It’s not easy being green -ish

Not, here, referring to my newly-achieved membership of the Green Party, you’ll be relieved to hear – that’s incredibly easy.

No, I’m referring to living a green lifestyle. Not in a Jolly Green Giant sense…or in a Kermit the Frog sense…

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More a dietary sense.

For for several months now, for reasons of conscience, primarily, but also for the sake of my health, I have chosen not to eat any meat or dairy products.

“The average British carnivore eats more than 11,000 animals in their lifetime, each requiring vast amounts of land, fuel and water to reach the plate.”

“On the ethical side, many dairy cows are never allowed to graze outdoors; they are confined to cramped stalls on factory farms. Although a cow can live twenty years, practically all dairy cows are slaughtered before before they turn five, as the milk production of ageing cows can’t match that of younger animals. Modern dairy cows are impregnated each year in order to maximise their milk yields, and their calves are often sold to the veal industry…”

That.

(While I DO realise that there are plenty of cows who live a long and happy life on grass, it’s somehow easier to be an all or nothing sort of gal).

Actually, the not-eating-meat side of being green-ish is easy. People understand it. It’s the dairy-free that causes me the most difficulty.

Three things.

The first to be covered in this blog.

Hoorah. I shall not use animal milk of any sort. I shall instead be very green and use such products as almond milk.

But wait a minute… each almond requires 1.1 gallons of water to produce and most almonds are grown in often drought-ravaged parts of California. Water diverted to almond farms threatens salmon in northern California etc. etc. etc… Damn.

I know. Soya milk. Phew.

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“Conversion of High Conservation Value Areas and other critical habitats for soybean cultivation is unacceptable as it threatens biodiversity, endangered species and the livelihoods of local people. The expansion of soybean plantations into forests is also contributing to climate change. Deforestation is responsible for about 15% of all the global greenhouse gas emissions caused by people.” (from vegan.com)

I now drink oat milk.  Oatly. (Other brands available but I like the packaging and branding. Go figure).

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Is that okay? I hardly dare investigate.

As the copywriter is rarely seen by her clients…

…she need not dress respectably, to misquote George Bernard Shaw, on the main reason for adopting writing as a profession.

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Ah, clients. I love my clients. On the end of the phone, by email. The occasional meeting just so I know I still exist…when I do dress fairly respectably.

My clients are THE BEST. That’s to say, I am (almost always) appreciated for my work,  I get paid – yaaay – and I very often garner repeat business. I’ve been working with some of my clients for years. And I do say ‘working with’ not ‘working for’ because that’s how I see it – as a partnership.

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Client : A person who pays a professional person or organisation for services’, says Merriam-Webster (except they used a z in organisation, so, true to my British heritage as a copywriter, I corrected it). The definition of client does not, anywhere that I can see, include expecting far too much, far too quickly,  for far too little recompense, with not even an acknowledgement that the work has been received, let alone the courtesy of a thank you. Just sayin’…

So here are some examples of client demands imposed on copywriters and web designers, some of whom are known to me, others came from that excellent website, Clients From Hell.

As a freelancer, especially at the beginning, it’s extremely hard to turn clients down but…

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Honestly, life’s too short to put up with stuff like this:

If you’re going to charge me 40$ an hour to make my website I would like to install a camera in your office so I’m 100% sure you don’t bill me for hours where you’re not working.

I don’t believe you can have taken 6 hours to do this work.  You have single-handedly wiped out all my profits. In future, when you are working for me, you are to text me every hour and tell me what you have achieved in that time,” from a client who asked, at very short notice and out of office hours, for copywriting to be undertaken which involved extensive research, responding to 58 emails, multiple phone calls and a Skype conference, as well as the writing itself.

Why are you so expensive? Don’t you understand that you are discouraging a new company from growing? I have to meet the other partners – we didn’t plan for this huge expense, ” from a client who was invoiced $300 for a logo and 20-page brand manual.

I prefer the copy the length it was before you edited it. I don’t want to cut a single word,” from a client who had written the first draft of copy for a brochure –  long, rambling, repetitive and ungrammatical – and hired a copywriter to edit it, as advised by his graphic designer.  The graphic designer again told the client his copy was too long. “Never mind, we’ll make the font much smaller so it fits into your design.”

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YES – OF COURSE clients can call the shots about how they represent their company, about the approved copy. It’s absolutely their choice, even if it doesn’t read well, look good or do the job for which it was intended. We can only offer advice.

That’s one thing. It’s entirely another thing to be exploited or treated with disrespect by your clients.

Honour yourself, I say. It’s taken me a very long time to get there, to the point where I’m able to say…

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Thank you, my lovely clients, that it’s such a rare occurrence in my working life. You are STARS.

 

 

Making a meal of a diet

Not so much a diet but a lifestyle. Diet implies the desire to lose weight. I’m fortunate in that I’ve never really had to struggle with that particular issue.

SO…

Hi, my name is Caroline and I’m a dairy-free ovo-pescatarian.

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Oh, did you not realise?

Dairy-free ovo-pescatarian. Well, it has a certain pretentious ring to it, doesn’t it? Even if it’s not very apparent exactly what it means. So, this diet. It means that I don’t eat meat, I don’t eat dairy products – so that’s no milk, butter, cheese (now that IS a struggle, because I love cheese – and don’t talk to me about vegan cheese!) No croissants. No Cadbury’s Giant Chocolate Buttons either. Pretty scary stuff.

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I do eat eggs (from my own much-loved and well-cared for chickens) and I do eat fish.  And I do, of course eat plants. Not geraniums. Not dandelions. Plant-based foods. Including prosecco.

‘Pescatarian? Peskytarian, more like,’ mutter some people, rolling their eyes heavenwards. Bloody nuisance. Faddy eater. Crank. It won’t last. Here she goes again. Well, that’s the last time I invite her round for a meal. You ARE joking, aren’t you? Don’t you know plants have feelings too? (ha ha ha)

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Why, why, WHY? Why this irksome, annoying, inconvenient diet?

Because.

It started when my boy Laurie announced he was becoming vegan, just before we went over to Canada to spend 10 days there following the birth of Number One Grandson, Walter Bear Coxon. I wanted to support Laurie and I was also interested to try it for myself. Health reasons (general fatigue, high cholesterol) and ethical reasons (feeling like a hypocrite endorsing animal welfare causes then tucking into roast lamb for Sunday lunch).

So I did. Didn’t falter once. It was quite easy in Whistler, it being a bit of a hippy-dippy town,  so well set up for People With Alternative Eating Requirements. I lost 8 pounds in weight in the ten days, just for information’s sake.

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I felt…in good shape. No headaches. No congestion. No need for painkillers, which I took a lot of just to keep going when I had headaches caused by congestion. Plenty of energy. Sleeping well. The only thing was, on this diet my tummy felt gassy and empty a lot of the time and there were some important vegan protein sources I simply didn’t enjoy – tofu and too many pulse foods. SO…

I took the decision to eat fish, for protein. Sorry, fish.

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And eggs from my chickens.

And there you are. Caroline the dairy-free ovo-pescatarian. Doing well. Not finding it hard (very often). No intention of reverting.

My next blog will be full of tales of the difficulties I have encountered in my efforts to stick to the diet. It can be very amusing…

A good copywriter must be an acrobat

A good copywriter? I suppose copywriters come in many guises. One of these is that they stick to a particular niche in the market and become very knowledgeable about it. Another – and I think this is me – is the copywriter who simply loves words, playing with words and is always curious.

That’s curious like this:

Curious (Pronunciation: /ˈkjʊərɪəs/): Adjective

  1. Eager to know or learn something

Not this:

    2. Strange, unusual

Although probably 2 applies as well  (but that’s no bad thing in my opinion. Who wants ordinary?)

This sort of copywriter is in possession of many minds

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or is at least able to make one mind perform acrobatics, as we don’t necessarily want to enter into the realm of insanity…

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So, here are the acrobatics my mind was performing last week, or those acrobatics relating to my job as a copywriter. (Let’s draw a veil over the Creative and Critical Writing Masters).

