Episode 346 – Exploratory Writing with Alison Jones

Alison Jones‘If you give your brain a question, it can’t help but go looking for answers. That’s how we are designed. And when you know that, you suddenly think, well, all my job is, really, is to come up with the good questions, isn’t it?’

In a gratifying plot twist, I become the guest on my own podcast as Grace Marshall asks me all the tough questions about my own new book, Exploratory Writing: Everyday magic for life and work

How can one of our simplest, oldest technologies – the pen on the page – be the solution to our most pressing 21st-century problems? Discover why just 6 minutes of this deceptively simple off-line, off-grid, off-piste practice turns out to be a powerful tool for better thinking, creativity, and wellbeing, and even diversity and inclusion within organizations. 

Plus some thoughts on the crippling embarrassment of being a publisher who can’t nail the structure for her own book… 



Alison’s website: https://alisonjones.com/

Practical Inspiration Publishing: https://practicalinspiration.com/

Alison on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alison-jones-9b09893/

Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky

Alison on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bookstothesky_/

Alison on TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@bizbookstothesky

The 10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge January 2023: https://pi-q.learnworlds.com/course?courseid=proposal-challenge-jan-23

The Proposal Challenge Gift Edition: https://pi-q.learnworlds.com/course/proposal-challenge-jan-23-gift

WriteBrained: A 28-day exploratory writing adventure: https://pi-q.learnworlds.com/course?courseid=writebrainedcourse

The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/

Grace Marshall: Hello and welcome to the show. I am not your usual host. You may not recognize my voice. My name is Grace Marshall. I am Head Coach and Chief Encourager at gracemarshall.com. And a Productivity Ninja with Think Productive. And it’s my absolute pleasure to put Alison Jones on the other side of her own podcast today.

So welcome to the show, Alison

Alison Jones: This is doing my head in, this is so weird. Thank you, Grace. Thank you for having me.

Grace Marshall: I’m going through this thinking, am I doing it right? But you know, I’m on the other side of the chair now, so I have control. Haha.

Alison Jones: You’re the host.

Grace Marshall: Brilliant. Okay.

So Alison, I am looking through your about the author page on your new book, Exploratory Writing, which we are going to be talking about today. And I’ve just been looking at how you’ve been in publishing all your life really, haven’t you?

Alison Jones: Yes. Which is a very long time because I’m very old.

Grace Marshall: Yes, so I’m not going to say the years, people can look at it themselves, but from your days as an Editor with Chambers Harrap and Oxford University Press, to being the Director of Innovation Strategy at Macmillan before setting up Practical Inspiration Publishing in 2014. And of course, I know you as a champion of business books, and so you were a champion for my third book Struggle and as well as a whole host of business writers, authors, thought leaders.

But we’re here to talk about your book, your new book. So let’s start there. So tell me about your new book.

Alison Jones: It’s so funny, isn’t it? And I really struggle with this in a way because I think I am a publisher, a publisher first and an author second, publicizing my own book is all kinds of weird. It’s very, very strange. But yet weirdly, Exploratory Writing, I guess, it had its genesis in two things, well, three things, this podcast, and just hearing again and again from people that what they value most about writing is what it does for them as people, as humans, as thinkers, was really interesting. I was like, that’s something interesting there. And the second one is working with authors who tell me exactly the same thing. And when you’re working with a business book author, they’re not an author first, they’re a business book person first…

Grace Marshall: Yes.

Alison Jones: …and the writing doesn’t necessarily come easily,

Grace Marshall: Hmm.

Alison Jones: …and when they start off, they think it’s going to be amazing having a book to sell in my business as a business card, you know, that’s kind of what people say, but actually when they come back to me afterwards, at the end of the process, it’s like, my goodness, writing this book has changed the way I think about what I do. And it’s given me a framework and it’s given me insights and ideas and made connections.

So all of that, the process of writing and what it did for them. And I guess thirdly was the really, really personal experience, which I talk about in the book, which is not my finest hour, but you know, sort of waking up in an absolute panic at three in the morning, as a fairly new entrepreneur convinced that I’d, you know, what have I done?

We’re going to lose the house, you know, all that kind of panic that I now know is absolutely par for the course, but at the time, at three in the morning, you don’t have any perspective, it feels real. And just doing what occurred to me, which was reaching for a pen and a piece of paper and just starting to write about how I was feeling, what I was experiencing in my body, and realizing that writing about it gave me a different take on it.

