Monthly Archives: March 2016

Dear business coaches, please teach free writing to your students!

“Free writing is a prewriting technique in which a person writes continuously for a set period of time without regard to spelling, grammar, or topic. It produces raw, often unusable material, but helps writers overcome blocks of apathy and self-criticism. It is used mainly by prose writers and writing teachers.”

First of all, I would like to argue with the above definition about the material produced during free writing being unusable. If you prompt the free writing exercise with a topic of interest, I bet at least a part of it will be usable. Very much usable. But more to this a bit later.

At this point, I would like to shout out to any teacher, not only to business coaches and professors, but to them in particular: Before you teach your students any rules or constructs composing their texts, first teach them to free write. Teach and motivate them to create without any amendments and editing beforehand.

What is interesting, most of us, when we learn a language at school, we first learn grammar, pronunciation, phrases, but we rarely learn just to let our thoughts flow on paper or on computer screen. Especially, when it comes to composing a business document or an e-mail we first learn the structure: set-up the goals, make your point clear and conclude.

On my opinion, this approach is like putting handcuffs on a painter and say, “Now let your creativity flow”. You can’t do that, if you expect something great and unexpected to come out of this exercise.

And this pre-planned approach is neither the way we learn our very first language. With our very first language, we are encouraged to say whatever comes out of our mouths and only after that we learn what is appropriate and what is not, how we should say something, and how not.

I am writer now and writing daily is one of my basic needs. But curiously enough, I was afraid to write and used to think that I hated it. Well, I followed the widely-spread cliché, “Writing for school or work can’t be fun!”

But something happened when I actually was in the process of writing. The thoughts were flowing and I often ended up with much more information than was intended or asked. Recently a mail recipient answered to one of my long e-mails to her, “One can see you are a writer.”

But what if we are all writers and can accelerate our productivity by letting our thoughts flow? Lately, I get many compliments of being prolific and creating a lot of useful material. This feedback comes in each of the three areas, I am active in: creative writing, business writing, and S1000D® (a deeply technical topic).

The need to teach free writing became evident to me, when I was deep into a S1000D project I have started here on my site, where I develop the S1000D business rules step-by-step guide. In the Business Rules Working Group of S1000D community, we’ve tried (also during my 10-years-chairmanship of the group) to come up with something like this for quite some time. We talked about the structures, we struggled with various opinions and contexts, we started and abandoned mind-maps outlining such a resource, and finally we came up with a minimum we could extract from already available information in the standard by presenting it in a tabular way. We did get a lot of credit for that, but there was still a lot missing and I was still getting the questions, “When will you write ‘S1000D for Dummies’?”

Let’s fast forward several years into my writing career. Becoming both an author and an independent consultant allowed me to re-discover an old creative writers’ wisdom, “You can’t edit an empty page.” This wisdom allowed me to take action. So I started filling in the pages with ideas, and a with currently growing interest and feedback this resource has a potential to save projects implementing S1000D a lot of headache, a lot of time and a lot of money.

But editing an empty page was exactly what we did in many discussions about Business Rules and Implementation Guide for S1000D. The eruptions of creativity happened when we let or tasked a member of our group simply to create a document and then we edited and shaped it.

I realized over the years that brainstorming and pre-planning often don’t work, especially in case of elaborating a certain topic.

I am glad to experience now often the magic of free writing in my writing, whether it is a commercial proposal, a job application, an e-mail or a chapter of my current work-in-progress.

And recently I have witnessed its magic on my students.

One of my students has writing blog posts as a part of her job. And she thought she didn’t like it. This sounds familiar, right? Writing for business is dull, many think. But is it really?

This student also claimed that she couldn’t write academic texts. So, at our first session I suggested to free write on a topic we spontaneously chose together. We wrote for 5 minutes. And the results were amazing. Her piece was thoughtful and utterly academic. She liked this exercise so much that she asked to do this 5 min-free-writing-exercise at each of our language learning sessions together.

Later at a creative writing workshop on fiction, which I taught to a group of about twenty-five people, we free wrote for 5 minutes taking a sentence from one of the known novels. Then each of us read his or her piece out loud. The results were again astonishing and extremely unique for each person. None of the pieces was bad and many were simply brilliant, causing all of us chuckle and smile with pleasure. Some of the students even used their piece to develop it further in the creative writing camp, of which the workshop I mentioned was a part.

