Writing is always writing

Credit: John Simmons

By John Simmons 

I know the title might sound as vacuous as ‘Brexit means Brexit’. (Forgive me but I didn’t write that – ‘above my pay grade’ as the government spokesperson might say.) But there is a real point contained in ‘Writing is always writing’. Actually there are two points…

Don’t restrict yourself
First, as writers who attempt to earn our livings in the commercial world, we often put ourselves into straitjackets. As if there were irreconcilable differences between, say, writing a website and writing a novel. Or even, within the ‘commercial’ genre there were specialisms that have specific and rigid rules that make you a writer of annual reports or packaging or blogs or websites. If you are a good writer, you should be able to write for any of these genres. Because the basic principles apply:

  • Care for your craft, think about every word and the order of those words.
  • Make choices based on the tone of voice you need to achieve for the task you are working on.
  • Picture the person you are writing for, his or her needs and expectations, and write words for that person and situation.

Break out
You are not writing to a formula. If you do, your words will not connect properly with your reader. Your writing has to have humanity that comes from you as an individual. So don’t limit yourself to a specific style of writing for which you claim unique expertise. Because your expertise is extraordinary – you are a writer. Which means: take risks, stretch yourself, always seek the kind of writing you haven’t done before.

This brings me to the second point. As a writer you will always be writing, and always trying to improve as a writer. Carry a notebook with you, use it every day, make it the essential kit of your life – and accept that the notebook is for you only, not for the outside world, you have permission to experiment for your eyes alone.

Read widely 
Part of that experimentation is drawing on other kinds of reading. Writers have to read and to read more widely. If you want to become a better writer of websites, don’t just read websites. Read novels, memoirs, poetry. Observe how other writers write, and try some of the techniques used by novelists and poets. Read the opening paragraph of Nabokov’s Lolita, for example, then try writing the first draft of your next commercial project under its influence. Of course, you’ll discard most of it, but there will be something that sticks, that opens you up as a writer.

Author, John Simmons

Does this work?
It’s worked for me over a long career where I’ve been an editor, copywriter, brand consultant and a novelist. Each feeds into the other. It’s the philosophy behind the Dark Angels programme that has inspired hundreds of writers of every kind.

We’ve now put it into a book that will be published by Unbound in June.

Contact us for more information on Dark Angels, or to book onto one of our residential courses.


Keeping Time

Dark Angels at The Good Messenger Workshop, Hawkwood House, January 2019

At Dark Angels residential courses, we sometimes think of our writing exercises as ‘experiments’: to try things out together, drawing on new ideas in a safe and supportive environment.

Why do we write?  
Our most recent workshop at Hawkwood House in the Cotswolds was based on the latest book from one of our founders, John Simmons: The Good Messenger. Over the course of a whole weekend, led by John Simmons and Neil Baker, a group of us gathered together to test out some of these new experiments about a ‘writer’s purpose’.

The latest book from John Simmons: The Good Messenger

24 Hours
The book uses time as a structural device – one part of the book recording a day at a time in each chapter, and the middle section of the book telling the story of one single day – Armistice Day, through the eyes of a single character. One of the most interesting outputs from the weekend was to ask each participant to record what was happening at different hours of the day, then to combine them chronologically to create a coherent whole: a collective Dark Angels voice. We also wanted to test the idea as a storytelling structure; to capture what Dennis Potter called ‘the nowness of now’. 

The Final Piece
On the last day, the group formed a circle in the beautiful library of Hawkwood House and read out their individual pieces as a collective piece of writing – a beautiful prose poem written by 11 individuals, that we called ‘Keeping Time’. From breaking dawns through rescuing rodents, the poem recounted a day in the life at Hawkwood, as 11 unique observations over the course of 24 hours.

Listen Up
We’d say The Good Messenger experiments were a resounding success. And so we bring the work to you now as an audio treat, and invite you to experience just a tiny droplet of what Dark Angels is all about:

The final Dark Angels collective prose piece, Keeping Time. Written at Hawkwood House, January 2019. Narrated by Melissa Thom.

Audio production by Melissa Thom and Euan Mcaleece.

Drop us a line at melissa@dark-angels.org.uk – we’d love to know what you think.

And if you’d like to join us on one of our courses, you can find more information here.


Welcome to our 2019 Writing Programme

We’re thrilled to announce our creative business writing programme for 2019 today:


Go Deep
If you haven’t yet joined us on a Dark Angels writing experience, we can promise you our courses will help you to become a better writer. Above all, it’s not about grammar, syntax, spelling, or applying secret rules. But about having the honesty to be sincere, the bravery to be authentic and trusting yourself to connect.

Be inspired
We offer a progression of open courses from one-day immersions, to residential Foundation, Advanced and Masterclass. Set around the globe, in a range of beautiful locations, including the UK, Ireland, Scotland, Spain and America, you will explore how to use language for powerful human connections, how to tell stories with impact, and how to find an authentic and engaging tone of voice for any brand or project.

Set yourself free
Each course provides you – as a communication professional and word lover –  the opportunity to play with more creative approaches to writing. And the experience will give you the chance to bring your true self to the page.

Is it for you?
Our 2019 programme is aimed at anyone who writes as part of their job – including professionals from the fields of copywriting, brand strategy, corporate comms, fundraising, healthcare, journalism and beyond. Over the past 15 years, we’ve welcomed people from organisations including Penguin Books, Barclays and Innocent, as well as freelance writers, poets and novelists.

We believe in the power of words and writing. So join us on one of our courses in the New Year, and we promise you will leave a Dark Angel.

The Dark Angels experience is a window into a world free of the meaningless words and phrases we have accumulated in life and business. Its lesson is simple but challenging. The road to stronger language lies in reduction and authenticity. 

John Allert, Chief Marketing Officer, MacLaren Technology Group

View the 2019 course programme here: