Robyn office with a view

THE WRITING DESK | ROBYN SANTA MARIA | FREELANCE CONTENT WRITER AND EDITOR

by | The Writing Desk

"To become a proficient writer, practice. Write often."

Hello,

Thank you so much for agreeing to be a part of The Writing Desk Blog.

Now, imagine I’m about to introduce you to an auditorium, filled with the smiling faces of folks fuelled by caffeine and an eagerness to learn. What would I say?

“Hello everyone, I’d like to introduce…

Robyn, a displaced Australian living in France, who after nearly 8 years is still desperately trying to understand the French sense of humour! And she’s a freelance content writer and editor for interesting businesses, big and small. 

Robyn Santa Maria Headshot

Here’s the part where we’d sit down and try and look comfortable next to the microphones. Are you sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin…

Can you name the business book that’s always on your desk? (I’m talking about the one that’s covered in pencil marks, coffee stains and has turned down corners…)

A book covered in pencil marks with turned-down corners?! I have no such thing, hah! I’m not a big fan of traditional business books. I am enjoying Company of One by Paul Jarvis and must re-read The Creative Habit by American dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp. As New York Times claims, Tharp’s book is a “self-help book for the creatively challenged”. I like her unique take on ‘old-fashioned’ virtues such as discipline and routine.

What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?

‘Dumb Ways to Die’ by Metro Trains in Melbourne, Australia. The mix of cartoon characters and catchy jingle delivers the very simple message at the heart of the campaign: don’t horse around near train tracks! The video ad went viral and the song made it to iTunes.

“Everyone has a book in them…” Or so the saying goes. What do you think/know/believe is the secret to good writing?

I’m not sure if there’s a secret per se but I think the element of intrigue is important to keep readers hooked. Without it, where are you taking your readers? Why should they stick around? And to become a proficient writer, practice. Write often.

If you were just starting out, what advice would you give yourself? Which book or books would you read first?

It’s not easy but don’t feel pressured to do what everyone else is doing. Be selective about what advice you take onboard and always make decisions that make you (not others) feel comfortable. After all, it’s your life. If copywriting is your bag, read books like Tom Albrighton’s Copywriting Made Simple. Donald Miller’s Building a Story Brand is good if you want to understand the ‘story points’ that humans respond to. And basically, read stuff that appeals to you, not what you think you ‘should’ be reading. Also, don’t forget to connect with other writers, business owners and creative people…community is key especially when you’re freelancing.

Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?

Playlists by alexrainbirdMusic (on the Tube). I just love their seasonal and monthly compilations.

What are your top three novels of all time – and why?

Just three?!

    1. Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton. It’s a work of ‘fiction’ but is based on some autobiographical facts. Mind-blowing.
    2. The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa. It’s just lovely.
    3. The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. It’s been a while since I’ve cried while reading a book. It’s the sucker-punch of a twist that did it.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written? Why did it rock your world?

When I worked for the Queensland Government (Australia) years ago, I worked on a pool safety laws campaign. I helped write the tag line ‘Poor pool fencing can cost you dearly’, which sat alongside some hard-hitting images. It rocked my world because of the impact it had. People were calling the department hotline to enquire about the laws (and to share their feelings about the words and imagery). That was extra special to me because, during my uni years, I taught young kids to swim and build their water confidence.

What’s the last thing you bought? And yes, that packet of chewing gum counts.

Chocolate! Because, well, 2020. That and a brand-new road bike – I’m like a kid at Christmas!

Who was your teenage crush?

Patrick Swayze. I wanted him to put me in the corner.

Can you describe the best meal you’ve ever eaten?

Homemade Pad Thai, straight from a massive cooking pot over a pit fire, while sitting on thatched flooring. I’d just finished whitewater rafting in Thailand. What a cliché!

What’s your favourite tipple? Is it wine, beer – a cask-aged malt?

I do like a cheeky rosé in the summer now that I live here in France. Oh god, another cliché.

