Five ways to beat Writer’s Block with poet E.L. Jayne

In this seventh episode of The Mindful Writer, I chat with Ellen Jayne, about the challenge some writers experience in finding time to write and how she learnt to overcome writer’s block.

Before I introduce you, let me update you on my writing journey. I have just returned from a week’s holiday in Norfolk where we stayed in a woodland retreat. The weather was perfect, warm, but surrounded by trees we had plenty of shade. I sat on the porch of our lodge reading and planning my next novel. Wrestling an idea into a cohesive plot can be frustrating until it all comes together and then joy. 

I am still at the stage of feeling frustrated. I have to remind myself that this is part of the process. I had several false starts to The Forever Cruise and was on the verge of giving up on the idea altogether. Fortunately, a writer friend listened to my fragmented thoughts over a leisurely lunch last summer.  After talking the story through with her I returned home and scribbled down the outline in 35 chapters – a line for each. Sometimes you just need to talk it out. Another writer friend who works in computer programming calls this rubber ducking. I much preferred talking to my warm, and generous friend than a rubber duck but apparently, that can work too. Evidently time for another lunch. 

We all experience vexation at some point in the writing process, whether it is finding an idea that excites us, plotting and planning, feeling stuck midway, or that chapter that just won’t flow. This is the topic of our conversation this week as Ellen Jayne shares her experience. So, let me introduce you.

In this chat with Ellen Jayne, poet and blogger, we share: 

Five ways to be more productive

To self-care

And some helpful resources.

Ellen Jayne

You can listen to the podcast here:

https://themindfulwriter.buzzsprout.com

or read the transcript below:


Deborah: I’m delighted to welcome Ellen Jayne to the mindful writer podcast, because I have been following a blog Pointless Overthinking of which Ellen is the co- CEO. It’s an excellent blog, and I shall put a link in the notes so you too, can read it. It’s a community of thinkers and writers about understanding the world we live in. It’s a really inspiring blog, and it’s got over 27,000 subscribers. Ellen is also a poet, and you can find her poems on Poems and Prose blog as well. So, lots to share with us. I am delighted to welcome you, Ellen.

Ellen: Thank you for having me.

Deborah: So, my first question is, how did you come to be part of Pointless Overthinking? And tell us a bit more about it?

Ellen: Yeah, sure. So, I came to be part of Pointless Overthinking at a time, when I wanted to start a new chapter in my life. I wanted to use my free time for more fulfilling purposes, rather than just browsing through social media. So, at this point, I had a blog for a few years prior; I started it when I was studying abroad in London, and then kept it when I moved to Spain then and Italy. I had just moved back from Italy. And I’m wanting to prioritise things that were going to help me achieve my next big goals in life. And part of that was making more meaningful interactions on my blog. 

So actually, the first day of this practice, I commented on my now co CEOs, posts, and he answered something like, ‘Thank you for your response, I can see that you’re a very critical thinker by nature, and we’re looking for more writers. So if you’re interested in joining our team, please feel free to email me.’  So, I was. I guess I’ll just explain a bit, when I say more of a meaningful interaction, I mean, something that is more than just ‘oh, great job on this post. I really liked what you wrote, but really taking the time to get my thoughts out there and give some great feedback and just more connections like that. I was really excited to find a connection in the first day that I started this practice. So, from there, I sent in three articles that I wanted to be posted on our blog of Pointless Overthinking. And if the readership took well to them, then I would be able to join the team. So thankfully, our readers were very welcoming to me. I sent over three articles that were called, I’ve studied abroad three times, and I’ve learned nothing. And then also American students abroad: Culturally savvy or road to tragedy? and then The unattainable open mind. So, yes, the readership took very well to them, and I joined the team got my own credentials, and the rest is history. 

So, I’ve been co-managing the blog with my colleague, Troy Hedrick, and we have a team of 13 talented writers. A lot of us live lives as professors, pilots, playwrights, life coaches, and we come from all over the world, including Hong Kong, Kenya, Turkey, and the list goes on. So really grateful to be a writer alongside such inspirational and intelligent, open-minded people. We have meetings a couple of times a year. And it’s just great to have gotten to know them. And we’re all truly here to connect with our readers and make this world a little bit less of a lonely place.

Deborah: Absolutely inspiring. It’s an amazing project, I was so pleased to have discovered it, as you say, the team of writers are excellent. And they’re all very different in their approaches. 

Ellen: A lot of us have different topics and philosophy, and different life lessons. Those seem to be pretty heavy topics on our blog. But I know the main thing that we all love is being able to connect with our readers. I have quite literally been in tears many times, just from some of the comments from my readers, and it really is fulfilling to me and helps me feel like I’m working towards my purpose here in this life. And I’ve just been so grateful to have been a part of it.

Deborah: Fantastic. The blogs that I read that have been by you are very much about the about writing practice, you wrote one on, There’s no such thing as writer’s block, which is something that I know listeners, fellow writers will identify with. Some people experience it but you say, There’s no such thing. Can you explain a bit about that blog? And why you say there’s no such thing?

Ellen: Yeah, sure. So, I guess a few months ago, I would have disagreed with the title of the post, I thought I suffered pretty bad, or a lot, from writers’ block, like many others, I’m sure can relate. But after reading Seth Godin book it’s called The Practice: Shipping Creative Work, it really changed my perspective. So, writer’s block is something that I’ve personally described as the metaphysical Muse that causes us to create out of the blue. It’s a fantastic feeling. It’s when you start creating, and you keep on creating, start writing, you don’t stop writing right until midnight until you’re low on sleep for the next day. But it’s worth it because you are full of words and ideas. But unfortunately, those involuntary instances of inspiration have been far too few to be a professional writer. So historically, I have put off writing until I’m in the right mindset, until I have an evening with no plans, until I finished everything I needed for the day. And especially until I feel like I have an idea that’s good enough. So, you can see the dilemma. professional writers can’t wait all that time to be inspired, you have to get work out and you have to create. You can’t always wait for the Muse, you don’t have the time.

 So, something that I’ve practised is that I write every single day, no matter what – for the past four years. It’s really been part of my subconscious. And it’s not necessarily that I’m sitting there and busting out articles, full articles or full poems, but I am always writing different ideas that I have throughout the day. Sometimes I’ll hear a different word, either in conversation or from a book I’ve read and I’ll just write that word down, because I feel some sort of inspiration from that one single word. So, I’ll jot it down in my notes, and either on my phone or on my laptop, and then I’ll come back to it at a later time. I have a 30-page working document of poetry lines on my laptop. And I also have just notes, and notes on my mobile phone. 

Another routine that I have, that I try to do weekly –  I am fortunate enough to have a great environment here in Salt Lake City, Utah. I have the mountains, and nature has always been very inspiring for me. It’s inspired the movement of romanticism from the poet’s Wordsworth and Keating, back in northern England, which I’m sure you’re aware of in the Lake District. They were all very inspired by nature. And I feel the same inspiration from nature. So, one of the things I really love to do is go on a hike, a solo hike by myself, and I’ll take a good book and my journal up there as well. So, I’ll start by reading and get some inspiration. And then I’ll go into writing and I always feel like I have the best ideas up there. The best words and lines of poetry, and ideas for articles, and for my novel, come to fruition while I’m sitting up there all alone surrounded by so much beauty.

Deborah: I didn’t know that you also wrote a novel, – you’re writing a novel.

Ellen: Yes, it’s just been in the background for a few years, but my priority is my poetry collection, and then the articles on my blog. So that will be on the backburner for now.

Deborah: Excellent. I agree with you about getting out into nature to help stimulate creativity. I live by the sea, and I go for a walk by the sea pretty much every day that, like you, are where I get lots of my inspiration. I think when you’re calm and you’re relaxed, that’s when the ideas come. Stephen King says ‘the boys in the basement doing their work’ – working through your plots and ideas, even when you’re not aware of it. And when you’re relaxing, they come to the fore.

Ellen: Exactly. I think that’s why so many people love nature. And also, you get so many ideas when you’re able to relax and not think about the next thing that you have to do during the day.

Deborah: I too try and write every day. When I’m writing a novel, I have to write every day to keep myself in the plot. And I’m so eaten up with telling the story I have to write every day for myself. I can’t not write. But you wrote another blog about Should you force yourself to write? So, let me ask you about that. Do you think there are times when we should break from writing? Or should we make ourselves sit down every day regardless?

Ellen: I think that is a great question. And I think the word that I have an issue within that question is forcing yourself. I don’t think that you should ever force yourself to write because I think more so the most important part is to have a healthy relationship with writing. But I do think it’s very important to create on a scheduled basis, and if you can to write every day. So, if I had to answer I would say No, you shouldn’t force yourself to write but you should write every day. Forcing yourself to write seems a bit too draconian for me. And you need to have good writing habits to be a writer. I think you should make it a daily habit. And maybe if it’s not the next thing you do, maybe take some time and decompress, do something that refills your cup. For example, you can do a monkey mind journal where you just write whatever’s on your mind, then maybe some ideas will come to fruition in what you are actually looking to write about. But I would like to share a quote from one of my favourite writers about this topic. He’s actually a poet from Portugal and South Africa. So, he says, 

We may think the book that we will write will be bad. But even worse will be the one we put off writing. At least the book that has been written exists.

Fernando Pessoa. 

Deborah: Absolutely. That’s a good one. I always say when you’re writing the first draft, it’s just you telling yourself the story. You just need to get your story down. And writing is all about rewriting anyway. But what would you say to listeners who are struggling to find the time to write perhaps they’ve got a story they want to write, they want to be a writer, but they think ‘I haven’t got the time’ – they’ve got a young family, they’re working full time? They just can’t find it. They’re not seeing it as a priority. How do you find the time when you’ve got a very busy life with lots of demands on you?

Ellen: Yeah, that is a great question. If you have a busy life, I think one of the main things is finding some free time to write and trying to make it a daily habit, whether that’s sitting down for longer chunks of time and just mapping out your story and where you want to go. And then maybe for five minutes a day, you can just touch on it and revise it a little more and more each day. But I think it’s important to have that writer’s mind and be able to work on it each day and make it a priority because it is something that’s important to you, and it is important for you to get your story out there.

Deborah: Absolutely. I think, especially – and this sounds a bit of a sexist thing -but I think especially with women, because many of us are carers, whether we’re caring for older parents or for children, babies. We often put everyone else’s needs before our own. 

I’ve spoken to women who’ve said, ‘I don’t think my husband would like it if I disappeared to write.’ Or  ‘My family would think, you know, I’d feel selfish if I shut the door and ignored them for a time to write.’ And I think you’re absolutely right. If you’ve got it in your heart, something you want to do, you should be true to yourself, and you should find time and you should honour your wish and your dream and make that time. You will be a better person, a better family member, a better wife, a better mother. You’ll be able to care and love those around you better when you’ve loved yourself and honoured what’s in your heart – to fulfil that wish. 

But actually, finding the time you need, not everybody has the luxury of having an hour or two to set aside. But I’ve had times when it has been a challenge. My father died last year, he had dementia, but I was the main carer for him. And I was working and I was writing. I went through a period where I was so stretched with all the things I was doing that I found little moments to write. So instead of having a two-hour slot, I would have 30 minutes here, 20 minutes there, it would be anywhere and everywhere. I would find a little slot to write. And it’s amazing with the 20 minutes here and 20 minutes there, how much that writing adds up to over the course of a week. But I think the first thing is recognising – if this is important to you – to do it. You know, to self-care and to follow that through. You can always find a bit of time.

Ellen: I think that’s a brilliant idea. It’s definitely something I wanted to bring up as well, because it’s very true, we don’t have two hours every day. I’d be lucky if I found two hours on the weekend days. But I think you have a brilliant point with finding the time and the 20 minutes here and maybe 15 minutes there. I think one of the struggles with that is you might have a hard time getting into the zone of writing into the, you know, mindset of writing. Because writing has always seemed to me to be a bit different than my logical practical, day to day self. I kind of like to be more relaxed. And one of the things that has helped me get into the writing zone faster, to make more use of those 15 or 20 minutes, is doing some grounding practices. They can be meditative practices, or anything that really helps you be in the moment. Working with your senses is something that always helps ground you. And for example, something that pertains a little bit more to writing for me is I will sit in the moment, and I’ll think of five different adjectives that describe the environment around me. And they can be anything. I’m not looking for brilliant words, or great adjectives. I’m just looking for any words that come to mind, no judgement. And I’ll just jot those down. I’ll be more in tune with the environment around me. Sometimes I’ll describe all the unique colours that I see, I’ll go through the rainbow of colours. So, for example, I’ll see a red glass over there, or an orange towel over there. And that is something that helps me feel grounded sooner, and then I can start writing sooner so I can make more use of that time.

Deborah: Excellent. It’s letting all of that noise in your head – all the must do’s, should do’s out – so, that you can then go into your inner self, which is where the writing comes from. 

Ellen: Exactly.

Deborah: I heard some good advice; I’ve forgotten where from but it’s stuck with me. So, I’ll share it anyway. And that was when you’re sitting at the computer, perhaps you’re writing something and you just cannot find the right words to say, it just doesn’t feel right. The advice I was given was, ‘That’s because you don’t actually know what you want to write yet.’ You think you do. You go to your computer to write a blog or you’re writing a chapter and it’s just not coming out, right? You haven’t done enough reflection to really understand and get underneath what it is you really want to say. So, stepping back from the physical writing to really tune in and understand and explore what you want to say is another way – then to come back to your keyboard and flow through.

