How are your energy levels right now? Do you sometimes lose your oomph? Fatigue and sometimes burnout are part of the writer’s life but we can be kinder to ourselves and find a natural rhythm that enables us to give our best and enjoy the writing journey.
I have not written a blog post for a few weeks. As I explained in my last blog, I am planning to record podcasts on the inner journey of the creative – chatting with writer friends, and will post transcripts of these podcasts as blogs. However, this change of direction, will take a little time to come to fruition. In the meantime, I am missing this weekly communication! It has become part of my Sunday ritual – a run by the sea where I reflect on what I have learnt that week and then, on my return, sharing it with you.
I felt I had nothing new to say about the inner journey of the creative, and my posts were in danger of becoming repetitive. Maybe I just needed a break to consolidate what I had learned. It has also been an exhausting six weeks. First my father’s memorial service which I planned and then hosted, and a couple of weeks later a fundraising tea party in aid of Glass Door – a charity that helps people find a path out of homelessness. I just did not have the energy to run and so lost the inspiration that I always gain from this morning ritual. But today I enjoyed my Sunday run by the sea and felt compelled to share my thoughts.
For me the marathon of writing, publishing, and marketing novels began in March 2020. I limbered up, and set off from the starting line as if I was in a hundred metre sprint. I kept up an incredible pace, keeping my sight on the finish line – a time in the not too distant future when my efforts would have paid off: the expenditure on publishing my novels would be returned in sales and there might even be some profit, I would have an email list of a thousand devoted readers eagerly awaiting my next novel. I tried everything in marketing and attended on line workshops which promised incredible results. Although I continued to write, the joy of relaxing into my writing was marred by the pressure to sell – to keep up with the targets I had set myself and what the experts told me I should be doing. Does that sound familiar?
A writer friend warned me that if I continued at that pace I would risk burn-out. Fortunately, I did not, but I did recognise an ebb in my energy and motivation. This did not affect my writing as I never have difficulty sitting down to write and that is a blessing. I also listened to my own inner wisdom. This is not a sprint it is a marathon and as writers we need to pace ourselves. To accept our personal seasons of creativity. To step back and reflect on what works for us and what does not. To allow ourselves to make mistakes without beating ourselves up. To accept that everything we do as writers can be changed – including book covers, titles and blurb. We can reinvent ourselves. Try writing in a different genre. Explore and have fun with different marketing approaches. And writing should be fun. Why would we devote so much time and energy to this writing life if it did not bring us joy?
Yesterday I downloaded the latest writing craft book by the wonderful Joanna Penn. The Relaxed Author was written by Joanna with Leslie Lefebvre. The title spoke to me and as soon as I opened the pages, I found gems of wisdom.
I started this blog by describing the writer’s journey as a race but that is not a good analogy because it is not a competition. We all compare ourselves to other writers, measuring our success against theirs even though we know it is not healthy. It is unkind – when we need to be our own best friend and cheerleader. We each have a different journey, one that is unique and perfect for us as we learn, grow, and fulfil our potential. Patience, resilience, and self-care are essential to succeed as a writer.
I have made a conscious decision to slow my pace. To enjoy the journey. I will continue to work hard and set myself goals but I will listen to my inner self and be kind. I will value times of inactivity respecting the natural ebb and flow of creativity and the need for renewal.
Tomorrow I am going away for a few days on a writer’s retreat. I am looking forward to a break from social media and the opportunity to focus on me and my writing. If I do not blog every week I know that you will not judge me and neither will I judge myself – although I have to admit, that is still a work in progress.
If you have enjoyed reading my blogs on the Inner Journey of the Creative and have identified with some of my experiences, you might be interested in contributing to my next venture.
I am planning a weekly podcast that goes deep into each of the themes in my blogs including:
Wanting something too much
Fear of failure
Trusting the journey
In the next few weeks, I will be interviewing creatives – this includes: poets, bloggers, artists, and musicians, as well as authors, about what they have learnt in their creative journey. Personal experiences and learning will be brought together along with my narrative to form podcasts on each of the topics.
Whilst I am working on this project, I will take a break from writing a weekly blog. The podcasts when they are broadcast will also be written as blogs.
If you are interested in participating, I would love to hear from you. You can DM me on Twitter or send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The dedication in my novel Just Bea reads, ‘Dedicated to those who are or have experience of being homeless. You matter.’ This is heartfelt. I was inspired to write Just Bea after looking into the faces of young men and women who I passed on the streets of London. I started talking to them and discovered that everyone has a story. Nobody wants to sleep on a street. On the 1st October I am going to do just that. I am joining people all over the UK who will be spending one night sleeping rough to raise awareness and funds to support homeless people through GlassDoor London
I first heard about the Sleep Out in 2019. I thought it meant I would just unroll a sleeping bag on any London street as though I were homeless. Even then, I was contemplating the challenge. However, I knew my loved ones would be anxious and did not want to put them through that. If I had just slept out on my own, I know I would have been terrified. How could you sleep feeling so vulnerable and exposed? And yet that is exactly what so many people have to do.
It wasn’t until early 2020 that I met a woman who had participated in the Sleep Out. She explained that it was an organised event and the participants slept in a supervised area. With that reassurance I was ready to sign up for the 2020 Sleep Out. Of course, that did not happen because of the pandemic. So now, I can finally take part.
It is more important than ever to raise funds to tackle homelessness as more people are likely to find themselves in this situation through loss of income as a result of the pandemic.
I need to raise a minimum of £500 to participate. I will be hosting a coffee morning on 15th September which will help. I’m not an experienced fund raiser and I only have a few weeks. If you have any ideas then please share them with me.
If you would like to make a donation then please visit my fundraising page before 1st Oct 2021:
For everything there is a season, A time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
Whatever our religion or beliefs, we all experience the changing of seasons. Here, in England, it is feeling very autumnal despite it being mid-August. The sun is lower in the sky, and I have spied a few bejewelled spiders webs early in the morning when the scent of dew on grass reminds me of camping or the first day back at school. I love September. Although it is decades since I lived by the rhythm of school terms, to me, September always feels like a new beginning.
