How to write down practice

You've had a go at a change initiative. You experimented your way forward and it feels like things have shifted as a result of your intervention. You've inspired people around you, you have a collection of life affirming memories that keep you pushing through the hard bits and now people want you to share what you've done.

You want to share it too. But every time you sit down to start, you get buried in a heavy sense of overwhelm. Where to even start? And then how on earth do you find the time to finish? And how will you sift through the myriad of ideas, theories and stories that make up your story and write in a way that helps those around you? 

My Finance Innovation Lab Co-founder Charlotte and I found this when we sat down and tried to write down a ‘how to’ guide to the project we’d spent 8 years building.

The Lab was spinning out, becoming an independent entity and we, (along with our other founders Jen and Richard), decided the responsible thing to do was to document how to do everything from hosting a brilliant workshop, to building an agile organization. It took us about 3 months in days, spread out over a year.

Here’s what I learnt from the process:

Create the conditions for success 

  • Be pragmatic about who writes it up

Too many cooks in the kitchen will definitely spoil the broth, cause distraction.  

Put egos to the side and ask the question - who knows the most about our practice? Who works best together? And who writes the best?

We found two people was the perfect number. Someone to bounce ideas off and to hold the other to account, but small enough to be agile and keep momentum going.   

  • Build a boundary around your time

Pick a time and date and clear your diary. Protect that time like a lion/ess. No you can't do a quick phone call that morning. Clear. 

  • Pick somewhere distraction free

We didn't do a great job on this in some ways- I hosted most of our sessions at my house and had my 1 year old daughter circling around at time, but being away from the office way absolutely key.

Charlotte stayed the night at my house most nights and we did 3 to 4 day marathon sprints where possible. The informality of the situation was really important. 

  • Clarify your target market

Who are you writing this for? Have a good conversation about this. Ideally pick a person you both know, write down their name, what they need from this publication, what style they would appreciate the most and stick this up prominently on the wall throughout.  

  • Write in sprints, with lots of breaks

Lets face it, weeks of writing can be incredibly frustrating and also very, very boring. To keep ourselves motivated, we wrote in 40 minute blocks and held each other to account for finishing when 40 minutes was up. We woke up early, ate healthily and finished at 6pm at the latest. It was all very civilized. 

  • Write FINISH on the wall, in big letters

Refer to it often. 

The process 

  • Map it out on the wall

We took a stack of post it notes each and wrote down the name of chunks of content we thought needed to be in there, organized them as best we could created a general structure for the publication. 

  • Get started, alone

Enough talking. Ask each person to pick the piece of content they could bang out quickly because they were responsible for it, and get started. Each writer should keep picking these up until you come to a natural pause. 

  • Compare notes

Once you've written something down, come back together, swap computers and read each others work. Do this on day one. You will almost certainly have written in a different style, in a different structure. Have an honest conversation about which style works best. As you develop style rules, use post it notes to capture them and stick those on the wall too. 

  • Get back to writing

Taking into account your new style and templates. 

  • Take a week off to think about it

We wrote our two 80 page publications over the course of a summer. Taking a break in between sprints helped us clarify what we were trying to write and why. Very often we'd come back together with a major new insight about the overall structure of the document. Having a break gave us the strength to actually implement these changes. It was disheartening to have to cut major swathes of writing out, to admit what we'd written didn't really make logical sense. It was at these points that the chocolate and Tina Turner came out. Charlotte would also point out that I gave daily motivational speeches at the start and end of the day, summarizing what we were aiming to achieve or the progress that we'd made. I thought they were very effective! 

Trying to write it down and struggling to finish? We can help you cut through the noise and develop a clear way forward. Get in touch rachel@thesystemstudio.com