What Slimming World has taught me – Life lessons for any journey.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Whatever we are trying to achieve: weight loss, success at work, or any other goal, there is the opportunity to learn about ourselves and grow from the experience – even if we don’t achieve our goal. It is of course, about the journey, not the destination. 

I started this year resolving to lose half a stone that had crept up on me and was refusing to budge. I could have welcomed those extra pounds, bought looser dresses and attributed it to the inevitability of late middle-age. But I wasn’t comfortable with my new body shape and did something I had never done before – I joined a slimming club.

I am six weeks into the Slimming World regime and although I am happy with my weight loss and impressed by the approach; it is the life lessons I have learnt that are having the most impact. Lessons that can be transferred to any project or journey.

When I turned up for my first session, I didn’t know what to expect. I was concerned that having so little weight to lose, I might offend those people struggling with a greater challenge. Here is my first lesson: Comparison.


On more than one occasion a group member would reassure me that if my half-stone mattered to me, then it was just as important and relevant as another person’s two stone. The love, generosity, and fellowship of club members was inspiring.

One week, I noticed a beautiful young woman with a curvaceous figure and a pretty face. She was trying to slim down to a version of herself before she had babies. The way she spoke of how she was now and how she wanted to be saddened me. Couldn’t she see how beautiful she was? I told her how I saw her. The consultant, observed that we don’t believe what other people say, until we feel beautiful ourself. I wanted to tell her, ‘Don’t compare yourself to other versions of you, or to other women, or models. You are unique. You are beautiful – just the way you are.’

We are all guilty of comparing ourselves unfavourably to others instead of recognising our unique attributes and strengths. 

My mother always told me, ‘One day, in years to come, you will look at a photograph of yourself today and exclaim, “I was beautiful. So young. Why did I not appreciate it then?”’ 

Having Faith

I must admit, I did not believe that the diet, or lifestyle change to food optimising, would work for me. I had always had a healthy diet and thought I knew everything there was to know about calories and nutrition. At the end of week 1, when I had lost just one pound I thought, I could have lost more on my own. I was eating more than I would normally and had no faith in the process. 

Week 2, I lost another pound. Then week 3, a pound and a half. Gradually, little by little the weight loss was building. I didn’t know everything. 


If I had not been held to account by attending the club each week, I would have given up by week 2. That had always been my pattern of behaviour. I would weigh myself once, sometimes twice, a day. Then react to the reading by forgetting the diet as I considered there to no longer be a need, or give up because change was too slow. The truth was – I was impatient. 

Breaking Habits

Changing my behaviour patterns was a challenge. I realised I had all sorts of excuses to rationalise why I weighed myself excessively, skipped meals, and filled up on sugary carbs. Now, I am having to plan what I am going to eat each day. I am taking the time and trouble to prepare three meals a day and to sit down and eat them. I am valuing myself and my body. I am mindful, when I eat.

Trusting the Journey

By week four I was on a roll. I had lost five pounds, just two more to go. I felt great and could see a difference. Then, week five I lost just half a pound and week six, nil. I had done nothing wrong. If anything, I was trying too hard. Denying myself treats. Feeling angry and resentful that this stupid diet was no longer working, and I had lost enough weight, anyway. 

I was ready to throw in the towel. But the wisdom of other members taught me I was trying too hard, and I needed to let go a little. It was then I realised that by not losing any weight that week; I had learnt a more important lesson – how to enjoy life and continue to eat well, forever – not just for a few weeks. My goal shifted from losing half a stone in six weeks to learning how to enjoy treats, be kind to myself, and maintain a healthy weight in the long term.

Letting Go

When we want something too much, we tighten our grip, trying to assert our control. This often has the opposite effect. It chases away what we most want. Several people in that club reported unexpected weight losses after ‘being naughty’ – eating a bag of chips or a takeaway. Now, I have stopped being hard on myself. I am realising that I can still enjoy all of my favourite treats in moderation. Now I know that, I don’t even want them!

In summary

This is what I have learnt about myself and my world:

  • Be patient.
  • Celebrate every achievement, however small it may seem, because they all add up.
  • Don’t be afraid to step outside of my comfort zone, it can open up new opportunities and learning.
  • Listen and learn, even when you think you know it all.
  • Be thankful for my strong, and healthy body and appreciate its beauty.
  • Take time and care to prepare and eat nutritious meals, it is never a waste of time.
  • When things do not happen the way, I want and expect them to, ask myself what is this teaching me?
  • Stop being so hard on myself and have fun.
  • I do not have to suffer to achieve great things.

I have also learnt that my local Slimming World club has the most amazing, kind, and supportive women. And they are all beautiful – just the way they are.

Melissa Askew Unsplash

Why you may not be feeling your best

I am generally a positive person. As a teenager, my daughter wrote in my Mother’s Day card (her gift was a book, The Pig of Happiness): ‘You remind me of the pig of happiness most of the time. Although your optimistic outlook on life can sometimes be a bit annoying, it usually cheers me up.’

We laugh about this message, now she is in her thirties. I am generally optimistic, but like all people, I have days when a little sadness descends and I question my self-worth. I am fortunate that these moments do not last long, unlike depression, which can be very debilitating. 

Those days when I don’t feel like the pig of happiness can usually be attributed to: 

Being tired

Feeling burnt out

Another person’s bad mood impacting on me

Thoughtless or hurtful remarks made by friends or acquaintances.

Being tired or burnt out is easy to fix when we are in control of our own time. It is not so easy for parents of young children, carers, and those working long hours in a demanding job. Recognising when we need some self-care is the first step to renewing our energy and lifting our mood. 

I have written previous posts on burn-out: Restore and Renew the Creative Spirit

And self-care: My D.I.Y. Spa Day

When someone we live with, or love, is unhappy or angry, we can absorb some of their mood. We might empathise becoming low ourselves or, when anger is released in a non-discriminatory way, react with anger. When this happens to me, I try to make time to do things that fill me with joy: walks by the sea, writing, meeting girlfriends for coffee, yoga, or spin. We can be kind, compassionate, and supportive, but it is important to show ourselves the same love as we do our loved one. 

Recently, I have become aware of how other people’s envy or discontent impact me. Like all traits, there are positive and negative sides. The positive: I always look for the best in people. I am forgiving and loyal. The negative: I am too trusting and do not always protect myself from people who do not wish me well.

My positive, joyful approach to life can make others feel envious. I must have something that they don’t – better health, more money, more opportunity. If I can achieve things they cannot, then I must have more than my share of good fortune, and it’s not fair.

Instead of nurturing their own light, they try to diminish mine. An example of this is a workshop I attended a year ago. We all talked about our experience of lockdown. It was a small group of participants and the intention was for us all to feel safe and supported as we reflected on the previous year and set our intentions for the next. When it was my turn, I spoke about the books I had published, and my podcast – how I had to learn new skills, my anxiety about marketing my books and uncertainty about the future.

A woman, unknown to me, said, ‘Do you know how that makes me feel? It makes me think you cannot possibly have achieved all of that. It makes me feel angry. Envious. Jealous. I’m just putting it out there, as others may feel the same.’

There was complete silence. The facilitator did not pick her up on her hurtful remark and we moved on to the next person. Although I was upset by her comment, I am also grateful. Not to that woman. She was unkind. But it reflected words and actions directed at me at other times in my life. Sadly, some people, particularly other women, focus on a person’s success as a measure of their failure, fuelling a hatred towards that person. 

Image by Jim Olah from Pixabay

Partners too, can resent it when we grow, fulfilling our dreams, as they might feel left behind and resentful. This is not my experience, but I have seen it happen.

When we recognise negative energy in another person, we can protect ourselves by understanding where it is coming from and not reacting.

However, it is not always easy to recognise. There have been a few occasions when I have been deceived into believing a person is my friend despite being disappointed repeatedly by their actions and words. Why do we do that? My mother would get frustrated with me when, as a teenager, I failed to see through the false friendship of a friend who repeatedly treated me with a lack of respect or consideration. In my case, I blamed myself and thought I wasn’t good enough. 

Often, memories from our formative years influence how we react to people who are false friends. For example, as a child, I desperately wanted my father’s approval. 

Friends or acquaintances may drop comments into a conversation intended to tip you off balance. I heard an interview with Catherine Cookson many years ago. She was surprised and hurt at the reaction of friends and neighbours when, after many years of struggling as an author, she had success. ‘I thought that they would be pleased for me,’ she said. 

There will always be people who want to dim our light. There will always be people who cast a shadow. Protect yourself by going inward. Remind yourself that you are loved. You are exactly where you need to be on your journey. You are enough. 

When Hamza Yassin won Strictly Come Dancing in 2022, he shared three life lessons. The first was:

Surround yourself with people whose eyes light up when you enter the room.

I am blessed to have many wonderful, loyal, kind, and supportive friends. 

We will all have days when we feel a little sad, or not at our best. Take time out to self-care. Be your own best-friend. Because you are precious. Never stop shining your beautiful light.

Image by Sarah Richter from Pixabay

How to live your best life without changing a thing

It is that time of the year when we write our good intentions, fuelled by an ideal of what we think our life should be. Comparing yourself to others or an earlier version of yourself is unkind. I was one of four children and had a wise and loving mother. She appreciated what each of us brought into the world and made room for us to shine without dimming one another’s light. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t furious when my little sister bought a pair of satin trousers (Abba style), the same as mine in a clashing colour, and then wore them to the same event as me. Siblings argue and compete. But a kind parent appreciates who we are without comparing us. We need to be that loving parent to ourselves.

When we tell ourselves what we should be, we are denying what we are. We imagine ourselves and our life to be different and beat ourselves up that we have not attained that life. 

