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The Published Author Podcast - Episode 0005

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400 AUTHORS SURVEYED ON WRITING PROCESS, MOTIVATION

American author of Get The Word Out: Write A Book That Makes A Difference, and Subscription Marketing, Anne Janzer says her experience writing her first book gave her the framework for her second book. 

She knew what writing meant to her, and what her process was, but wondered if it was the same across the board. Anne set out a survey and had more than 400 people answer in kind.

Her findings dealt with outlines, research, and motivations for writing. Whether it came to authors feeling guilty about deviating from their original outlines, not completing their research before they began writing, or motivations that didn’t line up with their chosen topics, she was pleasantly surprised by the responses. 

TOP TAKEAWAY – THINGS CHANGE, AND THAT’S OKAY

Anne explains how her own survey opened her eyes, and the eyes of a lot of participants, in the importance of being open and accepting of change during their writing process. 

Anne says: “We outgrow our outlines as we write and we need to understand it’s more important to serve the reader with a better book, than to cling to an outline that isn’t quite working anymore.” 

Many authors feel that they are tethered to their outlines or drafts, but this isn’t always the case, and writers need to be free to step outside of their original constructs and allow their book to evolve through the process.

This breathing room, and evolution, isn’t just referring to the outline process, but also every process and aspect of writing a book, right up until the published product is available. Your research, motivations, and even purpose for writing the book might change, and she wants authors to know that it is perfectly acceptable. 

THE ABILITY TO INFLUENCE PEOPLE

Anne says she wasn’t always the author that she has become today. 

Anne began her writing career as many authors do, writing freelance articles and blogs for tech companies. She had become quite accustomed to writing with the voice of various brands and entities and really didn’t think she’d ever have a shot at chasing her own dreams and writing a book of her own. 

However, six years ago she changed her mind, made a sharp turn in her career path, and began working on Subscription Marketing

Realizing that her thoughts and ideas could have a huge impact on other people, she dove headfirst into her first book but hit many hurdles along the way. Starting with 1,000 words a day and realizing she had the makings of a book, Anne quickly got to work, stepping out of that brand voice that she was used to writing in, and slowly finding her own.

In this episode you’ll hear Anne and host Josh Steimle discuss her findings, and what an author’s main intent should be when writing a book.

She uses this data, and much more of her own research, to give us the incredible book Get The Word Out: Write A Book That Makes A Difference, and explains that regardless of your intent, your research style, your outlines, or even your voice, an author’s main focus should be their purpose during each phase along the way. Having that purpose makes all the difference.

If you appreciated this episode, listen to
How To Use Your Book to Sell Products, Services For Greater ROI
She Wrote And Published Her Book In Two Weeks. Here's How

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ABOUT THE HOST

The Published Author Podcast is hosted by Josh Steimle, founder of Published Author. Josh is a book author himself and his article writing has been featured in over two dozen publications including Time, Forbes, Fortune, Mashable, and TechCrunch. He's a TEDx speaker, the founder of the global marketing agency MWI, a skater, father, and husband, and lives on a horse farm in Boston. Learn more at JoshSteimle.com.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Josh Steimle:

Today, our guest is Anne Janzer. She's an award winning author, nonfiction writing coach, and unabashed writing geek on a mission to help people make a positive impact in their writing. Her writing related books explore the science and practice of effective writing. They include The Writer's Process, The Workplace Writer's Process, and Writing to Be Understood. Before she started writing books and worked as a freelance marketing writer working with more than 100 technology businesses to articulate positioning and messaging in crowded markets. This work led to her first book Subscription Marketing, which is now in its Third Edition, and has been translated into multiple languages. Anne, welcome to the show.

Anne Janzer:

Hey, Josh, thanks for having me.

Josh Steimle:

Thank you for being here. Now, before we jump, normally I ask people about their background and where they grew up, and all that backstory. But you have an interesting bit of news here and that you conducted a survey recently. And I wanted to just jump into that straight off and talk a little bit about the results that you got back from the survey, because it's really interesting. And I think our listeners will love to hear some of the data that you collected. Can you give us an introduction to what the survey was and how it was administered? And then we can start talking about some of the results that you found interesting.

Anne Janzer:

Sure. Yeah. So I did this survey as research for an upcoming book or book that will be out when this airs called Get the Word Out. So it's about writing a nonfiction book. And I started out, Josh, thinking, I would just interview hundreds of authors. And I realized, that I spent so much time prepping for and then going through the interview, it's like, oh, five hours each time, hundreds of authors is going to be a really big effort. So while I kept interviewing a bunch of people, I thought I needed a more scalable way to get insight from people. So a survey seemed like the right thing to do. It was really fun.