  • Researching highly technical data about WiFi solutions, cloud systems, BDR and the like – see, I know that BDR means backup disaster recovery now – and turning it into language that, well, people like me can understand. From nerd to, errm, tech dummy?
  • Revising a website for which the intended audience was high-society, aristocracy, royalty. From Joe Public to Upper-Upper Class
  • Creating a poster for a supermarket on the lower end of the retail spectrum for which the guidelines were, frankly, on the high end of the patronising spectrum. While not actually saying ‘use no long words’ they might as well have… From Joe Public to…some marketing department’s perception of a certain shopping demographic. Duh!

Oscar Wilde made me feel less slimy on the last point.

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And so did this…

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THAT’S what good copywriters do. Make things easy to understand, entertaining to read, compelling – using the vocabulary, tone and layout which will most appeal to whoever it is they’ve been asked to address.

I find it FUN copywriting though sometimes challenging. I love my job. All those acrobatics keep me mind agile.

Next week?

Keyboard skills for guinea pigs.

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NOOOOO problem for a polymath copywriter…

 

I’m trying to overcome my OCD…

by replacing my neurosis with three other letters…

(Thanks again, Jarod Kintz – a quote for every occasion and none).

For the record, I absolutely DON’T make light of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I know that, in some cases, “OCD is not a disease that bothers; it is a disease that tortures.” This from J.J. Keeler, I Hardly Ever Wash My Hands: The Other Side of OCD

In its own way OCD sometimes tortures me. Not badly. I can still function. It seems at odds with the scatty, disorganised side of me. You only have to observe my desk, my in-box, my invoicing processes, the inside of my head BUT there are certain things about which I’m obsessive and when they’re not right, it does my head in.

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It seems to be to do with symmetry, in my case.

Look at this example – one of my most frequent meltdowns.

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NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Different coloured pegs used on one pillowcase. I simply CANNOT leave that be. I feel panic. Truly. I must put it right.

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The relief is palpable.

This is from OCDUK‘s website, explaining some of the forms of OCD:

“Symmetry and Orderliness – the need to have everything lined up symmetrically just ‘right’ is the compulsion, the obsessive fear might be to ensure everything feels ‘just right’ to prevent discomfort or sometimes to prevent harm occurring.”

Yes, to preventing discomfort. No, to preventing harm from occurring.

And, YES, before anyone says it or even thinks it, what completely inconsequential, rubbishy, pathetic things to worry about and haven’t I something better to occupy my brain with than this? Of course I have but a compulsion doesn’t take any notice of anything else. It’s a compulsion.

Don’t even get me started on a missing piece in a jigsaw puzzle.

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What would I do? I’d throw the whole puzzle in the bin rather than have to see it incomplete.

And yes, I spent a VERY long time, while staying with my beloved Whistler family, searching and searching and SEARCHING for number 2 and number 4, missing from Tilly’s counting biscuits, all the while chanting under my breath, ‘It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter.’

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BUT IT DID!

“We all have our routines,” he said softly.”But they must have a purpose and provide an outcome that we can see and take some comfort from, or else they have no use at all. Without that, they are like the endless pacings of a caged animal. If they are not madness itself, then they are a prelude to it.” ― John Connolly, The Book of Lost Things

But wait, there is some scientific explanation to account for the love of symmetry – this, particularly regarding the human face, but see point (ii).

“Two explanations have been proposed to account for symmetry preferences: (i) the evolutionary advantage view, which posits that symmetry advertises mate quality and (ii) the perceptual bias view, which posits that symmetry preferences are a consequence of greater ease of processing symmetrical images in the visual system.”

So perhaps I’m just lazy?

But beware…just in case…OCD me!

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Being a good writer is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the Internet.

I beg your pardon? Being a good writer is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the internet?

Somebody said that. Nobody wanted to own up, though. And I would disagree – not that I’m not distracted by the internet, (excuse the double negative) by the way. Oh, hang on a sec…

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I AM sometimes distracted by the internet when I’m working but, here and now, I’m going to justify my position in a way that only an aficionado can. An aficionado who is also very skilled at finding euphemisms for uncomfortable words like addict and fanatic.

First – distracted or not, I don’t miss deadlines. EVER.

Second – writing is a solitary pursuit (I work on my own at home) and it takes up much less (work) time to have a quick interaction with someone on Facebook/by email/FaceTime/WhatsApp/SMS, or whatever your weapon of choice, than it does to meet up face-to-face.  Virtual chats are sometimes necessary when I’m up to my eyes in copywriting, just to remind me that there are people out there in the Big Bad World beyond the four walls of my study.

