New things I like

I work in PR and marketing, so I always keep my eyes and ears open for cool new things.

I noticed two TV ads recently which I thought were really unexpected and impactful.

One is by Nationwide and is a series featuring spoken-word poets “talking about what’s important to them” – I particularly liked the delivery of Hollie McNish’s poem ‘Little Things’.

The other is by TalkTalk, and is essentially a mini fly-on-the-wall documentary of a regular family in their house, called ‘This Stuff Matters’.

I was wondering what stood out about these ads.

I guess one thing is personal preference: I like spoken-word poetry, and I like subtle and low-key advertising, so both of these naturally would appeal to me.

But I was also thinking that every type of media—TV, newspaper, radio, online, social, etc—has its own set of rules and expectations. It’s similar to films and novels, where each genre has its own tropes, like the happy ending in a rom-com or the obligatory action-film car chase.

If brands are aware of these expectations, they can cleverly subvert them and stand out.

The tropes that I expect from a TV ad are things like: sleek production quality, emotive music, professional voiceover, attractive product shots, maybe some story-telling with a character and plot.

So I like these two ads because they both subvert those expectations. They use the tropes of different media like documentary and poetry, and they draw on these different qualities, using them in a big broadcast channel.

I think this is better for the brand and the customer, to be honest. At least it prevents us from living in some homogenous environment where the media we consume all live up to our expectations.

 

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Why I stopped blogging and started journalling . . . and why I’m now doing both

The problem with blogging

I’ve blogged on and off for a few years.

I used to write a blog called Really Practical Criticism, where I did “close readings of modern life” (that was 2011-12). And then more recently I just wrote updates on my minor successes as an aspiring writer, like when I got published in a magazine or something (around 2013-14).

Then I just stopped. To be honest, I didn’t really see the point in blogging: it takes a long time, a lot of effort to maintain, and not many people were reading what I was writing.

The fact is, in a blog you write for an audience, and not only do you edit and revise your work to interest or impress them, you also self-censor before you even start writing. Personally I ended up double-guessing and overthinking. Instead of using it as a way to exercise my creativity in a relaxed way, I would end up asking myself: what should I write about, what would interest people, how can I make this more interesting, etc, etc?

It wasn’t that I didn’t have any ideas; I had tonnes of thoughts and I also had the desire to say things honestly and clearly, but didn’t feel comfortable expressing them through this medium.

The benefits of journalling

So this time last year (Sunday 2nd August 2015 to be precise) I started writing a journal instead.

I didn’t set out to journal, it just started naturally. I happened to be travelling on a long train journey for work, and had a notebook and pen on me. I was annoyed about not being able to find enough time to write my novel, and so I basically scribbled down a long rant about it.

Then over the following weeks I wrote my thoughts about books and magazines I was reading, kind of like ‘literary criticism lite’. I also wrote about my novel: trying to articulate the plot and characters, or just venting the troubles I was having with it.

Within a year, I have filled five notebooks with thoughts on books, writing, relationships, work, life, basically whatever interests me at that time.

Writing a private journal solves all of the problems that I had with blogging: there’s no self-censorship, no audience, just my own small thoughts. I write whenever I want – sometimes with a fortnight gap, and then sometimes twice in one day. It’s inspiration-based.

If you haven’t tried it, I would seriously recommend it. Just pick up a pen and paper and write whatever comes into your head. You’ll be amazed what you end up writing, and the act of articulating your priorities and problems will help you understand them better too.

The problems with journalling

As you might have guessed, my decision to start journalling came out of a bigger desire to become more self-aware. At the same time, I was lucky enough to get onto a development course at work, which meant I had my own coach and mentor who were posing loads of intriguing questions to me. So most of my thinking during the past year was focused on how I could understand and improve myself. If you’d asked me at any point what the key to life was, I’d say self-awareness. And journalling was a key part of my self-awareness.

But then I started having my doubts. This summer I happened to be reading The Sportswriter by Richard Ford: it’s a great book, but the narrator is a frustrating guy. He is passive, non-committal, numb and cynical – everything that I was trying to avoid being.

But then I started to understand his philosophy. What he’s critical of is people who take a reductionist approach to life, especially writers and teachers. He talks a lot about when he was “seeing around”, by which he means being distanced from his own feelings and trying to analyse and objectify them. The better alternative is actually to be “fully in your emotions, when they are simple enough to be in” and to “relinquish and stop worrying”.

All of this got me thinking: is journalling actually the right thing to do? I had been labouring under the impression that my attempts were well-guided and noble, but what if they weren’t? What if in reality I was just feeding and fuelling my neurotic desire to be in control of situations, to analyse ‘objectively’, to create my own private forum in which I was always right—when in reality I would be better off trying to live authentically and “be in” my feelings rather than “seeing around” them?

What next?

This is all a long way of saying that writing in a journal is great, but it’s not everything. In many ways, being introspective means being isolated. Explaining means explaining away. And that thinking you’re self-aware shows a real lack of self-awareness.

And in many ways, I missed having that dialogue with the outside world. Maybe instead of marshalling my thoughts on private things, I could be blogging ideas about media and copywriting and design and other things that interest me. If form determines content, teh medium of blogging would make space for new ideas. (It might also make me a more light-hearted person, lol.)

So now that I am going back to agency life professionally, I want to be more extroverted and outgoing in my writing – and intend to start blogging more regularly, as well as journalling whenever the inspiration takes me.

Do you journal and/or blog? What do you think?

Sketch-tober: my 30 day challenge

Hi. So last month I watched a TED talk about 30 day challenges and decided to do one during October. The thinking is that you can do most things once a day for thirty days, and it’s a chance to try something new and develop skills.

So I’ve been doing a sketch every day for the past month (apparently October has 31 days. Who knew?!) hence the name Sketch-tober.

You can see more highlights of the challenge below…

Longbenton station
Longbenton station

I’ve always liked drawing, but have never been particularly good at it. And for the past few years I haven’t felt it worth my while to draw in my free time. But I wanted to see what I would come up with if I made myself draw something every day.

Overall it’s been a massively enjoyable adventure, for only 5-20 minutes a day. Looking back at what I’ve sketched, I’m pretty happy with my detailed pen drawings of buildings – as I’ve managed to get the proportions and lighting right.

In terms of the ‘woah’ moments – I found the drawings that I connected with most were the ones drawn completely from imagination. These ended up like deeply symbolic and metaphorical sketches which have shown me that I’m currently really interested in topics like surface/depth, the subconscious and the subtexts of situations.

What do you think? Have you done any 30-day challenges?

Just click on any picture to see the slideshow…