I did the survey on Google. Google Forms. So it's pretty easy to put together, technically. But, you know, there's a lot of work that goes into writing and constructing a thoughtful survey, and then dealing with the data afterwards. What I was trying to get at was two things. What were people's motivations for writing a book and did the reality meet their expectations? So that was one set of things. And then I also wanted to just get a better understanding of a lot of the things about the process. Where did they get stuck? How were they choosing to publish? Tell me about their research they're outlining. And one of the smartest things I did was leave, have a couple open ended questions in there, like, what would you do differently? And what was your biggest surprise? And people, the authors who responded, which is more than 400 people responded to this.

Josh Steimle:

Wow, that's great.

Josh Steimle:

Which is wonderful. And they were tremendously generous with their insights and their advice. So it's just been a mother lode of information and inspiration and all kinds of things in this survey. It's, I'm really delighted that I did it.

Josh Steimle:

So what's one of the key findings that has come out of this that you've thought, wow, that's interesting?

Anne Janzer:

So several things that really caught my attention. One of them was, I just got to pick on this really early, because it's a fascinating thing has to do with outlines, right? So, you know, we think about the process of writing a book. It's like, okay, well, I'm going to come up with an idea. I'm going to research. I'm going to outline. Maybe I'll write a book proposal, put that outline in it. And then I'll write the draft, right. We think this is very linear process.

So the question I asked people was, for how many of you, how closely did your outline match the finished draft? And it was a very small percentage. I think it was 6% had the exact same outline that they started with. Most people make minor changes, and a quarter of the people like me, I think it was a quarter or third, make major changes to their outline in the process of writing. And this is such an important fact, because I think people get wedded to that outline, especially if they've stuck it on a book proposal and feel like that's what they sold their book based on.

Josh Steimle:

Yeah. Then they feel like they're doing something wrong if they do deviate from it.

Anne Janzer:

Exactly. And in fact, they are just conforming to most authors, if they deviate from it. I think we outgrow our outlines as we write. We need to understand it's more important to serve the reader with a better book than to cling to an outline that isn't quite working anymore. So that was a really interesting insight.

Josh Steimle:

That is fascinating. That's comforting. That's exactly the type of stuff that I love to pass on to listeners of this because it's hey, it's okay. You can do it your own way.

Anne Janzer:

That's right. That's right. It's actually tremendously validating to find out that other authors are going through just the same stuff that you are because, you know, every book I do, I'm halfway through. And it's like, oh, this outline isn't working; I have to toss it and restructure. And that happens every time. And now know when to expect it, I just wait for it. It's like, oh, I wonder when I'm gonna hit that wall where my outline’s not working. So [00:05:22 Inaudible].

Josh Steimle:

That's great. So what was next? What came next? That was interesting. Now you've whetted our appetite? Give us some more.

Anne Janzer:

Okay. All right. I'll give you some more. Let's talk about research, because research is really for nonfiction authors. You know, we all do different amounts of research for our books. I think I've escalated the bar for research with each new book I've written. And one issue that people run into sometimes is they get so involved in the research, that they don't know when to stop. At certain point, research begins to look a lot like procrastination. Right. So the question--

Josh Steimle:

It's easy to justify it too, though, because you say, but I'm helping the book to be better. And this is important. There's so much good stuff out there.

Anne Janzer:

That's right. And no one's gonna say don't research. You know, I mean, you're, you're doing something. It's you really feel good. You know, you're getting lots done. So I think this was a really important question. I asked people, how many of them finished their research before they started writing? Right? That was the question. I'm gonna see if I can get the exact number here. So just let me see if I can look this up. Because I don't have the data right at my -- and the point is this is that a few people do. Maybe 16%, if I can find it, actually finish their research before they write. And the rest of them either kept researching, or 16% finished. 60% just plan to keep, you know, they were going to continue researching while they started writing. And then a quarter of them fell into this thing where I thought I had finished researching. And then I started writing and realized what I needed to research, right. I mean, it's kind of like the outline. If you're writing and really involved in the work, you then realize what it is you need. You have to adjust your research. You have to adjust your outline. Yeah.

Josh Steimle:

Which was what I found in my own writing, that I don't know what I'm going to write until I start writing it. And I don't know what I need to research until I start researching it, and then writing it. And then, I mean, the build or the book builds upon itself--

Anne Janzer:

Yes.

Josh Steimle:

As I'm going through it. So that makes sense to me.

