Life Lesson from the Golf Course

Stay focus on your goal.

Life Lesson from the Golf Course
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Why Okay is Okay: Finding the quiet path between extremes

My thanks to yoga instructor, Jocelyne Leach, for inspiring this week’s blog post.

The world feels as though it is full of extreme views right now. When we listen to the news, it is no wonder we feel the antagonism. In recent years, conflicting views about politics, policy, and the behaviour of world leaders, have divided families, and friends – certainly here in the UK, and from what I hear, in the USA. 

We take these thoughts and feelings into our daily lives, as we absorb the negative energy. So, finding our equilibrium – a fulcrum on which to find a balance between extremes is needed now more than ever. 

Creatives are prone to extremes in emotional response. It seems agents/publishers are fond of saying I/we loved … before going on to give an honest and balanced critique. It is IMHO an overused word in the publishing world – used, maybe, to manage our fragile egos.

Authors want readers to love their books and fear that they might hate one. It is always love or hate. We swing between feelings of elation and despair. Those great highs are often followed by an adrenalin dip, and/or the need for another high. That is perhaps why we feel the need to constantly check sales, reviews, or social media comments. It is an addiction to receiving positive reinforcement. 

I know that I have a need for approval. For most of my life I have had a habit of ending my statements with a question – isn’t it? Don’t you? A boyfriend once pointed this out to me. 

Like many new writers, it was important to me to receive validation. I have had this through the belief of my agent, feedback from editors, book reviewers, and readers. This should be enough but l find myself swinging from either end of that scale – it’s all fantastic or doom and gloom. I am trying to focus on that steadying fulcrum in the centre, to accept the reality, the ways things are – perfectly OKAY. 

I know that my need for approval goes back to my childhood, wanting the approval of my parents, particularly my father. There are some painful childhood memories that I have buried but there lies the root of my need for approval. Understanding myself is the first step to letting go of that need. 

There is nothing sexy or exciting about OKAY. To accept what is and be still with it will take time and patience for me. I am trying to break the habits of a lifetime. I will do this through meditation. By noticing my emotional responses with compassion and then letting them go.

Julia Cameron wrote in The Right to Write, Keep the drama on the pageCreatives love drama, but there is no need to play them out in our lives. Let’s try and find that quiet, mindful path, between extremes. 

Bessi Pixabay

How to Know Yourself and Love What You Do

‘Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.’

Aristotle

At the beginning of last week’s podcast, The Mindful Writer, I told you how I was applying Know Yourself to my writing journey. Understanding our personality type, our strengths, and our weaknesses have, for many of us, been part of our professional life. The personality tests, which at one time seemed to be a requirement of the job recruitment process, labelled us so that we could be fitted into an organisation. But there are trillions of shapes and sizes – every one of us is unique. And nobody knows us better than ourselves.

We have an amazing resource of inner knowledge, gained through a lifetime – maybe many lives. We are the best textbook on ourselves; we just have to look inside.

When we take time to learn who we are:
How we think, feel, react, learn, grow
What makes us happy, sad, frustrated, fulfilled
Our values, and beliefs
What we are good at and where we struggle
Motivations, aspirations, fears

The list goes on.

Christos Giakkas – Pixabay

We can use this self-knowledge to flow through life with less resistance and angst. As creatives, we can achieve our best work and reach our audience.

I believe that by knowing and accepting our unique selves we can take joy in the writing journey. Envy, shame, imposter syndrome, despair, and fear of failure become a thing of the past.

Getting to know ourself takes time, it is our life’s work, but if we stop and look inward there is so much knowledge already there. The truth is, we try and deny it. We are too busy trying to be like someone else instead of honouring our unique selves.

I have got to know myself over the years through:
Journaling
Meditation
Yoga
Mindful activities such as walking in nature
Reflection
Observation

It helps me to write down how I am feeling. To reflect back on how I behaved in the past and the consequences of my actions – there are behaviour patterns for me: Starting a new project with energy and enthusiasm then burning out.
Impatience – stepping in to try and take control of a process rather than allowing events to unfold in their own time.
Driving myself hard with high expectations lead to feelings of failure and disappointment when I do not achieve my goals in the anticipated time frame.

By recognising these behaviour patterns, I can treat myself with compassion. It is like being a caring, and wise line manager/supervisor. Journaling has helped me to have these conversations with myself. To set realistic goals, to keep motivated, and to self-care.

In last week’s Mindful Writer, Grace Sammon  talks about finding meaning in the moment. What is this moment teaching me? It is a good way to stop and reflect on how we are feeling – to check in on ourselves, before reacting.

There are many books on how to write a novel. I know that I work best starting with an outline plan – nothing detailed just the beginning, midpoint, ending, and the key pinch points. Every time I start to write a new novel, I wonder how I achieved it before. Every time is different.

A best-selling author friend of mine wrote a letter to herself as a reminder that: She will experience overwhelm and despair at some point in writing the first draft. She will panic and be terrified of failing. Because this is what always happens to her. She wrote to herself with compassion reminding herself that this is part of her writing process and that she always comes through it.

Understand the different approaches on writing a novel and then find one that is right for you. There is no right or wrong way – but there is the best way for you. And you are the expert on this.

