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Written by JJ Barnes

www.jjbarnes.co.uk

I interviewed authors Anna McAfee and Nicole Johnston about their careers, what inspired the #LinkedInLocal movement, and the work that went into the new book, How A Hashtag Changed The World.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

Anna

I am a community strategist, LinkedIn trainer, mother, and introvert, fascinated by the idea of building connection and exploring what it means to belong. I am the co-founder of the #LinkedInLocal movement, an initiative but LinkedIn users to connect in their local cities offline and connect at a human level.

Nicole

I am a recovering political and government advisor who finds themselves authoring, ghostwriting and bookcoaching. I live in London with my husband in leafy Beckenham. We hail from Western Australia but turned up in 2001 to stay for 2 years and we’re still here 20 years later.

When did you first WANT to write a book?

Anna

We started to see the #LinkedInLocal movement take off at a rapid pace globally, and the stories of how the idea and how leading these local community groups began to grow.

Anna McAfee

We were hearing some incredible stories of social impact, career impact and how these events were building connection when people were feeling alone and lacking in real authentic human interactions. Nicole and I, along with a few co-founders, started talking about writing a book in 2018 to share the founding story of this movement and global community. 

#LinkedInLocal was a grassroots movement on a social media platform to connect in real life, and it was entirely driven and built by the uses and not the platform itself, so it seemed like a worthy story to tell.

Nicole

I’ve always wanted to write. In 2004 ago having had to take time off work for illness my first novel ‘appeared’. Since then, I’ve squeezed writing in wherever I could. These days I primarily write crime fiction – I’ve tried my hand at police procedurals and cosy crime. My friends from high school told me that they always thought I’d end up being a writer, I thought I was going to be the Prime Minister.

When did you take a step to start writing?

Anna

In 2019, before a global pandemic that would force so much of the world into isolation and reduce all forms of face-to-face contact, we started to put pen to paper, pulling together the stories we knew and those we weren’t yet aware of from the community. 

Our first draft was done in January 2020. We were working through final drafts during the first few months of the pandemic. It was rather surreal to be writing a book about face-to-face connection right when the world was unable to connect in real life.  

Nicole

I offered to help support the founders of #LinkedInLocal after I met Alex Galviz and got to know Anna and Ryan Troll. As an old politics student, I was fascinated by what quickly became a movement. If we are lucky, we get to see one genuine people powered movement in our lifetime and this one was right on my ‘doorstep.’

I’d long had a theory that people mistook movements for the money powered marketing campaigns businesses used for soft marketing but quite by accident Anna and co had tapped into a huge, global appetite for connecting with other human beings with no agenda. We now know that its because of a global epidemic of loneliness and social isolation.

Nicole Johnston

The policy person in me needed to understand the ‘why.’ Stories started coming into Anna about the impact it was having in peoples’ lives, and I felt it was a story that needed to be told.

There was so much to learn from. Anna could’ve written this book by herself, but I was really pleased to be able to co-author it with her to make sure the story was on record.

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How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?

Anna

It took about 15 months from the moment we started writing to the release in September 2020. The book was self-published, so we were able to follow our own timeline, rather than wait for a publisher to define this for us.

Nicole

It took forever and honestly, I felt so sorry for Anna because this was her first book Despite my experience writing books, I got caught up in the ideal of wanting to tell ALL of the stories. Two authors in one book is hard but hundreds of stories on top of that is a mega task. Thankfully, we had Caroline Goldsmith as our editor who was patient, brutal and an awesome cheerleader.

How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?

Nicole

This is a tough one because my police procedural took 6-7 months to write but my latest, the cosy crime, probably took 2-3 months. I am usually a fast writer, but the editing is hell on earth.

Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write How A Hashtag Changed The World?

Anna

We built a community and social impact movement that LinkedIn chose not to support, and ultimately meant the values were stripped away.  The community ceased to exist and yet the movement had so much impact on its local organisers and event attendees. Our inboxes were filled with the stories of impact, and we wanted to tell and share these stories. We wanted to show how social media could be used for good and bring humans together.

Nicole

This was a story that needed to be told. People needed to understand what happened when you tapped to an existing human need rather than creating a desire for something you want to sell or provide. This was one of those rare times when a few human beings really wanted to do something for their community rather than to make money and when those rare beings came together anything was possible.

Watching the growth of the movement as others came forward who wanted to create a space for everyone to belong was amazing. There were a few who saw it as an opportunity to make money but actually they stood out and their events fizzled out as fast as they started. There is still so much for people to learn from this story and had LinkedIn either supported what PR better than anything they could’ve paid for, or even just kept out of our way, I think this movement would be being studied all over the world as an example of how to create sustainable communities.

What were your biggest challenges with writing How A Hashtag Changed The World?

Anna

Having never written a book before, I really found a lot of fear about my won ability coming up a lot as well as fear as to how it would be received.  I was so grateful to have Nicole as a co-author. Without her, I’m not sure I would have been able to push through this fear.  We also were finalising the text and edits during the first few months of the pandemic, in lockdown and with so much uncertainty. The pandemic also meant that we had to do an online launch only and weren’t able to run any offline events for the launch.  This was hard, but it certainly meant we had to get creative!

Nicole

Two co-authors was always going to be challenging but the hardest thing was both of us wanting to squeeze all of the stories in.

Providing a space for a trans woman to belong both professionally and personally as a whole human being for the first time in her life was profound but that’s no more life changing than an introvert finding his best friend. So many of the events charged a nominal fee to help orphans in India and human trafficking victims in Vietnam, which fit in with our not-for-profit principle.

We desperately wanted all of the stories in. We went down fighting but thanks to Caroline we found our way through it.

