‘Writing is a way of doing something physically while thinking deeply, it’s a container for deep thought in your life. If you think about it that way, it’s a really wonderful thing to make time for in your life.’
Anne Janzer’s mission is to ‘help people spread important ideas by writing’. In this conversation we talk about why that matters and what it looks like in practice. What IS the process of writing? Spoiler alert: it starts long before the actual writing. Inspiring, energising and relentlessly practical.
Anne’s site: https://annejanzer.com/
Anne on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AnneJanzer
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Alison Jones: I’m here today with Anne Janzer, who is an award-winning author, nonfiction author, coach, and marketing practitioner on a mission to help people make a positive impact with their writing in her books and teaching and explores the science and practice of effective writing. She describes herself as an armchair, cognitive science geek, and loves helping people find joy in the process.
Her award-winning writing books include The Writer’s Process, The Workplace Writer’s Process and Writing to be Understood. She’s particularly passionate about supporting women authors, writing in business, scientific or technical fields. Her first book Subscription Marketing grew from her experience as a marketing consultant in the technology industry and has been translated and published in multiple international markets.
And as it turns out, a marketing background is very helpful for authors of all kinds. Welcome to the show Anne, well, let’s start with that marketing background. Why do you think that has served you in such good stead.
Anne Janzer: Well, you know, the funny thing was when I, started writing books about writing, I thought, well, I’m leaving. I’m, I’m leaving marketing behind me, but of course I’m not,
Alison Jones: Yeah,
Anne Janzer: Cue maniacal laughter. Right. because you know, I think ultimately we all forget we conflate marketing with advertising or we complete it with sales or, any of those other things that are part of it, but really marketing is about matching a product to a market’s needs to an audience’s needs. And that it sounds like, of course, what we do as writers. And of course what we do as authors. We are trying to not just write because we feel like it, but we’re trying to write something that offers value to someone else.
And so, you know, understanding the strategies of marketing has been enormously helpful for me, not only in, of course marketing and selling my books, but as well and writing them.
Alison Jones: Yes. It’s also a huge advantage at the pointy end when you’re trying to sell the book. Isn’t it? Yes, that’s a really good point.
Anne Janzer: For sure. This is the hard part, you know, I mean, marketing, the book is definitely the hard part.
Alison Jones: And at what point did you make that shift away from, you know, I’m a marketeer to actually I’m all about the writing, you know, what was it that started fascinating you so much about the actual process of writing?
Anne Janzer: Well, so I had spent my entire career as a marketing consultant and really what that meant most of the time I was writing, you know, I was doing what has turned into content marketing, creating content, and because I’m bored easily. I did this as a freelancer. I worked with, you know, hundreds of, of different clients, so I could keep changing topics.
And I also had, an aversion to charge by the hour. I didn’t want to be just someone you hired to put in a chair for awhile who would write. Right. S o writing was always at the core of my career and because I was working with all these different people on an hour, on a project basis, I had a laboratory, right, for figuring out the most effective, efficient, and effective way to write because I would just charge per project.
So the more efficiently I could do a project while creating really good content, you know, the better off I was and the client was fine and all that. So even as I worked for the project, I tracked my hours and I paid attention to what worked. So in many ways, my whole marketing career was a laboratory for tinkering with the practices of writing.
And after I wrote my first book, I just had so much fun doing it that I thought I’ve just got to figure out a way that I can do this more.
Alison Jones: And that’s really refreshingly pragmatic, isn’t it? Because there’s an awful lot of waffle and woo woo talked about, you know, the craft of writing. And so I love that kind of: do you know, I just thought if I’m going to be paid per project, I better do the projects really efficiently. I love that.
And then the writing about writing, it’s a bit meta, isn’t it? I mean, do you get… I mean, I wrote a book called This Book Means Business. I tied myself in existential knots about it. How did you get over that?
