let us know in the comments below.

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Need spelling and grammar help? 5 common UK spelling mistakes and how to avoid them

Ever confused your discrete with discreet? Not only have I done so, I managed to do it in front of a rather large national audience in The Guardian newspaper. English is such a delightfully perverse language that even the most proficient of wordsmiths make spelling mistakes… and then laugh at other people doing the same. Here are 5 common spelling mistakes in UK English (all homophones), avoid them or risk public ridicule on comments forums.

Note – most copywriters find themselves having to swap regularly from UK to US English and back again. The spelling tips below are all for UK writing.

Spelling discrete or discreet

Discrete = individual and separate (e.g. ‘I heard three discrete beeps from my phone’)

Discreet = guarded or unobtrusive (e.g. ‘she discreetly hid the photo in a draw’)

Spelling compliment or complement

Compliment = a flattering comment (e.g. ‘Your hair looks beautiful tonight’)

Complement = something that goes well with something else (e.g. ‘The hollandaise sauce perfectly complemented the poached fish’)

Spelling practice or practise

Practice = a noun (e.g. ‘practice makes perfect’ or ‘my medical practice’)

Practise = a verb (e.g. ‘I practise singing every day’)

Spelling stationary or stationery

Stationary = something that isn’t moving (e.g. ‘Following the accident, the traffic was stationary’)

Stationery = something you might use in your office (e.g. ‘I called into the stationery shop for a new notebook’)

Spelling who’s or whose

Who’s = a contraction of the words ‘who’ and ‘is’ (e.g. ‘Who’s going to come to the pub with me?’)

Whose = something possessive (e.g. ‘Whose jacket is this?’)

 

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From moor to sea – the life of an outdoor writer in Devon

Devon is definitely a beautiful place to visit but for me, it is also the perfect place to base myself for my outdoor writing. I discovered a long time ago that, in order to write about being outside (and keep a successful outdoor blog going) I needed to spend as much time under the sky as possible. My writing, even when it isn’t about the outdoors, is stimulated by my time outdoors. Whether I am writing a children’s book or investigating the latest thing in business apps for a client, the outdoors is as necessary to me as coffee, frilly knickers and soap operas are to other people (not that I have any objections to coffee!) Here’s how I make getting outside and copywriting in Devon work together.

  1. I get up early and head for the beach. For me, the sea isn’t just about the cold water wake-up, the stimulation of morning light, the crispness of winter ozone and that half land/half water view you only get from swimming all stimulate my creativity.
  2. When the writing stops flowing I sneak out into the garden. A quick potter around the greenhouse or 10 minutes of ‘slipper gardening’, can make the most sluggish of articles babble forth. (Can slugs babble?)
  3. I collect firewood from the local copse. This one is a double whammy, not only do I get to enjoy that unique woodland scent and the thrust of my pruning saw, I come home with the perfect excuse to light the wood burner and work in its cosy glow.
  4. I find some trees and hang in my hammock. I am convinced that my award-winning novel idea will finally come to me when I am swinging gently from the trees. It hasn’t yet but I believe in practice.
  5. I move my mobile office up onto Dartmoor. Working from my campervan has become a frequent part of my weekly routine. The wide views, peaty smells and ever changing landscape of the moors are very special and never fail to stimulate.

As a freelance copywriter, I have to be prepared to write on any topic but outdoor writing is my first love.

I have Devon to thank for that.

How many hashtags? 5 top tips for using hashtags in a business social media post

Have you ever looked at a social media post and been turned off by the number of hashtags used? We have too but this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make the effort to understand exactly what it is these little grammar newbies can do for you and your business. People often ask us, ‘How many hashtags should I use?’ but, in truth, they are asking the wrong question. It isn’t the number (and definitely not the size) of hashtags that matters, it’s how you use them…

So what are hashtags for?

A clever hashtag will make you #laughoutloud but these little #wordfriends aren’t just a fun way of playing around with vocabulary. They are searchable terms that can bring more traffic to your social media page. In other words, use the right hashtags and potential customers will come looking for you.

Can I use any old hashtag?

In the world of hashtags it pays to be both #cleverclive and #popularpeter. A few sparky hashtags of your own can be great for reader enjoyment but, just like at school, the ones that really matter are the popular ones. Finding and using hashtags that are significant for your niche and popular with your audience is the key to successful social media posting.

Which hashtags are right for my business?

The easiest way to find hashtags to get you noticed is to find out which ones other people are using. Use a search to look for popular influencers (people who have lots of followers) in your niche and keep an eye on which hashtags they are using. If they are popular they must be #gettingsomethingright!

Should I use trending hashtags?

Trending hashtags are those which are being used the most at any point in time. Sometimes these can be predictable (e.g. #halloweenfun) but sometimes they are unexpected and in response to news events (e.g. #brexitcancelled). Keeping an eye on hashtag trends (and the meaning behind them) and using them  in your posting can bring in unexpected visitors but don’t rely on trending hashtags alone, your niche responders are your most important ones.

Can hashtags ever go wrong?

Most things can go wrong, especially if they are digital, and hashtags are no exception. Before you post a new hashtag check your spelling but more importantly, check that you haven’t inadvertently included anything that might offend. Anyone who has been following the Chester Literature Festival might understand what we mean!

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