Tag Archives: inspiration

art and the broken heart

sunset-skyI just watched Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes speech. It’s fantastic. The way she exposed the awfulness of the US president-elect’s behaviour without even mentioning his name…

But what struck a chord most was her final sentence where she quoted something the late Carrie Fisher said to her:

“Take your broken heart, make it into art.”

I love that. It totally sums up where I am at the moment. So much bad stuff happened last year – horrible stuff, sad stuff, stuff that we know is going to cause problems for years to come.  It broke my heart. It broke many people’s hearts.

But it’s made me resolve to throw my passion and my energy more into the people I love and into art – in all its forms. I want to write and draw and illustrate. I want to learn and explore new creative skills. I want to experience art created by other people, to read and watch and see and feel and listen and devour art in all its glorious forms.

“Take your broken heart. Make it into art.”

That. Just, that.

where I’m at – #WhatImWriting

It’s Monday, the boys are back at school and it’s time for a proper ‘What I’m Writing’ post! I haven’t written about writing-y stuff for a while so there are a few things to catch up on.

trees

My ideal writer’s retreat – a forest glade in the sunshine. I haven’t retreated here to write yet (this was taken yesterday and I had two small boys with me) but I’m determined to at some point!

CampNaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) happens in November and is an online community of writers all aiming to write a novel in a month. A NOVEL IN A MONTH! Obviously I’m not crazy/talented/dedicated enough to attempt such a thing but I have signed up to the camp version which is this month. This is much more laid-back as you get to pick your own word count and your project can be anything word-related. I did it two years ago and wrote 15,000 words – it really helped with my motivation.

This time round I’ve set myself a target of 5,000 words because I want to focus on my picture books which aren’t really about word count at all. I’ve also decided to include blog posts in the target. Within this, there is also a hidden reading challenge as three of the blog posts I want to write are book reviews and I need to read the books first! So far, I’ve written 2194 words (although that doesn’t include this post!) but that’s all blogging and NO picture books! I WILL write some soon, I WILL!

London Book Fair

I’m going! I’m not quite sure what to expect but there are lots of interesting seminars to attend and people to network with, all in the area of writing and publishing and all under one roof, so it sounds fab to me! It’s this week and I’m combining it with a business conference and a meet up with some blogging friends, and also bookending it with nights at my parents house (I’m leaving my youngest with them) so it’s going to be a busy week. I fully expect to reach Friday exhausted with my head in a spin but I know it will be worth it.

Agent Submissions

I wrote a while back about having submitted some of my picture book manuscripts to agents. Thankfully at The Festival of Writing back in September we were all told how tricky it is to find an agent and how incredibly common rejection is, so the responses I’ve had (or rather, the three no responses, one rejection and a ‘we didn’t get your MS can you resend?’ followed by silence) haven’t really got to me. I just need to try again. The issue is finding the time to do so, as agent research and meeting the submission requirements is not a swift process. I know I’m procrastinating though and I just need to prioritise it. Basically, in my juggly life, unless I prioritise things, they don’t get done!

Blogging

Oh man, blogging is time-consuming, it really is. Not just the writing of posts (although I don’t seem to have a gift for speed, it has to be said) but the promotional activity (which I keep deciding I need to focus more on, then failing) and the social side (which is lovely but takes time and energy). When you’re a blogger who wants to write other things – novels, short stories or whatever – you do find yourself wondering if you’ve got the balance right. I do, anyway. Blogging is taking a lot of my focus at the moment. The blog post I wrote about education got so much attention (by my standards) that I’ve not felt able to concentrate on other types of writing because there’s been so much going in in my head. And there are more blog posts brewing too. I’m hoping CampNano helps me put some energy elsewhere.

I’d better leave it at that, I as I have planning, organising and packing to do for the week ahead!

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for the love of shoes

I’ve tried to hit 2016 at a run, creatively speaking, by throwing myself into things and looking for inspiration all over the place. Social media has been immensely useful, particularly Twitter (there are so many creative challenges there! Who’da thunk it? Honestly, not me) and as always, the blogging community has provided me with both ideas and an outlet.

Yesterday I had a look at The Prompt (one of my favourite linkys) and discovered it was the word ‘confusion’. So I figured I’d write a limerick based on that word. I also had a look at my favourite Twitter muse – #ShapeChallenge – to see if could use that as a visual prompt for both the limerick and an illustration for it. It was a double-pronged inspirational approach! I ended up writing and drawing this:

princess shoes limerickThe reason it’s about shoes (although, do I need a reason?) is because the shape (next to my twitter handle in the picture) reminded me of a shoe, and ‘shoes’ kind of rhymes with confused, so I went from there.

Which shoes would you choose? I’m going for the ones that look like ladybirds!