 It changed my state and it brought me from this kind of headless chicken, sort of useless running around mentality, to feeling much more calm and resourced and creative. And by the end of just a few minutes of writing, I was coming up with ideas as to how to get some revenue in, to stabilize the revenue, the cash flow situation.

So that was a real personal experience of what I had kind of already intuited, that writing is this incredibly powerful process. We think of it as a way of communicating with people, showing off, performing, and actually when we allow ourselves the time and space to do it just for ourselves and not with any sense of polish or perfection, it really helps us think, it gets all the kind of stuff from inside your brain out into the safe place where you can look at it and sort it out and do something with it.

Grace Marshall: Yes, and it is funny because when I was reading through the book, one thing I noticed was it’s a tool that works for a whole span of people. So you’ve got seasoned writers talking about how this helps them in the process of deciding what they think, as well as what they want to communicate out into the world.

And then, like you say, you’ve got business people who, maybe writing isn’t their first strength. It’s the tool they want to use to get their ideas out into the world. But yes, their strengths are more in their speaking or their thinking. So you are right, the whole range of authors and business authors.

Tell me a little bit about that sort of brain process because I find that fascinating.

Alison Jones: Yes, so the process of the cognitive, what’s going on in your brain when you are writing? Yes, it is absolutely fascinating and, you know, this is the great joy of writing a book is you get to do all the research to find out what’s going on in there. And, you know, one of the most incredible things that I discovered, which made all kinds of sense once I had a word for it, is the sort of mental reflex that is instinctive elaboration, which is that if you give your brain a question, it can’t help but go looking for answers. It just can’t, you know, that’s how we are designed. And when you know that, you suddenly think, well, actually all my job is really is to come up with the good questions, isn’t it? And then those three things, you know, the question that you set yourself and the time and the space, the page that you kind of set aside for that, and I say in the book, six minutes, I think is optimum because it allows you to just blast stuff down and then by the end of it, you know, your kind of, your hand gives up.

But you know that speed allows you to kind of break through the self-editing and the self-criticism and the double thinking and all that, just get it down and then you can look at it. But the questions that you ask yourself, when you’re not thinking about it very hard, tend to be really unhelpful.

You know, they tend to be, oh, why did I say that? Why am I so useless? And of course, you know, you get busy finding some really unhelpful answers to those sorts of questions. But when you get really curious and you lean in and you get solution focused with your questions, you know, what’s one thing I could do to be more organized, you know, or whatever that is.

And then you literally set your brain that prompt and give yourself a few minutes to to write into it, that’s when you really start to come up with the gold. So those kind of neurological tics, you know, if you’re going to have mental reflexes, I say in the book, you might as well make the most of them.

Grace Marshall: Yes, absolutely. And it’s a funny one, isn’t it? Because I think there’s a difference between saying it and writing it.

You know, and I know when I’ve tried it in your workshops that… it’s a funny thing because somebody said to me the other day, you know, we don’t really want to be moaning about something forever, do we? We want to move on. But the thing about writing and moaning, you know, having a writing rant, is your hand gets tired. It’s amazing how quickly I find myself getting bored of my own rant. Whereas maybe I wouldn’t have done if I was talking about it. Is that just me or have you found that to be true?

Alison Jones: Or thinking about it. Absolutely. When we are thinking we can ruminate on something literally forever, just, you know, there are people who spend their whole lives reliving that moment and wishing it had been otherwise. And, you know, and it’s desperate. But I think when you are thinking, you can only have kind of one thought, one instance of thought in your mind at one time, and then it loops around kind of endlessly. As you say, when you’re writing, once you’ve written it there is on the page and it’s pretty unrewarding to write that 15 times in a way that you might think it 15 times without batting an eyelid.

And so you start to move into a slightly different space, which is, oh, it’s almost, I have seen myself, I now feel seen, I feel heard, and I can move on and I can think, and you start almost inevitably, and it’s really interesting when you watch people in workshops doing this, they start with a kind of itchy, scratchy, sort of unsettled kind of energy around them.

