Blog in 02 2017.
My youngest brother is, at the tender age of 22, living in his first definitely-not-a-student flat and working in his first ‘proper’ job. In the process, he’s encountering a whole new world of bureaucracy. And bureaucratic language.
There’s a problem with the bathroom light in his flat. They’ve been there two months now. It’s still not fixed. It’s now become something of a daily routine: get up, brush your teeth, email the lady at the estate agency about the light problem. Again. And she duly responds, telling him things like:
Regrettably, after liaising with facilities management as to their availability in the coming week the department has advised me that…
[insert unfortunate, but compelling, reason why the repairmen aren’t coming].
And my bro’s doing it too, in his own job. He’s ‘querying’ things where he just used to ‘ask’. ‘Advising’ where he used to ‘tell’. People ask him to ‘raise an issue’ with the distributors. He’ll write his colleague a nice email back, explaining that he’s ‘queried’ it, and the result is...
But does the weird, formal language bother him? Not really. He seems think of it like putting on a jokey voice – ‘Yeah but it’s funny. It’s like, oh look, I’m working in an office.’
So, what do you reckon? Should I be worried for my little brother’s soul?
Well, judging by the giant, comedy typing gesture he made to accompany the word ‘office’, I don’t have too much to worry about just yet. But, you know, we are what we repeatedly do. And habits are surprisingly quick to form: a mere 66 days. How long until my brother stops thinking of it as a joke – and stops noticing he’s doing it at all?
How long until his ‘office voice’ is permanently estranged from his real one?
So, please, take a moment to think: what weird linguistic habits are you picking up at work? Knock ‘em on the head now, before it’s too late. Otherwise it’s a whole other 66 days to get clean again.
Work experience: but not as you know it
Hello, we’re The Writer, the world’s biggest language consultancy.
We’re looking for students, ideally second-year undergraduates, to come to our two-day Word Experience on Wednesday 12th and Thursday 13th April.
If you like what you read, be sure to send us your application by Friday 24th March. (You’ll see how to get in touch a bit further down.)
What’s ‘Word Experience’?
We get a lot of requests from people wanting to come on work experience. But we’ve always felt work experience was pretty unsatisfactory all round: we can’t help many people in a year; you inevitably end up doing quite a bit of boring stuff; and, if we’re honest, it’s a lot of work to do well. (And who wants to do it badly?)
So we cooked up Word Experience: we gather about 20 people together for two days of creativity, workshops and fun stuff. Along the way we’ll talk to you about how you can make a career out of writing for business, show you how our agency works, and some Writer folk will tell you their own stories of how they got into business writing. All to show you there’s a career for people who like words that isn’t publishing or journalism.
Then we usually pick two people from each year to come back and join us for a short paid internship. (And some of those have ended up working here.)
Keep reading if:
You already write for your course
Maybe you study English, journalism or creative writing. Or maybe you just write a lot of essays.
You write in your spare time too
You might write for your student paper, a blog, or fiction. It doesn’t matter as long as you write.
You’re a bit of a word geek
You have a tendency to get excited or properly riled up by all kinds of writing. From tube ads to tubes of toothpaste, Booker Prize winners to Charlie Brooker.
Yes that’s me. What do I need to do?
Send us 300 words telling us why we should pick you (and a way for us to get in touch with you) to firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure ‘Word Experience’ and your name are in the subject line. And get it to us by Friday 24th March.
Here’s what previous Word Experiencers have said:
‘Word experience is, in a nutshell, the workshop we all should have done ages ago. Finally it feels like there’s a company out there who is trying to show you how to turn what you love, into what you do. Those two days in London opened my eyes to an industry I was surrounded by and yet unaware of, it gave me a whole new appreciation for marketing, for words and for the people who write them.’
‘Hands-on activities included the sorts of word games that seem like harmless entertainment while you do them, but come loaded with Karate Kid-style moments of realisation that detonate later on. The other day I was struggling over an email to a tutor, then something clicked and (wax on, wax off) I realised I could cut out half the words to make it cleaner and clearer.’
Last week, they were talking about apprenticeships on the radio in the UK. Apparently, the ‘apprentice brand’ is dwindling. It’s becoming just another word for training.
My ears pricked up. At The Writer, we’ve had apprentices for many moons. It all starts with Word Experience. Twenty undergraduates come and spend two days with us, learning how to turn words into work. Then two of them come to spend a six-week stint with us as apprentices, learning all the basics of business writing.
There are lots of different apprenticeships, of lots of shapes and sizes and industries. But what about ours? Does it measure up to what the experts were saying this morning?
‘It should be all-round preparation for highly-skilled work.’
If it’s easy to read, it almost certainly wasn’t easy to write. In the words of Dolly Parton, ‘it costs a lot to look this cheap.’ And that’s what we teach.
Not everyone can take 2,000 words of passive language and corporate speak and turn it into a page-turner. Not everyone can weed out the killer points of an annual report. Not everyone can spin a head-turning headline.
It all takes time and practice (and a fair amount of getting it wrong before you get it right). Being an apprentice is just the start.
‘It should give value to the company in the long run.’
According to the Beeb, apprenticeships have been called ‘a monumental waste of money’ by some. Ouch. We pay our apprentices a good wage while they’re with us and put a lot of our time into training them. So does it all pay off?
Well, me and Jess were both apprentices, back in the day. Fast forward to now: we’ve been here three and four years respectively. Now, I work with words, not numbers. But if you think of all the paid work we’ve done in those years – I’d say that’s a pretty good return on investment.
Are you interested in being The Writer’s apprentice? It all starts with Word Experience. We’ll be posting about the 2017 course soon – but here’s last year’s info, just to whet your appetite.
My daughter’s learning to play the flute. And while her squeaky blasts and spit-spraying puffs into the mouthpiece might sound terrible to our neighbours, my more generous ears think otherwise. Which is why, in a moment of proud parenthood, I told a Spanish friend all about her efforts. How she’ll spend forever piecing the parts of the flute together and slotting it back in its velvet-lined case. And how, even if a note comes out an octave higher than anyone expected, she’ll firmly press her fingers down on the keys and give it another go until she gets it right.
It turns out that my Spanish friend’s son is studying music, too. ‘He’s in his second year of classes now,’ she confided. But when I asked what he’s learning she looked at me blankly. ‘Nothing yet. He starts with music theory, like everyone does.’ I was stunned. Two years of lessons about dotted minims, clefs and the like and he doesn’t even get to touch an instrument.
Which made me wonder how much theory is enough theory. When I run a writing workshop, people often fret about their spelling or where they should put an apostrophe. They’re concerned that if they don’t get that stuff right, they won’t be able to write in the right tone, or on brand. Which is nonsense.
I always make a point of parking the technical details at the start of a workshop – it can get in the way of enjoying writing (just as I’d rather play a piece of music before I analyse it). When people give different types of writing a go not only does it prove that their corporate career hasn’t sucked every single ounce of creativity out of them, it also shows that they can improve a piece of writing (even if the odd apostrophe’s off).
Most people want to see better writing at work – just as my neighbours would appreciate a little less shrillness from my daughter’s flute – but studying the theory alone won’t make that happen. I think we learn best by doing. Our workshops give the long-forgotten ‘writer’ inside everyone a job to do. One that they can keep on doing, even when the session’s over.
And the semicolons? Well, let’s leave them for the editor to deal with.