Similarly, the time it takes to write a novel. How often and how much we write. I like to write every day when I am working on a story. I typically write one chapter a day, because my chapters are short and this satisfies me. Another person may prefer writing on one or two days of the week. I write early in the morning because I am a morning person, another person may prefer late at night. Do what works for you and don’t compare yourself to others.

Stock Snap Pixabay

We bring to our writing life skills, knowledge, and expertise, from other areas of our life. Understanding what we are good at, and enjoy doing, should form the basis of our marketing plan.

Facilitating group work, listening to people and enabling them to be heard, sharing good practice and resources – have been key components of my working life for the past few decades. It makes sense for me to use this experience in my approach to marketing.

Networking is the basis of all marketing practice – making meaningful connections with other writers and readers. My podcasts, Castaway Books, and The Mindful Writer, allowed me to sit quietly with my guest and listen to how they have experienced life, using questions to explore with them deeper meaning. This comes naturally to me after a career in health and social care.

The Friday Salon tweet-chat and virtual writing retreats draw on my management consultancy experience facilitating groups and sharing good practice.

My marketing approach will be different from yours because you will bring to it different knowledge, skills, and experience. For example, one of my writing friends worked in quality control and is skilled and knowledgeable about systems. He used this expertise to develop a quality system for writing a novel in one month – The Efficient Novelist. Sharing this model through social media, seminars, and a book has been an important component of his marketing plan.

Another writer was in advertising and sales. This writer uses Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook to share beautifully designed posts. She finds visually appealing content to share with readers and writers.

There is no one marketing plan to suit everyone. If we know ourselves then we can find an approach that, not only are we good at, but one that we enjoy. When we find that niche approach it doesn’t feel like work. I forget that my podcasts, and meeting with Friday Salon friends started as marketing. I am making meaningful connections. My networks continue to expand, and amazing people have come into my life as a result. This is what marketing is about. By forming these networks and connections we invite new opportunities.

So, take time to know yourself. Go inward and listen. What brings you joy and what fills you with dread? Where is fear holding you back? Be honest with yourself. Be compassionate and kind. Know that we are one of a kind – one in a million. When we do what comes naturally, we flow with ease.

This is a work in progress for me. I keep forgetting that there is nothing to worry about. That everything is working out just fine.

I am enough.

I am doing enough.

And I am doing it my way.

How to let go of resistance and relax into the flow: life lessons from yoga.

Are you feeling frustrated in your writing endeavours? A feeling that you have come up against a brick wall?

This post is about learning to let go of resistance and to relax into the flow of creation. It sounds simple but is surprisingly hard.

Frustration, disappointment, and impatience are part of this writing journey. Writers tend to be determined, and resilient. We need to be or we would have given up long ago. But sometimes we need to surrender and learn how to relax into the natural flow.

Everything in this beautiful world has been created to work in perfect harmony. I was listening to a radio programme whilst driving and was struck by a comment that the start of spring triggers a series of natural events that are interdependent. I could not make a note as I was driving but it was about the migration and breeding patterns of birds, plant growth and the production of vegetation to encourage bugs – which birds needed to feed on, etc. This is a bit vague but the message I took from this was the amazing way nature works in perfect harmony. It cannot be rushed. Neither can one thing happen ahead of the other. Everything is integrated into one wonderous, miraculous, whole. We are part of this whole and subject to the same natural rhythms and flow. 

You may be wondering how this is of any help to you as you battle against the frustration of waiting to hear back from agents, or publishers, fret over a lack of inspiration, or an inability to write. For me it reinforced the need to be patient. Our path is affected by many things: events, people, circumstance, that we cannot see and may never know. 

Yesterday, I randomly selected a guided meditation from YouTube. It was about letting go of resistance and relaxing into the flow. Then, by coincidence (or synchronicity) my yoga class this morning was an unscheduled Yin yoga. In Yin yoga, we hold a pose for a longer period of time than in other styles. We experience discomfort in the pose but are asked to relax our bodies rather than resisting. Gradually, the muscles stretch and lengthen. 

This yoga class taught me a similar lesson to the meditation. To feel the edge of my discomfort and instead of pushing through intentionally relax – mind, and muscles. I liken this to our natural tendency to hunch shoulders and clench our teeth when we are very cold. I bravely immersed myself in a freezing plunge pool when I came out of the sauna last week. By relaxing the body instead of trying to resist the cold it was easier and my body adapted more quickly.

The poses in Yin yoga challenge us. They help us to break the habit of holding our body in a certain position and learn new ways of being. The poses lead to positive changes in our bodies.

I am trying to apply this lesson to my writing journey. Instead of wasting energy trying to change what is, I am learning to be present. To accept where I am in my journey and make the most of what I am experiencing now. For example, I am waiting to hear from a couple of agents, and a publisher, about two of my unpublished manuscripts. I am also between novels as I make final edits to one and wait for a planned research trip in July before starting the next. It is a time to be still. To enjoy what I am doing: producing The Mindful Writer podcast, supporting other writers, and enjoying new experiences to feed my imagination. Before gaining this insight, I would have been trying to hurry things along. I would have been feeling tense and frustrated at my perceived powerlessness. 