I host a weekly chat on Twitter #FriSalon. Last week the topic was the impact of summer on our writing. August, is traditionally the month of holidays, a time when business slows down. In the past, factories closed; school holidays were originally planned so that children could assist with bringing in the harvest. Although some of the writers in our chat were required to work harder in August due to work pressures (not necessarily writing), the majority saw it as a time to unwind, to relax with family and friends. We talked about the natural cycle for writers – how ideas could flow triggering great productivity, and the times between when ideas could not be forced. Recognising when we need to take a break from writing to refill our creative well and sometimes to just rest.
Everything in nature has a season, these invisible rhythms flow through every living thing. Often our moods match the time of year, a lethargy and wish to hibernate in the winter, a surge of energy in the spring, but we also experience our own cyclical changes. I have always been driven to achieve my goals and impatient with myself when I feel as though I am failing. Learning to be kind to myself is an ongoing challenge for me.
In past blogs I have talked about consistency, showing up every day no matter what and I do believe that these daily habits help us to shape the life we want to live. However, we need to do this with self-awareness. Recognising when we need to be still and rest. When having fun and experiencing life is more important than writing about it. If we need to curl up with a book and hibernate, to honour that need. By recognising our cyclical nature and allowing those natural rhythms to flow we will achieve more.
I have slowed down a little since losing my father earlier this year; this month we are having a memorial service and interment so we can say goodbye properly. It hasn’t stopped me from completing my third novel, Little Gold Lies, or starting a fourth but I feel quieter and less energised. Reflecting on how to live cyclically has helped me to accept this change of pace and to allow myself time to adjust. The past year has taken its toll on us all. There will be new growth and abundance but it is okay to be still and take stock.
I have achieved a great deal since the start of 2020 channelling my creative energy and determination into exciting new projects. Now, it is perhaps a time for me to enjoy the harvest. To consider where I am and where I want to be. To prepare the ground for new seeds of possibility.
August may feel like a wash-out weather wise as we have had lots of rain in the UK, but there are still a few weeks left of the holiday month. I intend to have fun, maybe plan a trip into London to visit an exhibition or a museum, to work my way through the books on my Kindle and bookshelf, and maybe even watch a film or Netflix series during the day – that is something I would never normally do. When September comes – a new term, I will be refreshed and ready to take on new challenges with energy and enthusiasm.
I hope that you are enjoying your summer and nurturing your creativity by allowing it to lay dormant if that is what it needs or indeed flourish. Go with the flow!
It is often said that our life is like a book. I believe that when we reach the end of that book and look back on our life everything will make perfect sense. There will be dramas, times when we thought it was all over – but the book did not end there. Like all good reads, it waited until things felt as bad as they could get, and then everything changed with highs in equal measure. Don’t turn the pages too quickly, slow down and relish every feeling and experience, because when you turn the last page, you will realise just how good it was.
Novel writers are taught to write books that show a character arc in the main characters. This means having an idea of the person at the start of the story – what they want, what they think they need, and their circumstances. Events in the book have an impact on the characters and they change. By the end of the story, they have overcome personal challenges, discovered their strengths, and found what they needed, to feel complete and fulfilled.
I write women’s fiction, although I prefer to call it relationship drama as it is enjoyed by men as well as women. This means that the stories are perhaps more character-driven than action-adventure novels. As in life, the protagonists think that they want one thing but in pursuit of this goal discover that what they want and need is often something quite different.
In my novel The Borrowed Boy, Angie Winkle goes back to Jaywick Sands to make peace with an unhappy experience in her past as she believes she only has weeks left to live. She has low self-esteem, feels excluded from society, and regrets a wasted life as she was afraid to make decisions in case she got it wrong – so life passed her by. At the end of the story, Angie knows that she is strong and resilient. She is surrounded by people who love and value her and she feels part of a close community. Angie could not have transformed in this way without experiencing some grief and finding emotional courage to face up to her fears.
I like to believe that our creator is writing the story of our lives. There may be sad chapters, even heart-breaking, but the story moves forward and the protagonist gains wisdom through experience. When it feels as though everything is against the protagonist, we turn a few pages and understand why the story had to be told that way. Without those events, the wonderful outcome that is written would not have made sense. It is only at the end of the book that we can make sense of everything.
I love being an author because I can control the world of my characters. A writer can explore human emotion, digging deep to describe what the characters are experiencing. I know that everything will end well even when it might seem hopeless because I am the creator of my stories.
We are the protagonist in the story of our lives. Let’s make sure we leave our mark by being memorable and taking the reader on an exciting journey with us by living life to the full. The creator of our story will throw challenges at us but we will not be defeated, we will become stronger, and wiser, and better equipped for what is coming further on in the book. There will be chapters that make our hearts soar, and I hope there will be a happy ending. But then, maybe our life is just one book in a series so anything unresolved can be taken forward into the next story.
Deborah Klée is the author of two novels The Borrowed Boy and Just Bea. Her career in health and social care has given her an insight into the lives of people who have overcome adversity showing remarkable emotional courage and resilience. The voices of these people have found a way into her stories, where she enjoys writing them a happy ending.
All writers have days, sometimes weeks when the words will not flow on the page. It is frustrating when you think you know what you want to say but it doesn’t come out right. I have had that experience in the past when describing myself and my writing for my website author page, and this week when making several false starts on my new novel. I have learnt that the reason I cannot find the right words is because I do not truly know what I want to say. I am not ready to start writing because my ideas are not fully formed.
I have been working on my author page this week and after a year of grappling with my identity as an author, I am now able to write confidently about who I am and what I write. It sounds simple but any author who has tried to do this in the first few months of their career will, I suspect, identify with this. There is a bit of imposter syndrome. Fear of exposing who we really are – being authentic makes us vulnerable, as we get used to presenting to the world the image of ourselves that is most acceptable. Writing this blog and digging deep as I write my stories has helped me to see and value what makes me unique. That thing which once seemed so nebulous – my writing voice. If you are struggling to describe yourself as a writer – don’t read other author’s pages looking for inspiration – go within. Sit with yourself and take the time to understand who this amazing person is – because you are extraordinary. Only you can write what you write because it comes from your unique experience of the world.
Starting to write a new novel is exciting. It is also a little scary as I explained in last week’s blog. I have been thinking about this novel since I had the first inspiration in February 2019. I have pages of notes, loads of research and I know the beginning, middle, and end. What I don’t yet know are the characters or how to get into the story. I read a note by Rachel Joyce in the back of her novel, Miss Benson’s Beetle – a novel I greatly enjoyed and can recommend – she said that she walked around her story idea as though it were a house and couldn’t find her way in. For Rachel Joyce, it was seeing an old photograph of two women that spoke to her and enabled her to dive into writing that story because it was then that she discovered her protagonists.
I have stopped trying to hunt down my ideas because the more I stalk them, the further into hiding they go. It is a waste of my time sitting at my computer attempting to write yet another chapter that will end up being deleted, or scribbling longhand in my notebook. My mind needs to be still and diverted for inspiration to come creeping out. I woke up this morning with a revelation. I was starting my novel in the wrong place and from the wrong point of view. It was as though my ideas had been given a good shake whilst I slept and now, they came tumbling in a different order giving me a new perspective. My first attempts did not work because the ideas were not fully formed. Understanding the heart of your story and the journey you want to take the reader on is crucial. The magic in writing is that the story unfolds as you go along but you need to be true to what you set out to achieve.
When I first started writing this blog, I was afraid that I would run out of ideas. Each week I fretted over what I would write and if I had not written and scheduled the blog by midweek I panicked. Now, I have a weekly ritual. Every Sunday I get up early for a run by the sea. I warm up with 10 minutes of yoga then head out. This morning, I was blessed as the tide was out exposing a long sandy beach. There was a mist on the horizon and the air smelt so good – of roses from the green slopes above mingled with the scent of the sea and a promise of rain. It is easy to empty the mind running in such a beautiful setting. I never set out to think of a topic for my blog but at the end of each run, I know what to write. It is a time of quiet reflection when I listen to my inner voice. On my return, I scribble a few notes to capture ideas for future blogs, before doing ten minutes of post-run yoga and my daily meditation. This is the only time in my life when I can honestly say that I completely let go of control and trust the process. When I was running today, I wondered what might happen if I applied the same faith to my daily life.
The creative process is a miraculous thing. It comes from somewhere deep inside. We are conditioned to be busy and productive but that is not how creativity works. It takes its own time and requires us only to be still, to trust, listen, and to be patient. Because that is when the magic happens.
Beginnings are always scary and endings sad. But it is the most natural cycle in life. In a world of uncertainty, the only things we can depend on happening are birth, disease, and death. Sorry to sound morbid but disease is part of the life-cycle whether we like it or not.
At this time in my life, I attend more funerals than weddings. I often wonder about all the people who have passed from this life, within my lifetime and generations before. It makes me think of this time on earth as a short but precious experience within something much greater. If nobody died – ever – it would be pretty crowded down here. An overgrown garden with no room for the plants to grow and bloom.
Our creator decides on our beginning and our end but we too are creators and within our lifespan will orchestrate many new beginnings: jobs, relationships, homes, works of art. The idea to start something new is like a tiny bud of new growth. At first, we may not see the tender shoot. It is hidden from our scrutiny, as we focus on what is familiar. The idea refuses to be ignored and grows. We may glimpse it when our mind is still and wonder – Could I do that?
When we are comfortable in our home, or our job, we can put up with a lot of dissatisfaction rather than disrupt what is familiar and step out of our comfort zone. However, when we ignore our idea to try something new it can make us unhappy because it won’t go away. For something new to grow we have to make room and that means cutting back the deadwood. It is hard to accept that something we once loved has run its course. Because endings are sad. We are saying goodbye to a friend that has served us well: a career, job, home, marriage. I retired from a very happy and successful career in health and social care this year to commit to my career as an author. It was five years after glimpsing the first green shoot of that idea.
It is exciting to start a new job, move to a new home, or begin a creative project but scary too. What if I have made the wrong decision? What if I fail? With all the deadwood cutaway we feel exposed. We can no longer hide behind our story – the way we have always done things. We have moved out of our comfort zone and that is when the magic begins because we grow. If what you are doing doesn’t scare you a little then the chances are you are not challenging yourself enough. To achieve our full potential, we need to listen to our intuition, recognise the buds of new growth and make room for them to grow.
I have just returned from staying with my daughter, who is between jobs. I am between projects as I have finished writing a novel and am about to start a new one. The pause between. In yoga, the pause between breaths is sacred as it is a place of stillness. Each new breath brings oxygen and life into the body, the exhale discards what no longer serves us. When we are still, we are at one with ourselves. Free of thought we can tune into our senses – how we feel: physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. It can be an uncomfortable place as we often use activity and repetitive thought patterns to block feelings we do not want to acknowledge. However, to be still – to be present in the pause between, allows us to appreciate all that we have become through our experience and prepare us for the challenges ahead.
I am in a pause between books, my third novel set in the world of theatrical magic in 1980 which is doing the rounds with literary agents and a new story idea that has been nagging me to be told. I am having difficulty letting go of the completed novel. I have read and edited that book from beginning to end 5 times in the last month. Instead of moving on to the next project, I keep returning to tweak a chapter or a line. However, I am appreciating the pause between. I am using the time to replenish my creative well which has become easier now some of the lockdown restrictions have been lifted. Whilst visiting my daughter last week I visited three art exhibitions and it was as though I had watered my soul – it was parched. In fact, I am finding all sorts of things to do instead of starting to write that new story: updating my website, clearing out neglected cupboards, and spending time on social media. Yes, I am procrastinating. Maybe I am a little afraid of starting this new project. In my head it is an amazing story, but will it live up to my expectations? I will never know unless I start to write!
Wherever you are in your current journey – beginning, middle, or end. I wish you success, fulfilment, and joy.
Sending out a query letter to literary agents, or applying for a job that you desperately want is scary. You pin so much hope on your submission and feel as though you have handed over responsibility for your future happiness. It doesn’t have to feel like that. In my post, 5 Ways to attract what you want into your life I share practical steps on managing feelings when you want something too much.
Maybe, like me, you have been burned before and so are cautious this time around. My third novel is ready to submit to agents. I have had a literary agent in the past and lived through the anxiety and trauma of finding an agent and a publishing contract. It is not for the faint-hearted. This time I am in a good place as:
I am not attaching myself to one particular outcome
I am not looking for validation
I know that I have options and I am in control
I have faith that the right solution will find me so long as I am open to possibilities.
However, despite having done a lot of inner work to reach this healthier state of mind the prospect of seeking an agent and contract is still daunting. When something is important to us, we will always feel some trepidation.
I have enjoyed taking regular runs for many years. When I was in my fifties, I experienced pain in my hips after a run. As a result, I gave up running for a few years. Then, a fitness trainer explained to me that if I prepared properly for a run by stretching and did the same post-run then I would not experience any joint pain. She was right. I am using this analogy to explain how the pain of trying to get a job or an agent can be avoided with proper preparation and after-care.
I successfully self-published my first two novels The Borrowed Boy and Just Bea, receiving great reviews and three awards. However, it is a challenge to reach the audience I would like to attract without a publisher and agent championing me and helping to promote my books. This is why I am going to approach agents and some independent publishers with my new novel.
Before applying for a job, querying agents, or approaching publishers be very clear about what you want, why, and what a good fit would look like.
My goal is for my books to be visible to a wider audience of readers and to increase sales. I want to achieve this so that I can share my stories, engage with readers, and be heard. For me, a good fit with an agent would be one where there is mutual respect, a partnership with both parties listening to the other, an agent who loves and understands what I write.
Just as the wrong job for you can be damaging to your career, so can the wrong agent. It is not a one-way street – you are looking for the right job/agent just as they are looking for the best person to employ/ sign to their list.
Do your research. Now you know your needs and what you are offering, invest time in finding potential agents/jobs that are a good match.
There are several ways you can achieve your goals. Be imaginative and brainstorm other options to get what you need. Getting an agent is not the only, or necessarily the best, outcome for me, it is just one. I have other options:
Find an Independent Publisher to publish novel three and potentially my first two novels.
Enter competitions to attract an agent or publisher.
Rebrand my first two novels with my third and fourth to make them more marketable. This would include changing the covers to make them recognisable for the genre and my brand. Invest in advertising.
I am excited about the third option and have a long-term strategy to promote sales. It is important not to attach ourselves to one particular outcome. This week I read a meme on Instagram God’s plans are greater than our dreams. This spoke to me as in the past I have found this wisdom to be true. I am thankful that I am not the creator of my future because what has unfolded in my life is more than I could have imagined or hoped for.
If an agent rejects our submission, it is because they do not think that we are a good fit. I know my shape and size – I am holding a jigsaw piece up to see where it goes. The agent is another piece of the jigsaw and they too know what they are looking for. It has to be a perfect fit for the author and the agent. That means trial and error before finding a match.
You have applied for the job or sent out query letters now it is time to wait. You can check your inbox every few minutes or put the time to good use. I will be using the time to do a much-needed revamp of my website. I will also be plotting my next novel. By focusing on the next project, you can save wasted energy worrying about the outcome of your submission. When you get a full manuscript request you will need the distraction of a shiny new project to stop you from imagining every scenario from a harsh and crushing rejection to the opening night of your book to film premier. When The Borrowed Boy was out on submission to publishers, I wrote my next novel, Just Bea.
Focus on other options. You might well get the positive response you are hoping for but there is no harm in thinking ahead and planning the next steps.
My daughter was recently disappointed when, following a lengthy recruitment process, she got the call to say that whilst it was a close thing, she had not got the job. On reflection, my wise daughter had come to a similar conclusion. A few weeks later, she got a call from the same organisation inviting her to apply for another job which they considered a better fit. I am delighted to say that she got this job and much prefers it to the original one.
You have had an interview or maybe you have been invited to meet with a prospective agent. Be fully prepared.
Research everything that you can about their organisation and how they work.
Clarify the questions that you will want to ask.
Be clear on what you would be expecting from your future employer/agent.
Consider the terms and conditions that are acceptable to you.
and you will be confident in your decision to accept or not.
If you do not get an offer then you know that you have other options. Do not standstill. Be positive and pro-active in improving your application/submission for next time, network, raise your profile on social media, improve your skills, try new things – a different genre, or short stories. Do not whine and complain on social media. Lick your wounds for one day if you need to but then get back up and out there. A positive, confident employer/author is more attractive and therefore attracts more opportunities than a negative one.
When I was in my thirties, frustrated at my failure to achieve the next step on the career ladder, I remember walking on a pebbly beach. I thought, I am like one of those zillion pebbles, why would an employer pick me? There was so much competition, I felt as though I was invisible and my dreams unachievable.
What I have learned since is that every single pebble on that beach is perfect and unique. Together they are astounding but each and every one of them has a place and purpose. I found my purpose – the perfect job for me but it wasn’t until I relaxed and valued myself that my future found me.
Whether you are applying for jobs, querying agents, or submitting to publishers, there is a lesson to be learnt from those pebbles on the beach.
You are unique and perfect. Take stock of what you have achieved, your skills, your experience. Everything that makes you who you are today – right now. The opportunity you are seeking needs to fit your perfect shape.
Every pebble, shell, and grit of shingle fits perfectly into a whole. The sea smooths rough edges, it carries flotsam in its tide, and welcomes the rivers and streams that flow into its vast ocean. We are part of something bigger.
Nature will find your perfect fit, what you need to evolve and become the person you are meant to be. Your job is to be clear where you are now in your development so that you can recognise the right opportunity when it arises – and it will.
You are one of a million, but you are also one in a million. Nobody else has your unique combination of skills, knowledge and experience. The job, agent, or publisher that is right for you – the perfect fit, will be drawn to you when you know what you are looking for.