Ellen: Yes, I love that. I think that’s a great idea to just pause for a moment and think about what you really want to say maybe map it out or try to understand the final point of where you want to go – the final destination.  

In terms of different tools that could be used – because I have many times been sitting at my laptop and just been stumped for words. But in terms of other tools that I use that have been very helpful for me, is always having a thesaurus open, a dictionary as well. I have Rhyme Zone, which is a website that gives you all of the different words that rhyme with a certain word. And then I also have a random word generator site open as well. And those four sites really help me open up my mind to different words, and use a greater array of vocabulary in my writing as well. And I think it helps me a lot sometimes because I’m really looking for that certain word, especially with poetry. You are limited to how many words you can use. It’s not like prose. And when I find that one – that one word that is, that just fits just right, it’s almost a euphoric feeling. And I feel extremely satisfied when I find it. And actually, that is the tagline of my poetry blog. So, the finest part about poetry is the accentuated emphasis of the individual word, the epitome of less is more.

Deborah: Beautiful.

Ellen: Thank you. 

Deborah: I’ll just give a plug for another thesaurus source. I have this source open on my computer when I write – and there’s a book. The Emotional Thesaurus and The Conflict Thesaurus, both by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman.

And it means that if you were looking at anger, anxiety, affection, all the different feelings, it has all the different ways it might be described, what the physical sensations will be, what the facial expression might be. So, you don’t always have ‘she sighed,’ or ‘he shrugged his shoulders.’ We all have our favourites for describing an emotion and this gives alternative suggestions.

Ellen: Wow, that’s genius. I would love to read that.

Deborah: I will put it in the show notes. But if you Google  the Emotional Thesaurus or go on Amazon, you’ll find it. Yes, it’s very good.

Ellen: That’s brilliant. I’ll look that up. Many times, I am describing a character or somebody in one of my poems, and I feel like that would be very helpful. So, thank you.

Deborah: We all have our favourite words; we keep on using the same expressions. 

Ellen: Exactly. That’s why sometimes – like throughout the day, if I hear a different word that describes somebody, or in a book that I’m reading, if it’s a great character trait that I’ve seen described, that I haven’t used before, I’ll jot it down. And I think that’s another important topic to stress as well. When I started writing, I was very scared, almost I would say, to sound like a different author – sound like another author, to not sound like myself. And to seem like I was copying another writer’s style. But the truth of it is we are all an amalgamation of our experience in the environment around us and of other artists around us. There’s a book called Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. And I think that topic is also very near to my heart, because we are all just the impact of the influences of the environment around us. So, if we can kind of let go of the judgement of being grouped like somebody else, I feel like we can really bloom and blossom into our own author’s voice that we want to hear.

Deborah: And trust it. Trust your voice and the story you have to tell. Because sometimes we’re so busy criticising – all that noise in our heads. You try to be different, then you start criticising yourself, ‘I’m not fitting in enough.’ ‘I’m not enough like this writer or that writer.’ But we are, as you say, we are all unique, a combination of different experiences and the things we bring from our journey. We all have our own story to tell. So, trust your story, and trust the journey.

Ellen: Exactly.

Deborah: Thank you so much, Ellen, you’ve shared some wonderful words of wisdom. I will capture these in the show notes, along with links to anything we’ve mentioned. But I’m going to finish the show by asking you to read one of your beautiful poems. So, we’ll sign off with your poem.

Ellen: Awesome thank you for having me

E.IlReference Points a poem by E.L. Jayne from her blog Poems and Prose

Lots of great tips there. To summarise:

  1. Try and find a writing schedule/routine even if it’s 15 – 20 mins here and there.
  2. Use grounding techniques to get into the zone faster e.g. using your senses, describing what you can see, smell, and hear.
  3. Spend time in nature where you can relax.
  4. Honour what is in your heart, By making time to write you will be able to love and care for those around you better as you have first taken care of yourself.
  5. Be kind to yourself. Do not force yourself to write but develop a healthy relationship with writing finding time in a way that suits you without judgement.

The resources shared:

The Emotional Thesaurus, by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman.

The Conflict Thesaurus,  by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman.

Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon.

RhymeZone

Please get in touch to share your tips. If you too are struggling to plan your WIP maybe we can act as a rubber duck to one another!

So, until next time… look after your beautiful self and trust the journey.

You can find all episodes of The Mindful Writer podcast here: https://themindfulwriter.buzzsprout.com

Don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss any episodes.

How to succeed and find joy in this writing life with author Lizzie Chantree 

In this sixth episode of The Mindful Writer, best-selling author Lizzie Chantree, shares some practical lessons on how to succeed and find joy in your writing life. 

Before I introduce you let me update you on my writing life.

I have some exciting news to share. In the past couple of weeks, I decided to publish The Forever Cruise on 1st December, and The Last Act on 1st June next year. I love both of these books and can’t wait any longer to share them with my readers. My last novel Just Bea was published 17 months ago. During that time, I have been going back and forth with agents, and publishers. Although I have received interest in both manuscripts, I realised that it would take at least another 18 months until my next book could be published – and I cannot wait that long. I have built up a loyal following and want to keep those readers entertained with my new books. As soon as I made that decision, I felt a rush of energy. I am back on track and it feels good! My local independent bookstore is hosting the book launch for The Forever Cruise, and I am meeting with my cover designer in a couple of weeks. 

Yesterday, I met the wonderful Lizzie Chantree in person for the first time at a writing buddy event she co-hosted with author Christine Penhale. We sat in a spacious room above a café to write, network, and enjoy fabulous coffee. Now it is your turn to meet Lizzie, so let me introduce you.

Lizzie Chantree is a best-selling author of uplifting romantic reads and Networking for Writers. In this episode Lizzie explains:

  • How to develop a positive mindset
  • How to make good use of the resources and networks available to us
  • How to build our readership, reader by reader
  • How to be a kind and compassionate manager (to ourselves).
Lizzie Chantree

You can listen to the podcast here:

Episode Six How to Find Joy and Success in this Writing Life

Or read the transcript below:

Deborah: Hello, Lizzie, lovely to see you on my podcast. 

Lizzie: Hello. Thank you for inviting me.

Deborah: You’ve had an incredible career: You founded your first company at 17, invented a ladder stop spray – The Runaway Spray. I love the name of that. And then, when your daughter became unwell, you made a transition from successful businesswoman to best-selling author. A remarkable journey, which shows you’re a woman of courage, determination, and obviously have a very positive mindset. So, I’m sure we’re going to learn a lot from you about where that comes from, and how you maintain that to achieve the incredible things that you have done. So, have you always had a positive mindset? And where does that come from? 

Lizzie: Oh, thank you for that. I think I have grown up with a positive mindset because of my parents. I grew up in a very, very creative family. And my parents didn’t ever sort of say You can’t try that. You know, if I came up with a crazy … I was coming up with crazy ideas from a very young age. My parents never said, That’s just ridiculous. Don’t do that. They said, Give it a try. And you know, if it doesn’t work, learn from it, move on to something else. So, I always thought – well, I didn’t ever think I can’t do that. I always thought I’ll give it a try. If it goes wrong, try something else learn from it. So, I think that has always been my mentality. And basically, that is thanks to my parents.

 It is a really positive way of thinking. Do you do this? Have you done the same thing with your family? 

Lizzie: Yes, absolutely, with everything. You know, life’s very fluid, things change. You know, most people grow up, and then they do something completely different to what they were doing when they were younger anyway. So, we try not to set too many pressures or too many boundaries, with you know, your work life. Because you know, if something doesn’t work – the same thing, just try something else, or teach yourself new skills, or go back to school or to college and learn new things. Or go to the library and pick up some books, online courses. I’ve taught myself so many things on this writing journey through online training. So, you know, there is a world of possibilities, you’ve just got to look for them. And a lot of these online courses and things actually are free as well. So many free resources out there. It’s just a matter of finding them.

Deborah:  It is really hard when you’re a writer, because it’s not just about writing is it? It’s about writing and marketing. And as you say, all the things you have to learn. I started this journey of being an indie author at the beginning of the lockdown. And when I was counting all the things that I had to learn in terms of technology it was amazing. If you look at the beginning of what you’ve got to learn, it could put you off, if you look back at what you’ve achieved, you think, Gosh, I’ve done all that. So, what’s stopping me going on to the next, the next thing and the next thing? But it’s very easy for us to get put off, isn’t it? When we think to myself, Oh, I made a mess of that, you know, we’re our own worst critic critics, we can really give ourselves a tough time. And that can put people off carrying on. 

Lizzie: Totally, I think like you say we do. There’s a lot of use imposter syndrome in the creative industries where we just feel not good enough. And also, we haven’t got sort of bosses and things saying, Oh, that was wonderful. You did a good job with that today.  Pat on the back. You know, that was brilliant. We have to be our own bosses. So, if we do something well, we have to say, Yeah, that was brilliant. But we don’t do so much of the Oh, well done, we’ve achieved that even if it’s making a book meme or talking to someone online or getting 100 words on paper, or whatever your targets are. We tend to forget about saying nice things to ourselves. And yet, if we haven’t written the 100 words, or we haven’t done the main today, or we haven’t spoken to someone online that, Oh, that’s useless. You know, I’m so terrible. I can’t, I can’t do it. I’m not doing enough. But we tend to impose those kinds of things on ourselves. So, in a way what I try and do is set manageable goals, like small ones, and then tick them off as I go along. And if I miss something, then I add it to the next day. It’s not the end of the world. But I think it’s really important to get a balance and also to praise ourselves when we do something well.

Deborah:  Yes. Really good points there. I have been a really good manager to people that I’ve supervised and managed in my working career. I’ve been a kind, generous manager supportive and nurturing. But I’m a horrible manager to myself because my expectations are really high. And like most people, I think, we drive ourselves hard. I pick up on the things I haven’t done and not the things that I have. So, good advice there. 

Lizzie: Even as a manager you still even if you’re kind and caring, you still might have high expectations of the people that are working for you. You want them to do well. You want them to achieve great things. So, even though you’re having those high expectations for yourself, we still need That that’s really lovely. Well done. You’ve reached that goal. You’ve done that writing. You’ve done that little bit of marketing, or whatever it might be, and maybe go and have a coffee, or go for a walk in the garden, or play with a dog, or pick up the phone and ring somebody because that means something to someone else as well. So, I think it’s also about getting balance, because like you say, the marketing side of it can be really, really overwhelming. 

When I came into it, I didn’t know any writers. I’d done writing courses when I was younger, but I didn’t know anything about, you know, the creative side of writing, and the industry. So, I had to learn as I went on, and it came from talking to other writers, meeting mentors, researching things online, and in creating my own community. 

Deborah: And that’s really important networking, which we’ll come on to, because you are our guru on effective networking. Networking is so important, not just for opportunities it brings and it certainly does, most definitely, but for the writer, writing community, and your writer friends. Because even when we are slow to congratulate ourselves and celebrate our success, to give ourselves a pat on the back, our writer friends who are on a similar journey – they do that for us, too. I belong to a writers’ group. And, and we’ve been working together for about into about eight years, all of us writing novels. We meet each month and say what we’ve achieved: I’ve only done this. I’ve only done that. We remind each other of just how much we have done and how far we’ve come. I always leave feeling a couple of inches taller. So that support is important.

Lizzie: That’s the thing of saying, We’ve only done this, or we’ve only done that. And we always do that. I do it all the time. You know, I really try not to. But it’s kind of we feel that what we do maybe isn’t enough all the time. That we need to be doing more when actually what we’re doing is great at whatever pace it might be for whatever person, you have to do what is right for you and what works for you. And if you’re chipping away too, even if it’s a little bit of time, that is amazing.

But having that network around you, like you say – sometimes I’ll just go meet a couple of people for a coffee, or I’ve got one writer friend, we meet once a month, we literally make a few TikToks. We have a laugh. We meet over coffee. We have to be quiet if we go in the library because we are giggling too much work. But we are working together. We come across so many ideas. We talk about magazine articles, about blogs. We’re writing. We make TicTocs. We do our social media. 

And it’s meeting your friend for a coffee; you know, we meet for a few hours, once a month or twice a month, and we come up with so much work. And it’s absolutely hysterical. It’s really bad. But to me, that’s work. But it’s fun. You know, it fills my creative tanks. We come out of there: I feel fantastic. She feels fantastic. We support each other with something we might be stuck with. We will talk about it. I’m really stuck on this. I’m doing too much of that. How do I get through that? And we just push through it with words over a coffee or cake or lunch or whatever. And that is still work. We’re still being productive, but in a fun way. 

Deborah: Yes. Excellent. And that also replaces what we miss from our work environment. I, like you, was an entrepreneur and had my own businesses before I was a writer. So, I was used to that. But even then, I found those environments to bring together people who worked in a similar area who were also friends. And that creates what other people might have in their lunch hour or coffee break at work. So, if you’re writing when you’ve been working, perhaps you’ve been made redundant, or you’ve changed jobs and you’re more isolated from people – it’s recreating those things that helps you survive in your workplace by creating it around you. 

Lizzie: Exactly. And it doesn’t even have to be in person; it can be online. You know, with the way things have happened with COVID and things like that, it’s opened up different opportunities. People think of things differently now. So maybe if you can’t get to the coffee shop, or you can’t get out, you haven’t got transport or you’re in a rural location, or you’re in a different country to the people you’re working with, it doesn’t matter. You can jump on Zoom. You can jump on some chat rooms or on Facebook or Twitter. There are ways to not have to be isolated not have to be on your own. Because, like you say, writing is a really isolating profession in some aspects. And so it’s a really good way to meet other people, find people that have got similar interests to you. And there’s lots of places locally. You could visit your local library and ask them about a writing group, or a book group, or ask if you can go in and give a talk. Or just getting to know other people in your community, even the local banks. They host seminars for free about marketing and social media. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about writing. It can still be relevant to your business as a writer, but it doesn’t have to specifically be about writing.

Deborah: I’m just going to go back to something else you said that I wanted to talk about. We were talking about thinking I’ve not done enough. I’m not enough and how we drive ourselves crazy. Yesterday, I had a really lovely yoga class I attended. And when we were doing the meditation, it was about when you have lots of energy bringing that energy back down. So if people do yoga, the yellow one, the one around the navel, (solar plexus chakra) because I can’t remember the proper word for it. But it was about focusing there. And our meditation was, I am enough, I’ve done enough. I can rest without agenda. And I think that was just a wonderful mantra. I am enough, I’ve done enough. I can rest. And that bit about without agenda; how often do we think we’re resting, but all the time, our minds busy, busy, busy? I’ll rest. But while I’m resting, I’m going to get this done. Because I’m sort of resting. I’m not wasting time.

Lizzie: I totally agree about that. Our minds are always working, aren’t they? It’s always over running. And it’s fine, if you’re doing something, you’re thinking about book ideas, or something that’s exciting you because that in a way can be relaxing. But I think we do put pressure on ourselves to work, even when we’re asleep. It’s so ridiculous. No, we don’t give ourselves enough credit. 

I’ve also grown up in an environment where my parents have run businesses that have always been quite busy. So, I’ve always been very aware of being in the present. There’s no point going somewhere and doing something if you’re thinking about something else. This is what I’ve grown up and learnt from my parents, because they obviously have very busy lives. If you’re going to go and meet someone and have a cup of tea, or if you’re going to go and take an afternoon off, or if you’re going to go work for the morning, or the afternoon or all day, whatever – be present, be present in what you’re doing. Because if you’re going for that cup of tea with friends, and you’re actually thinking, I’ve got a deadline, I should have been doing this, I’ve missed that this morning, I haven’t written my words, I haven’t done my 1000 I haven’t done this. What is the point in being there? You might as well not be there. You might as well be at home, or in your office, or wherever doing those 100 words, 1000 words, whatever – be present in what you’re doing. Because then your body does get to relax. You get the creative tanks filled back up. And then, more often than not, you’ll go back and you’ll be more productive later because you’ve had a rest. You’ve had a creative time. You’ve seen different things or you’ve spoken to somebody different. Without that constant, like you say, that voice in your head about I should I should be doing this. What you should be doing is what you’re doing at that present moment. 

Deborah: That’s another really good point. There are so many good messages from you to capture. When I’m doing something in the kitchen – I come away from my writing, and I’m making a cup of tea, or just getting the laundry, something I’m doing in my mind is still working on my writing. Actually, it’s not working on my writing, it’s usually fretting – something that I’m worrying about. And while my mind is doing that, I always, always, do something stupid. I will make a cup of tea for my husband, who I know isn’t in the house; I put something in the fridge instead of the washing machine, I will do something ridiculous. And that just demonstrates when you think that you are concentrating on a task, when your mind is whirling away on something else, you’re not present. It’s so important. 

Lizzie: It’s also a waste. It is a waste of your own time. Even if it’s doing housework. You might as well be productive, get the housework done. When it’s over and done with and then you can move on to whatever it is you’re thinking about. This is where I find list writing and things like that can sometimes help because that kind of empties those thoughts from your mind. You’re putting them onto paper. They’re in front of you. So, you can see them, they’re there, you can cross them off, you can move them to another page. This is a good way of systematically writing down tasks so that you’re not constantly thinking about I should be doing this next It’s blame culture, I think. Because everything we hear is quite negative. So, we need more positive energy, positive thoughts, positive news, to help people because otherwise they are going to feel worried and stressed. And they’re not good enough all the time, because they’re not hearing enough positivity. I think that’s really sad.

Deborah: Your life hasn’t always been smooth and golden. You had a very difficult time when your daughter was two years old and she was very unwell, and you had to leave your successful business. During those years is when you went through a transition to writer. Can you tell us about the emotional journey of how you found the courage to move from businesswoman to writer and what was going on for you at that time? 

Lizzie: Yes, it was. At the time I didn’t think of it as being tough. I just was going through it; so, you just have to deal with it. But yes, my child was very, very, ill from a young age. She just coughed constantly. She just couldn’t breathe. She was on ventilators. She was in the hospital every month and on tablets every month. Then obviously, as a parent, you just feel distraught, because you feel like you’re not being good enough. Again, it’s that just not good enough thing, when obviously you can’t help it – you’re not, you’re not not good enough. And also, very frustrating because we didn’t know what the problem was, she had so many tests. And I had to basically watch her. I didn’t like anyone going near as her in case they breathed on her and she got another cough. But it was every month, you know, she could cough for nine hours, stop for an hour, and then keep coughing.

So, we didn’t sleep for years, basically. And it was just trying to find a way to cope with the stress. So obviously, I spoke to professionals about how to cope with the stress. They helped me to understand that actually, it didn’t mean I was a terrible parent, it just meant that my child was going through something and any other parent in that position would feel the same way. And they also taught me the coping mechanisms, which I still use today with stress, which is how to balance – you know, work and play, how to keep my mind on an even keel so that I’m not overloading myself.

So, what I did was, I just decided I needed to stay awake at night because I had a baby monitor. And I needed to listen to her to make sure she was breathing. So, I just thought I needed to stay awake. I tried sweets, and cake and coffee and, everything, and nothing worked. So, I thought, you know, I’ve been on a writing course many years ago, and I was writing as a child. I had an idea for a book. I thought, well, let’s just try that. And literally, that is what I did. I just sat every evening for a year in my studio with my baby monitor next to me, and I just listened to her breathing or coughing. And I wrote a book. 

I wrote my first book Babe Driven and I literally packed it full of sunshine, sandy beaches, gorgeousness, happiness, cocktails, the lot. And it was just a total opposite of my life at that time. But it just helped me so much to just visualise those things in my brain when I was going through such a hard time. And it also made me feel that maybe one day someone would read it. And it would also help them through a hard time. You know, if they were having a bad day; they might be able to read it and they feel, happier, and uplifted and smiling. So really, that was what motivated me to keep going. 

And then after a year, I literally stuck in a cupboard for five years. Again, it’s the imposter syndrome. I didn’t have the courage to do anything with it for five years, until her health started to improve. Then, once her lungs started to mature, and she could breathe better. And we started to get more answers about the problems with their health, then I felt, okay. And all I did was I sent it to three smaller publishers and two of them offered me contracts. So, it kind of went from there.

 Deborah: Fantastic. And your books certainly do make people feel brighter and happier. So, you do give a gift to those who read your books. Definitely. 

Lizzie: Thank you. 

Deborah: That’s a wonderful thing that you can do as a writer – when that you express emotion, and then you find that it’s touched somebody in a way, it makes it worthwhile. 

Lizzie: You just want people to not feel like they’re alone. You know, everybody’s going through stuff. You can think on the surface, you might know what someone’s life is like, actually, we don’t really know what people are going through in their own lives. So, it’s just a way to sort of be in people’s homes and provide something they can kind of open and just not feel that they’re going through things alone. And that if they are going through something, to make them smile. You know just to give them some respite from the stress and the worry, because we have a lot of things like that to go through. And even if we’re not going through anything, then that’s absolutely incredible too. If that brings a smile in any situation, then that’s what I’m all about. 

Deborah: Absolutely. As you were talking, I was thinking. I think our lives are like a book in themselves. You know when you’re reading a book, and the author drops in the breadcrumbs. Then, of all these things come together the end of it. You say Oh, that’s why all of those things happened. All of the skills and experiences you picked up along the way; You’re using all of those now – today, as an author. You have your parents, your upbringing of the Try something, see if it works, try again, you’ve got all that you learned through your own business, your retail business, marketing, all the things you brought from that. And then you had what you learned when your daughter was unwell about managing your own health and well-being and coping with that. So, all of that has come together. You’re using everything that you’ve got. 

Lizzie: Yes, totally. And I think, you know, when you’re going through something, all you can feel is the pain and the suffering and you don’t realise that you’re learning things.  Obviously, now I’ve realised how much I’ve learned. I mean, my daughter she’s so proud of what I’m doing and she tells people she’s the catalyst of my writing career and things like that which is true. You know, out something so awful has come something

really, really beautiful. But obviously, I didn’t know that that was going to happen at the time. And, we just feel so proud of what’s happened and come out of something like that. 

I think all the skills, like you say, throughout our businesses, that nothing has been wasted: the graphic design, the marketing, the advertising, the networking. I’ve learned through having wholesale and retail shops, talking to customers. And, you know, I love that side of the business, getting to meet customers and making products for them, and things like that. It was just a joy. So now, I’m still making products, but just in a different way.

Deborah: So what would you say if you were looking back now at yourself, when your daughter was perhaps two or three, when you were at your lowest? What words of wisdom or advice would you give yourself?

Lizzie: Just to be kind to myself, I think. That’s something I learned

with help – not to beat myself up and think I’m not good enoughI’m failure, I’m not doing enough for my family.Those sorts of thoughts are quite toxic. But at the time … I’ve got a very problem-solving brain. And so, if I see a problem, my brain is automatically thinking, Right? What’s the solution? How can I help someone? What can they what can we do to solve this problem? So obviously, with a problem like that, I haven’t got the medical skills to know what to do. So, all I was doing was trying to find other solutions all the time, which is quite exhausting.

But I think you just have to use the resources you have and find that inner strength in yourself and just keep pushing forward and looking for new ways to enrich your life and, surround yourself with people that are like you, that are kind, and caring, and loving. And you don’t need to put someone else down to succeed in life. So, surround yourself with people that lift you up.

Deborah:  Absolutely. I was thinking, when you were saying that you were driving yourself crazy trying to work on the things that you didn’t know about – the medical, trying to control areas, which you couldn’t control, because you had no control over them. So, you looked at what you could do, which is to be kind to yourself. And that made me think about how, as authors say, trying to get published, all of the things that authors drive themselves crazy about, the things that are out of their control, those are the things that make them feel helpless and anxious. I think if we can learn to let go of that, and give that up to a higher power – to God, to the universe, that which is out of our control. There is somebody who knows much better, what’s good for us, and what’s going to happen. So let go at that. Deal with the things you can, to be the best writer you can, to be the best at what you’re doing as you can. And to be kind to yourself. All the things you can control, focus on those and let go of the things that you can’t. There are others, a power, whatever, or other people that know better, and have your best interests at heart, we hope. 

Lizzie: Yes, absolutely. And also, there’s a lot of people around. We’ve all got different skills, we can all help each other. If I know something that someone else doesn’t, I’m happy to help, or if they know something that might help me, you know, we all have got different skill sets. Not everybody can do everything. And that’s exactly what you were saying we can’t do everything, we’re human beings, we can just do our best. So, it’s asking for help when you need it as well. There are people around you can say, I’m not sure about this, would you mind just explaining it to me? Or looking online and finding a course. There are ways to help ourselves in areas where we don’t know things. We can’t be expected to know everything. Like you say, that’s life, it’s nature, it’s the world. We can just do what we can do, but we can also sometimes think we have to do everything on our own. I think that was what I was going through I was just like, I’ve got to solve this. It’s my child, her health. Obviously, we needed to do everything we could, and we tried every everything we could. Now she’s doing really, really well – as best as she can and that’s just incredible. So, I think sometimes, like at that time, I could have said to people I’m having a really hard time can someone help me? Come in to my home or whatever and help me but I didn’t. I did it on my own. I was like, I have to do it myself. I have to show that I’m coping. I’m being you know, smiley self. You go out and smile and you come home and you’re crying or whatever.

It’s the same with work with writing. Sometimes we think we have to do everything ourselves. We can’t ask for help, that would make us look weak, or that we can’t do something. And that’s not true. I think, kindness is a real strength in people. And sometimes, if we don’t know how to do something, then ask somebody that can.

Deborah: There’s a wonderful writing community on social media, if can’t meet people in person, as you said earlier. You have Twitter, a regular tweet-chat, and as do I. I’ve found the connections I’ve made with people through that, really meaningful.

Lizzie:  Oh, it’s totally amazing. But again, it’s about making your community of like-minded people. And you know, they’re so supportive, the writing community are brilliant, the creative community, and readers. Readers are absolutely brilliant. And the book bloggers are incredible. They give up so much of their time to support writers, you know, so there’s a lot of support. We’re really isolated as writers sometimes. And actually, we don’t need to be because readers, they love books. There’s so many, they love all the aspects of writing, and they’re so supportive and give up their time to support authors and just chat to them. You know, they’re really lovely, lovely people. 

