Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed author and freelancer Helen Hill about what inspired her to write her business advice book, Falling Off The Ladder, and how she hopes to inspire people moving to self employment.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I’m Helen Hill; obsessed bunmum to two ridiculously diva bunnies (Tiffin and Strudel), an eternal student, imperfect environmental campaigner, archer, craft addict, stationery hoarder, even bigger book hoarder, a ‘big child’, majorly clumsy sod and auntie to a 5yr old going on 25. And most importantly – soon to be a first-time author.
After 10 years of tinkering with my business as a side hobby for a bit of extra pocket money, I launched myself into self-employment in 2018 and have never looked back. I’m a self-employed learning and content designer at UnlikelyGenius™ Ltd, and also a co-founder of Be The Future – an initiative helping families to become more eco-friendly and take action through positivity, play, and storytelling.
I live in West Yorkshire with the long-suffering Graham.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I’ve always loved books and have wanted to write a book as long as I can remember. I suspect ever since I read Watership Down before I even started school. But I never thought I could write a book as I write in conversational language and plain English, and authors use big flouncy words, right?
I always thought my first book would be a children’s book that I would both write and illustrate, and there are some children’s books in development which I am purely illustrating. I certainly never expected it would be a business book or a very personal one like Falling Off The Ladder.
When did you take a step to start writing?
When I went self-employed in 2018, I started to write a blog for my website, but it was a very half-hearted effort. I just didn’t have the confidence and was struggling to make the time. Then I came across the #Write52 initiative over on Twitter which was the accountability I needed. I soon realized I really enjoyed writing once I gave myelf more flexibility on the topics and started to build confidence every week and experiment with new writing styles.
I then joined Margo Aaron’s 1 month long Ignition programme which added a bit of fuel to the fire, quickly followed by Erin Chamberlain’s Write Now accountability sessions and her author INKubator programme. This gave me more structure and purpose, created my book writing habit, and is where I was gently nudged to write this book.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
It will be one year, pretty much exactly. I started researching and planning in October/November 2020 and the book will be released on October 11th 2021.
What made you want to write Falling Off The Ladder?
I actually started writing a different book originally – one about eLearning (the focus of my business) as I felt that was what I SHOULD write about. But when I started working with Erin in her author INKubator programme I realized it was not the book I WANTED to write and that this was possibly what was stalling my progress.
I wanted to write Falling Off The Ladder because I felt I had an important story to share that could help others. Time and again I was seeing freelancers and other self-employed folk discuss their experiences in the employed world, and see how they were struggling to switch their mindset to work for themselves.
Many started asking for my advice and guidance on moving their businesses forward, and so I saw a need to write a book about the self-employed mindset, as I hadn’t seen a book with a focus on this before. They’re all about the actual practicalities of setting up a business.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Falling Off The Ladder?
During the process of writing the book both my dad and grandma passed away. But I didn’t dare take my foot off the gas as I knew it would give me the excuse not to see it through. Instead, I’ve channeled my focus into the book and it actually gave me something to focus on to stop my wandering mind.
My other big challenge was confidence – both in my writing abilities and in sharing my story. There has been a fine line to balance between how much I wanted to share, and how much of my experiences I could share without getting into bother.
What was your research process for Falling Off The Ladder?
I actually got stuck in the research process for some time, reading ALL the books to stave off the fear of actually having to write the words. It was quite tricky doing some of the research in the pandemic as I couldn’t visit bookshops, so instead I found myself buying a LOT of books and reading/skimming them to get a feel for structure, style, language, etc. As the book is based largely on my experiences and techniques I had learned over the preceding years there wasn’t much research to do for the actual content, it was more a case of looking back at books, courses and other content that I had already worked through.
How did you plan the structure of Falling Off The Ladder?
I was given tasks to do as part of the INKubator programme – to analyse my audience, what I wanted the book to do for my business, etc. Then I started planning out topics on sticky notes and a Miro board. Quite early on I realised it needed to be a step-by-step process through the book and that I wanted to include activities. After a lot of shuffling and a lot more avoidance I finally started writing at New Year… and I had planned it well so the words just flowed.
There are also the contributions of other freelancers sharing their story in the book and they were a lot less planned. I decided to get the responses in before I looked at how they would work with the content, and actually changed how they were included right at the end of my editing. It was a necessary change so that the flow of the book wasn’t jointed.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Falling Off The Ladder need?
I did, I hired my mentor Erin as my editor. It just made sense as she was so familiar with my ideas by this point and what I wanted to achieve with it. Her role was as a copy editor, as I had done a tremendous amount of editing to sort the structure out myself. I think it needed to be me that did that as I was closer to it to understand how it best flowed. The biggest editing change came when I realized I had written two books in one (which was why it was so huge) and so I edited large sections out, and they will become book two next year.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a book?
Write what you want to write, not what you feel you should. Otherwise, your creativity will soon come to a halt and you will not enjoy the process. You can come back to that ‘should’ book later.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
Whereas Falling Off The Ladder is aimed at helping people to make the initial leap into self-employment, the second book will be looking further on in the journey as to how to really go to that next level. It will be aimed more at those who have been working for themselves for some time but feel they need to now take it further.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I am incredibly proud of it (and it is not often I say that about anything).
There has been a lot of adversity that has fuelled this book – not just the events of this year, but of my horrendous experiences in employment and ongoing health conditions. To pull it together to something that can help others feels very powerful and it has been very cathartic to write.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
Author website: Fallingofftheladder.com (pre-orders are available here now)
Business website: unlikelygenius.com
Instagram: @fallingofftheladder and @unlikelygenius
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