Think of putting together a jigsaw puzzle. At first the mound of jigsaw pieces can feel a bit overwhelming, but when you hold one piece in your hand and really study its form, the exact shape of each side, then it becomes much clearer where that piece fits within the bigger picture.
Just as the sea shapes and moves, your life will unfold in its own time. Keep present and trust the process. Everything happens at the right time. Because nature is perfect and we are part of nature.
I think that we all find it a challenge to treat ourselves with the same, love, compassion, and respect that we show to others. Learning to love and nurture ourselves is an important life lesson, if we are to become our best self. When we achieve selflove our personal relationships are enriched. Instead of looking to friends and loved ones to validate us, we can offer unconditional friendship, secure in our self-worth.
Value your skills and experience
Have you read someone else’s profile, website, or biography and thought, I can do that, or have achieved that, but I didn’t think it worth mentioning? Maybe you have read an article or listened to a presentation and thought, I knew those things, they are obvious? I admit I have had these thoughts in the past. You may feel envious that someone who you consider no better than you in terms of experience is getting more recognition than you. It is a mean thought but I’m sure one we have all experienced at some time. The disappointment is with ourself for not honouring our worth.
Respect what you know and have achieved. Tell the world. Don’t belittle your knowledge and skills. We are always looking ahead to where we want to be, focusing on our deficits. Take the time to really appreciate and value where you are now. Remember, what you can do effortlessly today was once a challenge. Take stock of all that you have achieved and learnt. Others can learn from you. Don’t hide your light under a bushel. It is not boastful or proud to own your achievements. To recognise them is to value yourself.
A few months ago, I was asked to give the keynote address at a conference. I was known for my work in health and social care but on this occasion was asked to talk about my new career as an author. I was surprised but thrilled to read myself described by the event host as an award-winning author. It was not an accolade I had claimed. I had indeed won two awards for my debut novel, but the title ‘award-winning author’ felt fake. Most creatives have imposter syndrome. Maybe everyone does. I am an award-winning author, so why did it surprise me to be described this way? It took someone else to use this title before I tentatively tried it on for size.
Be a good friend to you by reminding yourself that you are awesome. You worked hard to get to where you are now. There may be another mountain ahead but acknowledge the one you have climbed and those before.
Be compassionate and kind
I drive myself hard and berate myself when I do not achieve my daily goals. I have been the line manager for more staff in my working life than I can remember. Those staff remember me kindly as years on I have received communications from people whom I have supported and nurtured thanking me. As a manager, I encouraged my staff to set achievable goals. I was forever adjusting their expectations so that they could exceed their aims rather than fail to deliver. I emphasised the need for self-care and was mindful of staff who were driving themselves too hard so that I could help prevent them from experiencing burn-out. If only I treated myself with the same care and attention.
At the end of each day do you focus on what you didn’t get done or what you did? How do you reward yourself for your daily achievements? Are your goals realistic and achievable or are you setting yourself up to fail? Have you scheduled breaks for writing your blog, novel, or other project? I would not dream of treating a member of my staff the way that I treat myself. Fear of failure is what drives me. This in itself reflects a lack of respect for what I am capable of with time, patience, and compassion.
When we are learning new things, we will inevitably get some things wrong. That is how we learn. Self-publishing and marketing my books are new to me. At the beginning of 2020 I had no experience at all. In less than 18 months I have started to blog, published two novels, learnt how to record on Zoom, edit on i-movie, and broadcast on YouTube and podcast, and I have become established on Twitter. Looking back, I have missed opportunities by not recognising their importance at the time. I have failed to grasp Instagram, and Pinterest. My newsletters are not yet slick. Despite an incredibly steep learning curve, I still focus on what I have got wrong – not the things I have got right.
As we get older and look back on our life there will be things that we are ashamed of- things we could have done better; perhaps how we handled relationships, addictions, or jealousy. We feel like that now because we have changed. We would not have changed and become who we are, without those life lessons. View yourself as a kind parent. Tell yourself that you are forgiven for your behaviours, you are not a bad person. Every experience that we have brings us the gift of learning. Be patient with yourself and allow yourself time to grow. Do not chastise yourself for what you consider your failings.
Be your own cheerleader
That job you have applied for, the query letter to agents, the competition you have entered, do it whilst cheering yourself on. If you don’t believe in yourself why would anyone else? When we tell ourselves that we are not worthy, that we don’t really expect to win, then we have already reduced our chances of success. We protect ourselves from disappointment by lowering our expectation. If we tell our family and friends that we don’t expect success or pretend we don’t care what the result is then they won’t feel sorry for us when we fail. Is that being a good friend to yourself. Would you tell your dearest friend not to bother applying for their dream job because they won’t get it anyway? Of course not. You would be telling them that the employer, agent etc would be lucky to have them. Be that friend to yourself.
I am practicing being a better friend to me. It is hard breaking the habits of a lifetime. I know how to be the best friend, sister, mother, employer – I just have to be a good friend to me.
I have enjoyed regular runs for nearly thirty years. What I take from each run is different every time and has changed over the years. Now, in my (early!) sixties I have a regular run 4k across the beach to the pier and back. Not far enough to tire me but perfect for clearing my head and stimulating creativity. When I started out running it was about protecting my time and making a commitment to run, then pushing myself to run further. This is what running has taught me.
When I was in my early thirties, I was the mother of an under five, worked full-time in a high-powered job, and was studying part-time for a master’s degree. To eke out even thirty minutes for a run felt impossible. I was unfit and couldn’t run for a bus without gasping for breath. I lived in the countryside then and set myself a challenge of walking and running for a mile or so across fields and lanes. I enjoyed the fresh air, and time to myself but it was exhausting and it would have been easy to find excuses not to run. I committed to run twice a week and with great effort and determination managed to do so at least once a week, most weeks. This was an important lesson for me. If something is worth doing, if you want to reap the rewards, then you have to find the time.
I have applied this lesson to writing, meditation, and yoga. Find the time. Show up no matter what. It is not always fun. Sometimes you have to make yourself, but it is always worth it and over time you will see big changes.
