Featured

How to run a virtual writing group (and why I’m a convert to social writing).

Writing can be great when it’s going well, but often it’s lonely and it’s hard to get started.

After my first son was born, I was struggling to get any writing done for my PhD, what with the lack of sleep and the chaos of being a new parent. 

Then I discovered social writing. 

I’d get together a few times a week with a couple of mum friends I’d met at pregnancy yoga. 

Babies in tow, no matter how little we had slept the night before, we’d be there in our favourite local café at 10 am to write and juggle our (hopefully napping) babies.

Sometimes the writing got done, sometimes it didn’t, but as we wrote (and sometimes cried) together, I realised that for me there was something beautiful  about writing friendships and accountability.

Social writing groups have made me a more productive, more confident and happier writer. I’ve got writing done and out into the world, and I’ve made some lifelong friends along the way.

Read on to find out why social writing groups are so helpful and for some tips on running your own successful virtual writing group.

Writing Coach Dr Lizzy Tanguay standing in a cafe smiling holding notebooks.
Social Writing Groups have made me a happier writer

What is a social writing group?

I use the term ‘social writing groups’ to refer to writers who get together to connect and write, rather than to give feedback on each other’s writing. 

In my groups, we talk about what we are writing (as I find that speaking can give so much clarity to writing), but we don’t  offer feedback on the written work within writing group time.

(I’ve written before about the importance of getting the right kind of feedback on your writing, and writing groups are not always the best place to do this. In her post on Jane Friedman’s blog, Jenny Nash writes about the hidden dangers of writing groups including the fact that often no-one speaks the truth and no-one wants to hear it.)

Since discovering social writing, I’ve delved deeper into the practice to explore what works best, attending and hosting writing retreats and setting up writing groups for postgraduate research students at the university where I teach and later for other business owners.

Of course, since the start of the pandemic, a lot of the writing groups have moved online and this is the writing space I where I mostly find myself (for now, at least). 

Initially, I missed the companionship of sitting in the same physical space as other writers and being able to grab a coffee together during breaks. But there are extra benefits to working online that I wouldn’t have otherwise experienced.

 These include connecting with a group of diverse writers from across the world and being able to encourage and inspire each other.

At the moment I meet weekly with a 1:1 writing buddy who is part of a larger writing community I  belong to. 

Yes, I’m a writing coach but still I enjoy attending other peoples’ writing groups! I find it easier to get my writing head on if I’m not in facilitator mode.

The benefits of social writing

Writing groups are a lifeline for many writers and there’s a host of research to tell us why.

Belonging to a writing group works because: 

It gives you something to put on the calendar

This is a biggie for anyone with other people in their lives who tend to stop them writing – sometimes even unbeknownst to those people!

 Before I put writing on my calendar, my boss could look at my calendar and any unblocked space could be seen as bookable time. It was the same if someone asked me to meet for a coffee or to run an errand for them. And, now as a business owner and being my own boss, it’s even more important for me to protect my writing time!

Now that I have writing on my calendar, I can say ‘I can’t sorry – I’m busy’, without feeling like I’m making a lame excuse. Seeing other people on your screen can also put off those inconvenient and unimportant interruptions that sometimes happen as others will see you are in a meeting.

It gives you accountability

If I have promised someone that I’m going to show up for something and sit and write for 30 minutes to finish my blog post or write a pitch, there’s less of a chance that I’ll find myself 30 minutes later looking at someone’s holiday snaps on Facebook.

It’s the same as having a gym buddy. If I’ve arranged to meet my buddy at the step machine, there’s more chance that I’ll show up and actually do the steps.

It gives you routine and discipline

It’s easier to do something if it’s a habit. If I know I’m writing every Monday afternoon with my writing group, it takes away the decision-making process.

And James Clear notes in Atomic Habits, every decision is an emotional decision. Making hundreds of decisions every day is tiring and it’s easy to say no to the decisions that feel like they’ll take more effort.

Writing groups have helped me to create the habit of writing

So making writing a habit rather than a decision-to-be-made makes it more likely we’ll do it. Social writing has helped me do this, even on the days that I’m not meeting my writing groups the habit has become more entrenched and since starting social writing I’ve begun to see myself as a person who writes regularly.

It allows you to practice containment

Bums on seats people! Yes, it truly is amazing how much you can get done if you actually just sit in your chair and write for 25 minutes! In my group sessions we usually do 3 short writing bursts with time for chatting. Do that a few times a month and the word count starts to creep up

It helps you look forward to writing

If, like me, you enjoy meeting other writers and talking about the common problems we all have, then this can be highly motivating.

Tips for running a virtual writing group

If you’d like to run your own social writing group, here are some tips.

  1. Set clear expectations for the group and regular meeting times. It’s much easier to stick to the habit if you decide on a time that works for everyone (most times) upfront than switching the times every week.
  2. At the beginning of each session, set intentions and tell everyone how long each writing sprint will be. Check in between sprints to see how everyone is getting on. 
  3. With larger groups, consider breakout rooms to discuss goal setting and writing. While it can be motivating to have some discussion in the large group, this is best kept to a minimum so as not to cut in too much into the actual writing time, while still allowing people to experience real connection.
  4. Encourage people to move and stretch during writing breaks.
  5. Give a five-minute warning for when a sprint is going to finish, but let people know that if they are in the zone then they can put the group on mute and carry on writing.
  6. Consider having some prompts ready as not everyone has their own work to write and some will be looking for inspiration (this point is particularly relevant if you’re running a paid writing group). 

Hopefully this post has inspired you to give social writing a try or even to go back to that writing group you signed up for months ago but have never managed show up for!

What else would you like to know about setting up a writing group? Comment below and let me know!

Featured

Should I publish a workbook for my coaching business?

Have you ever thought about publishing a workbook to create visibility and revenue in your coaching business?

I hadn’t. I love creating workbooks for my classes and programmes.

But I hadn’t thought about how I could adapt and leverage these workbooks to attract more customers and build revenue.

Kim Smith, of Unbelievable Freedom Books talked to my writing group last year about her publishing journey and the practicalities of publishing workbooks.

Publishing Workbooks. A conversation with author and publisher Kim Smith on the talk.write.done podcast.

One of my key takeaways:

do your best work, but if people are waiting for your message, it’s more important that you share it quickly.

Also, publishing a successful book doesn’t have to mean writing 50,000 words. Kim’s beautiful workbooks are around 5000-8000 words and add value for readers in a truly accessible way.

Check out Kim’s website: unbelievablefreedom.com to see her workbooks and courses.

Listen to the conversation on the podcast or read the transcript here.

Featured

Ask these questions about your draft to get feedback that’s actually helpful (and how to receive feedback).

the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts

from Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott.

When my students and clients first hear about writer Anne Lamott’s concept of the ‘shitty first draft’, the sense of relief can be enormous.

Once we’ve written a first draft though, and taken it through various stages of self-editing, there will come a time to ask for some outside feedback.

In fact, one of the best ways to improve our writing craft can be to get feedback – whether that’s from a writing professional, an ideal reader or a kindly (perhaps long-suffering) family member.

But getting unhelpful or misguided feedback can also be one of the worst things we can do for our writing.

In this post, I want to focus on how best to take advantage of non-specialist feedback on your writing.

(By non-specialist, I mean someone who is not a specialist in your subject and someone who is probably not a trained or experienced writing professional.)

Maybe you’re a finance coach writing a book about pitfalls new investors should avoid. Rather than asking a fellow financial professional to look at the manuscript, why not ask someone who’s not even sure what a finance coach does?

Non-specialists might tell us if our text is engaging, if we have pitched the writing for a general audience, and whether we are asking the reader to fill in any gaps. Unlike writing professionals though, these readers may not be able to advise us on how to fix these issues. 

A word of caution here – it’s important to let the reader know the type of feedback you want.

An open book with a magnifying glass, a pen, and a pair of glasses.
Ask for the right kind of feedback on your draft

A writing professional (such as a writing coach or editor) will ask you about your stage in the writing process and where to focus the feedback.

They should also be able to guide you to the type of feedback that is most appropriate for your stage or lead you to someone else who can help.

But if you are working with someone who can give you insight as a non-specialist reader, they may not ask you what kind of feedback you want. 

It will be up to you to guide them to the bigger picture before the inner grammar police start hounding your delicate draft.

There’s nothing worse than asking for feedback on the first draft of your book and all you get back are comments about commas in the wrong place.

Ok, you really should give a clean draft to the reader to make their life easier, but you also need to let them know that it’s a draft. 

You can say something like ‘I’m still working on this but what do you think of the general idea?’

Is there anything else I need to include?

Types of feedback to ask for at different stages of the writing process and how to ask:

1. In the beginning, you’ll want feedback on ideas and content

Ask:

  • Did you see what you expected after reading the title and introduction?
  • Is there anything missing?
  • Is there anything there that you don’t think is relevant?

2. On later drafts, you’ll want feedback on organisation and impact

Ask:

  • Is everything in the right place? 
  • Does it follow logically? 
  • What action does this make you want to take, if any?
  •  What do you want to find out more about after reading this?
  • How does this piece make you feel? 

3. On final drafts, you’ll want feedback on surface errors

Ask:

  • Are there any obvious errors in grammar or spelling?
  •  Is there any part of this you needed to read twice to understand what I was saying?

Receiving feedback

But asking for feedback is only a part of using feedback to improve craft. You also need to know how best to receive feedback and what to do with it.

Be a critical apprentice 

After helping thousands of students write over the years, I’ve realised that when it comes to receiving feedback, there are three main types of writers.

The first is the defensive writer. This is the writer who has an explanation for EVERY piece of feedback or suggestion. ‘Oh, the reason I wrote it like this is because the readers already know about xyz.’ This is the writer who doesn’t really need to ask for feedback as they’re never going to take it onboard anyway.

