Just watched this again. Still amazing.
Someone just emailed asking what I meant when, over on Cup Of Jo, I said I needed to find ‘my voice’ in my 20s.
Okay. I didn’t mean finding the ability to speak and have an opinion and be me. It’s got nothing to do with confidence or realizing that what I said matters, any of that shit. (Very little of what I say matters. Fact.) When I say ‘voice’, I mean something far more literal. Voice is how you say what you say. It’s your personality – or the personality that you want to project – coming across in the words that you write.
I used to be an advertising copywriter. Writing something ‘from’ British Airways – a letter, an ad, a brochure – ‘sounds’ a particular way; that’s the brand personality. For British Airways: plain-spoken, intelligent, understated. Like an old friend who went on to become headmaster at a very good school. I also wrote things ‘from’ Virgin Atlantic. Virgin is – across all Virgin brands – flirty, tongue-in-cheek, something they call ‘Virginess’, the ‘cheeky chappie’ Branson personality. Virgin only sounds like Virgin, British Airways only sounds like British Airways. That’s called their tone of voice. It’s, arguably, the most important part of advertising, and it’s, unarguably, the part lots of brands get wrong, in their attempt to appeal to everyone.
So, from a writing-books-and-screenplays point of view, I just had to work out how to only sound like me, consistently. My favorite writers all have very distinctive tones of voice – from Helen Fielding to Hemingway, Nora Ephron to Dave Eggers. I didn’t aspire to sound like them – you can’t, really, it’s impossible, and anyway, I wanted to sound like me. But on the few occasions when I tried, early in my 20s, to sit down and write something just ‘from’ me, it always sounded false. So I felt blocked. Totally and utterly blocked. I didn’t spend much time worrying about it, mind you – I just went out and had fun with my friends instead.
After I had completed, I estimate, about 10,000 hours of copywriting (based on eight years of 250 days a year doing five hours of real writing a day, which is all anyone in advertising really does, if they say otherwise they are either lying or incompetent), something happened… Apparently, it’s called the ’10,000 Hour Rule’. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell writes that ‘the key to achieving world class expertise in any skill, is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing the correct way, for a total of around 10,000 hours’. So, obviously, ‘world class expertise’ is, frankly, fucking pretentious silliness when it comes to copywriting, which is simply selling people shit they don’t need, but yes, something happened at that point. I just got it. I was able to write exactly what I wanted to say in exactly the way I wanted to say it, with no gap between my brain and the page. I could do it for any company, any brand, and suddenly, I could do it for myself. So for me, that is what writing is. Everything else is just spelling.
Once I could write, all I had to do was figure out a story worth telling. Over and over and over again…
PS If you want to read more about tone of voice for business, read this and this and this and most of all, this.
I’ve written about TV shows before, here and here and here and here and oh, loads of places. Just in case you need some new recommendations…
I know! I know. The name made me roll my eyes too. But it’s SO FUNNY. It was on Channel 4 in the UK last year and now it’s on Netflix here in the US, so if you live somewhere else then just… find a HideMyAss-VPN type thing and voila. It’s about a guy who discovers he has chlamydia and has to tell all his ex-girlfriends, one by one, and relive their relationships. It’s fast and funny and British, and kind of the slightly-less-naughty-sister-wife to You’re The Worst, and you KNOW how I feel about that show. (Um, I love it.)
This is a comedy about a 40-year-old woman who has to pretend to be 26 in order to get a job in publishing, and it’s just lovely. Funny and emotional and gentle and clever. A warm bath of a comedy. It doesn’t ever go for the obvious laughs, and it’s just really, really good. I love Sutton Foster, the lead, she’s always thinking and just seems smart and lovable. And she really does look so damn good. Every time her knees come out, I shout “HOW ARE HER KNEES SO YOUNG? HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE? SHE IS OLDER THAN ME. MY KNEES LOOK LIKE AN OLD MAN’S CHIN” at the TV. (The TV doesn’t care.) It’s on Hulu. Go. Watch it.
Very, very, very funny. It’s a behind-the-scenes show about a sketch show starring Billy Crystal and Josh Gad. It’s on FX.
I am mildly obsessed with the relationship between the insecure head writer Mitch and the terminally self-confident production assistant Esme. I am not sure why. It just really, really pleases me, and I think about it all the time. I can’t find a clip of the scene where Mitch is telling her that the writers are hungry and want pizza, but he’s too nice (or weak, whatever) to tell her directly to do it, and she’s like “pizza sounds ameeeeeehzing, I’m gluten free but like whatever you guys want is fine?”
I would do anything to make a shot-for-shot copy of this music video.
This post is for all the lovely people who blogged and emailed and tweeted and insta’d and left comments and questions about my Beauty Uniform over at Cup of Jo yesterday. It makes me so happy that you guys enjoyed it.
In the Burgess spirit of ‘more is more’ I thought that maybe I would post some extra things about beauty. When it comes to this stuff I can talk for a long, long time, with a lot of product-specific information, and it was edited a bit for JoGo. If make-up and skincare is your bag, then you’re in the right place, kitten pants. Welcome to the motherload.