Deborah: It is. it’s a wonderful community. And your Lizzie’s Book Club is a great Facebook group. That’s always fun. It always makes me smile. It’s my feel good. It’s where I’ll go with my cup of coffee to brighten my day.

Lizzie: That’s made my day. Thank you know. It’s just, again, it’s just lovely to chat to people that love books and love writing. And readers, they’re really supportive of all the writers, the writers are supportive of the readers. And also, just to have a bit of fun, you know, so it’s nothing too serious. 

It’s all about just enjoying ourselves. Enjoying what we’re doing. Because we put a lot of effort into this. It’s our world, really. It’s everything. We think about it all the time. When you’re writing, you’ve always got characters in your head, and things like that. So, it’s lovely to chat to other people that understand the kind of book obsession, because I can just see a book and I’m drawn. If there’s one in the window, I’m drawn to it. If there’s coffee, it’s even better because I can get lost for hours. The same with my parents. I could lose them for hours in a bookshop. Can’t let them near it, because they’re gone for days. A book is such a special thing. 

Deborah: Yes. As well as writing your wonderful novels (I shall give links in the show notes to find your author page, and links to your books), you’ve also written a book, which I found invaluable Networking for Authors, which shares a lot of your expertise around how to use networks. There’s so many ways networks can benefit you.

Lizzie: Yes. It’s finding people that have got a commonality, but they might not be doing what you’re doing at all. Like, I met a guy outside a hotel who was painting the hotel and he came in and introduced himself. I said, I was doing a book event. He said, his daughter loved books, and we swapped cards. You just never know, when you meet someone. I even met someone waiting in line for a changing room and started talking about things that were nothing to do with books, but it ended up in a quite a big deal for me; I started doing lots of seminars, and sending loads of paperbacks across, and things like that. So, you just don’t know who you’re going to meet. It’s just about being having business cards with you at all times. It’s such a simple thing to get the book covers on the front: website, contact numbers. Just hand them out. You know, when you’re going to coffee shops. I went to a coffee shop with my friend the other day, and we’re doing our TicTocs. And I said to the coffee owner, Do you put out business cards? and she went Oh, yes. And she literally put them in her card holder by the till. It’s just little things like that. It’s getting your name known, it’s getting the word out. And it’s just talking to people really. Just talking to people, not necessarily about I’m an author, I write books, just about books in general,

or anything in general that’s to do with creativity. It’s surprising how many times that comes back to talking about people’s work and what people are interested in. It’s really lovely to chat to people about their day and what they’re doing. It’s fascinating. I think as writers we’re just fascinated with people full stop.

But it is, networking is such a wonderful way to grow your network – meet new people, find opportunities, and also to get your work out there. I was completely unknown as a writer, when I published my first book. I didn’t know about writing. I got into a few writing groups, found mentors. And then my book went into the bestsellers list and that’s my first book and that is just down to networking. It must be from my history of being in business competitions and, running retail and wholesale shops. 

Deborah: It’s not just because of that. It’s because your books are brilliant. Give yourself credit. You’re doing that typical impostor syndrome thing, It’s just because.

Lizzie: I’m always thinking, Why was that? It’s really odd!

Deborah: It has been lovely chatting with you. So many gems of advice, and words of wisdom there, which I shall capture in the show notes. Thank you so much Lizzie 

Lizzie: Oh, thank you for inviting me. It’s been an absolute joy as always.

Last words from me…

I have to admit Lizzie Chantree is one of my role models. It is no coincidence that my website is similar in appearance to hers. Her warm, inclusive approach to marketing her books by networking and being kind resonates with me and it obviously works. Her books are uplifting – great for a summer read. I am on holiday in Norfolk now, as this episode goes live. I have two of Lizzie’s books on my Kindle and intend to do a lot of reading.

I hope that you are enjoying the summer. Please get in touch to share your news. It is by talking to each other, extending our networks, and being interested in one another that great things happen. 

So, until next time… look after your beautiful self and trust the journey.

You can find all episodes of The Mindful Writer podcast here: https://themindfulwriter.buzzsprout.com

Don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss any episodes.

How to keep grounded and be courageous with poet Ingrid Wilson

In this 4th episode of The Mindful Writer, poet Ingrid Wilson reads a few of my favourite poems from her collection, and talks to me about becoming forty. Before I introduce Ingrid, let me update you on my writing journey.

 We are enjoying a spell of warm weather in the UK at the time of writing this. Do you find it difficult to keep up a writing routine when the outdoor beckons? Although it’s many years since I lived by the academic year, I always find the need to have a break in August. Slowing down in the summer months feels right to me. I believe that being part of nature we should listen to our natural rhythm and accept the ebbs and flows of creativity. I have been enjoying what Julia Cameron, in her book, The Artists’ Way, describes as filling my creative well. An outing to The Royal Hospital on the day of The Chelsea Flower Show has filled my cup with story ideas. A Chelsea Pensioner, who I met last October when I was sleeping on the street for one night to raise funds and awareness for homelessness, invited me to visit him at The Royal Hospital for a private tour. The  day following that inspiring visit, I wrote the synopsis for two novels. 

            

Left: Chelsea Pensioner Alan Rutter shares the pavement with me when we bed down for the night in October. Right: The Royal Hospital admiring a mural of pensioner’s portraits. A few of these faces will influence characters in a future novel.

So, enjoy the summer. Experience new things, and fill your head with ideas. I would love to hear what you are up to: how you are spending this summer, and how you self-care to enjoy the rewards of each season. Now, to the interview.

Ingrid Wilson is author of the poetry collection 40 Poems at 40 At the time of this episode going live Ingrid has been busy preparing Wounds I healed: The Poetry of Strong Women for publication day on 18th June 2022 with the editorial expertise of Amazon #1 bestselling poet Gabriela Marie Milton.

In this week’s episode Ingrid explains:

  • How she keeps grounded when experiencing uncertainty and change
  • How she found the courage to pursue her dream of being a fulltime writer
  • How she is using her unique combination of talent, skills, and experience to make a difference in this world.

Ingrid Willson

You can listen to the podcast here:

Episode Four How to feel grounded with poet Ingrid Wilson

or, read the transcript below.

Deborah: Welcome Ingrid. I’m really excited to be interviewing you for the mindful writer because I have followed your blog. And I know you followed mine. We’ve had some really interesting chats online over the last couple of years, and I know you’re a like-minded soul. You’re very aware of your spiritual and personal growth journey.

 I’m going to introduce Ingrid by giving a quote from a review of her recently published poetry collection, 40 poems at 40, which is exactly what it says. It’s 40 poems that you wrote to commemorate your 40th birthday. This review came from Gabriella, Maria Milton, and this is what she said.  ‘40 poems at 40 is the manifesto of an extremely intelligent and talented woman unafraid to explore her past and her inner world.’

And she went on to say, ‘A woman who knows how to ask questions about the real meaning of life. A woman who does not mince words and does not submit to stereotypes’. I think that’s wonderful review. And what wonderful things to be said about you. I absolutely agree with her. So, I’m really excited to welcome you Ingrid.

Let’s start by asking you, what inspired you to publish a collection of poems to commemorate your 40th birthday?

Ingrid: I’m going to read a short part from the introduction to the book because it explains it quite well. In the introduction to 40 poems at 40 I’ve written: I’m publishing these short and highly personal poetry collection on the occasion of my 40th birthday as I feel in some way that this milestone marks a watershed between the faltering and unsure steps of youth through the years of self-doubt, and even at times, self-loathing into a period of self-acceptance and quiet competence. A period of reflection, serenity, and gratitude, balanced as ever with hard work.

Deborah: Amazing. Forty seems a long while ago to me that I’m now 62, but I do remember it felt like a watershed for me. It is a time when you have had lots of experience and you’re looking forward. So, can you tell us a little bit about some of the major things in your life that have happened that have brought you to forty?

Ingrid: Oh, well, there’s been a lot. I mean I experienced bereavement early on because I lost my mom when I was eight. So, that will have played a big part – well it’s had a huge impact on my life, and my development. Not all of it negative. I mean, I’ve grown and learned a lot through my experience of processing grief.

Then, I moved around a lot as I think you mentioned. I’ve lived in lots of different parts of the UK. I’ve lived in Manchester, Newcastle, London for a long time. And then, with my family, I moved abroad. We lived in Barcelona. We lived in Malacca. We lived in Slovenia and now I’m back in my hometown, back in the UK, in the north of England. So, that has really shaped this journey:  the travel, the emotional experiences. And I have two beautiful children as well, which of course has shaped my experience and brought me to where I am now. I’ve tried to get all of this into the book in one way or another. 

Deborah: So, adjusting to live in different countries. I mean, that’s, you have to be quite courageous to have that kind of upheaval. How did you find the adjusting? How were you with language and culture and integrating into communities?

Ingrid: I found it very interesting. It was certainly challenging. When I arrived in Spain, I didn’t speak very much Spanish at all, but I had to learn fast because I put my son into school and the Spanish school. Then I became pregnant with my second son and I was having to talk to doctors in Spanish. So, I just threw myself into that and really focused and spent a lot of time practicing with Apps and practicing speaking. That helped me to integrate up to a point, but I still did feel like a foreigner for a long time until I started to work. When I went to work in Spain, I got a lot better at the language and I felt more that I was integrated. Slovenia it was totally different. I could already speak Slovenian coming to live there, I felt a really huge culture shock more so than when I went to Spain. Perhaps because of the pandemic and the circumstances in which we moved, but I found it harder to adapt to life there overall, lots of challenges. But I had to keep grounded, you know, keep doing my yoga, spiritual affirmations. And of course, the writing. That always helps keep me grounded. 

Deborah: Let’s go on to talk about being grounded because you take a lot of inspiration from nature in your poetry, which is one of the things I love about your poetry. And I know the environment’s very important to you. You recently hosted a community assembly on the climate and ecological crisis. So, does nature help you to feel grounded too?

Ingrid: Definitely nature. Being out in nature is very therapeutic to me. If I’m going through a difficult time personally, or if outside world events are getting me down, I head out to the countryside. I’ve got the Lake District on my doorstep now, which is a place I really love. And I like to go to the quiet places where there aren’t a lot of tourists around and just listen to the sounds of nature and take in the sights and smells.

I feel like I gain a wisdom from nature, a kind of unspoken wisdom that is not present in every day – in the rat race. You know, when you go into the shops?  It leaves me quite cold and so just to feel whole again, heading out into nature really helps with that. Also, the seaside. I’ve lived by the sea several times in my life I’m lucky to say. That inspires me too. It does feature a lot in my poetry. 

Deborah: Absolutely. I feel exactly the same and I don’t know about you, but I would choose where I live by making sure I have those things around me. For me. It’s the sea. I can be walking by the sea within five minutes from leaving home. I can walk to the sea. I couldn’t imagine not living near the sea. I think I’d be claustrophobic if I was too far inland. I like to look out over the edge and breathe the fresh air.

 But not everybody who’s listening will have the countryside or sea around them. But even if you can find some open, or green space will make a difference.

Ingrid: I’ve lived in London, you know, right in the middle of the city and just to go to the park or to the river will have a similar effect for me. Nature’s always bursting through wherever you are. It always finds a way through however much concrete we put down, or buildings we put up. It’s always there. We just need to know how to find it. 

Deborah: Absolutely. I find it always just fills me with awe and makes you feel that you are connected, and part of something much greater and bigger. To be grounded is really to feel connected with your body and the earth, isn’t it? Sometimes we can get so caught up in what I call the thought goblins, all the noise that goes on in our head, and that’s when we start to feel ungrounded. We need to take time to bring ourselves back into our body, the earth, and feel connected so that we ‘ve got a clear and calm mind. And I think it’s particularly difficult at this time. We’ve got so many pressures going on in the world haven’t we? First of all, we had the pandemic, and then the things going on in Ukraine and across the world. It’s such an unsettling time for us all. I think  it’s really important people know how to feel grounded. 

There’s nature. There’s meditation. You and I both are strong advocates for the benefits of meditation, aren’t we? Do you try to do a daily practice? 

Ingrid:  I do. I’ve been not been keeping it as regularly as I should, and I can feel when it, when I’ve missed out too much. I was in the habit during the pandemic of spending at least 20 minutes a day. Now life’s gone a bit more back to normal, things are more hectic. I can find myself missing out on the practice, but it’s always beneficial. You’re not actually losing time. The thing I need to remember is if you take 20 minutes out of your schedule to meditate, you’re probably gaining more than you lose in terms of time, because you’ll be able to deal with all of the chaos more easily. So I do try to keep up the practice. 

Deborah: Absolutely. It’s like putting some petrol in your engine or oil (I’m not very good on technical things), but it’s filling up and recharging, so that you can cope with what life throws at you. And also, you’re more effective because you have more clarity of mind so you can see your path better. 

Ingrid: Yeah. It’s like seeing the woods for the trees. Isn’t it? 

Deborah: Absolutely. So, you have had an interesting life traveling around the globe, as you say. Have you always had a strong sense of purpose? 
 
Ingrid: It’s interesting you should ask. As a child I did. I always enjoyed writing.  Especially I could relate to poetry and I would recite it and learn it and write my own poems. And I always felt that I would do that. You know, that would be my, my life purpose, but then kind of real life, if you can call it that, got in the way. I went away to study at university and then your kind of shoe horned into ‘You’ve got to have a career now.’ And I didn’t really know what to do, or how to have a life as a writer or a poet. So, you know, I took a day job. Like most people do, you know, got bills to pay and all that kind of thing. And then I wanted to have a family and I sort of drifted away from it a bit. I didn’t stop writing altogether, but with the pressures of everyday life, it kind of went by the wayside until really the birth of my second son brought back that focus. I really felt that now I need to take this seriously, or I’ll just live out my life and do the things that everybody does, but I will not be true to myself unless I do something with writing. And that’s when I really started writing again in earnest. And then with the pandemic and I took redundancy and I started to treat my writing as my profession at that point.
 
And I’ve just been growing from that point. It is hugely satisfying. It’s got a lot of challenging challenges, but I certainly feel I’m fulfilling a purpose that I’ve always had now by doing that. 
 
Deborah: You’re giving a gift to so many others who can read your poems and get so much from it. So, I’m going to get you to pause there and ask you to read one of your poems. Can you read, Points North? I picked out a few that I particularly love, but this for me struck a chord about sense of purpose. 
 
Ingrid: Thank you. 
 

Points North

Wheels in motion and the wind 

whips around behind my ears 

at the nape of my neck 

Deborah: I love that. I think we all have, I believe, a purpose. What comes together with our unique contribution of attributes. You know, our knowledge, our networks, experience, talents, all the things that make us who we are. I always believe it’s been put there because we have a unique purpose to fulfill in our life.

I’ve had a sense of that since I was seven years old. I remember saying to my mum, I must’ve heard Bible reading or something at my school. It must have been about everyone having a purpose. And I said to her, ‘I don’t know what my purpose is. I don’t know what I’m here for.’ And my mother just sort of told me to go to sleep and not to be so silly, but it plagued me from seven years old, until I grasped what it was.

Have you always had a sense of purpose in your head, apart from writing? Maybe about the connections you make with nature and sharing that with others? Or was it just a sort of innate need to write? 

in a subtle caress

 and I know I’m being propelled 

along a river of life 

whose course and motion 

I do not pretend to understand

sometimes I like it when the waters 

speed me down towards a sea 

sunless and sighing

till the cloud breaks 

and I see 

the sky is crying 

and at sundown 

out come all the thousand stars 

and I can name the constellations 

in this hemisphere 

at any time of year 

there is always the Plough

above, or the Big Dipper 

and at its tip, Polaris 

The Pole Star 

Points North. 

And so I have my fixed 

celestial compass 

though I do not 

always understand the path

or the trajectory 

I know well my own 

portion of the sky, 

the earth below, above only the heavens 

and 

Points North.

Wilson, Ingrid. 40 Poems at 40 (pp. 35-36). Experiments in Fiction. Kindle Edition.

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Deborah: I love that. I think we all have, I believe, a purpose. What comes together with our unique contribution of attributes. You know, our knowledge, our networks, experience, talents, all the things that make us who we are. I always believe it’s been put there because we have a unique purpose to fulfill in our life.

I’ve had a sense of that since I was seven years old. I remember saying to my mum, I must’ve heard Bible reading or something at my school. It must have been about everyone having a purpose. And I said to her, ‘I don’t know what my purpose is. I don’t know what I’m here for.’ And my mother just sort of told me to go to sleep and not to be so silly, but it plagued me from seven years old, until I grasped what it was.

Have you always had a sense of purpose in your head, apart from writing? Maybe about the connections you make with nature and sharing that with others? Or was it just a sort of innate need to write? 

Coutesy of Pixabay

Ingrid: I think it was the writing first because the connection with nature, although it was always there, I didn’t realize it or appreciate it so much at that age. It’s something I’ve grown into. But the writing, that was always a burning thing in me. I kept lots of diaries when I was a teenager, you know? I would write pages and pages not to share. I just have this need to write and yeah, that’s always been with me. I went off to explore different things I would like to do. I love music and I went through wanting be a singer for a while, you know, like, like you do when you’re a teenager and acting, I wanted to be an actress. But really it was the, the writing that I would always come back to. It’s nice to have that. 

I find it interesting that in the poem, Points North; when I wrote it, I was in Slovenia, having just moved from Spain and feeling a bit dislocated. And then I ended up coming back to the north of England. So, I find it interesting that that poems kind of prescient in a way now looking back.

Deborah: Yes. When you’re going through life, because we all have these periods where we feel it as if we’re losing direction, what do you use to help you set your direction to have to have that sense of you’re on the right path?

Ingrid: The few things that we mentioned meditation. Yoga, which to me goes hand in hand with meditation. Just to help me keep my focus on my balance. The writing as well, because I try to keep that going whatever’s happening. However, chaotic my life might be at a particular point. I will keep writing the poetry and it might change a lot in subject and tone and form.

But the thing that keeps me grounded is just the act of doing it and keeping it going through whatever’s happening around, stay clear, headed and focused. I think. 

Deborah: Excellent. I say to people who perhaps are in an earlier stage of their life and have lost direction, or don’t feel they have a sense of purpose – you probably say this to your boys, I always said it to my daughter, when she was growing up: Do what you love. If you do what you love, you’ll be good at it. And if you’re good at it, you’ll succeed at it, because that is the seed that’s been sown in your heart. That seed of desire that is there for you to nurture.

Because that will give you an idea about what your purpose is. And I think, when you get  excited about something, and you get lots of energy, that’s telling you that you’re on the right path. So, when I was younger and I would have a look at a job, somebody said to me, Does it make your heart sink or sing? I would always then test out how does that make me feel? Do I think, oh no, or do I think yay? And you know, that feeling when something really excites you?  For me, I just have to go and run because I just get woosh! All this energy. And for me, that buzz of energy is – You’re on the right path. 

Ingrid: Oh, yes, I can really identify this. It was just funny when you say about looking at the jobs, because when I used to look at the job page in the paper, my heart was just constantly sinking. Whereas now, when I get up and my job is, you know, to write a poem, to work with other writers putting books together, launching creative projects, that really gives me a buzz. And it’s great advice if you feel that excitement and that buzz about what you’re doing, you’re on the right track. 

Deborah: Even if you think, ‘It’s impractical. I’m not earning money,’ or comparing yourself to others, or ‘This isn’t the route I thought I would take,’ ignore that and listen to that inner energy, because that’s your soul telling you which path you’re on. You’re on the right path.

Ingrid: You have to be quite brave to do that and ignore the pressure and what other people think. You just have to. How else, how else can you do it? You have to put yourself out there and believe in what you’re doing. Yeah.

Deborah: Absolutely. We’ve talked a little bit about nature. I didn’t hear what happened about the community assembly on the climate. I’m really interested in that. How did that go? 

Ingrid: Yes, I was awarded some funding to hold a community assembly – to get a group of people together and discuss, you know, the best ways to meet the challenges of the climate and ecological crisis.

So, what we could practically do about it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get enough people to come along to a Zoom session and discuss this because it was quite a long time. It was supposed to be held over three hours and who wants to spend three hours on these things, but to me it was very important, I’d been given a chance to add my voice. I’m always talking about, we need to do more about this crisis and I had a chance to add my voice to where it might be heard. So, I held it as a poetry prompt in the end. I write for a forum called Earthweal, where we write a lot of eco poetry and we write about the climate crisis. So, I invited people to write poems about how they would address the climate crisis and biodiversity crisis. I posed the questions that I was asked to put into the community assembly as a poetry prompt, just to see what came out of it. And I did get a good response. Then I collated it and sent it to the Global Assembly which does get fed back to some kind of global panel on climate change. Whether it makes a huge difference? I mean, it’s a drop in the ocean, but I feel it’s important to add your voice wherever you. 

Deborah: That’s amazing. I really love the way that you brought together the poetry and how you enabled people to have voice using that media.

That’s amazing. And that’s something that only you could do, that is using your unique contribution, your attributes, your skills, your experience, your network, to do something that only you could do in that way, which is amazing. And it does make a difference. 

Ingrid: Well, you have to do what you can with, with the tools you have.

Deborah: Amazing. And that brings me to another poem I’d love you to read. We started by talking about the sea. I like to go for a walk by the sea pretty much every day. It is where I do my best thinking and meditation. And this really spoke to me. So, can you read to us You and Me Sea?

Ingrid: Yes.

You and Me, Sea – A Love Song 

Ain’t it just like you and me, Sea 

when we dance together, 

I barefoot on the sand, you 

lapping at my toes? 

Ain’t it just like we’re two parts of 

the same whole: 

I was born of you, and you 

bring me to life once more? 

Ain’t it just like you and me, Sea? 

And we’ve always been together 

dancing a saline tango in the sun. 

Ain’t it just like you and me, Sea? 

When I hit stormy weather 

on your shore I’ll wind up, by the wild 

winds 

flung. 

Say, it’s just like you and me, Sea;

I can hear you calling: 

your echo fills my silent afternoon. 

And that was all I wanted to say, Sea: 

When I’m far away from you 

I feel your surge in me which swells into 

a tide to take me home.

Wilson, Ingrid. 40 Poems at 40 (p. 41). Experiments in Fiction. Kindle Edition.

Deborah: Beautiful. Love that. I’m going to give a link in the show notes for your book Poems at 40, so other people can appreciate and enjoy them as much as me, hopefully. And I’m going to get myself a paperback because I just want to have it by me so I can keep on referring to it. It’s a book you have to have as a paperback. I think. You’ve got two beautiful boys. One of them is a poet himself. Isn’t he? 

Ingrid: The older one? Eight. Yeah. They both liked writing so, I think they pick up on what I do and, and they’re inspired by it, which is great to see. I hope they keep that going. 

Deborah: Lovely. How on earth do you juggle your time, especially when you were working as well, with two boys, and keeping up your writing, and working? How did you manage that?

Ingrid: Good question. When I was working – if I was working full-time the writing went by the wayside. So, that’s why I decided to change and make writing my full-time job. So, nowadays I tend to get up very early. I’ll often get up about 5:00 AM. That’s when I have my creative ideas. It’s when the muse is with me. When I write my poetry, I love that silence when everyone else is asleep and you can just hear the birds sing. I sit and do my creative work at that point. And that gets my head in the right place for the day. And then I’ll do the school run and the things I need to do, housework, whatever.

Then I’ll come back and do the more practical side of the writing job: emails, responding to comments on blog, putting work together. The project management side I do later. But the creative work comes first. And that’s how I most often start my day. So, I love to get the day started off in that way, but there is a lot of juggling and I try to make sure I have time for the boys and we, you know, read stories together and go on adventures together at weekends and whenever we can. So, balance is really important. In a way I tend to push myself very hard, and sometimes I don’t take enough time for myself to just relax. I try to put that in as well. Otherwise, I’m in danger of burning myself out. 

Deborah: Absolutely. Yes. It’s a fine balance isn’t it between work, self-care, and giving quality time to your loved ones?

Ingrid: Yep. It can be done, but you have to keep everything in balance.

Deborah:  It sounds like me. I tick them all off in my head. I allocate time. That’s my quality time there. That’s my writing time. I schedule my time. I don’t tell anybody else, but I do.  You probably do the same thing.

Ingrid: Yes. And I’ve had to let go of the idea of things like housework ever being done. It’s just always in the process of being done. It’s like a flow. And if I can manage the flow and stay on top of that, that’s fine. Other things get done. Like a book can be finished and put out, but the laundry is never done. It’s always just been done. And I’m okay with that. Now I used to think I had to get it done, but now I just go with the flow. And that helps me to be able to do other things as well. So yeah, something has to go. You can’t do everything. You would drive yourself crazy if you tried to? 

Deborah: Absolutely. I would like you to read Poem for my children, which is another beautiful one.

Ingrid: 

Poem for My Children 

Let not my words die with me 

after all is said and done 

I dedicate these words to you, 

continue on alone. 

Let not my words die with me 

at the closing of my day: 

they’re all I ever had to give 

and now I cannot stay. 

Let not my words die with me, 

let them linger in the light 

of eventide, e’en as I fade 

into the darkling night. 

Let not my words die with me 

and I cannot be afraid 

that I am leaving you alone 

with too much left unsaid.

But let my words live with you 

let them echo down the years, 

let them resound and comfort you 

when I’m no longer near.

Wilson, Ingrid. 40 Poems at 40 (p. 24). Experiments in Fiction. Kindle Edition.

Courtesy Shanghaistoneman Pixabay

Deborah: That makes me cry. I cried when I read it and I cried when you read it out. It’s very, very good.

Ingrid: I knew I was onto something cause it made me cry when I wrote it. So yeah, it’s an emotional poem that one.

Deborah: It’s beautiful. Do you think that’s one of the reasons writers write? To leave a legacy?

Ingrid: Yes. I think the first reason writers write is because it’s in them and you just have to. For me, it’s like, I don’t really have a choice. It’s part of me and I need to do it. And then I thought, some things you just write for yourself, like a diary, or if, you know, you make a journal because something’s upset you and that’s very personal type of writing. But then I think, yeah, as writers we do also like to write for an audience and we like to have at work read. Certainly, my poems. I want to share them. I put them on the blog and sometimes I think I should hold these back so I can include them in a book. I write them to be read, and I always try to keep my readers in mind as well as me.

I’ve wanted to have a direct, emotional impact. I like word play. And I don’t really like to use lots of fancy words and sort of inaccessible language because I want to reach the reader and to have an emotional impact. And whenever I get a comment on my blog that something has touched someone, you know, has touched the heart, that means the most to me, because that’s really what I’m trying to do with my writing. 

Deborah: Well, you certainly achieve that.  You always touch me with your poetry. I just love reading it.

Ingrid: Well, thank you so much. 

Deborah: Thank you so much for joining me to talk about your journey and sharing your poems. And there will be links, as I say, in the show notes so that others can enjoy them too. 

Ingrid: Thank you for the interview. I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been an honour. 

Deborah: Thank you.

Some final words from me…

The turmoil created by uncertainty and fear makes us unsteady. We find it hard to concentrate, sleep badly, feel panicked, and anxious. I get migraines and eczema, my body’s way of telling me that there is an imbalance in my body that needs attention. This is what it means to feel ungrounded.

To be grounded is to feel connected with our body and/or the earth. It is about being fully present. To have a clear and calm mind. It is essential if we are to take care of ourselves and our future. When we have a clear mind, we are more receptive to ideas and opportunities. We are better able to plan and to take control of the things we can influence. 

There are practical things that we can do to feel more grounded.

  • Go for a walk where we can get close to nature
  • Try mindfulness meditation. If this is new to you the HeadSpace app is a good place to start. There is a 7 day free trial at www.headspace.com
  • Exercise. Something that focuses us on our body and stops our mind from wandering. For me this is yoga. There are yoga classes for being grounded on YouTube. Try Yoga with Adrienne. If you don’t enjoy yoga then dancing, Pilates, running, swimming – anything that helps us switch off our thoughts and connect with our body.
  • Relaxation – using a guided visualisation or listening to calming music. I try to focus inward and ask myself what I want and need. Then honour myself with kindness. If I need more sleep, then I try to get an early night. What can we do to reduce the pressure on ourselves?

When I feel fatigued and overwhelmed, I try thinking about it this way: The experience is making me stronger and more resilient. As we learn how to still our mind and draw on our inner resources we are growing as a person. We are becoming a warrior and will be better equipped to face future challenges. 

A mind in turmoil is of little use but a calm mind will help us to spot new opportunities and solutions to problems. Control the things that we can by focusing on what needs to be done, and let go of the things we have no control over. 

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

You can find all episodes of The Mindful Writer Podcast to play on your chosen podcast here: https://themindfulwriter.buzzsprout.com

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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 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.

Five Life Lessons from Running

I have enjoyed regular runs for nearly thirty years. What I take from each run is different every time and has changed over the years. Now, in my (early!) sixties I have a regular run 4k across the beach to the pier and back. Not far enough to tire me but perfect for clearing my head and stimulating creativity. When I started out running it was about protecting my time and making a commitment to run, then pushing myself to run further. This is what running has taught me.

Finding time

When I was in my early thirties, I was the mother of an under five, worked full-time in a high-powered job, and was studying part-time for a master’s degree. To eke out even thirty minutes for a run felt impossible. I was unfit and couldn’t run for a bus without gasping for breath. I lived in the countryside then and set myself a challenge of walking and running for a mile or so across fields and lanes. I enjoyed the fresh air, and time to myself but it was exhausting and it would have been easy to find excuses not to run. I committed to run twice a week and with great effort and determination managed to do so at least once a week, most weeks. This was an important lesson for me. If something is worth doing, if you want to reap the rewards, then you have to find the time. 

I have applied this lesson to writing, meditation, and yoga. Find the time. Show up no matter what. It is not always fun. Sometimes you have to make yourself, but it is always worth it and over time you will see big changes.

Pxabay

Setting achievable goals

The furthest I have run is a half-marathon 13 miles or 21 k. When I set that goal, I was running 7 or 8 miles regularly but that was a stretch. When I was training and felt I couldn’t run any further I told myself, just run to the next lamppost and then you can rest/walk. When I reached the lamppost, I always felt I could just about run to the next one. Little by little I completed the run – just one lamppost at a time.

How often are we dissuaded from having a go because we are overwhelmed by the size of the challenge? I would never have believed I could write a novel – 90k words is huge when the most you have written is a 5k assignment. That was how my first novel started. A creative writing tutor asked us to write a 5k story and to share instalments over four classes. That 5k story became the outline for my first novel. Every task can be broken down. Just focus on one short-term goal, then the next. One lamppost at a time. 

Resilience and determination

Keep going, when the going gets tough. A steep hill, or running against a strong wind, can really challenge a runner’s resilience. I often run towards the pier with the wind behind me but when I turn around and feel its force it’s a struggle to run back. My younger brother taught me a chant which I say in my head, ‘the wind is my friend it makes me strong.’ It works. I repeat this and gradually I believe it. And it is true, trials and tribulations strengthen our character and make us more resilient. 

I take this feeling of determination and resilience to my life as a writer. Creatives experience many knockbacks and rejections. When writers express disappointment after receiving a rejection on social media I remind them that a successful author receives on average 200 rejections. Every rejection is one step closer to success. We have to learn from adversity, use it to grow stronger. The wind is your friend.

Brigitte Pixabay

Nurture yourself

Although I have been running for many years, there were three years when I didn’t run at all. I was in my fifties and although I could easily run 5k or more, my hips hurt when I bent down to remove my trainers. The morning after a run I had discomfort in my hips and knees. Around this time, I sustained an injury (not from running) that resulted in a frozen shoulder. I visited a Chinese doctor, for a consultation on freeing my shoulder, and mentioned my stiff and aching hips. When I explained that they hurt after a run he laughed and said, ‘You are too old to run.’

I took this to heart. I bought a bike and thought my running days were behind me. A few years later, a fitness instructor told me that the reason I got pain in my joints after a run was because I didn’t warm up properly or cooldown by stretching fully. I took her advice and now I prepare for every run with ten minutes of yoga, and my mat is waiting for me on my return for a ten-minute cool down. I never experience any pain in my joints.

The lessons I took from this are:

You are never too old to do the things that you enjoy. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Listen to your body. You know better than anyone how your body, and mind work. Tune in to what is going on and then fix it. This means giving yourself time. Being compassionate. Don’t push on ignoring your body. 

Three weeks ago, I went for my usual Sunday run, despite having had my second jab the day before. I thought I felt fine and set off at a pace. The truth was, I hadn’t taken time to truly tune in and listen to my body. I had almost completed my run when I felt a little light-headed. A few seconds later, I had an almighty fall on a rail crossing. My injuries have healed but it has knocked my confidence. I’ll get back out there this week but will be more mindful in the future.

Pixabay

Stilling the mind.

Every Sunday morning, I go for a run by the sea, and by the time I get home I know exactly what to write in my blog. I have come to have absolute faith in this process and do not fret in the days before my Sunday deadline. I run and then I write. 

Running is a bit like meditation. The steady rhythm of placing one foot in front of the other, attention to breathing, and the flow of energy, induce a calm state of mind. It takes me five minutes to reach the sea, and then I am pounding across the sand as I head for the pier. Ten minutes into my run, the chatter in my head reviewing what has gone before and what is to come quietens. The hush of gently lapping waves, seagull cries, the salty scent of seaweed, and the glitter of light on water fill my senses. My mind is open and ready to receive. It has been said that prayer is talking to God and meditation listening. You just have to still your mind and the answers come to you.

Meditation does not have to be sitting in silence. A walk in the woods can be meditative. Focusing on nature, filling our lungs with fresh air, ground us and calm the mind. If you are not a runner and find it hard to meditate, try walking in nature. 

Live your life mindfully, as every activity brings new learning and awareness. 

Why we need holidays to see things differently

I have just returned from a relaxing break in a woodland lodge. Surrounded by trees, rhododendrons, and wildlife it was easy to switch off. I found myself gazing into space, my mind completely free of thought. A state which normally takes concentrated meditation now felt like a default setting. To be still with no thought can seem counter-productive. No divine inspiration, thunderbolt realisations – not even a new story idea. We drive ourselves in pursuit of achievement, ever faster and more intense, willing our dreams to materialise – believing we have control. Allowing stillness feels counterintuitive – lazy. We are brought up with the belief that hard work brings rewards and success. This is true to a certain extent but it is also important to know when and how to relax and give our minds a break.

With the pandemic, few people have taken a proper holiday and it is something we all need given the stresses of this past year. Escaping to a different setting from our home and familiar environment provides a temporary respite from our worries. We can step off the hamster wheel and take a breath. 

Peter Pyw Pixabay

Confined to our homes and the same four walls, books have provided an escape for many. Romcoms set in Italy, Greece, and other exotic locations, have been popular with many new publications this year. Last week, I interviewed author Lizzie Chantree for Castaway Books. Lizzie was a successful entrepreneur when her daughter experienced a life-changing illness she had to close her business. Sitting up most nights, she passed the time by writing. The story she wrote enabled her to escape to sunshine, romance, and friendship. This eventually become her debut novel Babe Driven and was the launch of a very successful career as an author. Her readers must have enjoyed the same feelings of escape that Lizzie did in writing this novel.

I am told by fans of fantasy, that the attraction is in escaping from this world. A writer friend explained how she could only write fantasy. To write stories set in the real world would be difficult for her, as it was a place where she had experienced childhood trauma and writing was a means of escape – a place to explore her thoughts and feelings in a different setting.

Whether it is a holiday or a novel that provides a means of escape, when we relax and shift our perspective, we gain new insights on our inner world. Our mind is relaxed and open to inspiration. We return to our daily life and see things a little differently.

It is a bit like being a sculptor. Up close we cannot see what we are creating, we have to stand back and view our work from different angles. 

There are other benefits from taking a holiday. My husband and I, like most families, have seen few other people and spent more time in each other’s company that we would in normal times. However, going away together for a few days meant that we spent quality time together. No phones, or social media – there was no signal in our woodland escape so that made it easier. Relaxed and carefree we were kinder, more considerate to one another, and more attentive.

I did have one epiphany during my four-day break. In the scheme of things our little world is a spec in the universe, and our civilisation has been here for a fraction of time. It made me wonder at my significance and the importance of my dreams and wishes. And then I thought about the magnificent feats of nature: sunrise and sunsets, the magnolia in my garden that flowers for a few weeks of the year but is glorious, so many breath-taking creations – each and every one precious. We are equally special, and when our dreams come to fruition we too will blaze in splendid glory. To let go is not to give in or give up, it is to trust the power of creation and to be secure in the knowledge that our life will flow in the magnificent way that is intended.

So, I too returned from my break with a slightly different perspective on my world. 

5 ways to stop procrastination and get the job done.

The activities that we start with enthusiasm, committing to a schedule, can sometimes feel like a chore. The must-do that looms over our day or week. It may be going for a run, writing a blog, or weeding a flower bed. Resisting, finding excuses, and then feeling guilty, can sap our energy. The reality is, this procrastination and angst uses more energy than the activity itself.

As a full-time writer, a wonderful job – I know, I have three weekly commitments: this weekly blog, recording, editing and broadcasting Castaway Books, and hosting a weekly tweet-chat Friday Salon. Each of these activities brings me joy. They connect me to other inspiring creatives, and introduce me to potential readers. Despite all of these positives, showing up every week, no matter how I am feeling or what’s going on in my life, is sometimes a challenge. It would be easy to say not this week – to let myself off with excuses. But once we break a habit it is hard to get back into the groove.

This is what I do when I am struggling to find the motivation.

Engin Akyurt – Pixabay
  1. Set myself an easier task

I tell myself I will just do a little. Instead of running 5k to the pier and back, I will run down to the beach and then turn off and run back. A twenty-minute run is less daunting than forty. So, I set off feeling better that I am. At least making an effort. Every single time I have tried this I ended up running the full 5k and loved every minute. It is the same with my blog. I may start out telling myself that this week it will be a shorter one, just a few paragraphs and I end up becoming completely absorbed writing a full length one.

2. Remind myself that nobody is making me do this

Maybe your situation is different and you have a boss making demands. I am my own boss but nobody could be tougher on me than I am. When I managed people, I am sure I was much kinder to them than I am to myself. 

When I let go of the belief, I’ve got to do this I feel a weight lift. It’s not easy to let go because the voice in my head argues – you do have to do this or you’ll undo all that you’ve achieved. I answer back, What’s the worst thing that can happen? My mind eventually calms. Maybe I’ll go for a walk, or read a book. That’s when my perception changes. I don’t have to do the task. In fact, I have given myself permission not to, and now I want to. It’s like the trick parents do with a child who doesn’t want to walk with them. ‘Okay, I’ll go without you. I’ll leave you here.’ When I see the activity walking away, I chase after it!

Christel Sagniez – Pixabay

3. Keep focused on the present

It is looking ahead at our day or week that can fill us with dread. When I worked full-time as a management consultant, I sometimes felt giddy when I reviewed my coming week with all of the meetings, presentations and deadlines. We have to plan ahead so that we can manage our time effectively but once the task is in our diary, and any preparation scheduled, then all we can do is the immediate task. In fact, by being fully present, focusing on the task in hand we are at your most effective. 

When I apply this to my day, I don’t think about what is to come. The task has been scheduled in my diary and so I do not waste any time or energy worrying about it. Instead, I immerse myself in the now – walking by the sea, enjoying a meal with my family, or reading.  When it is time to complete the task, I am rested and give it all of my attention. It is surprising how effortless the task now feels.

4. Positive reinforcement

I look at what I have achieved by showing up each day or week. The distance I can now run without too much effort, a beautiful garden, the wonderful people I have met through my blog etc. It may take time and effort but we reap the rewards. Reminding ourselves of what we have achieved can sometimes cheer us on. Be your own cheerleader.

Pexels – Pixabay

5. Do it differently

Today, I wrote this blog on my laptop sitting in front of the TV with my husband, instead of sitting in my office using my desktop. I had my jab yesterday and it would have been easy to give myself permission to have a restful day. Instead, I tricked myself. I’ll just make a few notes while I sit here. Before I knew it, I had written a blog. 

Change your running route, or routine. Play music whilst you do your accounts. Listen to an audio book whist you do your housework. Use novelty to distract yourself from what feels like a chore. I hate housework but with my Bluetooth headphones and an audiobook, or a podcast I don’t want to stop cleaning.

I hope that my tips help you to face those must-dos with renewed energy and enthusiasm. What have you found helps to motivate you and stop procrastination?

My D.I.Y. Spa Day

Last year I posted a blog, on how to  Restore and renew your creative spirit. In this blog, I talked about the importance of self-care to prevent burnout and suggested several ways to achieve this including a Spa day at home – given the restrictions of lockdown. 

The right time

This weekend the opportunity for me to enjoy a D.I.Y. spa day presented itself at the perfect time. The perfect time because I was at a low ebb:

  • A recent bereavement
  • A heavy workload
  • Recovering from a migraine and vertigo.

My thoughtful daughter sent me a package of destress goodies for Mother’s Day because she knew that arranging my father’s funeral and other associated matters was taking its toll. This wonderful gift included: Soft fluffy socks, destress bath oil, scented candles, a moisturising face mask, a bottle of Prosecco, and some luxury chocolates. The chocolates did not last long and the Prosecco is waiting until we can invite guests back into our home, but the other goodies were perfect for my spa day.

My yoga teacher was offering a two-hour restorative yoga session live on Zoom Spring Radiance Retreat on Saturday 10th April – so that had to be the day of my D.I.Y. Spa.

An honest account of the day 

I dedicated the whole of my day to self-care and relaxation. It was exactly what I needed. This was yesterday and I am still in the zone. So, in the spirit of continuing to be kind to me, I am writing this week’s blog on my experience, rather than attempting to create something new. This will be an honest account, complete with unflattering photographs. 

The night before, I had a dream about my spa day – I was that excited! In my dream, a couple of dear friends and my daughter turned up to share the day with me and although I was pleased to see them, I was a little disappointed that I did not have the day entirely to myself. 

The morning

7.30 am – I sat at the computer in my nightclothes with a cup of tea and wrote for a couple of hours. Always a great start to the day.

9.30 am – My husband got out of bed – my signal to stop writing and join him for breakfast. We prepared smoked salmon with scrambled eggs and I made a cappuccino. We often enjoy a special breakfast at the weekend. I knew that it would keep me going until late afternoon and I would have time to digest it before restorative yoga at 3 pm.

11.00 am – I went for a walk by the sea, as it is walking distance from my door. Tempting as it is to share a photo of the beach as it was this morning, tide out – an expanse of sand and bright sunshine, it would not be an accurate record. That morning the sky was overcast, there was a bitter wind, and the tide was in. I walked along the Greensward rather than risk coming into close contact with other walkers on the promenade and cut my walk short.

Preparation

Back home. I gathered together all of the things that I might need for my spa day. I felt as though I was a child again setting up an imaginary game. We are fortunate that we have two reception rooms and so I have taken over the front room for yoga, meditation, and Zoom. This is what I thought I might need:

  • A couple of rolled-up towels and fleeces to use as bolsters in yoga
  • Aromatic oils to roll onto my skin
  • Scented candles
  • Eye mask
  • Yoga blocks
  • Cleanser and moisturiser to prepare for head and face massage
  • Moisturising face mask
  • Nail manicure and polish things
  • Laptop – for Zoom classes
  • Kindle 
  • Journal and pen

I used everything except the nail manicure and polish things. In addition, I set up scented candles around the bath, bath destress oil, and matches to light candles.

That all took some time to gather together. I gave strict instructions to MOH not to disturb me and that if anyone phoned, I was not available. I found some Spa music on YouTube and used my phone to play it through the TV.

After a mug of camomile tea – not my usual choice but I thought it would be more calming than a caffeinated drink, I was ready to go.

The afternoon

1.00 pm – Head and face massage. 

I had a recording of a class on yoga facial acupuncture led by my yoga teacher Jocelyne Leach. You can join her virtual classes and sign up for the next virtual restorative yoga retreat here: https://www.facebook.com/corevitalityyoga

However, there are free facial acupuncture demonstrations on YouTube. I found this one:

The head and face massage took an hour and was incredible. I had experienced it once before and remembered that it made me very relaxed and sleepy. It was a great way to start the spa part of my day and did wonders for the last traces of a migraine.

2.00 pm – My daughter had sent me a moisturising face mask by Simple as I have dry and sensitive skin. I had not used this before and didn’t know what to expect. It was a folded, heavily moisturised mask in a sachet. I unfolded it as instructed and placed it over my face. Set my phone for a 15 min alarm and then I lay back and relaxed. The spa music was playing through the TV and by then I truly felt as though I was at a spa.

2.15 pm – Originally, I had planned to have a relaxing bath before restorative yoga but I was so relaxed I didn’t want to rush around. Instead, I reclined my seat and relaxed with a book. I am reading Jo Thomas My lemon Grove Summer perfect escapism.

2.50 pm – I prepared for the restorative yoga class which started at 3 pm. Jocelyne’s Spring Radiance Retreat was excellent. It didn’t finish until 5.15 pm but I have no idea where the two hours went. All of that time was spent in relaxing poses, just being. Unless you experience this yourself, it is hard to imagine just how uplifting and restorative it can be. I had a journal with me but was too relaxed to record anything. I recommend Jocelyne’s restorative yoga classes and retreats but you can also find some shorter classes on YouTube and add a Yoga Nidra class.

The evening

5.30 pm – I was starving. I had intended to prepare a healthy salad but with my bones turned to jelly and not having the inclination to stand I just grabbed some carbohydrates – a sandwich and a bar of chocolate. Next time I will prepare a meal in advance that I just have to microwave. MOH had fended for himself so I didn’t have to concern myself with preparing a family meal. 

6.15 pm – I ran a bath, poured in the destress oil, and lit candles. I don’t know how long I lay there but by the time I got out, dried, and put on my snuggly pyjamas I was totally relaxed.

My evening finished with a Romcom – Notting Hill.

In Summary

Anyone can create a D.I.Y. Spa day. What you include will be personal to you. Make sure you protect your time and space by:

  • Turning off phones and removing batteries from the doorbell, and/or asking others in your home not to disturb you.
  • Avoid all social media – however tempting it is to share a record of what you are doing. 
  • Wear cosy, comfy clothes that do not restrict.
  • Make the space relaxing with candles, music, lighting.

It was the next day – this morning when I went for a run by the sea that I realised some of the benefits. Before my spa day, I was feeling anxious about work and overstretched. Running by the sea I had absolute clarity about my work, ideas for new projects, inspiration for my creative writing, and a feeling of peace and tranquillity.

I won’t wait so long before booking my next D.I.Y. stay-at-home spa day. 

And as promised a very unflattering image. I may use it for this year’s Halloween card.

Scary!

How Creativity Can Change Your Life

I believe the pandemic has triggered a resurgence in creativity. When the constraints of our lives loosened and we no longer had to adhere to a busy schedule, we found space. Initially, a space where we faced fear, anxiety and confusion. Our worlds tilted and nothing made any sense. Livelihoods were threatened and we were filled with the necessity of finding a different way to be.

Creativity is not just about the arts, an ability to draw, paint, or write. It is about viewing the world from different perspectives, finding hidden connections and meaning, solving problems, and turning our ideas into reality. We are all creative. We are creation.

In these challenging times we need our creativity more than ever. The pandemic has forced us to find new ways to do things and, in some cases, to make a living. 

In the past year we have seen choirs and orchestras come together to perform using the internet, extraordinary fundraising activities such as Captain Tom’s sponsored walk, global meditation initiatives, and innovative approaches within communities, and families, to support one another and carry on. This is creativity at work.

Creativity connects us to one another in a meaningful way. It may be an idea that inspires others, or a collective energy as we come together with a common goal.

I have watched as people around me find time to pursue creative hobbies: writing, painting, craft work, sewing. When we become absorbed in a creative activity we relax and the constant chatter in our head is silenced. This stillness is like meditation. It is calming and improves our well-being. 

When it feels as though the world does not make any sense, we can connect on a deeper level through our art. In the past year I have engaged for the first time in social media. In the past I was reluctant to use Twitter or Facebook but I have been amazed by the kind, generous, and loving spirits I have encountered. A photograph of a sunset. An inspirational quote. Words of encouragement to a stranger. The message to a person who is afraid and suffering that they are not alone. A few words. An image. Sometimes, I imagine these beautiful souls like glittering diamonds connected in a magnificent web of light encircling our globe.

Pezibear Pixabay

On Sunday morning we changed to British Summer Time in the UK and our clocks went forward. It is interesting that this year my husband and I both woke up an hour earlier in the days before the clocks changed. I wonder whether we have become more in tune with nature in the stillness created by this quieter way of life? It is almost as if the global pandemic has given us a reset. 

It is a year since the first lockdown and we have all changed. It has taken me a while to adjust to a different rhythm. To stop railing against what I saw as restrictions and to welcome this time of solitude and reflection. To be still and listen to what is in our heart can be scary. It can expose difficult emotions, and memories. With self-love and compassion, we might be able to acknowledge these and find some peace. I remember a difficult time in my life some years ago. I had been looking forward to taking the whole of August off from work. I had such plans for relaxation and fun activities. It was one of the worst months of my life because when I stopped being busy thoughts and feelings surfaced that I had repressed for many months since the death of my mother. However, that month away from work was exactly what I needed to do the inner work and to put right the things in my life that needed to be addressed. 

Across the world we have experienced this time of change and reflection together. There have and will continue to be hardships. We have lost loved ones and a way of life that we treasured. But I believe we have found something else, our creativity, compassion, and resilience. If the world has had a reset, let’s start afresh and use what we have learned to create a better life.

Making the most of your time

With the year drawing to a close and a new year about to begin, it is often a time of reflection. Of course, 2020 was a year like no other as we experienced a pandemic and our daily lives were much changed. We all got through the year the best that we could. Routines changed. Some activities received more attention and others less.

If you were to draw a pie chart of how you typically spend your time each day, what would it look like? 

I worked on a fourteen-hour day over seven days. The biggest chunk of time is the brown section – quality time spent with my partner (MOH). As I retired from my day job to spend more time with my husband who is twelve years older than me, this is good. Writing novels, marketing my work, and reading are also well represented. My passion is creative writing and so investing time in writing and reading is important to me. However, this honest estimate of how I spend my time does raise some concerns for me. If I had carried out a similar exercise before the pandemic it would have looked very different. There would have been a sizeable chunk of time spent with my father who has Alzheimer’s disease and lives in a nearby care home. Sadly, I am now only permitted to visit him for twenty minutes a week. I have committed myself to write and publish my books this year, but I wonder at what expense of other activities. I value my friends and yet I spend very little time with them. This is partly due to the need for social isolation, but living by the sea there is no reason why I could not have made time to take walks with friends.

Then, there is that other chunk of time mysteriously labelled ‘other leisure’. The time lost in browsing social media or watching TV. I have a cupboard full of crafting projects awaiting my attention but have neglected all interests except for writing.

Cooking is food preparation and baking but also includes housework. I am fortunate that my husband does most of the housework as he was the main homemaker for many years whilst I went out to work.

If you are honest about how you divide your time, does it match your priorities? Are you investing enough time in the things that are important to you? What is missing? Do you need to make any adjustments?

The importance of having varied interests

It is important to have several interests and activities in your life and not to invest all of your time and energy in just one or two. It is that adage Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. This happens too often with people who have no interests outside of work. Retirement comes along and they are bereft. There is nothing else in their life to take its place. Waiting until retirement to develop an interest or hobby is leaving it too late.

Try drawing a grid of nine squares – three across and three down. Write in each square an activity that is important to you – work might be one of those squares. What will you write in the other eight? If any one of these activities is no longer available to you for whatever reason, you have others that can take its place. All too often we rely on one interest to meet all of our needs. When we can no longer engage with this activity because our life circumstances have changed then the loss is great. If we develop several interests, we safeguard against this, and we expand our opportunities and potential for personal growth.

For many years I was completely focused on my career. I commuted into London and worked long days. I loved my work and believed that I didn’t have any time for hobbies or outside interests. I was working as a management consultant and had been very successful, and then came the inevitable famine. My work dried up. I drove myself crazy chasing potential contracts. Fortunately, I had put enough money aside to provide for my family during such a time. When you work for yourself you expect feast or famine. It should have been an opportunity for me to rest and enjoy some well-earned leisure time, but I didn’t have any interests and had not made any effort to become part of my community. Those months of having no work were the best thing that could have happened to me. Once I had relaxed into accepting that work would pick up in its own time, I started to develop interests. I took up oil painting, bell-ringing – which didn’t last but I made some good friends, and I joined a local women’s group. It was also around this time that I enrolled in a creative writing class. I discovered that there was more to life than work and that it was important to make room for friends and other interests.

