Simon Armitage was more to me than a face in a GCSE textbook and, four years ago, in a desolate poetry workshop hosted at the Dean Walters building in Liverpool, he taught me the second most important lesson in creative writing…
“When writing, never use a word that you wouldn’t say in real life conversation.”
Until that day I had failed to realise two things:
i) The voice of Simon Armitage isn’t that dull. I always thought it would be horrible, as I’d only ever heard a monotonous teacher/student read his poems aloud.
ii) His life’s extraordinary work was crafted from the vocabulary any smackhead would be familiar with.
Inspired doesn’t really cover it. It was like Armitage had flicked me in the eye and handed me his key to creative writing. He taught every one of us in that room to stop reaching for the thesaurus or right-clicking for synonyms. He taught us to grab our best adjectives from the streets, school yards and pub toilets.
That’s the second most important lesson I’ve transferred from poetry to copywriting, tucked behind a belter from professor Edmund Cusick:
“Lie. The next time you meet somebody new and engage in conversation, make something up about yourself – something interesting.”
This was the advice of the lead lecturer for Imaginative Writing in Liverpool John Moore’s University. I never thought he meant it. Lying would go against everything my dad had ever taught me.
Did the professor really want his students to lie? Or did he just want us all to start thinking of character traits we’d like to possess? Either way, he got us thinking.
He had flicked us in the eye and handed us the key to creative thought.
Demian Farnworth recently published a post on dishonesty in advertising – have a read if you think you can withstand another flick in the eye.
Just so you know, Simon Armitage was never physically present in that almost-empty workshop. His guidance – the words that ignited my whole writing career to date – fuzzed through a battered old tape player. Hardly anybody was listening.
If you’re done reading for the day but want to know exactly how Armitage does it, just listen to his masterpiece on 9/11, performed by Rufus Sewell.
What do you consider to be your most important lesson in creative writing?
Put your thoughts down in a comment below – I’ll always reply.
Every day’s a school day: Niall Griffiths wrote an entire novel (Runt), using a vocabulary of just 700 words. It’s an incredible read.