Setting achievable goals
The furthest I have run is a half-marathon 13 miles or 21 k. When I set that goal, I was running 7 or 8 miles regularly but that was a stretch. When I was training and felt I couldn’t run any further I told myself, just run to the next lamppost and then you can rest/walk. When I reached the lamppost, I always felt I could just about run to the next one. Little by little I completed the run – just one lamppost at a time.
How often are we dissuaded from having a go because we are overwhelmed by the size of the challenge? I would never have believed I could write a novel – 90k words is huge when the most you have written is a 5k assignment. That was how my first novel started. A creative writing tutor asked us to write a 5k story and to share instalments over four classes. That 5k story became the outline for my first novel. Every task can be broken down. Just focus on one short-term goal, then the next. One lamppost at a time.
Resilience and determination
Keep going, when the going gets tough. A steep hill, or running against a strong wind, can really challenge a runner’s resilience. I often run towards the pier with the wind behind me but when I turn around and feel its force it’s a struggle to run back. My younger brother taught me a chant which I say in my head, ‘the wind is my friend it makes me strong.’ It works. I repeat this and gradually I believe it. And it is true, trials and tribulations strengthen our character and make us more resilient.
I take this feeling of determination and resilience to my life as a writer. Creatives experience many knockbacks and rejections. When writers express disappointment after receiving a rejection on social media I remind them that a successful author receives on average 200 rejections. Every rejection is one step closer to success. We have to learn from adversity, use it to grow stronger. The wind is your friend.
Although I have been running for many years, there were three years when I didn’t run at all. I was in my fifties and although I could easily run 5k or more, my hips hurt when I bent down to remove my trainers. The morning after a run I had discomfort in my hips and knees. Around this time, I sustained an injury (not from running) that resulted in a frozen shoulder. I visited a Chinese doctor, for a consultation on freeing my shoulder, and mentioned my stiff and aching hips. When I explained that they hurt after a run he laughed and said, ‘You are too old to run.’
I took this to heart. I bought a bike and thought my running days were behind me. A few years later, a fitness instructor told me that the reason I got pain in my joints after a run was because I didn’t warm up properly or cooldown by stretching fully. I took her advice and now I prepare for every run with ten minutes of yoga, and my mat is waiting for me on my return for a ten-minute cool down. I never experience any pain in my joints.
The lessons I took from this are:
You are never too old to do the things that you enjoy. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Listen to your body. You know better than anyone how your body, and mind work. Tune in to what is going on and then fix it. This means giving yourself time. Being compassionate. Don’t push on ignoring your body.
Three weeks ago, I went for my usual Sunday run, despite having had my second jab the day before. I thought I felt fine and set off at a pace. The truth was, I hadn’t taken time to truly tune in and listen to my body. I had almost completed my run when I felt a little light-headed. A few seconds later, I had an almighty fall on a rail crossing. My injuries have healed but it has knocked my confidence. I’ll get back out there this week but will be more mindful in the future.
Stilling the mind.
Every Sunday morning, I go for a run by the sea, and by the time I get home I know exactly what to write in my blog. I have come to have absolute faith in this process and do not fret in the days before my Sunday deadline. I run and then I write.
Running is a bit like meditation. The steady rhythm of placing one foot in front of the other, attention to breathing, and the flow of energy, induce a calm state of mind. It takes me five minutes to reach the sea, and then I am pounding across the sand as I head for the pier. Ten minutes into my run, the chatter in my head reviewing what has gone before and what is to come quietens. The hush of gently lapping waves, seagull cries, the salty scent of seaweed, and the glitter of light on water fill my senses. My mind is open and ready to receive. It has been said that prayer is talking to God and meditation listening. You just have to still your mind and the answers come to you.
Meditation does not have to be sitting in silence. A walk in the woods can be meditative. Focusing on nature, filling our lungs with fresh air, ground us and calm the mind. If you are not a runner and find it hard to meditate, try walking in nature.
Live your life mindfully, as every activity brings new learning and awareness.
I have just returned from a relaxing break in a woodland lodge. Surrounded by trees, rhododendrons, and wildlife it was easy to switch off. I found myself gazing into space, my mind completely free of thought. A state which normally takes concentrated meditation now felt like a default setting. To be still with no thought can seem counter-productive. No divine inspiration, thunderbolt realisations – not even a new story idea. We drive ourselves in pursuit of achievement, ever faster and more intense, willing our dreams to materialise – believing we have control. Allowing stillness feels counterintuitive – lazy. We are brought up with the belief that hard work brings rewards and success. This is true to a certain extent but it is also important to know when and how to relax and give our minds a break.
With the pandemic, few people have taken a proper holiday and it is something we all need given the stresses of this past year. Escaping to a different setting from our home and familiar environment provides a temporary respite from our worries. We can step off the hamster wheel and take a breath.
Confined to our homes and the same four walls, books have provided an escape for many. Romcoms set in Italy, Greece, and other exotic locations, have been popular with many new publications this year. Last week, I interviewed author Lizzie Chantree for Castaway Books. Lizzie was a successful entrepreneur when her daughter experienced a life-changing illness she had to close her business. Sitting up most nights, she passed the time by writing. The story she wrote enabled her to escape to sunshine, romance, and friendship. This eventually become her debut novel Babe Driven and was the launch of a very successful career as an author. Her readers must have enjoyed the same feelings of escape that Lizzie did in writing this novel.
I am told by fans of fantasy, that the attraction is in escaping from this world. A writer friend explained how she could only write fantasy. To write stories set in the real world would be difficult for her, as it was a place where she had experienced childhood trauma and writing was a means of escape – a place to explore her thoughts and feelings in a different setting.
Whether it is a holiday or a novel that provides a means of escape, when we relax and shift our perspective, we gain new insights on our inner world. Our mind is relaxed and open to inspiration. We return to our daily life and see things a little differently.
It is a bit like being a sculptor. Up close we cannot see what we are creating, we have to stand back and view our work from different angles.
There are other benefits from taking a holiday. My husband and I, like most families, have seen few other people and spent more time in each other’s company that we would in normal times. However, going away together for a few days meant that we spent quality time together. No phones, or social media – there was no signal in our woodland escape so that made it easier. Relaxed and carefree we were kinder, more considerate to one another, and more attentive.