You might argue, “It’s all good and well, but you are still talking about writing fiction. You can’t do it with business writing!”

But let me argue back. You can do this with business writing and your should. Each piece, each document, each e-mail you have to write will profit immensely if you free write it first.

I will go further by claiming that a thorough pre-planning is a waste of time, because when you actually write the text, it becomes considerably different from what you planned in your head before writing. And it is often much better than what you rehearsed.

And you know why it is much better than those day-dreamed texts? Because the written piece is real and existing. All the other, planned and brainstormed, but never recorded clouds, do not exist. They evaporated right after you thought them.

Another analogy: Consider going to your boss (or anyone for that matter) to talk about a certain topic. If you rehearse the conversation beforehand, you will be 100% disappointed in the end, because it will simply not go as you expected. The conversations, which do go to our satisfaction and bring pleasant surprises go usually according to the following scenario. We think of a topic and go to our boss’s office, knock, push our head through the opened door and when allowed we say, “Listen, this is what I wanted to talk to you about.” And then we improvise and adjust our message as the feedback and questions come from the manager. Then we leave his or her office satisfied with a productive conversation.

So, before you teach your students the structures and rules, first let them express themselves freely on a particular topic and then see what they can shape out of it. Let them create before carving out a sculpture. Let them do this before admonishing them, “This is the way you have to do it.” As I read recently somewhere, you need first to have a rock or a mass of another material before you make a sculpture. Let your students, your co-workers you give a task to write a document, first create that rock, that mass freely, before you tell them to revise and edit it.

This applies to any kind of writing and business writing in particular. I bet, by teaching free writing and practicing it yourself, you will discover the raise in work efficiency, increase of motivation at work, and completely new ideas, which you or your students would not have been able to generate by simply teaching or learning the rules.

Picture: Recently, I started collecting my free-written pieces. Not necessarily to use them, but simply to remind myself of the power of free writing and its ability to make my creativity and productivity visible and tangible.


© 2016 by Victoria Ichizli-Bartels


“Nothing is As it Seems” Chapter 14 – the last one in this story

Elizabeth sighed. “Thank you,” she said into the receiver, waited for You’re-welcome and pressed red button on the phone.

She put the phone reluctantly into its holder and took the postcard she started writing to Jenny four days before. She could hardly believe that only less than a week passed since she arrived in London. She thought her search would take longer, but now it was over. So she booked a ticket back to Germany.

Elizabeth put the postcard she promised to Jenny onto the desk-table combination in her hotel room and turned the card along its axis several times. Yesterday, on the morning after all the revelations at the house on the Hope street, she attempted to finish the postcard, but in the end she couldn’t. All she managed to write was, “Now I know what happened before my Dad and I came to Germany.” After that she couldn’t find any other words.

All Elizabeth could think of was that the house, the street, both turned rather into a house and street of disappointment than hope. But she couldn’t possibly write this to Jenny.

She stayed at the hotel the whole day yesterday, most of the time looking at the wall remembering the messages the projector in her mother’s room displayed on the wall the day before.

She contemplated to go and wander through London again but she was afraid to meet someone from the house, which was silly to think happening in such a giant city.

But having a PhD degree in statistics didn’t stop the fantasies of sitting in a cafe and having a small talk with two pleasant gentlemen from a table across hers, only to discover that they were Jack and Tim, who helped financing the sheltering of terminally ill patients in the house of her early childhood.

No, she couldn’t risk that. With all the low probabilities it was still possible, and all she needed now was distance. That is why she booked her ticket today.

But she had to let Jenny know. Writing a card was a bad idea, since she was flying back tomorrow.

Elizabeth took the receiver and dialed Jenny’s number, hoping that Jenny was away for groceries as she usually did during this time on a Saturday.

“Liza, is this you?”

No way to escape. Jenny was at home. “Yes, I’m—”

“Are you alright? Did something happen? Please tell me you fell in love and your new charm and you were walking along the Thames all the time. I could forgive that.”

Elizabeth smiled despite her mood. “No, unfortunately not. But I was at the house and met my family.”

“Really? But this is great!”

“I don’t really know. It…”

After a few seconds of waiting Jenny blurted out. “I really can’t wait anymore. Tell me all.”

“Shall I maybe call you later? Do you have to do shopping or something?”

