Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

As a member of the Materials Writing Special Interest Group, my IATEFL conference now normally begins with their Pre-Conference Event, the theme of which this year was ‘Nuts and Bolts: Practical Considerations for the ELT materials professional’. It was a particularly good start this year because it was also my birthday 🙂 This Storify draws together all of the tweets from the PCE.

MaWSIG logo

There are also a selection of tweets at the end of the post from throughout the conference, all connected in some way or another to materials writing.

The benefits of coaching (Daniel Barber)

Daniel recommended getting a coach to help you think through areas you want to change in your life. He set seven goals for areas that he wanted to change, then worked with his coach to help him make sure that he was committed to making these changes. One such change was to reduce the amount of procrastination he did and to help him avoid distraction when he was supposed to be focussed on his writing work. His coach makes him feel more accountable, promotes curiosity and pushes him to think more, particularly through the question ‘What else?’ She’s never satisfied with the first answer he gives, and this question pushes him to be more creative in his thinking. Daniel also used a coaching journal to reflect on what worked and what didn’t when trying to achieve his seven goals. One of the main things he learnt was that in order to achieve what you want to, your main block is normally inside your own head, reflecting Timothy Gallwey’s Inner Game Theory:

The inner game takes place within the mind of the player and is played against such obstacles as fear, self-doubt, lapses in focus, and limiting concepts or assumptions.

The opponent within one’s head is more formidable than the one over the net.

As well as pushing him, Daniel’s coach also provides balance, reminding him not to put so much pressure on himself, and helping him to celebrate his success. As I often say, we’re all human, and we should remember that!

In response, Jill Hadfield had some other good ideas to help you stay focussed when working, taken from some training she had participated in:

  • Find out about your ‘barrier self’. This includes analysing which distractions you use just to avoid work, and which you actually enjoy. You can then work for 45 minutes, then reward yourself by doing something you enjoy. (This is a variation on the Pomidoro technique which Daniel mentioned in his talk)
  • Work on the next thing: Rather than writing a long and potentially overwhelming list, just write down the next thing you need to achieve. Once you finish that, write the next thing again, etc.
  • ‘Park your car facing downhill’: if you stop  working, leave yourself clear instructions for what to do next, so that it’s not as hard to start working again.
  • ‘Bring in the nearest jumbo first’: finish the thing with the closest deadline before you work on anything else. This will reduce the stress you put yourself under.

Optimizing the author-editor relationship (Penny Hands)

Penny has worked as both an author and an editor. She was prompted to find out more about how to improve the relationship between the two by an author who told her that the first time they’d received feedback, they cried. I know that I’ve sometimes found it difficult to respond to feedback without either crying or raging first, especially when I’ve put a lot of work into something which turns out to not be ‘right’ in some way. As Penny said, crying may sometimes be an inevitable part of the feedback process when you care so much about something. According to a survey she did, positive words related to working with an editor included helpful, supportive, communication and collaboration, and negative ones were things like frustrating, struggle and even nightmare!

Here are some of the tips which Penny and audience members shared:

  • Mutual respect is important. You’re working together for a reason, because the project managers believe you’re the best people to do the job.
  • The most positive relationships with editors were when it felt developmental: the editor teaches the author how to improve.
  • A Skype call between an author and editor at the start of a project can really help the relationship, as it helps you to realise that you’re both working together.
  • Feedback should be friendly and personal, but not involve over-sharing. Sometimes Skype can help here too. One member of the audience mentioned an editor who questioned their teaching experience, and another talked about inappropriate comments about the writer’s age and interests – these are definitely not the way to go!
  • Authors don’t want editors who are tentative, and they’re also frustrated by those who correct work which is already correct.
  • Good editors provide constructive feedback, rein in the author’s flights of fancy, offer positive comments and suggestions, and even a little praise now and again. Don’t just focus on the holes in the project. Examples of positive comments include: I can imagine this working with…,  I’ll try this with my kids, or a general comment about the manuscript as a whole. Authors should also remember that if there’s no comment on something, that means it should be fine! As an editor in the audience mentioned, sometimes they don’t put positive comments/praise as it’s more to read, and there might not be a specific area to comment on.
  • There’s a lot less mentoring in the publishing industry than there used to be, so the Society for Editors and Proofreaders can be a really useful organisation to join. They provide courses, mentoring and support.
  • Audience members described positive experiences where the editor and author had in jokes, sent each other pictures, and gave each other presents 🙂
  • It’s worth giving editors feedback on their feedback: otherwise it can be hard for them to improve it.
  • Advice from authors to editors: be prompt, clear, think of it as cooperative, constructive. respect, listen and be willing to discuss feedback.
  • To deal with negative feedback, wait 24 hours to respond. Get somebody else to read the comments before you respond to them (like a friend or family member) as they have more distance.
  • Julie Moore suggested setting out (maybe in an imaginary email) what you consider to be fair, a matter of opinion (perhaps because you interpreted the brief differently), and totally unjustified.
  • If you are having a problem with editors, publishers would like you to raise issues as soon as possible, preferably directly with the editor rather than going above their head. (For me, this is true of all problems – the sooner you start to deal with, the sooner they’ll go away!)