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Prose for Thought

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the zipwire to inspiration

Writer’s block is a right old bag of pants isn’t it? I’ve had it before and I dare say I’ll have it again. However, recently I have found a whole, new way to defeat it – through drawing.zipwire words big

 

Drawing is like a zipwire for my writing muse to swoop towards me on. When all other routes are blocked, she can leap onto the swingy-rope-thingy (technical name – who knows?) and crash straight into my brain from above.

Actually that sounds a bit grisly. I’ll leave your muse to write a more attractive metaphor…

But seriously, I’ve been doing a lot of drawing since the start of this year and what I’ve discovered is that while some drawings are complete as they are, others seem to have a story bursting out of them. Gerald the moustachioed octopus was one. Furious Bird was another (though I suspect a mere limerick does not contain his full story… ).

At the start of this year I set myself the goal of writing three more picture book texts. I wrote the first in January (I know, get me – achieving something in January besides shattered resolutions!) and have been working on a second one on and off since the start of the year too. I had no idea what the third might be at all though. Then along came Stanley:

Stanley's jumper
Stanley emerged from the shape of his (ridiculous) jumper and I had a hunch he came with a story too. I’ve started writing it now; it’s all about imagination and creativity. And  – of course – silly clothing.

There’s also Weird Bird:
weird bird
When I shared this drawing on Twitter I was pretty certain that Weird Bird would fall to her doom. But then a few people responded to say they were rooting for her and, well, being a total softy I decided they might be right. Perhaps the poor strangely-winged creature needs her own story too. A tale of triumph over adversity perhaps? I’ve yet to start writing it but it’s simmering in the background, as is a story about an astonished dinosaur, a haunted teapot and a crocodile hatching a dastardly plan… all inspired by drawings.

So, if you’re suffering writers’ block, I recommend having a doodle (and there are some great creative challenges on Twitter if you need inspiration for that!). You might not create a masterpiece but that doesn’t remotely matter – there are a whole host of other stories just waiting to leap out at you. Who knows where drawing might take you. Go on – pick up a pencil.

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creativity and inspiration

You know that feeling when you start a new relationship and everything is exciting and fizzes and crackles and you can’t wait to spend time with that other person and you think about them all the time and keep smiling to yourself and feeling a little giddy? That’s how I’ve felt this past week. Only it’s not a new man (phew!) it’s a new creative avenue. I’m mad for drawing.

It all began with Twitter. Well, Twitter, and a chat with a really good friend.  You see, I was nervous about this illustration course I’d signed up to do and I thought I might procrastinate my way out of beginning it even before the course materials had arrived so, with the encouragement of this kick-ass friend of mine, I decided to throw myself in at the deep end and join in with an artistic project on Twitter.

A bit like how I felt about doing an illustration course!

A bit like how I felt about doing an illustration course!

It’s called #ShapeChallenge and is run by author and illustrator Sarah McIntyre (I love her books!). Every week day she tweets a shape and encourages anyone – people of all ages and abilities – to draw/paint/create something based on it. Everyone then tweets their creations and ‘likes’ and comments on each others pictures. It’s FAB.

I’ve joined in every day for the past week and, even better, my sons have joined in too! My older two love doing it and even their little brother sits beside them and earnestly scribbles on a piece of paper. I’ve loved watching how their brains interpret the shape and the different things they’ve come up with. It’s felt like such a positive thing to do together.

owl

Owl – by my six-year-old. The original shape was one of the wings.

submarine

‘The diver’ by my eight-year-old. The original shape made me think of a hat but this is much better!

The other people who’ve been taking part in Shape Challenge have all been so lovely and welcoming too. There are lots of ‘proper’ illustrators who do it but also plenty of children and people who just enjoy drawing. After I post our pictures for the day I always go through the feed and look at what everyone else has created – it’s hugely inspiring! Honestly, I’ve been feeling a bit high on it all!

I’ve also found the idea of drawing something and tweeting it immediately, really liberating. I think I could spend ages on a drawing and decide it’s no good but somehow, the process of this challenge – having the shape to work with and then the community to tweet it to – has allowed me to overcome the fear and doubt and just go for it. It’s also inspired me – just looking at a blank piece of paper can be intimidating, but put a little white shape (with a red dot in it) there instead and it’s amazing what your brain comes up with. I’m pretty sure that even in the space of a week, my ability has improved. I mean, ok, I’m not producing great works of art but I’ve surprised myself with how not-totally-shit it is.

howard the monster

The original shape is in the bottom corner. It took my boys a while to spot the shape in the drawing!

Even better, it’s filling me with more ideas for writing too, and making me think about ways of overcoming procrastination and blocks there. I set myself a writing challenge last week where I hoped to harness this same idea of doing something quickly and throwing it out there. Just like with drawing, it took away the stress and was really fun. I’m going to do more.

I know this is a very image-heavy post but I just want to add one final picture – in celebration of unusual plumage everywhere and because all stories need to be told. :)

Maud's unsual plumage

Be like Maud.