“No, no. No way to escape,” Jenny echoed Elizabeth’s thought from before. “You tell me everything now and I will pay you back for all the huge phone bills you’ll be facing. Don’t leave anything untold. You owe me that!”

“I’m sorry for not calling you the whole week. It’s just…” Elizabeth drew a deep breath and started from the beginning.

Jenny didn’t interrupt. Her gasps and heavy breaths confirmed her presence and attention.

At the end, Elizabeth said, “After that, I couldn’t stay there longer. I had to leave…And today I bought a ticket back.”



“I started fantasizing coming to London and visiting you. You know…I’m still single.”

“Jen, can you think of something else than dating? And my brother is married…” Elizabeth caught her breath as she noticed how she referred to Patrick.

“Well,” Jenny said. “I was actually thinking of Jack and Tim.”

Elizabeth laughed. “They must be ancient now. And you talk like there are only three men in London.”

“No, they aren’t and this is exactly my point. Germany seems not to have produced any suitable candidate for me yet. For you neither. So I will come and ask your family to help us get some royal husbands.”

Elizabeth relaxed. For a second she wondered if calling Jenny earlier would have made the day before easier for her, but then she decided to enjoy her friend now. “So, what you’re saying is that I should stay here and not move from the spot until you come and visit?”

Jenny harrumphed. “I didn’t say that either. Don’t make it sound like I force you doing something. But if you ask me for directions, I don’t think you should stay at the hotel. It’s too expensive.”

Elizabeth held another gulp of the air inside her. She knew what Jenny was getting at. She breathed slowly out and said quietly, “You are right. But please don’t make me say this. I mean, to say what I really have to do. What I want to do, but too scared to. Being sad and melancholic was so normal to me. But that house, even with dying people inside is so full of life. This is so scary. I wish…I wish my father could go back there with me.” She blinked through her with tears swelling eyes. She wiped her tears away with her free hand and said. “Jen, I…I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“Don’t forget to cancel your flight. You’re not allowed to come back before I visit you. And after in neither.”

Liza laughed and let another kind of tears push the sad ones down her cheeks. “OK.”


Three hours later Elizabeth set down and supported herself on the intricate fence to the house of her childhood. Her luggage stood at her feet.

Should I have found their number and called first? A varicoloured flock of opposing thoughts and feelings clouded the view on the house. Elizabeth leaned her head on the fence and drew a deep breath.

She blinked several times and decided to look at every turret and corner of the house before going inside. But as she started raising her head she noticed a commotion behind the windows on the ground floor.

Lily’s head with corkscrew curls bounced happily as she turned between glancing outside into Elizabeth’s direction and a tall and pale girl standing next to her, who seemed holding the window sill with her both hands. This must be Lilly’s successor. Another girl with cancer.

In the next window Elizabeth noticed Alice and Ingrid, both smiling widely at her. As soon as Alice caught Elizabeth’s look she pointed up. At first Elizabeth didn’t know what that meant, but then she let her gaze go up the walls until she noticed a movement behind a low set window of the top floor of the house. Claire’s chair moved seemingly by itself and stopped at an angle where Claire’s eyes became visible. Her white keyboard on her lap.

In the next moment Elizabeth noticed Patrick’s shape disappearing from behind Claire. She didn’t notice him until he moved away.

Elizabeth drew a deep breath. He was probably coming downstairs to talk to her. What shall I say? What will happen now?

The front door opened and Patrick came out. He paused after letting the door close by itself behind him, descended the stairs and approached Elizabeth. His eyes glittered with tears as they glanced quickly at Elizabeth, away, then back at her, and away again.

Without thinking, Elizabeth pushed her case away from her with her left foot and looked at the stone base of the fence next to her. Then she looked into Patrick’s eyes.

He nodded and and sat next to her. He lowered his head slowly to hers until they touched, and they both looked up.

Their mother looked back at them.



Picture: the Spring is coming.

P.S. This was the last chapter of this story. It will be revised, edited and published soon as a permanently free book.

P.P.S. You can find the complete story written in its unedited version at “Free Online Books”. This version will be removed as soon as the edited version will become available.

P.P.P.S. If you think your friends might enjoy this story, then let them know about it and forward it to them.

