I want to thank Liz Dexter for answering my questions about her experiences as a professional self-published writer and editor who created her own brand. She writes books that help other people understand self-employment, business, social media networking, and other topics.
Grab the Lapels: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Liz Dexter: I’ve always been something of a writer. In fact, I thought in my youth that I was going to be a fiction writer, and when I left school was probably “person most likely to” do so. However, I slowly discovered that I’m not creative in that way.
As I went through various jobs, I was involved in technical writing: manuals, training documents, marketing materials, articles, presentations, etc., and this was something I enjoyed doing. So, I developed an interest and specialism in non-fiction / informational / technical writing, as opposed to academic or creative writing.
I started writing books, specifically, because I wanted to share information and help people. My first book was on a health issue that I had that I’d been able to resolve without drugs. I was passionate about sharing how I’d done that with other people, and my confidence with my writing allowed me to do that quite fluently.
Once I’d experimented with How I Conquered High Cholesterol with Diet and Exercise, I was confident to write my first business book, again with the aim of helping people, but also knowing that I have the ability to write clearly and helpfully, in an accessible and friendly style that both supports people through the processes I was talking about and differentiates my writing from that of other business books.
GTL: What kind of writing do you do? What kinds of writing do you wish you did more of?
LD: I do non-fiction / informational / how-to writing that is low on jargon and accessible, aimed at helping people like me who are not traditional entrepreneurs to start and run their own businesses. I aim to be clear, thorough and transparent, and to be approachable and gently humorous. I put a lot of effort into making sure I share everything in detail as far as I can (leaving out identifying details of clients, of course), because I loathe with a passion those books that only take you so far and then expect you to buy an expensive course to finish learning!
I wish at the moment I could do more academic writing, but I am doing some independent study, too, along with a full-time job, training to run a marathon and working on my books. I long to set aside time for academic writing, but it necessarily comes at the bottom of the priority list!
I do also need to do some more of my standard book writing, as I have two new books forming at the moment (one specifically for editors and a longer-form book on transcription as a career, as The Quick Guide to Your Career in Transcription is my most popular).
GTL: In what ways has academia shaped your writing?
LD: I would say that it hasn’t particularly, except that it did give me the confidence to know I write well and fairly fluently. Working with academic clients in my editing business helped a great deal with the structure of my own academic work, and working with non-native English speakers has helped me to refine my general writing style to be clear and simple.
Working on essays, etc., helped me to develop my method of writing, which is to let everything mull in my head, then write out a structure from beginning to end (I prefer this to mind-maps, which I can’t get my head around), type headings into a document and start writing under whichever heading feels appropriate at the time. I still use this method now.
I think my education in academia helped me to feel that I had a right to write books, that I could write and could take my place in helping to educate others (outside academia), if that makes sense?
GTL: It does make sense! In what ways has life outside of academia shaped your writing?
LD: All of the writing I’ve done in various jobs and then my blog writing has worked me towards being able to write my books. While writing very serious and standard prose and instructions helped me to be structured and organised in my presentation, I developed my voice in my blog: slightly self-deprecating, humorous, supportive, and light on the jargon. My reviewers have commented positively in the main on my voice and style; I’m glad of this.
Dealing with words and writing every day in my day job has allowed me to think about how to put things across and see good and bad examples of all kinds of writing. This has been extremely useful for me. It also helps me, hopefully, to write well.
One interesting turnaround is that my writing has also shaped my editing work — I have learned an awful lot, through being edited, about what it feels like to have an editor, and how I might refine my editing work in order to make the experience as easy and comfortable as possible for my own clients. That was an unexpected side effect!
GTL: What is your writing process like?
LD: I have to say that I don’t do a huge amount of revision. When I write new material, I tend to mull and mull over my work, letting it swirl around in my head, then put it down pretty well complete. Having said that, a lot of the content in my books is based, however loosely, on my blog posts, so that gives me a writing process which is like a revision — or adaptation — process. I learned early on that you can’t just stick a load of blog posts in one big document and think of that as an actual book; there’s lots of fiddling around and adjusting to do.
For my next two books, I’ll be adapting a general book I wrote on starting and running a business for editors, as I have had so many people approach me asking me to mentor them, and that’s something I just don’t have the time or energy for. So I’m adapting the book and pulling it back to the editing career in particular (which is quite ironic, since originally I worked really hard to make sure it was relevant to all freelance careers!). When I put together my larger guide to transcription as a career, I’ll be basing it on that book and my transcription book, plus blog posts I’ve written on the topic since I published the book. It will be a work of synthesis and editing almost more than writing, although new bits will come in for the introductions, etc.
I want to say here that I’m extremely clear in my book descriptions, high up in the text, when a book is similar to a previous or other one I’ve put out, so people don’t feel ripped off by buying similar content twice!
As for the actual process, it’s processed in Word, using blocks of time I set aside for it when I can!
GTL: How has your writing process evolved?
LD: I have always had to fit writing into the time I have, since writing manuals, training materials, etc. so that’s not a problem, and early on in my freelance career, I offered website content writing and other such services, so I’m pretty good at just sitting down and writing: I don’t have the luxury of being able to wait for inspiration to strike!
I added an editor into the process when I started writing my books, so that’s a new stage and a new round of revisions to take into account in the process itself. It makes for a better book, but I do find I pause before I go through the editor’s revisions!
Liz Dexter (who publishes her books under her maiden name, Liz Broomfield) is an editor, proofreader, localiser and transcriber who has been working in the field since 2009. When she went full-time self-employed in 2012 at the age of 40, she found there were no books addressing the subject, so she wrote her own and carried on writing accessible, approachable how-to business books from there, which she has published herself, using a professional editor and cover designer. Outside work and writing, Liz reads obsessively and is a keen runner and volunteer in athletics. You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook!