writing, journalism

The Intro

The reverse-pyramid method of writing is particular to news stories’ features. This style evolved over the past two centuries, with the advent of technological, fast-moving changes and greater access to world-events making a big impact on how we share and consume news.

From the arrival of Samuel Morse, who sent the first message ‘What hath God wrought?’ across the first US telegraph in 1844, news became a commodity of immediacy that was no longer in danger of being yesterday’s news due the wait of news by horse, boat or pigeon.

News today is big business. Tragedy is re-imagined and re-constructed into an explosive multi-modal package of conflict, sensationalism, suspense and sometimes, resolution. With the rise of mobile-first news media consumption, the news churn cycle has now moved from morning and evening editions, to hourly updates, and the trend of 24/7 news channels stand testament to the insatiable demand of an anxious readership.

So to unpack one of the methods that creates a news-feeding frenzy, let’s take a look at the role of the intro in a news story.

The Reverse-Pyramid

The way we tell stories to each other naturally orientate the audience first, introduce the characters / scenario, lead to a crescendo, followed by a denouement and conclusion. The structure of news stories is completely un-natural. The reverse-pyramid starts with the most sensational punchline first, with the most vital and dramatic facts leading the story first – hence, in the US, they call it ‘the lead’ but in Australia, we call it ‘the intro’.

The structure of a news story therefore, is written backwards.

Bare events come before background information. We begin with the climax and work with the most important information first and end with the least important detail. Knowing this is important because the editor may often need to chop your story in two – so having the most vital details in the first third of your story will ensure the reader will get everything they need to know about the story.  In terms of reader behaviour, often times they will not read past the first three or four paragraphs, which is why getting your intro right is critical to getting your message across very quickly.

Those who do this well are those who excel at re-formulating a scenario into an intro in the briefest, but most impactful way possible.

The intro in a hard news feature is generally the first paragraph – made up of one to three sentences only. Once the writer has distilled the main message into an intro, the rest of the story naturally unpacks itself.  Some news organisations will have a set word limit for intros – but aim for somewhere between thirty to fifty words.

A good tip to help you find the intro is to imagine yourself trying to tell a friend who just asked you what drama happened. Most people would give the most interesting point first, and then re-construct their experience chronologically afterwards. Same would go if you had to report something to the cops. What would be the first thing you would say if someone just stole your wallet and you saw a cop nearby? Would you start by telling the cop that you were on your way to work, stopped for a coffee and then someone stole your wallet or would you start with, “Hey! That guy stole my wallet! Catch him!”.

Another method is to assess all the information you have at hand, and find an angle that gives your story a fresh perspective, and orientate your narrative around this position. Often the best angles are born from a small quirky detail so keep your wit on high alert!

Conventions to keep in mind

Your intro should:

  • Attract attention
  • Highlight the salient point of your story
  • Have an angle / theme
  • Make one to three points
  • Be informative
  • Set the tone and tempo of the story

What to avoid:

  • Intros that have empty rhetoric
  • Hypotheticals and unanswered propositions
  • Exaggeration of sensational incidents
  • Pointless anecdotes that have no bearing on the angle

There is nothing more amateurish than when a writer poses lots of unanswered questions in a news story – so avoid it at all costs.

Try to avoid cramming the intro too. Keep it sharp, with specific details – and as always, on message.

Till next time,

WordSmith Jo

paraphrasing, direct and indirect quotes

A Good Quote

Someone clever once said, that a good quote has the ‘pungency of personal experience’. Most people when interviewed, rarely give a polished quote, and the task of the writer, is to faithfully capture and convey the meaning, and expression of the subject – either through direct or indirect quotations.

Good quotes are the life of any story.  People want to know what was said – and who said it. Quotes give a story authenticity and colour – it is the quickest path to getting a ‘feel’ for the mood, personality and style of the subject being interviewed.

Controlled usage of quotations can also help change the pace of the story to help avoid long tracts of pedestrian prose.

The writer is usually an ‘interpreter’ of quotes – and the challenge is to judiciously strike a balance between paraphrased speech and direct speech.

Direct speech – is where the speech is contained within quotation marks, and is a faithful transcript of the exact words spoken by the subject e.g.

“I ate hotdogs for days. I was too lazy to cook anything else”.

The best times to use direct speech are:

  • when your subject is expressing a strong opinion
  • they have made a bold, descriptive, humorous or figurative statement
  • when your subject is expressing emotion
  • When the subject uses the pronoun ‘I’; and
  • to personalise the story for authenticity.

Indirect speech – is reported, or third-person speech and is paraphrased remarks from what was said directly by the subject e.g.

He said that he was too lazy to cook, so he ate hot dogs for days.

Use indirect speech when:

  • You are giving factual, biographical or statistical information. This can be done far more efficiently through paraphrasing than direct speech
  • You are setting the scene, especially in an introduction to a story, direct quotes are rarely used; and
  • When you are providing background information on the subject.

It’s important to note, that when we use direct speech, the verbs must be used in the same tense as the speaker.  However, when we paraphrase a quote to indirect speech, many verbs change, and, the tense moves to past tense – as a general rule.

While it is much easier to write a direct quote than to paraphrase a quote into indirect speech, too many direct quotes makes for a boring read. The best feature stories have a balanced combination of background information, facts, direct quotes and paraphrasing to add colour, tempo and personality to a story. To this end, the general convention is to never use more than three pars of direct speech in one sequence. The best approach is to always vary the construction between direct and indirect speech.  This is especially pertinent for when the writer needs to break up long statements. Look for ‘natural’ breaks in the speech and use objective transitions between the direct quote and your paraphrasing of sections of the quote.

Lastly, always remember to attribute your subject correctly. Introduce the person’s title and name first before you quote, and thereafter, last name only. When you change speaker, do the same, so the reader has a clear orientation of who said what.

Till next time,

WordSmith Jo

Tactical Tongue Twisters

Tongue twister rhymes have long been used to help people who suffer from speech impediments. But it can also be used for broader, commercial applications, which are just as useful…

You don’t have to be an eight-year-old child in the playground to enjoy tongue twisters. In fact, they’re fantastic for people who need to lose very strong accents for work reasons, such as those in services industries or roles which require a lot of public speaking or performance.

If you’re someone who tends to chew or muddle your words, or if you have poor elocution – especially if it gets worse when you’re feeling jittery before a public presentation, here’s a few brilliant tongue twisters to loosen your knots and steady your nerves:

  • Six sick slim sycamore saplings
  • A box of biscuits, a batch of mixed biscuits
  • A skunk sat on a stump and thunk the stump stunk, but the stump thunk the skunk stunk
  • Six thick thistle sticks. Six thick thistles stick
  • Is this your sister’s sixth zither, sir?
  • A big black bug bit a big black bear, made the big black bear bleed blood
  • The sixth sick sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick
  • Toy boat. Toy boat. Toy boat
  • Friendly Frank flips fine flapjacks
  • Vincent vowed vengeance very vehemently
  • Cheap ship trip
  • Lovely lemon liniment
  • Tim, the thin twin tinsmith
  • Gertie’s great-grandma grew aghast at Gertie’s grammar
  • Fat frogs flying past fast
  • The boot black bought the black boot back
  • Moose noshing much mush
  • Ruby Rugby’s brother brought and bought her back some rubber baby-buggy bumpers
  • Lesser leather never weathered wetter weather better

Try and repeat the above several times. The meaning will be completely lost – but it will help your diction to become pitch perfect.

WordSmith Jo

News Stories All Sorts

News Stories All-Sorts

There are plenty of subtle differences between types of news stories – and as a discerning reader, or professional writer – knowing these subtleties helps the writer to maintain high standards and offers a better reading experience for the audience…

With New Journalism blurring the lines between ‘hard news’ and ‘personal opinion’ it can be difficult to work out where the facts end and the fiction begins – particularly when our front page headline stories now share primary real estate with opinion pieces.

Here’s a quick list to differentiate types of news stories to help the ready stay savvy, and the writer stay professional –

  • Soft News – has a strong news element which is prominent at the beginning of the story, but is treated in a lighter way, based on factual information and direct quotes. There is however, more descriptive language, which often features humour in the introduction.
  • News Features – are usually longer than a straight news story, the news angle is dominant and topical, and features plenty of direct quotes, descriptions, background historical information and eye-witness reports.
  • Timeless Features – does not have a specific news angle, with the special interest being on the subject, object or an event.
  • Background Preview Features – sets the scenes for an event that is about to happen.
  • Colour Features – are long form articles up to 2,000 words, that don’t have a strong news angle, and primarily focus on description, eye-witness reporting, quotes and factual details.
  • Eye-witness observational features – are written in first person – from the journalists POV – which will include descriptions, conversations, interviews, personal opinion and jokes.
  • Sketch Features – are generally very opinionated, highly colourful language, usually reserved for Parliamentary reporting.
  • Opinion and/or Blog Pieces – have a strong emphasis on the journalist’s private views and experiences. It is often idiosyncratic, controversial and is often the convention used by gossip columnists.
  • Diary items – are very short, light-hearted gossip news items grouped together under a single by-line.
  • Feature Profiles – can either be subjective or objective, long-form stories about individuals, usually based from an interview of a subject, and of associated peoples of the subject being written about.
  • Vox pop – is a collection of quotes from the general public on topical issues – quotes are usually accompanied with headshots to add ‘legitimacy’ to the quote.
  • Reviews – often include descriptions and critical assessments of another’s work (i.e. film art, TV, products etc).
  • Lifestyle Features – are essentially ‘advice columns’, which generally includes indirect and direct quotes from ‘qualified’ sources on various subjects (e.g. health, education, dieting, fashion etc).
  • Editorials – are commentary written on behalf of the ‘masthead publication’. It is usually presented in different font, with no by-line and is written by the Editor.

Happy news consumption, and production folks!

WordSmith Jo

The Art of being a Copywriter

Being a writer is the best job in the world.  It is a craft and a calling. It is sheer frustration pocked with pleasure. We often celebrate our novelists and poets, but few know about the hidden heroes who slave over the difficulty of writing short-form, commercial copy. To all my copywriter chums out there – this one’s for you…

After years of writing copy to sell substations, financial services, bridges, emeralds ‘n opals, wastewater treatment plants, rail, real estate and everything in-between, I’m fairly confident that the following pearls of wisdom will help copywriters know that they’re awesome, and let those who don’t quite understand the value of their copywriters’ contributions know just what a gem they have in their team.

Writing copy is terrifying because to do your job well, you have to always take risks. It’s a role with all heart and it cannot be any other way or you become indistinguishable – we write to be heard. If you want to be heard make sure you have something worthwhile to say, never dumb your shit down.

Despite popular opinion, assume your audience is much smarter than you. Respect your audience, always.

Copy never sits in isolation. A copywriter manages multiple stakeholders’ interests, needs to be  ‘on brand’ but, must reimagine it in a way that is fresh but doesn’t transgress some arbitrary boundary that always shifts (depending on who you’re dealing with from brand or agency).  It’s always a circus, and writers are patient, invisible beasts.

Writers are outsiders and should remain that way – because when you’re not in the fray, you’re observing it (which makes for excellent material to be repurposed for some later project – as we are like thirsty sponges).

Everyday, to do your job well, writers expose themselves to ridicule, judgement and the dreaded red pen. This is why it is so important to fight your jealous nature and support other writers – because only another writer can truly understand what it means to see your work shredded by people who have no idea about what you really do.

Always team up with another writer to edit your work. correct each other privately. Praise each other publicly.

Remember that writing is re-writing. You will never get it right the first time. Those who expect such perfection are wankers.

Great copy can translate human experience into a sentence. Writers understand that everything is a text. A good writer can synthesise a concept into a few words. Know therefore, that few people can do what you do.

The most memorable copy sells ideas not products. If your sales colleagues try to convince you otherwise, remain steadfast. A wonderful Sales Manager once told me – the best sales people don’t need collateral to do their job. Their job is to sell themselves.

An artist has a blank grid. A writer has 26 letters. Remember that short-form copy is a dialogue between the reader and writer. Leave space for the dialogue to carry on after the sentence ends. This is how to achieve dialogue in one sentence.  Study the masters of poetry and practice their techniques. Study Shakespeare’s sonnets – his quatrains, triplets and couplets are an incredible example of how a master unpacks big ideas in a small space.

Lastly, no matter what you write, always write yourself into a corner. Come out punching.

WordSmith Jo


Clearly I’m in the mood for poetry, so I’m not going to fight it. I’m just gonna let the sweet sweet meters wash over my hunger for verse. Onomatopoeia is just so much fun. If you’re a writer who loves linguist-nastics like I do, I bet you’ve got a few choice words you’ve mashed up on a napkin and now carry around in your wallet. If this sounds like you – you’re safe here. I give you full permission to own your dorkiness and fist pump, chest bump aight!

Onomatopoeia is a narrative device, whereby the word used also closely resembles/denotes the sound one is trying to describe. The sounds don’t always have to be pleasant to the ear, it can be discomforting as well as natural.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is often cited as a classic example of onomatopoeia, particularly with the dialogue from that stoned ginger cat. His poem Jabberwocky (1871) is also another great example.

I’ve given a sample here from a poem I wrote a few years ago – ahh the memories, boy did I have fun writing this one!

TV Dinners

Squish splat pinch of salt
Celebrity Chef grins at Camera Two
Hot fingers melt butter and malt
Nude egg glistens ready to stew

Meat at room temperature!
An absent audience chastised
Keep the off-cuts for left-over
Serve drizzled with French fries

Floured fingers stamp white smock
Chicken blood drops on sterile tiles
As devotees to the bookstore flock
To own a slice of his culinary files

Celebrity Chef smiles, Producer yells cut!
The stage over stove dimmed lights
Macaroon white hat falls flat, but
Tune in for tomorrow’s lime and fig pies.

Onomatopoeia can not only be applied to singular words, but can also be used in phrasing or whole passages to denote or give greater emphasis to anything – whether it be size, length, force or feeling. It’s all about echoing an impression that you want the reader to feel. It’s a terrific device and you can get carried away by it all… but I guess that’s the whole point.

Till next time,

WordSmith Jo

Women Wait in English Literature

Whether we are waiting for our man to return home from war, or waiting to be proposed to in marriage, waiting to receive equal remuneration for equal efforts, or waiting for just plain old-fashioned respect, throughout the Western Canon, women wait, and wait well.

In literature, waiting is a thoroughly feminine pre-occupation.  We don’t read about men standing by the window, hand on pane as the rain falls down the sill, watching the street for his love to come home. Men don’t wait. Men charge ahead. Men ride off into sunsets. Men rise to challenges.

So, to mix things up a bit, I wrote a poem. About a man that lives in the Southern Highlands of NSW. He waits. Waits his whole life for the woman he loves, who never noticed him in the end.

When I finished this piece, I didn’t find his waiting effeminate. I found it wholly masculine. But maybe that’s just me. Either way, it’s a lesson as a writer, to tackle a common theme from a different angle, which often yields unexpected results.

Till next time,

WordSmith Jo


The Highlands Way Cafe

Clickety clatter, splash ‘n batter
At the Highlands Way Cafe, my love
I’ll wait for you, by old belly rose.
Rickety rattler, brews ‘n splatter
At the Highlands Way Cafe, my love
I waited for you, till evening’s close.

Raised in the south, near Mittagong’s fray
Your sun-speckled shine and short refrain
Dreamt of black-heeled style and tinted frames.
‘One day, one day, I’ll skip out this small town,
I’ll marry a suit with cashmere lines
And trade buckskin boots for silver cuffs’.

Shy of nineteen, I kept my voice steady
Your breath is soft, yet your words fall hard
My love since sixth grade in Miss Faye’s class,
Trading cards under Gib Gate’s Wattle.
I always thought we’d see our lives through
Behind vineyard’s gate at Crescent’s pass.

You traded walks along Box Vale’s Track
For concrete treads and dark tinted glass
The Blueberry Ash no more a treat.
Just sapphires blue and cloaked valets
Fantasy drunk on tower skylines
Your future’s past the Old Hume Highway.

Our Sunday last, we sipped Earl Grey
At the Highlands Way Cafe, my love
Near the feet of old rose’s fire.
No heat stopped my heart turn to winter
At the Highland’s Way Cafe, my love
You said we would meet again, someday.

Clickety clatter, splash ‘n batter
At the Highlands Way Cafe, my love
I’ll wait for you, by old belly rose.
Rickety rattler, brews ‘n splatter
At the Highlands Way Cafe, my love
I waited for you, till evening’s close.

Remember Mrs Main Street Chatter?
She said you married a city bloke
Clever with stocks, Nellie Melba kind.
You had traded black teas for lattes
And wore Manolos with gold thread ties
And muted freckles with Chanel shine.

The Secretary on Station Street
Said you are now living penthouse dreams
Walking on silk spun from Isfahan.
Your lashes charcoaled, and accent combed
Feline hats at races, Champagne light
Next stop to Tokyo, fashion’s height.

At Howard’s Lane the gardener there
Said you’ve had a darling baby girl
Behind my back, my unsteady hand
Held quick and tight the cellar door frame
But your joy is mine, and will remain
My love for you will forever stand.

Think! Secret space by Nattai River
Eyes shut you would lift your naked face
And beautify the sun. I recall
The way you stared at Forty Foot Falls
In wonder, as we drank from her spine
And dried atop the sunny stone arch.

Clickety clatter, splash ‘n batter
At the Highlands Way Cafe, my love
I’ll wait for you, by old belly rose.
Rickety rattler, brews ‘n splatter
At the Highlands Way Cafe, my love
I waited for you, till evening’s close.

And the years went by, colliding time
News of you no longer passes way
I tilled my soil, pressed grapes into wine
Leaves renew, summer willows fading
As the world around us keeps swirling
Life moves on, unchanged in southern winds.

My hands, now rivets of raised blue lines
Crocheted skin hold tired eyes true
And my hope an endless arroyo.
As the old Fitz Roy Iron Works hold
A space in the present through its past
Your distance keeps me closer to you.

Another Tulip oasis late
Springs, and November Waratah brings
Florid visions, visions of you, you.
The grapes ripen longer on the vines
In the South, so too, flavour of you
So too, this love wanting, wanting, waits.

Then one Sunday, Christmas carnival
At the Highland Way Cafe, my love
The doorway you pass, as if you knew
I was at our old table for two.
Your eyes met mine, with no memory
Or want, at the Highland Way Cafe.

Clickety clatter, splash ‘n batter
At the Highlands Way Cafe, my love
I’ll wait for you, by old belly rose.
Rickety rattler, brews ‘n splatter
At the Highlands Way Cafe, my love
I waited for you, till evening’s close.

Public Education as a Last Bastion of Class Equality

I will never forget the furore in the English faculty when the Executive Team at UNSW decided that the only way to make room for renovations in the campus Library was to throw away books that had not been borrowed in the past two years.  The alleged directive was to discard books that were mostly arts and humanities-based texts…

Seeing these books discarded in the dumpster, was a tragic metaphor of how our culture tends to equate higher values on knowledge that drives monetary outcomes, rather than humanities-based outcomes. It is a vulgar view of knowledge, and it is a narrow interpretation of what it means to be an educated person.

This narrowness is on display again, with the release of the 2016 Federal Budget – whereby teachers’ salaries are tied to student outcomes. Glenn Savage, Senior lecturer in education policy at the University of Melbourne says, “The Coalition has said it will ensure spending is ‘tied to evidence-based initiatives’ that improve student performance, suggesting conditions will be placed on the funding, such as introducing standardised literacy and numeracy testing for students in year 1, and linking the salaries of teachers to the national teaching standards”.

What this really means is that teachers will focus primarily on content to help students pass literacy and numeracy tests and any other knowledge that falls outside of this scope will fall by the wayside.

There is no Governmental incentive for educational institutions to uphold egalitarian ideals on education – and the dominant discourse around public education (which is often derisive) is a witness to this. When citizens acquiesce and adopt this kind of ‘corporatised’ world view of education (and this acquiescence is no more obvious when the middle-classes aspire to send their children to private schooling) – what they are really doing is supporting a system that is designed to keep their offspring in the same social strata.

If we look to our Western European heritage, history teaches us that 150 years ago, public education was non-existent. Government did not fund or support public education – it was at the auspices of a few generous-hearted philanthropists and well-intended religious institutions that opened schools for poor children.

When we fight for public education today, what we are really fighting for is to stop regression to a period in time where only the rich and privileged classes receive quality education.  If we believe in equal opportunities for our children, then adequate funding of public education should be a moral imperative – not an election impetus.

Till next time,

WordSmith Jo

Irony the Master of all Tropes

Whether we experience irony as suggestive, or blatantly, there is something delicious about observing, or exposing irony. We tend to feel particularly clever when we identify it, or understand it, and of course, if we are fully-functional rational beings, we are generally horrified when irony is used to expose personal hypocrisy.

Irony is a powerful tool in narratives because so much of it can be used implicitly – which is a far more effective way to position an audience without having to tell them what to think explicitly – after all, grown-ups avoid didactic narratives – we don’t like be told what to think directly. Irony, executed well, is really about persuading the audience to believe that they have arrived at a conclusion on their terms.

There are different types of irony, and for the writer, knowing these differences will be a great addition to your story-telling toolbox –

Irony – In the modern sense, it is used to dissemble a position, to expose what is actually, the case. It can be used to achieve rhetorical or narrative effects.

Verbal Irony – The ironic statement is the explicit expression of a position, but it relies upon a shared knowledge of the audience, to understand that the speaker intends a very different, or opposite position to what was stated.

Structural irony – Rather than employing verbal irony, the writer introduces a structural feature, which sustains a duplex meaning throughout the work.

Stable Irony – The writer makes available to the reader an assertion or position, either implied or explicit, as a way to qualify or subvert the surface meaning. Unstable Irony, has no fixed position – think of absurdist narratives such as the Monty Python sketches – which constantly juxtapose and use intertextual references to subvert and or expose ironies – but the narrative has no political or otherwise fixed meaning, rather its absurd for the sake being absurd.

Sarcasm – often described as the poor cousin of irony, its usually restricted to verbal parlance – with the intention to undermine or taunt – here, verbal expression, emphasis on how the words are delivered, is the hallmark of sarcasm.

Socratic irony – a clever tool, most famously used in modern times by the lovable, and ash-ridden detective, Colombo (I miss that guy) whereby the character assumes a position of ignorance, and eagerness to be instructed, seeking opinions and asking many questions to arrive at a truth – or to disprove a position. In cultural criticism its sometimes referred to as imminent critique – exposing a position by exploring inherent contradictions within the statement itself – such ironies, once exposed, tend to weaken the authority of a said position.