I did have one epiphany during my four-day break. In the scheme of things our little world is a spec in the universe, and our civilisation has been here for a fraction of time. It made me wonder at my significance and the importance of my dreams and wishes. And then I thought about the magnificent feats of nature: sunrise and sunsets, the magnolia in my garden that flowers for a few weeks of the year but is glorious, so many breath-taking creations – each and every one precious. We are equally special, and when our dreams come to fruition we too will blaze in splendid glory. To let go is not to give in or give up, it is to trust the power of creation and to be secure in the knowledge that our life will flow in the magnificent way that is intended.
So, I too returned from my break with a slightly different perspective on my world.
Ellie Holmes is a wonderful author and friend. We both belong to Frinton Writers’ Group. Before COVID we went on an annual writers’ retreat. After cancelling last year we are hoping to return in September. I am away this week taking a break so will leave you with this post from Ellie.
As you are reading this I am presently on a writers’ retreat. We may be minutes from a busy town, but I am happily ensconced in a time warp idyll surrounded by bucolic countryside. A salve to the mind and a huge inspiration creatively.
The view from my bedroom window
I am lucky enough to belong to an extraordinary writers’ group. There are seven of us in the group and we are all novelists, some traditionally published, some indie published, some hybrid and some unpublished. We meet once a month in a local bookshop when we celebrate any successes members of the group have had, usually with Prosecco, we critique two pieces of work, taking it in turns and discuss any writing related subjects that happen to come out of our discussions.
A group of different people, most of whom did not know each other before…
The activities that we start with enthusiasm, committing to a schedule, can sometimes feel like a chore. The must-do that looms over our day or week. It may be going for a run, writing a blog, or weeding a flower bed. Resisting, finding excuses, and then feeling guilty, can sap our energy. The reality is, this procrastination and angst uses more energy than the activity itself.
As a full-time writer, a wonderful job – I know, I have three weekly commitments: this weekly blog, recording, editing and broadcasting Castaway Books, and hosting a weekly tweet-chat Friday Salon. Each of these activities brings me joy. They connect me to other inspiring creatives, and introduce me to potential readers. Despite all of these positives, showing up every week, no matter how I am feeling or what’s going on in my life, is sometimes a challenge. It would be easy to say not this week – to let myself off with excuses. But once we break a habit it is hard to get back into the groove.
This is what I do when I am struggling to find the motivation.
Set myself an easier task
I tell myself I will just do a little. Instead of running 5k to the pier and back, I will run down to the beach and then turn off and run back. A twenty-minute run is less daunting than forty. So, I set off feeling better that I am. At least making an effort. Every single time I have tried this I ended up running the full 5k and loved every minute. It is the same with my blog. I may start out telling myself that this week it will be a shorter one, just a few paragraphs and I end up becoming completely absorbed writing a full length one.
2.Remind myself that nobody is making me do this
Maybe your situation is different and you have a boss making demands. I am my own boss but nobody could be tougher on me than I am. When I managed people, I am sure I was much kinder to them than I am to myself.
When I let go of the belief, I’ve got to do this I feel a weight lift. It’s not easy to let go because the voice in my head argues – you do have to do this or you’ll undo all that you’ve achieved. I answer back, What’s the worst thing that can happen? My mind eventually calms. Maybe I’ll go for a walk, or read a book. That’s when my perception changes. I don’t have to do the task. In fact, I have given myself permission not to, and now I want to. It’s like the trick parents do with a child who doesn’t want to walk with them. ‘Okay, I’ll go without you. I’ll leave you here.’ When I see the activity walking away, I chase after it!
3. Keep focused on the present
It is looking ahead at our day or week that can fill us with dread. When I worked full-time as a management consultant, I sometimes felt giddy when I reviewed my coming week with all of the meetings, presentations and deadlines. We have to plan ahead so that we can manage our time effectively but once the task is in our diary, and any preparation scheduled, then all we can do is the immediate task. In fact, by being fully present, focusing on the task in hand we are at your most effective.
When I apply this to my day, I don’t think about what is to come. The task has been scheduled in my diary and so I do not waste any time or energy worrying about it. Instead, I immerse myself in the now – walking by the sea, enjoying a meal with my family, or reading. When it is time to complete the task, I am rested and give it all of my attention. It is surprising how effortless the task now feels.
4. Positive reinforcement
I look at what I have achieved by showing up each day or week. The distance I can now run without too much effort, a beautiful garden, the wonderful people I have met through my blog etc. It may take time and effort but we reap the rewards. Reminding ourselves of what we have achieved can sometimes cheer us on. Be your own cheerleader.
5. Do it differently
Today, I wrote this blog on my laptop sitting in front of the TV with my husband, instead of sitting in my office using my desktop. I had my jab yesterday and it would have been easy to give myself permission to have a restful day. Instead, I tricked myself. I’ll just make a few notes while I sit here. Before I knew it, I had written a blog.
Change your running route, or routine. Play music whilst you do your accounts. Listen to an audio book whist you do your housework. Use novelty to distract yourself from what feels like a chore. I hate housework but with my Bluetooth headphones and an audiobook, or a podcast I don’t want to stop cleaning.
I hope that my tips help you to face those must-dos with renewed energy and enthusiasm. What have you found helps to motivate you and stop procrastination?
‘If this doesn’t happen, I don’t know what I’ll do.’
‘If only I got that promotion/job everything would be different.’
‘I just need to find that special someone and I will be happy.’
The drama and passion of these heartfelt pleas are fuelled by the media. We watch films and read books where life is simple. The geeky girl/boy meets someone who loves them just the way that they are, they fall in love and live happily ever after. A woman loses her job, her world is falling apart, but then she writes a book, and all of her financial worries are resolved. Then, there are the talent shows where an awkward-looking boy tells the camera that winning the competition would mean everything to him, and a few series later he is back as the star act, having achieved super-stardom. Real-life doesn’t make good telly and so stories of success, both imaginary and real, are dramatized and we buy into this. I have thought for some time that the romcoms we adore contribute to dissatisfaction in relationships.
