Content Writers, Copy This – Ten Tips to Take from Creative Writing

Content Writers, Copy This – Ten Tips to Take from Creative Writing

 

By Michael Botur

 

I’m a freelancer/contractor working from Whangarei, Northland as a professional writer of, well, whatever pays – blogs, newsletters, websites, interviews, advertorials etc. I also do a lot of unpaid creative writing, usually at night- putting out short story collections, opinion columns novels, performance poetry and the like.

The people I work with by day tend to have nothing to do with the people I work at night.

Partly that’s because of the culture, worldview and audience of the professionals versus the dabblers.

However, here are ten tips which the pros can take from the amateurs to get better word stories.

 

  1. Looking Away Pays.

We all have blind spots in which we are convinced we read words on the page which sometimes aren’t there.

Tip: Have a quick break from the words, then change the font to something plain like Courier (very large size) so you’re looking at your words with fresh eyes and lots of white space.

 

  1. Checking A Name In Time Saves Nine

Never assume you know the spelling of a name which hasn’t been definitively spelled for you by an authoritative source. Tip: If it’s possible to write somebody’s name on paper and show it to their face so they approve it, that’s ideal; or look at their email address, if available.

 

  1. Have Your Computer Monitor At Eye Level

You don’t want to associate writing with discomfort. That could put you off the job. Tip: have your head up to one metre back from your screen. Hunching over your laptop is easy and convenient, but can make you feel cramped.

 

  1. Things which may seem obvious to you might not be obvious to your audience

Don’t forget to specify a person’s position, proper full name etc. In most pieces of writing, the who/what/where/why/when/how may seem self-evident to you, but perhaps not to the audience.  Tip: Professor? Doctor? Associate Professor Dr? Check the conventions of where the subject works to see if the person’s name is actually Dr _______ . And did you know hospital surgeons typically are Mrs/Mr instead of Dr? I find that weird…

 

  1. Hit The Save Button Frequently

Obsessive, yes, but valuable. I was taught ‘Jesus Saves, and so should you’ back in 2008 and I’ve only lost two files since then (both terrifying events, seared into my memory). I don’t trust auto-save to be quick enough to capture everything on Microsoft Office. The cloud is better.

 

  1. Trust The Instructions, Not Your Feelings

Once you feel you have completed what you were assigned to write, park it – then don’t trust your feeling. Go back to the brief and look for those little things the client asked for which may seem fussy, but can be a big deal for the client. Check again to see if when you set out to write your piece you were supposed to

  • Stick to a certain word count
  • Write it in a particular font
  • Include images, logos, watermarks etc
  • SEO instructions – like specific hyperlinking, headings and bullet point instructions
  • Double-check what byline is supposed to be on the piece (I have a bad habit of occasionally putting my own name on a client’s work, or vice versa).

 

  1. Make Your Title Captivating and Distinctive

The best titles for a fiction piece should be lifted out of the work itself.  The best title for a content needs to tie in with SEO instructions. Often the copywriter should make the title a call to action or a question eg. ‘What is essential car maintenance for autumn?’

 

  1. The Best Writing Is Done Early In The Morning

You cannot create optimal work in the evening, no matter what urgency is placed on you. At the very least, try and space your drafts by a number of hours. Do a night draft then a morning draft. Tip: Draft firstly on the screen, then print a version to read, then do a final on-screen draft in a different font before sending.

 

  1. Write With The Door Closed; Edit With The Door Open

This means the first draft should be created with 100% concentration; then the final edit can be done while there are distractions in the background. This latter is a test of the readability of the words. If the words resonate despite distractions, you’ll know you’ve written something strong. Tip: Read the words aloud if you don’t trust your own eyes.

 

  1. Cut ‘That’ Out

Desperately need to trim a few words to get your 300 character Twitter announcement down to 280 characters?  The word ‘that’ is often redundant – so change a phrase like ‘Ms Akenisi said that it would be released on Monday’ to ‘Ms Akenisi said it would be released on Monday.’

Tip: Finding it difficult to know where to chop words out? Usually start hacking at the first paragraph, as this is the place you have probably ‘warmed up’ and wasted words with ‘throat clearing.’

 

Creative writing class for Mahurangi community

On Saturday May 26 I ran a successful creative writing workshop for the community north of Auckland in the Snells Beach – Mahurangi – Warkworth – Leigh area.

