Trip trap, trip trap. Who’s that walking over my bridge?

Trolls, it would seem, lurk everywhere. They pounce when you least expect it and not just in the digital realms.

This weekend, I had my first experience of a troll. At least, that is how I am choosing to categorise him. I knew when I wrote this piece and submitted it to my local paper that not everybody would agree with me. Vaccination is an emotive subject for many and every man and his dog has a tale of woe to tell about it.

Now, educated debate I can handle. Constructive criticism is a way of life for a writer. If we are ever to improve our craft, we need honest feedback and guidance on how we could have done things differently. But personal insults are never called for.

Sadly, that is exactly what happened this weekend. An individual, passionate about the evils of vaccination decided to pepper his response to my article in a letter to the Editor with abuse that called for readers to ‘treat me with the contempt with which I deserved’, claimed I was an ‘apologist’ for vaccine manufacturers and ‘to get out more’.

Okay, so worse things have been said at sea. I was prepared to just laugh it off and leave him to stew in  his own bile. But the inaccuracy of his arguments against vaccination really started to get under my skin. This was an area I felt passionate about and I just couldn’t let it lie.

So I have responded. I made sure to spell his name correctly (a courtesy he failed to extend to me) and I simply stated the facts about Andrew Wakefield, subsequent studies into MMR and autism and the realities of herd immunity. I resisted serving a volley of abuse back.

So my question to you, dear readers, is this: Do you feed the trolls in the hope that nourishing them with good, wholesome facts will enlighten them? Or do you walk away hoping everyone will see them for what they are?

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How do you write?

When I started out as a writer, I didn’t really have much of a clue about what I was doing. I knew I wanted to write about science and I knew I loved playing with words, but that was about it.

So how did I learn how to write?

Listening

A lot of trial and error. I was very lucky to be trained in the craft of copywriting by some very patient people at the award winning agency Langland. The writers and art directors there all helped teach me about writing for healthcare and the essentials of good advertising. I’ll never forget presenting my first detail aid – it was terrifying. Quite rightly, it was torn to shreds. I was gutted and it was years later before I appreciated the depth of constructive criticism I received at Langland.

Because that’s what you need when you’re learning to write. Criticism. That’s the only way to learn what works and just as importantly, what doesn’t work. This is where the old Chinese (or is it Japanese?) proverb fall down seven times, stand up eight rings true.

Writing, rewriting, rewriting again

To learn to write, I wrote. Then I wrote it again. And again. And again. I had my word choice challenged by art directors, account handlers, brand managers and medics. Some words I changed (choose your battles writers), some words I fought hard to keep. Some words just naturally fell by the wayside while others clung on for dear life. But that is what crafting copy is all about. Accepting the criticism and letting people help you improve your writing.

In the beginning, you find yourself back at the drawing board (or writing slate) all too often. But starting afresh is exhilarating. A clean sheet of paper, an empty word document. Just waiting to be improved by the addition of some carefully chosen words.

The secret formula

After 12 years I have a tried and tested formula for writing. It has 3 stages: Immersion, Procrastination and Panic.

The first stage, is all about research. Reading the brief, understanding the brief, learning about the disease area if it’s new to me. I search online for insights into what it’s like to live with the disease, how doctors feel about treating it and what they think about the drug in question.

Then I procrastinate. Actually, I’m filtering all I’ve absorbed in stage 1, but it can look like procrastination to the untrained eye (ahem). But it all seriousness, stage 2, whatever you call it, is necessary. Go for a walk, eat lunch, watch an episode of Mad Men. Whatever it takes.

Then comes stage 3. Again, to the untrained eye, it can look like panic in the face of a looming deadline. But it’s actually Focus. By the time I’ve absorbed and filtered and digested all I need to, I’m itching to get those words captured in a word document.

But the real secret behind my tried and tested formula is…do you really want to know?

It’s the brief. A well written, carefully produced, thought out, insightful and inspiring brief.

That’s the real key to producing compelling healthcare communications.

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Not forgetting cake of course, essential for inspiring (bribing) account handlers with