A lady with fingers in her ears and yelling
Don’t be that kind of writer

If you’re a coach, maybe you’ve had some clients who are uncoachable, and you wonder why they even signed up for coaching. Don’t be that person when you’re asking for feedback.

The second writer takes every piece of feedback on board and changes the text so much that it no longer resembles their own voice. They’ll take on comments of every random reader in a well-meaning writing group to make their own work non-recognisable. They are also non-discerning about who they get feedback from and why.

The third writer is the critical apprentice. This is my favourite writer to work with. This is also the writer that I try to be. The critical apprentice will be grateful for feedback. However, they’ll consider suggestions carefully and decide whether they are helpful or not.

The critical apprentice knows that all feedback is not created equal. This writer realises that often there is no right or wrong but they value the different perspectives that others give them. They can take on board what is useful and leave the rest.

So, be the critical apprentice. Listen to the feedback, thank the reader, and then decide whether to use the feedback or not.

And above all, remember it’s your text and you get to call the shots. 

This is why, in my editing or writing coaching, I won’t change something for the writer without their knowledge – I will make suggestions and ask questions but the writer needs to have the final say.

So, ask different people for feedback, be clear about the feedback you want, and be a gracious but discerning recipient of feedback.

Want a second pair of eyes on a piece of writing before you get it out into the world? Message me below to let me know about your writing project!

Mentioned:

Lamott, A. (2020). Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life. United Kingdom: Canongate Books.

Featured

How do I get over the fear of sharing my writing?(Or what if someone’s already written a book about my topic?)

As creators, we’ve all been there – the flash of inspiration that sets our hearts racing. 

For a moment, we can see everything that might happen if we follow through with this idea. The book, the articles, the new course we might create.

Then the nagging voice whispers in our ear. 

The critic.

Who are you to do this?

Or we outline our article and then do a quick Google search to see what else has been written about this.

Only to find someone much more intelligent/ experienced/ successful/ acclaimed than we could ever hope to be already has a Wall Street Journal bestseller on that very topic.

There will always be someone who has written a ‘bestseller’ about your topic!

And we shrink back to being the small, safe version of ourselves.

Consuming what others write when we really want to be the ones writing.

I was recently invited to give an employability talk to my old department at Swansea University.

I spoke about ‘my adventures as an applied linguist in the online business space’.

About how valuable that applied linguistics training has been to me in my business.

How tasks I see other business owners struggling with come relatively easily to someone with my background. 

Stuff like creating written content – emails, blog posts or sales pages. 

To me, it’s just a matter of learning to write in another genre. Just another form of communication.

Grappling with SEO and crafting engaging headlines. 

All things that won’t faze an applied linguist. 

Different services I’ve sold – writing workshops and coaching packages as well as my writing and editing services.

 All skills learned through my training as an applied linguist and from teaching for the past two decades.

I assure the applied linguistics students that they have transferable skills that people will pay them for.

But I also share that for me, the hardest part of being a business owner is putting myself out there.

Holding my hand up to say ‘I think I’ve got something that could help you. Do you want it?’

Because I don’t want to sell these students a lie that it’s all plain sailing.

Nervous lady holding a phone and biting nails
The fear of publishing our work is real

When I posted my first post on Instagram a year and a half ago, my palms were so sweaty I could barely operate my phone. By the time I had the first like, I didn’t have a single finger nail left.

Have you ever felt like this when you’ve offered a piece of your creative work to the world?

But while my writing is never perfect (newsflash – nobody’s is), just imagine I had never posted that first IG post and hadn’t been able to help my very first clients reach more of their clients.

I don’t get sweaty palms anymore or reach for the bucket when I post to social media. I do sometimes struggle to put my writing out in the world, send a pitch for a piece of writing, or even an email to my list.

But as an educator, I know that holding onto my ideas will never help anyone. 

I don’t think the doubts will ever entirely go away. For now, here are a few truths I’ll be reminding myself of as I continue to step out as a business owner and writer:

1. In order to get our best work out there, we have to keep creating and keep sharing.

Seth Godin, in The Practice, writes about how half of the work we ship will be below average, but if we don’t ship that work too, then we’ll never ship the brilliant work.

2. It’s ok to be a contributor, not a guru.

As writers, business owners and educators, we could all do with taping this mantra by Denise-Duffield Thomas to our mirrors. In fact, if you’re like most of my clients, then you are probably way more of an ‘expert’ than you think you are anyway!

3. Building a support network is essential – not just a nice to have.

This is about surrounding yourself with the people who will cheer you on in your creative endeavors. Whether it’s a coach, a business mastermind or a writing accountability buddy (I have all three), make sure you have those people to share your ideas and wins with. People who will be there to pull you up when things don’t go so well.

