Ups and downs: A week in the writerly life

Greetings, my writerly peeps!

It’s been a weird and wonderful week for me.

First, I headed down to Mississauga (second of three trips for the day-job this month) on Monday. Since I had full travel days (Monday and Thursday) this week, I was able to travel in a more leisurely fashion.

My mission: to co-facilitate the Business Writing Made Easy course (my seventh time with that particular curriculum) with one of my colleagues.

Monday afternoon was spent preparing the room and testing our technology. There were a few tense moments. There was a TV in the room, and we attempted to hook it up as the monitor for the lap top so we could use it to show the slides for the course. It didn’t work.

So we brought the good old SMART Board into the room, and while not able to achieve full connectivity (some of the cables were missing) we were able to use it as a basic projection screen. Good enough.

My colleague was preparing for her own trainer certification. At this time, our employer’s internal college is getting out of the certification biz, however, and so she had to record a full day’s training, edit it down to four hours, and demonstrate the eighteen trainer competencies.

This would mean that I couldn’t be in the classroom, though, because to have a co-facilitator in the room would have invalidated her certification.

So what would I do? Due to another colleague’s absence, I was able to set up at her workstation, but there wouldn’t be a lot of work I could do.

The day ended, and I had to leave ends a little loose for the time being.

That evening, I tried to connect to the interwebz through my hotel’s wi-fi. It wouldn’t even let me have multiple windows open (that’s how I manage my SoMe). So that meant dependence on my smart(er than me) phone for SoMe for the week and actual productive writing time.

This was a boon in disguise. I quickly accepted it for the gift it was.

That night, I realized that my colleague and I would be co-facilitating Business Writing Made Easy again at the end of this month (my third trip of three) and that she could record her session again there. In the morning, I proposed that I observe her and give her some tips for the end of the month, then jump in on day two.

This was an agreeable plan and so we proceeded.

There was a little panic (actually ongoing) because we were uncertain whether the course at month’s end would be approved.

The video tapes (yes, it was an old camcorder) ran out before half the day’s training was finished. We weren’t sure if my colleague would have enough footage to even make up the four hours she would need to submit.

Regardless, that night we went out to celebrate and enjoyed Korean BBQ, a first for both of us. You cook your own food, right at the table, and it’s a la carte, so you just keep ordering as long as you’re hungry. It was very tasty.

The next day, a snow storm blew in. The course finished well—the grammar module is my favourite—and my colleague had figured out how to transfer her video to digital so she could edit. So she had a possibility of moving forward with her certification video even if it turned out we couldn’t co-facilitate again.

I had a quiet night, writing away, and finished editing my NaNoWriMo novel. I just have to fill the ending out a little more now. We have denoue- but need a little more -ment.

The drive home on Thursday was terrible, largely because of the previous day’s snow storm.

It took me an hour and a half to travel a distance I normally would in about fifteen minutes, even with traffic. Then I got off the highway and travelled a little more indirectly to bypass the closed lane I assumed was the reason we couldn’t travel more than 10 km/h.

Once past that bit, I was fine, but I didn’t get back into Sudbury until about 3:30 pm.

When I got home, I noticed I had received a lovely email from R. Leigh Hennig of Bastion Science Fiction Magazine. They would like one of my stories for an issue later this year. W00t!

I have to back track just a bit. I submitted my story on March 1st. There was originally a deadline of February 28, but when I went to check on the web site, I noticed the date had been removed and that Bastion was now accepting submissions on a rotating basis, with issues filling up fast.

I decided to take the extra day to polish, and I’m glad I did.

When I was in Mississauga the week before last (first trip of three), I received an email that my submission would be brought forward for discussion with the editorial team. I was cautiously optimistic. Hell, I was all alone in my hotel room doing the happy dance.

And yes, I was dancing again on Thursday night, to Phil’s delight, when I received the second email confirming Bastion’s interest.

In fact, while I’m not one to too my own horn (it makes me distinctly uncomfortable), I have to share the following: “After some careful deliberation on this piece with the rest of the staff, we’ve decided that it would be a crime not to publish this.”

Oh. My. God.

Mellie was a wiggle-puppy.

Please donate (find the link on their About page) to support this wonderful new magazine.

 

It was back to work on Friday, and I forgot my phone, which meant no keeping up with email or SoMe or my reading during the day.