Apart from the need to lead a balanced life, hobbies enrich our lives:

  • They stop us from working too hard
  • Help to ease us into retirement
  • Bring us into contact with other people, creating new friendships
  • Enable us to relax by losing ourselves in an absorbing activity
  • Make us a more interesting person
  • Learn new transferable skills
  • Can bring in additional income
  • Discover skills we didn’t know that we had.

I rediscovered the pleasure of creative writing, when I joined that class, twenty years ago. Now, I am a full-time author. In addition to writing, I enjoy craftwork. I plan to make a framed miniature, complete a decorative doll I started last year, and knit up some wool I bought into felted bags in the coming weeks. I won’t achieve all of these but I will make more time in my life for varied activities.

And I will definitely find more time to see my friends, within the parameters allowed by social distancing requirements. It has been an unusual year and I long for the days when I can go to exhibitions, visit galleries, travel, and spend time with my family again. In the meantime, I have plenty to keep me occupied and content.

Are there activities that you are going to make more time for in the new year?

Restore and renew your creative spirit

Superpowers of creatives

As creatives, we are passionate about our art. A desire to share our work with other people can be all-consuming. We drive ourselves harder and harder to succeed. Does this sound familiar? 

Writers, artists, musicians and entrepreneurs have some character traits in common. These can be both a blessing and a curse. This blog is about recognising our superpowers as creatives and nurturing them with self-care so that they serve us well.

Creatives are sensitive people. As we regularly tune into the right side of our brain to create, we further develop our intuition.

I suspect that many of us are empaths. An empath is a highly intuitive person, who senses the feelings and emotions of the people around them. We absorb other people’s pain, as we try to ease their suffering. 

Creatives are perfectionists. We are self-critical, and that inner critic can sometimes prevent us from expressing our self for fear that our work will not be good enough.

We tend to be good and loyal friends. Our emotional intelligence means that we are often successful in the workplace, and are caring and supportive of our staff.

Our drive to succeed makes us self-starters. As entrepreneurs we put everything into our work, striving to achieve the best we possibly can.

These attributes are amazing superpowers, but they need to be treated with respect, or we risk burn out, writers’ block, feeling overwhelmed, or emotionally and mentally exhausted. 

Burnout

A new project gets one hundred percent superpower. We are flying high. For example, you have finished writing a novel. You have self-published and spent weeks marketing it. The steep learning curve has been worth it because you have received fabulous reviews and your friends and family are proud of what you have achieved. Or, you have set up a new business and after months of work, you have launched with a fanfare.

This is when we are most at risk of burn out, if we do not recognise how to look after our superpowers. There is likely to be an adrenalin slump after the work and excitement of a launch. We will be vulnerable to our self-critic when we look at how far we still have to climb, and our energy levels will be low. 

I have noticed on social media that a number of creatives are experiencing low energy levels and poor health. It is not surprising as we are trying to adjust to and cope with a pandemic.  As empaths, personal stories of heartbreak and loss, and those we hear from friends, and the media affect us deeply. This is another reason why we need to take extra care of our mental and emotional health at this time.

Self-care

If you are anything like me, you will be very good at giving advice to friends, telling them to take care of their emotional and mental health but may fail to look after yourself. 

A holiday or a spa day away from home may not be possible, at this time but you can create this at home. Find a day when you are going to be alone for all or part of the day and plan some treats. This will be different for everyone, but this is what my retreat day would include:

  • A guided meditation for chakra alignment or deep relaxation. There are several on YouTube. I favour Deepak Chopra or The Honest Guys.
  • Restorative yoga. Again, there are workshops on YouTube, but I subscribe to Core Vitality Yoga, and recommend the virtual retreat, I equip myself with a couple of pillows, a bolster or rolled-up towel, a throw/blanket, a face mask, and soothing oils, for this.
  • A light lunch made up beforehand. This would include a delicious salad, fresh fruit, and maybe a smoothie. 
  • A walk where you can enjoy nature.
  • A warm bath with scented oils, and candles. I might put a conditioning mask on my hair, or include other beauty treatments such as a face mask.
  • Put on comfortable clothes to lounge in and read a book or listen to music.
  • Manicure and pedicure if you feel inclined.

I have enjoyed a couple of home retreat days like this. It is important that you have a complete break from work and social media on this day. Do not let anything interfere with this special time. I promise you, it will feel good.

On a day to day basis, we can take care of ourselves by slowing down. How many of us obsess about being active on social media? I love my Twitter friends, and because of that, I do not want them to feel pressurised into constantly responding to me. Mindfully monitoring the time that we spend on social media can be beneficial to our emotional and mental wellbeing.

Find time to do things that you enjoy. I have been so intent on getting my debut published that I have neglected other interests: riding my bike, walking in the woods, crafting, and baking. I am going to make time for these things, and when I do engage in them, I will try to be one hundred percent present. 

A visualisation

Finally, I will share with you a little visualisation that helps me. I imagine that we are all climbing a mountain. Some travellers are ahead and others behind. When I look down, I am surprised at how far I have come. Small steps each and every day have had an impact. However, I am tired and I still have such a long way to go. I sit at the side of the mountain and rest. The view before me is beautiful. It is momentary – the exact fall of the light, the little bird that has alighted at my side, the flowers in bloom. I rest in the moment. 

‘Why do you need to carry that heavy backpack?’ a voice says. ‘Everything you need will be provided.’ And so, I let go of my load. 

There is a well of crystal-clear water and I drink my fill. As I rest I help others on their journey. I know that when I need a hand or a word of encouragement there will be others to help me. 

As I set off again I feel lighter and restored. Instead of worrying about the climb I enjoy the sun on my back and remember to admire the view. 

These are techniques that help me. I hope that by sharing them I have given a hand to you on that mountain path. 

Investing in yourself as a writer …because you are worth it

Publication day

Saturday 1st August 2020 was the official launch day for my debut The Borrowed Boy, although it has been available in paperback from Amazon since the 1st July – a fortuitous error on my part as I didn’t realise that Amazon do not support pre-orders of Indie print books. Fortuitous, because it resulted in several reviews being posted on Amazon and Goodreads ahead of publication day. 

Sending a book out into the world

Sending a book out into the world is a bit like sending your child to school for the first time, allowing them to fend for themselves. As a working mum I didn’t have this experience, it was my husband who took our daughter to school. The first time she went to nursery school for the afternoon, he was a nervous wreck. He sat in an empty pub boring the poor bartender with stories about his amazing child until it was time to collect her. It was the same her first day at school. My husband sat at home worrying about her day – how she would be received, and whether she would be happy – but our daughter just took it in her stride, a confident girl, who was ready to make her mark in a small way, at the beginning of life’s journey. 

When our books go out into the world we are like anxious parents waiting to see what impact they might have, whether they will receive good reviews and find readers who love them. First time parents – first time novelists – we have a lot to learn about letting go, but it can only get easier with practice. 

Investment of  time, resources, and patience

What is important is that we continue to invest time, resources, and patience in sharing our creativity with the world. You wouldn’t invest your time raising a child with gentle, loving care and then leave it to its own devices. Neither would you send your child into the world without first preparing it for this adventure. Indie authors, authors who choose to self-publish rather than following the traditional route to publication, sometimes fail to invest in the publication, launch, and marketing of their novel, despite the huge commitment and dedication they have put into its creation. This saddens me, as I hear the disappointment and heartbreak of authors who have written worthy novels but their dreams of success are thwarted through a lack of sales. 

Readers complete the loop of creation

The creation of art is a two-way process. The artist creates but the creation is completed by the responses of an audience. Art is a conversation that enables both writer and reader to gain a deeper understanding of themselves and their world. The wonderful Rachel Joyce visited our local book club at the independent bookshop, Caxton’s of Frinton-on-Sea. When she was asked about some of the themes in her new novel Miss Benson’s Beetle, Joyce said, ‘It is only when I get the responses of readers that I truly understand the themes in my books.’ It is as though readers hold a mirror up to our soul so that we can see more clearly what was in our heart. The need for an author to have a readership is about more than financial reward. 

What is stopping you from investing in yourself?

As artists we create, but all too often we send our work out into the world without investing in its success. The reasons a writer might give are:

  • I can’t afford- a professional website, a cover designer, an editor, advertising etc.
  • I don’t do social-media.
  • I’m a creative not a business person.
  • I don’t have the time to spend on marketing, it’s hard enough finding time to write.
  • I don’t like promoting myself, I’m too modest, too shy, an introvert.

I get it. I have felt, and continue to feel all of these things. But, I’ll go back to my analogy. You wouldn’t send a child off into the world without first doing a good job in preparing it and neither would you stop investing time, money and patience in it’s future. As creatives, I think we have to ask ourselves really honestly – what is stopping me from investing in my future as a writer? Maybe we use these excuses because of: 

  • A fear of failure
  • Not really believing in our talent – imposter syndrome
  • Not thinking ourselves worthy of a financial investment, because we are not ‘good enough.’

Honouring your inner artist

I am doing some internal work myself as I have a mental battle with the recognition that I need to invest more money in things such as my website and learning new skills, and an inner voice (a goblin) that tells me, I have already invested financially in publishing a book – what if I never make back that money? What if it is a foolish, vanity project? Am I good enough? Fortunately, I have a mentor who is there to remind me that sometimes things feel uncomfortable, but I have to take chances if I am to grow. I believe in myself and I believe that my creativity deserves the investment of my time, money and patience. As the advert says Because I am worth it. 

Are you honouring the artist within? Are you giving your creativity the best possible chance of success? What is truly holding you back? What sacrifices are you prepared to make – time, money spent on other things? What changes can you make today to increase your chances of success? Can you plan a way ahead to give yourself the future that you deserve?

The blog tour

I sent The Borrowed Boy into the world with a fanfare. The amazing Rachel of Rachel’s Random Resourcesorganised a blog tour for me at a very modest cost. This resulted in 34 highly regarded book-bloggers hosting me on their site over the course of this week. A blog tour combines book reviews, guest blogs and interviews with the author. A huge thank you to all of the book bloggers who took part and to Rachel for an excellent and professionally managed tour – I cannot recommend her services highly enough.

You can read about the blog tour here:

https://abrakdeborah.wordpress.com/the-borrowed-boy-blog-tour/

Balancing Time

Balancing commitments

‘I would find it hard shutting the door on my husband and children, saying I needed time to write,’ a woman once said to me, when I was giving a library reading. She longed to be a writer but didn’t honour herself by protecting her writing time.

This is so often a problem for woman, and I suspect men, as many are homemakers and care givers. When we take time for ourselves, we may feel guilty and sometimes use this as an excuse not to follow our dreams. 

When our daughter was born thirty years ago, my husband gave up work to be a full-time dad. He never went back to work, through choice, and I have been the sole wage earner for our little family. It worked for us and I have no regrets. However, when I was working I felt I should be with my daughter and when I was playing with her, I felt guilty for not catching up with work. I was always weighing up my time, believing that I had failed at both.

Mindfulness

Then, a wise woman told me to give myself 100% to whatever I was doing at that time. It was a challenge and I didn’t always succeed, but I have carried that mantra with me. When I am writing I close my door and switch off from the outside world. That’s the easy part, as I can lose myself for hours and often have to set a timer so that I don’t miss a yoga class or forget to prepare dinner. 

It goes both ways. When I’m with my husband I try to be 100% present. If I’m with him in person but my mind is working on my next chapter or mulling over my protagonist’s motivations then I’m not truly with him. Of course, that doesn’t mean he always reciprocates. For example, when I’ve just finished telling him about our plans for that weekend, he may respond with, ‘what are we doing this weekend?’ And I know that he was thinking about guitar chords or mentally playing his piano. 

It’s not easy to always be 100% present but you do get more out of each activity. You know yourself that when a person is truly listening to you, and not thinking about something else, then you feel valued and the quality of your relationship is strengthened. And as writers and artists, we absorb more from our experience of the world to later draw upon when we return to our craft. 

Finding time

Not everyone has the luxury of dedicating two hours or more to an uninterrupted writing stint. This need not be a barrier. I’m sure you’ve heard the analogy of pouring sand into a jar full of pebbles. The pebbles are the must dos that get in the way of writing. But, if you pour a fine sand into the jar it fills the space between the pebbles. Sometimes, a little and often is all we can manage, the fine sand finding a space between our other commitments.

When I was torn every which way caring for a parent with dementia, working, and managing household stuff, I found twenty minutes here and there throughout my day. I scribbled notes of the next scene I was going to write. My mind must have been working without me being aware, because whenever I sat down to write the words came. When time is precious, you perhaps write more freely. Just write without worrying about grammar and spelling. By the end of the day you might well have five hundred to a thousand words from several short writing bursts.

Honour yourself and that heartfelt wish

I always divide and weigh my time, trying to get the most from each day. Maybe all working mothers get into that habit. But, I have learnt to focus one thing at a time and no longer feel guilty or torn by competing demands. 

If there is something that you want to do, a heart-felt dream, then find the time. It may mean giving up something else, but if you don’t honour yourself and carve out a little sacred time, then one day you will regret what might have been. I don’t know whether the lady in the library started to write or not. I hope that she did. Seeds are sown in our heart, but they can only grow and blossom if we feed them, nurturing them with patience and our time.