About my daily skincare routine:
I don’t do anything in the morning. I have dry, dry, dry skin but since I started using the Yu-Be stuff at night, I don’t need to moisturize in the morning, I just slather on the SPF and go. At night I cleanse, spritz that SK-II liquid hope stuff (which by the way is way cheaper at Sasa, where I have been shopping since it was just a tiny cut-price corner beauty store in Hong Kong), and moisturize. I couldn’t do anything more on a daily basis. I would never stick to it, and I have better things to do. On beauty blogs, whenever they have a post like ‘it’s a morning-and-night 15-step regime that has changed my life!’ I always think ‘oh darling, you need to get laid’. Then again, sometimes I stare into space and think about AHA moisturizers for a really long time, so what do I know?
About face masks:
My favorite is definitely this one, but I have a few others I play with from time to time. I really like this Korres one, I sometimes exfoliate with this lovely powdery thing, I have a smidge of this wonderful stuff leftover from London (it’s hard to find Environ in the US and I’m never sure if the online retailers are legit, but if you’re in the UK, find an Environ place stat and try it out), and in the depths of winter when my face feels like an elbow, I put this on. It smells like herbs and makes my eyes water but it is veh healing.
I don’t know if any of these products are really necessary, by the way. Every six months or so I’ll try a new mask and be like WOW THIS IS THE ANSWER. Obviously it’s not really the answer. The answer is sleep and happiness. But masks are fun and easy. By the way, when you try a new mask, or any make-up product, if you don’t think it’s working for you, then for Pete’s sake return it. I return everything that doesn’t work for me, always – life is too short to waste money and shelf space on bad products. (Yah. I am DEEP.)
I used Retinol for about a year before getting knocked up, but you can’t use it while you’re pregnant or breastfeeding and somehow I never got back in the habit.
I don’t use eye creams, even though the crepey-ness of my eyelids is not about to spontaneously reverse, because all the experts say that they don’t really work or matter (unless said experts are, of course, selling their own brand’s eye cream). I know I look tired all the time, but then again, I am tired all the time. So I’m not sure an eye cream would make much difference.
And I know the point is probably coming for Botox because I’m quite frowny (I have resting bitch face), but I just can’t quite accept it yet. Recently I found out about a thing called Juvederm and every now and again I google ‘Juvederm before after’ and ‘Juvederm eye hollows’ but then I google ‘Wildenstein cat lady face’ and the fantasy ends.
Now that my hair is shorter I make the effort to blow-dry it properly, with a round ceramic brush, and Bumble and Bumble Prep Spray, every time I wash it. I find blow-drying it so extraordinarily boring that I never used to bother, but now when I do it my husband tells me I look pretty, so I do it just for the compliment. I know, I’m very shallow.
I don’t do any hair masks or any of that stuff. Too boring.
When I go out at night I always want to look like Drew Barrymore or Cindy Crawford in the early 90s, you know, BIG HAIR with oomph and attitude, hair that you can flip around and use to punctuate your sentences. (“Screw him, darling. Screw. Him.” FLIP.). So I’m on a constant quest to find bouffy products. Schwarzkopf Osis Dust It Mattifying Powder is what would happen if talcum powder and super glue made sweet, sweet love. I also lovelovelove Sam Brocato Full Body Styling Clay, applied to damp hair then blowdried.
See? Big hair.
I get my hair cut anywhere. I am too impatient for the boring wash-your-hair-blow-out thing, it’s such a waste of time. My hair is thin and straight and not exactly high-maintenance, plus I really like my own shampoo and conditioner. So I just walk in with freshly washed hair, tell them what I want, and then walk out 15 minutes later.
More about make-up:
Back in my 20s in London, I had fun experimenting with a different look every day, particularly dramatic rock-goth eyeliners, because, well, why not? I had the time and there’s something about London that makes you want to dress up when you leave the house, just because it’s so damn fun. These days I work from home in New York City (which is, strangely, far more low-key than London in terms of fashion, and or maybe it’s just that fashion has changed, plus I’m older… but then again, I can’t imagine girls in London wearing Lululemon workout clothes to hang out in all weekend like New York girls do, with zero make-up or perfume, because where is the fun in that? Or maybe that’s a worldwide phenomenon now – do you do that, London girls? Okay, that’s a conversation for another time, let’s move on). But I try to make myself wear a little makeup every day, just because I find it depressing when I go to pee and then wash my hands and catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, looking all pale and drawn and ancient, like that spooky breastfeeding queen in Game Of Thrones.
So. Anyway. I have a couple of weirdly specific make-up techniques and products that sound REALLY strange to explain, but they’ve just sort of evolved over the years and I swear by them. (You know how people who are good with eggs just make an effortlessly fluffy perfect omelet, and if they were to explain it step-by-step it would seem incredibly over-specific but to them it’s just how you make a good omelet? It’s like that.)
I always use this strange-but-amazing little brush from Sephora, the Pro Full Coverage Airbrush 53, and sort of smoosh it over my skin after applying concealer – I don’t know how but this thing really does make you look airbrushed, and blends out little red spots and broken blood vessels, without covering up nice things like freckles.
For nights out, if you want to dial up on the whole glam thing and have ten minutes to kill: take a pea-sized amount of a liquidy highlighter like Becca Skin Perfector (in Pearl if you are super-pale, Moonstone if you’re more olive-skinned, Opal or Topaz if you’re darker-skinned, and honestly, I don’t know who would wear the Rose Gold shade but if it floats your boat let me know) in the C-shape around the outside of your eyes – i.e., from the outer top of your cheekbone, up your temple to above your eyebrow. A tiny pea, mind you, and blendy blend blend. It’s like having your own personal lighting director.
If you want to do evening supermodel cheekbones without looking like, you know, an over-Kontoured Kardashian or Boy George: use a tiny swipe of neutral-nude blush with the MAC 138 Tapered Face Brush. (I know, good brushes are so freaking expensive but they will last you for years so if you’re a make-up person, it’s worth buying one, if you’re not, don’t bother because it’ll just annoy you every time you look at it.) This is the perfect blush brush: it kind of contours softly and gently, never in a harsh draggy way. Pick a color with no glitter at all, that looks almost boring in the pan – somewhere between pale brown, rose and beige. I use Armani Sheer Blush 5 but it’s DISCONTINUED which makes me feel a mild panic inside, obviously, but I did some research for you and MAC Blush All Day seems to be about the same. Pout, swipe, and go.
Okay, last tip: if I’m feeling shiny in the wrong places (quick note – wrong shiny: nose, centre of forehead, chin, bottom of cheeks - right shiny is where you put luminizer ie,: cheekbones, over eyebrows, top lipline), I fluff a tiny bit of yellow powder on my nose and forehead. I started wearing yellow-tinted powder a million years ago, after reading in a magazine that all the supermodels did, and obviously I believe everything I read in magazines, don’t you? I used to use T LeClerc in Banane but it’s hard to find in the US, so now I use Bobbi Brown Sheer Finish Pressed Powder in Pale Yellow.
On beauty guilty pleasures:
My main beauty pleasure is probably enjoying it way more than a grown-ass woman with two babies and a job should enjoy it. Sometimes I feel a bit ashamed for being self-indulgent and vain… But then I think, screw it, who cares? It doesn’t hurt anyone, it’s easy, it’s fun. And how many things can you say that about?
My friend Yoko, the founder of Mitera Collection, just got in touch to tell me that she’s doing a special offer on Mitera dresses for June!
Mitera Collection makes truly beautiful, responsibly-produced, brilliantly designed dresses for pregnant and breastfeeding women. You can read more about them here. If you are looking for something incredibly well-made and stylish that you can wear every day, to work and play and everything else as you grow and then shrink, these are the answer. Just use the code ’25%’.
As you guys may know, my lovely friend and kindred spirit Joanna is the uber-blogger behind CupOfJo. She asked me to write a post for her Beauty Uniform series. I was like FOR SUREBIES JOGO. (Well, no, I wasn’t really, I was like ‘Really? Me? Are you sure? You know it’s going to be REALLY STUPIDLY LONG if I write it, right? Like your readers will probably get bored and thirsty and leave. And all my photos have the babies in, literally all of them, it’s tragic, is that okay?’ and so on.) If you’re in the mood, you can read it here.
PS Edit: Joanna tells me everyone is obsessed with these sunglasses! They’re Sabre Runaways, and I LOVE them. Go forth and purchase, my friends.
This is the perfect black sleeveless tshirt.
Bonus: made by Road Twenty-Two – an American-owned and American-based company that employs women who need a chance – women who were formerly incarcerated, homeless, or fighting drug addiction.
The mission of the company was what appealed to me at first (after reading Orange Is The New Black I realized the US prison system is like one of those 70s dystopia movies where you keep thinking ‘this is a horrifying nightmare, who would make this shit up?’ but IT’S REAL). And the fact that it’s made here in the States also makes me very happy. Lately I’ve been thinking more and more about how the purchasing decisions I make impact people – there was a great John Oliver piece about it. Yes, that’s probably the most bourgeois-yupster way to become aware of a problem but WHATEVER.
Of course, now I’m like, okay, but what should I do? Because I don’t see that many alternatives. I either buy that fast-fashion H&M and Gap and Zara clothing that some impoverished child in Bangladesh was forced to stich with her tiny hands while crouching in a rat-infested asbestos-scented tinderbox, or I buy American Apparel clothing that was probably used by a hapless SoCal millennial to mop up the aftermath of one of Don whateverhisnamewas’s forced BJs. Like, ew. These are not great choices.
I guess the answer is to buy less and buy thoughtfully, so that’s what I’m trying to do.
Starting with Road Twenty-Two.