Anne Janzer: You know, it’s been tricky. So the first book, The Writer’s Process was about the inner game of writing. And that was okay because it was, you know, I, no one could see my inner game. Right. But…
Alison Jones: By definition. Yes.
Anne Janzer: But it did… I found that actually the act of really writing about it made me be even that much more disciplined about my processes, because I was writing about why it was important.
It’s like, okay. I really, every time I’m tempted to skip the step I needed to just remember. So each time I write a book about writing, I become better at writing.
Alison Jones: And I did love actually you can… you’ve got little lessons – what I learned during the course of writing this book – at the end of the book, haven’t you, which is so valuable.
Anne Janzer: Yes, because, you know, we do learn, I think writing is such a path to growth. You know, you discover and learn things by writing anyway, and it’s fun to share what you’ve learned. My most recent book was Writing to be Understood, and it was about all these different writing techniques.
And I thought, well, geez, I guess I better use all of these techniques in the course of writing the book.
Alison Jones: And that’s it, isn’t it. And you don’t particularly talk explicitly about this, but it runs like a golden thread through your stuff, I think; that sense that one of the reasons you write is it’s so damn good for you. It stretches your brain and it helps you understand things better. And as you say, it forces you to really master what you’re doing.
Anne Janzer: Yes, that’s absolutely true. I mean, I really discover, so much more as I go to, to write on, on any topic. not just writing, you know, Alison in today’s world, we don’t have a lot of time to just sort of sit and ponder and think deeply, you know, there’s always something we feel like we should be doing.
So writing is a way of doing something physically while thinking deeply, it’s a container for deep thought in your life. If you think about it that way, it’s a really wonderful thing to make time for in your life.
Alison Jones: That’s a really lovely, a container for the deep work that I love that. And actually, when you talk about writing, you aren’t just talking about sitting down and writing. It’s not a sort of, what do you call it? The one step writing myth, you know, but writing is actually so much bigger than that. So, and I love, you know, you talk about the Muse and the Scribe and, and the way you can be out on a walk and you’re writing because actually what you’re doing is you’re open to inspiration and you’re combining ideas and you’re getting new insights.
So it’s a bigger, more diverse thing than we realize. Isn’t it?
Anne Janzer: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, I think every writer understands this, you know, in their experience. They understand experientially that they get ideas when they’re not actually sitting down with a pencil or the keyboard, that things are happening when they’re not actively working. That there’s much more than the actual, act of typing away.
And yet, the most common mistake people make, I think, and this leads to a lot of unhappiness ,is that they try to start writing in the middle. They try to start, I’m going to sit down and write a chapter of a book, but you haven’t done the preparatory work to get to the point where the words are going to come easily.
And that’s when writing is painful. So that’s why, you know, that’s ultimately what motivated me to write that book about the writer’s process. I see so many people, struggling because they just aren’t thinking about the whole package of writing and all the mental processes that are involved. They think it’s just a matter of getting their butt on the seat , and yes, you do have to get your butt on the seat. But that’s not all.
Alison Jones: But, I mean, it’s a good point, isn’t it? Because there are two traps people fall into: one is they’re sort of sat there going, raargh, I’m going to write my book, which is, you know, nightmarish, but there’s also the people who perpetually are warming the teapot and thinking and planning and there ain’t gonna be no tea.
So how do you know when it’s time to stop warming the damn teapot and get your butt in the chair and do the, well, do the actual work of writing,
Anne Janzer: Do the actual work, you know, and here’s where I’m coming up with some kind of process for yourself really helps. Here’s where it is, just to say, okay. I’m going to have a schedule, let’s say Alison that you want to write a blog post once a week, you know, or something. So you could wait till the day before the blog’s supposed to go up and sit down and write it and that’s just never very fun.
