Why It’s Important to Get Feedback for your Content

Last week, I got feedback from a client. Nothing new about that, you might think. I certainly get regular feedback from workshop participants and people I help with writing their books. But I don’t tend to get it from business clients. Often, they’re so busy that they don’t have time to properly read through what’s been written. They may even have practically forgotten that they asked you to write content. They just send you payment.

Of course, payment is welcome, but getting feedback reassures me that the content I’ve delivered meets their needs. Business clients think in terms of results, so it’s important for me to explain to them that the content-creation process involves several drafts and a bit of back and forth between client and content creator.

copywriting image
Take time to give feedback to your copywriter.

 

The client who gave me the feedback instinctively understood that. He’s a graphic and web designer, so he has a similar creative process. He took the time to give me detailed feedback on the first draft of some content I’d written for a tourism website he was developing. The process was a little squirm-inducing; it’s hard to fight the urge to defend your work. But I also found it hugely beneficial. Here’s why.

I discovered what I was doing right.

When delivering feedback, it’s best to begin with the good stuff. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. If you know which content works for your client, you can keep delivering it. It was good to know that most of what I had written was in line with the client wanted, so I was on the right track.

I was able to deliver the client’s message more accurately.

The client wanted me to emphasise the facilities and amenities that were available to people visiting this tourist attraction. There is a lot of history and heritage in the area, but I held back on writing about it for fear of sounding too Googlish. The client supplied me with resources I could use to get more of a feel for the area and write about it in a more vivid way. The feedback enabled me to get the client’s core message across more effectively.

I got the tone right.

Getting the tone of a company right takes a little time, because you need to become familiar with their philosophy and how they operate. I believe I had achieved a warm, welcoming tone, but the client felt I was still erring on the side of sales talk, so I used their feedback to create more of an impression of warmth and cosiness, and of a special experience.

Have you ever received feedback that you found beneficial? How was it delivered to you? And how did it improve the standard of your work overall?

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Why Writing Is Like The Salmon Season

When salmon are breeding, they must travel thousands of miles to their breeding grounds in the Sargasso Sea. The journey is arduous, and along the way, thousands of salmon fall away. Only the strongest make it to the Sargasso Sea.

Salmon Season
Writing a book is like the salmon’s journey to the Sargasso Sea, long and brutal.

The process of becoming a published writer is a lot like that. It’s a long process and it can be brutal, and there are a lot of hurdles to be jumped.

First, you have to actually start the book. How often have you been at social gatherings and heard people say, ‘I’d love to write a book?’ For many people, the desire to write a book has never gone beyond idle conversation. So if you commit to putting pen to paper, you’re already ahead of the game.

But the writing of the book can be overwhelming for people. It’s easy to get bogged down in your story, with its many plot twists and its cast of character. And some people never make it out of that maze. They abandon their book halfway through.

When you do finish your book, it’s quite right that you should congratulate yourself. But your journey is not over yet. Now it’s time to find an audience for your book. And the main way to achieve it is through publishing. Whether you self-publish or look for a traditional publisher, publishing is tough.

If you self-publish, all the work of a publisher falls to you – publishing, cover design, editing, printing and promotion. And finding a traditional publisher can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. This is the stage that really separates the minnows from the big fish. It involves at least as much work as the actual writing of the book, if not more. If you get through it, the rewards can be great.

But your work isn’t over. If you really want to establish yourself as a writer, you have to make the journey again and again. Each book will be a new journey, but if you have the inventiveness to keep coming up with new ideas and the faith to act on them, you’ll truly establish yourself as an author – and you may even make a living from it.

So what are the qualities that will get you through these hurdles to the Sargasso Sea that is the life of a published author? I believe there is a holy trinity of qualities – talent, hunger and discipline. If you display those qualities, they’ll help you over those hurdles. And in the end, it’s what you want that matters. Maybe the simple writing of the book is enough for you. Or maybe your writing ambitions simply lie elsewhere.

Whatever route you choose to reach the Sargasso Sea of publishing, good luck. If you have reached it, what qualities or resources helped you on your journey?

Can Books Be Introverted?

Have you ever read a book where all the ingredients are in place, but the story fails to ignite? I’m sure the experience will be familiar to many of you. I experienced it recently with a book that came highly commended from many quarters. But rather than simply shrug it off as a dull reading experience, I fell to pondering on what qualities had made the book dull for me.

And I concluded that the book was too introverted for me.

I once heard the acclaimed author Mary Costello talk about writing in an introverted style. She is an introvert herself, and considers loneliness to be a natural state for her human being. This leaked into her writing, into the small, delicate stories she creates.

MaryCostello
Mary Costello: an introverted writer.

