Hannah Rose Pratt describes herself as a “bit of a chameleon” and after learning about the breadth of her experiences and knowledge, it’s easy to agree with her. She has cultivated the kind of deep-seated self-awareness that you’d expect from someone far older than her 31 years. The winner of the 2018 Manitoba Communicator of the Year Award and the 2019 Future Leader of Manitoba Award, Hannah is the Manager of Alumni and Donor Relations at the University of Manitoba, founded the Winnipeg Dress Collective, writes on both a freelance basis and on her blog, is currently working her way through her Master’s Degree in Philanthropy and Non-Profit Leadership at Carleton University, and just celebrated her first year as a spin class instructor. I sat down with Hannah after sweating my way through one of her classes to talk about her background in communications, her love of the written word, and her desire for her writing to not only be therapeutic but to serve others as well.
While Hannah remains the only writer in her family, they do share a love of reading. Growing up, Hannah “would devour books at lightning speed.” The 4000 titles currently on her Kobo reader can attest to the fact that reading is a pastime she’s carried into adulthood. While, like many of us, Hannah would journal sporadically throughout her youth, it wasn’t until later in life that she started writing more regularly. As she explained: “It’s really once I had experiences as an adult that I felt inspired to write. It was almost a therapeutic thing.” Her first published piece was one she wrote for Prairie Yogi Magazine, titled “Hannah’s Story – A Battle with Anorexia Athletica.” Hannah was asked to write a piece around the theme of “balance,” so she decided to write about her experience in fitness competitions and her resultant struggle with anorexia athletica. “It just poured out of me,” Hannah said, and the magazine’s editors were so happy with it they published it unedited. This was also the first time Hannah felt comfortable enough to share such a personal experience: “That was my first foray into being really vulnerable. And it happened after I started working professionally because I didn’t feel like I could be that open while I was looking for a job.” Hannah reflected: “It’s always this dance: being really transparent and authentic on social media but also I don’t necessarily want my future boss to know everything about me.”
Despite being careful of when and how much of herself she shares, Hannah understands that there is value in incorporating personal experience – or injecting yourself – into your writing. It’s this kind of writing in particular that Hannah finds she connects with most – writing that is vulnerable and real. Professional writing, then, is a bit more of a struggle for her as she needs to separate herself completely from her words. “I still feel inspired by sentences,” she noted, “but I appreciate more and more – and maybe it’s because of social media – when I can hear and see an author in their work.”
"If you want people to be inspired, you have to write an inspiring story.”
It’s that ability to be able to bring her experiences into her work that makes Hannah such a good writer. “People are afraid of being interesting sometimes, so they dilute their message or get really bland,” she told me. “If you want people to be inspired, you have to write an inspiring story.” And in terms of experience, Hannah has no shortage from which to draw. She completed her undergraduate degree at Canadian Mennonite University – an institution she chose for their volleyball program – and while there was required to take 18 credit hours of Christianity studies. While you might think a non-religious person would be out of place in a Preaching 101 course, Hannah used that course to develop her communication skills and ability to adapt to her audience. She was required to write and deliver two sermons for that course, one of which was about the Parable of the Lost Sheep – “a guy said that I moved him, and he was a fourth-year student! I made it funny – I had to – and then I equated it to what’s happening now, because most of us don’t have sheep,” she laughed. Learning how to adjust her writing and delivery style without sacrificing her personality has made her a better writer and allowed her to see her work from the perspective of her audience.
After graduating from CMU, Hannah went on to complete the Creative Communications joint program with Red River College and the University of Winnipeg. Initially, her focus was broadcast journalism, which was an entirely different style of writing and one that was perhaps a bit more of a challenge than she expected: “Writing news stories didn’t come easily to me – I always wanted to make them longer, I always wanted to tell the whole story, I always got distracted by the little nuances and not sticking to one narrative. But it did prepare me for asking the question ‘what’s the story?’” While she eventually switched to a focus in PR, learning how to see stories from a broader perspective is something Hannah has carried with her throughout her career. Whether it was in her work with the Winnipeg Humane Society, where “everything was an animal pun” that spoke to larger policy issues, to analyzing and synthesizing 600-page reports for the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, to organizing community events as the Director of Community Relations for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Hannah has developed an ability to communicate in a way that privileges the audience, rather than solely the writer.