Dramatic irony – this is where the writer has shared information with the audience – yet the central character is ignorant of the information. Shakespeare was a master at using this technique.

Tragic irony – is where the intended assailant, or schemer, is encompassed by the very same ill-fate they had planned for another. Sometimes, this may also be referred to as poetic justice – or in Aussie vernacular, ‘serves yer right’.

Cosmic irony – is a narrative device where the writer engages an omnipotent-type figure, is used to manipulate a character to lead them on with hope, only to mock them and frustrate their cause.

Romantic irony – is where the author creates the illusion of representing reality, only to dismantle that illusion by revealing that the author is the creator or manipulator of the characters. This was achieved brilliantly in the 2014 Lego Movie with Jack Black.

There we go folks, irony in a nutshell. Use it with the gravitas it deserves. It’s powerful stuff.

Till next time,

WordSmith Jo


The Leading Hook: Engaging Reader Interest

Most writers will agree that summarising the theme of your story, whether you’re writing a feature article, or an executive summary in a proposal, is central to orientating the reader, and creating great expectations on what’s to follow…

You’ve jotted down your main points. Check.

You’ve ordered your points into a coherent, and logical structure. Check.

You’ve reviewed your main points to see if any are ‘off message’ or irrelevant to your story. Check.

I have always said, that getting the structure of your story in place first, is the most time consuming and often frustrating part. Once this is well-ordered, the writing should flow.

Now, how to get started? Once your structure is in place, it’s always important to introduce your theme to the reader to set the expectation. Most people are time poor, or easily lose interest, so getting the summary right, will determine whether your audience will stay the course.

The easiest way to write a great summary is to write it as you would speak it first. Listen to the words in your head, write it down and then say it out loud, as if you were speaking to your audience.  Writing your summary in a conversational-style will help illustrate your story – which allows the audience to think in pictures.

Prose that sounds human, especially in the English language, gives sentences a natural rhythm. The sense that there is a distinctive human voice behind the words, creates intimacy – which is the key to engaging your reader’s interest. Avoid abstract nouns and passive voice. Always write in an active voice, to keep the story moving past the summary to the juicy bits of your story. A way to do this is to use active verbs with objects.

Once you’ve written your summary, go back over it to check for any words that may jar the reader’s ear. Remove any awkward words. The best way to make your summary sound like honey, is to use narrative devices such as consonance and assonance – subtle rhyming sounds, keep the reader in the dream – which is what the writer wants – particularly if the intention of your story is to persuade your audience.

Till next time,

WordSmith Jo

The Corporate Circus: Walking the Tightrope between Private and Public Consequence

Given the recent ethical and moral quagmire the VW Scandal and 7-Eleven companies have been embroiled in, an old colleague wrote an excellent article on encouraging collaborative leadership internally, as well as partnering with external NGO or Public Sector organisations’ dealing with congruent issues – to seek new perspectives on ethically problematic situations.

My colleague’s article reminded me of a situation, a couple of years ago, when I developed and delivered Probity and Ethics training over a few months for a major utility company – as part of good governance for its community relations program. What struck me during this process, was how little – across a very diagonal chain of command – colleagues knew how to methodically work through a process of moral reasoning – to arrive at a morally, and ethically, acceptable outcome both personally, and on an organisational level.

Regardless of who we are, or what our position, everyone, at some point in their career, will be confronted with a Moral Quandary.

In essence, a Moral Quandary is when we are faced with two or more competing right things to choose from.

What arises from a quandary, are Moral Dilemmas.

At this point, it can be very easy to knee-jerk into a foetal position and understandably, react the way most people do – which is to protect and defend oneself, and one’s position – especially when a situation threatens a person’s livelihood or standing – regardless of the public consequence.

Taking time to methodically work through different Moral Dilemmas – as a process of elimination to arrive at a decision to take action or take no action (deciding to do nothing is also an action!) means that when an organisation or an individual is called to account – they should be able to adequately demonstrate, and most importantly, be accountable, for the decision which they arrived at.

Broadly, Moral Dilemmas may include –

  • Truth vs loyalty
  • Individual vs community
  • Short-term vs long-term
  • Justice vs mercy

By considering all the facts at hand, and holding our moral quandary under every potential, competing dilemma, we can work through a dialectic process to arrive at a decision that we can personally live with.  In doing so, we are forced to ask ourselves hard questions such as:

  • Am I compromising too easily or too soon to avoid trouble?
  • Is my integrity threatened? Where do I draw the line?
  • Am I being hypocritical?
  • Have I reached a balance between my personal convictions and the facts at hand?

Unfortunately, most corporates think posting a Code of Conduct on the Noticeboard, and handing it out at inductions should absolve them of future gross misconduct by employees.

The reality however, is that a Code of Conduct is really just a set of agreed rules for a group of individuals to defer to when all else fails. It is a necessarily minimal requirement, which is prescriptive and without compromise. It we are truthful, we must acknowledge that this is not really a true reflection of how we live and interact with the world.

Indeed, in the case of 7-Eleven and VW, their leaders, who are meant to endorse and disseminate their company’s Code of Conduct, miserably failed in its application.

Corporations that genuinely desire innovation and personal accountability must invest in proper ethical training, whereby individuals are encouraged to exercise professional judgement and to never just defer to minimal requirements.  Paradoxically, by taking applied ethics seriously, an organisation is protected from a culture of compliance, whereby colleagues (across all levels) just follow instructions, regardless of common sense or personal discretion – which inevitably always leads to disastrous outcomes, and the VW and 7-Eleven scandals are sober examples of this.

Till next time,

WordSmith Jo




Why Great Editors are your Best Mates

Approaching an unedited manuscript is a bit like looking under the bonnet of a beaut vintage car. We know all the parts needed to keep the car moving, so we pull apart the engine, work out what’s worth keeping, what can be repaired or fine-tuned, and what kind of parts we need to order in to get the motor roaring…

It’s a familiar adage, when a writer gingerly hands a manuscript to an Editor that ‘the baby’ the Writer has lavished so much love and attention to, is invariably returned by the Editor, unrecognisable.  Resist the urge to call the police and insist that you’re a victim of a baby swap.  If you gave your manuscript to a great Editor, chances are, they just souped up your Jalopy into a Jaguar.

If you’re thinking about engaging an Editor to give your proposal to borrow half a billion pesos a professional polish, or you have a manuscript that’s due for a 100,000 word service, here’s a few things to look out for when hiring your new best mate –

Lazy Editors will only edit grammar / punctuation / syntax / spelling and format the document to convention.  Period.

Great Editors take the time to understand who you are. They will ask lots of questions about what you want to achieve, what you want your audience to do, or feel, or say or think when they finish reading your masterpiece before they even look at the manuscript. Context is so important to orientate the reader – and this is no different for an Editor. Understanding what the Writer is hoping to achieve will help guide the editing process to ensure the integrity of the writer’s voice, and purpose, is not left on the cutting room floor.

After an Editor has assessed a manuscript, Great Editors will sit down with the Writer, and go through a formal Manuscript Review and Recommendations. This will involve qualifying all recommended changes, inclusions and exclusions.  Keeping the Writer involved in the process, by giving them the courtesy of ‘permitting’ major structural changes first, will help Writers feel more ownership of the editing process, which leads to greater acceptance of change.

Great Editors will also critically engage with your work to ensure continuity, unnecessary repetition, logical sequencing / grouping of content, and will know when content requires further development or substantiation.

Editing is a collaboration, because ultimately, the Writer is usually the subject matter expert.  This means giving the Writer opportunity to review and comment on changes. Great Editors never sit in isolation but work with the Writer to produce the best outcome.

Ultimately, a Great Editor knows that their job is to make the Writer look awesome. Period.

Till next time!

Twitter: A Cautionary Tale for Ambitious Executives

With the dismissal of SBS Sports Presenter and Journalist Scott McIntyre in April 2015 over a series of controversial tweets regarding ANZAC Day veterans and its traditions, we are reminded, in a very sobering way, of the perils of social media and, how contextualising opinion, whether welcomed or repugnant, is crucial to being understood.

When it comes to Twitter, I have often told clients and colleagues that just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

The benefits of Twitter are self-explanatory.  The pitfalls are many. For executives who are interested in an upward career projectory, my advice is to give Twitter a wide berth for the following reasons –

Firstly, never underestimate the power of ‘intrigue’.  Sharing constant minutiae, no matter how funny you think your observations are, shows a lack of personal restraint, which suggests that you may not be leadership material.  No one wants to sit at a dinner party next to someone who won’t stop talking pedestrian – why would this be different in a virtual space?

Secondly, twittering may give the impression that you’re not very busy. Shouldn’t you be engaged in more pressing matters instead of lower order commentary?

Most importantly, and the McIntyre case is a solid example, that no man living, can give context to his comments in 140 characters.  Also, no situation, or human being, should ever be confined, or defined, by a selection of soundbites, particularly on subjects that you’re not a direct witness to. Doing so, may show a profound lack of respect for persons, and truth.

What punctuates the McIntyre fall so tragically is that he was no novice – he was an established and educated, media professional.  This leads me to my final point, which is demonstrating good judgement. Every successful, and well-respected executive that I have ever worked with, all share a common thread – they possessed good judgement.

Twitter is not a platform to exercise good judgement. Period.

Remember, there is no such thing as a throw away line when communicating in real time, in the public sphere.

WordSmith Jo

A Lively Solution to a Tired Debate: Literary vs Cultural Criticism

Most humanities’ graduates who paid attention during lectures, will roll their eyes over the constant public debate between literary and cultural criticism when discussing and accessing the merits of literature. To define great literature, while seeking fair and equal representation across cultural expressions in literature in an increasingly pluralistic world is not a simple open and shut book case…

I was recently reminded by this debate when listening to a very articulate and thought-provoking presentation by academic and Director of SWEATSHOP, Michael Mohammed Ahmad, on the politics of race and class in Western Sydney – particularly around exploring perceptions of identity and inclusion in literature produced by Australians from ‘non-white’ backgrounds.

For those who don’t know, SWEATSHOP describes itself as ‘a literacy movement devoted to empowering marginalised communities in Western Sydney and broader Australia through creative and critical writing initiatives’.

At the moment, there is a lot of public discussion around increasing Australian content on our bookshelves, and, of course, this gives rise to the problematics of who then gets to define what ‘Australian content’ looks like.

It would take a thesis to explore this question, and for the purpose of today’s ditty – I’m just not going there. What I am interested in though, is how often times, in our pursuit for inclusion – which is important – the merits of the actual work being debated, is overlooked.

Tension between public perception, authorial intention and cultural criticism often casts too long a shadow over genuine literary criticism. Surely, when assessing a work for publication, the most important consideration must be in the actual assessment of the writer’s technical and artistic achievement within the work itself.

When Key Decision Makers in publishing circles, appropriate a kind of ‘affirmative action’ to meet arbitrary cultural, racial or gender quotas when deciding on what content to publish, it seems to me that the whole pursuit of literary excellence is in a way, ironically, pushed aside.

Dividing and choosing works based on periphery criteria, rather than making the selection criteria first and foremost about actual literary merit, may potentially mean that very good works are put aside because of current political and/or dominant cultural agendas.

One way to strike a balance between this tension is to ensure that there is equal cultural, racial and gender representation on actual selection panel committees – so all great literary works, from every group, have a chance to be heard – and mostly importantly – weighted by merit alone.