And they’re writing about this thing, which is problematic. And then about two minutes in, give or take a few seconds, you see them physically shift and they breathe differently. And you know that they’ve moved onto a kind of, Oh, that’s interesting. What if I…, you know, or I could…, or Oh, perhaps…. And it’s really interesting to watch and you are right, it doesn’t tend to happen in thinking at all,

It can happen, it definitely can happen in a coaching conversation. In a sense, I think exploratory writing is a way of self-coaching and it just makes that process more visible to you. If you have a good coach who’s asking good questions, giving you the space and time to answer those questions and leading you on, that’s great, but nobody has a coach on call 24/7.

Well, maybe some people do. I don’t.

Grace Marshall: Yes, when it’s three o’clock in the morning.

Alison Jones: Yes, no coach is going to want to hear from me at that point.

Grace Marshall: So this is kind of like having a really cheap coach actually, in your pocket.

Alison Jones: But, and it’s even better than that because it’s you and as any coach will tell you, the solutions that you come up with, they’re the ones you’re bought into, they’re the ones that are going to work for you in your unique circumstances with your unique predilections and preferences and quirks.

You know, so it’s super powerful, yes, and you say, you know, it’s professional writers discover it, business people discover it. I’m kind of on a mission to help everybody discover it, because I think that people who say they can’t write, what they really mean is they aren’t confident about where to put the apostrophe or, you know, they don’t feel they make a good impression when they write.

It doesn’t matter. That’s my point, is that this is a really democratic thing where you can write, spelling any way you like, putting the apostrophe any damn place you please, and even, you know, stopping writing and starting drawing or, you know, making sort of arrows and loops or whatever it is that makes sense to you.

It’s not for anybody else and therefore you don’t have to worry about how somebody’s going to receive it.

It’s purely this kind of private space where it can be whatever you need it to be in that moment.

Grace Marshall: Love it. So I’m curious, you said that you stumbled on this, sounds like it was right the beginning of your business journey.

Alison Jones: Yes.

Grace Marshall: So give me a potted history of what happened between then and now.

Alison Jones: With the business or with the writing.

Grace Marshall: Yes.

Alison Jones: Oh gosh. Well, it’s funny, when I started Practical Inspiration Publishing it wasn’t really ever intended to be publishing. And I know, bear with me, I left traditional corporate publishing in 2014, I retrained as a coach and it was my firm conviction that publishing was broken.

And although I loved it, it was on the wrong side of history because information wanted to be free and all that. And you know, it was always hard to make a living as a publisher. It was getting impossibly hard. And that sort of sense of closing down access to content, which traditional publishers require because that’s how they make their money, just didn’t seem to be the way that history was heading. So I retrained as a coach. I started up as a business coach, and when you do that, you have to take on a lot of practice clients and almost to a person, every single one of those practice clients, as soon as they found out that I was a publisher, all they wanted to talk about was publishing their book.

And so, it took a while, I mean that sounds like it was a kind of Aha moment. It did take a while. And for a little while I was kind of helping people write their book because obviously I’ve got a background in editorial and organizing ideas and that’s fairly straightforward for me. And then I was helping them produce their book. So, you know copy-editing, typesetting, proofreading, all that kind of stuff. And then, in a sense, handing them their book and saying, right, you are a business person, you can now go and sell this. And of course they couldn’t because books are different. So over that first four or so years in the business, I really was kind of coming to the kind of reluctant recognition that actually, if I was going to do this properly, I had to be a proper publisher. And that’s kind of where we are now.

You know, Practical Inspiration has all the stuff I would’ve sworn was completely irrelevant and anachronistic 10 years ago, like rep teams and warehouses and rights managers and all that paraphernalia because actually, books really still matter, and they’ve held their place in our content ecosystem and in our cultural value structures incredibly well because they do what they do so brilliantly, and I think that’s why writing matters actually.

Grace Marshall: Yes, and it’s funny, the roundabout way in which you discover reminds me of that quote of like, ‘wherever you go, there you are’.

Alison Jones: Yes. But actually it was a really useful route because what it did was bring, so I had the publishing experience, I had the MBA and the board level experience, kind of the business stuff, and training as a coach brought in I think that third dimension and in Venn diagram is my zone of genius and it’s where I work now. And I think it was a really great unplanned route

Grace Marshall: Love it. So when did you decide that this might become a book, Exploratory Writing?

