Should you always write about ‘what you know’?

“Write about what you know.”

Common usage

That’s what they say, isn’t it?

It’s one of those truisms that is so widely disseminated nobody ever stops to think if it’s actually good advice.

Personally, as a concept, I’m not sold.

Why?

Well, it seems to me that people writing about ‘what they know’ can get too close to their subject.
If, like many content creators, you’re writing about a subject that you immerse yourself in 24/7 you can easily lose objectivity.

Before you know it you can’t see the wood for the trees – meaning that you’ve lost sight of what makes your subject of specialism, of expertise even, engaging to the average person ‘on the street’.

Too often, when I talk to a business’s in-house experts, I find they’ve lost their sense of wonder at what they do. They’ve become stuck in the minutiae of expertise, kept up at night pondering detail which, ironically, would send the uninitiated reader (or customer) to sleep.

The ability to step back and calmly assess how to tell your business’s story to your customers is vital. Which bits does your demographic NEED to know about? What will ENGAGE with them? What will leave them COLD? This process needs the input of someone with no vested interests. Someone fresh, an outsider with an interested, but not partisan perspective.

Think of the times when you’ve struggled to write your own CV. It’s bloody difficult.
Why?
Because it’s yours and it matters a lot – to you.

Then think of how much better your resume sounds if you allow a friend to write it. With their fresh perspective they can cut through to the interesting bits of your story – without becoming bogged down in the detail.

So what am I saying?

I’m not anti-expert. Far from it. What I am is pro-perspective.

When I write for your business I don’t bring baggage.

I don’t pretend to be the expert in your field – you are.

What I do is work with you to communicate the best bits of your organisation’s story in a way that is engaging to people who may not know what you do, but given the chance, might like to learn.

The most effective content is, in my view, created by someone who isn’t writing about ‘what they know’.

Know what I mean?

The Beach House, Exmouth Review

“I kept coming back to Agatha.

Although I’m sure, if I’d ever met her, she would have been “Dame Agatha” to me. Either way, I found myself thinking of the great mystery writer as I took this trip. It was so like a plot from one of her books.

“You’ll be met at the station,” was my only instruction.

Suitably cryptic. As foretold, I was greeted by a smiling guide who ushered me onto a luxury charabanc (if that’s not an oxymoron) populated with four perfect strangers. So far, so Christie. 

After a brief journey of well-rehearsed small talk, we came to a halt. Stepping from the coach onto an ocean of gleaming gravel, I surveyed what was to be our overnight dwelling: The Beach House. Such a pleasing, quintessentially English façade: the type of place where Miss Marple would have lived, if she’d won the lottery.

It had been a short journey, but it seemed we’d traveled back in time to an age of opulence. It pleased me greatly. The paintwork on the quirky windows and doors was as fresh as the sea air. A well-oiled, front door swung open and our gregarious host swept onto the driveway.

“You’re here, you’re here. So glad you could make it.”

As I took in The Beach House, beautifully finished in the Arts and Crafts style, I had to conclude that so was I.”

Chris McGuire, The Western Morning News

To read my full review of Exmouth’s The Beach House, see here.

Steph Bridge: Interview

Here’s a piece I wrote for Western Morning News about World Champion Kitesurfer, Steph Bridge, of Edge Watersports.

I arrive at Edge Watersports’ base in Exmouth, unsure what to expect. I’m a little bit nervous – it’s not every day you meet a World No. 1. I find Steph Bridge holding court. She’s in her element talking to customers and friends, it’s easy to see how the former quickly join the ranks of the latter. As she talks, Steph constantly does three things at once -answering phones, monitoring emails and organising appointments. Within minutes I can see that Steph, who spends half her time propelled by a kite, is the closest thing to a real life superhero I’ve met.

Chris McGuire, Western Morning News

For full piece, click here.

The Apprentice – Eastern Daily Press

Here it is, my latest column for Eastern Daily Press all about The Apprentice.

“It seems to me that the candidates on The Apprentice are getting worse. I mean if the express intention of the show was to bring together a collection of vapid egomaniacs with all the business acumen of a mouldy Tupperware set, then I’d understand. But these contestants are ‘supposed’ to be smart. Seriously! Unless I’m very confused, being good in business is about more than wearing a Topshop suit and high heels in the most inappropriate of contexts, while scowling from under a year’s supply of makeup and dropping the word ‘premium’ into every sentence. If it were that simple I’d be getting the heels and slap on myself. “

Chris McGuire, Eastern Daily Press

To read the full column, click here.