Her work has often involved mental health and community development initiatives. With the Blue Bombers, Hannah founded the Break the Silence on Violence Against Women school initiative that had players speaking to students about domestic violence, consent, and victim blaming. She worked with Camp Quality in providing empowering experiences for children with cancer. She also founded the Winnipeg Dress Collective in August 2017, an initiative that donates wedding dresses to women. She started this collective when she posted an ad on Kijiji to donate her wedding dress, asking for people to submit their story about why they wanted the dress so Hannah could get to know the recipient a little better. She ended up getting two hundred submissions, CTV National coverage, and wedding dresses from other women looking to donate as well. “That’s literally how it started – I started driving around picking up wedding dresses and my house was full of them. Friends would come over and be like ‘This is insane’ – my basement was full,” she laughed. The Winnipeg Dress Collective became a full-scale “Say Yes to the Dress”-style event with dress donations and an annual fitting event that falls on the anniversary of the passing of Hannah’s mother, who ended her life in 2014 after a battle with depression. “She was a very altruistic person,” Hannah said, “she gave away everything and never got anything new for herself.” The Dress Collective event is a way to both honour her mother and support women in her community.
All of these experiences are what inspire Hannah to write. Whether she’s writing for her blog, The Grief Diaries, which she started as a way to work through the grief of losing her mother, or preparing for a spin class, Hannah’s work is deeply rooted in her self-awareness. “When I’m teaching spin, I’ll be circling around a theme or a feeling that I’ve been having over the last week where I’m reflecting on my own experiences and I’m speaking as though I’m giving myself advice,” she explained. “Sometimes I’ll take that a step further and write about it. I like to be as self-aware as possible and ask ‘Why am I the way that I am now? Why am I reacting this way?’.” While Hannah explained that through her advocacy work, her personal relationships, or her family experiences she always has “something percolating” in her mind, she waits until she’s come to some kind of resolution before writing about it. Writing is a therapeutic experience, but Hannah is careful that she has figured out how she feels about something before putting pen to paper “because I ultimately want it to serve somebody else, I don’t want it to just be me going through my shit.” The Grief Diaries in particular is a place where she allows herself to work through grief, but at the same time provide tangible takeaways for others who may be going through similar experiences. The focus of that writing has evolved and changed since it began in 2014, however, and Hannah clarified that it has “also served as a blog for other things – it’s not always related back to [my mother]. I find the trajectory of my life has changed very drastically … I’m the same person, but my values are different. I roll with the punches and don’t get frazzled as much by major life crises. I rise to the occasion during those crises.”
While Hannah has multifaceted writing experience, she, like many other writers, still faces challenges. In her professional writing, those challenges arise as she is tasked with managing the expectations of clients and helping people to understand that a piece of writing cannot serve all the objectives of a larger project, but rather acts as one piece of a broader communications strategy. “You have to look at what you’re trying to achieve in an article and understand whether it’s realistic. Putting more and more in isn’t the best, as it usually dilutes the message, takes over the story, and buries what’s exciting.” In her personal writing, challenges arise around consistency and inspiration. Having the time and drive to publish pieces on her blog are difficult, especially when Hannah avoids “posting for the sake of posting.” She explained: “I’m self-aware enough to know that I have to research and grab on to something to write about … I need to have a point of reference before I can really get into something.” And because her management position at work has her doing more and more editing, Hannah finds it easy to lose that writing reflex.
Despite these challenges, Hannah continues to write. Her spin classes are more than simply guiding a room full of people to push through exhaustion – you can certainly see Hannah’s self-reflection, thoughtfulness, and even that sermon delivery practice at play when you spend 45 minutes on a bike with her. And her advice for other writers speaks directly to her own approach: “Go live your life.” The more life experience you have, the more you can both empathize with others and expand your own knowledge. “Be curious,” Hannah advised, “and if you haven’t had a lot of life experience then sit down with those who have, because you’re going to learn the more you do. Get out of your comfort zone and try new stuff – you’ll be more self-aware and know more about the world, which will definitely help your writing.”
“Be curious, and if you haven’t had a lot of life experience then sit down with those who have."