Then it was over to my friend Kim’s for home-made chilli and much writerly talk with Kim and a new (to me) friend, Violet. There was wine. I had to drink tea to sober up before the drive home and I ended up getting home after 11 pm when I finally caught up on email and SoMe.

Connecting to like-minded, creative souls is an important part of a writer’s life. It was wonderful, even if I didn’t get to write.

Saturday morning was cranberry bread French toast with Mom, a quick clean up of the house, and then an afternoon of shopping while Nuala went for her spa day (grooming) at Petsmart. After ordering out pizza for supper, I hosted a couple of friends from out of town.

It was another night of great conversation, though accompanied by coffee and oatmeal cookies instead of wine.

Unfortunately, that meant I was unable to meet a writing deadline. I was hoping to submit to the Northwestern Ontario Writers’ Workshop (NOWW) because the judge for the speculative fiction category is none other than Robert J. Sawyer. I would have loved to get something in front of his wise eyes.

I wouldn’t have given up my time with my friends for anything though. So, I’ll have to look for other opportunities.

So it’s been a week of ups and downs, but more ups than downs. It’s been a good week. And now I’m looking forward to a week off so I can recuperate and prepare for my next business trip.

How about you? How has your week played out? Let me know in the comments below.

Advertisements

Constructive Written Feedback: Mission Impossible?

So, I’ve been writing this course for about the past month. All of our feedback training, in house, consists of how to give verbal feedback, in person. In our virtual workplace, where much of our feedback takes place over email or through instant messaging, a new approach was recommended.

The hope is that my course will be seen as suitable for modification and use by other business lines, and for other positions (consultants, team leaders, managers). Yes, my manager has vision 🙂

Special funding was obtained to create and pilot this course, and a second one defining our monitoring process and how it’s changed with the advent of performance management, which two of my colleagues undertook.

Last week, I had the opportunity to stand and deliver.

The target for the course was my colleagues, so facilitating held a special trepidation for me this time around. Plus, my manager was sitting in. No pressure. None at all 😉

The session started out with an introduction by my manager, who also presented me with my long-awaited trainer certification.

You may remember that I achieved my trainer certification last March. The actual, suitable-for-framing certificate was almost a year in the coming. I have it now, though. I’ll take a picture and share once I’ve had the dear thing framed.

I’m a bit of an accomplishment junkie. I frame every certificate of completion, award, or acknowledgement of completion I get. The wall at work is getting a little crowded. Like my C.V. on this site, my certificates are a concrete reminder of what I’ve done.

My manager also advised the team that we had been nominated for a service excellence award for our collective work on the recent new hire training. We’ll see what comes of that.

The course itself was designed in a participant-centered format with lots of activities.

I also tortured them with a pre-course activity, asking them to write four different types of written feedback specific to our positions.

Here’s the outline:

  • What do we already know about feedback (brainstorm)? Is this knowledge applicable to constructive written feedback?
  • Objective and agenda.
  • Administrivia.
  • Icebreaker (two truths and a lie). Rhetoric, a skill we don’t know we use every day. How to tailor our message to our reader.
  • The four kinds of feedback (demonstration).
  • The challenges of giving and receiving feedback (marketplace).
difficulties of feedback

The results of the challenges of giving and receiving feedback activity.

  • How perception affects our feedback.
  • The three principles of constructive written feedback (discovery).
3 principles discovery

The results of the three priciples of constructive written feedback discovery activity.

  • Recurring issues and a five-step strategy to address them.
  • Practice in making our messages clear, concise, and readable (large group, cooperative).
  • Critique of the (anonymous) pre-course assignments and presentation of highlights (small group).
  • Sharing of best practices.
  • Review of objective.
  • Knowledge transfer – participants made a promise to themselves in the form of tasks allowing 28 days of practice to create new habits with respect to constructive written feedback.

The best part of the facilitation was eliciting the fabulous and valuable group discussions we had. My questioning techniques were certainly given a workout.

I had handouts, a PowerPoint presentation, a poster, and a facilitators’ guide, but conspicuously, no participant guide. All of the learning content arose from the class and a several points, participants were asked to capture the information generated from various activities and report back to the class.

