Damian Williams is an author, writer and teacher trainer based in the UK. He has worked in Russia, Indonesia, Italy, Spain, UK, Argentina and Brazil. He has written several major books for Pearson and works as a Cambridge DELTA tutor and examiner. His current interests lie in exploiting the urban linguistic landscape as a language learning resource and developing skills through course materials.
When did you first know that you wanted to be an ELT writer?
My first teaching job was in the 1990s in a fairly remote part of Southern Russia. It was an interesting time, only a few years after the fall of the Soviet Union, and we didn’t have very many materials at all (let alone the internet!). I found myself creating materials for my classes on a daily basis, and really enjoyed it. As I moved into other jobs in other places with more materials readily available, I carried on creating materials to supplement these and realised I wanted to do this full time.
What was the first thing that you ever had published?
A teen workbook for a Brazilian-based publisher called Learning Factory, back in 2008. The first time I ever got to see my name on the cover of a book was the Speakout Intermediate Teacher’s Book, 1st edition.
When was the first time you thought of yourself as an ‘author’?
I think the first time it really sunk in was when I was contacted by the Polish publisher, Nowa Era. They commissioned me to write a coursebook for Upper Secondary, preparing students for the Matura exam. They took me on a tour of Poland, interviewing teachers and observing classes, it was a really insightful experience and helped no end with the writing. Up until that point I’d been doing a lot of work writing peripherals – teacher’s books, workbooks, that kind of thing, but that was the first time I thought of myself as an author, not a writer.
What’s your favourite part of the writing process?
There are two, I think. The first is the planning stage. I usually jot down ideas and write first drafts in a notebook – I keep all of these and have a fairly big stack of them full to the brim of scribblings and ideas. This is the point where you feel like anything is possible, before you have to shape them into something that’s manageable and workable.
The second is when you get the author copies of a book through the post, and see the final product of (often) years of hard work in its final, polished form. I think it’s important to remember that within the process of writing a coursebook the author is only really one cog in the wheel. There are teams of editors, designers, photo specialists, researchers and reporters/reviewers (one of the most valuable cogs in the wheel, in my opinion) who all provide an essential part in its production. And seeing it all come to fruition in book form is the culmination of all that.
What qualities should an ELT writer have?
First and foremost, the ability to accept feedback and criticism. As an author (much like a teacher) you put so much of yourself into your work, and when someone sees it and says, ‘Hmm, I don’t think this will work,’ it can sometimes feel like a bit of a blow. But it’s important to maintain your focus on the final goal, knowing that taking on board comments from editors and reporters (who know their learners better than you ever will) will result in a much better product than you alone would ever be able to produce. It’s a kind of synergy, knowing that the end result is greater than the sum of its parts.
Another, vital ability is being able to go down one route writing a particular lesson, having made significant progress with it, then being able to step back, take stock, and realise something isn’t working and start again. It’s really important to be able to look at your work with an outsider’s pair of eyes at this stage and not just plough on. This is difficult – especially when you have a deadline looming.
What advice would you give to aspiring ELT writers?
Write. As simple as that. Write for your classes, share your materials with colleagues, online at conferences, etc. And don’t give up. Although publishers these days rarely take on unsolicited proposals, they can still be a way of getting your writing known. I once sent an unsolicited proposal for a teacher training book to a publisher in the early days. It never saw the light of day, but it did show the publisher that I could write, and they then started offering me reporting work, which eventually led to other work. So keep writing.
If you could have any other job, what would it be?
Strange as it sounds, I’d love to be a postman. I love the idea of working outside and walking all day – perhaps it’s because I spend so much of my time cooped up at home on my writing!
This is such an inspiring post – thank you, Damian! I completely agree with your advice for aspiring writers – keep writing everyone!