Books that become a part of our cultural Canon do so because they transcend cultural and political climates.  The reader doesn’t need to understand the period or historical context, authorial intention or ethnicity to appreciate the work. Certainly, we may be fascinated by all these things, but ultimately the hallmark of great literature will always affect and move us in ways that translates across time and space – no matter who we are.

Till next time, crack a queer whid!


State of the Artless: Politics and Self Promotion among Literati Australia

As a general rule, I avoid writing about politics. After attending the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) 2015 National Writers’ Congress in Sydney over the weekend, I felt compelled to dip my ink into the ongoing political debate about the value of writers and their ongoing contribution to the Australian cultural and economic currency and climate.

At the Congress, ASA’s Chairman David Day expressed his “serious reservations” about $6million federal funding being reallocated from the Australia Council for the Arts to the recently formed Book Council of Australia headed by Chief Executive of Melbourne University Publishing Louise Adler.  Attorney-General and Arts Minister Senator Brandis acknowledged ASA’s discontent by attending the Writers’ Congress to reassure writers in a 15 minutes speech that he loves books, the Abbott Government loves books, and past Liberal Leaders’ love books.  Senator Brandis offered no detailed information about the Book Council, or how the Abbott Government will demonstrate their ‘love of books’ in terms of monetary incentive or support, but his speech reaffirmed that he is, simply, a very good politician.

Not to be outdone, Labor’s Shadow Attorney General and Minister for the Arts Mark Dreyfus predictably asserted Labor’s opposition to the Government’s decision to cut a total of $100 million from the Australia Council for the Arts and also expressed his love of books, his Leader’s love of books, and past Labor Leaders’ love of books… but again, offered no real policy position except a reversal of someone else’s policy position.

The Greens Federal Member for Melbourne Adam Bandt, offered a somewhat tepid push for changes to the criteria of claiming unemployment benefits for writers who are engaged in writing projects, but are not receiving current remuneration for their efforts (i.e. reducing compulsory job interviews for writers who claim unemployment benefits).  On the surface, this seems like a practical solution for many Australian writers whom ASA allegedly claims to make less than $11,000 a year from their writing endeavours, however, the message that this sends to the broader community about the value of writers’ contributions is grim – even if you’re a full-time freelance writer, you are still perceived to be unemployed – i.e. you don’t have a ‘real job’.

What is interesting about Political Leaders’ active engagement with writers at a less than 200 delegate Congress is that by their very presence, they acknowledge the importance of writers’ contributions to Australian politics, industry and intellectual capital in our country.  Indeed, the Book industry alone generates nearly two billion dollars per annum and we are told that due to new market opportunities in online environments, the future for writers’ earning opportunities is looking bright in Australia.

Understandably, income generation through writing dominated discussion, and, ASA’s choice of panelists at the Congress, reflected this very real and perpetual preoccupation of writers.  However, there was a very heavy bias of market opportunities only being available through print and online journalism, which is just untrue.  When I raised the point that ASA had excluded significant market opportunities for writers in the corporate sector, I was told that I belong to the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, not ASA. I found this response by the Executive Director of ASA Angelo Loukakis as extraordinary, given the majority of panelists identified as online and print journalists, next to authors and illustrators.  Indeed, the MC for the Congress was respected and veteran journalist Anne Maria Nicholson.

I want to make it clear that this article is not intended to detract from the wonderful contributions and support ASA provides to the writing community, but rather, it is a caution for organisations to not forget what is at the heart of their cause – and in this case, it’s about writers – many of whom work across multiple sectors – not just print and online journalism.

To this end, this article is written by a writer for all writers, because sometimes the people we look to to champion our causes can sometimes get lost in their own rhetoric or vested interests to survive as an entity in itself.

Organisations like ASA rely on Government funding and they are needed and valuable – genuine, lasting cultural capital and change is often created and effected by the very people who don’t have access to funding, outside of Government grants.  What I am saying is that it’s really important for writers to be aware that there other avenues for writers to carve out a livelihood as a writer, instead of scrapping by on $11,000 in online and print journalism environments and agencies like ASA need to let writers know that there other, very lucrative options in the corporate sector.  There is plenty of work for writers in business development roles (writing bids and tenders), marketing communications (corporate magazines, press releases, white papers, speeches, feature articles) and corporate communications (content development for internal campaigns, collateral, magazines etc). Sometimes the role is not advertised as a writer, usually it falls under titles such as Communications Specialist, Tender Writer, and Internal Communications etc. Primarily, all of these roles are content development roles where you are being paid to write and edit – everyday.

To give you a general comparison, a tertiary qualified Feature Editor with ten years’ experience at a major print title will be paid approximately $80-$90,000 per year. These roles are highly competitive and few and far between in Australia.  A tertiary qualified Bid Writer, with ten years’ experience can earn up to $150,000 per year, and there is so much more stable employment opportunities in the corporate sector for writers than in print and online journalism.

Author and Journalist David Marr suggested at the Congress that if you can’t get funding to write your great novel then consider stacking shelves to support your creative writing projects. This is extreme advice and highly unhelpful for emerging writers.  Writers write for the love of writing. Every writer will tell you that it is a compulsion to write. It doesn’t matter what we write, we want opportunities that enable us to write. Like any craft, writing is no exception and the more you do it, the better you become in your craft.  You will never become a great writer by stacking shelves. Greatness comes from practise – and lots of it – in every discipline.

It seems that if ASA has deliberately excluded market opportunities for writers in the corporate sector because of its own politics around securing grants and government funding (i.e. statistics on writers’ incomes) then it is a sad day indeed for writers in Australia.

There are two other important considerations for writers to help elevate our standing and cause to be valued as professionals offering professional services. One, the standard practise of journalists charging out writing services at ten cents a word is antiquated and impacts future potential for greater earning. If we are valuing each word by decimal, instead of hourly, half-day or full day blocks, we will never be valued as professionals.  Fellow writers, if you are tertiary qualified and have five or more years proven experience, you can charge between $80 – $120 per hour for copywriting services, and corporates who require bid writers for major strategic tenders will not blink to pay between $600 – $1,000 per day for writers who sit at the sharp end of our profession.

Secondly, on the subject of professional standards, I was personally dismayed by ASA’s decision to host a particular panelist as an ‘aspirational’ example for writers wanting to crack the online environment at the Writers’ Congress. Without naming names, it doesn’t help the cause of writers to be valued as professionals, and therefore being remunerated as professionals when organisations like ASA elevate people in our industry who make a career out of slandering public figures and then complain about being slandered themselves. That is not an aspirational career pathway for writers.  When major publications employ ‘columnists’ whom have no formal qualifications as a writer and do not practice basic professional standards, but offer ‘shock value’ instead, it sends the wrong message to the marketplace and, ultimately undermines the cause of all writers – which is to be valued and respected as true professionals, with something meaningful to say.

Till next time, crack a queer whid!

WordSmith Jo

Taking the Conflict out of Collaboration

Often times, the challenges we face in delivering a large project lies not in the planning or execution of tasks – rather, it’s the managing of the multiplicity of professional expectations and personal drivers among teammates which creates tension and potentially, delay.

Everyone understands that a happy team is proven to be more productive. No doubt, your HR person is super enthusiastic with sharing a plethora of personality profiling to help build team cohesion, and bags of cash is often thrown at team build day events – and a belly full of free grub and booze makes the most contentious, amenable – for the day that is.

It’s hard to be personal in a professional environment, and it seems to me, that these kind of exercises, tend to deal with colleagues in a generic, categorical way – which clearly, is non-threatening – but arguably, as potent as tepid tea.

Collaboration Exercise

Here’s a collaboration exercise which I have found to be really effective!

Before your project starts, why not get your new team members in a room, give them the following list of drivers, and ask them to respond as honestly as they can. Collate, publish and distribute everyone’s response together on one page.


  1. What’s your personal circumstances?
  2. What’s your personal morality or code of ethics/philosophy that you subscribe to?
  3. What are your ambitions?
  4. What do you personally want to achieve with this project?
  5. What are your skills / knowledge / experience that are valuable for this project?
  6. What is your desired outcome for the project as a whole?
  7. How do you prefer people to communicate with you?
  8. What’s your communication style?
  9. How do you react when your stressed or uncomfortable and what can we do to ease the pressure?
  10. When is the best time to chat for meaningful conversation?

Good collaboration is centred on trust. The quickest path to trust is to share yourself in a real way – being prepared to be vulnerable, is usually appreciated, and our cultural convention leads us to reciprocate quickly – as a way of demonstrating that appreciation.

Doing this exercise before you start your project, will give everyone a chance to know how to get the best out of each other, to produce the best outcome – which is a true collaboration!

Till next time, crack a queer whid!

WordSmith Jo

Roman `a clef – Veiling the Muse

Given the highly litigious nature of the modern world, and the endless sources of sordid, sensational and soul-searching real-life characters and situations the writer is confronted with on a daily basis, writing about actual people and events can be both a wonder and a sticky pool to wander in.

Enter literary craft left, the Roman `a clef!

French for ‘novel with a key’ the Roman `a clef is a work of prose fiction, whereby the author disguises real people of the time, with a false name.

While not disclosed, the author grants the reader some kudos on their part – there is an unspoken expectation that the audience, by way of characterisation, context and situation – will understand the inference.

There is a great joy, from the perspective of the reader, to arrive at this kind of intimate understanding between the writer and reader – the feeling of being a part of a shared, private joke, or observation. Their reward is in feeling O’ so clever in understanding it – and to this end, is satisfaction derived.

The pleasure on the part of the writer is in feeling O’ so clever in veiling a brilliant muse – without having to pay royalties, and, to protect the privacy of the person, for the privilege. After all, most great writers are rich in wanting and poor in wallet.

Till next time, crack a queer whid!

WordSmith Jo

Narrative Voices – To Third or Not to First Person?

Right. You’ve done your research, plotted your story, given your characters a back story, meaning and a sweet smile. Now all you have to do is make a decision on how you’re going to write your characters to life on a page.

The most common way to approach a story – in any medium (e.g. feature article, film, novel etc) is a combination of third and first person.

While in the heat of the creative process, you may not be thinking “here I will write first person, there third…” there is process – a negotiation, or continual compensation, artists make, to best express what one’s trying to say, or to what effect or response, you’re trying to elicit from your audience.

Being aware of this process bubbling away in the background, does help the writer to make better narrative choices, which ultimately improves the quality of your writing.

Third Person, helps to set the scene, give context to a situation, and positions the audience.

First Person, creates intimacy, likeability or detestability (depending on your character), and it helps the audience to engage with, and ultimately – care about your character and what happens to them.

The challenge for the writer is in striking a balance between the two narrative voices. Overuse of Third Person, can sometimes lead to too much exposition – which is just lazy writing. Underuse of it can result in disorientation for the audience and, lack of context results in shallow characters…

Overuse of First Person is equally slippery; too much dialogue turns into fractured monologues and we’re likely to fall asleep…too little First Person point of view makes it hard to empathise and care about the character’s personality.

When writing, think about the images / scene in your head as if you’re watching a film. A good Director will know when a close up shot is needed here, or a panoramic shot is required over there. Changing point of views, all helps to create a textually rich experience for the viewer – and these creative decisions are no different when putting pen to paper.

Till next time crack a queer whid!

WordSmith Jo

Psst! Writing in Second Person is unusual in narration – unless you’re writing on behalf of a Corporate Institution – where both the individual and organisation try to impress a denial of culpability (some vague ‘we’ is tossed about the page)… The only other scenario where Second Person is acceptable is in a collaborative piece.