Or you could say, Oh, hey, no, I have a process. So today, one week before, I’m just going to think about the topic of that blog post. I’m going to write down some ideas tomorrow. I’m just going to go back and I’m just going to do some free writing and tinkering around with, what are some of the things I might have to say about that? What comes to my mind? And I’m going to keep returning to it a little bit every day, because that gives my background mental processes time to work on it between the next day, I’m going to outline what I’m going to write and start writing out the first draft the next day, I’m going to come back and flesh out the first draft and make it pretty good.
The next day I’m going to polish it and I’m ready to put a graphic on and get it up on the post. You know, I mean, it’s so having a process. Where you have time for warming the teapot and then time for making the tea. Where you’re going to commit to both phases of that and just repeatedly cycling through it.
This is the power of a daily writing practice, frankly, is that it makes you sit down, every day and work with, you know, see what’s happening in that teapot for refresh the water, add some tea leaves,
Alison Jones: Check it out and make a new pot. Yeah. We could have so much fun with this metaphor and I love that sense that it’s an ongoing process, that it needs space and time to brew – which again is a lovely extension of the metaphor – and also that it’s not just sitting and writing. As you say that you are working on your writing in lots of different ways, it looks like another, somebody looking at you might not realize that that’s what you’re doing.
Anne Janzer: Yes, yes. And you know, this is one of the reasons that I absolutely decided I could not charge on an hourly rate for my, for my work, because I would get some of my most productive writing work done like on the rowing machine or on a walk, it’s like, I can’t charge a client for being on a walk, but I just outlined their whole piece and came up with a great heading and all of this, so I should charge. Right. You see how this works. So it’s learning to work with all that time when your attention is more wandering, that supercharges that time so that when you do sit down and write, it moves very smoothly.
Alison Jones: And I remember Agatha Christie used to plot her novels drying the dishes at the sink, didn’t she?
Anne Janzer: Yes. So there’s an interesting point to that. So when you’re, when you’re doing something like drying the dishes or walking the dog, things like that, you are in what psychologists call a state of open attention. You’re not focused on, you don’t have to focus on drying the dishes. You know, you just kind of do it, right.
You don’t have to focus on walking the dog, you just sort of pay attention to where the dog is, right, and so that gives your mind the ability to roam. And if you gently nudge it towards the topic of your writing, wonderful things can happen then.
Alison Jones: Yes. I often take a question out on a run with me and you sort of half forget it. And then half way through the run, you have an idea. It’s it is amazing how, how that does happen.
One of the things that I’ve been grappling with recently is literally the process, the systems, the tools that you use from, for me, a pile of random stuff and clippings in Evernote to actually structuring it through in Scrivener and the gap for me between those two. So I have in the end, come back to index cards, which I how I used to do my studying years ago. I’ve not found anything better, literal index cards. So I’d love to talk to you about the different ways that you can do the different stages for you and any kind of useful tips on tools really, or ways of doing that.
Anne Janzer: So, you know, the, the tools to go from what you’re talking about, we’ve got a pile of ideas of research of stuff, right. And we want to add some structure to it. And I’m in the midst of drafting my next book so this is all really fresh in my head, this is timely, and this is something that’s going to be so personal.
So, so the index cards, you may be someone who really likes tactical, you like to spread things out visually but you also like the sense of moving things around tactically. I know a lot of people really like mind mapping, right? So they, they draw a circle and then they draw another circle and connect it and things and, and use that to sort of sort through their ideas.
I know some people like to simply talk through their ideas and then. Right down, you know, it’s in the actual speaking that they can structure it and then they go back and make notes and things.
Alison Jones: What did I say? What did I say?
Anne Janzer: Yes. What did I say there? Right, exactly, and, and we’ve got this whole new generation of great voice recognition technology that can actually take what you say and turn it into text for you, which is actually pretty cool to give you snippets.
I don’t think there’s one way to approach it. It’s going to vary according to what your personal, you know, preference and style is, this is the first book that I’ve done in Scrivener. Actually, I’ve always just used Word. but for this one, I had so many interviews and so much research and I was like, kind of overwhelmed by the piles of stuff.