Anne Janzer:

Yeah. I think if you're writing really to, you know, open ended, if you're really writing to also discover and dig deeper and expand your expertise as you write, then, of course, this is all going to be in flux. And the boundaries between research and writing them become kind of porous. You're going to kind of go back and forth. And I think, usually, the book is better for it. Because it means you're writing and you're discovering as you write and growing as you write. Yeah.

Josh Steimle:

Cool. Do you have more to share with us?

Anne Janzer:

I do. So this last one, I told you that part of the survey was trying to find out about what people's motivations were for writing a book, and then whether or not writing the book met their objectives. So I said I had 435 people responded to this survey, which was great. And of those 200 had written a book that they categorized as business or career advice. So my survey respondents skewed to business writers. And that's partly my audience and partly the people who helped me share the survey. So we had like half, almost half were writing books that were explicitly business and career advice.

So near the end, I asked the authors, I said, or no, at the beginning, I said, so what are your key motivations for writing? Right? Why are you writing this book? Are you writing to advance your business, your business reasons to advance your career? Is it always a personal objective? Are you writing for a sense of purpose that you want to serve others? If you want to be rich and famous? We got to put that in there. Because there's a few people are like, yeah, that's me. I want to be the best seller.

So I had the respondents choose all of those motivations that applied. And then I asked them to pick the primary motivation. What was their most important motivation for writing a book? And what was interesting to me was this, that when asked about all of their motivations, 80% of the people said that having the purpose of serving others with their ideas was important, was one of their motivations. When they had to choose their primary motivation, 40% said purpose was one of their motivations. And in terms of the primary motivations, only about 20% of the people chose a, I'm writing a book, my primary motivation is to advance my business or my career. So we have half the respondents are business authors. Only 20% of the respondents are doing this primarily to advance their careers, right. So that's an interesting, when you looked at the data that popped out at me recently, I thought, oh, okay, that's really interesting when you look at it that way.

Josh Steimle:

Yeah. Twice, twice as many are interested in purpose as they are in advancing business interests.

Anne Janzer:

Yeah.

Josh Steimle:

That is interesting.

Josh Steimle:

What I don't know, and this would be an interesting question. I don't know how I figure it out. Is this a case of survivorship bias, right? So that when I'm looking at the people who have gone through the effort of writing and publishing a book, that the ones who end up at the end are the ones who are driven by a sense of purpose, which is quite, quite possible.

Josh Steimle:

That's interesting, because I do sometimes talk about that with the people that I'm working with the authors, that if you don't have that sense of purpose, it's going to be really hard to finish your book. Because if it's just for your business, or some other reason, you will find excuses to not write that book. I mean, you could be doing 100 other things to push your business forward. And that book is a long term project, and it will get swamped with all the short term objectives. But if you've got that purpose, that's what will keep you going and help you get through to the end. And so we talked a lot about finding your purpose and your why and why are you doing this? And it better be something more than just making money.

Anne Janzer:

Yes. Yeah, that's such a good point. It's how do you keep it front and center? How do you keep it, if you're doing it just to make money, then other client work is always going to jump ahead of it, or other things too, because you know, or if you're someone like me, who puts other people's needs ahead of your own a lot, then that's going to happen. Whereas if you're writing for other people's needs, then you can prioritize it as well.

Josh Steimle:

Well, I'm really looking forward to when we can get all the analysis and all the detail out of this. So this is part of an upcoming book that you're writing. Correct?

Anne Janzer:

It is. So the research went into an upcoming book will be out in November of 2020 called Get the Word Out: Write a Book That Makes a Difference. And really that the gist of it, it's for nonfiction and memoir writers and, you know, clearly business writers, because there's part of my people, as you can tell. It's about how you, if you focus on this sense of purpose at every phase, when you're planning the book, when you're writing the book, and all this stuff that you do beyond the book, right? Because a business book, publication date is not the end of your process. It's just the beginning of a lot, right?

Josh Steimle:

You feel like it's the end. You want it to be the end. Once you finish, you're like, oh, my goodness, please.

Anne Janzer:

Yeah.

Josh Steimle:

Over, but--

Anne Janzer:

Not the end, not the end. So, I mean, if you reframe, so here to, you know, Josh, having a sense of purpose changes how you think about that, because I know that a lot of authors are feeling really slammed by book marketing and book promotions, like, yeah, I don't want to do this. But you know what if you think of marketing, the book after it's published as simply a way of fulfilling the purpose, you are getting it out to the people that you hope to reach. You are completing that purpose. That might change your mindset about how you approach marketing. Even what you do. Even the choices you make and what you do, but also how you feel about it. It's not, doesn't again, seem like “Buy my book. Buy my book.” You know, it could be something much more interesting, that is helping you finish that sense of purpose helping you deliver on that.