My colleagues’ presentation on Monitoring: Beyond the Basics was informative. At our level, we haven’t had much in the way of structure or procedure. Many of us started the job by being thrown into the deep end and learning by doing.

Yes, there is a course intended to introduce us to our job duties, but that is general in nature and geared to our position across business lines and departments. Our new procedures, flow-charts, and reports will give us that much-needed job-specific structure, moving forward.

We might even be delivering the written feedback and monitoring courses to all new and acting advisors in the future, in-person or virtually.

Who knows what will result from this past month’s work? One thing for sure is this: I’ll let you know.

Stay tuned.

This is the learning mutt, signing off for today.

Caturday Quickies: The certification run

This past week, I travelled to Chatham to deliver yet one more session of Business Writing Made Easy.  The critical difference this time?  I was assessed for my trainer certification.  Eeps!

An omen?

What started my week was the journey to Chatham, some six and a half hours away.  Phil dropped me off at the car rental place at 8 am (we only have the one car).  Past experience taught me that I’d be in and out in less than 15 minutes, back home to load up my luggage and boxes, and on the road by 8:30 am.

When I walked in, there were four people waiting, one of them had an insurance claim to deal with due to a dent in the rental, and another was returning a car from another rental company.  The rental location was two employees short-staffed, and I settled in for a wait.

The first car I was given had some issues.  I couldn’t afford to wait any longer, so gratefully accepted an upgrade and was finally on the road shortly after 9 am.

The loveliness of the ETR

The journey itself was great.  For the first time, I used the 407 express toll route (ETR).  In the time it would have normally taken me to reach the hotel near our regional headquarters from the ETR on-ramp, I was exiting at Halton Hills, not far away from Guelph.

The ETR saved me precious time and allowed me to reach Chatham before the end of the day.

Lusting after the Zzzzz’s

I quickly checked into my hotel (more about that in another caturday quickie to come) and toted my boxes to the office, arriving just before 4 pm.  I spent the next several hours setting up the training room with my co-facilitator, Carole.  About 8 pm, we gave up for the night, Carole checked into the hotel, and we enjoyed a late supper at the hotel’s rather excellent restaurant.

I rarely sleep well when I’m on the road, but that first night was especially challenging.  I don’t know whether it was nerves, the trains that passed by periodically all night, or something else, but from 2:25 am on, I couldn’t sleep.  I’d gone to be just after 11 pm, and there’s no way I can function properly with only three hours’ sleep.

Despite that, I met up with Carole for breakfast the next morning, we finished setting up the room and our activities, I met my assessors, and class got underway.

The assessment

Really, I’m trying not to think about it much, because every time I do, I start thinking of all the things I did wrong, all of the technical difficulties I encountered, and all of the other things that could potentially have done me in so far as certification went.

I started asking closed questions.  My SMART Board activity bombed.  Toward the end of the second morning, I was exhausted and running on instinct rather than cultivating the Zen awareness critical to my success.  I curtailed a couple of side bar conversations clumsily.  I forgot participant names.  What’s the expression?  I sucked so hard …

The assessors were very kind.  I’d actually worked with one of them before, delivering workshops in Cornwall a few years ago, but their job is to make sure that I can facilitate in a participant-centered manner in accordance with a set of 18 competencies.  They assessed me for a full day, 1 pm to 4:30 pm the first afternoon, and again from 8:30 am to noon the second day.  I had to facilitate the class solo.

At the end of the first afternoon, the assessors asked me a series of questions about the competencies that weren’t clearly visible in my facilitation and presentation skills.  Things like the room set up, placement of visuals, the joining instructions, utilization of pre-course assignment materials, continuing professional development, and so forth.

At noon the next day, I bid them farewell and was advised that I would be informed of the outcome of the assessment within a couple of weeks.

I’m kind of dreading it.  I think that having to go through the assessment again would be a little bit more than I can handle moving into the new fiscal year.  Thus the avoidance tactics 🙂

The good parts

My co-facilitator bought me a wee gift.  Isn’t it lovely? congratulations

I tried not to tell her she was counting my chickens before they were hatched and just appreciated the gesture.  Carole also asked me to focus on all the things I had done well in the class.  Though I was able to list several things, my mind quickly gravitated toward the negative and I returned to avoidance.

