Monday, 23 August 2010

Di Slaney - businesswoman and poet

Last year at a networking event on creating a pitch in business I met Di.  An experienced entrepreneur running a success marketing company, she disclosed that she also wrote poetry and asked for volunteers to review a poetry collection she was finishing as part of a Creative Writing course at Nottingham Trent University. 

Intrigued I volunteered and last month she sent me her work which I found fascinating.  Not being a poet I couldn't judge it on it's poetic merit but as a piece of work about the joys, frustrations and challenges of running a business I could certainly relate to much of the writing. 

In return for my review, Di kindly agreed to write a piece about the challengs of writing, being in business and how to connect the two sides of what she does.  It makes interesting contrasts about  writers and what they bring to being a writer, depending on their backgrounds.

Di Slaney

I haven’t yet been published, but I’m in the throes of putting the finishing touches to my first poetry collection. This is my final stage dissertation project for the Creative Writing MA course at Nottingham Trent University. I decided to do this course in 2008 as a way to get back to writing creatively after 10 years of focusing on building my marketing business and writing commercially for clients.

What was my writing background?

In my twenties I’d written poetry sporadically, been part of a local writer’s group and had viewed it as a hobby, without any real plan or destination in mind. In my thirties, I hadn’t written anything creatively personal at all – my energies had been ploughed back into my business, with nothing left over. But in September 2008 I’d had a little epiphany after convalescing from major surgery – was time running out for me now I was into my forties? Was I always going to be tethered to the coalface of the business, despite my sizeable team? Could I really write anything decent and what would it take to find out?

I thought that the best way to see would be to do a course where there would be deadlines and goals; a structure to work within that would keep me going when the pressures of my business cranked up and even the ironing pile looked more inviting than a writing assignment ...Plus expert tuition and a supportive community of writers to keep both motivation and output high.

So how has it been?

Well, it’s been a tough two years on the course with some real high and low points. I chose to study part time so that I could continue to work full time in the business, and while this has been essential to keep all the plates spinning, it’s been really difficult to juggle personal and commercial priorities. I’ve found the best way to get concentrated writing time is to get all the business stuff out of the way during the day, deal with domestics in the evening (cats, dog, husband!), have an hour watching TV to mentally ‘switch heads’ then head off upstairs to my office to write into the small hours. Midnight to 2.00am has been the most productive time for me, when everything has gone quiet and no one is screaming for attention in my e-mail inbox. And the rest of the household is snoring happily!

The reality of the course...

has been that – as per everything else in life – you get out what you put in. I have to say that I’ve been disappointed by the lack of community spirit with some of my fellow students, but I’ve accepted that writers tend to be solitary, defensive creatures who don’t necessarily network and ‘trade’ in the way that I’m used to as a business person. I’ve made one strong contact who has been fantastically supportive and we swap morale boosting e-mails in times of writing crisis. I hope that we stay in touch beyond the course and continue to support each other in our writing (her fiction/my poetry). It would be great if we could both get what we’re looking for in terms of readership and publication.

Tuition standards on the course have been similarly patchy, but I’ve had great fortune in my poetry tutor who is inspirational, rigorous and generous with his teaching time – traits that I’ve seen to be in short supply with other tutors who are maybe more focused on their own writing careers than on developing their students.

Have I been a typical student?

No, because I’m used to running and controlling my own environment, setting the goals and organising a team to deliver them. I’m also more numerate, clinical and impatient than most of the literary types that I’ve encountered, and have often felt that I’ve been speaking a foreign language in my dealings with academia.

Have I got what I’d hoped for from the course?

Overall, I think yes – I’ve definitely been spurred on to write regularly and have learned a lot about form, editing, the perils of publishing and the literary scene. Will I keep writing beyond the course? Definitely. I’ve got focused energy and purpose now for my own writing and also, as an unexpected by-product of the whole process, renewed passion and enthusiasm for my business.

The irony is that having started the course feeling dispirited about life in general and my business in particular, my poetry collection is all about the process of building and running a business! A business/poetry fusion project, as it were.

Where do I go from here?

’sME – the poetry diary of an entrepreneur will be finished in the next two weeks, and available in pamphlet form at the Prowess conference at The Belfry Hotel, Nottingham on 16th September. Hopefully this will mark the start of a new phase for me as a poet, as well as the end of my time as a creative writing student.

For more information about Di Slaney, her company and her upcoming event go to

Eileen's footnote
Thanks Di for your thoughts about your experiences.  As a businesswoman of many years, I find writers often self absorbed and not very practical in the way they work.  Because I write for business, I'm used to deadlines, being paid and being pragmatic.  Doesn't sit well with me then when I see them throw up their hands because the practical side of writing seems hard.

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