Josh Steimle:

Great. Is there anywhere that people can get access to this data before your book comes out? Or do they just have to wait?

Anne Janzer:

Absolutely. No, in fact, they can download a complete comprehensive report about from the survey from my website, as well as a little webinar I did. So it's, if you visit my website annejanzer.com, I'm going to leave that up on the homepage for quite some time, the survey, survey results and webinar so people can see that.

Josh Steimle:

Great. We will link to that in the show notes.

Anne Janzer:

Great.

Josh Steimle:

So let's get back to you a bit, Anne. What's your story? Where did you start? Where do you come from? How did you end up becoming an author and not just an author, but an advisor to other authors?

Anne Janzer:

Yeah. So as you mentioned, I've worked with corporate America for, you know, as a freelance writer for many years, lots of different tech companies. Always writing in the voice of a brand or blogging in the voice of a corporate executive. I was always writing in someone else's voice. And about almost six years ago, I made it just a sharp V in my, sharp turn in my career by writing and publishing my first book, Subscription Marketing. And that book was the beginning of this change for me. It just inspired me to change my career. You know, it had a major impact on my work, but also what I realized I wanted to do.

I mean, for me, the experience of realizing that these ideas that I thought were important and worth sharing, could get out there and really have an impact on people. They responded. They let me know that, you know, this is important to them and their business. That was like, you know, eye opening. For so long, I just been writing for marketing. And to write for a different reason was really wonderful. And so I shifted to writing books about writing, because it's always been a fascination for me and gradually made the shift in my career to writing these books and working with a few nonfiction authors to help them on their writing based on what I've learned in the last five or six years.

Josh Steimle:

So what was your experience like writing your first book? What was the process you went through?

Anne Janzer:

Ah, so my first one, I, first of all, was thinking, can I even do this? Right? Obviously, I'd written my whole life, but the book seems like a hurdle, right? The book seems like something entirely different. And I wasn't sure. So it sounds like maybe you and I are similar in the sense, I really have to be engaged in writing something to know what it is that writing is my way of deep thinking. So I challenged myself at first to say, well, I knew I had this idea. But I wasn't sure how I was going to articulate or make a book out of it.

So I said, I'm just going to free write 1,000 words a day, until I have a chunk of text, and then I'll know whether or not I think that there will be something that I could turn into a book. This is, I'm a big believer advocate in what I call a sort of directed, free writing. So free writing on a very specific topic, which is writing without judgment, writing to not show anybody, just to be fluid and to challenge yourself to keep thinking and keep asking the questions of yourself and making those weird connections in your head.

So I did that for about 10 days. I had 10,000 words. And I'm like, oh, wait, I see my framework is here. I see my structure is here. You know, I had to just kind of start on the process to see that I could write. And once I did that--

Josh Steimle:

So does that mean that you didn't have an outline when you started that first book?

Anne Janzer:

Yeah, well, that wasn't it. That wasn't my draft yet, though. This is what I call my inner research, right? This is my rattling around in the attic of my brain to figure out what's there.

Josh Steimle:

Just collecting notes, just getting thoughts and ideas out.

Anne Janzer:

Yeah.

Josh Steimle:

But not necessarily, or not even trying to organize them at this point.

Anne Janzer:

Definitely not trying to organize. just getting everything out, I could on the top. And then I figured out okay, here's my outline. Here's my framework. Here's the research I want to do. You know, so that got me kind of started was actually to jump in with both feet into this sort of free writing exercise. And then I wrote it very quickly. I felt this huge urgency. So this was the very end of 2014. Because no one written a book about the impact of the subscription economy on the practice of marketing, I thought, oh, this is just so obvious. It's such a big idea and no one's written it. I got to get it out there quickly. Hurry, hurry, hurry. And I wrote the first draft. But even then, I had to take a few running passes at it once I had my outline, because I had spent so long writing and the voice of different brands that I could have written this draft as VMware or as a hip startup or something. But I had to say, well, what's Anne? What's Anne?

Josh Steimle:

Yeah. What’s my voice?

Anne Janzer:

What's my voice? Yeah. So I kept writing and I start writing. I'm like, oh, this sounds like something my clients would love. But it's just corporate. You know, it's not me. So that actually took me a few passes to get around. And I think really, it wasn't until the second edition of the book that I really vanquished that fear of just speaking as myself and going ahead and calling it as I see it in places and things that we just don't do as marketers as much.