When we experience discomfort, we are breaking old patterns and learning new. It is hard and requires patience. We must be kind to ourselves as we feel the edge of resistance and try to relax into the flow. It is worth practicing in our daily lives because as with all things it will get easier.

So, until next time, take care of your beautiful self and trust the journey.

Virtual Writing Retreat 26th February 2022 with guest Beth Miller

We were delighted to welcome best-selling author, creative writing tutor, and book coach Beth Miller to our first Friday Salon virtual writing retreat. Beth answered questions on getting a book ready for submission and the querying process. The key points that Beth made have been summarised below.

Beth Miller

Query letter

Dear name. If you are not comfortable with using the agent’s first name, then address your letter Dear first name, second name. The publishing industry is more informal than it used to be.

Your letter should be professional and succinct not chatty.

Start with the name of your book, genre and number of words – completed at x words. This shows that your MS is complete and that the word count fits with the expectations of the genre.

Then, the pitch for your book. This is the most important part of your letter. 

Where in the market do you see it fitting? What books would you compare it to in terms of style and/or theme? 

Why have you pitched to that particular agent? Do your research so that your letter is personalised and targeted for that agent.

Include a brief biography if it is relevant to the book. For example, if it is a crime novel and you are a policeman than include that information. If your biography is not relevant don’t include it.

Before mentioning self-published books do your research to find out the agent’s view. If in doubt don’t include information about being self-published.

You could finish the letter by mentioning what you are working on now or save that information for when the agent makes contact and expresses an interest in representing you.

When sending out query letter include publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts such as Bookoutre as well as agents.

Send out to five and when you receive rejections send more. Aim to have five queries out at a time. Take your time – each query letter is a work of art. It is a long process. Waiting times are longer than ever now so expect to be in it for the long haul if you want a traditional publishing contract.  

Rejection

It is a rite of passage. 

Beth’s words of wisdom: You are sending out your query letter hoping that it will reach an agent who is interested in representing you. Imagine you have sent it to ‘who it may concern.’ When you receive a rejection think – it wasn’t the right address. Eventually it will find ‘who it does concern.’ For more words of wisdom on rejection see Beth’s blog posted on Writers and Artists:

https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/advice/rejection-sucks-but-no-one-got-published-without-it

Beth Miller

Author of six novels including the Kindle top 20 best-seller The Missing Letters of Mrs. Bright, and two non-fiction books. Beth is RLF Fellow of University of Brighton. She teaches creative writing and is a one-to-one book coach for people at all stages.

Beth provides a service to review a query letter, first three chapters, and synopsis, to give writers the best chance of success when contacting agents and publishers.

To find out more about Beth Miller and her books see:  bethmiller.co.uk 

Beth was also a guest on my show see Castaway Books.

The next Virtual Writing Retreat will take place on Saturday 25th June 2022 1.30 – 6.30 pm GMT. To book a place contact me at dkauthor@btinternet.com There is no cost. The purpose of Friday Salon Writing Retreats and tweet-chats is to build a supportive writing community with meaningful engagement. Everyone is welcome.

Agenda February 2022 Writing Retreat

PLAN

1.30 GMT (8.30 EST) to 2.10 GMT (9.10 EST)

Welcome and introductions.

What we aim to achieve in our writing today with discussion on areas of potential challenge.


2.15 GMT (9.15 EST) to 3.30 GMT (10.30 EST)

Writing time


3.30 GMT (10.30 EST) to 4.10 GMT (11.10 EST)

Beth Miller – Getting your novel ready for submission. 

Beth will share her experience of working as a book coach and answer questions to help you with your WIP.


4.15 GMT (11.15 EST) to 6.00 GMT (1.00 EST)

Writing time


6.00 GMT (1.00 EST) to 6.30 GMT (1.30 EST)

What we achieved today. 

How to succeed as a creative

The problem is, there are millions of other books out there, so why is someone going to pick yours?’

Ian Miller

Recently a fellow blogger and author Lizzie Chantree posted this quote on her Facebook page to stimulate discussion. It is perhaps one of the most common thoughts a new author or even a seasoned one has. It is what relatives and friends will tell aspiring authors. Why bother?

My brother is excited to be on the Faber Academy novel writing course. One week their tutor asked them to write down and then share their secret fears about becoming an author. All of them said similar things: I’m not good enough. It’s almost impossible to get a publishing contract. What if I put in all of this effort and nobody reads my books?

Every aspiring author has these doubts. Musicians and artists have similar concerns. We perceive an impenetrable gate guarded by gatekeepers who will send us on an impossible quest to win our heart’s desire.

Bernswaelz – Pixabay

Last week I had a dream. My brother was suffering from this familiar writer’s angst and so I explained to him why he had to follow his dream and how he had complete control over his future success and happiness. When I woke up, I felt as though a weight had been lifted from me. My dream changed my mindset. Of course, I had and will continue to have, those same fears that every creative experiences but my subconscious/ higher self/ God spoke to me in my dream and so I will attempt to share this with you.

We have become brainwashed to believe that success means fame and fortune. This is reinforced daily through the media, from comments by family and friends, and our ego as we compare ourselves to others.