4. It’s not about the critics.

Have you ever noticed that the people who are most critical aren’t the ones out there doing their thing? They’re probably the ones sitting at home scrolling social. I recently rewatched a talk by Brené Brown on stepping out into the arena. It’s a great reminder that the critics (including the critic on our shoulder) aren’t the ones who count.

I invite you to join me in the arena. If you have any other recommendations on the topic of stepping out or sharing creative work then I’d love to hear.

Just comment below or drop me an email.

Featured

What are backlinks in SEO and how do I get them?

If you’re anything like me, you love to write, but perhaps the SEO side of things seem a bit more technical and mysterious. Marketer and SEO expert Nicki Sciberras shares some tips about getting more eyes on your website through using backlinks.

Nicki shared some great advice for getting started with SEO on the podcast back in Dec 2021, and I’m thrilled that she agreed to be my first guest poster on the blog!

Enjoy.

Guest post by SEO expert Nicki Sciberras

Scoring traffic to your website using SEO could be easier than you think; you just need to know the right steps to get there. I’m going to share with you one of the fastest ways to boost your rankings in search engines like Google, so you reach those top positions and grow your audience, sales and revenue in no time.

One of the best ways to boost your position in search engines is backlinking.

What are back links and how do I get them?
SEO expert Nicki Sciberras: ‘What are back links and how do I get them?’

Before I get into the nitty gritty let me give you a quick lesson on SEO in totality.

There are three pillars to master when it comes to implementing SEO and yes, one of those is backlinking.

Pillars of SEO

SEO is made up of three primary components. Each component must work together to optimise your ranking in search engines like Google.

Technical SEO

How your site is built and functions (crawlability, speed and responsiveness)

Content

The words, images, graphics, videos and content on your pages and posts and how they’re optimised

Backlinks from other sites to your website which increase your domain authority and help Google to boost your ranking.

seo checklist pdf
The Ultimate Beginners SEO Checklist for ranking in Google: PDF download

Today we will focus on building links. It’s a super simple way to signal to Google that you have a trustworthy authoritative site that they should rank higher in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). If other reputable sites trust you, then search engines like Google do too. Let me explain.

Starting from the top, I am going to get you all over backlinks so you can start ranking for your chosen keywords.

What are backlinks in SEO you ask? A backlink is a link from another website to your website. It signals to Google that your trustworthy. These links along with the citations of your site help you increase your domain authority (and are the only way to grow it). Increasing your domain authority helps boost your page rank for your chosen keywords and the higher the authority of your website, the better chance you have of ranking above your competitors for the same keywords.

What is domain authority?

Domain Authority (also known as Page Rank) is a score between 1 and 100 and was developed by SEO extraordinaire MOZ. Your score is determined by the quality and number of links to your site. The more links pointing to your site, particularly of higher quality (from sites with a higher domain authority), the higher your domain authority.

A brand-new site would have a Domain Authority of 1 or 2 given it has little to no backlinks

Websites like Facebook where almost all websites link back to it, have a Domain Authority close to 100. Again, numerous companies link to Facebook because they trust them which proves to Google that Facebook themselves are trustworthy and should be ranked higher.

Keyword analysis and domain authority

When selecting keywords to target in your copy, your selections need to be considered together with analysing the domain authority of competitor sites that rank in the current top positions for those keywords. Why? Because if all things are equal, sites with a higher domain authority will generally rank higher than those with lower scores for the same keywords.

Not all sites have been optimised well for SEO which means there is potential for you to outrank a higher authority site. It is just a little harder and you’ll need to be more strategic about your approach. With good keyword research and implementation, and well written copy, you’ll give yourself a better chance.

Remember, the higher the authority of the site linking to your site, the more authority will pass to you. A link from a high authority site is worth more than hundreds of links from low authority sites. A great place to score a high-quality link from is a news or media site.

Trust signals

As demonstrated, your domain authority and page rank are two measures of how trustworthy your site is to Google and determinants of where you rank. The more links from higher authority sites linking to you, the more trustworthy Google deems you to be and the more highly ranked your site will be.

Backlinking is extremely important when it comes to ranking in search engines. There is no point doing keyword research and getting your website technically sound if you aren’t going to get backlinks.

  • Links within your own site are called internal links.
  • Links from your sites to other sites are called external links.

I can assume your next question may be, how do I get backlinks?

Well, I’ve got you covered there too.

Before I get into it, I just wanted to take a minute to stress that you should aim to build backlinks naturally otherwise you will get penalised by search engines like Google. Also, be sure to spread the link juice across your webpages, not just your homepage when asking people to link to your website.

There are numerous tactics for getting backlinks. Here are six free and simple strategies that you can implement today without any paid SEO tools whatsoever.

What are backlinks in SEO?
What are back links in SEO?

Family and Friends

  • Do you have family or friends with a website or blog? Ask them to link to your website via a supplier list or guest blog on your business.

Affiliated Businesses

  • Do you work with complementary businesses that would be open to linking to you? For example, if you’re a copywriter, you could ask an SEO expert, a photographer or graphic designer to link to you as a partner.

