We all have a unique voice that, when heard, has the power to change the world. Writing is an avenue to that, passing on our wisdom and stories to those who need them. How do we tap into that authentic writing voice and start making an impact? In this episode, Darrin Tulley sits down with writing and life coach Kathryn Britton. Called by her clients “the midwife of words,” Kathryn has helped hundreds of people complete writing projects, big and small. Today, she extends her knowledge and experience to help us find our authentic writing voices, build confidence, and produce writing that can change the world. With writing tips and techniques, she helps us capture the uniqueness in our lives, our personal histories, and convey it to others in a way that not only helps others but also defines our legacies. Plus, Kathryn shares her book, Sit Write Share, a great resource to add to your toolbelt to help you get better at the craft of writing.
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Sit Write Share: How To Find Your Authentic Writing Voice With Kathryn Britton
Our guest in this episode is Kathryn Britton. Her clients call her the Midwife of Words. She has helped hundreds of people including myself complete writing projects, big and small. Her own publications include books and articles about Computer Science, coaching, and Applied Positive Psychology. Kathryn has been an English major, a software engineer, an inventor, an editor, and an executive coach. She now writes, edits, and coaches writers to find their authentic writing voices, build confidence, and produce writing that can change the world. Learn how writing tips and techniques will do just that. Her approach welcomes our unique differences to be heard and embraced in a safe supportive way that turns vulnerabilities into possibilities. Writing is a way to use our pain in productive ways to help heal others and by doing that, we heal ourselves. I hope she sparks you onto a writing journey to help you change the world forever and wherever you are. Enjoy the show.
Welcome Kathryn. It’s so great to see you again.
It’s wonderful to be here. Thank you so much for inviting me.
I’m excited to chat.
I can’t wait to talk with you.
You and I have been engaged in different ways from some writing workshops. I have to tell you how thankful I am for those experiences. I’d love to know what you’re passionate about these days.
My biggest passion right now is helping other people capture the things that are important to them in their lives whether that is in a written form or a spoken form. For example, I think you’re capturing somewhat of what you’re passionate about in these shows. I’ve become very aware of the fact that we each are living very unique lives and that in those lives, we’re creating a history. That history is one thing piled on another but a lot of that fades into the distance. If you look back, you forget, “What was it I was doing before,” or, “Why did I do this,” or, “What led me here? What was my mother like at my age?”
All of these things start to fade. For me, it’s important for people to capture at least some of these minutes so that they can return and visit their own histories. I happen to have in my closet the letters that people sent me back in the days when people used to send letters. One of the things I’ve been doing is going through and finding the letters from a particular friend.
I packaged them up, put them in a box, and mail them off to that person. I said, “Would you like to revisit yourself when you were 17, 20, or 30 years old to see what was on your mind at the time. I think a lot about the question of capturing our own personal histories as an important part of contributing to the quality of our own lives.
It captures our legacy too for folks to experience maybe from within our families or our friends. I love that you’re sending those letters back to reflect and think about who we were back then. I think we should all start writing letters again. Wouldn’t that be nice?
I suppose you could troll through your email and find interesting things from the past, but it’s a little different than when you’re putting pen to paper.
Emails tend to be shorter. It may not be as emotional. What do you think? What’s different about it these days do you think?
The emails tend a lot of times to be more transactional. If you’re going to talk to somebody, people tend to pick up the phone and have a conversation. The phone conversations that we have are totally gone unless you happen to be somebody who records your conversations, which most of us don’t. It’s interesting to think about the different properties of what we’re doing and how much history and trail they leave behind them.
We all tend to live forward. I wonder if we could grow more based on knowing who we were or what we’ve come from. I’d like to learn from my guests about that. What are the challenges they had to overcome or how did how did they get here? I’m going to ask that question. How did you get to this point where you’re helping people look at life this way and those key moments? What are some of the key moments that have gone through your life? I think you’ve had a fascinating background and I’d love to know what stands out to you.
One of the things I can say about myself is I don’t have a very goal-directed nature. I am not somebody who when I was a teenager said, “This is what I want to do. This is who I want to be.” When I was in high school, do you remember taking SATs or whatever? My scores for Math and verbal were almost identical. It was like I was on a teeter-totter like this. I happened to have a great English teacher and I happened to not have a great Math teacher.
When I went off to college I thought, “I will go into literature. I’ll become a Comparative Literature professor someday.” I studied French, German, and Italian. I took Old English. I spent one entire quarter translating Beowulf into Modern English. I then got to the end of my time as an undergraduate. There’s a line of poetry. I think it’s W.H. Auden where he says, “Those who did not contribute. They’d only dilute it.” I’m not getting the words exactly but I looked at it and I thought, “What would I contribute in this area or would I be just another dilution of the whole value of all this literature?”
I happened to be taking a course that was too hard for me in my last year in college. I think it was graduate-level Chaucer and I couldn’t do it. I dropped out and I had to pick up another course. I picked up Computer Science at a beginning programming class. It was so much fun that from there, I went on to take another course. I went to graduate school in Computer Science. I then became a software engineer, which I was for about 30 years.
I found that the whole question of making things. One of my professors when I was in graduate school talked about it as programming is dealing with pure thought stuff. I love that idea of dealing with pure thought stuff. After 30 years, you start feeling like, “Is this all I want in life? Do I want it to be written on my tombstone that she helped make money for IBM?” I thought, “Not really. I’d like to be able to make a contribution in a different way. It’s one that I could feel would be a legacy that would be important.”
I went back to school and got a Master’s degree in Applied Positive Psychology. It was the very first year of the program. I was part of this experimental bunch and they had decided they wanted to hire people who are already established in their careers with the idea that they would send them back into their organizations to make a difference. I went back to IBM after getting my Master’s and I spent about nine months working on team well-being.
At one point it occurred to me that this is like trying to change the direction of the Titanic with an oar at the side. It didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere. I went from there to becoming a life coach and an executive coach. That was okay, but it wasn’t exactly what I wanted. As you can see, I’m wandering through opportunities that present themselves. I take the opportunity and see where it leads me, and then from there, I figure out, “Is this me or is this not me?”
After a while, I realized I had learned a technique or writer’s workshops while I was still at IBM. That technique, I decided to put it into practice and it took me a long time to get the nerve up to get it going but I got a group of people together and said, “I’d like to experiment with using this writer’s workshop technique.” It ended up being my most successful experiment in the course of my career. I have gone from having one workshop that had eight people in it to now I think I’ve got 11 or 12 workshops. Each of which has either 3 or 4 people in it.
I found that bringing people together to help them support each other as they were writing was an important step to help people liberate their voices. In general, I find that people want to have written but they don’t necessarily enjoy the writing itself. I’ve gotten to the point through a lot of trial and error and I enjoy writing. Part of my plan is to try and help people get over the barriers so that they get and get to the point where they feel energized by the action of putting their words down and collecting their words. That was a quick life history. Does that leave any questions in your mind?
I have a lot. The first question relates to the actual workshop. You said it was the greatest experiment. How did that go and how similar or different is it with your current workshops? I’m honored and blessed to have been a member of your workshops. How did that go and how similar or different?
It started out with a group of eight and then I found that was too big. What I ended up doing was experimenting with how many people are in a group and how often people submit. However, the basic idea of the review remains the same. The easiest way for me to tell you about it would be to walk you through a workshop.
Let’s assume that you’ve submitted a piece of writing, which you have so it’s not too hard for you to imagine. You submitted a piece of writing. I send it out to the people in your group so that they get it ahead of time so that they can read it and mark it up a little bit so they’re ready to talk about it. Nobody owes you anything written. All you get is the review itself where people speak. You come into the review and we ask you to introduce it briefly.
Do not tell us what it’s about because we’re going to tell you but instead say, “This is a blog post. This is a piece of my book. This is some writing that I’m doing and I’m not sure what to do with it. I’d love to have your ideas,” or whatever it is that you that’s on your mind. We ask you to read a paragraph. We hear a little bit of it in your voice. We then ask you to become a fly on the wall or as some of my people have been saying recently a butterfly on the wall since that’s more appealing than being a fly.
That means you turn off your video and your sound and just listen. The benefit of that to you is you don’t have to be thinking of answers. You don’t have to be deciding, “This is what I want to say about that.” You can just take it in, which in my opinion is very liberating. I was in hundreds or probably thousands of reviews while I worked for IBM and in all of them, you’re sitting there and people are making comments. You’re immediately trying to counter those comments or respond to those comments in one way or another.
This allows you to take it in without having to immediately respond. We go through three rounds. In the first round, we tell you what it’s about or how it impacted us. When you’re writing, a lot of times it’s a very lonely experience. There’s you and your keyboard. This is a way for you to get a sense of, “How do my words affect people? What are they seeing in what I’m writing? Are they getting the takeaway that I intended them to get?
It’s your chance to see a group of people responding to what you wrote. We then go on to the second round, which is, “What makes this piece of writing strong?” I found when I first started doing this that I would call on people and each one would go through their entire list of strengths. By the time you got to the last person it’s like, “What’s left for me to say?” I found what works even better is to ask each person to give their top strength and then to open up the floor for discussions so it’s more dynamic and it’s not just me calling on everybody.
Once we’ve collected all of those strengths, I say, “Are we ready to go on?” We go on to the final round which is, “What would make this even stronger?” You’ll notice I don’t say, “What needs to be fixed? What’s broken?” The implication is, “We got a strong piece of writing. How do we make it even stronger?” Once again, I call on people for their top suggestions and then open the floor for discussion. That’s the approach.
Now, I’ve been doing it for ten years and I’ve had about 3,900 pieces of writing go through this process. The pieces of writing have ranged from song lyrics and poetry to web copy to brochures for a candy company to articles for the web. LinkedIn articles, blog posts, or whatever to book chapters. I’ve been reading a couple of fiction books and I’m less expert myself on fiction writing but I can share how I as a reader see what I’m reading, and draw on all those years and years of studying literature back when I was in college.
I love the workshops. As a participant, I had a few chapters go through our groups. I’ve had blog posts. I’ve had the writing for the opening for this show just trying to see how the message might be perceived. There are also some other articles that I’ve written that are around inclusion and being vulnerable by stepping in differently and taking action with things that I am absolutely passionate about and believe in.
I have enjoyed the process of participating in the workshop. I have to tell you, your team and the workshops helped me get my book out there. More importantly, it gave me more confidence in what I put together. It’s less about the exact words because you’re trying to get my voice to be heard the way my voice is rather than tell me to play somebody else which I value greatly.
I had self-doubt with my writing. I went through challenges with some friends in doing daily writing and going through these workshops. The workshops are very positive. It sounds like you applied that positive psychology thinking into this approach because as you said, it identify its strengths seeks what makes it strong to what can make it better. It’s all about Improvement. It’s about that open mindset to getting it better.
Learning to make it stronger to make sure that our voices are heard the way we want them to be heard. I’m grateful. You’ve had a huge impact on my life in getting me to get through and finish the process of writing the book and publishing the book. I don’t know if you realize that but you’re a big part of that. I want to say thank you.
Thank you. I appreciate you mentioning that. The thought crossed my mind as you were talking that one of the things that I found interesting about a particular piece that you brought to be reviewed was how open you were to the feedback from people that what you were saying was not received exactly the way you intended it.
Your willingness to say, “I hadn’t thought about the fact that people might see it like that.” You opened up and broadened your approach. I think it’s that openness but the process also helped you be open to the feedback as well. You brought a willingness to learn to the experience, and the group brought warmth but they gave you some interesting feedback, didn’t they?
I was very direct. It didn’t feel good at first, yet to your point, my intention of being there is to make it better and to get it right. Making sure my heart was out there the way I’m intending. I was guarding some things based on the words. I wasn’t telling this story so directly. I was being vulnerable in that example. The process makes it safe to have that conversation. It allowed me to be open and accepting.
You’re spot on. I love how you described back at IBM where if we’re part of a meeting or wherever we are, we tend to defend our position. We rationalize. When people are talking about something we did or we created. This exercise you have in the workshop is an amazing listening exercise because you’re this butterfly on the wall. You’re just listening for not only what people are saying. You’re seeing the thoughtfulness that people are putting behind it because people read these in advance. They give it real thought. It’s also real care. You develop relationships from these workshops.
Again, I learned from that alone I know people have my best interest in mind. They’re trying to make it better. They are trying to get my voice to be heard the way they think that I’m trying to get the words out in the world. I love the listening exercise and the safety. Also, the positive psychology. It’s a great approach.
I thought of you as you were speaking and you were comparing this to the meetings that we have at work. I think it’s a great skill to develop to listen to people without going into response mode right away. There are a lot of politics in a business situation where you’re defending yourself. Thinking about your response simultaneously with listening to somebody else speak makes it a little bit harder for you to let yourself be changed by what you hear.It's a great skill to develop to actually listen to people without going into response mode right away. Click To Tweet
If we all go into conversations unwilling to be changed by what we hear, then all we’re doing is making a noise at each other. It’s important to develop that skill of being able to listen and take in what people are saying about something about our own creation. Also, to be able to take that in without immediately feeling like we’ve got to deflect it, change it, or challenge it, whatever. Maybe I hadn’t thought of it this way, but maybe the part of what is the value of the workshop approach for people beyond getting their writing responded to is a chance to practice listening without being on the hook to respond right away. I haven’t thought of it that way.
It’s a great perspective. We live in a society right now where everybody’s reacting to words. We’re divisive where we hold to a position. The form of what you’re saying is a level of inclusiveness. The way I think about inclusiveness is an act of discovery. It’s being open-minded. We’re willing to take in another perspective and different ideas. Yet, I always tie curiosity to that because curiosity is the willingness to take the perspective and to do something with it.
It’s not just to say, “I’m open-minded. I have good intentions.” If you’re not going to do anything with it, then it’s only words. If I hear words that I don’t agree with, get the hair on the back of my neck to go up, make me get defensive, or create a political issue, we have to slow down and not react or respond so quickly. We have to just be open-minded.
To your point to say, “What about this can make this better? What about this could change the perspective and make it more aligned with my authentic view? Also, make sure I’m being heard yet not changing my delivery or what I’m trying to get out there into the world be it in a workshop or at a meeting.” It’s because that means if people are overtalking or talking about half of people, people shut down too and they do the old, “It is what it is.”
This is one of the things that I used to think about a lot when I was at IBM. It is that there are big status differences between people. People who are high status tend to talk off the top of their heads and sometimes the things they say, people take them and run with them as if they were Moses being handed the tablets off on the mountain. Low-status people tend to rehearse what they have to say so long in their own minds that the opportunity to say it disappears before they get it right.
It has occurred to me and I had the experience there. I was at IBM long enough that I went from being a low-status person to being a pretty high-status person by the time I left. I saw what it was like on both ends of that spectrum. It seems to me that one of the things that would be valuable to do in an organization is to try and do some level setting. Also, make it easier for people to hear the voices of the low-status people and maybe make it so that people respond less uncritically to the things that the high-status people say.