I’ve written before about that special quality I call “the crackle,” an extra ingredient of passion or excitement that makes a book to life. Now I think of it, the crackle is a quality associated with extroversion: noisy stories that aren’t afraid to put themselves out there.

You could argue that it’s the writer who’s introverted, not the stories. But I do think some stories give you the chance to experience the world from the viewpoint of an introvert, with inspiration drawn from within.

Here’s my take on what makes a story introvert or extrovert?

Characters

Extroverted stories tend to have a large cast of characters who talk a lot, so there’s lots of dialogue. Extroverts like a crowd, so there always plenty of colourful types to get to know when you’re reading the stories. Introverted stories will only have one or two central characters, and there’s less dialogue. Instead, you’re more likely to get an insight into their thoughts.

Theme

Even when a story deals with the everyday, that can be a microcosm of bigger themes. But an extrovert writer is more likely to sweep you up in an epic tale that tackles themes like love and death on a grand scale, with lots of battles and passionate clinches. In an introverted story, the action could be concentrated on one room, with the theme gradually revealed through the character’s actions and inner dialogue.

Language

Extrovert writers are more likely to write with bold brush strokes, because they want their words to be noticed. Introvert writers use more delicate strokes to paint subtle portraits. Just as introverts in real life like to think things out, you’ll have to work a little harder to figure out what the author is trying to say. This

Do you think stories can have introvert or extrovert qualities? Can you think of examples?

How to Run a Great Children’s Writing Camp

For the first time in over two years, I ran a children’s creative writing camp. After such a long gap, the prospect of this camp was quite a challenge. Especially since I had changed the format of the camp. Previously, I had run the camp in five two-hour sessions. But this year, I decided to run a three-day camp, with each session lasting 3.5 hours. Feedback from parents told me that this would be much more convenient for working parents.

The thought of holding children’s attention for that long, and indeed keeping up my own energy levels, was quite daunting. What’s more, the children who enrolled were a mix of ages and abilities. Three of them were boys, and my experience with them was more limited, as it’s usually girls who show more interest in the writing camps I run.

Here are three things I did to help me overcome these challenges.

Prepared Well

I spent a lot of time thinking about ways to hold the children’s attention. As well as my usual writing activities, I thought of word games and picture based activities that would offer a bit of variety and hold their attention. I also had to think about what we would do during the break, rain or shine. In the end, I didn’t need the extra activities. Since the length of time for the camp was more or less the same as in my previous camps, I had enough material with my main writing activities to last for the entire camp. And the children’s concentration never flagged.

Asserted Authority

This is the most challenging aspect of running children’s camps for me. You’re not the children’s teacher or parent, so you can’t discipline them. But you’re also not their friend. Creating a warm, trusting relationship and giving clear instructions for activities wards off a lot of issues. But when issues did arise during this camp, I made it clear what I didn’t like and how I wanted the children to behave, I also took any actions which I felt would be in the best interests of the group. As a result, I felt more in control, and the children didn’t step outside the boundaries.

Set Concrete Tasks

This group of children responded better to activities that had a clear outcome at the end. The more whimsical activities went down less well because they couldn’t see the purpose of them. The boys in particular were more likely to switch on if there was a clear end in sight. As a result, when it came to writing a full-length story on the last day, they were very focused, and you could see their skills starting to come together, they began to see why we had been doing all these activities, and took pride in the end result.

Children's Summer Writing Camp 2017
Children at writing camp hard at work creating stories.

 

Outcome of Camp

Dare I say it, this was my most successful children’s creative writing camp. Much of the credit for this goes to the ten lovely children who came to the camp. They were open, creative, kind and respectful to each other. The children not only wrote their own original stories, but read them in front of an audience of their parents. They may have forgotten about it all by now, but I can only hope a little seed of creativity was planted, which will bear fruit in later life.

If you run a children’s activity, what do you do to make it fun and fulfilling for them? If you’re a parent, what benefits do you hope your children will gain from attending a camp?

Blind Photography Workshop in Dublin

This blog post from Photo Narrations gives an insight (pun intended1) into a photography workshop for the blind that I took part in. The pic of the Brendan Behan statue is mine, and I’m also in one of the light-painting pictures. You get two images of my face for the price of one!

Photo Narrations

I´m working for a Berlin-based project called Photo Narrations – Pictures for the Blind and Sighted. We organise photography workshops for people with vision impairments. The idea developed when photographer Karsten Hein was taking photos of people with sight loss for one of his exhibitions. Talking to his models,he realised that especially those who used to have more sight were interested in photography but had given it up or didn’t feel comfortable enough to join a photography club. So Karsten started a specific photography group.

a man with with a guide dog taking pictures, a woman standing next to him assists

How does blind photography work?

It is all about teamwork. The vision impaired photographer teams up with one or two sighted volunteers. The assistants help with selecting motives, framing the shot and picking the best pictures. At the end of each session, all teams meat up to talk about each others pictures and to describe them. Pictures and descriptions are subsequently gathered in an online…

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The Thrill of the Spoken Word

Last Saturday, I was delighted to play a small part in Modwordsfest, Waterford’s first-ever spoken words festival. I’ve become very drawn to spoken word in recent times. It’s hard to know how to define it, but I would describe it as any piece of literature that is spoken rather than written. That means either you write a piece that is designed to be performed, or you write no script at all – you just perform the piece off the cuff at an event. Spoken word can be poetry or prose, fictional or true- it just needs to be spoken.

Spoken word helps me to reconcile the part of my personality that loves to reflect and write and the part that loves to perform. For the Modwordsfest reading, I decided to go pure mad and perform a piece I’d written, but without a script. I’d already read it at another spoken word event, so it was fresh in my head. When it came to my turn, I just went for it.

And I have to admit, it was a headrush. The challenges of a muffling microphone and the sounds of a band playing on the street all disappeared as I spun my story, about the ups and downs of finding a good hairdresser. The crowd laughed in all the right places, and people passing by stopped to have a look. My inner diva was truly satisfied.

Here’s a pic of me reading. Have you ever tried spoken word yourself? How was the experience for you?

Reading at Modwordsfest - Derek Flynn
Reading in The Book Centre, Waterford, for Modwordsfest. Photo Credit: Derek Flynn

Matching Words with Pictures

I’ve always seen myself as a word person, not a picture person. I’ve heard all the clichés, that pictures paint a thousand words, that every picture tells a story. But I felt very little urge to take any myself. I’ve always thought words were enough. But last weekend, I found myself taking a photography course.

 

Why I Took the Course

 

You could blame my lack of interest on my sight problem. But that’s not the reason – at least on a superficial level. Having a visual impairment doesn’t mean you can’t have a visual brain. But I never really developed mine. Pictures just never spoke to me. Maybe it’s because I’m missing the layer of detailed vision that makes pictures more interesting. Or maybe it’s just because my brain is wired for sound.

 

But in the last few years, I’ve become increasingly aware that the world runs on pictures. When I was asked why I wanted to do the course, I quipped that I wanted to get more likes on my social media posts by putting up pictures, and this in turn would make me feel good about myself. But I really did it so I could get a sense of how pictures worked and what makes a good picture, so I can communicate more effectively with pictures.

 

I spotted a notice about a photography course for visually impaired people in a newsletter I subscribe to. It was given by Carsten Hein, a photographer from Berlin who’s worked with blind photographers before. I felt the course would offer a sympathetic environment for me to develop my skills in the making of pictures.

What Happened on the Course

A group of about twenty of us gathered in the National Council for the Blind’s headquarters in Dublin for the course. Half of us had some form of visual impairment and the other half were sighted volunteers, photography enthusiasts from different camera clubs in Dublin. Carsten divided us into two groups, one to take shots outdoors and the others to do light painting, of which more later.

I chose to do the outside photography, and I took pictures of things that I never would have noticed otherwise. I felt I was seeing the world in a different way. The feedback afterwards was illuminating (pun intended). I was impressed by how some photographers, who had very little sight, had such a precise idea of what they wanted their pictures to achieve and how to position their subjects. It confirmed my belief that you don’t need to have sight to have a visual brain.

Then on Sunday, we all did the light painting. Some of you may be familiar with this technique. The room is darkened, and flashlights are trained on a subject to illuminate it. The camera is set so that it takes the picture a number of seconds after you press the button. The camera transforms the beam into ribbons of light that look for all the world like spaghetti strands. You can use the strands to make beautiful shapes. The most striking was a series of Braille dots which spelt out Breaking Limits.

What I Learned

The course confirmed my belief that you don’t need to have full eyesight to have a visual brain. Some photographers were blind or near-blind, but had a very precise idea of what they wanted their pictures to achieve. Once they were told where to aim their camera, and where given detailed descriptions of what they were taking, they could take beautiful photographs.

I still don’t think I’ll make a photographer. Words will always be my great love. But the course has given me the confidence to complement my words with pictures. I have more faith in my ability to find interesting pictures to take. The descriptions of the pictures taken on the course revealed the layers that lie beneath the surface of pictures, and I’m now going to enjoy looking for those layers.

I put the lessons into practise straight away, when I went to a concert on the Saturday night of the course and was inspired to take this picture of the church where it was held.

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