Archive for the ‘Communication skills’ Category



Mothers have a lot to answer for! I know. I am one. But one thing we should absolutely teach our children is how to use criticism and how to take compliments.

So, when you read out your work, make sure you choose an ‘informed audience’. Ideally, their comments  should be designed to help. And any group you choose should be working with you to produce the best pieces of writing you are capable of. Not simply damning you with faint praise – or worse!

We have ownership of our work. So  we shouldn’t defend our creative choices or argue with our fellow group member. We should take what is said on board and incorporate – or otherwise. Just as our comments on the work of others are put out there as suggestions, no more. There’s no need for a slanging match – or a sulk!

Equally, if someone is complimentary about your work, just accept the praise with grace. No need to deny or self-denigrate. But, if you habitually lack confidence, write the compliments down. They’ll hearten you in the dark night of the soul when you can’t think what happens next in your plot!

For further encouragement, see my Authorgym blog.




There will always be occasions when the writer’s nightmare stalks the corridors of the writer’s group.

Some real-life no-nos (and I’ve seen them all):

  • Don’t rewrite the plot. There’s a difference between making suggestions and proffering a version of events which you say is ‘better’ than the writer can imagine.
  • Don’t challenge areas of specialist knowledge possessed by the writer.
  • Don’t make exclamations – such as ‘Yuk!’, ‘Bloody Nora!’,  or ‘These are characters I don’t want to spend any time with.’
  • Don’t yawn.
  • Don’t sigh.

Why not indulge in these?

Well, there’s a fine line here. This unhelpful rudeness is designed to bolster the position in the group of one particular member. It is not ‘constructive’.

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There’s far more to speech than words. Whether you want to write plays, field memorable characters in your novel or simply learn more about people for professional and personal reasons, you need to be able to read the signs.

Here’s an exercise to improve your attentive listening skills – which will particularly help you as a writer creating characters.

  • Take your notebook to a public place.
  • Settle down and listen. Not to the content. To the way speech is delivered.
  • Make notes on the voices you hear:
    • Think about pace – is the speaker speaking quickly or slowly, interrupting their ‘dialogue partner’?
    • Are they waiting for their dialogue partner to finish – without really listening – so they can then say what they want to say
    • Are they finishing sentences for other people?
    • Are they greeting each statement or question with a pause and what impact is that silence having?
    • Do they have an accent? Is a regional flavour present in their choice of vocabulary or the sound of their words?
    • What does this tell you about their educational background or class?
    • Do they have favourite/characteristic phrases which they repeat?
    • What is the tone – high, low, aggressive or appealing?
    • While you are listening, does this change? How does it change?

By doing this, you will develop some guidelines for when you are creating your own characters. But, be careful. People don’t like to be listened to, un-invited. One of my clients was embroiled in a heated exchange for listening and note-taking too obviously. Be discreet!


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It all started when I was climbing the conning tower of the UK’s latest nuclear submarine.  Yes – you’ve guessed it. HMS Astute. My knee not so much gave way as disappeared out of my leg completely.  And that was it – over twenty years of freelance journalism and poor workplace ergonomics (I work from home) were catching up with me. Musculo-skeletal disorders were rearing their pretty ugly heads. Along with a rather peculiar form of adrenaline-aversion which is triggered particularly by deadlines. And deadlines – as we all know – are an essential tool in journalistic productivity.

‘No work’ was not an option and ‘Less desk-bound work’ and ‘using my expertise’ were imperatives.  And – with unusual foresight as opposed to journalistic crisis management – I just happened some time ago to have taken a coaching course. So now, I was able to re-jig my career – for the fourth time if you include motherhood.

I still do occasional medical journalism assignments and I’m working on a series of short stories and a novel.  But, since 2005, when I founded the Lonely Furrow Company, a new world has opened up. Trained in co-active coaching, NLP and transactional analysis, I am now a writing coach.

As a result, clients ask for my help with projects ranging from novels to academic theses. And tricky but common writing coaching problems  include writers’ block, time management and work life balance, where to find ideas, how to handle feedback and how to write a book proposal.

But, it doesn’t stop there. I improve people’s communication skills – personal and professional – by drawing on my eclectic knowledge of literature and my Masters in Sociolinguistics. Communication impacts on human relationships and the simple equation is: better communication skills = better relationships. Of course, other aspects such as shared values and a GSH help. But communication contributes here too.

Within the Lonely Furrow Company stable, there is also the workshop facilitation service, Out of the Box Workshops. Some workshops on offer embrace creative writing for personal development – such as memoir writing and journaling – writing coaching, creativity and opportunities for peer review. Others deal with media coaching issues such as how to write a winning press release or how to give a good account of yourself, your work and your organisation when interviewed by the media. Other presentations deal with corporate interests such as the role of communication in leadership and team building and yet more, deal with the highly-charged areas of family breakdown and healthcare.

And I am a storyteller. I use story to help people reflect on their personal and professional lives. And I train others in the use of story. Clients for these workshops range from healthcare workers to family lawyers to organisational leaders.

In fact, put simply, I tell stories for a living and help others to do the same. And this – in the brave new world of the economic downturn – is what retirement means.

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We all need communication skills.  Relationships would flounder without them. And Management Guru Stephen Covey made communication the fifth in his pantheon of seven habits of effective people.  It is, he says, the glue of relationships.  And it comprises being able to read, write, speak and listen.  However, to these four, there are, I believe, three further subtle additions to be made.  These comprise:

  • Body language – its use and interpretation
  • Rapport-building
  • Tact – which involves choosing the right code to express what you want to say to whom and when. Remaining silent is an extension of this.

Develop these skills and you’ll succeed in developing your own facility for empathy.

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