And like what, how am I going to do this? And, I really enjoy, actually throwing it all into Scrivener and being able to move things back and forth. I’m enjoying that. So it’s interesting, but I think that the idea that technology is going to save us is misplaced.
Alison Jones: Which is unfortunate, isn’t it.
Anne Janzer: Yes, and people can really spend a lot too much time focusing on, you know, I just spent 10 hours trying to learn how this mind mapping software work. It’s like, Oh, okay. That’s not going to be the best, the best use of your time.
Alison Jones: No, it’s a marvelous new way of procrastinating. Isn’t it.
Anne Janzer: It can be, it can be. Yeah. Yeah, that’s right. That’s a, it’s a little dangerous. I mean, it’s me, I’d love to sit and argue over which technology to use, but it’s like, you know, just, just figure it out and index cards, lots of pieces of papers scattered everywhere, you know, whatever it is that that works for you is, yeah.
There’s, there’s no right answers. Unfortunately.
Alison Jones: No. I always hope that somebody isgoing to give me that. Well, what you do is this, boom, boom, boom. There you go. Done. And it’s, yeah, it’s not like that. you talked about writing a blog before, and I know you engage a lot with people who are writing in the workplace and they’ve got writing jobs to do, you know, they’ve got to write some content for the content marketing strategy.
They’ve got to do a report, they’ve got to do a product manual, all the rest of it. How do you think that kind of smaller scale content differs from book scale content? You know, what, what are the big differences for you do you think in the way that you have to approach those things?
Oh, well, you know, a book can wind you in knots in so many different ways, because it’s just the scale of it, right? The smaller scale projects are really the, the ideal, they’re your ideal way to just really sort of tune and work on your writing process because you have a very clear, here’s my objective for the piece. You know, you can map the process very clearly. The only issue is that, when you’re writing it in the workplace, you have other stakeholders who are involved. And the biggest problem I see there with people writing in the workplace is forgetting to account for and circle in and understand those stakeholders before you start writing.
We’re back to marketing again, aren’t we?
Anne Janzer: We’re back to markeitng again! And again, there’s nothing worse than writing a whole darn piece and sending it out for approval and then discovering that, you know, you had three different opinions of whether things should be in the argument goes on and who the audience is. It’s like, Oh, this is not good. so, I think for when you’re writing in the workplace, you have to be particularly insistent on a process and very explicitly laying out your objectives and the audience and getting buy in on those objectives.
If you think it’s going to be a red flag project, you know what that is, it’s the thing that gets kicked to you because nobody wants to do it. There’s a reason for that. So you need, before you write, you need to make sure everybody has signed off on what you’re doing and why, or else you’re just going to end up, you know…,
So you really need to focus on the process when you’re writing in the workplace. because it’s just going to save you a lot of pain, right? When you’re writing a book, you do get to kind of, you know, explore and wander off and discover new things and say, Oh wait, maybe this is the most important message.
And it maybe belongs to you a little bit more than, than the smaller projects in the workplace.
Alison Jones: and I love actually on your website and I’ll ask you about this at the end, but you, you do have really helpful checklists for workplace health and it all starts with who is this for? What’s the point of this?
Anne Janzer: It’s, you know, it’s so obvious. I feel like Captain Obvious saying that, right. It’s like, you know, who is the piece for what are you trying to achieve? But I cannot count for you how many times I would go into a client when I was a marketing consultant and they want me to write something. And I asked that question and there would be blank stares.
You know, I mean, I cannot tell you how many times I, as a consultant, you know, my, my brilliance was not my writing. It was my process that was kind of in there and saying, what are we doing? What’s your objective?
Alison Jones: Yeah, it’s funny. Isn’t it? You think this would be the thing that you would address first, but people just get hung up on the task. Don’t they, rather than the,
Anne Janzer: They do
Alison Jones: the process. Yeah, really
Anne Janzer: And you know, to be fair, they can be overwhelmed by, Oh my gosh, we have no content. We need all this content. You know, they can be overwhelmed by the amount of stuff they feel like they’re supposed to be generating. It’s really easy to lose track of those questions that seem so obvious that nobody asks.