We covered:

  • Structure of novel, short story, play/drama and flash fiction
  • Essential word counts you need to know
  • Workflow – the benefits you’ll get from polishing a piece of writing – how great it feels
  • Voice – real, practical advice including To make the voices of your characters distinctive:
    • Mix up vocabulary that is archaic, retro, then modern, contemporary, and even futuristic
    • Be creative with spellings
    • Some characters’ voices will have idiosyncratic punctuation
    • Some voices will have their own jargon/slang/idiom
    • Your voices must be written so distinctively that the reader can tell who is speaking without attribution.
    • You won’t need he said / she said on the page if you have written distinctive voices.
  • Real, practical advice including
    • Write with the door closed
    • Edit with the door open
    • Expect your work to require 2-10 drafts. Never one draft.
    • Intoxicants are fine – but you’ll need to edit sober.
    • Anticipate mood swings as you write and await response
  • How to make your characters ‘pop’ off the page
  • WAYS TO POLISH PROSE:
    • Hit CTRL+S every 30 seconds
    • Write with the door closed; edit with the door open
    • Get your writing perfect – then cut 20%, usually from the start. Murder your darlings.
    • Leave white space on your page. It makes your writing more inviting to look at.
    • Difficult Titles Deter – select a title that your hero would select. Don’t get clever in the title.
    • Murder your darlings.33814860_1889854614394039_4191097630819876864_n

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Content writing and website writing – meeting Northland’s needs

Hello! Here’s an update on the content writing, website writing and copywriting I’ve been providing clients over the past month, to give examples of how I help people with their written needs.

Mostly my clients have been in Whangarei and Northland, although some are a bit further south – Auckland and wider New Zealand.

  • I’ve been helping a number of clients with one-off blogs. Sometimes I’ll be unfamiliar with an industry but the rule is ‘If unsure of something, just ask.’ So I have had two clients who have required content written about accounting and chartered accountants in Northland and Auckland.
  • A client in the agriculture industry needed blogs written for an audience in the ‘field’ of tractors / harvesters / farming equipment. That certainly required some careful research so the client could be, er, “out standing in their field.”
  • I’m semi-regularly asked to write blogs for a client who wants to be distinctive in the market of shipping maintenance and heavy engineering, so that’s come up in the past month. That job requires handling galleries of images and getting some of the lingo right. Precise language is an issue for a lot of clients; terms which might sound interchangeable for outsiders may have a significant legal distinction, and getting it wrong can lead to accusations of false advertising. For example, I’m required to be careful when writing about accountants versus chartered accountants, and marine survey preparation versus marine surveying.
  • I always have clients who ask me to write in their voice. That’s not as simple as signing the piece off with a byline by the client. Taking on a client’s voice is about writing verbatim what they are dictating, providing a veneer of professionalism to that voice, and then getting the client’s sign-off.
  • Recently I wrote pieces celebrating the lives of people who have passed away or been close to passing away. That required delicately working with individuals experiencing grief.
  • I spent some time mocking up advertisements letting the creative writing community know that I can help with getting the author profiled online on a range of mediums: Smashwords, Kindle, Eventfinda, Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, Bookfunnel, you name it. These ads should go out soon 1) in the fortnightly NZ Society of Authors newsletter and 2) in the Northland Authors newsletter.
  • Free columns for NZME / NZ Herald / Northern Advocate. Why do I tolerate not being paid? For self-promotion purposes… and because I like to make readers and editors smile, and it is a privilege to be invited to write for the publication.
  • I’ve been handling ‘overflow’ for other content writers. Overflow is the term freelancers like me use to describe when we have too much work on and need to hand it to somebody reliable.
  • I’ve had a few expenses, too! To sell copies of my young adult novel Moneyland I had to invest in getting some promotional bookmarks printed, get a better logo for this very website and also create some posters for the creative writing workshops I’ve been offering around Northland.
  • Marketing and self-promotion – I gave a well-attended seminar at The Orchard work hub on the topic of how blogging about your business can be achieved, best practice and realistic advice.
  • Media my clients have been asking me to publish on for them include: Facebook; LinkedIn articles; WordPress; Microsoft Word.
  • Lastly, some great creative writing news: I completed Draft 2 of my first (to be) published literary fiction novel, Crimechurch. I’ve written three other literary fiction novels but this is the first which is guaranteed to be published this year (because I will be self-publishing it if VUP, RandomPenguin etc don’t pick it up).