It’s because sometimes they say some real nonsense. I don’t have a recipe for this for how to do that in organizations, but I think an awareness of the status and that if you happen to be somebody who you’re running a meeting and you’re in control of what’s going on that there are things you can do that will level the status a bit. You can call on people who are low-status people and let there be silence as they finish their thinking.
Silence doesn’t necessarily break things. It can be a time for other people to be thinking as well. We had a couple of belligerent technical very top-level people. The joke was that when the elephants dance, the mice get out of the way. You don’t want to have an organization where you have elephants dancing or elephants fighting so that the mice have to get out of the way. If you’ve got that going on, then you’ve got some work to do.
That’s not a culture that I want to be in, to be honest with you. That’s not fun. Going back to your points. I do think it’s so critical that we step in and listen. We invite folks in. There are a bunch of exercises that can be performed to engage and to ask people’s perspectives. That’s an act of inclusion for any leader or for any person in the community. I also think you do that a bit in your book where you ask people if they get stuck for writing or if people have ideas of thinking.
I think there are even creative tools in there that not only does it help with writing but it could help leaders to say, “Let’s put ideas on a sticky and put it up on the board.” Some people might be a little bit more introverted or not feeling as safe. It could put ideas up on the board or put thoughts up on a shared drive so people don’t know who’s doing what.
There are different ways to get creative by getting people to be involved not only in their own minds like for this writing. Also, for teams to think about in brainstorming and collaboration. I don’t know how that resonates and I would love to talk about your book because I love your book. Thank you for mentioning me in the book as well. Any comment on that last point before we go to your book?
I will say that one of the experiments in the book is one that I learned at IBM when we were doing a joint writing project. That’s the one that you mentioned with the yellow stickies. The idea is to brainstorm and you can brainstorm together in a group. I’ve done this. After we finished building one product, we had a patent mining session where we looked for ideas that might be patentable in what we had done.
We got together in a room with twenty people. We use this technique where you set a timer and then you have people sit there doing nothing for five minutes. I didn’t think I could do the full ten minutes that’s recommended in the book. Once the timer goes off, take the yellow stickies and start writing their ideas. Just a few words per idea on a yellow sticky and then take it off and then write the next one and take it off.
You have people put those on the board and start putting them together in a shape and say, “These two ideas go together. These two ideas don’t.” When you think about it, words are not the only way we have to be creative. There’s a visual and moving the little stickies surround and creating shapes on a whiteboard with them or whatever. That can also stimulate thinking about ideas.
One of the things that I said in the book that was to me, writing is like playing with clay. You get the words and you’re manipulating it. You’re trying this, you’re taking a piece, and you’re moving it over there or whatever. That sense of bringing in the tactile and the other senses into the process of writing can also be important. It’s getting back to writing from the whole question of collecting ideas.Writing is like playing with clay. You get the words, manipulate it, take a piece, and move it over. Click To Tweet
It ties into your other point about silence. These exercises could be done in silence or it could be out loud. It’s having that moment to think and then your willingness to write it down or speak up if it’s not a writing exercise, I think that silence piece allows us to step in. Sometimes, I’ll want to respond. Maybe you haven’t seen this at the workshops because I like to jump in. Yet sometimes that silence or that space allows me to get the courage enough to put an idea out there when the idea is way out there.
Maybe it’s a thought that’s going to go against the elephant in the room. There have been moments where I’ve had to say certain things because that’s who I am now. I believe in certain things and I believe that we need to talk about the things that are getting in the way of having joined the workplace. Your book is fabulous. I’d love for you to share with the audience what is your intention with the book. What do you hope people get out of it?
I hadn’t intended to write a book but then I had a particular writing client, somebody who wanted to write more. We were working back and forth and nothing was happening. He wasn’t getting stuff done. I said to him one day, “Sit, write, share.” I was trying to make it three imperatives or whatever. His response was, “You should turn that into a book.” That idea bounced around in my head for a while.
It wasn’t an immediate thing like, “I got to write this book,” but then I started figuring out that my whole approach to working with people on writing is a recognition that we’re all different, and we aren’t all going to do things the same way. However, there are certain skills or things you can learn that can help you. I thought, “What if I acknowledge both the fact that we’re different and the fact that there are common elements? Also, approach this as a matter of collecting experiments that people could try.”
Using that idea of sit, write, and share, I thought, “Sit is a little bit like meditation.” It’s getting yourself to be in the chair to get the writing done. It’s a little funny. I have a standing desk so I don’t sit in a chair to get riding done but most people think of it as sitting to get the writing done. There are ways to deal with fear, build habits, and get inspiration.
There are ways to get that down and do the writing that you want to do. There are ways to figure out what it is you want to write. That’s one important part of it. I think I came up with thirteen experiments in that area, which are all things that you can try that will help you get yourself to do the writing. That’s important. When you start with the writing, the question is, “How do you do it?” I found that the best way of thinking about the writing process is to divide it into three stages.
One stage is doing the imagining and letting ideas bubble up. Realizing that you’ve got a whole well of creativity probably in the unconscious part of your mind, and that part of what you want to do is open up the doors so that these ideas can pop into your head and you can capture them. You can then take them and see where they lead you. That’s the imagining part.
