Kate Waddon Copywriting

We all need words. Let me help you find the right ones.

What is this “Black Friday” thing anyway?

A few days ago, I started to receive some rather apocalyptic-sounding emails. Usually friendly types like Amazon and Argos were warning me that “Black Friday” was approaching. How menacing. Or maybe it’s something more benign, like dress-down-Friday for Goths?

“Black Friday” was until (surprisingly very) recently an American Thing. Full of turkey and goodwill following Thanksgiving, the US population make the most of their second day off, and flock en masse to the mall. The shops respond by offering seemingly incredible discounts. But by now, we all know this.

What naturally interested me (apart from any reduced Lego or Frozen dresses) is the term. “Black Friday” – doesn’t sound very jolly or make me think of merry shopping sprees. Wikipedia offers a few different origins. The day after Thanksgiving marked the start of the festive shopping season – we’re all familiar with the concept of “One festival is over, let’s start pushing the next one!” One explanation of the term is that it was coined by the Philadelphia police in 1969 – a description of the chaos caused by an entire city all trying to shop at once.  The term spread across the States and more recently, worldwide.

In the 1980s (when else?) the term was given a more positive commercial derivation – the day when retailers go “into the black”, i.e., make a profit. Can’t argue with that.

But a new derivation caused controversy yesterday when basketball player J R Smith stated “’Black Friday’ stemmed from slavery. It was the day after Thanksgiving when slave traders would sell slaves for a discount to assist plantation owners with chores for the upcoming winter (cutting and stacking fire wood, winter-proofing).” He was met with howls of derision and indignation for historical inaccuracy. He removed the post.

I’m now off to prune the many emails I’ve received offering “Black Friday Deals”. The term that originally referred to the congestion caused by vast volumes of consumers hitting the shops is now clogging up my inbox, not the streets. As Christmas shopping becomes an increasingly remote activity, “Black Friday” will become an even more esoteric – and completely inappropriate – phrase.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Friday_(shopping)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-25110953

http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/basketball/knicks/smith-links-black-friday-slavery-instagram-article-1.2024498

 

The distracted copywriter

It has been a week of distractions. Distraction is part of life for the freelancer. It can be one of the pleasures of working from home – but also one of the pitfalls. If I said I was never distracted while writing, I’d be lying, and everyone would know that I’m lying.

But – I have a job to do, deadlines to meet and clients to work for, so faffing about is not an option. I am lucky to have a job I enjoy, so I am genuinely motivated, but sometimes I need a few simple tricks to help me avoid distractions. They won’t work for every writer, but they do for me. Here’s how I get from A to B without visiting the rest of the alphabet on the way.

I switch off WiFi

Otherwise, that evil time-sink, Facebook, will take over. Few people have the iron will and capability to ignore the wonders of the internet. Do what you need to do, then switch it off.

I get my ducks in a row

I gather everything I need together at the start of my working session, so I’m not sending myself off on unnecessary errands every few minutes. Charged laptop, mobile, scrap paper and pen, bucket of coffee, diary… All here ready for me. (I may have written this post simply so I can use this phrase…)

I have breaks

It’s the “little of what you fancy” theory. If I have one biscuit, I will stick to one biscuit. If I deny myself biscuits, I will fantasise about them until my craving reaches a critical level. I will hunt them out and eat every man jack of them. It’s the same with time out from work. Ten minutes of sanctioned cat-wrangling, Amazon shopping, pootling in the garden – clears the head marvellously for the next procrastination-free work session.

I try not to do any housework

Harder than it sounds. When you work from home, it is very easy to go “Ooh, a cobweb!” and head off down a path of merry domesticity. I diarise cleaning the same way as I do work projects, and try not to hop too much between paid work and housework – with the end goal that if I work very hard, I may be able to buy a vacuum cleaner that actually sucks. Or a team of Downton-style footmen.

I will move into the attic

This is true, not just a creative’s hissy fit. In January, my desk is moving into the roof. Away from the phone, Homes Under the Hammer, hungry cats, the tyranny of family and the background squealing of My Little Pony, I shall be free to type away happily, free from all diversions. It will also be a long climb down to the fridge, which will help in other ways. If my style becomes a little Byronic as I embrace my new role as Mad Writer in the Attic, I’m sure it’ll calm down after a while.

The serious point here is, if you can, remove yourself to a space away from the distractions.

If I really have to, I embrace distraction

It doesn’t necessarily get the job done, but an interesting distraction provides plenty of writing material to store up. This week’s distractions have included a runaway cow being corralled by the police in my (ordinary, domestic) garden for ten long hours. That was pretty distracting – but one day I’ll probably get some mileage from it. I guess distractions come in different categories: useless (daytime telly) and potentially useful (bovine escapees).

Blogging of course, does not count…

Can your sentence be followed with “Parklife”?

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the dos and don’ts of writing.  This week we have a new way of making sure our words don’t run away with us – The Parklife Test, aka The Brand Check.

Russell Brand’s extravagant language has always divided people. Now he’s reinvented himself as a revolutionary, it’s still not so much what he says as how he says it that’s attracting comments. @danbarker tweeted that “Russell Brand’s writing feels like somebody is about to shout PARKLIFE! at the end of every sentence.”

If this makes no sense to you, cast your minds back to 1994. Blur’s single Parklife featured actor Phil Daniels reciting long-worded lines, followed by singer Damon chirruping “Parklife!” There is great entertainment to be had by reading a long-winded sentence and warbling “Parklife!” at the end; and this tweet had me giggling away to myself with its pin-point perfect accuracy.

Russell Brand’s language can be seen as rather crowded and exhausting. However, I admit that I’m enjoying seeing the injection of a new lexicon into politics. It’s all got rather depressing and doomy recently, as more and more politicians adopt the language of the apocalypse (we’re “swamped” and “plagued” most days apparently, by something or other). Any way of refreshing that is welcome.

But as ever, the criticism Russell Brand has received is a reminder to all of us to keep it simple. I know I’ve banged on about this before, but if people can’t understand what you’re saying (or can’t be bothered trying to decipher it), what’s the point?  I am much too old to remember most of the red-penned comments I received in my school essays, but the line “You seem to have swallowed a thesaurus” has stayed with me. OK, so I didn’t have much to say about the role of Enobarbus in Antony and Cleopatra – but padding it out with an insane amount of adjectives was clearly not the way forward. Lesson learned.

So, thank you Dan Barker – we now have a new useful check for verbosity. If I ever worry that a sentence feels a bit overblown, I’ll shout Parklife! at myself, and see if it fits. If it does, the sentence goes.