This interpretation of success is based on a commercial world where the gatekeeper’s goal is to make money. There is nothing wrong with that we all need to earn a living. A writer needs to be both creative and mindful of the business of publishing. However, we should understand that interpretation of success is a commercial one and has absolutely nothing to do with our personal success.

We have come into this world with a purpose. A seed of desire has been sown in our hearts. Just as an acorn has everything within its DNA to become a magnificent oak tree, we have within us an infinite potential to fulfill all that we desire.

To succeed is to follow that dream. To be courageous and audacious. To put everything that we have into being the best that we can be. There are no gatekeepers. The only thing that can stand in our way is our lack of self-belief and fear of failure.

Mabel Amber- Pixabay

Last year, I told you about my plan to broadcast a new podcast The Mindful Writer. It’s something I have thought about for months. I’ve been sharing my inner journey as a writer with you here but I wanted to talk to other creatives to hear about their experiences. The idea wouldn’t go away. It felt like something I had to do but something held me back. I was afraid of putting myself out there and asking other creatives to do the same. To voice out loud our fears and vulnerabilities is a big ask. I was also a bit overwhelmed by the amount of work required – the knowledge and skills I would have to learn. Then there was that voice – the thought goblins: There are so many podcasts out there who is going to listen. Is it really worth the effort?

I truly believe that when something is in our heart, an idea that won’t go away, then we have a responsibility to act on it. Yes, this took me out of my comfort zone but that is when the magic happens – when we start to grow. At the beginning of February, I reached out to potential guests and I have been overjoyed with the response. I have a project plan and I am taking one step at a time. It’s exciting and scary. This is success.

I have indie published two novels, The Borrowed Boy and Just Bea. My third and fourth novels will be ready to publish this year and I am hoping to secure a traditional publishing contract. However, I am not looking to this outcome as the answer to my dreams – it is just one possible outcome. To look to the gatekeepers of the creative industry as the people who can grant you what your heart desires is to hand over responsibility for your happiness. No wonder it feels so painful and wrong.

Gerd Allman – Pixabay

If you are waiting for an agent to represent you, or a publisher to offer a contract, and feel the angst that we all feel then try visualising it as a tight ball in your diaphragm – that’s what it feels like to me. Take that ball of negative energy and place it outside of yourself. Maybe you can see it now that it is detached from your body? Let it stay there.

Now, look upon yourself as a loving parent, a wiser version of you – be kind and compassionate. Fill yourself with positive, loving energy. Remember that you have everything that you need to fulfill your dreams.

As you listen to your heart and follow those dreams you will be surprised by the miraculous things that happen. I am every day. The messages I receive from readers who have enjoyed my books, contacts made with like-minded people from all over the world, invitations to speak at book clubs, being featured on other writers’ blogs, comments on my show Castaway Books. The list is endless.

So, the advice I gave my brother in my dream was to:
Redefine the meaning of success
Remember you hold the power to your peace and happiness
Be the best that you can be
Be joyful – you are doing what you love
Celebrate every success however small

You are amazing!

One final note. Lack of recognition and financial reward did not stop Henri Toulouse- Lautrec, Johannes Vermeer, Vincent Van Gogh, or Emily Dickenson from creating incredible works of art – thank goodness. All died penniless not knowing the impact of their work.

Season one of The Mindful Writer starts on 4th May 2022. If you would like to be a guest on this show contact me at dkauthor@btinternet.com telling me why you would like to share your story.

How to keep positive when the going gets tough

This morning’s run was not the one I had hoped for. I had it all planned. If I was on the beach by 7.30 am the tide would still be far enough out to run on the sand. I woke naturally at 8.30 am having enjoyed over ten hours of sleep so by the time I hit the beach it was a little after nine and the tide was coming in.

Instead of running across a swathe of uninterrupted sand, the rising tide pushed me further up the beach where wooden groynes divided the beach. I pushed myself to sprint each section and even managed a few hurdles. When it was almost full tide, I challenged myself further by running up and then down the steep slopes linking the upper greensward with the promenade below.

Life is not always what we hope for or expect. I would not have chosen the workout that I experienced this morning. It was hard enough getting out of bed and venturing into the cold but it made me stronger and for that I am grateful.

It is frustrating and disappointing when life does not unfold according to our plans. We rail against a God who doesn’t seem to be listening to our prayers. It is easy to look back with hindsight and understand why things happened as they did but that doesn’t help at the time. Last week I heard two stories both with the same message. The first was a documentary about the life of Julie Andrews.

Julie Andrews

Julie Andrews had great success early in her acting career as Eliza Doolittle in the Broadway production of My Fair Lady. The show continued its success in London. When Jack Warner planned a film production of the musical, Julie Andrews was devastated not to be cast in the leading role. You can imagine how she must have felt – the disappointment, maybe feelings of self-doubt, anger at the injustice of being passed over. I don’t know how long she had to wait before Walt Disney approached her offering the role of Mary Poppins. My Fair Lady and Mary Poppins were both released in 1964. It was the perfect role for Julie Andrews and made her a beloved household name. It is hard to believe when we don’t get what we want and think we deserve that something better awaits us but very often this is the case. We just need patience and faith.

The second story was more recent and closer to home. A bookshop owner and friend experienced a couple of tortuous years fighting to keep her independent bookshop – a treasured community resource alive. A new and ruthless landlord made unreasonable demands. As soon as one demand was met another followed. Although my friend showed determination, courage, and stamina she realised that staying put was not an option. When she was forced to sell the business, my friend took time out to ponder what she would do instead. Now, a year after selling the business, she is a hypnotist practitioner. Yesterday, my friend told me that she couldn’t be happier and wished that she had embarked on this rewarding career sooner.

Peter H – Pixabay

Sometimes, by clinging too hard to what we think should happen we block out the new opportunities waiting to come into our lives.

As we start a new year I have ambitions, and hopes for my writing career. I would love a traditional publishing contract and have held back from independently (indie) publishing my latest works. If I am successful in securing a contract it feels like the easier route. I would be supported by an agent, and a publisher would initially meet the costs of production. Alternatively, I could commit one hundred percent to being an indie author. It is hard work but brings rewards in creative autonomy. At this crossroads, I am keeping all options open. 

I will share my journey with you – the ups and downs. Like this morning’s run, my journey may not be the one I hope for but the challenges will bring their own rewards. And I will try to remember the next time I experience disappointment that something much better could be just around the corner.

How you changed the world last year

At the beginning of a new year, we often reflect on what we achieved the previous year and plan for the coming one. The big achievements are easy to identify, maybe you started a new job, completed a creative project, or lost some weight but we are not always aware of the smaller actions that have had an impact on others.

In the lead-up to Christmas, I love to watch the James Stewart film, It’s a Wonderful Life. This 1946 classic is about an angel who is sent to earth to show a disillusioned man what the world would have been like without him in it. He learns how his actions had an impact on others – the ripple effect.

Last year I discovered a new favourite film Journey Back to Christmas. It is a delightful family film about a WW11 nurse who is transported to 2016. She thought that her life had no purpose until, on the night of a comet, she is transported to the future and sees for herself the impact of her small actions.

Its a Wonderful Life

Both of these films are great reminders that we are powerful individuals who, by being part of creation, impact those around us in profound ways – even though we cannot always see this.

We can all recall a conversation or the comment of a friend – maybe a stranger, that has led us in a certain direction. It was an advert for a creative writing group in my village that reminded me of a passion I had neglected for years. I joined a small group that met in the home of a writer. This writer had self-published a novella and the creative writing group that she set up was to help build her confidence as she had anxiety and was trying to get back into the workplace. One week, she suggested that we try writing a story of 5k words and then share 1k of that story each week when we came together. The creative writing group folded before we got to share more than the first 2k words of our stories but my 5k story became my first novel. I did not publish it then but went on to write four more novels. However, last year I reworked that first novel and it is out on submission for publication. The young woman who started that creative writing group may not consider it a great achievement. She may even have beaten herself up for not being able to continue the project. I would love to tell her the impact that she had on my life.

I have many more examples and I am sure you will have a few of your own. A chance remark that led you to apply for a job, a story on TV that inspired you to try something new, or the kindness of a stranger that made you feel valued and restored your hope for the future.

John Bain – Pixabay

Just because we cannot see the impact of our actions that doesn’t mean they are insignificant. Perhaps our greatest achievements are those that we will never know. So, when you sit down to write what you have achieved at the end of the year remember that by being open and kind you may have achieved more than you thought.

I believe that we are all connected and great things happen through us when we are receptive. Miracles and angels are a result of this – remember the saying God works in mysterious ways?

You may be somebody’s angel today and you will never know.

How to accept the things that we cannot change

We all know the serenity prayer with the line: ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.’It makes absolute sense, if we can’t change something or influence the outcome then why would we waste energy trying to do the impossible?  And yet this is what we find ourselves doing again, and again, at least it was a pattern for me.

As this is a blog about the inner journey of the creative, I am going to focus on the things that creatives cannot control in their creative journey, and how to live peacefully accepting this fact. Creatives create. We pour our heart and soul into our work; what we cannot control is how our work is received when it goes out into the world. Authors, artists, songwriters, and performers suffer whenever they release new work. Waiting for critics, agents, publishers, or the public to respond can feel torturous.

S. Hermann & F.Richter – Pixabay

 Through meditation, I learnt how to live peacefully during these periods of uncertainty, letting go and trusting God. I have used the word God because that is what I believe however, replace God with the Universe or anything else that is meaningful to you. What is important is an acceptance that there is a higher power.

I think of it like this. My job spec is to create – to produce the best work I can. Improving my craft, getting feedback, striving for excellence – these are all within my control. My boss – the higher power, has a different job. He (she /it) governs the universe, is the creator of all things, and knows exactly what is required and when. I believe that God is working in my best interests so that I can fulfil my life purpose according to his plan for me. You might reword this to say that the Universe or your higher self knows your purpose and will manifest what you need to become the person you are meant to be. 

So, imagine you have this boss who has the power to make anything happen – to perform miracles, who knows everything – what is, and what will be. With a boss like that, we can safely let go of control. All we need to do is keep the lines of communication open so that we see the opportunities presented to us, and follow our intuition. I truly believe this and it has brought me peace. If things do not go the way I had hoped or expected then I accept that there is a bigger picture and in time I will understand.

