A recent post by Johanna Stirling on the new MaWSIG blog (A fresh start?
) got me thinking about the importance of taking a step back
occasionally when you’re writing ELT materials.
As a freelancer writer, you only get paid for what you
produce, your output; for the material you write or edit or whatever.
Especially when your schedule gets busy, that can easily turn into a production
line of 'churning out' material with little time to stop and think, for gathering
input and reflecting on it. Most fee-based writing projects don’t allow any
time for general background research (at least not on the part of the writer)
or thinking time – you’re lucky if the fee covers the hours you put in actually
committing stuff to the page.
Of course, you try to go to conferences and events to keep
up with the latest trends and ideas – if you can speak on behalf of a publisher,
you can sometimes get part of your expenses paid and after all, it’s good for
networking too. I do bits of teaching and teacher training to keep in touch with classroom practice. And nowadays it’s easier to keep up with what’s being written too –
clicking through from social media links to conveniently short blog posts and
That’s all great for keeping up-to-date and building up your
general knowledge of your area, but how often do you get the chance to really
focus in on what’s directly relevant to a particular project?
I read Johanna’s post right after a day at my desk writing
the first sample unit for a new project. The project had been in the pipeline
for a while and I’d been generally mulling over the syllabus and format and
audience, etc., probably soaking up relevant ‘input’ from various sources along
the way. But when it came down to writing that all-important first page of
text, I found myself doing it on a day when I was feeling a bit tired and below
par, with lots of other work commitments to juggle, emails about different
things popping into my inbox, a rather fiddly template to battle with … you get the idea. And as a result, I realize
that what I put down on the page was no more than a rather uninspired rehash of
stuff I’d done before … really not a great start :(
Johanna's post made me realize that what I needed was to gather my thoughts, to
get some input, to reflect on it and only then get down to actually writing.
As luck would have it, on Thursday of last week I was presenting the
opening session for an online EAP event
. As I was on first, I could easily have
‘done my turn’, then switched off and got on with some other ‘paid work’.
Instead though, I tuned into almost all the presentations that followed over
the next couple of days. Not all of what the various presenters had to say was relevant to me (either to this
project or to my work generally), but they were
fascinating, they generated
lots of food for thought and just got my brain whirring in a more
Also serendipitously, I’d recently been asked to review a draft of a
methodology book, which is directly relevant to my current project. Rather stupidly,
I hadn’t linked up the two before, but it turns out that reading through the
material to review was great for getting my creative/intellectual juices flowing
Now, a week on from that rubbish first draft, I think I’m
more ready to go back and start again. 'Thinking before you write' may seem like
common sense, but in the freelance world of financial and time pressures, it
can be all too easy to get focused on the output and forget the importance of
targeted input. Now I’ve just got to get this stuff written by next week’s deadline
Labels: #eapcultures15, MaWSIG, writing