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A Book Apart

Get to know Beth Dunn

Apr 29, 2021

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Portrait of Beth Dunn.

Meet Beth Dunn

Up next in our Meet the Author series, we’re getting to know Beth Dunn—author of Cultivating Content Design. She talks about how running helps her with her self-doubt, how taking naps has been her secret weapon and her love of fashion blogs. 

ABA: What is your favorite thing about your workspace?

Beth Dunn: I inherited my great grandmother’s slant-top mahogany desk, complete with little pigeon holes and cool secret drawers. It’s been my work desk ever since, and I love feeling her presence there while I work. I also keep framed portraits of Louisa May Alcott and Charlotte Bronte on a bookshelf nearby. All my household goddesses, all in one place.

ABA: What’s the first thing you do every morning to start your day on the right foot?

BD: Feed the cats. Drink the coffee. Make the bed. I’m a total creature of habit, so I do the same thing every day. Probably the best thing I do, though, in terms of getting in the right headspace and on the right foot, is not checking my phone or cracking open my laptop until after breakfast. I do like to read while I eat, but I’ll read an actual, physical book or magazine during breakfast and lunch. Something with pages and paper and print. Not the internet. Definitely not email. No screens until the full morning routine is complete and I’m officially at work, sitting at my desk.

ABA: In your opinion, what should someone consider before starting out in content?

BD: Do you care more about meaning than the minutiae that writers tend to love to obsess over? Can you let go of the formal stuff you learned in school and focus more on getting an idea, a mood, or a story across? Do you care more about what your audience needs to know than how you might want to say it? Then you’ll be great. Get in here. We’ve been waiting for you.

ABA: Is there anyone you’re following the work of right now, who you’d recommend others pay attention to?

BD: I just think what Ann Handley is doing with her newsletter is great. It’s filled with useful content for writers of all stripes, yes, but the whole tone and vibe of the thing is everything that I love. Encouraging, positive, inclusive, fun. She also uses the word shenanigans a lot, which I support. 

Sarah Winters is doing some remarkable work training people who care about content to effect real change in their organizations, to advocate for the user, to conduct valid and lightweight user research. She’s also hard at work building a global community of practice, which is super thrilling to watch.

ABA: What does the tech industry need more of? 

BD: Outside voices. Liberal arts majors. Playwrights, poets, band geeks, theater nerds. You.

ABA: In moments of self-doubt, how do you recharge and rally to keep going?

BD: I go for a run. I can go through the whole cycle of emotions on one short and sweet three-mile run. I finally convinced myself I should write this book after a whole week of daily, doubt-ridden runs.

ABA: What is your go-to source of inspiration when you’re trying to get out of a creative rut?

BD: I’m very word-focused, so usually when I’m in a rut I need to change up my mode — go visual, or tactile, or both. If I’m stuck on a draft, I’ll pick up my knitting and knock out a few rounds. Or I’ll wander through some historical fashion blogs that one of my best friends — an author of some incredible historical fiction, which I love — turned me on to. I don’t know, ever since I was a little girl obsessed with Jane Eyre and Little Women, I’ve found looking at 19th century clothes to be incredibly soothing. And it usually triggers some random thought that gets me back to whatever I was struggling with in some backdoor way. Fashion and dress has so much embedded within it — history, culture, individual lives — it’s such a deep well for creative thinking.

ABA: What characteristic do you most admire in other driven/creative people?

BD: A thick skin. How do other authors deal with all those dreadful online reviews? The ones where they clearly didn’t even read the book, or just had indigestion that day. I’ve gotten much better about this. But it’s still an area where I have room to grow.

ABA: What tool, object, or ritual could you not live without to get you through a week?

BD: I mean, I’m sure I could go without lighting a bunch of candles on the mantle each night, getting a fire going in the fireplace and watching my cats roll their furry bellies around. But would I want to? I think we all know the answer to that.

ABA: What’s the biggest sacrifice you’ve made to do the work you do?

BD: Honestly, I feel so incredibly grateful to do the work that I do. I get paid to write and to encourage others to write and express themselves clearly. I work with some of the kindest, smartest, most interesting people I know. I live on Cape Cod, in a charming small town. My cats think I’m great. What was the question?

ABA: Is there a piece of professional or life advice you’ve gotten that has always stuck with you? What is it?

BD: In my first honest-to-goodness professional office job, I was leaning very hard into my perfectionist tendencies. Like, unhealthy-hard. Super unsustainably hard. I’m sure people reading this can relate — we’ve all been there at some point in our lives. When I was particularly stressed out about something that was actually irrelevant (which happened a lot more than it should have), my then boss (who is now one of my best friends) would call up her good friend and tell him to tell me that thing again. And she’d hold the phone up to my ear and he’d say “Beth? It doesn’t (effing) matter. You’re amazing. Please go take a nap.” And I want to be clear, he wasn’t saying maintaining a high quality of work doesn’t matter. It obviously does; it matters a lot. He was saying please take better care of yourself. You’re no good to anyone if you collapse in a heap. Which I think was a real danger back then. I must have gotten that pep talk a dozen times or more before I started to learn when and how to relax, how to take better care of myself. I started napping. It works. I still take a nap every day. I recommend them to all of my friends.

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Learn more about all our authors—check out the rest of our Meet the Author series!

Have you picked up your copy of Cultivating Content Design yet? Change your organization’s approach to great content when you pair it with Practical Design Discovery and save 10% (15% when you buy paperbacks & ebooks)!

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