I used to flounder when people at parties asked me what I did for a living. Journalist? Editor? Copywriter? Book writer? Speech writer? Script writer? No-one wants chapter and verse when they ask you that question. “The secret of being boring is to say everything,” as Voltaire once quipped.
My career has involved all these disciplines. In the end I decided my best response was, “I’m a writer,” because then they might assume that I spent my days in a hut in the Lake District writing novels and poems, and that way they’d regard me with a degree of reverence and mystery.
But “writer” doesn’t really cover it either, because when you write for a living, “writing” is pretty much the last thing you do. It is the conclusion of a process of fact finding, problem solving, assessment, analysis, discussion, thought and planning.
Of course, the words are important too. Vitally so, in fact. The words you choose say everything about who you are, how you behave, what you believe… in short, they can be the most powerful tool at your disposal. As Francis Bacon put it, “The monuments of wit survive the monuments of power.” But only when you have something to say can you write, and so establishing a story, an argument, a proposition… that’s what I do for a living.
With my Action Planning hat on I write case studies, compile the monthly newsletters, edit articles submitted by our community of Consultants, manage content on the website and feed the insatiable beast that is social media. This means I regularly speak to people who run third sector organisations and hear their stories, all of which involve challenges, most of them big challenges, and I learn about the remarkable work that is being done throughout the UK and across the world.
For example, for Action Planning’s Pearls of Wisdom campaign, one of my offers was to rewrite an organisation’s website. I was matched with a charity called Link Ethiopia, which was restructuring and rebranding as Together We Learn. The charity focuses on providing an education to children in Ethiopia, partly through funding, partly through sending young volunteers from the UK to experience this exotic way of life and lend a hand while they’re there. What a brilliant story! I had not heard of them before but, thanks to my work, I have now.
And that is one of the most rewarding aspects of writing. You learn. Lots.
My career began in consumer magazines. Music, football, food… all the good things in life. And then I moved into marketing, as I could see the internet slowly squeezing the life out of the print industry. But guess what: the skills I learnt as a journalist have never been more in demand. Everybody wants content. Everybody has a story to tell.
Whether you’re appealing for donations, bidding for grants or advocating for a cause, you need a good story, whatever medium you’re using. I love helping organisations in this way because what it boils down to is pulling all the interesting stuff to the top. The dull stuff goes at the bottom – and usually in a very small font!
In my spare time I run a not-for-profit voluntary organisation called New Music Nights. We put on monthly live gigs and an annual summer festival, all to promote original music and the live setting. 2020 has pulled the rug out from under our feet but the need has not gone away. So we need to keep telling our stories too, to maintain interest and remain relevant.
Fortunately, that’s what I like to do. As for the reverence and mystery, nobody fell for that, but who knows? Maybe one day…