Category Archives: Essays

4 SHORT TIPS ON LONG CONTENT WRITING FOR ASPIRING WRITERS

At the risk of sounding absurd, I would like to share some fairly obvious pointers for aspiring young writers.

I had the opportunity to interact with a young writer recently and realized that things have changed considerably since I got out of writing school. Students don’t write as much they used to; they are spending a lot of their time on social media, What’s App and Instagram. With all of these being short content media, most of these young aspirants don’t really get into long content writing space. Yet, they aspire to become writers.

If you happen to belong to this club of millennials, here are a few tips that may help you get started on doing some serious writing. After all, you do need a portfolio to share if you are looking for a gig as a writer. So here goes:

  1. Read long content writing. It could be in the form of blogs, short stories, ebooks on kindle, or just plain old novels – the kind we read in the pre-internet era. Some of my favourite writers of all times, especially if you like to finish a story in one sitting include Edgar Allen Poe, Guy de Maupassant, Roald Dahl, Anton Chekov, to name but a few.In the blogosphere, I follow and thoroughly enjoy posts by:
    Anthony Wilson (http://anthonywilsonpoetry.com/lifesavingpoemsblog/);
    Stuart M. Perkins (https://storyshucker.wordpress.com/)
    Andrew toy (https://adoptingjames.wordpress.com/)
    Ian Brodie (http://www.ianbrodie.com/welcome)
  1. Analyse the work you read. A serious reader shared this tip with me early in my writing career. Just because you are reading some famous writers, it does not mean you need to accept everything they say without questioning it. As a writer, you need to look at what you are reading from different perspectives. If you find something of particular interest, read up more about the incidient, story, reference as shared by other thinkers and writers of the time. This will give you a more holistic view of what’s the incident was really all about. This is a great way to broaden your horizons and increase your understanding of the topics that you read.
  2. Read autobiographies of the authors that interest you. The stories of their lives will shed new light on their works as most authors draw on their own experiences however remote the references may seem.
  3. And last but not the least, WRITE long content. Set up a blog – you are pitching to be a writer, put up regular posts. Sure, ideas and creativity are the soul of contemporary writing, but writing is a skill, just like sketching or playing the piano.

You need to work on the skill and the ‘wordsmith’ing to be able to write smooth flowing content; especially if all you want to do is write a brilliant tweet or create a smart FB post that you are hoping will go viral.

Great copy and crafted headlines are usually the result of long hours of thinking, and crafting away at a few words that sound perfect when you get them right!

What are your tips for aspiring young writers to help them get started on their writing careers? Do share in the comments box below!

~ Bharti Athray

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HOW TO DEVELOP A DESIGN STENCIL FOR CSR REPORTS

One of the reasons that companies reach out to external communications agencies to compile and design the CSR reports is the look and feel of the report. In most of the projects we have handled, the client has the content in word documents – sometimes well edited, other times not; there are some photographs in various folders, attempts made by the inhouse CSR Lead to develop the report into a readable, presentable document – while this may not always be successful.

When the agency steps in, this is what you can expect as the client.

  1. The agency must know how you wish to present the information: company-wise, chronologically, or event-wise.
  2. If you have a logo or public identity for your CSR initiatives, share them with your agency in the first meeting itself. The agency may want to work around your logo forms or colours during the design process.
  3. If your agency has not handled too many of such report design jobs, help them by laying out a set of guidelines.

Guidelines for the design team

  • The pictures are the most important part of such a report; second is the content. The design is at the tertiary level. Often agencies with a background in designing brochures get fixated on layout and design and may end up compromising the seriousness of content.
  • The design team must remember that beyond a point, content cannot be edited to fit into design. The design will have to adapt to the content.
  • While content with activity details is important, your report must have adequate visual breaks. This could be in the form of factual insets, info-graphics, or a break in the page layout.
  • Most ‘CSR only’ reports range from 24 pages to upto 70-odd pages depending on the oragnisations activity in this space. The design team would do well to work on a family of 4-5 different templates for the layout.