Supplier Linking

  • If you sell other people’s products or services, you could ask them to link to you as a reseller or stockist.

Directories

  • There are numerous industry related directories that are worth getting added to. Avoid free directories without a strong verification process.
  • Look for reputable, well known directories and review sites eg. TripAdvisor or Yelp.
  • To run a search, Google ‘your industry + directories’ or ‘SEO friendly directories for  _______ industry’.
  • One last thing: make sure your contact details including your Name, Address and Phone Number (NAP) are the same across all directories.

Testimonials

  • Writing testimonials for other brands, ask them to add it to their site and create a link to your site. This is really simple and super effective.

Guest Blogs

  • Write an article for another website in your industry or niche and ask them to publish it on their website and link back to your website. This is the exact tactic I am using right now.

Remember: it’s critical to implement a backlink strategy to ensure all the hard you put into creating a technical sound site, finding good keywords and writing good content doesn’t go to waste. Which backlink tactic will you be starting with?

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Want to leverage SEO or Facebook Ads to generate low-cost leads and sales? Here are a few resources I put together to help you:

1. Download my Ultimate Beginners SEO Checklist                                                                   

 It’s a SEO checklist that will help you get ranking in the top positions of search engines like Google.

2. Download my 6 Must-Dos for Facebook Ads Success

It’s a practical workbook on the six actions you must take to achieve Facebook Ads success.

3. Have a question, shoot me a message

About the author

Nicki Sciberras worked in corporate advertising for 15 years, and now runs a full service marketing agency specialising in high converting tactics like SEO, Google and Facebook Ads.

Thanks so much Nicki for being my first guest poster! Such a useful post too. Do go and check out all the goodness on Nicki’s site and grab some of her free resources!

Featured

Writing online for a general audience without watering down your expertise – four tips you can use today.

If you’re anything like my client Julie, then you might find yourself asking this question:

‘I know a shedload about my topic, but my audience is starting from zero. I don’t want to water down my message. What do I do?’

Here are a few strategies that have helped me:

1) Include stories to exemplify concepts.

While I was living in Germany as a twenty-something student, I once asked for a helicopter in a DIY shop rather than for a screwdriver. The shopkeeper and another customer fell about laughing (as did I once I’d realised what was going on). I’ll never forget those two words (Hubschrauber and Schraubenzieher). This is a story I sometimes use to illustrate how making mistakes in language learning is a crucial part of the process.

A shop keeper in a German DIY shop after I asked him for a helicopter
Use stories to explain concepts

The stories you tell don’t always have to be pivotal moments in your life. They can also be short or humorous anecdotes about everyday experiences.

2) Start with ONE aspect of what you know.

In other words, don’t try to put 20 years of expertise into one blog post (I’ve seen it). Can you provide an introductory post and break down one idea into smaller parts and have several different posts?

Think about writing one post for beginners in your subject area, and perhaps another more advanced post.

For example, in this post, I’ve given an overview of writing for a general audience. I can then refer readers who want to know more about writing stories to another post on using a story framework based on casual conversation.

3) Use analogies to explain concepts, categories or arguments.

E.g. ‘You wouldn’t expect to run a marathon without ever doing any shorter runs, so why would you expect to write a perfect book straightaway? Use your blog, emails and articles as a safe training space for the big event.’

Marathon runners: Use your blog as a training ground for the marathon of book writing
Use your blog as a training ground for the marathon of book writing

4) Think about whether your reader wants, or needs to know the technical term. If yes, then explain it.

Remember—Google likes texts that are written for a reading age of 11-15.

So use short sentences and words where possible.

You’re not dumbing down – you’re meeting your reader where they are now and providing the scaffolding to get them where they need to be.

Provide the info on a need-to-know basis.

Above all, just take the pressure off and get writing!

And, if you have any unfortunate language learning stories, then comment below and let me know.

Featured

Successful writers know that it’s not about the critics

It can be frightening to publish our writing. Putting something out into the world can make us feel exposed. And we worry about what the critics are going to say.

Do you get a chill when you hit publish or send an email to your list?

Watch this talk from Brené Brown, expert on courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy, to understand why it’s not about winning, it’s not about losing, but it’s about showing up and being seen. It’s about stepping into the arena.

Brené Brown

We can’t ensure that the critics won’t be in the arena when we step out into the world*.

But we be sure there’ll be shame (I feel humiliated), scarcity (it’s not original), and comparison (she did it better).

We don’t need to stop caring what people think. But we do need to show up.

And we need to remember that the critics aren’t the ones who count.

Are you ready to step into the arena?

*Here’s the Theodore Roosevelt quote Brené references:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

― Theodore Roosevelt

Love to hear more about the writing mindset? Pop your email below and get new posts delivered straight to your inbox.

How to write a unique nonfiction book). Or, ‘Help! Someone has already written my book’

Have you ever read a fantastic book and thought ‘I wish I’d written that!’ or, ‘that was exactly what I was going to write about!’?

