by Ashley Morrison.
A few weeks ago, I was approached by a prospective client, who asked whether I'd be interested in doing some work for them. Specifically (or not, as it turned out) they needed me to write a brochure. I assumed they wanted a quote - although they didn't mention it - so I asked for some more details about what the project would entail. Or a brief, as it's more commonly known.
This, for some reason, confused them. They didn't seem to know what I meant by 'target audience', didn't know what sort of tone of voice they were looking for, and hadn't even thought about length or word count. How short is a short brochure? Four pages? Ten? Rather vital info, you'd think. Without it, how was I meant to give them a meaningful idea of how much I'd charge them for my services? They said they'd get back to me. They never did.
Anyway, apart from this being a subtle reminder to anyone thinking of hiring a freelancer that it's probably quite a good idea to give them a brief (I'm just saying), this got me thinking about something else completely unrelated; something that's been gnawing away at me for quite some time, if truth be told.
I warn you, this is going to sound eye-rollingly wishy-washy - but hey, we're all friends here and I'm secure enough to announce this without being worried about any ramifications or reflection on my writing prowess!
The simple fact is, I'd like to write a novel - but I can't for the life of me think of a decent idea.
And if your eyes weren't already rolling, then this will send them into spinny overdrive: I'm pretty confident that, if I could think of the right idea, the novel would write itself.
I love writing. Absolutely love it. I love the art of it. I'm a stickler for flow, format and accuracy. I love making tweaks and revisions. I love writing these blogs. I love writing really sharp copy. Yes, of course I prefer some projects to others; there's nothing very rewarding in writing about chicken flavouring, for instance, but even then, I love the cerebral skill of trying to make that sound engaging. I love keeping lengthy travel journals when I go abroad. When I went solo around the world in my mid-twenties, I wrote several hundred pages-worth - and not just 'I got up and I went bungee jumping' type of stuff either. I write poetry, I write songs. Everything.
But with regard to the writing of my novel, I really have no idea how on earth Barbara Cartland wrote a book a fortnight for 140 years or whatever it was; although maybe they're all basically the same idea regurgitated in one way or another. If you've ever seen the hilarious Little Britain spoof (with Barbara Cartland in the form of Matt Lucas in the form of Dame Sally Markham), you'll know what I mean.
What my problem appears to boil down to, therefore, is that I don't have a brief.
The age-old advice is, of course, "write about what you know". In the sphere of comedy, Ricky Gervais and Jerry Seinfeld live by that mantra, and I hear they haven't done too badly. I did have an idea for my novel, as it happens, but David Mitchell (the author, not the star of Peep Show and ubiquitous comedy quiz show participant) nicked that idea when he wrote Black Swan Green. And by "nicked" I obviously just mean he wrote it long before I'd heard of him.
Damn you, David Mitchell.
But thank you, other David Mitchell (the star of Peep Show and ubiquitous comedy quiz show participant), because I am in no small part indebted to you and your David Mitchell's Soap Box series, which was one of the major inspirations for me to start blogging in the first place. And look where that's led me: fame and fortune (ahem), blogging about, to and for the UK's finest creatives.
Not that I'm trying to get you on side or anything.
This then got me thinking whether any other copywriters who are used to writing to a brief, might feel the same way. Are we so used to applying our skill within certain parameters that to go and write something off-piste would be too far out of our comfort zone? Or is that simply nonsense? I'm just throwing that idea out there for comment; I don't necessarily believe it.
Conversely, for the past few years, I have had to come up with what is hopefully an interesting and engaging blog topic every single week. My current blog count stands at 132. That's 132 different ideas and, I believe, not one has been repeated. Very often, the writing of my blog requires research (though not in this case) and I would hope that it is usually either entertaining or informative or both. I've also written about 30 short stories, but none of these have enough meat on them to string them out for the duration of even the shortest novel.
I am actually quite surprised that I am having such a hard time thinking of an idea for my book. Please don't send me any ideas - at least not without a disclaimer relinquishing any rights to them - because when I inevitably win the Booker Prize, I don't want you to go all legal on me.
But just for giggles -“ and to distract me from the agony of being creatively static when it comes to novel writing - here is a transcript one of Little Britain's spoofs of Barbara Cartland's writing process, in the form of Dame Sally Markham, reclining on a chaise longue, heavily made up and wearing a bright pink dress!
Dame Sally: "Yes, I will marry you!" cried Geraldine. "I will! I will!" The End. How many pages?
Miss Grace: Erm, twelve.
Dame Sally: Oh! (PAUSE) "Do you know the Bible?" said Lord Harper.
"No," said Geraldine. "I've never even heard of it."
"Oh, it's really good. Let me read it to you," said Lord Harper.
"Oh, OK then," said Geraldine.
"Chapter One. Genesis. In the beginning God created heaven and earth..." You'll find the rest of the Bible on the shelf, Miss Grace. Wake me up when you've finished.
Ashley Morrison is a blogger, copywriter and editor.