As I mentioned in a previous article, I have apparently talked about listening so much and in so many places, that someone took notice and asked me to co-write the listening sections of a textbook. This is a new experience for me and I have been asked about it by a number of people, so I thought: why not take stock and share what I have learned?

So, if you want to know the five main lessons I have learned from this experience, read on: it’s not all sunshine and roses, and impostor syndrome doesn’t just go away, but it can be very fulfilling, too!


Build a portfolio to get noticed


Many teachers are interested in making the transition from teaching to materials writing. I get that: after all, we do a lot of writing work for our own lesson planning, and we want to apply those skills beyond our own classes. As Richard Harrison explains in his guide to materials writing, this can also come as a reaction to the materials we use: they are not 100% suitable, they could be improved, we continuously need to tweak them… the list goes on, but the point remains: wouldn’t we be better off writing and publishing materials ourselves?

If this is what you want to do, you might wonder how to get into materials writing. What I have learned is that it may take a while, but if you build a portfolio, especially about a specific topic, you are more likely to get asked to contribute to a writing project. For example, I have always been passionate about listening and listening pedagogy. For the past decade or so, I have written academic and non-academic articles about listening, presented at conferences and generally been quite vocal about the issues with listening pedagogy on (and off) social media. Finding a niche topic may not work for everyone, but it worked for me and I feel it gives you a clearly identifiable identity as an expert in a field.


Be ready to balance different expectations


When you start working on your writing project, you will likely have to deal with different stakeholders: editors, project managers, co-writers and “the publishers”. And then, of course, there are the stakeholders you can’t see but who are there nonetheless: teachers, students, parents. When I started writing, I learned pretty quickly that you have to balance different expectations, and these expectations can sometimes clash with your ideals of what a good lesson plan looks like.




Impostor syndrome doesn’t magically disappear

I know I am not alone in regularly thinking, despite all evidence to the contrary, that I am not good at what I do. It’s called impostor syndrome and to me, it feels like an everyday companion. It is especially true when it comes to writing an English textbook: after all, I studied on English textbooks all those years ago. Who am I now to write one? No matter how much I work on self-awareness and my feelings around native speakerism, that sneaky feeling that, as a non-native speaker, I don’t really deserve a seat at the table, is always there. Thanks to the support of the team I am working with, however, it is getting easier if not to get rid of that feeling entirely, at least to chip away at it!


Finding the right co-author is key

Many, if not most, textbooks are written by writing teams rather than individuals. I have been fortunate enough to be assigned a co-author who is not only a kind and supportive person, but also a knowledgeable trainer and someone who shares my vision of what listening should look like. If given the opportunity, try to find a co-author who shares your vision for the most part. If you cannot choose your co-author, having meetings to discuss big picture issues and the direction you want to take the book in is crucial to enhance your chances of success.




Try to write what you would like to use

Are you familiar with that feeling of staring at the screen unable to carry on and feeling like you’d quite like to bang your head against that blank screen? I have been a writer in different capacities for years, but writing a textbook is a different experience. Textbooks are based on sequences of activities and the space available is little, so you are bound to get stuck at some point. What I find helps me as a newcomer to materials writing is stepping back and asking myself: what would I like this lesson to be if I were using it in the classroom? I imagine myself using the materials with one of my classes and that helps me get over my writer’s block.


These are the five main lessons I have learned in my first few months as a materials writer. Do you have any more tips? Share them with me in the comments!