This is just a reminder that it’s ok to join the conversation that someone has already started!

With a background in telling research stories, I am pretty used to joining conversations.

Because no research is created in a vacuum. The whole point is to build on what’s gone before and make what are actually tiny steps in the progression of knowledge.

It’s the same with books.

Books on library shelf. No book is written in a vacuum. How to write a unique nonfiction book.
No book is written in a vacuum

So when aspiring authors come to me worried that their book has already been written, I’m confident that this isn’t the case.

Although sometimes it may feel like that when we start looking around to see where our book would sit on the shelf.

All authors will have a different angle, story, voice or experience.

And your book will be unique to you!

In fact, the more you can position your nonfiction book in the wider conversation, the better.

It only serves to make your argument stronger (and yes, you will have an argument). So it’s wonderful that other authors are writing about your topic!

Comparisonitis is a real problem for aspiring authors. But remember, all published authors were at the beginning of their journey once. We just need to be brave enough to join the conversation.

It was an absolute joy to dive into this topic with editor and nonfiction author Kris Emery when we chatted for my podcast.

Nonfiction editor and author Kris Emery on the podcast

We talked about what to do if you think your book has already been written, why conversational style isn’t the only way to write and the importance of citing your sources generously.

Kris also gives us a mini master class in hook writing.

Listen in and I’m sure you’ll learn as much as I did!

Comment below and let me know what you think and what else you’d like to hear about on the podcast!

Let’s talk about pronouns (or should I use ‘I’, ‘we’ or ‘you’ in my writing?)

An acquaintance wrote an irate Facebook post recently, complaining about the ‘careless’ speech used by adults who ‘should know better’, citing words like nuffin for nothing or mumf for month.

I held back from pointing out the harm that can be done through judging accents or dialects, or from mentioning accommodation theory. Accommodation theory explains a tendency humans have to adjust their behaviour or language depending on the audience and is actually a pretty useful social skill.

Kids especially, can be very skilled at varying their language depending on context (as I realise whenever I fail to understand what my kids are talking about with their friends).

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

It’s also the reason I launch into a broad Pembrokeshire accent when I visit my home town.

Maybe you’ve experienced something similar.

Kids can be very skilled at adjusting their language to fit the situation

I’m a descriptivist linguist. That is, I look at what people say and write in context rather than what they ‘should’ say and write (for prescriptivists, think Henry Higgins or that grumpy grammarian who goes around with a red pen in hand, ready to pounce on rouge apostrophes).

Henry Higgins, fictional Professor of phonetics and Eliza Doolittle in the film My Fair Lady, adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalian .

I’m more interested in the effect that language has in the real world than on whether it’s ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. I like to know the ‘rules’ but I like to know when it’s good to break them too.

So how does all this help us with the question about which pronouns to choose when writing?

When I’m doing close text work with a client (as opposed to refining the content), we look at the effect that the writing, including the pronouns, has on the reader in context.

So as usual, there’s no right or wrong.

If it’s I, I, I, all the way through, will it be interesting for your reader?

It may well be—it’s dependent on the context. But often, if reflecting on an experience that has a teaching element, it might work to start with a personal story with I and then transition into they to talk about how how the issue has affected others or to talk about research on the topic (here’s the authority element) and then to we or you for the teaching focus.

The difference between we/ us and you

Sometimes too many yous can seem othering (look at me over here as the expert ready to teach you something).

Us and we on the other hand, can mean positioning yourself as a friend. I’m here, ready to come with you.

Let’s try that again.

Us and we on the other hand, can mean positioning ourselves as a friend. I’m here, ready to come with you.

See what I did there?

Sometimes, when we’re writing for a particular publication, we need to consider the house style.

Here’s what The Elephant Journal Style Guide has to say about this:

We try to refrain from publishing you-oriented articles in Elephant Journal …. This practice stems from the Buddhist principle of “experience it for yourself.”

https://www.elephantjournal.com/write/

The style guide then goes on to say how overusing ‘you’ can seem preachy or bossy.

Other publications may not mention pronoun use directly in their style guide, but it can be a useful exercise to check conventions.

So, as so often, it’s all in the context.

We need to think less about the right and wrong, and more about the effect that our writing will have on the reader.

If you’re not sure what effect your writing will have, try leaving it to ‘sit’ for 48 hours and then come back and read it aloud. Try noticing how you feel when you read others’ writing and pay attention to pronoun use.

But as ever, don’t overthink.

Above all, write, have fun writing and get your message out to the people who need to hear it!

If you enjoyed this, subscribe here for writing tips and tricks straight to your inbox

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

A story framework based on casual conversation.

 

Did I ever tell you about how I got kicked out the school choir?

I was the only one of my group of friends who wasn’t allowed to keep warm inside on Wednesday lunchtimes because I sounded more like Kermit the frog than Shirley Bassey. Growing up in Wales in the 80s and not being able to sing meant that I had plenty of free time on my hands.