One of the best things I’ve got out of being a member of MaWSIG is meeting editors, and hearing about the experiences of authors and editors. It’s made me realise that editors are people too (!) and that we should all be pulling in the same direction. It also helped me to get in touch with the editor for my own ebook, Richer Speaking.

To find out more about what it’s really like being an editor, you can take a look at the Catch the Sun blog. I’d also add the LibroEditing one.

In conclusion:

What makes the relationship successful is both sides being comfortable to challenge each other, while both are ultimately prepared to give way.

I think that’s probably a lesson for life too, not just author-editor relationships!

A short introduction to negotiating contracts (Chris Lonsdale)

These are very general tips which I found useful, sometimes from Chris and sometimes from the audience.

  • Negotiation isn’t an ‘extra’ – it’s key to running a business in an industry where costs need to be minimised. Sometimes companies will offer you less than the maximum they’re willing to pay because you might just accept it (I don’t know why this had never occurred to me before!)
  • Remember that you’re always negotiating, not just when you’re in the middle of a negotiation. It’s all about building a relationship with the person you’re negotiating with.
  • As freelance writers, we have every right to negotiate: we’re businesspeople. Sometimes this is difficult for those who were originally teachers to remember.
  • Negotiation doesn’t just have to be about money. It can also be about clauses in a contract, deadlines etc.
  • Don’t feel pressured. Ask for time to consider your response.
  • A lot of audience members recommended joining the Society of Authors. They have really helped a number of people with negotiations.

Creativity, collaboration and coursebooks (Julie Norton and Heather Buchanan)

Julie and Heather did research with publishers, asking how authors fit the bigger picture in publishing, what makes a good editor, and what publishers are looking for from authors, prompted by a quote from Santos (2013:93) “Publishers’ views are rare in the literature”. Everyone involved in the process needs to be more aware of what’s going on. They also quoted Barfield: “Collaboration creates something more than you can achieve alone.” But managing collaboration on a project can be extremely complex, and the editor is a lynchpin. One project they heard about in their research involved over 450 individuals! Interpersonal skills are a key part of collaboration: communicating, negotiating, trust, and thanking. Authors (each person?) can collaborate on many different aspects of a publishing project, for example, but not only:

  • Concept of product
  • Visiting markets/teachers
  • Selection of artwork
  • Choosing the title/cover
  • Involvement in the piloting process
  • Audio recordings
  • Proofing stages
  • Marketing and promotion

I had no idea that authors could be involved in so many different areas – it might be something to consider when negotiating contracts in the future.

What does creativity need? For Maley and Bolitho it’s time, unpunished risk-taking and more. For Wallas (1926) the four stages of creativity are preparation, incubation, illumination and verification. Jill Hadfield (2013) says there are two kinds of thinking: chaotic and ordered, and they interact in the ‘chaosmos’ (a great word!) Some of the problems with being truly creative in materials though are the fact that you have to meet the brief and the issue of market expectations. In their research, Julie and Heather discovered that more experienced writers are more ready to abandon an idea and start from scratch if it looks like it won’t work, whereas less experienced writers will try for much longer to get something to work before they choose to abandon it. Editors want authors to have ‘spark’, but this can be difficult to pin down, and hard to show if you are writing to a tight brief.

Creativity can also be about ways of working, for example in the creative ways that experts can make ideas simple and accessible. One of Jill Hadfield’s ideas for this is 5-3-1: force yourself to come up with five possible ways to do something/five possible ideas, choose three to develop further, then choose the one you’ll use – this gets your creative juices flowing more than just going with the first idea. Another creativity framework from Jill is to write two lists of ideas, e.g. topics and activity types, then choose two that aren’t normally connected. This is based on Kerslake’s idea that creativity comes from the collision of two usually unrelated frames of reference. That’s how the fairytale dominoes activity in Intermediate Communication Games [affiliate link] was born – one of my favourite activities! Dorothy Zemach talked about a fiction writers’ facebook group where everybody writes as much as they can in a given period of time (‘sprints’), for example an hour, then reports back on it. Because you’re working at the same time as the rest of the group, there’s some accountability, but it also forces you to be creative because you don’t want to be the one person who hasn’t written anything! Phil Bird said that he finds it easier to be creative when bouncing ideas off another person in the same room than via Skype or email. All of these ideas came up during the discussion that formed the last part of the presentation – I often think this is the best part of any presentation, and know that I should factor in more time for this in my own sessions!

Tweets from other sessions

An alternative definition of PARSNIPs (normally the areas which rarely appear in coursebooks, i.e. politics, alcohol, religion, sex, narcotics, -isms, pork) and one I prefer:

On principles for materials writing:

Tips for new authors:

The next few tweets are from Dorothy Zemach‘s session on self-publishing ELT materials:

(The ELTFreelancers website)

On accessibility, and gaps in the market:

(and this is one of the reasons I wrote my Rethinking the Visual series – making it up as I went along!)

Special guest host Scott Thornbury talks to Angelos Bollas about representation of LGBT people in teaching materials, and the impact that can have on LGBT learners.

(for more information about Field’s views on listening materials, take a look at my listening and pronunciation post from this year’s IATEFL)

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Comments on: "IATEFL Glasgow 2017: Materials writing" (2)

  1. […] appearing on our site in May, but for those of you who weren’t able to attend the April 2017 PCE, this post by MaWSIG member Sandy Millin is a brilliant recap of the day’s […]

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