Everything except one paragraph (1st paragraph in Chapter 1) of “Nothing is As it Seems” is under copyright © 2016 by Victoria Ichizli-Bartels

Review copies for an Easter read

Spring holidays are coming and in case you are searching for an Easter read, I might have an idea.

Jot me a line to with a subject “Easter read” until March 21st and I will send you two e-books to read, “A Spy’s Daughter” and “Seven Broken Pieces” (from the series “A Life Upside Down”) in exchange for your agreement to consider writing an honest review for one or both books on Amazon and maybe also on Goodreads (if you are a member there).

When you write me an e-mail, please let me know if you like the e-books in the Kindle format or in pdf.

Let your friends know so that they can use this possibility as well.

Wishing you wonderful unfolding of the Spring and looking forward getting many e-mails. 🙂

VIB-ASpysDaughter-EbookCover          front cover - seven broken pieces

An interview: My first appearance on YouTube

At least I think it was my first one. I don’t know if I appeared on the background of somebody else’s video or if someone found funny and filmed as I frantically tried on a bus trip to finish a sentence of a story I am currently writing, while at the same time preparing to get out of the bus. The latter happened just yesterday. But I don’t think I was filmed. Phew!

But the interview I want to tell you about was intended. It was made in connection with the author talk I gave at the SGS School of Creative Writing, at Trekanten Bibliotek og Kulturhus here in Aalborg, on the 2nd of March.

Samuel Mork Bednarz, or Sam, is a student at the SGS and he is also a part of the SGS Social Media Team, where I also participate.

Sam is responsible for the SGS podcast, and currently he is taking interviews with the authors giving author talks at and for the SGS.

I have given several interviews up to this point (this interview took place about a week before the author talk), two of which were recorded on audio.

It was fun to observe myself, the feelings and thoughts generated by these experiences. During the first interview I felt so unusually that I smiled shyly at the recording smart-hone and said “Thank you!” at and to it before answering the first question by the interviewer.

The interview with Sam was filmed and I watched it last night for the first time. Again managing to observe myself non-judgmentally while watching.

Some automatic thoughts judging my appearance did appear but they were short and fleeting. Instead I had fun watching this person on the computer screen, so differently looking and sounding from what I know when I look in the mirror or hear myself talk. I watched her with curiosity finding the things she said so new, and also laughing along with her and the interviewing Sam.

This experience was so strikingly different from that many years ago in Germany as I watched myself on TV after being filmed in our cleanroom at the Institute of High Frequency Electronics of the Technical University Darmstadt. At that time I had assimilated the cliché that nobody liked watching him- or herself on TV. I followed this tradition and said to anyone who would listen how terribly I looked on the screen, while I secretly enjoyed when people objected. At some point they stopped objecting and listening to my ever returning moans about how bad I was. So at the end I was left with a feeling of having failed and not have done enough.

Now I realize that I was thrilled to see myself on the screen. I looked so different. And yes, surprising.

I am glad that I had this epiphany at this point of my life when my children are small, so that I convey to them these moments of being OK with myself and just enjoying all the surprises my life and my true self bring with them.

I wish you all happy self-discoveries and fun watching my first interview on YouTube.


Why is creative writing important in today’s business world?

Imagine the following scene, in which you play the main role.

Your management decided to introduce a new technical standard into your company’s products. And you have been given the task to research on this standard, approach the community developing it, get involved and introduce this standard to your colleagues and management.

What is your first step? Yes, you research.

Today, most of us research on the Internet. You type in the keywords and get a selection of articles or even books ready for you to read.

You start to read one of them and find an article giving a detailed account of the standard you are interested in. You nod, Yes, I need to read this more thoroughly. You save the article for a later read and move to the next one.

This article talks about advantages and disadvantages of implementing the standard giving some examples of projects and companies, who did it successfully and also those who stepped into traps and lost large amounts of money by implementing it incorrectly. You save this article in the folder titled “Must-Read” and move to the next one.

At some point you rub your eyes from so much information and go to get yourself a cup coffee. Then you sit back at your desk and open the next link.

After a few seconds you laugh out loud at the mishaps and frustration the author of this article tells, how she was frustrated with this standard. How she cursed all those who made her learn it and those who created it, only to find out a few months later that she couldn’t get rid of this thing. And not quite because she had to do it. But because she found herself in the middle of it. She couldn’t stop thinking about the riddles it posed. She started liking it and the people developing it. She found like-minded professionals, who through all the frustration found the fun and multidimensionality of the standard and discovered its power and ability to improve the quality of their products. This standard even allowed to save money, when applied correctly.