If I were to give you a private jet, David Attenborough as a tour guide and a month off work – all expenses paid – where would you go and what or who would you write about – and why?

Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole. I really want to see polar bears, reindeer and Artic foxes! I would write about the stark and eerie beauty and do my best to educate myself and others of the importance of protecting such fragile wilderness.

What’s in your pockets?

Secrets.

Pen and ink, pencil and paper or keyboard and screen? What’s your writing style?

Keyboard and screen all day, every day. Though I do jot down notes by hand when I’m feeling a little more creative.

Do you read any blogs or magazines about writing? (And I mean read, not just subscribe to and delete/leave on your desk and recycle?)

No blogs or magazines but Kaleigh Moore’s weekly Cup of Coffee newsletter is the bomb. She is refreshingly clear, articulate and to the point. No waffle.

Tea – or coffee? What’s your poison?

Coffee – lots of it! Preferably served with dark chocolate when it follows lunch.

Do you have a favourite cup or mug? Can you describe it?

I cannot find the perfect mug, so am open to suggestions.

What was your most adored children’s book? And character?

Paddington Bear! I know, right? A bear? When I was really little, my aunt and grandmother visited London. They bought me back a Paddington bear they bought from the Tower of London (red wellingtons included) and one of Michael Bond’s books. I was SO excited. When I was a bit older, I loved Roald Dahl’s books.

Your favourite word?

Clusterf*ck – you can apply it to so many things.

Your most loathed word? (You know, the one that makes you shudder and say “Ew!”?)

But I don’t want to even type it, haha!

Where can we find you? – Browsing online or lost in the aisles of a bookstore?

Definitely in the aisles…if bookstores were open.

Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?

The following from ‘Guaranteed’ by Eddie Vedder, not only because it’s Eddie (SWOON), because I’ve had many destinations in life and am still looking for one where I feel accepted:

“On bended knee is no way to be free

Lifting up an empty cup, I ask silently

That all my destinations will accept the one that’s me

So, I can breathe.”

Name the artist who is guaranteed to get you up on the dance floor.

Soprano.

Do you have any strange writing rituals you’d like to share with us?

No, I don’t! Is that strange?

What are you working on today? What’s in the pipeline?

I’m writing up an interview I did with an ex-yacht crew member who has started a social enterprise that works with community groups in Indonesia to collect, sort and recycle ocean waste and ocean-bound plastic. Really interesting stuff!

Can you describe the last photograph you took?

Autumnal. My husband and I were in our favourite city of Briançon recently and the autumn colours there are out of this world. I always take pics when I’m there.

What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?

‘Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.’ Thank you, Neil Gaiman.

What was the last thing you wrote that had nothing to do with your job?

A shopping list! How sad is that?

What’s your favourite quote about the process of writing?

“There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly: sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?

Can’t answer the question as I’ve never watched the show. Oops.

Can you name your favourite film – and tell us why you love it?

Lost in Translation. I love a good ‘cultural displacement’ story and where better than in Tokyo. Japan is by far one of the most bizarre yet fascinating countries I’ve lived in hence the movie struck a chord.

Which book or books is/are by your bed today?

I’ve just started Memories of the Future by Siri Hustvedt (not loving it yet though, unfortunately).

Who was or is your greatest teacher?

My high school English teacher. She took the time to explain things, encouraged my love of writing and encouraged me to challenge the status quo.

Who is your favourite artist?

No one single artist as I appreciate so many for different reasons. One of my favourite mediums is photography. I love that (great) photography is both a recording of events and an expression of what the photographer sees. When it comes to mesmerizing documentary photography, I love the work of Yann Arthus-Bertrand.

Where do you like to work best – is it at a desk, in an office or in a coffee shop? And would you send us a picture of where the magic happens?

At my desk by the window.

Robyn office with a view

And finally, where can this caffeine-fuelled audience find you?

Twitter

LinkedIn

Written By Katherine

Katherine Wildman is a copywriter for creative agencies and multinational brands – and the Creative Director of Haydn Grey.

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