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January 23, 2008

A haggis maker's guide to writing well

We're fast approach Burns Night (with something extra special in store for you here) which means that thoughts of haggis are in the air. 

Now I know that haggis isn't everyone's cup of tea (and as a vegetarian that's me too, though the veggie version is pretty tasty). 

And I know that we still can't export the real thing to the US (sorry Robert!). 

But the haggis is an iconic Scottish dish, a product that's lasted through the centuries, and has, of course, inspired a poem by the national bard.

This week's podcast is a Burns Night special, looking at the 5 writing lessons that we can learn from the makers of haggis.

A haggis makers's guide to writing well (3 minutes 2 seconds) explores what we can learn from a product that's:

All wrapped up: haggis is famous for what it's wrapped up in.  That's what makes it the product it is.  Getting clear on the container, the frame for our writing can help us too - to get clear on our point, to put the right amount in (but not to over-stuff it)

Bursting out: when the knife goes into the haggis the insides burst out.  This is a great way to make an instant impact!  What happens when your readers open up your work - do your words burst out and grab their attention?

Made of plain ingredients: okay, we might prefer not to know precisely what goes into the haggis, but it's plain honest ingredients (and that's what inspired the poem).  The same applies to writing - use plain, simple words, the stuff of everyday life - and don't forget to add the heart!

Spiced up: it wouldn't be haggis without the pepper and spice.  Writing can become boring if it's too bland - we can spice it up with the right choice of words, cutting out the waffle, using patterns and rhythm for effect

Made to a secret recipe: each haggis maker has their own unique blend.  The same is true with our writing - no two styles are the same.  We're all writing from a different place - experience, values, perspectives, purpose - which means we all have our own secret recipe for writing well

If you're a connoisseur of haggis - what else would you add to this list?

If you'd like to know more about the haggis, follow these links for:

Haggis - all you ever wanted to know
The chance to listen to Burns' Address to a Haggis

Credits for 'locally caught haggis' photo to Taylor Dundee

You can listen to the podcast by following this link or going to my gcast page. For more audio writing tips, check out the archive of Confident Writing podcasts.

Joanna Young, The Confident Writing Coach
Because our words count


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Hi Joanna, wonderful metaphor - you gave me spot on writing tips and a hankering for haggis all at the same time! I hope to have the chance to try it sometime (haggis, not writing) ... it has a rather unappetizing reputation around these parts.

What a fun analogy between a Haggis Maker and writing. Hmmm... if I become a Haggis Maker and spice up my writing skills, I'd build two of my multiple intelligences!

Oh, I don't know, haggis is one of those dishes I'm just as glad they don't serve at the local diner. I'm not exactly missing lutefisk, either, and there are some other "national" dishes that I'm relieved aren't in my (melting) pot, either!

That said, I never realized how much haggis had in common with writing!

Joanna, I'm a vegetarian too but I absolutely love how you've compared writing to food!

These are excellent tips and it was such an entertaining read!

Thanks for this post. :-)


@Brad, I'm glad you liked it. I certainly had fun writing it. We'll need to do something about the reputation of the haggis... it's actually pretty nice. Served as a dish in a lot of smart restaurants in Scotland and sooo good with neeps and tatties!

@Robyn, indeed you would! I think I might have mentioned this to you before, one of the things I find interesting about my podcasting experiment is that the challenge to come up with five tips in under five minutes once a week acts as a real spur to my creativity.

I look about me more for inspiration from what I'm doing, what I'm seeing, the time of the year and it's fun to work out the writing lessons from them. I don't know which of my intelligences this is but I'm certainly enjoying stretching it :-)

@--Deb, I'll have to keep working on you re the haggis! And maybe you can explain the lutefisk to me - it's a new one on me...

@ Michele Thanks :-) I find it lots of fun to work out the writing lessons from an everyday activity and cooking seems to work particularly well. I did a post once before on plum chutney which was entertaining (well to me anyway!)


I don't know whether to be relieved or disappointed that I can't get it here in the U.S., Joanna!

Maybe I'll just stick to learning the "Lessons of Haggis" from afar!

Robert, I bet there's at least a small part of you that's curious!

One day, maybe... and it'll be a treat, I promise you


Great comparison Joanna. I like haggis though and I'm sure nothing horrid goes into it (I hope), or I wouldn't eat it.

I would add one more - just as the consumer has no idea what they're eating; a reader can enjoy writing without knowing what's going to happen on the next page.

Catherine - that's a great addition.

Not only can we enjoy writing without knowing what's going to happen next - sometimes that element of surprise is precisely what keeps us hooked, and wanting more


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