AllNikArt – Pixabay

 We are driven by what is in our heart and I believe that seed has been sown for a purpose – it is what we are meant to pursue. How and when that dream comes to fruition is out of our control but everything in the Universe works in perfect harmony. When I let go, believing that what is meant to be will be, I have more creative energy, insight, and clarity. I am not wasting my energy interfering in what is God’s business – I am getting out of my own way so that good things can happen.

It is human nature to try and control everything in our lives, especially when it matters so much to us. Of course, I have moments when I am fearful and question my faith, what if I am deceiving myself? At these times I think of myself kindly and talk to the inner child. A child has a limited perception of the world. I try and reassure this part of me from another place that has greater understanding. I think that having the serenity to accept the things we cannot change is perhaps one of the greatest challenges for creatives. 

Why waiting on God or the Universe is a gift

We live in an era of instant gratification. An expectation that if we live by the rules, tick all of the right boxes that we will be rewarded with our heart’s desire. A person with faith in God, the Universe, can find that faith tested.

When we experience setbacks, we have to draw on our inner resources, developing resilience and this prepares us for what lies ahead. If our prayers are not answered immediately, or even for a considerable time, it is because the time is not right. I am writing this as an author who, like many writers, has experienced frustration and disappointment when a submission to publishers has been rejected, or an agent has passed on a full manuscript. A few years ago, when I first started a daily meditation practice, I did everything: positive affirmations, visualisations, prayers to God. I had absolute faith that all would be well and my novel which was out on submission to editors would, as my agent suggested, be snapped up. As the weeks passed, I did not lose faith. I meditated for longer. Prayed harder. But it was not to be.

I learnt a lot through that experience. The most important lesson – we cannot impose our will over God’s (the Universe). And that is just as well because the great creator of all things has a much better plan for us than we can envisage right now. 

If you have submitted a manuscript or other creative project and experienced rejection then take that as a positive. It means you are not ready. Not because you are not good enough but because you are still developing creatively and your best work is yet to come.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott 1994 film adaptation

 In the 1994 adaptation of Little Women with Winona Ryder, Jo’s father counsels her on the wisdom of selling her short stories to a magazine and settling for this as a writer. He tells Jo that writing is her greatest gift and not to squander that gift. He doesn’t mean that writing short stories for a magazine is unworthy, he means work at your writing, nurturing your gift. Maybe the Universe has greater plans for you. Be patient.

To have faith does not mean believing that your will – will be done. It means trusting that all that transpires is in your best interest. We cannot see the bigger picture. 

An author friend desperately wanted to get published. She experienced her share of rejection letters from agents, and disappointment when full manuscript requests did not lead to representation. We had several conversations about what was next. My friend decided that she would be happy to settle for a publishing contract with an independent publishing press, bypassing the need for representation by an agent. So, she sent her MS to several independent publishers and she also entered a national competition. My friend was a runner-up in the competition but this led to representation by an agent. Around the same time, one of the independent publishers came back with the offer of a two-book publishing contract. However, the agent secured a much bigger deal with a leading traditional publisher and my clever friend is now a well-known Times best-selling author. The moral of this tale? Trust that God/ the Universe has a plan for you. It is not for us to decide how bright we will shine but to step into the future that awaits us by being prepared and ready when the time comes.

The challenges that we face as we strive towards our goal test our endurance and determination. It is a way to prepare us for what lies ahead. The bible story of David and Goliath is well-known: how David the youngest and smallest son fought Goliath, a giant of a man, and won. In this bible story, David was bullied by his brothers. Maybe this experience hardened him and gave him the courage to fight Goliath. 

David and Goliath

Many years ago, I was recruited to lead a national project evaluating older peoples’ experience of services provided by local authorities, health, and social care. We were midway in planning and delivering this project when the commissioning agency changed as the result of a merger. As time went on resources were pulled from our project – team members reassigned, funding cut, infrastructure removed, etc. It would have been so easy to give up. To give in my notice and find another job. It was hard. Really tough. It became clear to me that the new organisation was not interested in the project. I was committed to seeing this project through to completion because I had consulted with an advisory group of older people who were passionate about shining a light on the inadequacy of services. I would not let them down. So, my team and I battled on to complete the evaluation and produce a national report. This report was challenged by government departments and the commissioning bodies as it was uncomfortable to read. However, the report was published in 2005. It made national headlines – front pages of all the tabloids. And resulted in a Department of Health initiative to improve dignity in care. That experience taught me to stay the course whatever obstacles are put in my way. As my mother always told me: Nothing worth doing is ever easy. Maybe this experience prepared me for life as an author.

So, if you are waiting impatiently for your dream to manifest reflect instead on how you are growing, changing, and becoming so that when you step into the spotlight you will give the performance of your life.

Why you are special

Do you sometimes despair believing that you have no chance of being seen when there is so much competition? Maybe you are a musician, a writer, an actor, or just applying for your dream job and facing one rejection after another. To keep on, keeping on, when it feels the odds are against us is tough. We may start out optimistic and full of energy but to survive one knockback after another requires resilience and determination. There will be times when we question whether our efforts are in vain, after all, there are a million others like us with the same dream. What makes us so special?

