Had I been in the nineteenth century what I am today–a woman, well read and with a passion for writing—I would have written a novel like Jane Austen did, quipped my copywriter friend Jennifer as we walked out of the community store one summer evening. In the twenty-first century there are men and women who can write and write pretty well, thanks to modern day schooling, but who will not, for fear of joining the ranks of thousands like them whose contribution to the world of letters go unnoticed.
In the two centuries since writing has become part of our public culture there have been continental drifts in our approach to it. It has become instrumental to our everyday living as citizens, as part of the workforce, as activists, thinkers, entertainers, cultural icons and our private lives as parents, siblings, children, friends and partners. In an age in which everyone writes, most of us cannot but like Jennifer, ask, how do I write, and write without sounding like everyone else, repetitive, run of the mill and with no imaginative stroke to my writing? Going, each our own way, the question set us thinking.
Jennifer’s problem, we discovered, is more complex than the rest of us possibly imagine it to be and requires an approach radically different to that we may have taken so far. As web content writers, copyeditors and bloggers, we should be prepared to return to the beginning and think the very act of writing. We must define our relationship to writing, no matter what it is that we are writing. Even if we are in the business of writing for the money that it brings us, the question is a pertinent one. Do we write as ourselves? As Tom, Caroline or Judith? Or are we simply mercenaries of writers, our identities steamrolled, our personalities airbrushed? Jennifer believes, like I do, that content writers are no different to a Jane Austen or a George Eliot, never mind our not being novelists or inhabiting a different space and time. If they found their selves in writing, why shouldn’t the likes of you and me?
To find inspiration in nineteenth century writers is not to recreate them in style, phrasing and intent. It is about locating yourself in time, about being contemporary. A step ahead, it is about being futuristic, being able to define the times way before others do. It is about innovating, evolving what you can call your signature style and yet being able to create the bespoke. Modern business is all about managing time as much as making the right choice from among an array of choices. It is important that you grab time so that others grab you as their right choice. Needless to say, stay away from the temptation of short-circuiting your way through with templates, models and examples. They are all tried out recipes, bound by time and context, limited in their aesthetic appeal and subject to the law of diminishing returns.
The First Commandment
Get to the wellspring of your thought and discover the range and texture of your being. Thought and language, contrary to popular belief, are mutually inclusive, interlocked and complementary in themselves. Your language is the barometer of your thinking, the image of yourself. It scales the depths of your personality and reflects the scope of your abilities whether comprehending, thinking or inscribing ideas on paper. Remember, language copied carries the ghosts of its maker. The ways in which you use language can give you away as an original writer or as a haunted one. It is for you to decide who you are and what you want to be looked at as.