 

Selling Out, In The Good Way

I’m an indie author, indie meaning independent. Not at the mercy of a publishing house, university or contract. Indie of course means small, modest sales, too. Branding oneself indie means refusing to accept the pejorative label the publishing industry puts on people like me. Lowlife cover hi res jpeg

Over the past week, though, I sold out – and by that I mean I sold out of the humble 100-copy print run of Lowlife: short stories. I’ve never sold out of my books before. It’s an interesting sensation to experience… people actually WANT this product which is so maligned by the publishing elite?

The most recent person to contact me had to be told I’d sold out; I then desperately searched my shelves for any spare copies lurking. I found copies at the shared office workspaces where I sometimes dwell. And I had to get Unity Books to send back my unsold copies.

So am I still indie? Or am I a small-scale bigshot?

I’ll never claim the book was ever ‘big.’ When I launched it, there was a lot of hype in the venue that night. People were lining up with cash to buy it. Lowlife then went on to have rave reviews in North & South magazine, Takahe magazine (forthcoming), and got a major interview/profile in NZME’s newspapers across the country.

What’s driven sales, I think, are the cover, the interviews and the reviews, which have been really positive. People acknowledge that the stories in Lowlife are distinctive and that they speak unapologetically for the downtrodden. Below is the most recent, written by takahē magazine reviewer Jeremy Roberts.

Review of ‘Low Life’ by Mike Botur – by Jeremy Roberts (no publishing or price details – only ISBN 978-1547018598)

‘Low Life’ is a collection of sixteen funny, edgy short stories from Kiwi author Mike Botur that can be taken as a ‘tip of the hat’ to the strugglers and ‘losers’ of our society. That is not to say that these people are homeless or ‘down and out’, but that the choices made by most of the characters here would not cut it at any ‘respectable’, politically-correct middle-class family’s dining table. That is partly why this book is such a tasty, refreshing read. It’s as if Mr Botur hung out at CBD fast-food outlets after midnight – swilling bad coffee on a hard-plastic seat, listening to conversations, and jotting observational notes under the garish yellow lighting. It could be that this is the best environment for reading ‘Low Life’, too. There is a ring of authenticity about these stories – both in the language used by the characters and in the physical descriptions of their environments. Which stories and plot-lines draw directly from Mr Botur’s own experience is an interesting question to speculate about. The author has had to wear quite a few hats to get inside these scenes – to say nothing of getting right inside the character’s heads (which he does convincingly). The insights demonstrated here might be those of lawyers, police, mental health workers, drug-dealers, and so on. The plots are either simple ‘cause and effect’, raid-fire ‘shaggy-dog’, or ‘wtf?’ Botur is not so much a ‘moralist’, but rather an ‘informer’ – without ever becoming a show-off. The titles of the stories have a stripped-back, no-nonsense vibe about them too – for example: ‘Cut Throat’, ‘Survive September’, ‘Cathedral with Tranny’, ‘Fuckup Day’, ‘The Ritch Bitch’.                                                                                                                                                         In ‘Rock or Bust’, Botur gets right inside the mind of a true working-class nameless Rock freak who quits his job on impulse, because he ‘won’t work for no cunt what doesn’t respect the Skynyrd’. The reader is the character – e.g. ‘You mosh your head, alone in the passenger seat’. This funny story is an account of tragic self-delusion that is fed by some bs recognition from a Rock radio station and a social-media addiction that once upon a time would have had no place in a genuine Rock ‘n’ Roll life – ‘You tweet @Metallica, ask the band if there’s any openings for the king of Rock to come aboard their road crew’. Desperate to be let into the ‘inner sanctum’, all his waking moments are directed to this end. He’s seriously annoyed when the female DJ ‘Hannah Hardcore’ – who he believes is his link to fame and fortune, is called by her real name – Hannah Corning, by another DJ at the station. ‘You a heretic, bro?’ he asks. Botur has really nailed the self-delusion that mega-fans sometimes have and the sad road of denial that follows. I was reminded of a John Lennon fan that I once knew who practically stalked Yoko Ono, after she replied to one of his letters. ‘Who needs the dole anyway’, Botur’s loser tells himself, ‘You’re a radio insider. You’re the one man who did what no one else would do. Metallica are a bit late tweeting back, but it’ll happen…’ Yes, it’s true – Rock music unfortunately does appeal to idiots.                                                                                                                                                  ‘The Kurt Shirt’ is a peer-group tale of bonding, sexuality and bullying – beginning when two thirteen-year old boys meet. It’s one of the strongest stories in the collection. Johnny is initially fascinated by Sage, whom he looks up to as something of a music guru, absorbing his opinions and lectures on what is cool and what is not – e.g. ‘It’s ALL ABOUT the 27 Club, man. You die at 27, it’s like epically significant’. Johnny quickly builds up very high expectations of his new friend. There is a one-off homosexual encounter between the two – humorously sketched by Botur: ‘Sage’s hand spidered across the floor and crept into Johnny’s sleeping bag. Johnny’s diddle was alert and ready…’ But the friendship falls apart when Johnny must share his new friend with another male, called Carson. Johnny feels rejected, gets angry, and ultimately uses his sexual knowledge of Sage to spread rumours and begin an anti-gay campaign, which he finds support for. Having warned Carson, and made a new friend, he discovers that Carson’s family are anti-Gay, too.  Johnny even has a self-designed ‘fag-buster’ tattoo done on himself by Carson’s dad. Botur swings the peer pressure back the other way, when Johnny is embarrassed by a group of young males who don’t approve of the message on his body. There is a failed attempt to have the tattoo removed, and then an unexpected encounter some years later with Sage, who by now has become a highly-regarded ‘world authority’ on music matters – and a hardcore drug addict. Surprisingly, he is happy to see Johnny. He gives a chilling explanation via Scott Weiland of The Stone Temple Pilots: “The opioid family brings a sense of enlightenment…like a drop of water re-joining the ocean’. Botur is not going for a karmic-payback ending here, so we are left to wonder what feelings Sage now has about all the gay-shaming that Johnny previously directed towards him. It’s a good ending – full of unspoken guilt, insecurity, and questions.