We are special because each one of us has been created to fulfil a purpose. We are unique; a precious part of the whole. Imagine the universe. A cosmic system of a billion stars and galaxies, containing all of the energy and matter that there is. Every tiny detail created to work in perfect harmony. It is magnificent – awe-inspiring, and we are part of that universe. 

When I was younger and had several knockbacks in my career, I remember walking on a stony beach. I picked up a pebble and questioned – why that pebble when it might have been any one of the million on that beach? It was chance, so what chance did I have of being picked for my dream job? 

As it happened, the job I thought was right for me was not. When I let go and trusted the universe, I was rewarded with a future that was more than I could have imagined. I truly believe that the great creator of all things has a perfect plan and we just have to let go and trust. So, shine bright and know that you are special. 

Why there is no right time to write but being older has its advantages. 

I started to write my first novel when I was in my fifties. I am 62 next month and have had two novels published The Borrowed Boy Aug 2020 and Just Bea February 2021. I always wanted to write a novel and have been a writer all of my life from writing stories and making books as an eight-year-old, to writing national reports for NGOs, and editing an International Journal Working with Older People. There were many reasons I did not pursue my dream at a younger age. I was the main breadwinner as my husband was a stay-at-home dad. When I wasn’t working, I was compensating for not being a full-time mum – always torn between building my career and spending quality time with my daughter. I have no regrets as I had a wonderful career and all the while I was writing reports, and national publications on health and social care I was honing my writing skills.

An article in the Guardian 20th August 2021, about the new award announced by Women’s Prize in partnership with Good Housekeeping, argued that the upper age limit of 35 years should be scrapped and prompted debate on social media. Some felt it was discriminating against older women and Joanna Walsh writing in The Guardian believed assumptions were being made about older women having financial security with no need for recognition. 

There is no right time to write. My brother has had considerable success as a songwriter and now in his sixties has started to write a novel. We have shared our feelings about having so much we still want to achieve and a sharpened awareness of how quickly time can pass. The truth is none of us know how much time we have. Using our time the best that we can, valuing how precious it is, and making the most of every moment is important at every stage of life.

Mary Wesley had her first adult novel published at the age of 71 and followed with several best-selling novels. Penelope Fitzgerald was first published at 60 and became famous at 80 after winning the Booker Prize for Off-Shore then went on to achieve international fame with The Blue Flower. It is never too late.

There is scientific evidence that creativity increases during and after menopause (Dr. Christaine Northrup https://www.drnorthrup.com).  I believe it is more than hormonal change. Men and women reach a time in their life when they may experience a freedom that they haven’t known before. Children may be less dependent and a person’s career more established. It is a time of reflection as we become introspective, questioning our purpose in life. Also known to some as a mid-life crisis. We are all creative beings and have an innate need to express ourselves. The pressures of earning a living and raising a family can deny us the fulfilment of this need if we consider it an indulgence. 

Bruno/Germany Pixabay

For me now is the perfect time to write. At this stage of my life, I have:

 Stored more life experiences that I can draw on in my writing.

I am fortunate enough to have financial security and so earning a living from writing is not be a necessity.

With children grown and parents no longer in need of my care, I have fewer demands on my time.

I have acquired skills from my working life such as marketing, public speaking, financial management, and contract negotiation.

I know how quickly time passes and so make the most of every opportunity.

I am more confident having achieved success in other areas of life.

I have more leisure time.

There is never a right time to write but neither is there a cut-off point. Creativity should not discriminate by age, gender, race, faith or sexuality. It crosses all divides and connects us in a meaningful way. Writing has deepened my self-awareness and I have discovered a wonderful writing community.

Why I slept on the street in London

Yesterday, I slept on the street in London. With a mattress of flattened cardboard boxes and a sleeping bag to keep me warm I experienced what many people do every night – except for me it was just one night. I had access to a toilet and hot drinks, as well as the protection of security staff. This is not the experience of people living on the street and I can only imagine how frightening and difficult life is for them. 

I was taking part in the Glass Door Sleep Out and annual event run by the charity to raise awareness and funds to support people affected by homelessness. Glass Door provides safe shelter, food, and advice to people affected by homelessness. 

I was nervous about taking part. It was way out of my comfort zone, but I am always encouraging others to try new things and so I pushed myself. It felt strange travelling into London in the evening when I would normally be settling in for the night. I am sixty-two next month and live in a quiet rural area. To be travelling alone into the night and unknown, my bed the sleeping bag I carried in a laundry bag – it was unsettling. My family were concerned for my welfare, and I expect my sanity. But I have always pushed my boundaries and getting older is no excuse to opt for the easy life. If we do that we stop growing and learning new things. 

I love London but had not visited since the pandemic. It was amazing to be walking along London’s fashionable Kings Road at 10pm on a Friday night. The city was buzzing and I felt alive. Such a relief after the confines of lockdown life.

The Glass Door Sleep Out 2021

The Sleep Out took place in Duke of York Square off the Kings Road. We unrolled our sleeping bags and set up for the night alongside a brightly lit restaurant where diners sat outside dressed in their finery. Such a contrast between two worlds. 