These templates could be:

  1. Full content page
  2. Full image page with content as caption
  3. Content page with images (2-3 on a spread of 2 pages. Here, define the photos sizes and format of captions
  4. Use of insets on the page
  5. 1, 2 & 3 column layouts can be worked and used with discretion in the report especially if the number of pages is over 40.
  6. The style of illustrations in the info-graphics must be shared & approved at the initial stages of the project.
  7. Define the design & layout stencil in the first round itself. If content needs to be edited, it is easier to work with a defined word-count, once the stencil is fixed.
  8. The agency must have the leeway to rewrite your entire content if they feel the language of the original inputs is varying and not consistent.

While this is definitely not at all-encompassing list, it will definitely help you understand the process through which a design team works to deliver your expected results. Knowing the process and keeping them in mind during interactions can lead to smoother and quicker deliveries.

~ Bharti Athray

Remembering Leon Uris

One of my favourite authors, Leon Uris,  was born on August 3, 1924. Celebrated as an American novelist, known for his historical fiction and the deep research that went into his novels, his two bestselling books were Exodus (published in 1958) and Trinity (published in 1976). He has written several more, that make for riveting reading.

He was one of the writers I was greatly influenced by during my twenties, and read several of his books including QBVII, Milta Pass, Haj and Mila 18.

I have always been fascinated by the story of Israel and his works explored the history of the country, and the Nazi chapter of twentieth century history in great detail. I particularly remember learning from QBVII how each of us can be unreasonably cruel when we have the power. It also warned me against being too judgmental of others when I felt they had done something wrong, for it is difficult to really know how I would have behaved in a similar situation.

From the outside, each of us is a righteous being, but power, greed, lust can corrupt the human spirit, and his books are a revelation of how the most evolved of human beings being corrupted by these emotions.

It is writers like him and Ayn Rand who taught me a new way to look at life; they are the ones who inspire me to write. To pen my thoughts in the belief that one day, someone, somewhere will be touched by them.

Who is your favourite author? What have you learnt from his / her writings? Let me know!

~ Bharti Athray

What is the one thing that you stand for?

We have all heard this a million times over, yet when it comes to implementing the same, somewhere we fail.

In this post, I invite to you to give this question a think: what do you stand for?

I believe if you can find the answer to this question as it applies to the many levels you operate on, in your everyday life, you would be a more successful person than you are today.

The problem is, most of us are trying to be everything to everyone, even when every marketing guru tells us that it is a surefire route to failure. Yet that seemingly safe path is what we pursue.

Today, I invite you to take a few minutes and think out what you stand for in your many circles of influence. And also ask yourself whether that is how the world around sees you.

What do you stand for:

  1. In your family
  2. In your circle of friends
  3. Amongst your colleagues
  4. To your organization
  5. To your clients
  6. To your community
  7. To yourself

Take a close look at the many roles you play and do an honest analysis of whether your world knows what you stand for in each of your circles. At the risk of sounding contradictory, the fact remains that we are all different people in different spaces. But the effort here is to recognize your stance in a given circle and live in truth to that stance.

Build on your belief and let the people know. Make it your identity and let people reach out to you when it comes to specific issues, where your beliefs could provide the solution.

Explore, analyse, stand for who you really are.

I would love to hear from you and know what you stand for in the many areas of life. Leave your answers in the comment box below!

This post was inspired by an article by the famous marketing guru, Al Ries, titled ‘Is There a Marketing Lesson to Be Learned From Donald Trump? Here he shares names of the politicians who worked hard at being everything to the masses and were forgotten.

~ Bharti Athray

HOW TO MAKE YOUR CSR REPORTING EASIER AND MORE EFFECTIVE

With CSR having become an important and mandatory activity in the Indian corporate segment, companies are investing serious time and money in this space. Having taken up various initiatives, it becomes mandatory for the organizations to also report what is being done under these initiatives during the year.

