How Pixar's 'Inside Out' delivers an important lesson for writers

How Pixar's 'Inside Out' delivers an important lesson for writers

I’m a huge fan of Pixar, the animated film wizards who have given us, amongst others, the Toy Story series, Monsters Inc. and one of my top 10 favourite movies, Finding Nemo. Any filmmakers who can consistently make a grown man tear up in a cartoon must be masters of the emotions, and Toy Story 3 is probably the most heartstring-pulling film I have ever seen.

Pixar’s latest film, Inside Out, takes things in a new direction by taking us inside the head of an 11-year-old girl where we get to meet her feelings and explore her memory. Once again they’ve managed to put together a completely engaging story for both adults and kids, only this time they’ve combined their story with some pretty serious science.

Posted by

The single biggest way to get more focused and productive

The single biggest way to get more focused and productive

As I prepared my breakfast this morning it dawned on me that technology’s obsession with notifications isn’t restricted to devices like the Apple Watch. These days everything needs to tell you when it’s done. Our toaster beeps when it has finished its cycle. So does the dishwasher. And the washing machine. Even my electric toothbrush alerts me to the fact that I’ve been brushing for the optimum amount of time.

It’s only a matter of time before all these notifications get rerouted to Silicon Valley and back to my phone or (if I had one) watch.

It was this realisation that caused me to revisit the notifications on my phone.

Posted by

5 rules for writers when working with fonts

5 rules for writers when working with fonts

I was a bit misty eyed during the week after reading of the death of Hermann Zapf. Zapf was a typographer and font designer. He gave us the widely used Palatino typeface, Optima (one of my favourite fonts) and the Zapf Dingbats (you’ve probably used some of them), amongst others.

To be honest I hadn’t heard of Zapf before. What made me go all nostalgic was the thought of what this 96-year-old had seen over his life and that he will continue to make his mark, via his fonts, for many years to come.

I’ve always loved a good font. However, as a writer I’m also aware of the potential dangers of being a ‘fontoholic’. Believe me, there are a lot of fonts out there if you go looking for them.

Here are the five strategies I use in order to manage this condition.

Posted by

Writing a book? Dig deeper for a better story

Writing a book? Dig deeper for a better story

I’ve just finished watching the excellent television drama House of Cards – the US version starring Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood. If you’re into politics, it’s a must see.

During the third and final season, one of the subplots involves a writer, Thomas Yates, who is commissioned by Underwood to write a biography of him. In many ways it’s a poisoned chalice for Yates. The book is always intended as a puff piece.

Nevertheless, there are some interesting interactions between subject and writer across a number of episodes – interactions I think many ghostwriters and biographers could relate to.

A theme that ran particularly true for me was Yates’s challenge in getting any level of detail out of Underwood.

Posted by

Why I (sadly) won't be buying an Apple Watch, and you shouldn't either

Why I (sadly) won't be buying an Apple Watch, and you shouldn't either

I am an unashamed technophile and fan of virtually all things Apple. I’m always pretty keen to get my hands on the newest Apple release in fairly quick time, so I am instinctively drawn towards the freshest fruit on the tree: the Apple Watch.

Three things held me back from yielding to this temptation early on. First, the Apple Watch doesn’t come cheap. I need to know $500+ would be money well spent. Second, and with that in mind, I don’t wear a watch – I haven’t for years – so I need to be convinced that I would be comfortable wearing this ‘timepiece’. And third, history tells us that the second generation of Apple’s devices is usually a big step forward from the first so perhaps better to wait a year regardless.

However, after reading and listening to a number of reviews of the watch (such as this one), I’m even less convinced that I will ever need an Apple Watch. While it aims to make us more productive, my current thinking is that it could quite possibly do the opposite.

Posted by

Why overindulging in the exclamation mark is bad for your writing's health

Why overindulging in the exclamation mark is bad for your writing's health

For my recent 50th birthday my wife gave me (at my request) an electronic drum kit. My daughters rolled their eyes. “Mid-life crisis” they said loudly, without having to say anything at all. (There was general acknowledgement that alternative mid-life crisis choices could have been far worse.)