What would men in middle age do without Jeremy Clarkson?

Here’s my latest column for Eastern Daily Press, it covers it all from ironing to Jeremy Clarkson. Have a read.

The Yesterday Effect
It’s amazing what goes through your head when you can’t sleep.
The other night I spent quite some time pondering whether, when Donald Trump washes his hair, his comb-over (minus gallons of hairspray) would hang down low enough to skim his shoulder? My guess is it would, but I suppose we’ll never know. As I say, it’s weird what goes through you head when insomnia strikes.
Have you seen the movie ‘Yesterday’? It’s a brilliant concept: what would life be like if the world forgot The Beatles? How would things change if they’d never existed? I got thinking about that. As a huge fan of the fab four, I can see their absence would be a sad thing: life without ‘Let It Be’, ‘Hey Jude’ & ‘Come Together’ would be terrible. I could, however, cope if ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ & ‘Octopus’s Garden’ disappeared into the ether (sorry Paul).
In my annoyingly wide-awake state I started thinking about was The Yesterday Effect more generally: what would be the impact on our lives if other things (or people) had never existed?
My mind, as it usually does, first turned to food. The humble chip, imagine if that didn’t exist! I’d be about 40 pounds lighter for a start! Our high streets would be filled with ‘Fish ‘n’ __ ‘ shops. Maybe something else would have been paired up with battered cod? Pasta maybe? Or, God forbid, Quinoa! It doesn’t bear thinking about!
Then my thoughts moved to ironing. What if ironing just didn’t exist? Imagine how much time would be gained if we agreed it was perfectly normal to wear clothes in their crumpled state. Billions of hours are put into the futile process of making our clothes smooth, without ironing all that time could have been spent… sleeping!
As you can see, in my insomniac state, I have sleeping permanently on the brain. Then there’s Jeremy Clarkson. Imagine what life would be like if he’d never been born. So much would be different! For a start, men of a certain age would have no role model during their midlife crises! Sales of ill-fitting jeans, artificially distressed leather jackets and ridiculously impractical gas guzzling cars would plummet in a Clarkson free world… or, as he’d put it, ‘If there was no Jeremy Clarkson IN THE WORLD!
It’s a funny one, trying to imagine history without certain elements. If double glazing hadn’t been invented, would we have been spared the irritation of salespeople calling us all hours of the day and night? Perhaps something else would have taken their place? They do say nature abhors a vacuum; which puts nature at odds with James Dyson. Using the same rationale if James D hadn’t existed I’d never have had to cringe on hearing someone say: “I’ve bought a new Hoover, it’s a Dyson.”
All of this was troubling me in the early hours. Then it struck me that qualifying for The Yesterday Effect is a sign of importance, that (for good or bad) these people and things have touched the lives of others.
That’s why I chose to share my thoughts with you, to create an impact. If I’d never existed you’d never have wasted a portion of your life reading this.
Deep eh?
Don’t worry, I’ll keep you all informed what happens next on my The Long and Winding Road to sleep.

Beach Body Ready?

“The beach can take us all as it finds us! Don’t you think?”

Chris McGuire, Eastern Daily Press

Is it time that we stopped our obsession with bodily perfection? Here’s my piece for Eastern Daily Press…

In my experience, summer in this country is so fleeting that several times I’ve popped inside to make a cup of tea and missed it completely. “What did you do over the summer?” people will ask. “I ate half a bag of Monster Munch. To be honest, I wasted half of the summer struggling to get the packet open.”

OK, so I’m exaggerating – but not much! Summer is an unreliable friend at a party, the type who either turns up early (before you’re ready), late (when the moment has passed, and you’re busy) or not at all. I’m beginning to wonder why we bother inviting summer along at all!

As a nation we’ve a very unhealthy relationship with a little bit of sun. As soon as a ray (or two) escapes from behind a cloud we strip down to our underwear and attempt to barbecue ourselves – just in case that’s all we’re getting until next year. I’m convinced there are thousands of men who wear Speedos under their clothes all the time (other types of swimming trunks are available, apparently) so they’re prepared if the summer arrives during their lunch break. It seems these fellas actually enjoy their masochistic attempt to show just how unkind Mother Nature can be, and embrace the waves (light, not water).

Chris McGuire, Eastern Daily Press

To read the full column for The Eastern Daily Press, see here.

Specs, Hugs And Bacon Rolls: The Anatomy Of A Dad’s Birthday

As my birthday rolls around one more time I thought I’d share this piece I originally wrote for Huffington Post.