In ‘Granny Frankenstein, there is a lot of fun to be had watching a sixty-year old arthritic, baby-sitting, ex-‘Sunnyside Hospital’ nurse turn her life upside down, by becoming a shrewd, manipulative drug boss. The turning point in Frankie’s life is an unexpected toke on a bit of weed, which her minor-league dealing neighbour-dudes (Meat and Romeo) give her in return for some fresh tomatoes. She digs getting high, and gains a fresh perspective on her current lifestyle and what the future could be: ‘She thinks about Meat’s Magical Medicine and about the $2500 overdraft she’s always wanted to spend’. Her home soon becomes the point of sale and she ‘does not expect her heart to glow when shivering strangers look her in the eyes with sincere appreciation’. After learning the ‘ins and outs’ of the business, she takes charge and develops a very smooth operation – complete with nasty little ‘clean-ups’ involving her garden tools, which are used to mutilate ‘impolite customers’. As the title suggests, Granny gradually becomes something of a monster. The major issues with her ungrateful daughter and her drug-squad / policeman-husband are ultimately dealt with in a murderous way. Meat and Romeo even try to get Frankie to go ‘legit’, but as it turns out, ‘Granny’s discovered the strongest drug of all – revenge’.

Botur has done well, putting these stories together – creating a bevy of characters with potential beyond the vivid snapshots in this publication. He seems naturally drawn to gangsta-vibe scenarios. You could argue that none of the characters are particularly likeable, but in an age of cynical, self-declared celebrity and ‘Reality TV’, this is barely noticeable. They are all succinctly drawn, colourful, and highly entertaining. For some readers – probably educational.

‘Low Life’ is super phat. If you want to break out of your politically-correct universe, buy it now, order that cheap cup of coffee – maybe on a comfy sofa if you prefer, and start reading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Bingo! Services for authors Mike can help with

Mike can help authors get their words across the world with the following services:

  • Formatting your book for Kindle, Kobo, Scribd, Wattpad and more
  • Giving your book away via Bookfunnel
  • Creating news stories to promote your book
  • Setting up your International Standard Book Number (ISBN)
  • Sending out a regular Mailchimp newsletter updating your audience
  • Promoting your book on social media inc. websites, blogs, Facebook,  Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest
  • Publishing your book on Createspace (Amazon.com)
  • Raising awareness of your writing across free websites such as Smashwords, Quora, Macguffin, Medium and Wikipedia
  • Getting your book stocked by NZ online book retailers such as Wheelers, Fishpond, University Bookshops
  • Social media and blogging on WordPress, Blogspot, Tumblr and more…

Contact Northland author Michael Botur on 021 299 0984 / mike@michaelboturwriter.com

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