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Recently, I was having a “you can do it” sort of conversation with a client who’s stuck in the long, thankless-until-it’s-published slog of writing a book, when she asked me about my writing process.
I have always been a reader; but the kid who devoured books one after another has, as an adult, found it difficult to consistently make time for reading. First, it was David McCullough’s “The Greater Journey,” a hefty nonfiction book about American writers, artists and physicians who flocked to Paris between roughly 1830 and 1900.
So I picked up “The Paris Wife,” Paula McClain’s fictional account of Hadley and Ernest Hemingway’s courtship and marriage and early life in Paris. The book is more than reflection on a marriage; it captures conversations among writers about the craft of writing. On keeping momentum in your work — “I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. On the struggle to begin, to face the blank page — “But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going … I would stand and look out over the roofs of paris and think, ‘Do not worry. I’m just back from three days at HOW Design Live — the premier event for folks in the creative professions (graphic and web design, advertising, marcomm and related fields). Unexpectedly — and perhaps unintentionally — a prominent theme pulsed through the event, linking many of they keynote presentations. There’s a scene in “The Commitments” (a terrific movie about the rise and fall of a soul band in working-class Dublin) where self-appointed manager Jimmy Rabbette is auditioning singers.
So I picked up an old favorite, “The Wind in the Willows,” Kenneth Grahame’s charming story of the Water Rat, his kindly friend Mole, and the motorcar-addicted Mr. Think about the people—writers, designers, artists, mentors, colleagues, managers—whose craft and technique have informed your own work. A couple of weeks ago, when the weather wasn’t so goshdarn steamy and my workload was summer-light, I wandered outside to take a look at the vegetable garden before sitting down at the computer for the day. An hour and a half later, I realized that I’d been completely sucked into The Puttering Zone. After futzing around in the garden for awhile, it occurred to me that this kind of activity might be really good for us.
In one study by the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, which tracked 60-year-old men and women over 12 years, found that people who had an active daily life that included “non-exercise” — physical activity like “gardening, car maintenance, blackberry picking or DIY projects” — had a 30% lower risk of heart attack or stroke compared to people who were sedentary. Another study by a team from Rush University Medical Center found that similar activity — described in a news release as “activities like cooking, washing the dishes, playing cards …” — may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. I did indeed come back indoors and sit down at the computer, at which point I opened a Pages document and sketched a few notes that became this newsletter. Late last year, the team at San Francisco’s supertalented Hybrid Design called with an assignment: Would I be interested in interviewing Sibella Kraus for one of their client projects?
Sibella Kraus is the matriarch of our modern farmers’ market system, and a personal hero of mine.
Four months later, the Hybrid Design team asked if I’d contribute to Issue 4 of the Quarterly. Earlier this year, I had occasion to give a talk about my career and my work to a group of retirees as part of a senior-learning program sponsored by Miami University.
Whatever it is that you do for a living, if you speak of it with authentic enthusiasm, people will be interested in hearing about your work.
And that goes whether you’re pitching to a prospective client or meeting the friend of a friend at a party. Aside from the few elderly gents who dozed during the presentation like they were in church, the audience seemed genuinely appreciative.
You may have worked on your own “elevator speech”—that one-sentence pitch that describes what you do and for whom. And while the formula can help you structure and hone how you speak about your work, it has its limitations.
Now that I’ve wrapped up much of the work involved in the MP (marketing and promotional work will happen when the book is published this fall), I thought I’d document and share more of what I’ve learned during the experience.
Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. About BrynWriting about food, wellness and creativity is the new chapter in a successful 20+ year gig in publishing. Creative graphic design is an essential part of every business.A Everything your company says, does and displays needs to reflect and communicate the aims, message and identity of your company. My name is Barbara Ward-Finneran, a graphic designer, visual artist, writer and founder of Drawn 2 Design based in Melbourne, Florida. The answer I gave her was probably unhelpful: I tend to wait until inspiration strikes, at which point the piece pours from my fingertips almost fully formed. Personal essay-ish pieces, like these posts or ones for my recipe website, or my editor’s notes for Edible Ohio Valley, do require inspiration.