I realize that I do a lot of my own writing when I’m washing dishes, going for a walk, or pulling weeds. I have ideas floating around in my head and I’m trying different ways to put them together. “Maybe I could add in this idea,” or whatever. That’s the Imagining. The drafting is the ability to do a rough draft. Anne Lamott refers to it as shitty first drafts. She says, “Shitty first drafts allow writers to do pretty good second drafts and terrific third drafts.”
I think of that as the ability to earn your perfectionism and put down on the page just what comes out. Let it come out and tell that editor who wants to be picky about have you got the right chance. Are you spelling things right? Is this the right order, and all of that? “You’ll get your turn later. Right now, I’m just going to let the ideas flow.”
I had an experience where a very close friend of mine who’s illustrating a children’s book and it’s been very stalled by perfectionism told me that she pulled out my book. She says she uses my book as her source of inspiration. She pulled out my book and opened it. She turned to the page where it said, “Draft without editing.” She let herself draw one of her pictures without worrying about whether it was right. I think there are a lot of people that need to have the ability to turn their perfectionism off.
The final stage is to edit. Most people think, “What a boring stage. How boring to take what you write and edit it.” I’ve started thinking of it as an act of love. It’s an active love for your audience because you’re going through and you’re thinking about, “How can I make this easier, more pleasurable, and more illuminating for other people who are reading it?” It’s also an act of love for yourself in that you’re investing your time to take what you’ve come up with, your ideas, and put them in a form that you can be proud of.
People find it fairly startling. I did a workshop on writing for a large group of people. I opened the editing section with editing as an act of love. I got these looks like, “What?” If you think of it in that way and if you think also doing it in stages. Don’t try to edit all the way through but instead make one pass through and say, “Is the shape right? Have I got the right pieces? Are they in the right order?”
Do not worry about getting the words exactly right or the punctuation exactly because you might find while you’re doing this first operation that you pull a paragraph out just bit-bucketed. You might say, “I don’t need to say that.” Why polish it if you’re not going to keep it? There are 26 writing experiments. These are all activities to get your imagination, drafting, and editing going.
The final section of the book is about sharing your writing. One of the things people tell me is writing is lonely. You’re in a room by yourself. You feel alone in the process of writing which is rather funny because the whole purpose of writing is to share what you’ve got with either your future self. If you’re writing a journal and nobody else is ever going to see it, you’re still writing for your future self.
Also, there’s getting your words out into the world. There’s getting support and feedback from other people. There’s getting reviews. I think there are two experiments in the book that are around the whole process of writer’s workshops. There’s making a decision about how you’re going to publish and if you’re going to publish. If you’re going to publish a book, are you going to self-publish it? Are you going to do a hybrid self-publish? Are you going to look for a publisher?
All of these are good ways to go and each has its advantages and disadvantages. There are a couple of experiments to help you navigate through that process of deciding which approach you want to take. At the very end is the whole launch and make sure people know about your book. You can write a wonderful book but if nobody knows about it, it can’t have a big effect.
Most people that I know have trouble with this whole question, “How do I market what I do? How do I get to people?” Even though all marketing instructors will tell you that you can’t benefit other people if they don’t know that you exist or they don’t know what you do. It’s still hard for people to take those steps.
These are all achievable and doable steps. Breaking them down like you’re talking about makes it more possible. It makes it more within reach. It doesn’t feel as overwhelming because that’s how your book is broken down. It’s in different steps and different stages. As you said, you could pull it up as a guide. It’s available to you to pick up wherever you say,“I’m stuck. I can’t write. How do I spark that? How do I build a better habit to get this done or to move to the next phase?”
Those things have helped me. I could relate. I had to build a habit of writing every single day and it doesn’t mean I was writing in that imagine phase. I said to myself that I would commit every day for at least fifteen minutes. There are days when I struggled and I said, “I’m going to just jot down ideas. I’m going to jump back to the imagine phase and write down 3 or 4 words at a time to list out ideas for future writing.
It was productive. The next day, I would start to write and I would write for an hour and a half because it was a story connected to something that was meaningful. Or it was a message I wanted to get out. I turned off my editor and I let it flow. All these things happened day to day. Each day was different. I didn’t judge myself. I had to let myself let go of that self-doubt and judgment every day. If I didn’t get somewhere really quickly, I try not to get frustrated nor let the writer’s block get in the way. I formed a habit that allowed me to get to this place of finishing the book. It helped me get to the place where I am now.
I’m happy to hear that. It’s always nice to hear that from your book and the reception your book got. It’s always wonderful to hear that you’ve had an impact on people. I wanted to mention something that I created to go with the book. It’s a workbook and it’s available. All you have you do is go to SitWriteShare.com, sign up at the bottom and you can get it.
What I figured out that I decided I wanted to do as something to give along with the book was to give people a set of questions they could use to evaluate, “Where am I relative to writing?” In particular, there are statements and the question you go through. You say, “Can I say that or not?” One statement might be, “I have a clear idea of the purpose I want to achieve by writing.” If you can say that, then you write your purpose down and go on.
