A visit from John Simmons

Today we were lucky enough to get a visit from John Simmons. He’s the founder director of 26, director of The Writer and author of many books. johnsimmonsHe looks like this:

As that brief bio may suggest, John came in to talk to us about words. Within that remit, he outlined seven basic principles for writers:

1.Be curious. Be a traveller not a tourist. Be open to possibilities.

2. Listen. To your own words as you write. And try to make others listen to your words as if to a wonderful new language.

3. Set and accept constraints. Welcome them. Particularly when the constraints are the brief.

4. Put yourself in your reader’s place. Imagine the lives of your consumers. Show compassion to them.

5. Edit, edit, edit – but know you have to stop.

6. Transform the most unpromising materials. Not even lists need be boring.

7. Bring your personality to work. Put it positively into your writing.

Here are a few highlights from John’s talk, according to the Oxfam writers, designers and designated ‘others’ who were there:

Laura: For me it’s that writing – whilst difficult, and requires skill – isn’t about magic. It’s about being human. Being clear, concise, and using the most effective language – and that doesn’t mean technical jargon!

Amy: I liked the idea of really listening to your own words as you write. Also, that constraints can be limiting – pursue the brief that seems to hem you in the most.

Claire: I completely agree with his point that when it comes to writing, constraints bring freedom, whether that ‘constraint’ is a full brief, a theme, a word count, a word…  I also really liked the definition of poetry as writing that ‘aims at the intellect by way of the heart’ (should remember who he was quoting, but can’t) and the idea that this can be applied to all forms of writing. And the suggestion that you should ‘listen to your own words as you write’. And the idea that ‘all brands are stories’ and, and, and… (I think I’m a bit of a fan).

Annemarie: Thought I’d do a Haiku.. the old 5/75:

reflect then connect
tell a story that touches
speak straight from the heart

Gary: He was like a nice copywriting uncle.

Kelvin: I found the idea behind his book, 26 ways of looking at a blackberry, really interesting. It builds on his belief that constraints can actually be liberating – which made me think, too.

Thanks very much to John for coming in to Oxfam HQ. To find out more about him, you can find him on twitter or read his blog.