Josh Steimle:

I'd like to focus on that a second, because a lot of people struggle with this. Even if they don't have any writing experience, they still struggle to find their own voice because they're thinking it has to sound a certain way. And it might be, it needs to sound like a book I've read or it needs to sound like this person I've seen on a commercial or whatever it is, but people have trouble getting in touch with their inner voice and even knowing it once they do find it. Do you have any tips or tricks based on your experience for first time authors, especially, to help them find and trust their own voice?

Anne Janzer:

Yeah. So that word you just gave trust is a really important part of it. I think, you know, to some extent, we all have different voices that we can use, right? Writing, I'm going to write differently to my mom and my kids than I'm going to write to my congressperson, right. We all do that automatically, right. So one of the problems is when we sit down to write, like you said, there's something in their head saying, I need to sound like this important author or that important author. And to some extent, you find that more natural conversational tone simply by doing a lot of writing where you let go of that judgy voice, you let go of that judgmental aspect. Some people find it through, like dictation, to get to their natural conversational strategies. Clearly, I'm not one of those people. I say all the time, it’s not me. I'm more of a writer than a speaker. But through talking is one way to start to get that. I'm not saying you dictate your draft, because written speech and verbal speech are different things. But you can start to get to that conversational ear by doing that. Another way is to just read aloud what you say.

Another exercise I've given people. And this might be the most useful one is to, instead of saying I'm writing a book, this is what I'm writing, picture one very specific reader, like, my friend, Ginger could really use this book. I'm going to write this as a letter to Ginger, because then you call on what's your more natural way that you would speak to your friend, Ginger. Now you want all of your readers to feel like they're your friend, to some extent. You want them to feel like you're speaking to them, and not just kind of pontificating up here and there running along and catching the gems of wisdom. So that's another way to sort of try to engage more of your natural voice is try as an experiment, writing a letter, picturing that person, and writing something directly to them.

Josh Steimle:

Great, thank you. So with your first book, Subscription Marketing, what was your intent? What was the outcome that you were looking to make happen?

Anne Janzer:

So my intent was this, is that I felt that marketers, and I've been working in the software industry. We're just still too focused on just getting that net new sale when the economy had changed, and certainly a marketing at that point to a subscription basis. And it was more important that we change our tactics and look at the long-term relationship that we're starting with the customer. So my intent was to shake up traditional corporate marketing in software or SaaS companies. The interesting thing about that, Josh, was the book landed with a different group of people than I thought. The book landed initially with customer success professionals who were the people working after this sale in software companies. It landed with entrepreneurs, and a lot of small businesses. They were people who were kind of doing the whole thing themselves. So marketing was kind of like, yeah, yeah, I'll get to you after I generate that next lead, but other people were getting this is important. So that's an interesting thing is that sometimes you share your ideas with the world. And the world answers back in a way that you don't necessarily expect.

Josh Steimle:

So you found success, but in a different place than you were looking for it?

Anne Janzer:

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, which was really interesting. I mean, within a few months, people were inviting me to come talk or participate at Customer Success conferences, which was not really a discipline I knew much about when I first published the book. So that's an interesting, interesting turn of events. That could have been a lack of research on my part, you know, but the second edition, I spoke more to this broader community, people who were responding to the book and traditional.

Josh Steimle:

So speak to that for a moment. It's in its Third Edition right now. Why did you release a second edition? And then why did you release a third edition?

Anne Janzer:

So there are two things that have driven me to release new editions. One is that I learned so much between the first and second edition by going around and talking to people. You know, as you probably know, Josh, writing a book is not necessarily about being an expert. It's about becoming an expert. And some of that happens after the book is out, which was definitely the case with my first book. So I learned a lot. There's a lot I wanted to add. And the other thing is that this whole subscription economy is evolving so quickly over the last five years that.

Five years ago, I had to explain to people that this book wasn't just about selling newspapers and magazines. I mean, people who are in software companies did not get the idea that they were selling a subscription to the software. I mean, just the idea that subscription was a mainstream thing was novel. And so you know, the first chunk of the book, I had to spend explaining, hey, this is a thing and every industry pay attention to it. 2020, I don't have to do that anymore. So I was able to, I want to keep it relevant, because I think the ideas are still very relevant and important. But I've been able to shift a little bit how much I explained about one thing, and I have more timely and powerful examples that I've swapped in and things like that. So I've just tried to keep it updated, because the industry is changing quickly. And it's still, I think, filled with important content.

Josh Steimle:

Great. Let's go to your second book. What was the inspiration then to write again? I've been through this, I mean, writing a book, it's kind of like running a marathon, right? You get to the end, and you say, “Never again. i will never do this again.” And then it doesn't take too long. And you're thinking, yeah, maybe I could do that again. I think I can even do better the second time. So what was your experience, like, deciding yes, I'm going to take this on, aAnd I'm going to write another book again, knowing full well, what you are getting yourself into?

Anne Janzer:

Yeah. I know. I really didn't know, didn't I? You know what? But the thing is, Josh, that I found that I really enjoyed the process of writing the first one. I just thought it was really fun. So that was a hint that maybe this is a good thing to do. And so the second one I just was so, I just thought, well, if I did it for this topic, here's this other topic I'm fascinated with. And it would be fun to just really research and dive deep in it, which was the inner game of writing, which is what's going on in the writer’s head. We all think that we are all, you know, uniquely different how we write. And over the years, I've come up with all my own little things that worked for me writing for clients, so I could be optimally efficient. And I thought, well, this is just weird. It's just me. It's my little weird thing. And it turns out no, it's really we're all, we all share the same struggles. We have a lot in common. It has to do with how creativity works. And it has to do with deadlines, and it has to do with all kinds of things, incubation of ideas. So I just had a really fun time researching and writing that one as well.

And I think when I first published it, The Writer's Process, which was my next book, came out in 2016. And I really didn't, you know, so I made this vital thing. It's the first book I'd written for this audience. And this new book is for an entirely different audience. Of course, it's easier when you write for the same audience than when you change audiences. I'll just say that right now. So this one kind of came out with very little marketing. But it has just continued to grow and grow. I mean, I've learned how to market and support it over times. And the things that worked for the one didn't work for the other. So each of those books has been a real learning experience, but a lot of fun. Very glad I did them.

Josh Steimle:

What were some of the lessons that you took from your very first book Subscription Marketing, and then were able to implement with The Writer’s Process, or The Writing Process?

Anne Janzer:

So they were both self-published, indie published. So I'm an indie author, and I try with each book, I publish, to learn something more, to do something different, to take it one step further. So the things I've learned, you know, it's just important to get out there and talk to people beyond the book. And I had to do it in different ways for The Writer’s Process than for Subscription Marketing. When you write a marketing book, as you have done, Josh, so, you know, the first thing people probably tell you is you got to go talk at marketing conferences. So I started doing that, and I took me a while to go, yeah. You know, this isn't really something I love doing. I mean, I enjoy talking to people, but I am not really a fan of flying around doing marketing conferences, just not my thing.

So for me, the longer term thing has been to figure out how do I sustain these books? How do I continue to promote them in a way that I can sustain and feel good about that's, in fact, regenerative instead of draining. And it's a little bit different for each book. But I've found that I've just had to experiment with trying, talking to people individually doing podcasts. This is a great way. This is a lovely way to continue to support your books because it's fun. You have a conversation like this. It's delightful.

Josh Steimle:

And then for your third book, The Writer’s Process and the Workplace or The Workplace Writer’s Process, what kind of sounds like you had The Writer’s Process, and then you thought, you know, I could write a version of this book for somebody in the workplace was, am I guessing right there, or what was the inspiration for that book?

Anne Janzer:

Pretty much that, but I also added to it. It's, you know, in that, in most of my corporate career, I was a freelance writer. And I had this whole bag of tricks that I knew to succeed with my clients. And I just wanted to compile and share those. And because I've realized, I would go into clients, and sometimes they call me in when a project had just gone off the rails, and it was disaster. And it had to be done. Someone had to, you know, and I come in, and I would look like a hero. And she's a genius. It's like, no, really, I just had a really good process. I go in and ask the right questions. I say, this is what we're going to. Here's our process. Here's what we're going to do. I thought I could share this with people, because a lot of it has to do with, you know, are you getting sign off on the right things from the stakeholders before you start writing? You know, it's almost about the politics of writing in the workplace. And so this book has a smaller audience, but those people who find it who are the people who need it, who are writing in a workplace, just tell me it's been invaluable to them. So that makes me very happy.

Josh Steimle:

That's great. And when did that book come out?

Anne Janzer:

2017. I was doing a book a year for a stretch. I did 2015. So that was 2017. And then 2018 I did Writing to Be Understood. So that was a book a year was a schedule.

Josh Steimle:

That's real work.

Anne Janzer:

Yeah.

Josh Steimle:

And so then your final book Writing to Be Understood, which I love the title of, because I'm a writer. And like you said earlier, you think by writing. I think by writing. That's how I think, is by writing it down. And I was recently reading an article on psychology website, and they're talking about a study that showed that the need to be understood for many people is more important than the need even to be loved. And I thought that's really interesting. Because since I read thatI've thought, you know, that it really is important. We really want to be understood, and we hate to be misunderstood. And so tell us a little bit about Writing to Be Understood and where the inspiration for that came from.

