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Just write it

Greta Solomon (BA Psychology 1996-99) is a writing coach and author with a background in journalism and PR. Currently based in Norway, Greta has taught writing skills to clients as diverse as charities and media conglomerates as well as those for whom English is a second language. Her coaching focuses on bringing out people’s latent abilities, to produce agile, skilled, whole-brained writing.

“Psychology has influenced all my work. It has shaped my brand, as unlike many other coaches I focus on the mental blocks that people face when they write...”

Tell us about the journey from psychology student to writing coach

From a young age, I wanted to be a journalist but I didn’t think I was hard-nosed enough to sniff out stories at any costs. And as much as I loved psychology, I found the emphasis on maths and hard science off-putting.

So after graduating, I just sat-tight. A few months later, I read an amazing book called Get the Job You Want in 30 Days, which spurred me on to land a job at a fashion PR consultancy.

While I was there I realised that my strengths lay in writing, and that I needed to grow a thick skin, and become a journalist. I left and did work experience at a businesswomen’s magazine. This enabled me to forge a career writing for women’s magazines. I then spent several years working as a freelance journalist for national magazines and newspapers, writing mostly about health, travel and lifestyle.

In 2006, I did a short stint as a PR for an educational company, who had created a successful method of teaching maths. I decided that I wanted to do the same for writing. So I started tutoring students of all ages in writing skills, cementing my skills by training as a life coach, writing coach and teacher.

In 2009, I started working at an international business-to-business PR consultancy, spending 18 months there, and rising to director level, working with high-profile international clients.

After taking a sabbatical working for Save the Children in Ethiopia and moving from London to Oslo (with my Norwegian husband), I went full-time as a writing coach in 2012. My book Just Write It! outlining my writing skills training method was published by McGraw-Hill in 2013.

How does your psychology background help with your coaching?

Psychology has influenced all my work. It has shaped my brand, as unlike many other coaches I focus on the mental blocks that people face when they write, and have developed creative exercises to combat these. I’ve also adapted personality models from psychology, to help people understand their behaviour around writing and take positive steps to transform it.

Why is it important to write well?

In this digital age, I believe that if you cannot write well, then you’ll get left behind. The internet and social networking are now woven into the fabric of our lives. Almost everything we do – personally and professionally – involves writing. But what many people don’t realise is that writing is a tool you can use to get what you want.

Take job-hunting, for instance. You often hear of talented graduates sending out hundreds of applications and not hearing anything back. Of course, there is high unemployment and fierce competition for jobs, but I believe that if you can write well, you can rise to the top in any economic climate. When I coach people in writing cover letters and CVs, their interview success rate always increases.

What kind of people do you work with?

I work primarily with employees at large multi-national companies, mainly in the technical industries. These types of people often have great knowledge about their company’s products and services but sometimes struggle to express themselves in a way that connects with their customers, colleagues and clients.

What kinds of things do your clients want help with?

My clients usually have a specific business goal they want to address through writing. For example, one company had a product catalogue full of excellent products that they could sell to their existing customers. But the trouble was that these customers could easily get these products elsewhere, and they didn’t want to compete on price. So I developed a bespoke training course that enabled them to write about their products in a commercial way that really extolled the benefits to the users and persuaded them to buy.

I find that my clients want to empower their employees to write well, rather than hiring in professional writers. The benefit is that their employees have insider knowledge, passion and drive – they just need to acquire (easily taught) writing skills. I also give one-to-one coaching to all course participants to ensure that everyone’s individual needs are addressed.

What are the common writing mistakes that people make?

Using lots of complicated words, long sentences, management-speak (such as ‘getting your ducks in a row’) and jargon. Another big mistake is overuse of the passive voice, when the active voice would be much more effective. It also still surprises me that people adopt a stilted, pompous tone in their writing when they wouldn’t dream of doing so when speaking.

Do you have any particular memories of your time at Warwick?

Top Banana on a Monday night! Also, making great friends, drinking cheap plonk and the camaraderie and sense of adventure we had. I also left all my essays to the last-minute and gave myself just two weeks to complete the bulk of my dissertation. It was a nightmare. I was what I call a ‘last-minute Lorraine’, and there are strategies in my book to combat such behaviour.

Do you have any tips to help alumni improve their writing skills?

All writers say this – but read as much as you can, especially magazines. Then look at the techniques that the writers use and copy them. Look at the headline, the introduction, the structure and what it is that hooks you in. Don’t be afraid to steal the techniques and use them in your writing.

For more resources on writing skills visit gretasolomon.com. Just Write It! is available from all good bookshops priced £11.99.

 

 

Interesting stuff

Writing and publishing children's literature

A video of a talk from the Alumni Knowledge Exchange Day 2011


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