Alison Jones: That’s a great question because I published This Book Means Business, which was a really tactical, practical book about writing a book to build your business, back in 2018. And I thought, well, I think that’s probably my book for this business. Said it all, you know, there we are, job done.

And I wish I could remember the first kind of dawning of the recognition that there was a book around exploratory writing. It was, as I say, the combination of those things. And then I produced a course called WriteBrained, which was really about helping people discover this incredibly simple, lightweight, but powerful tool that, you know, as soon you introduce it to people, it was day one of the Business Book Proposal Challenge. It still is day one of the 10 Day Business Book Proposal Challenge. And the number of people who said, oh my goodness, this is transformational. You know, if I take nothing else away from this course, this thing is genius. And so I sort of knew that it worked, and I also knew that bizarrely, most people didn’t seem to know about it.

And so I thought, that’s worth developing. And so I developed a course called WriteBrained which was a sort of a 28-day introduction to exploratory writing.

And it was at that point, I think I went, Ooh, there’s a book here, and it was called WriteBrained for the longest time, W R I T E, WriteBrained. And I never quite felt comfortable with it because I think that whole kind of left / right brain thing is a little bit discredited, a little bit passé, and I thought what I need to do is do what I always tell my authors to do, which is find the phrase that you can own, that describes what it is you’re doing and that other people can pick up and run with as well.

And I created a sort of two-by-two matrix along the axes of how clear you are about what you’re writing about and how internal the process is, whether you’re sharing with other people or keeping it to yourself, and down in that bottom left quadrant where it’s all about you and you haven’t got a clue what it is you’re talking about is exploratory writing.

Grace Marshall: Love it. Yes, and you know, what I love about the book as well is there are so many different applications. There’s a brilliant bit right at the beginning where you went, If all you do is take away this idea and just go off and write and don’t read the rest of the book, that’s fine. But carry on reading because…

Alison Jones: Do, I say yes, do because there’s some good stuff coming up. Yes, and I mean the marketing manager found that very hard because she was like, well, who’s it for? I was like, well, it’s kind of for everybody. And I hate that because I always tell everybody, you can’t write for everybody. But there we are.

Grace Marshall: We had that conversation.

Alison Jones: I know. Well, and you know, it’s very similar because Struggle is for everyone and Exploratory Writing is for everyone. And what you have to do in your marketing is find the use cases. So for example, I’ve just written a piece for a sort of CEO magazine about how you can use exploratory writing in meetings to support inclusivity because if you allow everybody the space to just write their reactions and thoughts and ideas for a few minutes at the beginning, you avoid group think. You allow people to write in their own language if English isn’t their first language, to write visually, if that’s their thing, to organize their ideas if they are reflectors and introverts or neuro atypical.

And also, you kind of just avoid that thing where you start speaking and immediately the most confident, usually most senior, often male…

Grace Marshall: … extrovert.

Alison Jones: Yes, most confident native language speaker in the room holds the floor and anchors the discussion to their ideas. So there’s lots of different applications for it, and you’ve got to be quite smart with your talks and your workshops and your marketing as to how you actually show people how they can use it in that specific use case.

But then remind them that this is for, frankly, anything.

Grace Marshall: Mm, yes, I love that. So, it’s that kind of soul searching, grappling stuff, but then it’s also some really practical things like, like you say…

Alison Jones: Super-practical.

Grace Marshall: …at the beginning of a meeting. I can imagine there’s a lot of uses for innovation and I just want to ask you about, and this is purely selfish and personal for me because the area I’m really interested in at the moment is this area of, I guess psychological safety around uncertainty, around mistake making, around life’s shittier moments as I call them.

But it just feels like, and I’d love to know if you found the same, it feels we’re going through the season at the moment where everybody is in uncharted territory. Everyone’s in a place where we go, it wasn’t like this before, and maybe we don’t know what we’re doing, or we feel like we’re overstretched. That whole imposter syndrome thing.

So it just feels like the perfect storm at the moment. So when I was reading what you wrote about just the, even the essence of exploration, the fact that like, we don’t know, you know, how do we get comfortable with that? So, what do you see in terms of exploratory writing and its role that it can play in this season of life and work that we’re in at the moment?