1. Focus on what is within your control
Our dream is a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. We truly believe that once that one thing we wish for happens our life will be transformed. For many writers, it is getting an agent or a publishing deal. We hold that heartfelt wish so tight, we clench it within our soul, willing it to happen. To relax that hold for one second feels as though we are giving up and reducing our chances of success. Everything depends on that wish coming true.
The thing that we long to happen, or fear will happen doesn’t change our life. There is a blip of happiness or despair, but in the scheme of things, it is a minor disturbance. Think back to the day you got your dream job, got married, or on the downside received a rejection letter from an agent or following an interview. You may have been happy or disappointed for a few days, or weeks but then life happened and soon you had another goal or dream. I can no longer remember my rejection letters or the jobs I didn’t get.
The constant is the life you are living now. Your family and friends, the pleasure that you get from everyday activities, your good health. By focusing on what is beyond our control, changing another person’s behaviour, making someone like you – hire you – sign you, we are neglecting to change the things that we can control. If life carries on as normal after the blip, then we need to invest in making it a good life by appreciating what we have now and making the most of each moment.
2. Invite new opportunities into your life
This is a lesson that has taken me some time to learn, and I am still learning. When I was forty, I could see only one way to further my career and that was the next step up on the career ladder – a chief executive of a health trust. It had been my goal for years and I had made steady progress up until that point. I was shortlisted again and again but was disappointed when I received the news that I had not been successful and each time a different or conflicting reason – ‘too strategic,’ ‘not strategic enough.’ I didn’t know what to do as this had always been my goal and it felt too early in my career to settle for what I had already achieved.
I was in the depths of despair. I felt rejected – unworthy. Not good enough. I was blinded to other opportunities because I was too focused on that one outcome. A wise woman suggested that I was feeling discomfort as the job I had was no longer a good fit for me. Like an ill-fitting shoe, I had outgrown the role. This sparked my imagination and I wrote down all the things I enjoyed and was good at, also the things I didn’t like about my job.
Unsurprisingly, the job I had set my heart on was not a good fit for me either. The result was a specification of my unique combination of skills, expertise, and experience. I used that to evaluate every job advertised within a salary scale that was acceptable. In keeping an open mind, I came across an advertisement that I would never have considered before. I wasn’t even sure what the job description meant, but it was a perfect fit with my personal specification and the employer thought so too because at the end of a two-day selection process I was offered the job. What unfolded from there was better than I could have imagined. I found the perfect career for me as one opportunity led to another.
Through this experience, I learned that my imagination is limited. The universe/God’s vision is greater. When I stopped hanging on tightly to what I thought should happen and opened my heart and mind to possibilities, I was led to the best outcome for me.
3. Do not attach yourself to one particular outcome
You may be focused on bagging your dream agent, securing a traditional publishing deal, getting that promotion, or your ideal job and I wish you success. Keep working towards your goal and hopefully, your wish will come true. However, too narrow a focus might be blinding you to other opportunities.
Try brainstorming all of the options. Be imaginative and open yourself up to the infinite possibilities for your success. Instead of focusing on one agent, try approaching several. Visualise offers coming in from four or more so that you have to choose. Submit to independent publishers. Enter novel writing competitions. Scatter these seeds of possibility and you may be surprised by what grows.
Your future is waiting for you. It could be brighter and bigger than anything you have imagined, but you need to open your heart and mind to new possibilities and trust that what is right for you will find you.
4. Open your heart
I know what it feels like to want something too much. It is a tightly clenched fist in the solar plexus, a lump of longing that takes up all the room in your heart. You are afraid to release your grip. As though holding tight to that dream will make it come true, and if you release your grip, it will lessen your chances of success. I have learned that this is not true and by wanting something too much we are driving away the very thing that we want.
We have all heard the stories of a couple who conceive when they have stopped trying for a baby, the girlfriend who meets the love of her life after resigning herself to a future of singledom, the job offers that flood in when you have decided to become self-employed.
When we are desperate for something we become tense. There is a physiological reaction that may lead to symptoms of stress, for me it is eczema and migraines. We become so focused that we have tunnel vision and miss the bigger picture. A tense, intense person, who is desperate for something, is not attractive and can repel the person that they want to attract.
If you are in a furniture store and a sales assistant working for commission pursues you relentlessly, advising you of the features of every sofa you show a vague interest in, I suspect that like me, you will decide to visit another day or go to a different store where you won’t be hounded into buying something.
Many years ago, I had a friend who following a divorce was desperate to find another man. This friend was young, attractive, and clever. She had a great job and was financially independent. She threw herself into the dating world with gusto, joining online dating agencies and requesting blind dates. I tried introducing her to eligible men but her desperation scared them off. Sadly, none of her would-be partners wanted a second date.
I am extremely embarrassed to confess that when I started out as a management consultant, I stepped out of a meeting to run after someone who I thought might be interested in hiring me. I cringe when I remember this. At that time, I was terrified that I would not attract any clients and, of course, I didn’t. When I relaxed and went with the flow, I had plenty of work. The more work I had, the more I was offered.
When we are relaxed and content, we are open to new possibilities. We notice opportunities because we have an open mind and are more susceptible to ideas that come into our orbit. People are drawn to us because we radiate positivity.
I know it is hard to let go of longing. Keep hold of your dream but try to gently release your grip. Imagine that knot of tension, softening. Breathing exercises and meditation can help with this. When I am meditating, I imagine a lotus flower opening up to the sun. It takes practice but you can relax your hold.
5. Trust the journey
I believe that our purpose is an idea that is sown like a seed in our heart. Our wish to be a writer, an artist, a chef, an acrobat is intense because we are driven to achieve our life purpose. But just as the seed has been sown, trust that your dream will come to fruition. Open yourself up to a greater power. Trust that what you need will come to you. Be relaxed and calm. Because then you will find the golden breadcrumbs that will lead you to your destiny- a chance meeting, an advertisement, an idea that comes from a conversation.
I previously published this post as Wanting Something Too Much Part 1-3. I have combined them here and renamed them so that they are more accessible.