Maybe all those wet and windy lunchtimes gave me my love of the great outdoors.

Girl in the rain

Why am I telling you this?

Have you ever heard the advice that you should write as if you were chatting to a friend over a cuppa? And if so, have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to do that?

Pull up a chair and listen because I have to tell you about this easy story framework that Australian linguists Suzanne Eggins and Diana Slade came up with (it’s an oldie but a goodie).

Use this framework and you’ll soon be telling stories as if you were on your best friend’s couch with a big mug of builder’s tea and a stack of Digestives.

If you want to skip straight to the action, scroll down to the framework and exercise at the bottom of the post – but if you want a bit of juicy background, then keep reading.

 The reasearchy bit

Looking at casual conversations in different contexts, Eggins and Slade realised there were patterns that kept coming up. Now, we all know that story patterns exist (think about the brothers Grimm, with once upon a time fairy tales, or the Disney films that we all know and love to hate after our kid demands to watch Frozen for the umpteenth time).  And if you’ve been in business for anytime at all, then you’ve probably heard of Donald Millar’s Stroybrand which is the hero’s journey with your brand as the guide.

What is different about the Eggins and Slade frameworks is that they are based on patterns in casual conversations rather than on folk tales. A modern-day story collection of story frameworks if you will (and by the way, if you write fiction, these different story frameworks can help the ‘chat’ in your books sound more convincing).

It’s a collection of frameworks rather than just one, as Eggins and Slade noticed that there were different types of stories depending on the function of the story. These different kinds of stories (like a narrative or an anecdote) have a different structure.

One key feature of casual conversation is that its function is social – it focuses on building relationships and bonds. If we know that  business is about building our relationships, then why wouldn’t we want the stories we tell in our business to follow a conversational pattern?

A transformational narrative

One of the patterns Eggins and Slade identified, the narrative, follows a problem/ solution pattern. It’s perfect for when, as business owners, we are talking about our own transformations or the transformations of our clients.

The basic moves are:

Abstract (telling the listeners what the story will be about and why they should listen – e.g. becoming a great vocalist after being kicked out the school choir).

Orientation (who the story is about, where and when – e.g. me in a wet and windy Welsh town, my group of buddies,  and the bald choirmaster, Mr Morris).

Complication (‘a problem culminating in a crisis’, or in other words, the lightbulb moment – e.g. another lunchtime of being bullied by the mean kids in the yard made me realise I should probably learn to sing).

Resolution (closing the plot or how was the problem resolved? E.g. finding out that singing more loudly rather than more quietly actually helped me to hold a tune and finding a foolproof method for learning to sing).

Evaluation (What was the point of this story? What is different for you now? E.g. I now know that singing is not a natural ability, but a skill that can be learned).

Coda or Call to Action – how does this relate to your business and what steps can the reader take now to learn more/ work with you or get to know you better? E.g. if you’d like to learn my secret method that can teach you to sing like Taylor Swift then sign up for my course here**.

**DISCLAIMER **

Ok, well I’m not a singing teacher and the last two sections above are wishful thinking, but you get the picture… You could be writing about helping women to get fit in their 40’s (if that’s you then please let me know!), or you could be writing about how you overcame your public speaking fear. Any story where you want to talk about a transformation that you or a client have overcome is ideal.

Where can you tell these stories? It could be an email to your list, a blog post, or a story in your book. Each of these genres will have a slightly different style (that’s a tale for another day), but the pattern and the message will be the same. 

Try listening out for different story types in conversation (without annoying your listeners), What makes the most engaging stories or anecdotes? Hint – it’s not always the ‘I was living of £5 a week and then I bought this course and five weeks later I was a millionaire’ type of story.

Your turn

If you’re game, I’ve got a quick writing exercise for you to try which shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes. 

Step one: Freewriting (10 minutes)

To have a go at writing your own story, think of a story you are telling about your business already, or one that you could tell. Either a story about yourself or one of your clients that shows the same kind of transformation that you deliver to your clients. Now just brain dump your story. Don’t worry about the structure or the style or using the framework just yet, just get the story down.

Step two. Story organisation (10 minutes)

Now have a go at organising your story under the headings.

Your story template

Abstract:

Why are you telling the story? How does it relate to the reader/ your ideal client avatar?

Orientation/ Setting the scene:

Who, what, when and where? What were the problems? What were you doing? What results were you getting?

Complication:

What happened to make you realise you needed to change? What was your lightbulb moment?

Resolution:

Closing the plot — what changed/ how did you change things? What new techniques did you learn?

Evaluation:

What was the point of this story? What is different for you now? What does your life look like now? How do you feel? What are you able to do with ease?

Closing/ CTA (okay, so in the original it was called a ‘coda’ but that’s a bit of a fancy pants linguist term and what we actually want is a call to action for our ideal client):

How does this relate to your business and what steps can the reader take now to learn more/ work with you/ get to know you better?