I do not think I slept much, if at all, although the lovely woman, Joyce, who slept alongside me said I had. She too slept for a while as I could tell by her breath pattern. Fortunately, it did not rain that night but it was colder than I expected. Despite layers of clothing, I felt the night chill. I got cramp in my legs – thighs, calves, and feet. Someone’s headphone cuff must have slipped because I picked up the constant drone of a male narrator telling a story. That noise was more annoying than the traffic. It was a relief when the audiobook came to an end and it was then that I must have slipped into sleep. When I removed my eye mask to check the time it was 4.30am and people were starting to pack away their kit. We had to leave by 5am to make way for a street market. It reminded me of a long-haul flight, that moment when the lights go on and breakfast is served although it feels like the middle of the night. I had that same disorientated feeling too, like jet-lag when you are incredibly tired and over stimulated. 

Photo taken by Joyce who slept alongside me. Pleased to be going home.

I returned to a cosy home, a hot bath, and warm bed. Later that day there was a fierce gale and heavy rain. As I sat snuggled in a fleece watching back-to-back films and dozing, I imagined what it would have felt like if I was still out there – tired, and miserable with no place to shelter from the storm.

I hope that I never forget this experience. That I do not take for granted the luxury of my life and give back by serving others. 

If you would like to take part in next year’s Sleep Out or want to know more about Glass Door London https://www.glassdoor.org.uk

I posted a video diary of my experience here: https://fb.watch/8pGVv6m9mV/

Why every writer needs a rubber duck

I spent this week at a writing retreat with a writer’s group I have belonged to for several years. This has become an annual event with of course the exception of 2020. Although the retreat is not far from home it is like stepping into a different world. A lane that resembles a farm track, takes us away from the industrial estates and traffic to a low, wide gate. We enter the numerical code and drive through. The gate closes behind us and with it the outside world. Our home for the next four days is a beautiful Georgian mansion set in 52 acres of private woodland and landscaped gardens, with two ponds and a large lake attracting wildlife. There is no need to leave our paradise as we have bought enough food and drink to feed twice as many people for two weeks. 

For me, a writing retreat is about having the mental space and time to focus on my writing in an environment that stimulates creativity and soothes the soul. This year I started each day with a pre-recorded yoga class and meditation. I had not done this at previous retreats and it made a significant difference. It gave me a sense of calm, clarity, and a deep appreciation for all that I was experiencing. My novel progressed well and I was able to reflect on my writing journey.

One of the greatest benefits of a retreat with writer friends is being able to share a writing problem – whether it is finding the right word, testing out novel titles or just talking through a dilemma. 

One afternoon, I was sitting in the sun chewing over a marketing problem. I had great plans but I wasn’t sure how I was going to schedule everything. As I scribbled different project plans in my notebook, a writer friend settled herself in the corner sofa opposite me to drink her coffee. ‘I was just trying to work out how I’m going to…’ I started to explain step by step my problem. Without her saying a word I had two aha moments. The solution seemed obvious now I had explained it. I finished by telling her exactly what I needed to do.

‘That,’ my friend explained, ‘is what’s called rubber duck debugging. It’s a technique used in programming. When you explain a problem to someone else the solution becomes apparent. Rather than take a colleague’s time a programmer talks to a rubber duck and it has the same effect.’ I loved this idea. Although talking to my bright and interested friend drinking coffee in the sunshine was far better than sitting at a desk with a rubber duck for company.

Curtesy of Anita Belli

It made me think. This is what I did in my working life. Talking through work problems at meetings with colleagues, giving presentations and lectures, it deepened my understanding of a topic and gave me insight. Creatives often spend a lot of time alone and so we need to find ways to create this practice. Journaling can work but sometimes we need to talk through the problem to get clarity. Fortunately, I have a few good female friends who will listen to me as we walk and talk without feeling the need to come up with answers and this is invaluable. And if not, I could run myself a hot bubble bath and chat to my duck.

I came away from the writing retreat feeling calm, in control, and inspired. By stepping into that other world, I gained a new perspective on my writing life. I had been full of angst worrying about the future and doubting myself. Something magical happened in that Georgian house because now I am content and confident. I am completely relaxed about my writing life and excited to try out some new ideas.

Retreats are not accessible to all creatives. Finance, location, and other factors can be a barrier. If you cannot get away alone or with other creatives then perhaps you could create a retreat environment at home. A different schedule and way of working where you commit to self-care for a few days. Turn off all distractions and use your creative powers to imagine yourself on a retreat. The tweet-chat that I host Friday Salon (#FriSalon) have suggested we have a virtual writing retreat. I am thinking about how we can do this effectively. If you have experienced a virtual retreat, then please let me know how it worked. 

Next week I am sleeping out as part of the GlassDoor London Sleep Out, raising awareness and funding for this charity which helps people find a path out of homelessness and provides support. It is on Friday 1st/2ndOctober. Starting to feel a bit anxious now as I haven’t travelled into London since the pandemic and sleeping on the street amongst strangers is most definitely out of my comfort zone. I will report back here next Monday! Until then …

How to survive the writer’s journey

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.