“I thought that “real writers” didn’t need to rewrite and edit their work. Little did I know!”
~~Ann Steiner, Ph.D
An interview with Ann Steiner, Ph.D.
by B. Lynn Goodwinn
Make It Easy To Read
Have you ever tried to run a group and been faced with arguments and disagreements? You are not alone. Fortunately, Ann Steiner, Ph.D. has created a wonderful guide for making groups work, Help Your Group Thrive: A Workbook and Planning Guide. Filled with advice, anecdotes and agreements to assist you, this is a book you should use as a resource, whether you’re running a counseling group, a writing group, or any other group. She’ll keep you on task and on target, help you problem solve, and give you the tools to make any group work.
Below she focuses on her journey as both a writer and a group leader.
BLG: The book tells us about your background as a psychotherapist, so please tell us about your background as a writer. How did you get started, and when did you know you were a writer?
AS: Like many of you, I have been writing as a way to sort out and express my feelings since I was a teenager. I kept my writing private until my arthritis got worse. As I learned to be more comfortable with my limitations, I started writing for the public. In the 1990’s I started giving workshops about dealing with chronic illness and training therapists to be better group therapists.
I thought that “real writers” didn’t need to rewrite and edit their work. Little did I know! Plus, since I had been trained to write “academese,” I needed to write more accessibly. I began attending writing workshops to learn how to write the way I spoke for my talks about coping with chronic pain. I joined the California Writers Club-Mt. Diablo Branch and began a weekly writer’s group. Both challenged my belief that good writers are born that way. I’ll never forget Bonnie Hearn’s advice at the California Writer’s Conference: “Put a Post It on your computer to remind yourself of these key words: Rewrite! Rewrite! Rewrite!” After I was invited to contribute a chapter to a book for psychotherapists, I admitted that I was a writer. Yes, admitted. Going from admitting, to accepting, to embracing being a writer was a slow process.
Trainees and workshop attendees kept asking for more information about the healing power of groups and how to make them safe. So, I self-published my book for group therapists. Self-publishing that first manual was a great decision – it gave me the freedom to do more revisions and additions.
BLG: How did you get the idea to write a book about groups for others in addition to therapists and how much research did you do before you began writing?
AS: I had been leading groups and teaching workshops about the Nuts and Bolts of Groups that Thrive for years. Since I believe in making it easy for people to lead effective groups I was always sharing resources and handouts. Each year there were more handouts and worksheets. And each year people who couldn’t come to the workshops asked for copies and encouraged me to put them all in a book.
I took my collection of handouts to a local printer and within a year self-published my book for therapists – which “got legs”. I wanted to write a similar, more comprehensive book for the general public, that also included templates and sample group agreements to help everyone, from book club leaders to work team managers, improve their groups.To give you an idea, the number of sample group agreements in my current book went from 4 in-person agreements to 12, and from 7 online agreements to 9. Tracking down and getting permission from all the organizations I wanted to quote was time consuming and challenging. For example, to get permission to quote the Toastmasters Promise took almost a year – I had to go through countless people to get to their international attorney. I did the bulk of the heavy research after I got the contract with my publisher and kept finding wonderful examples I wanted to add.
BLG: Organization can be a huge issue in “how to” books. How did you approach this?
AS: Great question! My priority was to make the book easy to use either as a book to read or a resource to be returned to. I started out wanting to give the basics and then built on each category of group. Based on my years consulting for and teaching leaders of a wide range of groups, I wanted each chapter to end with a recommended reading section.My British, more academic publisher disagreed. It took a lot of persuading to reach a compromise: the end of the book includes Recommended Reading sections for each chapter in addition to the End Notes and Reference sections.
BLG: Based on your experience, what suggestions would you give to people who want to write a “how to” book?
AS: First, read or re-read “how to” books that you found helpful. Here are some other suggestions:
- Pay special attention to what does and doesn’t work for you as the reader.
- Read these and other similar books with an eye to understanding your competition and thinking about how your book is different.
- Record, in a central place, like Notes on your smart phone, ideas you have for your book.
- Make it easy to read!
- Keep your sentences short, crisp and clear.
- Many self-help books try to consolidate learning by summarizing the material presented in each chapter.
- Keep your target audience in mind and create chapters that will best meet their needs. For example, consider keeping your chapters short.
BLG: What criteria did you use for selecting the quotations in the gray boxes?
AS: Self-help and “how to” books need to be filled with short, catchy phrases, so I felt strongly that sidebars would be a good addition. Reviewing the text and picking out sections that captured the message and might catch the reader’s eye, was challenging.Remember the phrase “Kill your babies”? Let go of your favorite phrases that don’t serve your larger message! I had to force myself to pick sections I thought were either important or would be useful for a broad range of readers.
BLG: How do you hope writers’ groups will use the advice in Help Your Group Thrive: A Workbook and Planning Guide?
AS: Since many writer’s groups start with enthusiasm and fizzle out, my main hope is that leaders or some of the core members will read and use the book as a resource. The book describes various types of writing groups, and Chapter 12 includes suggestions for dealing with common challenges in groups. Successful groups need to be clear about what members can expect, how they will choose new members, and keep to or revise their expectations.
BLG: Tell us about finding your publisher.
AS: I have had the pleasure of being invited to give workshops for the American Group Psychotherapy Association for years. Three years ago the booksellers at the conference commented that my self-published book, How to Create and Sustain Groups that Thrive: Therapist’s Workbook and Planning Guide, was their best seller. Armed with that information, I felt emboldened to ask the bookseller to let me use his name in my pitch to their publisher.
Things moved rapidly after that initial introduction, and I quickly found myself signing with a prestigious publishing house. The important takeaway here is to ask people who have made positive comments about your work to use their names and comments in marketing and finding a publisher.
BLG: What else would you like readers to know?
AS: Writing and publishing a book is a major commitment. Gone are the days of publishers sending authors on book tours and handling all the marketing. If we want others to read our work we need to have a marketing plan and budget in advance of the book being released.Join your local writers group, like our California Writers Club–Mt. Diablo Branch – the support, guidance and comradery are invaluable, especially when you are starting out.Being an active member of the National Speakers Association of Northern California has helped with my speaking, marketing, and social media. Non-members are welcome to come to the meetings so check out their events at www.NSANC.org
BLG: What are you working on now and how can readers learn more about you?
AS: These days I am working on marketing the book, venturing into social media, a radio tour, expanding the therapist’s version of Help Your Group Thrive, and returning to final rewrites of The Rollercoaster of Chronic Illness: How to Add Joy to the Ride. I will be doing more workshops, author talks and signings, including talks about the wide world of publishing, so sign up for my mailing list to get announcements about my upcoming speaking engagements and a free tip sheet about leading groups. (Did you catch that marketing-ese, Call to Action?) Since authors are advised to include a call to action when marketing, please note how I did that in this paragraph.
Readers can learn more about me on my website, www.DrSteiner.com or my Author’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/DrAnnSteiner/.
BLG: Thank you for sharing your experience and wisdom.
If you’ve ever thought about starting a writing group, or any kind of group, read this book. This book will make your life easier and enhance your leadership skills.