Alison Jones: I think that’s such a great question. And, I guess there’s lots of different ways of answering that, but what I’m going to sort of land on, I think, is about having a judgment free space. Because one of the things that I think a lot of people are aware of today as well, is the risk of saying the wrong thing, of offending someone, of being pointed at as having said the wrong thing on the fly.

And so that makes it really hard to grapple publicly with stuff when you don’t quite know what it is you think about it because you’re on the record quite quickly and it’s very easy to get things wrong. Just having a safe space where you can not worry about how it’s going to land with people, but just explore what: is it that I’m feeling here?

Name the sensation, the emotion, the difficulty, the frustration. Because once you have named it and brought it out and understood it and dug into it and going I think this is because…, you know, whatever that is. Then you can do the kind of processing piece where you go, right, I think I understand that a little bit better now, and I’m ready to start communicating that in a way that is appropriate for the people to access.

But it takes away, I think if you’re trying to do the two things at the same time, the communicating piece and the processing piece. That’s really hard.

It’s like trying to write and edit at the same time, really hard, and you end up constraining yourself and thinking smaller than you should and second guessing yourself all the time.

So just having that sense of a lab bench or a play park, I use lots of different metaphors in the book about what that page can be for you. A rehearsal space, you know. Just, it’s like when you’re, oh, it’s that Hemingway thing isn’t it? Write drunk, edit sober. Most of us don’t have, you know, we are writing straight on screen most of the time, we’re writing it in an email or a memo or something that’s designed for other people to consume.

Having a scruffy piece of paper gives your brain the signal that this is off grid, it’s offline. Nobody’s going to see this, this is just for me. And it’s not perfect and it’s messy. And that’s okay. And that’s really important.

Grace Marshall: Yes, and it just strikes me as well that in our world, especially in the work that I do around productivity, often we are kind of, we have this culture where speed is king, so it’s like almost you identify the problem and you want to find the solution straight away. It’s like, what I’m going to do, what are we going to do?

And sometimes the things that we can reach for straight away are maybe the familiar things, rather than the innovation or the new thinking. So it’s almost like you’re creating extra space, an expansiveness to that of going, Do you know what, we don’t have to land straight away. We can go mid air for a bit, we can hover for a bit, we can linger and then see what we notice, and then decide where we’re going to land. And maybe we’ll land somewhere different.

But of course, the beauty of this is that that can happen in six minutes. So even the most time poor people can probably make six minutes. Right?

Alison Jones: And I think that is such a good, yes, thank you for drawing attention to that. It’s such a key point is that you don’t have to lock yourself away in a room for a writing day, to come out with this stuff. There is real energy. It’s a sprint, not a marathon. You know, there’s a real energy and I literally set a timer for six minutes and just write.

We do this every week in the virtual campfire, at the Extraordinary Business Book Club. It creates a couple of things. One is it gives you that sense that this is not going to be perfect. How could it be? I’ve only got six minutes. So that takes all the pressure off. And the other thing is it gives you speed because you haven’t got time to hang around and double think and check a reference. You just write. And that act of writing is what draws the ideas out. And I guess the third thing is that it gives you focus, and yes, it’s only six minutes of focus, but if you think about how fragmented your day is and how many different directions you are being pulled in at any one time usually, it’s really hard for most of us to find the time for the deep work.

But when the timer is going to go off in just a few minutes time, you can completely focus on this task in hand because it’s not for very long, you know?

Grace Marshall: Yes.

Alison Jones: That, I think we are losing the knack of focus and it’s a really great kind of micro focus to bring into your day. It’s astonishing the power of that.

Grace Marshall: Yes, yes, absolutely.

Alison Jones: The reason it’s six minutes, by the way, you haven’t asked me, so I’m going to tell you because I used to say five minutes. And then… well only because it’s a kind of round number and it’s what you expect to hear, isn’t it? And then I read Gillie Bolton. Gillie Bolton wrote the foreword for Exploratory Writing. She’s amazing. She wrote Reflective Practice and she has been doing this with professionals for years and her optimum time was six minutes. And when I tried that, I realized why, it’s because it takes two or three minutes to really get the good stuff. And if you’re only writing for five minutes, that means you’ve only got two or three minutes of good stuff.

If you’re write for six minutes, you’ve got this whole extra minute of the really good stuff for very little kind of extra overhead. So it’s very smart, but then more than six minutes and it just becomes difficult to sustain that kind of energy when you’re writing.