If you can’t say it, then there are pointers to experiments in the book that might help you be able to say yes to that statement. The interesting thing about it is that when I first started writing it, I found I was expressing things in terms of, “What are my problems?” I went back later and reframed everything in terms of each one as a recognition of, “I have achieved this.” If you say no, that’s fine. There are experiments you can try to help you with it.
However, it allows you to realize, “I’m further along than I thought I was.” One question is, “I start writing sessions efficiently.” If you don’t, if you sit down and a lot of people do this. They sit down and it’s like, “I said I was going to write for fifteen minutes. What am I going to do?” I have four suggestions about how to do that. There are references to the experiments in the book.
Even that example is a good one because as you think about, “What am I right about now, as you think about it maybe in your session and you answer those questions yourself, it’s on the front of your mind. Over the next 24 hours when you sit, for me, I would do it in the morning. I get up around 5:15. I get my cup of coffee and I plan to write for fifteen minutes and sometimes longer. As I thought about it, I was setting myself up to think about it unconsciously as I was at work doing the things or I was coaching my kid’s sports, or whatever.
Ideas were coming to me. Memories were coming to me that I thought were powerful enough to want to write about the next day. I was excited to get up and write. I was not ever someone who said, “I love writing,” or, “I’m going to write a book one day.” I never had those aspirations to the point where now, I love getting up to write about something. I love to talk about the story or try to make a connection to your point about having an impact on someone else.
That’s the beauty of writing in my opinion. I had some good conversations with some friends and did some challenges in particular around daily writing challenges. Also, sharing some of the learnings. Like what did I feel? What did I notice? What did I see? As I was sharing that, people would share that back with me. A good friend, Donna, who’s in my book was there listening to say, “What did you learn? What joy did you get out of it? It’s going back in time. What did you ever come from that experience?”
We set each other up with a challenge, “Why don’t we write for 30 days and see what happens?” She ended up writing a book. She hasn’t published hers yet. I ended up writing a business plan that got me excited to write a book. That took several years to get it done because I wanted to outline this and take my time. I wanted to bring a bunch of experiences together. This person was also someone I interviewed on my show.
Even though she hasn’t published yet, writing for her allowed her to free herself from some of the darkness that she had lived growing up. Some of the things that happened to her that she experienced that was scary and daunting. Her writing has allowed her to overcome it. It allowed her to say, “This is real. I accept this.”
It allowed her to put it there so she could be getting her healing and her compassion and forgiveness that she needs to allow herself to open up her life differently. To me, writing has such a profound impact on our lives. Not only does it allow us to leave a legacy but allows us to live life differently. I’m curious, Kathryn, have you seen other folks experience this, or have people shared with you stories where people said, “Writing has done X, Y, or Z.” What have you heard? What can you share with our audience that they could relate to?
For some reason, what popped into my mind was someone who has just started with the writer’s workshops and is writing about experiences living in a war zone. The interesting thing about reading it is you know that the writing is a process for her of incorporating her experiences into herself in a way that allows her to heal and move forward. However, her purpose is also to reach out to other people who are experiencing the kind of grief and loss that she is facing.
What’s interesting when we were reviewing it is when you read the writing of someone like that, it makes you realize how relatively easy your own life is to the lives of people in parts of the world that are war-torn. It makes you humble about your problems but it doesn’t mean that you have to disregard or say, “How can I have problems if there are so many more difficult things going on in other parts of the world?”
It’s almost like our capacity for pain fills up the space of whatever is going on in our lives yet also our capacity to deal with what’s happening in our lives. There are a lot of different challenges that people are facing. One of the reasons I love writing and reading is that I can both capture what is my present. What’s going on with me? However, I can also experience what other people are experiencing so that I can broaden my own sense of what the human condition is.
It gives a certain humility as you face your own life and the realization that there are people who face difficulties that are hugely greater than mine, but it doesn’t mean you can’t own your own suffering of whatever form it takes. I’m not sure whether that was a good answer to your question, but it was what popped into my mind as I was thinking it over.
It’s a similar example. Sometimes our writing gets into the experiences we’ve had. Some of them are painful. Some of them are joyous. Some of them are inspirational. We want to use some of these things that are inspirational or some of them might be joyful. You did a lot of work with the positive psychology components. I think there’s a famous quote around this. When we dig in, you talk about humility. You talked about our ability to be vulnerable with these experiences.
I get moved when people use pain as a form of medicine to help recognize they’re not alone because there are folks in other war-torn areas who have struggled or are struggling. In this day and age, there are some bad things that are concerning for many of us and the world. There are so many people that can relate. I think with my friend Donna, there are many of the stories that she’s gone through. When she initially wrote it, she thought she could help people who have gone through some of these things that maybe people don’t want to admit and how she got through it. How she was able to overcome.
It doesn’t mean it doesn’t haunt her at times yet she knows she can get through it because she’s done it before. She shows and identifies ways to overcome it or to make sure you look at the light instead of the darkness. It doesn’t mean it goes away. It’s creating habits or anything that we can overcome and see the brightness of what’s ahead and what’s possible. I feel like writing is such an important thing. “Congrats on your book. You’re leaving a legacy for families. One hundred years from now, it’s still going to be around. Who knows the form of it?”