Love in Narratives and the Pervasiveness of Longing

If ever there was a superstar of linguistics and literary and cultural criticism in the 1960s, surely Roland Barthes would share a stand on that podium. I was introduced to Barthes work during my undergraduate studies, and, like all people who make an impression on us, I was quick to devour his books and loved his contribution to semiotics and sociology, particularly Image Music Text, being a favourite of mine.

This weekend past, during pre-wedding celebrations with my soon-to-be sister in law, there were lots of discussions about ‘what love is’ and I was reminded of one of my favourite books by Barthes – A Lover’s Discourse.

A Lover’s Discourse is Barthes exquisite observation and speculation on all the heady and wretched states of falling, and being, in love. Last night, I came home and ferreted it out from my bookshelf and had a lovely time reacquainting myself with Barthes genius.

What struck me, after diving into Barthes passionate and melancholic prose, was a beautiful, underlying thread in all our states of love and loving- that love is, in essence, an intractable, irrepressible and pervasive longing.

It seems to me, that all our narratives of love are underpinned by this enormous reservoir of longing – and for a writer, surely the joy in creating narratives about love, is in drip feeding the audience with pleasure as being forever deferred – in other words, a sense of longing that perpetually lurks in the periphery of our imagination.

Till next time, crack a whid!

Wordsmith Jo

Give it to me in Three: Effective Communication Strategy for Time Poor Managers

Given the challenges, and constraints of heavy workloads, the modern Manager is a time poor creature, whom exists on a diet of coffee, mints between meetings, and the occasional back slap on getting a mammoth delivery in on time and under budget.

Historically, people had traditional lines drawn around their role, and rarely did anyone step outside the definition of their job. With corporates forever ‘streamlining, ‘restructuring’, or as I heard one callous GM refer to the dreaded ‘R’ as ‘tying up loose ends’, the reality for most people working in the corporate sector is that roles constantly shift, there’s no ‘safe seat’ and more oft than not, harassed managers juggle multiple roles, steering committees (for that too hard basket no one wants to touch) and of course, the aspirations and grievances of direct reports.

Most of us rely on other people to help us fulfill certain tasks within our own role; whether you are sourcing information, waiting for a response or action – we need each other to get the job done.

With everyone stretched to capacity, I’ve outlined a communications strategy to help colleagues stop and think about what they want, which in turn, allows for faster management decisions –

The Three Bullet Request & Response

If you need an action from someone, think about what you want from them, what they want from you, and assess the impact of inaction before you engage them.

The three questions you can put forward to your colleague is simply:

1. What do you need?
2. When do you need it by?
3. What happens if I don’t respond in time?

The Three Bullet Request & Response can also be used for managing projects when you require an end of day status update –

1. What did you achieve today?
2. What’s next for tomorrow?
3. What road blocks do you require assistance with?

By using a sweet short sharp approach, everyone is happy because colleagues can be quicker to respond to requests, and you can be straight to the point when making a request, and hopefully, those extra ten minutes you save each day in effective communication means an early mark on Fridays!

Till next time, crack a queer whid!

WordSmith Jo

Translating a Speech into a Showstopper Spoken Word Performance

While clever and emotive rhetoric and narrative devices all help to engage and hopefully, persuade your listeners to your proposition or position, sometimes all it takes to blow away your audience is a simple statement delivered with perfect precision – timing, pause, emphasis, poise and projection.

Often times, we may read a speech, and note its punctuation as the ‘dynamics’ of the delivery, but this is really only one tiny aspect of interpreting the written word in order to bring it alive in front of an audience.

The best way to think about delivering a speech is to read the speech thoroughly and slowly first – as a musician whom reads sheet music before an attempt is made to play it. For example:


For anyone whom plays an instrument, you will know that it’s the dynamics of the music that brings the notes on the page alive e.g Pianissimo (very soft), Mezzo Forte (moderately loud) or Fortississimo (ridiculously blow your eardrums loud) etc… A powerful speech will be littered with softly spoken moments; or a steady rise in crescendo to boom your statement for maximum impact, and then you may fall again and fade out to an ellipsis… to let the audience reflect and take in the sentence.

Timing & Tempo

Comics rarely share their material, but one thing that is universally known, is ‘timing is everything’ – and for a speech, this adage applies.

Whether you’re delivering a funny one-liner or anecdote, or you’re hoping to build suspense, look for moments in the text that will require a faster delivery (vivo!), or you may need to slow right down (adagio) for more deliberate, clipped words to accentuate each word (staccato!) in a sentence.

Never let words run into each other, but take your sweet time in making every word count.

Pause & Emphasis

In both music and the written word, stress and unstressed words or notes are linked together to create a rhythm.

When delivering your speech, highlight words where you can use pause as way to ‘stress’ a word or ‘unstress’ a word to add or reduce emphasis to your point and retain the audience’s attention in your message. As I mentioned earlier, just because the sentence you have written has one comma because it makes sense grammatically (on the page), does not mean that you cannot add four more commas to enhance the delivery of the speech. Never forget that reading and performing are two very different functions, the latter requires physical and verbal expression to engage your audience.


Everyone gets the jitters before public speaking. The difference is that some have greater control of their person than others.

A really good tip to keep your heart rate steady, and in turn, help prevent your speech from falling into a bumbling monotone monologue, keep your mouth closed and tickle the roof of your mouth with your tongue. This forces the breath to inhale and exhale through your nostrils and will calm you down immediately. You can use this trick between pauses in your speech too. Funnily enough, it is impossible to cry when you do this as well, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed by your own awesomeness and want to sob (appassionato!) halfway through your speech – give yourself a little tickle, and that should buy you enough time to round out your showstopper to a standing ovation.

Till next time, crack a queer whid!

WordSmith Jo

Good Grace and Saving Face

Let me guess. You just had a really bad day at the office, the same person keeps giving you hell week-on-week, and all you want to do is wait for that perfect moment to stick the knife in and, viola! An opportunity presents itself… whoa back buck! Keep the knife in the scabbard and why not try a PGR instead?

PGR is an acronym that I literally just made up then – it stands for Personal Growth Response. It sounds very officious so I thought I’d use it.

We have all had to deal with difficult personalities, in and outside of work so I’m fairly confident, dear reader, you can relate to situational variations on the same theme – how to respond to a jerk in a mature way.

So we are on the same page first, I have outlined what could reasonably be considered immature responses –

Pulling Hair (very career limiting move)

Offering to buy coffee for your arch nemesis, only to secretly spit and swirl in their beverage

Signing up your enemy’s work email to a whole bunch of dodgy websites that will end up in your IT Department’s quarantine in box –

Your Enemy: “I have no idea about any of these websites”.

Dubious and harassed IT Support Person: “Really? How odd.”

Instead, dear reader, I’m proposing the PGR method may result in a very favourable outcome – you might just turn a foe into a friend –

Ask to speak with the person privately – not in a meeting room that is all glass walls – preferably in a neutral space (i.e. not your home or office, but a park, café etc).

Start off with a positive statement that makes clear your intention i.e. you want to get along but feel recent events / interactions are making it difficult.

Give the person an opportunity to save face first. Instead of going into the plethora of offences (real or perceived) check in with what’s going on personally for them e.g. –

“Is everything okay? It seems lately you’ve been really stressed out – and acting out of character and I just thought you may need someone to talk too.”

Often times, people behave badly because things either professionally or personally are not going well for them. It’s easy to just dismiss someone as a jerk, and treat them accordingly, but it is so rewarding, and often times, pleasantly surprising, when we respond to bad behaviour with good grace.

By being kind to someone being mean, it often throws them off balance, and if they are really decent under all that gruff, (which most people are), they will self-correct and appreciate being told, in a very gracious way – to pull their head in.

Till next time, crack a queer whid!

WordSmith Jo

Interviewing Rock Stars

A great interview for content generation is rarely the result of a rigid ten point questionnaire session with your subject. It’s a genuine two-way conversation where ideas are exchanged, confirmed, challenged – with a few spasmodic belly laughs in-between.

The scariest thing about interviewing someone for information is when your subject is unresponsive; Monosyllabic, unyielding, unfriendly…yikes!

Below is a list of things which I have learnt over the years during the interview process which you may find helpful the next time you find yourself trying to squeeze information out of important time poor people or wary strangers –


Always record your interview and disclose upfront that your subject is being recorded.

Reassure your subject that they can request for you to delete the voice recording after your printed transcript has been done or offer for them to have a copy of the recording and transcript.

Disclose whether you will be passing on the transcript to a third party and get permission to do so first.

Make sure you have a Consent for Release form signed by your subject for any images or quotes you may use from the interview in external communications. It will be a lot easier to get this upfront than ask for it later.

Face to face interviews are always preferable because people are often more anecdotal and honest face-to-face. Most importantly, it helps to build rapport and trust quickly. When your subject feels comfortable with you, they will often give context without you having to ask for it to give you a deeper understanding of their position – which makes for a richer, and more meaningful narrative for your story.

Emails and phone conversations should really only be used for further clarification of what was said during the interview process.

Never start the interview with personal questions or hard questions. Always ease into an interview by asking the subject to talk about themselves in a general way first. That way the subject feels in control of the interview and will usually, after a few minutes, forget that that they are being recorded – which is great – because we don’t want them to feel self-conscious or guarded.

Once your subject is comfortable, then asked guided, open-ended questions and respond to your subject’s answer with your own views or experiences (being mindful that the topic is your subject, not you!). You will find that being open about your own experience or understanding usually opens up other lines of enquiry from your subject.

Always remember to smile and keep your focus on the person. It is very disrespectful to ask for someone’s time, but then show in your body language that you’d rather be eating pizza with a zombie.

Never take phone calls during the interview. Always let your subject answer their phone. They are your guest.

Never respond negatively to your subject. You may find what they say disagreeable or even repugnant. Instead, ask them respectfully to give context or justification to their line of reasoning. Remember, you don’t have to agree – you’re there to get as much information as possible.

Transcribing the interview is a pain – but – it is really important that you do it yourself. This is where the ‘angle’ or position of your narrative will emerge when you playback and transcribe it yourself. You can then structure your story according to your intention. Always look for standout ‘grabs’ and highlight them. These will be your ‘hooks’ or ‘pullout quotes’ and often these quotes are the heart of the narrative.

Where appropriate, offer the subject to review your first draft. You don’t have to accept any editorial changes, unless there is a factual error or clear misrepresentation. It is so important to use discretion when selecting quotes too. Always edit with the best of intention; a person’s reputation can take years to build, and a minute to wipe it off the map, so showing respect for your subject’s dignity and position is paramount.

Remember to have fun during the interview. Jokes are fine, as long as they’re clean and in context to the discussion. After all, who doesn’t like to spend time cracking lyrical with a captive audience over a café au lait?

Till next time, crack a whid!

WordSmith Jo

Increase Your Vocabulary

Calling all Comms people, smarty pants and scrabble fans – shutdown Angry Birds, cease covert glances at cute commuters and bleary-eyed stares at window graffiti and grey gum – why not increase your vocabulary on your early morning train commute?

There’s no need to spend hours reading former PM Kevin Rudd’s parliamentary transcripts to learn a new word or few, or risk losing street cred by reading a dictionary on the train. No, no no! I have a slightly less boring option, that will at least keep you awake long enough till your next destination.