After an hour you still read the long article, which hardly tells you the technical details of the standard but rather the human part of it. Then you find yourself researching about this person and the ones she refers to. You find some technical articles by her and start reading them, abandoning those you found in the first place and marked as Must-read.

Did something like this happened to you?

It did happen to me.

After my first maternity leave ended, I was very close to the status of a new employee in the company I worked at that time. Also because I had a new boss. And he had a new task for me in tow. “Learn how to work with XSLT,” he said. “You have about one month to learn it and then you have to develop new stylesheets for our software.”

I knew XML by that time, Extensible Markup Language, a language to capture information in a structured way, where the way can be flexibly defined for the specific context and purposes.

XSLT, Extensible Stylesheets Language: Transformations, is a specific subset of XML, or rather a language in itself, to transform the structure and content of a document from one format to another.

My task was to learn to transform an XML document into HTML format, which is most often used by various browsers to present content.

I love reading books. They are my preferred source of information. So I opened an Amazon window in my browser and search for XSLT books. XSLT 2.0 was latest and greatest at that time (about six years ago) and also applied at our company, so I looked for those. The book by Michael Kay “XSLT 2.0 and XPath 2.0” was highly praised. So I bought it and a couple of other, which were thinner and less intimidating than over one thousand pages long tome by Michael Kay.

When Michael Kay’s book arrived I was both excited and scared. How am I going to learn all this in one month?

I opened the book, found that some of the examples made me smile (”A Hello World” stylesheet, example on music transformation, an example of displaying a poem”) and I found a lot of valuable and well structured information, written without hurry and with the thought of the reader to understand the given topic.

But the most memorable part of this book was for me, where Michael Kay told the difference about how he felt, when he wrote his first book on XSLT (it was XSLT 1.0) and the one on XSLT 2.0. The difference was that he was an “outsider” when he wrote the first one. He was “just” a user, pointing out along with advantages also disadvantages of this specification as it was defined at that time. He said that with XSLT 2.0 it was much more difficult to be as critical as when he has written the first book. The reason was is that now, with the XSLT 2.0, he was inside the community and not only a part of it but also the responsible editor for the standard.

This resonated with me. I’ve been involved in development of a technical standard as well (S1000D®, International specification for technical publications using a common source data base) and I felt very protective of it when someone criticized it.

So this anecdote stayed with me and Michael Kay’s book became one of the first ones I opened, when I searched for an answer about XSLT. I also followed the e-mail forums he participated in and learned from many examples shared and discussed by him and his colleagues there.

Another book on XSLT drew me to it due its creative title, “XSLT Cookbook” by Sal Mangano, and as creative and honest content of the book.

If I find dialogue in an business article or book, I immediately draw it closer to me and read.

In today’s flooding with information world, we disregard, and also must disregard, a huge amount of the information pouring on us, and find something that captivates us and helps us experience epiphanies on the given topic. We can best memorize the information, which finds its way into our brains through “Aha” moments or those when we smile, when our eyes glitter with curiosity and eagerness to learn more.

But how do you captivate a reader in such a way?

Creative writers know the secret. That’s why they are able to “steal” many free moments from readers’ time, keeping them awake with a book in hand until dawn.

And the secret is not only in their creativity and imagination. The true secret is that they “split open”.

Here is what Natalie Goldberg suggest to creative writers in her book titled “Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within”:

“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”

This what happens when you start following a particular author on a given topic. It means that he or she “splits open” on the topic they are passionate about and they sweep you away with their honesty and generosity. They are so passionate about it that they become brilliant in what they do and write about, and because they truly and deeply enjoy what they do and talk about.

They put all their creative force into conveying their passion.

Yes, this is the secret and the reason, why you can’t succeed in sharing information about your business without showing that you are passionate about it, without “splitting open” over it, without being creative when you write or talk about it.

What are your experiences in reading new information? Did you notice the creativity of the business articles in LinkedIn? Which was the one that grabbed your attention, captivated  and didn’t let you give it up until you finished?

Picture: some of the textbooks that captivated me.

© 2016 by Victoria Ichizli-Bartels