Maybe paperbacks don’t exist anymore. Who knows? It’s a pretty cool thing. Your legacy is here. You’ve left an imprint. You said you wanted to make an impact. You’ve made a tremendous impact on me and I’m making impacts hopefully, on other people. You’re making an impact on the hundreds, thousands, and ultimately millions.
You’re not even aware yet of how you’re impacting people because I think the work you’re doing with the book and the workshop is fabulous. I know some of this is based on that positive psychology work that you’ve done and I want to pivot there but before we do, I don’t know if there’s anything you wanted to react or respond to, based on what I shared.
One of the things that’s been going through my mind a lot is the realization that people change over time. In particular, a lot of times, we will come to a judgment about somebody else based on exactly where they are and what they’re doing right now. One of the things that I realized when my kids were growing up was they changed. They get different. They mature. There are things that they couldn’t do that they can do now.
There are people for example in their teens and twenties who will be different when they’re in their 30s and 40s. Part of it is holding out. It’s giving people the chance to change and not getting fixed in their minds that this person is this particular way, but being aware that, “This person is this particular way right now, but time will change them. Growing up and experiences will change them,” and being open to the fact that people change over time. Letting people change for the better is really important.
That’s back to the whole open-mindedness, having your heart open, not judging people, seeing where people evolve, and helping people too. Acceptance is as big as having compassion. These are all elements that are critical. I can only imagine some of that does apply back to that whole positive psychology in one of the first classes. I’d love to learn more about that because you’ve given some examples about where you’ve worked and I’m curious about what drove you to go back and get your Master’s and apply positive psychology.
I think that workplaces can improve. I now work for myself so if I want to complain to my boss, I go to the bathroom and look in the mirror. It’s a little bit different than it used to be, but I’ll tell you one thing.
When I was working for IBM, there was a tendency for people to brag, “I work 60 hours a week. I work 65 hours a week. I work 70 hours a week.” When I was growing up, my mother used to say to us that wage earners get paid by the hour, but professionals get a big payment but they work until the job is done. The employers figured that out and they said, “We’ve got a bunch of people who work until the job is done. Let’s make the job bigger and bigger,” until it got to the point that people are losing their lives in their work.
I wrote a LinkedIn post about this. We need to take some ownership of our time and make up our minds about how much time we’re going to let our jobs take from us. Particularly, the whole who’s in control. Is it the employer or the employee? Who’s the buyer or who’s the seller? Is it a buyer’s market or a seller’s market? That changes over time. I’ve seen several different curves like this. I know people are afraid, “If I don’t do everything that’s asked of me, then I’ll lose my job.” That may be true but the question is how long can you work such terrible hours without having it affect your physical, mental, and emotional health? Is it worth it to you?”We need to take some ownership of our time, to make up our minds about how much time we're actually going to let our jobs take from us. Click To Tweet
I think to take some ownership of, “This is what I have that I’m willing to share with my job,” and to not be passive about it and let yourself passively drift into working your entire life but also to be intentional about how you manage your priorities. In particular, I have another article on LinkedIn that is one of my favorites. It’s a whole question of how you negotiate with your boss having big rocks discussions.
The idea of a big rocks discussion you’ve probably seen that meme that says if you’ve got a jar and you have a pile of sand, a pile of medium-sized rocks, and a pile of big rocks. If you put the sand in first, the medium-sized rocks, and then big rocks, you get a whole lot less in the jar than if you put the big rocks in first, then the medium-sized rocks, and then the sand. I used to have this conversation with a manager that I love working for. We have them every two weeks. I was a very high-level person at that point so most people would have said, “You should be figuring out what you need to do yourself.” We agreed on this process and we would have these discussions.
I’d go into her every two weeks and I have a list. These are what I think my big rocks are. She’d look at them and say, “That’s a big rock and that’s a big rock. I think you should just finish this one up or forget about it for now. However, you don’t have a big rock that I think should be there.” We would have these conversations every two weeks with the understanding that there was no way in the world that I could do absolutely everything that was on my plate. I needed to know if anything was going to fall off my plate, I needed to make sure that anything that fell off my plate was the sand and the tiny rocks and not the big rocks. That kind of negotiation of, “This is what my job is going to be like in this period of time,” can be tremendously helpful.
It gave you the perspective of what to prioritize so you could have more success. I would hope for more joy within the job. I’m glad you had a good boss that you worked with there to help guide and help you with that. In general, as you think about the workplace, how do you view joy in the workplace? What does that look like?
To me, it includes psychological safety. That is the ability for everybody that’s there to be themselves, to not have to have a personality transplant to fit in but to be part of the whole. Everybody should have an experience of contributing to the whole. Secondly, it’s working on something that has some meaning to it. You can imagine how it’s making the world a better place because you’re spending your time doing it.
Thirdly, I’ve always loved working in teams and working with other people but this recognition that people are different and people have different ways of contributing and having a certain humor, tolerance, and openness to the differences in people so that they can work together in a way that moves things forward. Those are elements of a joyful job is having it be meaningful and making a positive difference in the world.People are different and have different ways of contributing. Have a certain humor, tolerance, and openness to the differences in people so that they can work together in a way that moves things forward. Click To Tweet
It’s feeling like everybody’s safe to be themselves and have expectations. I’m not saying everybody can just come in and play games on their computers all day but to be able to contribute in a way that that uses their talents and their abilities. Also, appreciate the fact that there are different ways of contributing.