Exercise– Chunking your Vocab

Pick a topic or theme. For example – Hunting.

Write the word Hunting in the middle of your paper and create a mind map with all the words that you can think of that relate to hunting. For example, dogs, horses, rabbits, tweed coats, blood, forest etc.

Now write separate sentences for every word from your mind map e.g. – “The dog sniffed the soil in anticipation, and the horse stamped its hoof, impatient for the hunt to begin.”

Try to recall as many synonyms and antonyms to the verbs and adjectives in every sentence and write them down in a list. Pick up a thesaurus to help you out.

Now write a short 300 word story with a twist, based on your theme e.g. The Hunting Trip that Went Wrong. It must include the synonyms and antonyms from your list.

Learning new words is a bit like learning the time tables; if you say it enough, in different contexts/arrangements, it should stay with you, ready to be plucked from your bag of rhetoric at a moment’s notice!

Till next time, crack a queer whid!

The Art of Empathy in Conversation

The pleasure of good conversation is rarely one of mutual agreement – because that’s dead boring. De Montaigne, in his famous essayOn Friendship’ (1580), urges us to cast aside harmonious conversation but to seek out worthy opponents, ones that ‘attack you on your flanks, stick his lance in right and left, his ideas sending your mind soaring…’ He argues that rivalry, competitiveness and glory is what opens the soul to new understandings.

The application of De Montaigne’s advice, in my opinion, is often misunderstood in Western culture, and no more is this demonstrated in our film culture. Audiences cheer when protagonists humiliate antagonists with loud verbiage and display, mistaking the pursuit of public humiliation for glory. We see gross manifestations of rivalry when one character undermines another to suit the means to what is usually a self-serving purpose and competitiveness is often portrayed as an apology for envy.

Robust debate, lively conversation is not only satisifying, it gives opportunity for personal growth – not just in subject, but in conduct – namely, empathetic listening of your opponent, allows for for genuine learning to take place.

Empathy in conversation starts with self-discipline. Curb your desire for one-upmanship and cultivate the desire to hear a contrary perspective. Considered listening of another opinion rarely results in agreement, but it always means respect. The best part about considering contrary opinions in earnest, is that it allows us to confirm or challenge our own convictions with more honesty.

Empathy in conversation means the more foolish your opponent is, the more humble one should be in conduct. Allowing a fool’s discourse (i.e. ignorant bigots on social media) to vex you to the point of succumbing to rude retorts is worse than being a fool – because if you know better, you should behave better. Being gracious is more conducive in turning an unworthy opponent, into a worthy one. Surely the one who can maintain constant virtue in the face of fierce opposition is the one we cheer loudest of all.

Empathy in conversation, above all, is about having a desire to learn. This means always thinking of yourself as the student, never the teacher – no matter how much of a smarty pants your mum says you are.

Till next time, drop a whid!

WordSmith Jo

Fly Away Fox News, Come Back Minstrel

In modern times, the morphing of hard news into news entertainment is not a new concept. In the Middle Ages, Minstrels wandered around towns, musical chroniclers and re-enactors of love and war, both local and foreign events, to a one man band soundtrack – usually a stringed accompaniment, either a tabor or on a viele which is similar to a guitar.

In Feudal times, the Minstrels were divided into various classes, and were attached to noble houses – wearing the arms of their patron, hung round the neck by a silver chain. The badge (brand) of the Minstrel profession was a wrest or turning-key.

The Minstrel was a high-honoured and welcome guest after supper when cups of sticky mead were passed around a ready crowd, eager to receive the latest news of victories over common enemies which would incite the simple folk into cries of war, or whet their eyes and soften hearts with tales of loves lost.

However, the job of Minstrel fell into low esteem, after Queen Elizabeth passed an Act of 1597, which relegated Minstrels to the status of rogues, vagabonds and beggars. Cromwell, another cheerful fellow, denounced severe penalties against fiddlers or minstrels too, making the profession as appealing as contracting syphilis.

We’ve experienced technology making past vocations obsolete and how new technology creates future vocation pathways. Indeed, the Minstrel was no stranger to restructuring too. Over time, the Poet took the song, and the Juggler and Tumber stole the movement, leaving the Minstrel a player of only music.

Now that five hundred years is past since the Minstrel hey-day, I propose a full Minstrel Revival. Today’s news providores generally trade in slander, rumour and mostly conjecture to suit the economic/political agendas of private interests. The Minstrel on the other hand, was refreshingly neutral and multi-talented. They were an independent news source that was vulnerable to immediate and sometimes fierce public feedback – which made them not only entertaining, but deeply accountable.

Till next time, crack a queer whid!

WordSmith Jo

The small romantic and the big Romantic

When we talk about the romantic in popular culture, we tend to envisage power ballads belted out by contemporary adult crooners, or we recall variations of romance films with predictable boy meets girl, falls out due to self or circumstances outside of self, only to be reunited in a setting sun kind of romantic. Well I am here to tell you that the romantic is far more surreal and sinister than you may have previously thought!

Did you know that there are two ways of looking at romanticism?

The first type of romance is spelt with a lower case ‘r’ and it is generally a fantastical narrative (sensational and supernatural) in verse or prose taking place in exotic settings, marked by extraordinary subject matter, improbable events and larger-than-life characters.

The second type of Romance is spelt with a capital ‘R’ and it is generally an unrealistic narrative in verse or prose taking place in bizarre settings and marked by extravagant subject matter, silly events, and two-dimensional, stereotypical characters.

I have tabled below the different themes explored by the romantic and the Romantic:

Small ‘r’ romantic

Plot, setting, style

  • Enchantment
  • The Uncanny (Freud’s version)
  • Dislocation
  • Defamilarisation
  • Estrangement/Alienation
  • Mysticism/Mystery
  • Improbable
  • The Fantastic
  • The Supernatural

 Modes, styles, genres

  • The Gothic
  • Medievalism
  • Orientalism
  • The Graveyard
  • The Romance (i.e. medieval poetic)

A good example of the small romantic is the classic film King Kong as a representation of the romantic.

As for the capital ‘R’ Romantic, the below table is an example of typical Romantic pre-occupations:

Capital ‘R’ Romantic

The Romantic Mind

  • Feeling
  • Imagination
  • Genius
  • Introspection/
  • Internalisation
  • (Un)consciousness
  • Subjectivity
  • Desire

The Romantic Self

  • Self-consciousness
  • Individuality
  • Narcissism
  • Egotism
  • The cult of personality

A good example of Romantic pre-occupation is Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, “…The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.” Or the more modern Donny Darko as a cinematic example.

So folks, next time your missus wants to watch a romantic movie, don’t feel obliged to pick up Casablanca or sit through another session of The Notebook – you are well justified to stretch your scope of the romantic with the Terminator or Return of the Planet Apes. You may not get lucky, but at least you’ll be right in your use of the romantic!

Till next time, crack a queer whid!

WordSmith Jo

Psst! If you do want to make it up to your missus after making her sit through Terminator, why not pull out the big guns and recite a poem from the classic Romantic poets – William BLAKE, William Wordsworth, Lord BYRON or Percy Bysshe SHELLEY!

Unleash the Tipsy Balladeer

We’ve all been there before, it’s the end of a long week, your boss is a bore and you’re feeling kinda footloose restless. It sounds to me like you might be hungry for some good old verse… How about penning a bawdy sea shanty to cure what ails ya?

The ballad. The ballad! Fellas, mollies and the old street wretch can’t help but tap tootsies to a folksy ballad. It is pleasant and puerile pub poetry, carefree and coarse, cute and crude, corrupt and callous, crass and creepy. It’s a nose up stink to high flutin’ talk and corporate kites, it don’t care about what’s proper or polite, it’ll calm down tempers or start brewin’ a fight…yikes, I’m getting carried away…

Anyway, my point is, instead of getting drunk at the end of a work week, why not write a ballad, and then get drunk.

How to write a ballad with yer mates

Everyone put your business card on the table.

Agree on a topic.

On the back of a card, write one quatrain per card – which is four lines with an A B A B rhyme scheme (alternating cross-rhymed iambic pentameter for those whom are interested in the proper parlance). Clap each line in your mind or aloud as there should be four or three beats per line. For example:

There’s nothin’ like a ballad song (A) (4 beats)

For makin’ tools stand out (B) (3 beats)

They’ll sing aloud and carry on (A) (4 beats)

Till the bouncer gives ‘em clout (B) (3 beats)

Once everyone has written a quatrain on the back of their card, order the cards together in a natural sequence to create an original swashbuckling ballad!

Till next time, crack a queer whid!

WordSmith Jo

Psst! Did you know that the English word Ballad comes from the Italian word ballare, which means ‘to dance’.

The Novel – a Middle Class Spectacle

When you’re rich, you’re busy living the life people dream about, and when you’re poor, you’re busting your guts to put a meal on the table. It could be argued then, that the success of the novel as one of the most prolific of English literary forms is that it is a site of middle class experiences and sensibilities, aspirations and of course, consumption.

The novel, if nothing else, is a mirror of class consciousness with imagined (and real) narratives that often reflect its audience’ perception of self. And why not – who doesn’t like to read and write stories about themselves to a sympathetic crowd?

While the term bourgeois is pejorative in origin, no one can argue the cultural significance and contribution of the middle classes to what the literati would consider ‘high art’.

Most novels in the western canon reflect characters’ struggles in their rise and fall of moral, social and financial status – of which the middle class experience is mostly about. So in this sense, while the middle class is often derided in popular discourse as being a rich wannabe that lacks social grace or compunction, take a minute to consider that entire industries, socio / political economies and indeed our own cultural identities are being supported, informed and shaped not by ephemeral heroes – but by the very real aspirations of people who live in three bedroom houses with a backyard and a gas burner barbie. Awesome!

Till next time, crack a queer whid!

WordSmith Jo

Psst! What we would consider a complex and well-structured novel today, is a result from the combination of Defoe’s sensitive understanding of social and material reality with Samuel Richardson’s (1689-1761) awareness of human complexities in personalities that struggle against private and public social forces. Love your work gentlemen!

Secrets to Writing a High Distinction Essay

For many professionals, grappling with full-time work and post-graduate education is now the norm. Between work and family commitments, it can be fair to assume that when it comes to finding time to write an essay, there is little joy in the process – the reality is that the best thing about writing an essay is finishing it.

For those who are time poor, I have outlined a methodology which I have refined (after years of study) to get your essay finished as soon as possible and, to help promote your essay from a Pass to a High Distinction! No thanks is necessary – just make yo’ momma proud!

Method before you start writing

  1. Before you commit to a thesis/position, do your research first. This will help with new ideas, which in turn, will help you formulate a clearer position/response to the essay question
  2. Make sure your position directly answers the essay question before you start writing
  3. Locate your sources. Only use academic sources (credible sources are considered those that are published by University Press or known academic publishing houses (e.g. Allen & Unwin etc)
  4. Copy all the extracts you want to use to support your thesis onto one document
  5. Arrange/chunk the extracts according to theme
  6. Write a bullet point outline of your essay to help you orientate your thinking and order your argument logically and sequentially. The structure of your essay should start with (a) Your thesis/claim (b) two or three paragraph summary on how you will support your claim (i.e. sources, argument and counter-arguments) (c) logically ordered body of evidence (d) any counter arguments (e) Leave the broader implications/outcomes/unanswered questions your essay evokes to your conclusion – this helps you tie your ending back to your thesis (i.e. thesis + antithesis = synthesis).

