This is a virtual ‘tour’ where writers in various arenas share a little about what they do, why and how – then pass the baton to two or three contacts to do the same. This post is my ‘stop’ on the tour.
My friend Cherry Douglas of How to Change Careers asked me to contribute a while ago. Apologies to her that it took a while to surface! (Here is Cherry’s post, and some other folks I know: Beverley Glick, Elaine Hopkins, Sue Plumtree.)
I’ve been writing in two different areas.
Words That Change The World is my business working on written communication for people who want to make the world better. So that includes blog posts, downloadable pdf products, ebooks and suchlike.
I also run Silver Branch Games, self-publishing tabletop roleplaying games. That’s the kind where you get together with friends, and pencils, paper and dice, and play out the adventures of characters in fictional settings.
In the past I’ve compiled newsletters and conference reports, and sold articles to magazines, but I’m not right now.
What am I working on?
Game-wise, I haven’t produced anything for a while. I have a couple of books sitting partway along the process – revisions and repurposings of earlier material – and ideas for things it’d be good to do.
But the last couple of years I’ve been more focused on building up the comms stuff: a big organic training journey. That included The Radio-Controlled Message Bottle in ebook and print. I’ve got another ebook percolating, partially related to that. I’ve done some promo and training products, with more taking shape in note form, and of course this blog.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Non-fiction writers on the tour seem to be answering this with what distinctive things they bring.
I guess my key things are ability to get things across in a way that people find easy to understand and readable, with a pleasant voice and an element of humour. I also have a good awareness of structure and presentation: a lot of that is from working on RPG books, which are basically “how to” manuals for a leisure activity based around sets of rules.
I often talk in more outward-looking, interconnected ways than folks I know who work in coaching and personal development. The inner and the outer go together.
Why do I write what I do?
A lot of it is me trying to fix things! I have a background in the environmental and social change movement, and that often comes through: that sense of being connected to the world, agency and responsibility.
I’m a bit of a systems guy, and if you put something in front of me I can usually see how to make it better. Which often means a sharp sense of things not being as good as they could be. I suspect I’ll be working on that issue for a long time! But here in my forties I have at least got a better understanding of my own head and other people’s.
For me it’s been a journey of looking at communication, starting back in the 1990s. When you tell people something needs to change, why don’t they do it? So now I’ve realised that my strengths are in helping people communicate the good stuff better.
The current growth in online marketing really meshes with that. You can gain insights about psychology and messages and persuasion at incredible speed now. People are motivated to explore it to thrive in the internet jungle. Part of my work here is to make that digestible to people who are trying to shift us to the upward path.
The games stuff is a different beast. It’s great to produce something that facilitates people having fun, but frankly a lot of the draw for me is tinkering. If you want this genre and style, and this kind of play experience, how do you deliver that in rules that are as elegant and user-friendly as possible? If you’re playing with a fictional setting, what cool stuff can you derive from the initial premise? The first game book I published was about superheroes who got their powers from mythological gods, heroes and monsters. Letting that interact with geopolitics was fun…
How does my writing process work?
I’m not very good at coming up with ideas on demand. My brain likes to follow paths from an initial premise or an experience that raises questions, and track them to conclusions or fit them into patterns with other things. The shower often plays an important role in letting ideas float up and assemble themselves together!
When I do a blog, it’s often in response to something I’ve seen – maybe highlighting a problem or need for guidance, or looking at principles behind the way we do things. For ebooks or pdfs, it’s more likely to be the result of extended pondering about perspectives on things and how to translate them into practical info and skills.
Getting something to write, and having the discipline to write, are much harder for me than the technical process of writing. I generally don’t need an external editor. My pattern-matching is turned up high, so few errors get in, and I can self-edit after only a short break. It turns out this is kind of freakish. 😉
For making things that are going to end up as publications in pdf or print, most people would get the text right in a word processor and then feed it into desktop publishing software to do the layout. That’s the traditional process for books where there are multiple people involved. I prefer to work straight in DTP, and do the text and design in parallel. I sometimes liken it to sculpting. It’s partly because I’ve been using Serif PagePlus for years, and like it better than MS Word (which often annoys me). And partly because I’ve developed quite strong awareness for the way it looks, from self-publishing books and making websites, so if the text doesn’t look good I want to fiddle with it.
I recently started trying software called Scrivener. It’s kind of a word pre-processor: it lets you write text in chunks, move them around freely, shift to an index card view for throwing ideas down for outlining… I think it’s going to be something I use a lot for longer or trickier work.
Well, I hope you enjoyed that highly introspective look at how my particular sausage is made. Let’s move on!
Let me introduce…
These fine people are going to write up their own stops on the tour in the next few weeks! And you should check them out anyway.
Sarah is an occupational psychologist and author of Keeping Your Spirits Up (practical approaches to maintaining enthusiasm and happiness), and Bolder and Wiser (conversations with inspiring women enjoying life past 50). She works as a coach through her own business, Creating Focus.
She is a member of Nottingham Writers’ Studio and enjoys coffee, chatting, listening to people’s stories and trying to write them too. Sarah also enjoys writing a fortnightly newsletter about all things to do with making sense of the world we live in. She hasn’t solved this issue yet!
Tanja is a professional copywriter, word weaver and story sculptor at Crystal Clarity Copywriting. She helps difference-makers write with concise, creative clarity that readers intuitively “get”. Understanding exactly what’s on offer helps her clients make more of a difference in their readers’ lives.
(Her sign-up freebie, Make Your Web Page Crystal Clear, has insights on how people actually use websites that helped boost my thinking.)
Tanja lives in the future (a day ahead of the US/UK) in Middle Earth, AKA New Zealand, and is a total Joss Whedon fangirl.