This reporting plays a critical role at various levels:

  1. Excellent material for PR with various stakeholders
  2. Generates employee engagement which is important to ensure project sustainability
  3. Regular documentation helps the HR / Finance departments appropriately track the progress being made in various initiatives over time.

Why you need a good CSR report
The CSR report, when compiled with a purpose can mobilize resources and create ample goodwill around the organization. As a communication expert, working with companies to develop the CSR reports and share these in a presentable format to their various audiences, I have often found some common gaps in data compilation. It would help for the CSR Team to keep these issues in mind during the year, when they are on the field, in midst of the community. Collection and proper documentation of this data at the time of the event will enable the external / internal Communication Team to present a more comprehensive report at the end of the year.

Checklist for the CSR team

  • Use a good quality digital camera to take photographs of the various activities done on the field – pictures taken with the mobile camera do not reproduce well.
  • Take pictures where the light is sufficient, and faces are not in the dark. Images where faces are in the dark cannot be used in the final reports.
  • While the effort is to show community development, and these are live pictures, show the difference your initiative is making in the community. Where possible, use community members and scenarios which are visually are pleasant.
  • Maintain details of your activities project wise, so it becomes easier for the third party Communication Agency to prepare your reports. Develop a format of reporting that all your CSR Leads will follow, this will help you to ensure all the key data has been recorded.
  • For each event, the team must record :
    – the objective of the initiative,
    – corporate team members involved,
    – activity done,
    – participation in actual numbers, (response to activity)
    – location of activity,
    – pictures of beneficiaries,
    – quotes from community leaders on the success of the event,
    – sustainability plans for the activity.
  • When sharing data with your communication agency, share your images as jpegs in the image folder, with a separate folder for each event.
  • At the same time, your draft report must carry the relevant images for the event, so the external team is better able to understand which images go with a particular write up.
  • Share the overall vision of the CSR initiatives, and get your CSR team to chat with the Communications Team. Often, documentation records facts, but misses out of significant soft skills milestones achieved on the field. These can be shared verbally, giving the Communications Team a feel of what has actually been achieved, how it has made a difference to the community and why the community is supporting the initiatives. These insights are often lost during the documentation of the activity done, yet are important to give a flavor and warm feel to your CSR reports that seeks to connect with the various stakeholders.
  • Give due credit to your CSR leads and field workers from the organization. This boosts their morale, gives them recognition among peers and inspires others to join the initiatives. Support from within the organization in very important to be able to sustain these projects over a long period of time.
  • Clearly define the figures that need to be shared with the audiences. Providing the Communications Team with data sheets or tables is meaningless, as they will not be able to interpret these facts. You need to clearly tell them what data you want to highlight and why.
  • Decide upfront what have been your most successful initiatives and how you wish to break up the data available: team wise or initiative wise.
  • You will need messages from senior management of the organization, start talking to them early on as these messages take time to come in. In case the Communications Agency is drafting these for you, ask for it in the initial days, to give you ample time for approvals and changes.
  • Be prepared to purchase stock images for key pages: cover, separators etc. Budget for these as most of the time, images taken by your people on the field will not lend themselves to enlargement to the required size.
  • Develop an online version of your CSR report, put up your data online. See how you can get someone to update this information on a monthly basis to keep it fresh.

If you have any queries regarding compiling a CSR report for your organization, do drop me a message in comment box below. I would be happy to help in any way possible! Cheers.

~ Bharti Athray

What gets me writing

There are a million reasons why I don’t have post up every day. Lack of ideas on what to write about is not one of them. My issues are usually quite technical: I write in my diary, I don’t get around to converting into the soft format, I didn’t make the time; you know, lots of the usual kind of stuff.