You’re now ready to start writing!

Method when writing

  1. To demonstrate a good understanding of your thesis/position and provide substantial evidence to support your position, try to find as many examples through different modes of expression to give further weight to your claim i.e. setting, language, narrative device, imagery, symbolism etc.
  2. Never use general, blanket statements in an essay e.g. “Everyone knows that…” or “It is true that…” or “some people say…”
  3. Never write in absolutes – instead, use transitional or connective words/phrases such as: suggests, argues, posits, claims, presents us with, we may assume, accordingly, consequently, considering, as a result etc…
  4. Always write in the third person, past tense in essays, unless otherwise stated.
  5. For citations, always reference the source according to Harvard convention unless otherwise stated
  6. Always make sure you directly answer the essay question. Do not talk about related ideas or periphery associations – it dilutes your claim and is not the central focus
  7. Use other perspectives to find a ‘counter-argument’ and discuss this to show you have considered the subject matter in-depth.
  8. After you have finished your essay, walk away. Re-read your assignment question and then go through your essay again to make sure you have addressed all of the essay question criteria in your essay.
  9. Always read your essay aloud so you can self-correct any syntax/spelling/punctuation errors. These are ‘easy marks’ so it is a shame to lose points on these grounds!

Till next time, crack a queer whid!

WordSmith Jo

Psst! The essay form has been around since the seventeenth century (e.g. Thomas Browne and Cowley’s essays). However, it wasn’t until Charles Lamb (1775-1834), whom is considered an early master of the genre, that the essay form crystalized as a genre in its own right. His famous ‘Dissertation Upon Roast Pig’ is a fine example for those whom are interested in solid argumentation laced with mock seriousness!

Dinglichkeit: The Marvellous Reality of Triviality

Our attention is often captured by stories of extraordinary feat and courage and rightly so. However, it may be argued that our most heart soaring experiences can be reduced to a slight moment; a simple nod of encouragement from a person we hold in esteem, or observing the way light filters through trees in a passing car.

Good writers understand that capturing simple moments in time and representing them well, are what makes a seemingly banal moment, a textually rich and meaningful experience.

A very famous screen example of this is in the film American Beauty by Sam Mendes. The character Ricky, narrates some footage of a plastic bag and dead leaves swirling around in the wind – and invites us to see the beauty in the banal.

Poets in the Victorian Period (1830s to 1900) were masters at capturing and rejoicing in the Dinglichkeit of things. There is something seriously sensational about being able to tread a fine line between expressing an observation that is Romantic in its sense, but delivered with poise and control.

One Victorian Poet who did this well was John Clare (1793-1864). He was deemed mad by his contemporaries and spent the final twenty years of his life in an asylum.   While we can only speculate about Clare’s troubles, we can appreciate his legacy of works, which demonstrate a talent for showing quiet intensity in observation – particularly in rural settings.

Clare’s poem Signs of Winter, is a fantastic example of finding eloquence in the daily routine:

The cat runs races with her tail. The dog
Leaps o’er the orchard hedge and knarls the grass.
The swine run round and grunt and play with straw,
Snatching out hasty mouthfuls from the stack.
Sudden upon the elmtree tops the crow
Unceremonious visit pays and croaks,
Then swoops away. From mossy barn the owl
Bobs hasty out – wheels round and, scared as soon,
As hastily retires. The ducks grow wild
And from the muddy pond fly up and wheel
A circle round the village and soon, tired,
Plunge in the pond again. The maids in haste
Snatch from the orchard hedge the muzzled clothes
And laughing hurry in to keep them dry.

Keep Clare’s spirit in mind next time you’re elbowing for a seat on the train, or about to lose your cool over a parking space. Stop and observe your surroundings for a moment; you may just stumble upon something wonderful, and wholly unexpected…

Till next time, crack a queer whid!

WordSmith Jo

Plug Proper Press Releases to Publishers

Like all genres and styles of writing, each mode has its own convention, or what is generally considered as best practice. Here’s a few winning tips to help your Media Release be picked up for the Afternoon Edition or that trade publication your client has been dying to get free press in…

By submitting a polished, press-quality Media Release (MR), your chances of being picked up greatly increases. This can be boiled down to a few reasons:

Most writers have experienced just how stingy print publishers can be and frankly, it’s not their fault. Print Publishers (unless you’re the Editor of US Vogue) run on a fairly low margin and with the Accountant breathing down their necks, they are always looking for ways to save a dollar. As Publishers will have few paid Journalists and Subeditors on staff, most of what you and I read are submitted by freelance writers. Publishers love to receive press-quality MRs because they don’t have to allocate manpower to tidy up the story.

Secondly, and most importantly for your client, your primary intention should be to submit an MR with very targeted key messages, so if a subbie has to hack through your MR to make it press ready, you run the risk of your client’s key messages not being received as intended.

Also, as Journalists are underpaid and overworked (freebie from companies plugging their goods just doesn’t pay the rent) they embrace press quality MRs because it means they can submit your work, with their byline, without having to do any work – so it’s a win-win deal all round.

My top tips for writing a winning MR:

  1. Ask yourself – who is my audience? Make sure your writing style reflects the style of publication
  2. Ask yourself – what is the purpose of this MR? What do you want the audience to do or think after they have read your MR? In other words, how do you want to ‘position’ the reader? By asking yourself these questions, it will help you filter out any content that is not on message.
  3. Headings should never be more than six words. Use narrative devices such as alliteration, consonance and assonance to help your MR stand out.
  4. Slugs will sell your article. You have one or two sentences to hook your audience in – and to encapsulate what your story is about.
  5. Do not ask a rhetorical question in the Heading or Slug
  6. Do not start with a quote in the Heading or Slug
  7. Do not start with numbers or dates in the Heading or Slug
  8. The body of your MR should be in order of priority of information. Think of a reverse pyramid and write the most important information in the first three paragraphs. This is because the subbie may need to cut out words to make space on a page layout, and they will cut your MR from the bottom up.
  9. The first paragraph needs to include details on who, what, where, how, when and why.
  10. Use present tense instead of past tense. This helps your Media Release to feel relevant and gives it a sense of immediacy – which is what you want in a news story.
  11. Introduce subjects as Position Title / Name first and any subsequent mentions with last name only.
  12. Use short paragraphs and simple sentences.
  13. Highlight what you think is the best grab in the article and italicize/bold it. This is a subtle way to suggest to the publisher what should be a pullout grab, without telling them how to suck eggs.
  14. Most importantly, always submit two high resolution images with your MR and a photo caption.
  15. At the end of your MR, make sure the publisher has your details to contact for further information if they want to flesh out your MR into an extended feature article.

Lastly, when you submit your MR, don’t just email it and hope for the best. Follow up with a phone call to the features editor and introduce yourself and let them know what you’re sending through for their consideration.

Till next time, crack a queer whid!

Wordsmith Jo

Falling for a Red Herring

A ‘red herring’ is an idiom, and a plot device that acts as a plausible, yet diversionary tactic (e.g. false clues to lead to false conclusion) and is often featured in crime and suspense genres, as well as the occasional excuse for why you haven’t met that deadline at work.

Politicians often rely on red herrings too as part of a rhetorical stratagem; generally during interviews where they are forced to defend weak policy or to explain misappropriation of public funding.

One of the best literary uses of the red herring is Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose where he cleverly leads the reader down a warren of false starts and dead ends.

No one quite knows the etymology of ‘red herring’ however, there are some clues which may or may not lead us to the correct conclusion.

Some argue that kippers (a pungent fish that turns red when salted and smoked) was used to train hounds to follow a scent or to divert them off trail.

Recent linguistic research suggests that the term may have been invented in 1807 by English journalist William Cobbett, referring to one occasion, while hunting with Samuel Stokes, on which he had supposedly used a kipper to divert hounds from chasing a rabbit.

Here is where the plot thickens. According to etymologist Michael Quinion, the idiom originated from an article published in 1807 by Cobbett in his polemical Political Register. In a critique of the English press, which had mistakenly reported Napoleon’s defeat, Quinion argues that Cobbett’s use of a red herring ‘to deflect hounds in pursuit of a hare’ was merely figurative – not actual. According to Quinion, Cobbett’s extended repetition of the idiom up to 1833, was enough to get the figurative sense of red herring into the minds of his readers, along with the false idea that it came from actual hunting practice.

It seems the origin of red herring is just as intriguing as its purpose as a plot device. A red herring in the literary sense may also be the only time readers thoroughly enjoy being lead up the garden path to a brick wall.

Till next time, crack some queer whids!

Wordsmith Jo

Romancing the Text: Musings on Restraint & Anticipation

If I am unfortunate enough to walk by a venue playing rap/house music, I often buy an ice-cream to congratulate myself on getting through the two minute ordeal. Now, there’s no arguing the appeal of a good tune, and frankly, I am the first to admit, when my teen ears heard Technotronic’s ‘Pump up the Jam’ I was amazed by the beats bouncing out of that boombox.

Today’s Ditty however, is not a critique on the sound of rap, nor a challenge to apologists to expound on the cultural significance of rap – but rather, it’s a general lamentation on the lack of lyricism in popular music text.

Firstly, let’s discuss ‘tough guy lyrics’ which consists of continual repetition of violent threats i.e. how they’re going to lay into someone, carve them up, pull a trigger, break a finger, sit on a head…It just loses its punch and becomes innocuous when threats are sung plenty times over.

My advice to budding Tupacs is to think about how you can creatively allude to the threat of violence without being explicit. By demonstrating creative restraint, you can go a long way to build more dramatic tension in your lyrics.

To help work on creative restraint, here’s a little writing exercise tough guys can pop in their holster for later. Try to write a rap song without the following words: gun, blood, pigs, hammer, slammer, cops, knife, cut, trigger, pistol, dope, gold, slap, stitch, bitch, punch.

Secondly, let’s discuss ‘bedroom talk’ in lyrics. When the song has its pants around its ankles by the third crotchet, the show is over.

The defence of lyricism in music as an artform is valid if the intention is to raise the heart-rate by elevating the senses.  If the intention is purely to titillate our basest instincts, then I would argue that ‘art’ is absent.

When writers or lyricists leave no space for its audience to creatively imagine or negotiate with a phrase on its own terms, it shows a lack of respect for the audience. Great writers give the audience time to read or listen or watch texts not to be real – but to allow the texts to be revealed within the self.

I shall leave you alone to reflect on a good example of restraint and anticipation – whereby the audience is invited to exist in a space of tension, imagination and romantic possibilities – a line from Jeff Buckley’s lyrics ‘So Real’ –

‘Girl, let me sleep tonight on your couch / And remember the smell of the fabric / Of your simple city dress…’

Till next time, crack a whid!


The Turgid and The Turbid

Sharp writing is the aim and achievement of all good writers. Experts often cite Mark Twain’s famous quote, ‘I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one’ to punctuate the importance of brevity. However, we are often not told how to write sharply because writers aren’t partial to sharing lollies. Well folks, today it is lollipops all round as I share a few secrets of the trade…

When I was in my early twenties, I sat down with the Director of a Wiggles Movie, whom was kind enough to read a feature film script I wrote. His feedback was, “This is a steaming turd”.

Now, he could have just said, ‘turd’ but he went one step further – clearly the adverb was necessary to convey just how much my work stank.

After crying my guts out for three weeks, I resolved to refine my craft.

If you’re keen on honing your skills as a writer, here’s a few exercises that I found really helpful:


Choose a short essay or a newspaper article about 800 – 1500 words.