Suddenly the lights go out, causing a frisson of excitement to run through the air and down your spine. Next, by pure magic, a flame flickers into existence. This spark warmly illuminates the faces of a gaggle of friends and family, whose grins are only bettered by your own. Then, just as suddenly, the drone of ’Happy Birthday to you…” begins, but nobody cares about the singing. Why? Because we’re all imagining how good the cake will taste.

That’s how it used to be, every year (like clockwork) your birthday would come around and for 24 hours you’d be at the centre of everyone’s attention. A little moment in the spotlight.

As a kid, birthdays were everything. They were better than Christmas, mainly because you didn’t have to share top billing with anyone – the stuff of dreams. I remember looking to my parents, confused to see that they didn’t share this enthusiasm for their own birthdays. Why wasn’t it something they lived for? Why didn’t they count down the days, for months, eager to breath that unique birthday air?

Today, as a parent myself, the mystery has been solved.

Suddenly a cry rings out, causing a shudder of tiredness to run up your spine and take root in the bags under your eyes. Next, probably by magic, your feet find the floor and you question your existence. The door opens and a night light illuminates the face of a crying toddler, you smile broadly – pushing back your own desire to cry. Then, tot in arms, you collapse into the chair and break into a droning “Incy Wincy Spider…” as you look at the clock. It’s 3 am. But the tot doesn’t care about the time. Why? You get your answer as the full flavour of the nappy he’s just filled wafts towards you. Happy Birthday.

From the moment a baby arrives, birthdays (for the dads in the family) change forever.

Here’s my Out of Depth Dad guide to what to expect from every 365th day of your life:

  • Lots of hugs When you’re a daddy, hugs from your little ones become the new currency. So expect a lot of them on your birthday. Unlike some of the presents you may have been used to in the past, hugs don’t make you look smart or get you drunk. They do, however, have the ‘lovely’ effect of leaving little snot stains on your clothes.
  • It’s another day It’s important to remember that, although it’s your birthday, the machine needs to keep on working. It can’t stop. Washing needs to be done, food needs be cooked, nappies need to be changed and kids need to be occupied. You don’t get a day off for good behaviour. Your tots aren’t a little bit easier to deal with because it’s your birthday. In fact, there’s a high likelihood that they’ll be more demanding than usual. Coughs, colds, the bubonic plague, your birthday is likely to be the day your young ’un gets them. That’s life.
  • Hang up the hangover Alcohol, for many of us, is a hugely important part of birthday celebrations. This may be something you’d like to reconsider now there’s a tot (or two) on the scene. As enjoyable as a few bevvies with your mates down the pub (assuming you have time to go) – they will never be worth the utter nightmare that is dealing with a toddler when you have a hangover. If there is a Hell, I’m certain a special corner of it will be filled with hungover residents trying to placate irate two-year-olds with Postman Pat videos.
  • Cake is for kids When you’re a dad, the concept of ‘your’ changes. Let me put this more clearly. Items may well be tagged with the word ‘Daddy’s’ in order to give them a title (‘Daddy’s Phone’, ‘Daddy’s Shoes’, ‘Daddy’s Coat’) but the name isn’t entirely correct. All of these items do belong to daddy, unless the tot wants them. The same goes for cake – birthday or otherwise. Notionally it’s ‘Daddy’s Cake’, however unveiling the cake is a show put on for the tot, who will (no doubt) maul it with grubby hands.
  • Moving from presents to gifts Presents are something we all like to receive, of that’s there’s no doubt. There comes a’ time, however, when receiving the latest stereo, DVD or He-Man action figure no longer holds the thrill it once did (Or perhaps we’re no allowed to admit to this). So ‘presents’ disappear and are replaced by ‘gifts’. Ties, socks and shirts become the perfect ‘Daddy’ gifts. This movement from ‘presents’ to ‘gifts’ can be seen in the following way: if you undo the wrapping paper, then excitedly open a box shouting ‘Wow!’, it’s a present. If you lay it flat, saying ’That’s lovely, it’ll go with TBC”, it’s a gift.
  • Specs appeal Each birthday, as you rummage through your card(s), the increased need for spectacles (to the read the messages written within) underlines the aging process. The addition of the word ‘Daddy’ makes you at least a decade older than your actual age implies. If you can’t find your specs to look at the cards you’ve truly aged. If you can’t see the cards, even with the specs on, you either need a new prescription or new friends.
  • Gorging on bacon rolls As the years go by, the need to mark your birthday with something selfish and unhealthy increases – it’s an important counterpoint to your life as a skivvy throughout the rest of the year. In the past cream cakes and import lager were the naughty treats of choice. These days a bacon roll (or a similarly cholesterol loaded food) is favourite. Greasy morsels, often eaten the day after your birthday, these breakfast indulgences are perfect to counteract the hangover you were far too responsible to get.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY ONE AND ALL!