Alison Jones: And in terms of… people are kind of expected to write at work. I mean, particularly entrepreneurs where, you know, you are your brand and you’ve got to put the content out there in your experience. What do people struggle with most when they have to write? And it isn’t something that comes naturally to them, you know, is writing a skill anybody can do? I mean, are people better at it than others? How do people go about becoming writers?
Anne Janzer: yeah, I think, you know, this is where I try to break it down because I think, again, people think you’re born a writer, which of course you’re not, some people have more natural verbal ability, but. if you’re not comfortable writing, then you really need to fall back on understanding the process.
It’s like, okay, first I have to clarify my thoughts. I have to understand what I’m doing. I have to outline, I find it’s really useful to get people to tie into their innate communication skills by talking through things. Sometimes people sit down to write and they’re all knotted up. They’re bringing with them years of school essay history and, and yeah, all kinds of things, you know, just like it’s not the five paragraph structure or, you know, this teacher and whatever, and should I put whom here? And what about commas? You know, I mean, it’s the baggage that can come along for people is phenomenal. and when you say no, wait, this is human communication. What’s the point you’re trying to get across? And have them tell you what the point is to try to get across and then just write down what they said.
It’s like, look at this, you’re 90% there. You know, we need to get rid of the baggage . And just be as clear as we can, especially in the business context. Right? We’re all looking for a conversational tone and style. We’re not trying to show up academic, we want to show up conversational and clear and save our readers time and communicate clearly.
So tap into your inner community, your innate communication. I like to tell people to picture someone who is asmart. and they feel affection for, but who doesn’t have a lot of time. I’m thinking like, if you have a child who’s in high school, they’re like the perfect audience, so think about them because you love them, but they’re not going to cut you a lot of slack or spend time they have other things they’d rather be doing than listening to you. So try to explain to them clearly the thing that you’re saying in your book or your work piece, that helps you find the, the right angle to get through to someone quickly. and that tends to get rid of some of the baggage that we bring to the task of writing.
Alison Jones: And it’s so funny because even academics prefer conversational writing to academic writing, I’ve got an author who comes from an academic background and was quite embarrassed about how conversational the book that she wrote with us was, and was kind of, you know, ‘I hope none of my academic colleagues ever read this’ and it’s been bought across so many reading lists this because actually that’s just so much better to read than obfuscation. Yeah, it’s really interesting. I don’t know quite who it serves when you write in that academic style.
Anne Janzer: It’s so easy to write for your colleagues instead of for your readers. And that is what happens to academics. And in fact, you know, to be fair, they’ve had this beaten into their heads. So their whole careers, you have to write this way. You have to lead with every detail. You have to cite all your sources. You have to, you know, string out long elaborate sentences so we can see the beautiful complexity of your thoughts.
And for many of them is really hard to leave that aside. Because that’s the only… that’s becomes their writing voice and they have to realize they have another writing voice, but, you know, just as they don’t talk that way.
Alison Jones: A human one.
Anne Janzer: Yes.
Alison Jones: Yeah. And actually reading your writing out loud is always a really good double check. Isn’t it?
Anne Janzer: Right. It gets to the voice. And it also, I mean, my gosh, you’re going to see those last typos. When you read it loud, you don’t see when you’re just reading.
Alison Jones: It’s amazing. Isn’t it suddenly it’s suddenly they jump off the page. Oh, how could I not see now use the same word three times in the sentence. Yeah. So we’ll let you know. I was going to ask you what your best tip would might be for a first time business. I’ve got a feeling that, that imagining your college age child in front of you is a really pretty good one…
Anne Janzer: That’s a good one.