Grace Marshall: Yes. And I found, because I’ve joined you on some of those campfire writing sprints, and it’s funny how often you get to five minutes and that last minute is where you get to the gold. So all of a sudden, oh, there’s something interesting here

Alison Jones: Yes, and you can feel it, can’t you? It’s a real visceral sort of shift. It’s really interesting to watch.

Grace Marshall: Yes, absolutely. So tell me a little bit about the writing process for you. So was it different writing the second book compared to the first book? What were the highlights? What were the shitty moments? I want to know it all.

Alison Jones: Yes, there were a lot of them. It was really different. The first book, as I say, felt more practical, more tactical, more above the waterline. This is, you know, how you can do it. Here’s some tips from my background as a publisher and from the guests on the podcast. And, it was a curated set of, I mean, it’s really useful, don’t get me wrong. It’s still a really good book, I’m very proud of it. But it didn’t feel, I didn’t make myself very vulnerable. I certainly didn’t tell the story about how I woke up at three in the morning in a panic, you know. That that was a big decision to include that, first in my TEDx talk and then to bring it in here. There’s much more of me, I think, in this, and I wrestled with it so much more than the other one. The other one is sort of short, bite size, sort of tips on a whole range of, and the structure kind of wrote itself.

This one, oh my goodness, I grappled with the structure and it’s so embarrassing because, you know, I can do this for other people. I can say to them, there you go, there’s your table of contents. Couldn’t do it for myself. And in the end I got so frustrated with myself and so stuck, that I sent it, I sent the kind of, you know, I can’t even call it a beta draft. It wasn’t even quite there yet, but I was like, Look, this is what I’ve got and I can’t work out how to put it together.

And I sent it to one of our development editors, who works Inspiration and she, bless her, was wonderful. She was like lots of good stuff, terrible organization, here’s what I suggest.

Grace Marshall: So good when you have someone who can just tell it to you how it is.

Alison Jones: And you need that distance. It’s impossible to sort of do this work for yourself. Well, I certainly found it was. But funnily enough she suggested a route, in fact, she suggested two routes, neither of which I took, but seeing those made me see what I could do and I did it and it worked really, really well. So I used those little metaphors, the little diagrams of the page and what it can be as the kind of organizing principle for the book.

And why I hadn’t thought of that before, I don’t really know. But there we are. So yes, no, I really grappled.

Grace Marshall: Are all always obvious by hindsight, aren’t they?

Alison Jones: You know, it’s the funniest thing. Everybody says this, you know, you write the book and afterwards you can’t imagine how it could have been any other way. And people go, oh, I love the way you’ve organized it, and you forget that during the process of the writing, you just had no idea how this was going to fit together. And it was a complete mess.

And yes, so it’s a good reminder to anybody who’s kind of in that mess that there will come the day and the book is out there and people go, oh, I love the way you structured it. And you will smile and you will nod.

Grace Marshall: That reminds me a little bit about the of the sort of memory loss or change that you have after childbirth.

Alison Jones: Yes, because otherwise none of us would ever do it again.

Grace Marshall: Exactly.

Alison Jones: Yes, a marathon’s same, yes.

Grace Marshall: But is that similar, do you think to sort of other authors’ journeys, that the first book is the obvious book and then maybe the second, for me, it was the third book that I started doing the real wrestling, the wrangling and the, I don’t actually know what this book is going to be, but I feel like I want to be, I want to see where it goes. That almost the exploratory writing of the Exploratory Writing.

Alison Jones: Yes, that’s so interesting and I’ve often thought that, Grace, because you obviously wrote How To Be Really Productive, which was your, this is what I do, here’s the tactics, here’s the productivity tips, and it’s a great book, and it’s not the personal kind of wrenching experience put into it.

Whereas Struggle very much is, so yes, I don’t know if every author has it, but certainly out of the sample that we have here, a hundred percent of us have experienced that.

Grace Marshall: Ha. It’s good to know we’re in good company

Alison Jones: I think that what it takes to do as your second or third book in your case is good because you kind of know you can do it, so at least you haven’t got… at least you have that kind of foundation of knowing I can do this. I have done this before. I can write a book. So you’re not grappling with all the imposter syndrome and the overwhelm around that in the same way.