Now that we have the content of the story or the ‘message’. The next thing would be to work on the style of the writing. That’s for another post.

Have a go at using the story framework and send me your story. I’d love to see!

Let’s get writing!

What I read so you don’t need to:

Eggins, S., & Slade, D. (1997). Analysing casual conversation. London: Cassell.

Useful books on telling your stories as a business owner:

Donald Miller, Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen

This is a useful book to have in your tool box as a business owner – but read it with the knowledge that there’s not just one type of story and the hero’s journey can get tired.

Jessica Zweig, Be: A No-Bullsh*t Guide to Increasing Your Self Worth and Net Worth by Simply Being Yourself

*If you decide to buy books from the links in this post, then I get a small percentage of the price. I only recommend books I find useful and that I think will help you :-). 

Want writing tips, tricks straight to your inbox and to be the first to know about my coaching offers and programmes? Just pop your deets below.

Why writing belongs on your calendar (and why waiting for inspiration to strike isn’t the best way to get your book written).

I used to sit and wait for inspiration to strike before I started writing.

I spent more time thinking about the fact that I wasn’t writing than actually writing.

 There was always something else that I should be doing—another email that needed replying to, another meeting I needed to attend or a cupboard I needed to clean. 

Now I know that writing belongs on the calendar. Here’s why.

Put writing in the calendar

You flex your writing muscle

Writing is a skill that can be learned like any other. The more you practice, the better you get. 

By having regular writing sessions on your calendar and sticking to them, you will start to flex your writing muscle and see your writing improve over time.

Writing is a skill that you can develop with practice
Flex your writing muscles

You create good habits

Once you realise that Wednesday and Friday mornings are your writing times or that every evening you write from 7-8 pm, writing at these times will become second nature.

Establishing good habits means that you cut out decision making and make it easier to do the ‘difficult’ tasks.

Humans are inherently lazy and that’s why established habits are easy to follow (just make sure the habits you establish are the good ones).

Ever heard of habit stacking? Habits work even better if you can combine them with something else. 

Maybe you decide your writing time is every Tuesday and Friday evening while you wait for your son to have his swimming lesson. That’s habit stacking.

Instead of automatically scrolling through your phone when you take your place at the poolside, you’ll get used to taking your laptop and writing 1000 words every week. In no time at all you’ll have written the first draft of your ebook.

You start to look forward to your writing sessions

Practice something regularly and you’ll see yourself making progress. It will start to become more enjoyable. 

If you’re like me, the longer I put off a writing task, the more onerous it becomes. 

When I was writing my doctoral thesis, I could see the entire thing looming ahead of me like a dark cloud. 

After I started to put writing in my calendar, I could see the word count ticking up and I started to enjoy working gradually through those chapters.

You set achievable deadlines

When you have writing on your calendar, it becomes easier to see how that project is going to get finished. 

You can predict how long it will take you to write certain sections of your book and will be able to meet your goals.

Setting achievable deadlines will bring you closer to your big goals

Other people will know that you are busy

This is a biggie for anyone with other people in their lives who tend to stop them writing— sometimes even unbeknownst to those people!

 Before I started to put writing on my calendar, my boss could look at my calendar and any  unblocked space could be seen as bookable time. It was the same if someone asked me to meet for a coffee or to run an errand for them. 

Now that I have writing on my calendar, I can say ‘I can’t sorry—I’m busy’, without feeling like I’m making a lame excuse. 

And this works even better when I have my writing group meeting or am meeting a writing accountability partner. Make your writing the ‘real’ commitment it deserves to be.

A writing group can help you to put writing on your calendar

So are you ready to put writing on your calendar?

If you are serious about your writing and want to finish a project, don’t just think that you’ll write someday when you have time or when you think of something to write. That day may never come. 

Have objectives for your writing and set deadlines.  Plan out your chapters for your book.  Meet with other people to write.

 Are you ready for the challenge? Take out your calendar now and work out when you can fit five 25 minute sessions into the next week. Think about your daily routines and about your own circadian rhythm. When do you find it easiest to get into your creative flow? 

Try writing at different times and see what works for you.

Maybe the evening isn’t just for vegging

 But don’t use your circadian rhythm as an excuse not to write just because you have things scheduled at your naturally most creative times.

 I always classed myself as a ‘morning’ writer. Then I joined a writing group that met in the evening. I was amazed at how much I got done in those sessions. I used to think my brain was no good for anything apart from vegging in front of Netflix or reading a book in the evening. But now I know I can write then too.

Love to hear more writing tips and tricks? Pop your email below and get new posts delivered straight to your inbox.

What I read:

Habit Stacking: 127 Small Changes to Improve Your Health, Wealth, and Happiness (Most are Five Minutes or Less), by S.J. Scott

Atomic Habits: The life-changing million copy bestseller, by James Clear

Please note, I will get a small percentage of the price at no extra cost to you if you decide to buy using the links above.