Third – when I’ve been writing for a long stretch on some mind-bogglingly dull or complex subject (yes, those do exist) I feel as though my head might explode. Very often, I’ll go out into the garden for a breath of fresh air, or make myself a cup of tea, or do some housework – all to give my brain a break. But SOMETIMES, it’s just as relaxing to surf the net for a while, watching silly YouTube videos about kittens startled by cucumbers. We all need a break occasionally, purrrrlease.

Fourth – I USE the internet quite extensively in my work – for research purposes. (My husband laughs hollowly when I tell him this – but I DO).

SO, the internet may have its pitfalls…

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BUT, it also has its uses for me, a writer.

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I’m now trying to assess whether writing this blog = being distracted by the internet. Don’t think so.

However, maybe you reading it is…

 

Essay submission time. Brings it all back.

Brings it all back? You mean, my breakfast? Not quite.

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Essay writing. For the MA. First paper due in today, taking us hard-working students neatly right over Christmas and the New Year. Please don’t laugh.

“The love of learning, the sequestered nooks,
And all the sweet serenity of books”

That’s from Longfellow, and no he didn’t appear in my essay. Freud and D.H. Lawrence did. Modesty forbids me from revealing the title. Suffice to say…no, that’s all I’m going to say. Except, it was about horses. Loosely.

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I DID actually thoroughly enjoy both the research and the writing of it, although, at times I thought my head might explode. Voltaire wasn’t in my essay either – but he might have been: “The more I read, the more I acquire, the more certain I am that I know nothing.”

However, one of the questions  we were required to address in our essay-writing endeavours was this: “Have I succeeded in having a good time (or can I fool the reader into thinking I have)?” What a brilliant, absolutely BRILLIANT way to think about academic writing! I did have a good time, but whether or not that’s evident in the essay remains to be seen.

I finished before the deadline, which was good, but then I found myself having all sorts of irrational panic attacks, as if, in the grand scheme of things, it mattered one jot. Nothing seemed to help…

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Silly concerns:

Is it the right font and is the font the right size?

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That should do, right?

Do I have to number the pages and should my name be on it? Is the paper I used too thin? Have I printed off all the pages? How many copies do I need? Have I remembered to put the essay in my bag now I’m heading towards the university? Was the deadline REALLY 4 p.m.? Was the deadline really TODAY, in fact?

Low down on my list of worries this morning: Is it any good?

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That’s what I’m worrying about now.

Yes, brings it all back. I was exactly the same when I did my first degree at the University of Liverpool. I’ve only had, let me see, (maths never was my strong point) – thirty-nine years to develop a better attitude.

Essay DOES mean ‘attempt or effort’ as well as ‘a short piece of writing on a particular subject.’

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Pretentious? Moi?

I don’t think I’m pretentious, but some may disagree. Some DO disagree. Okay, perhaps I was pretentious when I was a child. Not many 13-year-olds ask for a copy of War and Peace when required to choose a school prize.  (In my defence, I did actually read it. All of it.) I really can’t remember what motivated me at the time, but I was going through a phase of reading a lot of Russian literature.

See,  now I’m thinking, aaaargh, I really AM pretentious. Then, my second thought is, why should anyone be ashamed of reading classic literature.

I recall that one of my (unkindly-meant) nicknames was Swotty. Maybe I could regard that as a badge of honour?

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This position of self-respect is not helped by people like musician Moby, who freely admits, “When I was growing up, I was the most pretentious person I have ever met. I only read obscure books and watched obscure movies and only listened to obscure music.” 

THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. Don’t call yourself pretentious.

Pete Townshend had more of an idea. He couldn’t believe that, “30 years later we’re still looking at people who are supposed to write little 2-minute pop songs and when they actually try to do something that’s a little bit more, they regard it as pretentious.”

He is so right. Why shouldn’t people move on and be proud of it? Let’s praise this evolution, not sneer at it.