Read the story first.

Pick up a highlighter and go back over the story and highlight the most important information i.e. what is critical to understanding the crux of the story.

Try to reformulate the essence of the article, without losing crucial information, in 200 words.

Another reformulation exercise is to reduce a long paragraph to one sentence. Just to be an ironic smarty pants, I have cited Mark Twain as an example:

“To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement. To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself…Anybody can have ideas–the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph,” Mark Twain.

This quote can be reformulated without losing the sense and meaning of the quote –

“Anybody can have ideas, the difficulty is to reduce it to one glittering paragraph,” WordSmith Jo.

Say it aloud

When you have finished a sentence, read it out loud. A great sentence has a natural rhythm (meter) and should flow smoothly. Anything that jars the reader indicates a word or syntax of the sentence is not working.

Try to write first as you speak, and then go back and refine it. This helps to keep your tone natural, and it will help you to find your ‘voice’ as a writer.

Be Brutal

My old English Professor once told me that writing is re-writing. Don’t get too attached to your copy. By all means, write it, admire it, and then walk away from it for a day. When you come back to your copy, you’ll start to see the flaws. Wield your red pen like a bloody axe and chop long complex sentences into more simple, shorter sentences.

Read the Classics

Read as many books from the Western Canon as you can. Just as a painter studies under a master, so too does an aspiring writer study the greats. Never be too proud to learn from someone else better than you.

Till next time, crack a whid!

WordSmith Jo

Poetics in Public Speaking

From De Ronsard, to Hugo and Trotsky, Many Poets through the ages viewed themselves either as political protectors or agitators of the state. These guys weren’t just trying to impress the ladies with a sonnet or two, they viewed their work as catalysts for the betterment of the human condition for all ages; either politically, socially or spiritually.

Use of language, or, the ‘art of rhetoric’ as coined by Aristotle, can convince mothers to send sons to die in foreign wars, or soften the hearts of battle-hardened men to lay down their loads. Such is the power of verse well-ordered, and well-orated.

In an age where our politicians aim for five-second soundbites – think Abbott’s ‘Stop the boats’ stanza or recall our 2pm Question Time in Parliament – Regardless of your political persuasion, one can’t help but feel dismayed at the total lack of linguistic vigour from our bearers of Public Office.

Democratic Politicans are meant to be the voice of the people i.e. Greek – Demos (people) Kratos (rule). Why is it then that when I hear a Pollie use its pipes, I don’t hear my voice, I hear the voice of a cardboard cut-out? Monotone, lifeless, patronising repetition of simple sentences…

It seems to me, that the the modern-day Pollie has swapped poetics for public relations. The irony being that by choosing the latter, the public turn away in apathy and disillusionment.

If you have a public-speaking engagement, pop your PR Manager on a one-way ticket to Poconos and face an audience that wants to be inspired by YOU. This means all of you – your witticisms, your vulnerability and valour, your grit your failures, your triumphs.

You don’t have to rhyme or Def Jam to be a Poet Prince of the Podium – just give the audience what they want – more of the real and less of the spiel.

Till next time, crack a whid!

WordSmith Jo

An Important Distinction: O or Oh?

No doubt, fellow compositors, one of life’s little crackers that may or may not have baked your noodle will be answered for you today – When do you write O or Oh? Sit back, and watch me try to make this little ditty as interesting as finding a pineapple in your sock drawer.

Use an ‘O’ when you are forming a vocative i.e. addressing or invoking a person or thing, and, when it is closely associated with the noun or thing. It should not separated by punctuation. For example:

“O Mighty Putin!”

“O for the wing of a fried chicken!”

“O Palmer loyal friend of China!”

Use ‘Oh’ as an independent exclamation, which is followed by a comma or exclamation mark. For example:

“Oh! It wasn’t me!”

“Oh…that’s not mine.”

“Oh, when is the boss coming back?”

Till next time, crack some queer whids!

WordSmith Jo

Negative Capability and the Creativity of Angst

We are often confronted by images of bleached teeth and tanned faces plugging books on the power of positive thinking. The hook is generally centred on the premise that anything is possible if only you’d cogitate, day and night, on your own personal awesomeness.

If I was to make a value judgement as a cultural critic, I’d say it’s a narcisstic proposition based on delusion; from a literary perspective, I’d say it’s just plain boring.

In literature (and life), the most complex, memorable and intriguing characters are those who face situations where they are wracked by indecision and uncertainty, terrorised by the prospect of making a wrong choice, frustrated by the sheer unpredictability of life’s outcomes… I would argue, that when a character is forced to make an emotive decision wrapped in self-doubt, this creates the best kind of dramatic tension – because inside this tension lies a space where all possibilities exist – and that is damn interesting!

Poet John Keats understood this state, by coining this quality as ‘Negative Capability’ and as a writer, I give Keats a double thumbs up in this regard.

Keats argued that when a man is capable of being in a state of uncertainty and self-doubt and doesn’t give two cahoots about trying to reason himself out it, something beautiful happens – the character is released and is not subject to ordinary standards of evidence or truth – he overcomes all considerations. Hence, he arrives at a state where anything is possible.

So next time you are tempted to blow six hundred bucks on hearing some dude on a sponsored podium wax conceited about being a better you, remember that plenty can be achieved if you just embraced you in all your uncertain glory… and it won’t cost you a dime. Surely, it’s the lessons learnt from our frailities and failings that fuel human fascination and creativity.

Till next time, crack a whid!

WordSmith Jo

Put your Proposition in Pole Position

Anyone whom has worked on Bids or Proposals knows that no matter how many hours or late night pizza and pepsi your team may have consumed to produce a bid you’d be proud to show prospective employers, we know that the first page the Tender Assessor goes to is the Tender Form (to see just how little a margin you’re going to make on the job).

While most Tender criteria is heavily weighted on cost (generally seventy percent) don’t let this discouraging little fact stop you from trying your darndest. Keep in mind the following hot tips for your next bid strategy meeting:

Resist the temptation to declare a plethora of promises and capabilities. Unless you’re a super niche business, your competitors will most likely offer the same services. Instead, focus on the ‘how’ – select one value proposition (VP) that is most aligned to what is important to your client.
Communicate your VP clearly and simply.

‘Unpack’ your VP by elaborating on what it means to the client, and how it will add value to the job and their overall service experience.

Make sure any justifications and images you include (i.e. capabilities/experience) complement and reaffirm your VP.

Put your VP on page three of your Tender Response. Page three is the ‘Park Lane’ of your Bid. It is the first page that people will give the most time to read (after checking the price) so make sure your VP is carefully constructed in the page layout so it can be identified and understood within five seconds.

Till next time, crack some whids!

WordSmith Jo

The Power of Nostalgia in Advertising Copy

Real Estate Agent’s usage of the idiom ‘old world charm’ isn’t just floral white-wash for ‘termite addled house with fifty-year old carpet’. It is a narrative device that plays on buyers’ emotions by evoking connotations of antiquity (e.g. quaint, wholesomeness, traditional values, romance, nostalgia etc).

In real estate copy, the word ‘house’ is rarely used because its denotation is merely functional (e.g. shelter). By using the word ‘home’ it dennotes a place where one lives too, but its connotations – sanctuary, coziness, comfort – invites the buyer to imagine themselves in their ‘new home’.

Copywriters value nostalgia because it at once makes a product familar to the buyer (here, meet your old friend!) and familiarity engenders trust. Secondly, feeling nostalgia in the present, elicits a feeling of longing for a happy memory to be suspended in time (buy this product and you will always live your happiest moments).

Advertising constantly references the past in written and visual texts because there is a perception that the past adds legitimacy to the present (old things are expensive, old people are wise).

Perception is always reality in the land of Advertising, and, for the promise of a happy moment, the copywriter only needs to suspend your belief just long enough for you to open your wallet.

Till next time, crack some queer whids!

WordSmith Jo

Be a Writer not a Fighter

It seems to me, that lately, whenever I read the newspaper, it feels like I’m staring at roadkill baked by ignominy and hot tar for a month. Wouldn’t it be sweet if every once in a while, an angry fellow dropped his Glock and pulled up his socks to grapple with words rather than blokes?

The happiest kind of struggle is trying to find the word that expresses your intention to its fullest! Coleridge once said, that good prose is words in their best order and poetry is the best words in the best order.

Now, unless you’re prepping for a Spelling Bee Contest, remember that words can never be treated in isolation. When writing, try not to see the single word, but rather, the sense of the words working together to form meaning or function.

Words are never static. Meaning, intention, even the spelling of a word may change according to the social conventions in each time. Words go in and out of fashion. Words are beautiful living things that can either take on a good relationship with another word, or have an awkward uncomfortable coupling with another.

Whatever words you mash together, make every word count.

Till next time, crack a whid!

WordSmith Jo

Lack Inspiration? Try the Graveyard Poet

Next time you have a whinge about there being a lack of good venues to wow your Missus with, spare a thought for our old eighteenth-century British poets, whom often dilly-dallied after dark in the local graveyards for a sense of the romantic.

Enduring indentured labour since they were probably ten years old, bad dental hygiene, and no fresh fruit, I can personally understand the appeal of a refreshing nightwalk around the graves to get one’s creative juices flowing after putting in a 15 hour day at the local textile factory.

Many a nightwalk produced some Western Canon Classics, such as Thomas Parnell’s ‘Night Piece on Death’ (1721), and the very uplifting, Thomas Gray’s ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’.

If you’re feeling adventurous, pack the pen and paper, with your missus on arm, and jump on a train to Newtown. For every two parking meters there’s one Goth. Tap him on the shoulder and ask him to recommend his ‘top ten tombstones’ and then, go!

Till next time, crack some queer whids!

WordSmith Jo

Pleasures and Pangs of Pathetic Fallacy

A Pathetic Fallacy is not some lame excuse to hide some shady activity you may have been up to recently, but rather, it is a bit like a jealous cousin of the narrative device Personification.

Personification is a figurative device in which human traits (i.e. emotions, characters, sensations) are given to inanimate natural objects – e.g. ‘the banana looked tired, and bored by my company’.

Anyway, along comes John Ruskin in 1856, whom invented the phrase Pathetic Fallacy, as a derogatory term – or a speaking back – against the use of any personification in ‘high art’. Ruskin argued that only truth “should be the criterion of art” no matter how damn good or evocate the poet’s use of personification may have been.

Well, my speaking back to Ruskin (as he is not here to defend himself) is that he must have been a rather rigid, angry fellow to be so distaining about what is essentially a very endearing, human tendency – to see oneself in the beauty, and horror, of all of creation.

Till next time, crack some queer whids!

WordSmith Jo

To Hyphen or not to Hyphen?

According to Harts Rules, the Hyphen is used in compounds used attributively, to clarify the unification of the sense, (Oxford University Press).

Put simply, what my good mate Harts is trying to say, is that when an adverb is used to qualify an adjective and the meaning or sense of the compound is obvious, it is not necessary to hyphen e.g. ‘a beautifully furnished house’.

However, where the sense of the adverb may not immediately be understood, and, it forms a single concept with the adjective, a hyphen should be used e.g. ‘She is a well-known clown’ or ‘It’s a new-found mole’.

Where a noun and an adjective or vice versa are used attributively in combination, the hyphen should also be used e.g. ‘come meet my poverty-stricken family’. Hmm, he sounds like a catch ladies!

Till next time, crack a whid!

WordSmith Jo