Anne Janzer:

So, yeah. So it's almost the counterpart. So The Writer’s Process is what's going on in the writer’s head. And then it occurred to me that, you know, but your writing isn't done, when you get it out on paper. It's only done when someone has read it. And unless it's had an impact, if they've understood it. So that book is about what's going on in the reader’s head. And this topic is so important to me, because, you know, Josh, we, especially lately, see a lot of people talking across each other, writing across each other. The world is filled with complicated issues that we need to be able to understand. So we need our experts to be able to communicate them in a way that makes sense to us. We, you know, ultimately, writing is a form of human connection, and communication. And that works best when you understand the receiving end of that communication. So that's what that book was about. You can tell I'm passionate about the topic. And I had a lot of fun writing it and talking to people. Yeah.

Josh Steimle:

What were some of the key takeaways there? Because I run a membership group, and I'm training people on how to be authors. And this question came up last week in the group, somebody asked, you know, I feel like people don't really understand what I'm saying, and what should I do about this? And so we had to talk about using simple language and short sentences and things. But I'm sure you having written the book, you've got a bit more to say about it than that.

Anne Janzer:

Yeah. So yeah, I've written whole book about it. So one thing is if you're writing about abstract topics, which a lot of people are, we learn something. We learn the abstractions, and then we want to try to explain those abstractions to other people. And this is academic writing in a nutshell, right? So we have to find the right balance between abstraction and concrete detail. We have to try to engage all the parts of our reader’s brain. If we're just throwing abstraction and abstraction and abstraction at them all the time, we're overloading their prefrontal cortex. We're overloading that part of the brain that's always puzzling out those abstractions.

Josh Steimle:

Too much processing. It's like when your laptop fan starts running, because it's overheating. That's what's happening in the reader’s brain.

Anne Janzer:

Precisely, precisely. And how many people here are going to stick with something if their brains are overheating? Not many, you know, so you have to bring in detail analogies, story or anecdote. You have to pique their curiosity. You have to do all of these things to get their whole brain engaged, and have them as an active partner. They're not a passive receptacle. They're an active partner in the reading process. And so how do you engage them to become that active partner? That's it. Yeah.

Josh Steimle:

Yeah. A few years ago, I read a book by an author who shall remain nameless, but I was reading this book, and he was using a lot of fancy words. And I could tell that he was using these words, because he wanted his writing to sound fancy, but was just complete distraction. I couldn't concentrate on the message he was trying to communicate, because I was too distracted by the words he was using. And I also do some academic writing. And so I'm reading academic case studies and journal articles. In there, they're using a lot of fancy words, but it's not intentional. It's because they're going after a very specific audience, where the difference in those words means something. And so there's something different there. But if a normal person off the street, a non-academic reads this stuff, they're like, whoa, I don't even know what this person's trying to say. It's impossible to figure it out.

And so I find that with general business reading, just a normal business book, if we're trying to write that normal business book, I try to write at about a fifth grade level, something that a fifth grader could read and say, you know, what, I don't understand all the concepts necessarily, because I don't have the experience. But I understand every one of these words at least. And I kind of understand what's being said, Do you have any other rules of thumbs like that for keeping your writing? What's the word? Not authentic or not -- but accessible? Making your work accessible to everybody? Do you have any other rules of thumbs or quick tips about that?

Anne Janzer:

Yeah, that's a, you know, word choice is really critical. Because giving someone an abstract, a term that is unfamiliar to them, it's almost like slamming the door on their face, right? You may not see it that way. But at some level, they feel it that way. That, you know, you're the insider, because you're using the terminology, and they are hence the outsider. So, what I recommend people do is you print out your something. Print out a chapter. Print out something that you're writing blog posts, whatever it is, and go through with a highlighter and look at all of the terms of art and abstractions that are in there that may not be familiar to your reader. And you might have to ask someone else to tell you, in fact, what is familiar to them? But mark them or, you know, is it unfamiliar to someone? Is it unknown to them? Or is it unnecessary?

My three Us, right? If it's totally unknown, you have to say, well, isn't necessary. If it's necessary, because you're writing about something and you have to use this word, then you are careful to define it the first time and keep dropping in breadcrumb hints, reminders, use it in a way that it can't be misunderstood things, right. But if you think it's familiar to them, but you're not entirely sure, and there's a better word, it's not necessary [00:38:40 Inaudible]. So you have to go look for those and filter them out to make your work more welcoming. And if, you know, heaven forbid, at some level, you're doing this because you feel it's going to make you seem more expert, right. It's like, if I use all these terms of arts, people are gonna think I'm an expert in this field.