In that newly opened document, I’ll stash snippets of online research material, interview questions, Wikipedia content, interesting quotes or insights I’ve gathered. It’s easy to see patterns in the inputs: a theme for the piece, or common elements that can be grouped together. With that skeleton in place, I’ll add transitions between ideas, fill in supplemental information or explanation, make sure the content flows logically and add a conclusion that helps the reader understand the concept or creates a call to action. These expats sought to perfect their crafts in what they saw as the most vital, creative life-giving city in the world.
And then, of course, I had to read Hemingway’s memoir of that same time, “A Moveable Feast” — a gorgeously written, heartbreaking book.
HOW remains close to my heart, since I spent many years managing the brand and helping to host the conference.
I enjoyed hearing Angie Myung and Ted Vadakan, the founders of Poketo, talk about the by-the-seat-of-their-pants startup story. Our goal was to create an approachable, engaging guide for holiday entertaining, cooking and gift-giving, with content designed to spark ideas — and, of course, to prompt sales of the featured products and ingredients. A parade of musicians knock on Jimmy’s door; he opens it a crack and demands, “Who are your influences?” Hearing responses like, “Barry Manilow,” “Joan Baez” and “Spandau Ballet,” he repeatedly slams the door in disgust. During the holidays, looking for something to read in between finishing book 3 of the “Game of Thrones” series and starting “Gone Girl”—yes, I’m just now getting to that—I had a taste for material that was less dark and intense. What starts with a simple task, like putting something away in your workbench, or deadheading a few flowers in the landscape or stashing a box of crackers on the shelf … winds up as 90 minutes of tinkering or gardening or cleaning out the pantry.
The pleasure of puttering is in the act itself, not necessarily the outcome (though that can be rewarding, too). Performing simple tasks like pulling weeds or reorganizing tools on a pegboard, and moving from one task to another without planning, doesn’t require much concentration. I recall having a much brighter outlook on my day, having accomplished something and enjoyed myself in unexpected fashion. She worked with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse, where the two of them began seeking better quality produce from local farmers.
This time, I had the fun assignment to write about public spaces that foster community: tiny parks, communal apartment buildings, co-working spaces and the like. Giving this presentation felt like giving my “elevator pitch”—but, like, for nearly an hour. It can sound a little stilted when you utter the words, like you’ve memorized a few lines of poetry.
At a party, if I’m asked what I do, I simply say, “I’m a food writer.” Invariably, I’ll get a follow-up question: “Oh, so who do you write for?” When you’re in a social setting, can you come up with a short-and-sweet description of your work that prompts additional conversation?
Whether you write about food or you develop B2B websites, there’s something about the work you get really geeked about. I wrote about this Marathon Project (MP) several months ago on my blog and in my newsletter. If you’re a “get-er-done” kind of person, one who tackles the to-do list with relentless pursuit and who’s not comfortable until tasks are finished, the Marathon Project will loom large on your plate from the very start.
I had about 10 final profiles to write for the book and was scrambling to gather recipes—and I couldn’t keep going.
For the final month of the project, I graciously declined several other gigs so that I could focus solely on the book, and I let my clients know that I’d again be available in a few weeks. When you reach the finish line on a Marathon Project, do something deliberate and meaningful to celebrate, particularly if it’s a team effort. I’ve spent my media career in magazine journalism, much of it as the editor and brand leader for HOW, a multi-platform brand serving graphic designers and creative professionals. Each part of traditional and digital design needs to be consistent, straight forward and engaging to your market.
My two decades of design experience enables me to help you visually communicate your business’ image to your audience and distinguish your company from your competitors. So for her, and for any of you who struggle (don’t we all?) with writing, here are a few of my practices that might be helpful to you. Often, I’ll noodle on ideas while I’m doing something completely unrelated: My Edible editor’s notes are unfailingly written in my head while I’m out walking Peroni. But I find that opening a blank document, and saving it — making the project real, giving it a name, a purpose — often gets me over the hump.
For example, I’m currently writing a newsletter for a client on a marketing-related topic, one that I’m familiar with but not expert in. Forty-some years later — after he and Hadley had divorced (and he’d married three other women in succession), after he’d undergone horrific electroshock therapy treatments for depression that had sapped his memory — Hemingway received two steamer trunks of letters, notebooks and old clothing that he’d left at the Hotel Ritz in Paris in the 1920s.
Workers are laid off without conscience, and the rest of the team are pressured to pick up the slack.


Companies don’t trust their employees to make smart decisions, to take ownership of their work, to fall and learn from mistakes.
They moved in with Ted’s parents, picked and packed orders themselves, made some bad decisions about inventory. I immediately found myself in familiar territory: Not only had I read Grahame’s beautiful story many times since childhood, but I recognized the pattern and rhythm and structure of the writing.
One little thing leads to another, and without much thinking about it, you’ve managed to accomplish quite a bit. Our minds are free to wander, to make connections between things stashed away in our brains, to generate ideas. It can be a little jargon-y, which might play well in a business setting but might be out of place in a social interaction. Only when I finished the last step of my cookbook project—when I compiled all the profiles and recipes and front matter and miscellaneous stuff, about 200 separate pieces, into a single document—did I realize just how BIG this MP was. Lunch, happy hour, an afternoon off … find a way to reward the effort and acknowledge your quality work. Recipe ideas jolt when I’m eating something delicious at a restaurant or browsing cookbooks or magazines. So I started by doing several Google searches and gathering ideas, images and information (being sure to save my sources so I can later either quote or cite the originals). Employees don’t trust that companies have people (themselves, or their customers) as their primary focus.
They just gave it a whirl, and now they have an influential brand that brings art into people’s everyday lives. Where is it written that if you’re unsure about yourself or your capabilities you get to mask that by being a bully? The way Grahame works in threes, stringing together three words or phrases in a singsong pattern. Sibella was wonderful to talk to, and the story ended up in Issue 3 of Mohawk Paper’s Maker Quarterly.
And I found that expressing my genuine excitement made it so much easier to talk about my work. Yeah, I’ve been busy.) At that point, about 2 months into the MP, I had discovered some project-management tricks that would help manage a long-term gig, including breaking the MP into chunks and doing the pre-work necessary to make things move smoothly. During that time, though, I also cut off other marketing channels: didn’t contribute to my blog, put the newsletter on hiatus, neglected business-development follow-ups.
Brene Brown talked about how we have to own our flaws, be honest about our failures — or others will use those things to define us.
One great piece of advice from Sinek: When someone asks for a minute of your time, close the laptop and put your phone in a drawer. Of course, I don’t propose to compare my writing to theirs—with all due modesty, I’m competent, but not that good—but I can’t help but realize that I’ve borrowed styles and techniques from authors I’ve loved. When you reach the finish line of your MP, look back and consider all the ground you’ve covered. Then Julie Kramer, the photographer, shared some of the images she was getting for the book.
When did it become OK for managers to email employees on weekends and expect them to respond? Next time I find an MP on my plate, I’ll be more disciplined about carefully keeping the marketing machine turning. When did the pace of work pick up such that people can’t even breathe, let alone connect with colleagues and create really incredible new ideas? Managers earn trust by digging into the trenches, working alongside their teams, telling them, “I have your back” and then living those words.
Yes, companies exist to create profit — and in doing so create jobs and build communities — but so much of this profit focus is incredibly short term, and it’s destroying people.
Employees earn trust by recognizing what needs to be done and stepping up, rising to challenges, being honest when they’re confused or when they make mistakes. When you hit the wall in an MP, keep your eyes open for something that will give you the buzz to get to the finish.



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