As you can imagine, the question I often ask myself is whether I have a problem with discipline or whether I am unable to organize the necessary technologies to achieve the one post a day target? Though I don’t have an answer to that yet, I do know I need to work to get more posts up. So how do I get myself to do what I want / need to do to have my posts up regularly? Here are a few tips that help me:

  • Avoid conversation when I am ready to write: I need to be in the zone to write. This is the zone where I have been thinking about something on a continued basis, and any conversation at this time will completely throw me off track.
  • Listen to classical Indian instrumental music: I love listening to instrumental flute pieces. So when I am ready, I plug into long sessions of flute and type away. You could experiment with different types of music till you find something that works for you!
  • Keep my diary and pen with me always, when I am not around a computer: When I have the urge to put my thoughts down, I do it there and then, if I don’t, I know I never will.
  • Stay with my topic: There are times when I get half way through writing out an article, and then lose steam. I leave the article unfinished and come back to it when I have a few more ideas on the topic. This also means I need to live with the topic at all times.
  • Get emotional: I need to feel about an issue very deeply to be able to write. This is something I have realized only recently. When I am busy, when I do not have the time to connect with myself, when I am just rushing around, I can’t write. I am almost numb. I guess those are times when I don’t allow myself to feel anything. To write, all I need is some emotion: extreme joy, happiness, sadness, anger, helplessness… anything but something. I look out for events, people, things that get me to feel.
  • I believe what I think matters: For me, writing is about validating myself, giving meaning to my existence. Writing lets me voice my thoughts, my opinions and lets me create my little dent in my corner of the world. Or should I say blogosphere.

There are always days when I don’t even want to look at a blank screen or paper, and others when I just can’t keep away. But for me, understanding what makes me write and why I write has been a step closer to doing what I love to do, on a more routine basis.

Have you discovered interesting stuff about your own writing habits? I would love to hear about them!

~ Bharti Athray

Image source: http://gigaverse.com/

MY SISTER’S BIRTHDAY

It was a wet wintry morning, with dew on my window sill. I looked out to see the morning joggers run around the huge ground across the road. I liked gray mornings, they made the day feel timeless. I watched and wondered what the day would bring, when I remembered it was my sister’s 50th birthday. Yes, I had forgotten, well, not forgotten forgotten, but kind of put it away at the back of my mind. And it had suddenly popped out at me.

I sat myself down at my table and pulled out my favorite black diary. I loved writing in it, a dear friend had gifted it to me.

The page looked up at me, like a little child waiting to be told its tale of the day. I smiled as I put my pen to paper, thinking back to the days when we were young, and fought over chocolates, shared candy and lies, kept secrets, and generally grew up at a time when television was a prized possession and channels showed cartoons for a precious 30 minutes a day.

I loved my sister very much, she had been a wonderful confidante to me during my growing years. Of the two of us, she was the prettier one, and she truly dressed for the part. I had grown up looking up to her, but I can’t remember ever envying her the good looks.

My parents always told us we were both special in our own ways. The memories, the chats over tea, the lazy summer afternoons during school holidays made me smile. I so wished I could be with her right now, but she was far away in another city, almost a lifetime away.

Sure, we had kept in touch and shared stories about our boys, but right now, today, I felt it was just not enough. Finally having committed the memories, the reveries and the sweet warm feeling to the pages of my diary, I proceeded to call her.

She was busy getting breakfast ready for her family.
“Happy Birthday, M.,” I wished her. She was pleasantly surprised to hear my voice so early in the morning. “Hey, B., how sweet of you to call. Thanks a ton, B, for calling. But listen, I am in the middle of breakfast,… may I call you back like in 30 minutes?”

“Sure,” I said and hung up. I smiled to myself, the dew from the window had gone, the window was clear, the sun shone brightly through the leaves. The joggers had slowed or so I felt.

I sipped my tea, took a deep breath, watched the lane around my home come to life. Before long, it was time for me to wake up the kids… the moment had passed.

She did call me back a while later, but now, I was rushing to work. We made promises to connect back soon, and I never did get around to telling her just how much she meant to me… then or now. May be, another day. Another birthday.

~ Bharti Athray

Image source: paulagatto.com