When you come across a page that’s fun, you bookmark. When you come across a page that’s resourceful, you bookmark. When you come across a page that’s both, you definitely bookmark. Or follow, connect, like – whatever button appears nearest to your cursor.
That’s (sort of) how I came across Philip Charter, English writing coach, educator, and author with several fiction and non-fiction publications under his belt. Through his LinkedIn posts, Philip shares tips on authentic writing, original expression, and better readability for writers, while not-so-subtly battling buzzwords, outsourcing all your writing to AI, and insincere click-bait content.
He kindly accepted, without much hounding on my part at all, thankfully, to answer a few questions about his experience, challenges facing writers and clients, the question of AI, multilingual writers in the industry, and more.
How did you (decide to) become a writing coach?
Philip Charter: Hmm, I decided I wanted to be one before I even knew it was a job. After quitting my advertising job to travel the world, I started writing seriously and fell into language teaching. Nearly ten years later, I dreamed up the term ‘writing coach’ as a way to put my two passions together and help English learners achieve their writing goals. Escaping the parasitic ESL industry was part of the motivation too.
“Stop crowding the prepositions! Break, break!” – A writing coach, probably.
Until recently, I was someone who sneered at the idea of personal coaches. But times change, and people change too. Now I’m proud to call myself a coach because I genuinely believe in the power of working towards goals and tangible results rather than teaching from a textbook.
I guess I started working online in 2018 and figured everything out from there. Well, we’re all still figuring it out, aren’t we?
What have you found are the biggest challenges for writers? What about the biggest doubts or dilemmas for clients?
Each writer has different strengths, weaknesses, challenges and goals.
Typical issues clients want to fix are slow writing speed, lower accuracy, illogical structure or unnatural style that leads to work not getting accepted or poor results. But without a doubt, the biggest problem of all is confidence.
Few writers (professional or not) are getting quality feedback on what is working well and what isn’t.
They are left with rejections, unexplained corrections, critiques like ‘it sounds clunky’, or they are ghosted.
So many writers think ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘If only I was a native speaker of English.’
This is what crushes writers’ confidence.
As a writer myself, I’ve been through it all (and still go through it), so I see the need to work on confidence.
I don’t sugarcoat my feedback, but I’m aware that building self-esteem is the way for writers to improve, reach goals and then set new ones.
You have a really cool post about how AI in content writing will nudge, or inspire, people to write with more authenticity, heart, and humor. Could you share more of your thoughts on how this is a “forced yet glorious opportunity?” (That’s how I like to call it.) What will help writers stand out in the changing climate?
As far as I’m concerned, everyone is looking at AI in completely the wrong way. So far, there have been millions of takes on what it can do, what it will replace and how it might develop. Who cares? What’s important to me is what it can’t and will never be able to do.
LLMs can’t do these writing tasks:
Caught on camera: AI trying to crack the mechanics of a knock-knock joke.
Oh, and they are crap at stories too. That’s because the readers must play a role in creating the meaning of stories and AI does know what humans are thinking (I hope).
Companies or creators using AI to generate content are getting it utterly wrong as I see it. In 12 months, the Internet will be filled with so much guff and noise, very little will stand out.
Writers should aim to develop skills that AI will never have. Then their words will stand out.
The “industry” seems to pay native English speakers more than multilingual writers. But you work with multilingual writers and argue that they, in fact, have some advantages over native speakers. Could you take us through that?
Most industries care about profit above anything else. Writing is no different.
Editors, agencies and clients use the quickest and cheapest way to filter less accurate or less valuable writers. At the moment, the best method is discrimination (based on first language).
It’s illegal in the EU, and even where it’s not illegal, it’s immoral. I truly believe multilingual writers have the advantage of being successful language learners. They might make fewer mistakes, but native speakers are still learning English too – new words, creative uses, changing grammar, trends, creative punctuation and formatting. Multilingual writers often grasp patterns, rules and trends quicker than native speakers. Also, writers from outside the anglosphere may have more distinctive voices. They can make their culture and background a part of their product or service. In the world of creative writing, diversity is certainly a strength.
Writers should make more noise about this discrimination. We all need to educate companies, governments and people of all countries that being multilingual is a strength, not a weakness. We also need to invent more efficient ways for companies to filter quality work. Finally, writers themselves should support each other and worry about building enough authority and proof of results that no one can deny them opportunities.
To put it mildly, you’re not a fan of the word “content.” What would you have us replace it with in the context of “content writing?”
Ha ha. It’s not my favourite word, but there are many other contenders for overused buzzwords too – unlock, supercharge, passionate, dynamic… I could go on all day. And while we’re at it, ‘creator’ doesn’t sit well with me either.
“Steal this post to unlock supercharged passion and become the next Steve Jobs of drilling equipment, or something.” Philip cringes into nonexistence.
For me, ‘content’ is supposed to be a catch-all term for articles, videos, audio etc, but it ends up describing nothing. What do you picture when I say ‘imagine some content’? Nothing!
‘Content Writing’ has become a widely used industry term, so there is no replacing it now. We can’t put it back in the box.
All I plead is that writers consider whether other, more precise or visual words could fit the space they fill with ‘content’.
Finally, you’re a fiction writer as well as a LinkedIn post writer, slideshow maker, video creator, etc., (look how I’m avoiding the C-word). How would you say these two sides of your creativity feed each other?
Great question. I think they fit together well, but they both try to steal time from each other. Writing fiction has given me the ability to use stories, emotion, nuance, humour, and surprise in my functional writing. Hopefully, this is what makes it stand out. Plus, learning how to write stories takes a keen analytical eye, which comes in handy for reverse engineering successful blogs, posts and carousels.
I’ll have to make time for my creative writing to ensure the ‘content’ doesn’t take over. As ever, I embrace the struggle of writing, whether I’m helping others, or dreaming stories out of thin air.
Philip Charter is a writing coach from the UK who works with multilingual copywriters and founders. He is the author of two collections of short fiction and Fifteen Brief Moments in Time, a novella-in-flash. He likes crisps.
The interview was prepared by Hana Korneti, marketing lead and editor at Writer & Co.
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