Why are we so afraid of our own success?

Yesterday I spent an inspiring morning at Rudding Park with Quarterdeck learning how to be an inspirational leader. 

Honestly, I went along as a geek-out. I love the theory behind leadership and employee engagement.  Workplace culture fascinates me – the people psychology that sits behind it even more so. Six years working in internal communications will do that to you. 

I don’t consider myself to be a leader of anyone but my own good self these days, so I wasn’t expecting to have to do any soul-searching.  

Boy was I wrong about that. 

The skills you need to be a leader – to be able to motivate, to act with consistency, to listen (my goodness did we listen to each other), to have vision, to trust enough to step back. All things you need to work for yourself, to deal with clients, to be an excellent collaborator. 

The biggest takeaway for me was to be brave. Step up. Act more. Act bigger.  Show up to work and bring your best self, every single time. 

Why not? Why aren’t we all pushing ourselves just a little bit more every day? Because it’s easier, isn’t it. To think “oh I couldn’t do that”. Safer not to. Reassuring, actually, to tell ourselves the myths we’ve told ourselves – or have been told – for our entire lives. 

I’m not creative.  I’m not good with people. I’m disorganised. I’m not a sporty person so I don’t get on with exercise. I could write that book, but I don’t have time. 

Look. We can’t all do everything. That’s a fact. But if there’s one big dream you’ve got, and something holding you back from that thing… maybe it’s time to be the change. 

Just one step. Why not today? What are you really afraid of?  

What is my what?

I’m currently reading Emma Gannon’s ‘The Multi-Hyphen Method’ which explores the growing trend for ‘slashie’ careers – having multiple jobs or projects rolling simultaneously, rather than one job at a time. A portfolio career, but less briefcase-wielding than that sounds.

It’s nice to feel I’m part of a movement, instead of a person who can’t commit to doing one thing at a time. The book has also verbalised (although sadly fails to resolve) the issue of being unable to explain to your parents what the hell it is you do for a living, and the squinting and head-tilting that ensues. My favourite response so far has been from my dad (best imagined in a Black Country accent): “will it be alright though?”

I feel my multi-hyphen is more multi than most. I’ve had an immensely fulfilling working life so far, hopping from one thing to the next, following my heart rather than any sort of logical career path. I’ve made short films, I’ve worked in a drama script office, I’ve taught Pilates, helped women with their health and fitness, taught sports sessions for primary school children, I’ve lead a mass of gored-up zombies in a synchronised dance performance of Don’t Stop Me Now on the steps of Leeds Town Hall. I’ve worked in a press office, in internal communications, I’ve taught film-making undergrads at the Northern Film School how to nail their screenplay.

So what is my what right now?

I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the things I’ve done, and looking for ‘the golden thread’. The things I love that hold it all together.

Number one. Writing.

If I can’t write, I become unhappy. Whatever my work is, it needs to include words. Better yet – the telling of stories. I am obsessed with narrative structure, pace, plot, character. I am a pain in the arse to watch telly with. I am a forensic and enthusiastic analyst of everything you’re watching right now. I have opinions on all of it, and it’s best not to engage me in conversation on anything currently streaming if you want to get any work done today.

Number two. People.

Collaboration is huge for me. I am the opposite of an island. I like to be landlocked (maybe with a small stretch of coast to the south-east). Building networks and communities gives me energy, I love meeting people, finding out what makes them tick and being as useful as I can for them on that journey. I am a helper, a fixer, a “but have you thought about it like this”? A listener, a sounding board, a talker (so I’m told) of sense.

Number three. Engaging.

This is the top of the Penny hierarchy of needs. Creating something that makes a person laugh, cry, think, do. How good is it when you write or make something and you see the impact? You see the clicks go up, the emails start to open, the event starts booking, people start commenting, or your client reads your copy and says “this is exactly what I was looking for” (my first piece of feedback btw – I’m still glowing). Whether it’s getting people to move their bodies or move their minds, this is the dragon I’m always chasing.

These three things are my what. They are the umbrella that contains all my fun and chaos.

I don’t think I can condense all this into a soundbite that will satisfy anybody at a networking meeting, or a relative next time they ask. But I’m cool with the head-tilt.

And yes dad, I’m pretty sure it will be alright.





Is the digital world making poets of us all?

As copywriters, I think we create an oddball sort of poetry. It’s a funny little poet-esque dance we do, plucking out the right words and jiggling them into a pleasing order.

In fact, maybe we have more in common with poets than we think.

Check it out.

Avoid clichés

Do people really want to read the phrase ‘think outside the box’ or ‘once in a lifetime’ ever again? Be poet-like. Reach for the words that will take your readers by surprise with their power and originality.


Evoke, don’t emote

Ever read something that feels like the author is speaking directly to you? Like they’re inside your head?  Words that make us think, or even better, feel, are much more likely to make us act than when a message bores on in a self-indulgent way that fails to consider the reader at all. 


“The best words, in the best order”

That’s what Samuel Taylor Coleridge said about poetry, the old romantic. For me, this is about the line at which content churn ends and powerful, effective copywriting begins. Many years ago, when I was young and inexperienced, I wrote simply to fill space. I earned very little, and my soul was slowly eroded. Life is better when you write to please people, not just search engines. 


Use white space in a beautiful way

Remember Livejournal? That was peak massive-blocks-of-text writing and it was 15 years ago. Our browse-happy brains move too fast to stay on a line all the way to the end these days. Make it look digestible. Like word tapas.


Stay honest, stay authentic

I mean, not lying is pretty obvious. But being authentic is more nuanced than that. When you’re writing, keep hold of your humanity. Forget the great bonfire of the internet raging between us all; you’re still a person talking to another person.


Speak with rhythm

I love a short sentence, but sometimes I can’t help myself drifting into a long one. Learn from the poets and greatest writers of prose and use the beat to make it work. Keep it long, lazy and luscious. Or make it punch.


Make your reader feel something real and emotional

Robert Frost said “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and a thought has found its words”. How perfect is that? There is nothing more satisfying than finding words for the intangible mess of feeling. If you can articulate the inarticulable, and put it in front of somebody in a way that captures them, well, that’s the cut-through. That’s copywriting. I mean poetry. I mean… both? 


What do you think? Can we can learn something about our own writing from poets? Or does the idea of high art and the digital world colliding give you the heebie-jeebies?  

Stepping off the cliff edge

Why go freelance? For me, there are a number of very good reasons.
I did it for flexibility, for my family, for my sanity, and the more I dig into what my business is and what I’m about, the more I realise I did it because I want to keep achieving. I want to get better at the things I love, I want to have impact, and I want to progress.

When I was very little, I went to an incredible primary school that was a utopia of pupil autonomy and ideas. If you finished your work, you could do whatever you liked. I lasered in – by lunchtime every day I’d finished everything. So my afternoons were spent setting up a school newspaper, fundraising and designing new art for the playground, making up plays, writing books, or just hanging out in the library with my friends ?

It was heaven on earth. Setting up projects, making things work, learning, failing, trying again. On my own terms (or collaboratively, when I could persuade my peers to join in). The only limit was my own imagination.

I was lucky. The eighties were great, weren’t they? All this, and we got Duran Duran too.

Freelancing comes with a lot more financial pressure and a lot more fear. But there’s a touch of that work hard/play hard vibe that I’m rediscovering. I’m remembering how to look for the horizon and stop staring at the ground. It feels exciting.

P.S. Finally got the @annieridout book – what a beauty ? Can’t wait to get stuck in.

[Cross-posted to @penthemighty]

Who is The Mighty Pen?

That would be me, Penny. I am a Yorkshire-dwelling mum of two who loves all things wordy, showing my feelings on my face (need to work on that), posh biscuits and dancing in the kitchen.

My best friend tells me I’m half saint, half sinner. Excellent listener, loyalty of a pitbull… but those times you go for coffee and it turns into wine? Normally my fault.

I used to be a TV script editor, then in-house copy/comms, now I’m embracing the freelance life. I’m a content fanatic, a lover of books, poems, pertinent gifs, microblogs and beautiful images.

Nice to see you here! I think we’re going to have fun .

[Cross-posted to @penthemighty]