Anna’s part was difficult on a personal level because it’s tough to find the line between her personally and the movement, when you are the founder and its an intrinsic part of your life. Police procedurals are hard work, but this was far and away the most difficult book I’ve ever been involved in writing.

What was your research process for How A Hashtag Changed The World?

Anna

Community members stories make up half of the book. Our research process involved reaching out to our #LinkedInLocal host community, and the wider community of attendees, asking for stories or for people willing to be interviewed. Once we’d received the stories, we had to go through an editing process, deciding how we would organise them.  Ultimately our editor helped us decide which stories would be included.

Nicole

Anna was the research for the background – she had it all in her head. She was the ‘background’ of the story. Then it was all about the stories. Because my nature is ‘policy’ I wanted to explain the appetite for #LinkedInLocal so I had already done research on loneliness and self-isolation and the impact of digital communication on the way people connect.

How did you plan the structure of How A Hashtag Changed The World?

Anna

Yes, in addition to the stories part of the book explain above, we mapped out the chapters for the remainder, the founding stories and reflections. Once we had mapped out the chapters, we divided them up between us based on whose voice needed to tell the story. For example, the founding story was in my voice, and the reflections on ‘why now’ was best told by Nicole.

Nicole

I can’t remember whose idea it was to divide it up the way we did but it was genius. It made two very distinct writing voices ‘fit’ in a way they wouldn’t have. It quickly became clear that me ‘telling’ other peoples’ stories was losing something in the translation, so we shifted it to them telling their own stories and we chose to leave in some of the unique ways different people from around the globe communicated. I’m a pantser so structuring and outlining is not my natural state.

The #1 Writing Tool

Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did How A Hashtag Changed The World need?

Anna

Our book needed a lot of editing, as we wanted to include all the stories we received. Our editor Caroline Goldsmith was ruthless and right in her judgement though and really helped us formulate the message and worthy stories.

Nicole

If there is a more patient and skilled human being in the world than Caroline Goldsmith I have yet to meet them. I knew her and thanked my lucky stars that she was interested enough in the story to take us on. I don’t know how she stuck with us but thank God she did. It was when she told us that having so many stories was reducing the impact of them individually that we really got it. Caroline edits all of my books now, poor thing!

What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a book?

Anna

Writing a book is hard, it’s meant to be hard.  I don’t believe it comes easily to anyone.  You will have doubts but it’s with pushing through.  The outcome is worth the effort and seeing it come to life is worth it. I’d also say make a plan and be consistent.  For you that might be two hours of writing each day or writing in short increments if that’s easier.  Slowly but surely the book will come together.

Nicole

Okay so I’m cheating on this because I am a bookcoach, but I would say:

1.. Talent is 2%, persistence is 98%. Its not talent that gets a book written – its sticking with it even when you want to set fire to it.

2. There is no replacement for writing every single day – it not only builds a habit, exercises the creative side of your brain (which for most of us is under exercised in comparison to the logical side of our brain); it prevents us having to reacquaint us with where we’re at in our MS; it also builds a momentum of its own. The more creativity we use, the more we get – we don’t wear it out (as Maya Angelou) famously said. We get better and faster and writing every day – even for a very short time WILL get that book written. Writing in bursts when you have time MIGHT get that book written.

3. Writing is like every other area of life. Some people may be lucky and get an agent and publisher with their first book. Most won’t. If people are looking for an easy or fast way to make money – this isn’t it. Most of us work for at least a decade to become an overnight success.

3. We use my 10minute method in my free Writing Tribe:

            – write for 10minutes (or more) every single day

– do NOT edit, review, or research while you’re writing (jumping between the creative and logical sides of our brain is a recipe for writer’s block)

I worked this out when every, single aspiring writer told me they didn’t have time to write, so I worked out how long people would have to find every day to write, to get their book written. To my surprise it was 10minutes.

The average person writes at 40words per minute.

40wpm x 10minutes = 400words

400words x 7 days = 2800 words (in just over an hour over the week!)

2800words x 26 weeks = 72 800words

Amazing, right? We have used this method in my tribe for years and it works!

Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?

Anna

For me, none at the moment, although I am mulling over an idea about a book on Building and Leading Communities for Social Impact.

Nicole

I’ve just finished my first police procedural and my first cosy crime. I am hoping to write a series on both, but the second cosy crime in the one I’m working on as soon as I have sent off first cosy crime. I have a plan for a book on practical tips on getting your book started and finished and a love project on the power of writing for healing, moving forward in our lives. So many books – I need a few more days in the week!

And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

Anna

Yes it was. We wanted to tell the stories from our community and movement, so that other social movements could learn from us, and give recognition to our hosts who had built some truly valuable local communities.

Nicole

Anna and co should be immensely proud of what they achieved. I was devastated when LinkedIn interfered and changed the nature of #LinkedInLocal – it’s the most profound ‘own goal’ I’ve seen aside from Brexit. It was something truly special and they could’ve been part of it or just stepped aside and let it happen, giving them completely unjustified great PR. They never understood the notion of people doing something for nothing – simply for the joy of doing something good for other people with no agenda. Because they didn’t understand this or the simple human need for human connection with no agenda, I can only assume they thought someone was making money off it and it wasn’t them. Short sighted and bloody foolish. The movement and this book will always be something I am incredibly proud of being part of.

Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:

Anna
https://www.linkedin.com/in/annamcafee/

https://www.instagram.com/annamcafee/

www.annamcafee.com.au           

Nicole

www.writingtribe.com

https://www.facebook.com/novelnicole1

https://www.instagram.com/nicolejohnstonauthor/

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