The final day of class, with Carole at my side, went well, and by the end of it, several of the participants not only told us how much they enjoyed the class, and what good resources they got out of it, but also told us that their colleagues were asking how they could get on the list to attend the course.

That kind of validation warms a facilitator’s heart 🙂

After class, we packed everything up, and had an hour or so to enjoy Chatham and some of the quaint shops in the area.

At breakfast on Friday morning, Carole asked me some very helpful questions about the certification process.  She has an interest in pursuing it, and was curious about what might be next for me given her expectations for my success.

It was another very helpful way of keeping my mind from dwelling on all of my short-comings.

I dropped the set of posters I’d borrowed for the delivery of the course back at regional headquarters on my way through Toronto, and was home by 4:30 pm.

At home, Phil reminded me that my focus on the negative wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Being conscious of what I did wrong means that I’ll be less likely to repeat those errors since I am, as always, my toughest critic.  I get so embarrassed about it that I determine never to fall into the same trap again.

It’s all about doubt, something that plagues me in both spheres of my professional life (training and writing).  I constantly question the value of what I do, regardless of the evidence to the contrary.

So … the next you’ll hear about this is whether I have, in fact, been successful or not.

Have you been assessed, or tested recently?  How did you feel about the process?  What did it teach you about yourself?

Caturday Quickies: Business Writing Made Frozen, er Easy

The road to certification

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Timmins to deliver the second of three sessions of Business Writing Made Easy.

BWME Nov 19-22 001The first delivery was back in November and in the much warmer Toronto.  At that time, I was observed by the person who designed the course and who was, at the time, one of the leads in the trainers certification program.

Then, my hope was to certify in Timmins.  My observer told me, point blank, that I wouldn’t pass.  We then made plans for another delivery of BWME.  Timmins would be a practice run, to let me become more familiar with the material and more practiced in my participant-centered training delivery methods and techniques.

My mentor was unable to continue coaching with me and my observer volunteered to take over.  An opportunity arose for me to co-facilitate Introduction to Participant-Centered Training Delivery in January, further cementing my skills.  My co-facilitator, a recently certified trainer herself, said that I was ready.

In February, however, things began to devolve.  My observer-turned-mentor was assigned a project and could not continue to coach me.  No one would be able to take over.  In a final meeting, we whizzed through the remaining material we had to cover.  I was again told that I was ready for assessment.

My own workload did not lessen and as I started to prepare for my delivery in Timmins, I realized that I was within the six-week deadline to arrange my observation.

Frantically, I contacted the certification program lead.  I had to complete an assignment on the 18 trainer competencies, showing how I’d been working to develop each one, and complete a pre-evaluation interview to ensure that I was, in fact, ready.  She felt confident that I was.

While I worked on Joining Instructions, pre-course assignments, and prep for the delivery, I waited on pins and needles to find out if assessors could be located for my certification run.  Just before I left for Timmins, I was informed that I had one more assignment to complete.  I did, and was propmtly introduced to my certification team.

The drive up to Timmins was lovely.  It was a bright, brisk, winter day and we made excellent time.  We set up the room and started organizing the activities.

That night, the weather grew stormy.  10 cm of snow, followed by another 20 or so the next day.  Then the deep freeze descended and for the rest of the week was less than pleasant.

The training went well, thankfully.  There were a few rocky places, but there always are.  No training ever goes perfectly.  I firmly subscribe to the good enough theory of life, the universe, and everything.  I wonder if good enough = 42 😉

The weather improved for our journey back to Sudbury on Friday.

Sunrise over downtown Timmins, Ontario, Canada

Sunrise over downtown Timmins, Ontario, Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week, I strove to catch up on my regular work and still conserve some time to prep for next week’s delivery.  The certification program lead emailed me to once again offer a few words of support, and here I am, with a skimpy weekend between me, a six and a half hour journey, hasty room and activity set up, and a full 8 hours of solo assessment of my facilitation skills.

My main goal?  To remain mindful in the moment.  Yes, training is a Zen kind of thing.

Will let you know how the certification attempt goes, but I won’t know anything for a while after.  The earliest I can have my debrief is April 4 (!)  While the report should be released within a couple of weeks, I’m not certain if they’ll give me a definitive ‘yes’ or ‘no’ before the debrief can happen.

The nerves come and go in waves.

Keep me in your thoughts trainer types.