I also go back to what you said about having an impact, making a difference, and how you change gears with your writing workshops. One of my last questions is was there a light-up moment that got you to shift gears after 30 years as a software engineer and you know you wanted to make a greater impact? Was there something that happened? Were there events? Did you just say, “I need to make a change at this point in my life?”
I’ve been looking for a change for 5 to 10 years and I have been experimenting with possibilities. Finding your way is a matter of trying things and seeing what works. When it doesn’t work, try something else, which is the whole experimental approach of my book, but it’s also the approach that I’ve used in my life. I try things. I realize that I need to do something for at least probably 3, 6, or maybe a little bit longer months before I can judge because there’s a discomfort when you try something new. You can’t judge what you’re doing based on that discomfort.
You’re getting to the point where you say, “Is this me or is this not?” When I get to the point where you say, “It’s not,” I’m pulling out and then trying something else. I’m in the middle of doing that right now. I’m in a bit of a sense of needing to have some change in my life, and I’m not sure what comes next. I’m in what my friends call a neutral period where I’m ending some things and I’m not quite sure what I’m starting.
Being able to view that as a time of possible creativity and seeing what will bubble up. It’s an uncomfortable period. I have to tell you. It’s not like it’s fun necessarily to feel like you’re in a tiny bit of a slump but I’m trying to look at it as a time when there’s a possibility of future growth and a new adventure.
I like the positive angle on that and the recognition that it’s not feeling so good either. I appreciate that and you’re putting that out there. Hopefully, this show and then maybe when you go out in the garden, you’ll start to think of what could be next and what’s possible. I have one last question for the audience. You’ve shared a few ideas with folks already. How do you get started with writing? If someone’s interested in getting going, “What can I do to start tomorrow or tonight?”
Pick something that you can imagine caring about or that you can imagine somebody else caring about and then sit down. Some people do it best by dictating. I have one person who is having trouble getting a first draft done. I said, “What if you explain your idea to a friend out loud?” Nowadays, there are all kinds of tools you can use where you can speak and then you’ll get written text amount of it.
Think about what’s your easiest form of expression and then pick some small thing that you want to capture. It might be, “This is what my child is doing right now at this particular moment, and I want to capture it so that he can appreciate it later when he’s twenty years old or he can appreciate that this is what was happening right now.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about my mother and thinking about how my memories of her are very affected by the way she was in her very last years. I’ve been trying to go back and pull ideas from what she was like. Talk to people and get ideas from what she was like at an earlier age and refresh that part of my memory of her. What I’m saying is to pick something to do and do it. If you need more ideas, I’ve got some ideas you can try.
Think of it as an experiment and try things. Some of which will work. Some of which won’t. If they don’t work, you lay them aside and you say, “I’ve learned something about myself.” If they do work or they work but you need to change them a little bit to make them fit you, go ahead and change them. This is you figuring out your approach to the writing.
I appreciate all that. I know your personal mission is to help us develop our personal voices and to be heard that way. I appreciate you so much. You’ve certainly helped me with my book, my path, and my journey. It was about our personal path and way. It’s not about ChatGPT or any other AI tools to create our voices. It’s our voice that we’re bringing out to the world. You’re helping so many people do that. Again, I’m so thankful for what you’re doing.
I invite people to go check out your workbook, your book, or your workshops. I would encourage people to join your workshops. I think it was transformational for me and I think it will be for other folks because it does get you to commit to writing and being helpful-minded to learn but also to provide feedback. You learn how to give constructive positive feedback too. Kathryn, I’m so thankful for you to be on the show. I’m honored to be friends. Again, I’m so grateful for everything you’ve instilled in me.
It’s been such a pleasure to speak to you. You’re a very fun interviewer. You’ve made my mind go off in a bunch of funny little pathways that I hadn’t thought ahead of time that we might approach but that makes it particularly fun.
What a treat to spend some time with Kathryn. She has such a way with words. In fact, she encouraged us to sit, write, share, and change the world. Capture ideas, voices, and stories in the words that matter to you. It will help you define your legacy and even live it authentically. I hope this episode sets you up on your path. Be sure to pick up her book and workbook. Even consider attending her writing workshops to fill you with confidence and courage like it did for me. I hope to see you there. Keep experimenting and aligning with your happy authentic self, and you will live your best life possible. See you next time.
- Kathryn Britton – LinkedIn
About Kathryn Britton
Kathryn Britton’s clients call her the midwife of words. She has helped hundreds of people (including myself) complete writing projects, big and small. Her own publications include books and articles about computer science, coaching, and applied positive psychology.
Kathryn has been an English major, a software engineer, an inventor, an editor, and an executive coach. In 2006, she graduated in the first class of the Master of Applied Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania.
Now Kathryn writes, edits, and coaches writers. More than 3000 pieces of writing have been reviewed in her writers’ workshops. Sit Write Share emerged from her experiences helping authors find their authentic writing voices, build confidence, and produce writing that can change the world.