Alison Jones: It is a good one. If you’ve got another – I’m being greedy now, have you got another one?
Anne Janzer: I do, I do in fact I’m kind of writing a book on this topic just right now. So I’m going to share my best tip for you. If you’re writing a business book, there’s probably a lot of reasons that you’re writing, you know, you might want to do the fat business card, get more clients to the data. So here’s what I suggest among all those reasons: focus as much as you can on how you’re serving others with your book, the difference you want to make for other people. And I say this because when you focus on that purpose, it informs so many of the decisions. It helps motivate you at the beginning. It informs what goes into the book, what doesn’t go into the book, it gets you through the writing process and, brilliantly, it helps you with everything that happens beyond and after the book, the marketing the going and spreading your ideas. When you focus on the purpose, the people that you’re trying to serve and how, all of this becomes so much clearer, easier, and quite frankly, more fun. That’s my best tip.
Alison Jones: And it’s a sort of a superhero of tips. Isn’t it? I mean, they don’t get more powerful than that. That’s brilliant. Thank you. Excellent. I always ask people as well to recommend…. when I say a business book, it can be frankly, any book you like really, but a book that you think would be really useful for somebody who’s listened to this podcast, who enjoys business books, who perhaps is thinking about writing a business book, which book would you recommend to them?
Anne Janzer: So this is such a tough question because I think every, every two weeks I will give you a different answer. I mean, I read so much and I just find myself loving all these different books, so I’m going to share with you one that I just read and it, I just loved and it’s helped me a lot just right now, and it’s a book called Pop: Create the perfect pitch, title and tagline for everything by Sam Horn. I just interviewed Sam recently, but I read this book while I was working, thinking about title and headlines and chapter headings for my book. And what it did was it was an invaluable reminder to have fun with the language when you’re writing it, and I needed to just hear that reminder. Right then I was so deep in the ideas of the book, I just needed to hear this. It’s very inspiring. Lots of great ideas on positioning and a generally read it. It will really inspire you. I hope to just have fun with the words as well.
Alison Jones: That’s so great. I haven’t, I haven’t heard about the book at all, and I love the idea of just the playfulness of it, because actually that’s another great way of approaching a writing project. Isn’t it? If you approach it thinking, you know, girding your loins thinking, Oh, bloody hell, I’ve got to write this thing… I mean, then it’s a misery to read as well. But if you are genuinely having fun and being playful and curious with it, then the energy is totally different.
Anne Janzer: That’s true. That’s true. I think that what you’re inhabiting definitely comes through to the reader. Yes.
Alison Jones: Which is a huge responsibility if you’re having a bad day. Yes. Wonderful. That’s great. I’m going to look that book up. Thank you. Pop, brilliant. So obviously the whole conversation will be on the show notes at extraordinarybusinessbooks.com, the transcript. And I’m going to ask you now where can people find out more about you and more about your fabulous stable of books?
Anne Janzer: Yeah, thanks. just my website, which is my name, Anne with a silent E Janzer, annejanzer.com, there’s a little books menu item, where you can see the books. there’s a place to sign up for… I have a. writing practices email this where once every other week I send it a blog post. And once a month I do a book drawing.
So I,you know, people respond if they want to enter for the drawing and I’ll share a book about writing about something interesting that I have read recently, and give it away to my list. So, that I would welcome anyone to come and sign up if you’re interested. and you can also contact, there’s a contact form.
So if you have any questions or anything, just pop me an email through the website or just annejanzer.com.
Alison Jones: Fantastic. And I’ll put that link up on the show notes. It is really, really worth a visit as well, because Anne’s got some, as I say, great resources like that checklist if you’re a workplace writer. It’s a great site. Thank you so much for your time today, Anne: I could have carried on geeking out about writing and business writing forever, but it’s just been terrific and so much stuff there for anybody who has got a writing project in front of them, so thank you.
Anne Janzer: Great. Thanks for having me, Alison, I really enjoyed it.