Rip it up and start again, again – doing it on purpose

Obviously I’m a hypocrite.

I mean that goes without saying, right? After all, I’m human, and (despite what we like to think) consistency is not something that humans are great at.

But at least I’m self-aware enough to recognise my own hypocrisy, which you’d think would count for something. Except it turns out that unacknowledged hypocrisy has some solid, solid benefits, not least that fact that acknowledging it can be fucking crippling.

Let me try to explain. I help people (and organisations, and companies) with communication. A big chunk of this involves getting people to think not only about what they are communicating, but why.

I spend a lot of time convincing clients that it’s important to think strategically about communication . I tell them that every interaction, every piece of marketing, and every document should have a clear purpose – and should fulfil that purpose. I warn them that the work may be frustrating and challenging, but that the results are worth the effort.

And I do that because I believe it – I believe it deep down in my bones. But as I said, I’m a hypocrite. Which means even though I know how important focus and purpose are, I haven’t put in the effort to determine the focus and purpose of What She Said.

Because doing that would be hard work.

The fact that I understand the importance of purpose-driven communication doesn’t matter. What I know is in direct conflict with what I want for myself: for the easy way of doing things, the ‘throw-stuff-out-there-until-success-happens’ approach, to magically start working, despite all evidence to the contrary.

I want this website to be a place where I can talk about art, politics, food, adhd, language, Liverpool, and how bad the latest Batman film was. But I also want this to be a place which attracts clients.

These things aren’t necessarily incompatible. Potential clients probably aren’t going to be driven away by content about danish pastries and rhyming couplets. Besides, I am who I am, and people come to work with me partly because of who I am.

And if the purpose of the site is to give me somewhere to vent and pontificate then this is all just peachy. But if the purpose of the site is to bring in new business, we might actually be dealing with a jar of “granny’s peach tea”.

If the purpose of the site is to bring in new business, what I want to write is less important than what my potential new clients want to read.

If the purpose of the site is to bring in new business then the content needs to help potential new clients make the (incredibly sensible, beneficial, and prudent) decision to work with me.

So here I am. Not putting client-focussed stuff on here because I haven’t yet done the hard work of finding and clarifying the purpose of this site. And not putting anything else on here, because if I do want this to be a business site then it would be massively hypocritical of me to ignore my own advice.

The blissfully ignorant hypocrite would just say screw it and write something anyway. It might not be brilliant, it might not be targeted, it might not contribute to the overall aims and goals of the site, or the business, but it would at least be something.

And as long as it isn’t actively damaging to the site or the business, there’s a strong case to say that something in this case is better than nothing – especially if that nothing has been achieved only after many hours of self-recrimination.

But I know I’m a hypocrite, so, as I said before – fucking crippling.

You’ll notice that I’ve managed to actually write and publish something though – this. That’s because I’ve taken some time and done some work, and made some decisions.

What I do isn’t rocket science, in fact it’s mostly pretty simple stuff, but it does take work. The paralysis over this site has been because, even though I know the simple stuff works, I (like most people) still yearn for some magic beans that I can use as a short-cut to fame and fortune.

But magic beans don’t exist.

There’s no product, service, technique or method that will lead you to a goose that lays golden eggs.

There’s no such thing as magic beans. Thankfully there is such a thing as Magik Beans – and that’s where I’m going to start to get seriously laser-focussed about work.

The other stuff? The arty-farty, wordy-nerdy, moody-foody, worky-perky, pretty-city stuff? I’m sure I can find a place to put it… and that’s What She Said.

Valentine’s Day in a Word Nerd’s House

Last Sunday was Valentine’s Day, a day traditionally celebrated with chocolates, flowers, and jewellery – unless you happen to be a couple of word nerds and language lovers.

This is what Himself and I got each other this year…


From Himself to me: That’s the first season of a Danish/German/Belgian crime drama called Mord Uden Grænser (English title: The Team. Actual English translation of title: Murder without Limits/Borders). It stars one of our favourite Danish actors (Lars Mikkelsen – The Killing, Borgen) and one our favourite Belgian actors (Veerle Baetens, Cordon, Loft) – because who doesn’t have favourite Danish and Belgian actors?

From me to Himself: A copy of Pop Sonnets – classic pop lyrics turned into sonnets that Shakespeare himself would find entertaining. The sonnet version of I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor was bouncing round Twitter the week before Valentines day, and we were both rather taken with it.

So I tracked down its source and discovered that there was a whole book of such delights – Valentine’s Day sorted.

(Lorem) Ipsumystery

I’ve been sorting out a lot of the videos on the Ignite Liverpool website over the past week, and was reminded of a talk I gave back in 2013 about Lorem Ipsum.

Here it is…

You’ll see I manage to track down the origins of Lorem Ipsum to somewhere between 1914 (when ‘Proto Ipsum’ appeared in an edition of De finibus bonorum et malorum by Cicero) and 1966 (which is the earliest evidence I could find of Lorem Ipsum as we know it today). But what happened in those intervening 52 years is still a mystery, and it’s an itch I need to scratch.  So consider me back on the hunt for the decidedly modern origins of this oddly familiar text.

And in the meantime – here’s some Toyah. Have a good weekend everyone.

horrible sentence of the day – learning content

“In the event of learning content containing erroneous information, you are able to communicate this accordingly, by means of the commentary function, directly within the learning content.”

Wow – that’s a really horrible sentence.

It’s 27 words long, which is bad enough. But so many of those words are also vague, difficult, irrelevant or frankly pompous.

This is from the introduction to an online training package, which doesn’t fill me with hope. And it’s such an easy sentence to get right, that they seem to have put a lot of effort into making it so vile.

Let’s take a closer look:

In the event of – What’s wrong with the word ‘if’?

learning content – Well, it’s a training package, so it’s all learning content. We might be able to get rid of this empty phrase entirely.

erroneous information – Or ‘mistakes’ as they are commonly known.

you are able to – Simply saying ‘you can’ would be a good alternative. After all, why use four words, when two do the same job? But, if you want someone to do something, it’s much better to give clear directions rather than just letting people know what they ‘can’ do. Swapping ‘you are able to’ for ‘please’ would do this, and then we’ve managed to cut four words down to one.

communicate this – Tell? Report this? Even ‘notify’ might be better. Plus, who should we ‘communicate this’ to? The sentence gives us no information about who we should to tell about the mistakes, just how to tell them.

accordingly – This adds nothing – so let’s cut it.

by means of – There are several better alternatives, including ‘by using’ or ‘through’ or ‘with’.

the commentary functionThis is a bit jargony, but it is referring to a specific thing called the ‘commentary’ function, so we’re going to leave it in.

directly within the learning content – The ‘commentary function’ on this package is *only* available when you are looking at ‘learning content’, so this is redundant information.

Whoever wrote this horrible sentence might have been worried that people wouldn’t know where or what the commentary function was. But simply telling them that it is ‘directly within the learning content’ isn’t much of a help.

It would be better to add a new sentence that provides a link to the additional information.

So – we can get rid of that complicated 27 word sentence and swap it for this one, with 14 words;

“If you spot a mistake, please use the ‘commentary’ function to let us know.”

I’d also add a sentence before and after, so we end up with something like this…

“We try to make sure that the information in this training package is as accurate and up-to-date as possible.

If you spot a mistake, please use the ‘commentary’ function to let us know.

You can find out more about the ‘commentary’ function in the user guide.”

There. Isn’t that better?

Have you been forced to read a particularly horrible sentence recently? Why not share the pain, send me some horrible writing, and I’ll see if I can fix it?


//This is an edited version of a post that was originally published in May 2012.

Ignite Liverpool at TED 2016

The Ignite Liverpool team haven’t yet reached the status where we’re being invited to talk at TED, nor do we get quite enough sponsorship to attend in person – but we are going to be at the screening of TED 16: Dream at FACT tomorrow night.

TED-2016-Dream I’m not just telling you this to give you an update about my social life. We’re actually going to be there to talk to people about public speaking – at Ignite, or elsewhere. I’ll be at FACT from about 6:15, and will be hanging around after the screening. So if you’ve ever wanted to talk at Ignite Liverpool, or just have questions about what it takes to get up in front of a room without breaking out into a cold sweat, come and say hi.

Of course, if you already know that you want to talk at the next Ignite, on May 4th, you can submit a talk on the Ignite site. We’re always looking for speakers, and we love getting submissions from first time presenters.


I know, I know, I’m starting my blog about writing with a post about public speaking. But as I said, it’s my blog, so I get to decide what to stick in it.

Rip it up and start again

Well hello there. Nice to see you. Yes, it has been rather a long time hasn’t it?

I was going to write a long, detailed, explanation of what’s been going on – but then I remembered how dull that would be for you.

So here, have a picture of some kittens instead.

By Pia Ojanen [GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Cute, right?


Let’s see, what else do I need to tell you… ah yes, the theme.

I’m faffing around with a new theme behind the scenes. But if I wait until I’m really happy with it before doing anything, this blog might lie languishing and unloved until the end of time. So I’m sticking with the default WordPress TwentySixteen theme for now.

Have I forgotten anything? I suppose I should say something about content. If you ever read the blog before, you should expect more of the same. Quite literally the same in some cases, as I’m going to be republishing a load of stuff that used to be here (after giving it a bit of a spit and polish).

And if this is the first time you’ve read anything I’ve written… Hi! Welcome! Where have you been all my life? Anyway, now that you’re here, let me introduce myself. I’m Lydia, and I’m a communication junky. I’m a professional word nerd, and this here blog thing is where I get to write about writing.

I also get to write about talking, and thinking, and feeling, and doing, and learning, and trying, and failing, and anything else I fancy – because it’s my blog so I get to make up the rules.

Ok, now that’s done, let’s get this lexicographal show on the metaphorical road.