How come fashionable parents look so cool?

Here’s a piece I wrote for Eastern Daily Press about my frustration with ‘Fashionable’ parents…

How on earth do Fashionable Parents look so ‘together’? It really isn’t fair, especially when the rest of us look like we got dressed blindfolded… in a jumble sale. For a bet…

Let me explain. These days I’m a Stumbler. I stumble out of bed, into some clothes; this usually involves finding the trousers with the least amount of visible dirt, before hopping around the bedroom trying (unsuccessfully) to get my legs into the appropriate slots.

I stumble into the bathroom, only to recoil from my own reflection in the mirror. I then drag my fingers through unwilling hair in a (half-baked) effort to bring order to said barnet. Soon I’m stumbling (half-walking, half-falling) downstairs for breakfast with the little one. The meal always concludes with my wearing much more food than he’s consumed. Then, after many tears (from both of us), he’s wrestled into his buggy for the morning constitutional.

As I stumble over the front step, struggling with trainers and shushing the banshee-like screams emitted by my son, I always have the same encounter. It really is uncanny. No matter what time I leave the house, I’m always just in time to say ‘Hello’ to Mr Fashionable Dad as he and his saintly child stroll by.

‘Morning,’ he says, a grin spreading across his pristinely-shaved face.

‘Hi,’ I say, wiping ketchup from my raggedy-bearded chin.

‘Lovely weather’

‘Isn’t it?’

And with that Mr Fashionable Dad is gone, trotting down the road in his co-ordinated, stain-free, clothes – probably off to the gym or perhaps to expertly whittle some wood for charity. I know my level of contempt for Mr Fashionable Dad is totally out of proportion to his crimes. Essentially he’s the dad manifestation of the swan gliding above the water, whereas I look like the frantic paddling that goes on beneath.

God, I dislike that guy.

Eastern Daily Press

To read my full piece for the Eastern Daily Press, click here.

SIMILE LIKE YOU MEAN IT!

Here’s my new piece for Eastern Daily Press, all about my frustrations with the misuse of the word ‘Like’.

“Simile like you mean it…

Before we start, yes, I am aware that this is going to make me seem like a total grump. That said, I feel I should continue. What’s my beef, I hear you cry?

It’s simple really, I seem to be surrounded by a world that’s lost any ability to communicate without the word: ‘like’.

Let me expand.

The word ‘like’ is one of comparison. It suggests that one thing is similar to, but not the same as, another. Yes, we all know that, but it’s important to state at this juncture. For some reason, however, the word ‘like’ has replaced ‘erm’ for many as an unconscious way of punctuating sentences.

As such – and my English teacher would be proud of me for this – we’re living in a world of similes.

“He was, like, so mad,” someone said to me today. A statement that means, ‘he’ was similar to being ‘so mad’, but wasn’t. I don’t think that’s what they meant.

“The soup was, like, so fishy.” Which means, if ‘so fishy’ is the maximum fishiness we can expect from a soup, that the meal in question was close to that – but not quite.

Chris McGuire, Eastern Daily Press

For the rest of the piece, click here. I hope you ‘LIKE’ it!

Sincerity….

“Sincerity – if you can fake that, you’ve got it made”

George Burns


For me, the key to writing that really engages is sincerity.
What do I mean?

The writing that I find engaging is sincere, in the sense it’s a reflection of life – with all its imperfections.

Prose with a sense of humour, that doesn’t take itself too seriously and actively reflects the experience of being human, is always going to get my vote.

There is no such thing as a ‘boring’ subject, only boring writing. It’s all about finding an angle on the topic that will engage with a reader. If my mind wanders and I think about lunch while I’m reading some of my copy, I’ve taken the wrong tack.

Laughter is often the key.
When I wrote The Modern MAMIL: How to look pro, illustrated by the amazing Spencer Wilson, I deliberately focused on experiences that cyclists might feel embarrassed about sharing. For example the difficulties of going for a wee when covered in layer after layer of tight fitting Lycra.

It’s amazing how people engage with writing when it shows they are not the only one to feel a certain way.

“We read to know we are not alone…”


Are you addressing the elephants in the room in your content?
Engagement isn’t about selling a dream, it’s a matter of sharing common experiences…