Anyway, to come to the point. As I work my way through a couple of drumming books and numerous YouTube clips, there’s one message that comes through time and time again. It’s that good drumming isn’t about lots of fancy stuff. It’s about keeping a good steady beat most of the time and stepping it up with a flourish once in a while. The art is less about complexity and more about timing – knowing precisely when to break out for maximum impact.

All of this came to mind when I was chatting to editor Heather Kelly the other day. Heather has years of editing experience and has always been an advocate for very sparse use of exclamation marks (or ‘exclamation points’ as they are called in the US). It is a very lucky exclamation mark indeed that survives Heather’s red pen.

Posted by

How to say what you want to say in a different and interesting way

How to say what you want to say in a different and interesting way

A few years ago I stumbled on a wonderful series of pictures by artist Corinne Vionnet. Corinne has created her images by layering hundreds of virtually identical images of prominent landmarks, each individual photo taken by a tourist standing in more or less the same place. Her images are striking to look at in their own right. But they also say a lot about the repetitiveness of a lot of travel photos.

One of the biggest challenges of travel photography is avoiding the ‘postcard’ perspective and finding an original way of portraying the ‘classic’ landmarks. There is always a way: waiting for the light to change, for an interesting person to cross the scene or simply moving around to find an unorthodox angle. As a keen photographer myself, this is one of the joys of travel. It also, I like to think, makes our travel tales a little more interesting for friends and family when we get home.

Success in this game, I believe, lies in allowing yourself to look at the world through your own eyes rather than through the eyes of others – taking your own pictures rather than replicating those of others.

This challenge of originality, and the key to success, applies just as much to writing.

Posted by

Will you and your business disappear without a trace?

Will you and your business disappear without a trace?

The recent commemoration of Anzac Day’s 100th anniversary was as good a reminder as anything of the importance of keeping records of our history. Photographs from that time may be grainy, blurry and often creased, but they still manage to provide incredible insight into a very different time. This, of course, is even more important now as there are no remaining survivors of that campaign – pictures and words are all we have left.

Which begs the question. In another 100 years, what memories will today’s generations have left to share with our counterparts of the future?

On the surface this seems a ridiculous question. After all, we take billions more photos and write trillions more words today than were collected in the early 20th century. But it’s not that simple. There are two major problems, both relating to the fact that so much of what could be ‘tomorrow’s memorabilia of today’ is not stored in permanently useful formats.

Posted by

5 great places to go for advice on grammar

5 great places to go for advice on grammar

If you’re serious about your writing – and I mean any writing that is going to be seen by someone other than yourself – you should also be serious about getting your grammar right. This is the case even if you are of those who thinks grammar is overrated, that it’s ‘getting the meaning’ that matters. Remember that a good proportion of your readers will baulk at any grammatical error and will quite possibly lose focus on what you’re saying after they come across one. 

In any case, good writing is professional writing. If you want to present yourself as someone who knows their stuff, you need to be able to write about that stuff in proper English.

So, next time you are wondering about the rights and wrongs of semicolons or dashes, where should you go for help?

Posted by

A 5-step writing process anyone can use

A 5-step writing process anyone can use

“I don’t know where to start!” This must be the most common cry of the would-be writer – the person who wants (or needs) to write a blog post or an article or an essay – even a book – but is overwhelmed by the idea before they put fingers to keyboard. 

In this post I’m going to give you a magic five-step writing process to overcome this inertia. However, I offer this process on the understanding that there is no single ‘right’ way of doing this. Ultimately the only right way to write is the way that works for you. However, finding your ‘right way’ often requires a bit of trial and error and this process just might get you underway. 

The basic philosophy of this writers’ process is to start with a mess and end up with a ‘tidy’ finished product.

Posted by