Creating tools has been a part of my makeup for as long as I can remember. I’m not talking about those made from metal, but I am talking about job aids that guide us through a process. As a student, I converted long passages of text into outlines, charts, and other visual aids that stripped away the excess, leaving the headings, key points, and relationships. That was really all that was necessary to help me recall the whole story. As a teacher, I developed similar tools to help organize content for my students. As owner of a technical communication business, I developed tools for talking with clients to scope out jobs; identifying the qualifications that workers needed in order to complete jobs; working through the process of researching, designing, and delivering manuals; and more. Long ago, I labeled these tools Afformations—forms that say Yes. Yes, I can learn this. Yes, I can do this. Yes, I can succeed! Sure, off-the-shelf tools were available, but they never quite worked for me as well as my homegrown tools.
And today, I find myself applying this aspect of who I am to a volunteer endeavor. For several years, I have been a member of a nonfiction book club that meets monthly at our town library. About 10–15 adults take turns leading the discussion of books that we have selected. Often the discussion revolves around the subject of the book—healthcare systems, economics of the middle class, religions and faith, neighborhoods and community, genomes and stem cells, and more. Recently, a club member asked, “How else can we talk about a book?” When some of us met recently to finalize our book selections for 2012, we started to answer that question. Here’s what we did.
We looked over the various book reviews we collected when selecting the coming year’s books. We flipped through the pages of BookPage® America’s Book Review to learn how others write about books. There was nothing scientific about this approach. We spontaneously came up with items, such as genre, credibility of the author, verifiability of the data, organizational structure, voice, tone, theme, mechanics, and more. And, as the one who likes to create Afformations, it is my task now to create a tool for the club. I will type up all of the ideas from our brainstorming session, group ideas that are similar, title each group, organize the groups into a sequence that makes sense, and voilà, our nonfiction book club will have a form that says, Yes, we can talk about the subject of our nonfiction book—and so much more!
Someone in the group has already indicated that tools exist that provide ways to talk about nonfiction books in general and the books on our list in particular. As time goes on, we will no doubt use these resources and watch our homegrown tool evolve.
Now, tell me, what homegrown or off-the-shelf tools do you use to succeed at discussing nonfiction books or doing anything else? I would love to hear from you.