Replace I should with I am. This past year I have relaxed into the reality of my life. Not the life I thought I should have – because I was comparing myself to others, but the glorious reality of my life right now, the way it is. To let go of the angst, the tight control of an angry parent yelling at me to do better, was like sinking into my yoga mat. I could feel the release, the expansion of my heart – room to breathe.

When I realised how great my life is and marvelled at all I have achieved, I found joy in every task. Life was no longer a race or competition. It became an adventure – a magical, mystery tour. Because, when I let go and allowed my life to unfold, great and unexpected things happened.

Many self-help books tell us to imagine what our ideal life would look like with the promise that if we see ourselves living that life, it will become our reality. Manifesting abundance has become a common mantra for those who follow new-age thinking. I believe we can attract good things into our life by being open to opportunities, daring to move outside of our comfort zone, and by being positive. There is nothing mystical about this. It is about taking risks, seeing opportunities, and projecting a positive image that inspires confidence in us.

Instead of starting the year by visualising what your ideal life would look like and what you should do to achieve that, try this:

Visualise how you would like your life to feel. How does it feel now? 

In yoga and meditation, we work through the body, relaxing it from our fingers to our toes. Recognising where we hold tension and then letting go. Understanding where we hold tension in our acceptance of self is similar. Maybe we have some work to do on letting go of past hurts? Be compassionate and kind – not critical.

Focus on the reality of your life now. What is it teaching you? When this time has passed – and time passes far too quickly – what will you miss? One day we may look back with regret wishing we had the same person, or people in our life, the health that we have today. We may long for an ordinary, predictable day. So, cherish every moment.

Relax into the now and let go of expectation. You are enough. If you have just one new year’s resolution, let it be – Be Kind to You. Because you are amazing. 

How to Find Inner Peace

Peace begins with me

This is a mantra that we often use in yoga class to meditate. I touch my thumb to each finger in turn. Peace. Begins. With. Me. Over time, the message has settled within me becoming my truth.

Sometimes we feel as though we are caught in a whirlwind with things happening to us beyond our control. A devastating medical diagnosis for you or a loved one. Bereavement. Struggling to pay the bills. Redundancy. Divorce. 

We may have parents who are near the end of life or children who are experiencing a crisis. We want to make everything better for our loved ones but feel overwhelmed and helpless.

The world is a scary place right now. Listening to the news can cause anxiety, anger, and frustration.

It is hard not to get caught up and pulled apart by a whirlwind of emotions. Finding peace within. A sense of calm, despite all that rages around us can be challenging. It may even feel pointless – achieving peace for just one minute impossible.

Early on in my writing journey, there were times when I experienced emotional turmoil and felt out of control. Fear of failure. Disappointment. Rejection. Elation followed by despair. The highs and lows of my writing life were having a detrimental effect on my relationships, my health and my well-being. I was looking to outside influences to bring me peace of mind and reassurance. Through meditation and journaling, I learned to take back control.

We all know that we cannot control what happens to us only how we respond. But this is sometimes easier said than done. 

Jan Pixabay

So how do we find peace within? Here are some suggestions:

Find five or ten minutes each day to meditate. Use a YouTube guided meditation if you are new to this. Boho Beautiful, The Honest Guys, and Adrienne (of yoga fame) are good places to start.

  • Walk in nature and focus on your senses, what you can see, smell, and feel.
  • Write a gratitude list. Grace Sammon (a guest on my podcast The Mindful Writer) described this process beautifully when talking about a friend. ‘…she had a very cantankerous divorce, and she would just go to the beach and cry. And someone told her she needed to find joy and gratitude every day. And she thought that was preposterous. So, on her list, she would write down sand. Sand. Water. Beach. But what she found just from that act of mindfulness, she was able to grow that list and cry less because it was that: Sand. Seagull. Bird. Wave. Sunlight. Cloud. Rainbow. People chatting. People walking.  And her list, really unbeknownst and unplanned to her, grew.’ 
  • Another of my guests, Matthew Williams, used journaling when he was in a dark place following a divorce. By writing down what had happened to him he started to make sense of his life. In his words…‘We create narratives around everything that happens in our life, who we are, our relationships to others. All of that is a story that we tell ourselves. And the question is who, who is holding the pen? And who is writing that story? Are you consciously creating the story of your life? Or are you allowing it to be written for you by other people’s expectations – by a particular person in your life, whether it be a partner, a parent, an employer? Are you handing the pen to somebody else? At any point, you can take that pen and you can create your story.’ 
  • Some people find spiritual affirmations helpful. Again, there are a lot of these on the internet if you Google.
  • Gentle physical exercise can help us to feel grounded. I love to dance, and of course, practise yoga.

Although it may not feel like it at times peace really does begin with us. Try to find that quiet place within. At first, it may only be for one minute. Be grateful for that one minute and know that you can return again and again. A loving, and compassionate you is waiting within. Peace. Begins. With. Me. 

Sending you peace and the hope that you find some light within the darkness.

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.’


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:
Mindful activities such as walking in nature

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.

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.