So what has brought about this sudden self-examination about my so-called pretensions? I’ll tell you, shall I? For my Creative and Critical Writing MA, we were advised to watch Melancholia, the Lars von Trier film. I rented it online, but loved it so much I ordered a DVD from Amazon. Not new, admittedly,  but I thought, what could possibly go wrong? I bravely fended off the comment from nearest and dearest – ‘You’re so ****ing pretentious!’ Everyone’s at it.

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Beautiful, yes?

So it arrived. I couldn’t wait to open it and watch it again.

Inside…a DVD of…

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Oh, how I laughed! Actually I DID laugh. A lot. I was thinking, ‘Serves me right for being so pretentious…’

Then I stopped myself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writers fish for the right words

“…like fishermen fish for, um, whatever those aquatic creatures with fins and gills are called.”

Those words are from my favourite Jarod Kintz. (Well, he’s the only one I know…)

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Surely better to use familiar and simple words correctly rather than misuse other more complex words? (There’s an irony for you – misusing words when you’re anxious to appear to be clever. How to make yourself look like a numpty).

I love the way Howard Mittelmark offers a practical solution for us, in How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them–A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide.

“A Test: Do I Know This Word?

Ask yourself: ‘Do I know this word?’
If the answer is no, then you do not know it.”

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You could always be creative. Jarod Kintz again:

“Who needs a large vocabulary when you can just make up any word at any time? It makes life a whole lot more emeaglibop.”

I can honestly say that my life is particularly emeaglibop at the moment, in no small measure due to hearing some words on the radio, made up to fill gaps in the English dictionary – words created for occasions where no words exist.

For that moment when you’re waiting at the airport baggage reclaim and everybody’s suitcases have appeared except for yours:

BAGONIZING!

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To describe how you feel on those occasions when you’re with your friends and they’re constantly looking down at their mobiles:

PHONELY!

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And finally – you’re driving along the motorway and a huge truck pulls out in front of you and takes about half an hour to get past the truck in the next lane:

SLOVERTAKING

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As a copywriter, I find the right words for my clients’ websites and marketing material.

That’s all.

 

“Students, eh? Love ’em or hate ’em, you can’t hit them with a shovel!”

Terry Pratchett said that. I’m not sure in what context, but it’s a cheerful enough thought to start this blog. Better than some profound thing.

So here I am. A student. One of those Masters students. At the University of Sussex. Not to be confused with the University of Brighton.

RIDICULOUSLY proud of my student card.

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I can even get students’ discounts in shops and everything, even if I couldn’t get discounts because of my age. Well, I think I should probably get double discount.

I am firmly resisting the temptation — there IS no temptation actually, so I’m not firmly resisting it — to buy one of those hoodies…do they sell them even? Here’s something I found online:

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Simply not my style. Never in the never ever. But I am proud to be there at that university and want everyone to know it.

The thought did cross my mind, before the first seminar — would I feel dreadfully old and uncomfortable with those bright young things?

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The answer? Nope. Thank you, people. Not even a glimmer. Mature student? Moi? Hardly…

So now I have studying to do. Homework. The stuff that students do when they’re not in the Union bar, so I’m told.

I was struggling a bit the other evening, not wanting to shut myself away in anti-social isolation from Peter, so trying to master Freud on the settee in front of the TV. (Freud would surely have something to say about some of that sentence?)

Peter was watching Master and Commander (again). It was Very Loud. It was, though, one of those annoying soundtracks where if you turn down the volume to mitigate the ear-blasting SFX, you can’t hear the dialogue. My solution? Earphones in. Music on, even louder. I may go deaf.

The album that I came upon, quite randomly, was Supertramp’s Crime of the Century. Dated 1974, when I was at university the first time around. The University of Liverpool, reading English and Philosophy. I was transported back to my carefree youth when life was so uncomplicated. I was transported to a state of bliss. Study came easily after that.

Don’t arrange to have me sent to no asylum. I’m just as sane as anyone. It’s a just a game I play for fun…for fun.

This will be the students’ soundtrack, along with:

  • Selling England By the Pound – Genesis
  • Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd
  • Blue – and – Court and Spark –  Joni Mitchell
  • The Yes Album – Yes

Oh, and when I’m feeling particularly mournful in an emo student sort of way: The Songs of Leonard Cohen

Happy days!

I love my life. My life will love me back.