There's some research I cite in that book. And I just blanking on the name of it, but basically shows that when you throw, would make your prose unnecessarily complex, right, sentence structure and word choice, people don't think you're smarter. In fact, if they struggled to understand, they think you're less smart. They think you are, they asked to judge your IQ, they're going to be kind of smart. You know, so you're actually when you make people work for it, you're not showing up smarter. If you want to show up really expert, explain something in the crystal clear way. That's how you show up as an expert.

Josh Steimle:

I love that you made that point. Now I know -- now I want to know what book you got that out of it's not on writing by William Zinsser. Is it or?

Anne Janzer:

No, no, although I love that book. It is a study with the funniest name. I'm going to shoot. I'm not gonna be able to come up, but I will send it to you for the link for the show. It won the Ig Nobel Prize. They did all these things, like they took two different translations of a passage by Descartes. And one of the translations was just notably more complex and hard to understand than the other. And then they asked people to rate, you know, the concept in that thing, and they're like, yeah, you know, it's pretty good. And then they asked people to rate the intelligence of the author of the content. And so the more complex translation got a guy's not so smart. Whereas the people who read the clear translation thought Descartes was pretty, pretty intelligent. And here's the thing. This happened even when people were told it was Rene Descartes. You know one of us [00:40:51 Inaudible] philosophy, it's like, oh, my God.

Josh Steimle:

The bias was so strong. That's great.

Anne Janzer:

Bias is strong. Yeah.

Josh Steimle:

That's interesting. In this when you use the word translation that reminded me, one of the things I think has helped my writing was living in a foreign country where I had to learn a foreign language, because you become very aware of what translates and what doesn't translate into that other language. For example, if I say in English, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, well, if you're a native English speaker, you probably understand what that means. But then when you think about it literally, you think, what in the world, like where did that come from?

Well, a foreign language, somebody who doesn't speak language, or English natively, they hear that or they hear a translation of that. And they just think that makes zero sense whatsoever. And yet, when we look at our writing, it's full of things like that little idiomatic expressions that we throw in. And we think, well, everybody knows what this means. But they don't. It's we understand it, not necessarily everybody else does. So I like to look at my writing and think, if this were plugged into Google Translate and translate it into Mandarin Chinese, would it translate cleanly? Or would there be a bunch of stuff that a human would have to go through an edit, and then I just edit that in English anyway, so that it would translate, and I find that it really helps me to think more simply, or in more clear terms?

Anne Janzer:

That's great advice. That's great advice. Because I mean, so much of what we write does need, you know, will, maybe be translated, or we'll certainly be read by people who are not native English speakers. So while we want to have our writing be colorful, and lots of, you know, idiomatic, you know, ideas, you need to be careful about using them, or at least making sure it's always really in context, if you're going to say, you know, want to pull myself up by my bootstraps, i.e., did, you know, I mean, just maybe add a little explanatory thing to help people. Because, like you said, translation is tricky.

One of the other you talked about explaining things for a fifth grader, I sometimes ask people to explain something to an impatient teenager, that they write, because they're not gonna, they don't have a lot of time. They're like, and if you try to, you know, give them a lot of marketing speak, they're just gonna roll their eyes, you know. So it's like, how would you explain it to the impatient teenager? You've got to get their attention, and explain it, and hopefully, one that you love, one that you love, or you like. So it's like, oh, here's what's happening, that can totally clean up your prose and get rid of the words that are, you know, waffling or not, not delivering value.

Josh Steimle:

Well, and my prediction came true. I thought we would get to the end of this. And I would feel like, man, we could talk for another three hours here. And that's exactly how I feel. I just want to keep on asking more and more questions, but I'm going to go read all your books, and I'll get the answers, hopefully. So thank you so much for spending time with us here today. And once again, where's the best place for people to find you and connect with you?

Anne Janzer:

Easiest place is my website, which is my name annejanzer.com. And there's a silent e on that anne. And you can find my books and I have a writing blog, and you can get the results to the survey and all kinds of things there. And there's also a contact form. So if you just want to pop a question, you can do that or just email me annejanzer.

Josh Steimle:

Great. I know we're just scratching the surface here. So I hope everybody runs out and buys your books and goes and looks at that study on your website, which was fascinating. Thank you so much for sharing that with us. Thank you so much, Anne, and have a great day.

Anne Janzer:

Thanks for having me.

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