So it frees you up perhaps to focus more on unearthing what on earth is you want to say.

Grace Marshall: And I think it allows you to be a little bit braver as well.

Alison Jones: Yes.

Grace Marshall: And I remember, because I, in fact it might have been on the podcast interview when you interviewed me right at the beginning. I think you used to ask a question, didn’t you, of what would your advice be for a first time author?

And I think mine was just write the first book. Tell yourself you’re just writing the first book. You don’t have to put everything in it. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Doesn’t have to be like your, what’s the word? Opus Magnum. Magnum Opus. Whatever.

Yes, it doesn’t have to be that, it just has to be the beginning, the first book.

So I think, yes, once you have a book or two under your belt, maybe that’s when we allow ourselves to be a bit braver and step out and I’m willing to, you know, delve into this and I want to hone my craft. I want to see where this thing goes, rather than having the end in sight.

Alison Jones: I think that’s a really, really profound insight, actually. I hadn’t thought of it like that before, but you’re dead, right. Yes.

Grace Marshall: Mm. Cool. Now, I didn’t actually check with you how long we’re allowed to talk for.

Alison Jones: It’s about now. Really?

Grace Marshall: Excellent. Good timing.

Alison Jones: I mean, we could on all day frankly, but we probably shouldn’t.

Grace Marshall: Absolutely. And we are going to talk more at your book launch party.

Alison Jones: Yay.

Grace Marshall: We may record something for the podcast then, or we might just put it all on TikTok

Alison Jones: Yes, because we are queens of TikTok now.

Grace Marshall: We are indeed. Okay. Let me land this then. I’d love to know what are your hopes for this book and the work you’re doing on it. What would you hope this baby will achieve when it goes out into the world.

Alison Jones: Yes, it’s a great question.

And whenever I ask authors this, what I’m really asking is, how does this fit with your business? You know, what’s your strategy? And then they say something like, Oh, I just really wanted to help people. And I go, well, yes, that’s very nice, but you know, and there I am.

Honestly, I’m doing my first talk at a school this week and I’m so excited because I think that if I can teach just a few of the kids who are in that audience, not listening to me, if just a few of them pick up the idea that there is this thing called exploratory writing and it takes all the pressure off them and nobody’s marking their work and it just is for them, they can take that with them into the workplace, into their relationships, I mean that that’s, I honestly believe that is life changing. So there is a real, I’ve always been passionate about the value of reading and writing for people, particularly at work, but not just at work. So I really want people to discover that, because I think it’s such a benevolent technology.

It’s so simple, it’s so easy to access, it’s so inclusive, it’s so easy, you know? So let’s see more of it, because I think people will have better mental health, they’ll have better relationships, they’ll be more productive, they’ll be more creative. You know, all of that good stuff and I want to own that space.

I want to be that person who talks about exploratory writing, who really continues to explore the use cases and work with people to understand what it looks like when you apply it in the organization. I want to be doing workshops and talks, and maybe even a PhD at one point. Yes, I said it. But all that stuff. It’s just, yes, I don’t, this feels to me like something that has so much mileage in it, in work and in life. And I want to make the most of it personally and professionally.

Grace Marshall: Yes.

Alison Jones: There you go.

Grace Marshall: Love it. It’s funny actually, you said about working in school, because I went back to my old university last week, 20 years since I’ve been there. And I was being interviewed on my book by one of my old professors, who’s now the Dean of the School of Management, and we got talking about how the University of Bath, they attract a lot of straight A students, top of the class and there feels like this huge pressure to always have to get it right, to always get the good grades. And so what does it look like to explore failure and mistake making and deviations and surprises in a healthy way, in a time where there is such a pressure, I’m paying so much for this course, I better get it right.

You know, that actually this could be a really useful tool. And like you said, a really accessible tool.

Alison Jones: And I think people look down on it because it’s low tech, honestly. But I think that’s its great thing. And it takes you offline, you know, that in itself is just a joy in the middle of your workday, isn’t it?

Grace Marshall: Yes, definitely worth experimenting with.

Oh, brilliant. Well, like you said, we could carry on just chatting forever, but I think let’s wrap it up there.

Alison Jones: Thank you so much Grace, and it was so weird and so wonderful to be on the other side of the mic. Thank you so much for the interview.

Grace Marshall: Delighted.

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