Martin Brown, a manager for primary support in the UK, doesn’t have a lot of free time for hobbies such as writing. Like many SAP employees, he has a demanding career and home life – including aging parents to look after. That’s why he decided to take advantage of his hour-long train commute to SAP’s Ealing office. Typing on the miniature screen of his personal data assistant (PDA), Martin turned what, in his words, had been “wasted time” into improved “work-life balance.”
Martin, whose father is a professional writer, had wanted to be an author since the age of five. Ten years ago, he took concrete steps in this direction by enrolling in a creative writing class. “I wrote here and there,” he says, “but I didn’t have a plan. Without a plan, it’s chaos”.
From tradition to tourism: writing the book
On vacation in Devon, Martin finally got his inspiration. He stayed in a converted stables building and thought about how the tradition of farming was giving way to tourism. This was just the angle he needed to bring to life a love story he had been developing.
Next page: Three narrators, one story
Starting in April 2010, Martin began writing 500 to 800 words a morning on his way to the office. On the return journey, he edited the morning’s text. By April 2012, he had written all 120,000 words of the book: The Last Goodbye.
Martin describes the writing style of his first and only novel to date as a “double helix.” There are three narrators, one tells the story in the past tense and the other two in the present tense. “The chapters are purposely kept short so you can read a chapter each day on your commute,” he explains.
The next challenge: promoting the book
The final editing process took six months. His wife, the personal assistant to a director at British Gas, routinely edits speeches and presentations. Therefore, she was able to apply her professional skills to help finalize the project. Next came the challenge of getting the book into the hands of readers.
Next page: Promotion via social media
Around the time the book was ready for distribution, Martin’s niece, Lucy, came to live with him and his wife. She had just completed her bachelor’s degree with a paper on the use of Twitter in marketing.
Twitter and Facebook: promotion via social media
Typical tweets direct followers to the book’s Facebook page where Martin periodically publishes new content such as pictures from the story’s setting in Devon. Potential customers also learn about the book from traditional media channels such as radio interviews or book clubs.
It wasn’t long before the lessons learned as author and book promoter would apply to Martin’s day job at SAP.
Earlier this year, SAP merged the UK based support organizations of Business Objects and Sybase. “Suddenly, there were over a hundred of us in a new office,” explains Martin. “We knew we needed to meld as one team as soon as possible, so we set up a team-building event.”
Office icebreakers: using hidden talents in team building
Martin had met so many people through his hidden talent, writing, that he thought this might work for others as well. The idea was to organize a session in which colleagues could start up conversations based upon each other’s hidden talent. “Everybody has a hidden talent,” he says. “It’s amazing when you find out this guy builds guitars from Fender parts, that person plays the banjo, and yet another colleague sings in a band.”
He adds: “There were other team building events that day, but people are still talking about the hidden talents exercise. It really brought us together.” Martin, for example, learned that one of his fellow colleagues is an illustrator. They’re now collaborating on a joint project to write, and illustrate, a book for children.
Another spin-off from the icebreaker session is the plan to publish a cookbook authored by a broad cross-section of the department. “It turns out that a lot of us share a passion for cooking,” explains Martin. “I’ve already received several original recipes for the project.” The plan is to give the sales proceeds to a local charity.
Work-life balance: career, home life and a hobby
When asked how writing impacts his job, Martin explains the sense of equilibrium this creative outlet provides. He describes work-life balance in terms of a stool that needs at least three legs to be stable. A career and home life each represent a leg. The stabilizing third leg comes from a hobby that you do for yourself.
According to Martin: “If you have any ideas, just do them. Write a list of what’s stopping you and find a way to overcome each issue. It’s how you fulfill all aspects of life.”