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five inspirational quotes from #Blogfest15

Last month I went to my first ever blogging conference – Mumsnet Blogfest. It was fantastic. I’ve already written a post about how much I got out of it but I couldn’t fit everything I wanted to say in one post without it becoming ridiculously long. I wanted to write more about the inspirational aspects of the event though, so I’ve decided to share my favourite quotes from the day. (N.B. I made a note of these as they were said but can’t promise they’re word for word quotes. Often I was too gripped by the speaker to do more than glance at what my pen was writing.)

#blogfest15 panel

Five inspirational quotes from Blogfest:

1.

“Creativity is the road to revolution. It is challenge. It’s the way we fight back against those who would oppress us. So embrace it, whatever form it takes”

Val Mcdermid

I loved this. Val then went on to say that if anyone tries to “burst your creative bubble” you should tell them to go away or “put it more forcefully using a phrase involving sex and travel… “. She was really funny and inspiring and made me realise the real power involved in creativity. That literature, art and music make us think and question everything around us, opening up the world and encouraging humanity towards all sorts of achievements. So don’t doubt yourself – go, create.

2.

“Social media is where we raise a little flag of self. Offence is used to put wind in that flag.”

David Baddiel.

Ok, this isn’t really an inspiring quote so much as a thought-provoking one. David Baddiel was, as you’d probably expect, very funny and insightful. He showed us lots of examples from his Twitter feed of how easily offended people are by him. You could see in the zealousness of some of the tweets how much those people were actually rather enjoying taking offence and how it was making them feel more important – in classic bully style. As he was talking I could visualise everyone on social media desperately waving their little flags, trying to be seen amidst the masses. It made sense of how I feel on Twitter (teeny, tiny) and why trolls do what they do.

3.

 “Equality is better for all of us: it is better for our daughters. It is better for our sons.”

Sandi Toksvig OBE

Sandi Toksvig was talking about gender equality with reference to her own political party – the Women’s Equality Party which believes “Equality for women isn’t a women’s issue. When women fulfil their potential, everyone benefits.” – something I wholeheartedly agree with.

I’m frequently staggered when I read statistics about inequality. Even in this country there are huge divisions between the way men and women are treated and it seems to happen across the board. I was reading an article recently that suggested you are far more likely to get a publishing deal if you submit a manuscript under a male name rather than a female one. Yes, here in the uk. yes, now, in 2015.

But lack of equality isn’t just relevant for us as women, it’s relevant for men too. The sexism that props up our system starts when our kids are tiny. It is there when girls are called ‘bossy’ (while their male counterparts are rewarded for ‘confidence’). It’s there when we praise our daughters for their looks rather than their brains, and laugh off our sons bad behaviour with ‘boys will be boys‘. And don’t get me started on “he’s just lazy – typical male!” that I’ve heard mothers fling at their young sons.

None of these gendered expectations are helpful. Bit by bit they teach our kids that some things are ok for boys and not ok for girls, and vice versa. It constrains and alters them as kids and affects their choices as adults. We need to treat our boys and girls equally so they can grow to be the people they are meant to be, not into the roles society expects of them. Equality is better for all our children.

4.

“As bloggers, authenticity is key. Trust is your power.”

Jude Brookes

This was during a session on ‘building your brand’ and Jude Brookes was reminding us that, as bloggers, we are free from the constraints that writing for another publication or speaking for a company would place us under. We speak for ourselves and if we are authentic people will come to trust us. She encouraged us to focus on telling engaging stories and building relationships. 100 engaged readers are more valuable than 10,000 twitter followers who you never interact with (and may well be ignoring all your tweets anyway).

This resonated with me as I do sometimes wonder if I should write in a certain way – follow a few more trends perhaps? – to get more followers (not to mention promoting myself more which I am rubbish at). I have worried about the risks of being too open in the past and held back a lot. Jude made me reflect on the value of honesty and it was good to have the idea of ‘quality over quantity’ reinforced by a brand specialist.

5.

“Could I have my photo taken with you? And Maddy, I can take a photo of the two of you together if you like…?

Sumbel Gilani

This was when the lovely Sumbel from Mama Not Dumber– my friend of a mere few hours at that point – asked Tim Dowling if she could have a photo with him and also encouraged me to do so too. This was obviously very excellent because it meant I got THIS photo!

tim dowling

Tim Dowling had his arm round me. I simply couldn’t hide my glee.

But it was more than that – Sumbel knew what she wanted and went for it. And she was lovely enough to notice that of course I too wanted a photo with this talented, funny (and handsome) man. Given we’d only met that morning, it was pretty insightful of her…. or perhaps I was a little too obvious in my fandom. But anyway, the fact is, she asked something I didn’t dare ask, was thoughtful enough to take me along for the ride and, in doing so, gained me a memory that makes me grin like a cheshire cat. A lesson in ‘going for it’ if ever there was one. Thanks Sumbel.

So, what have I taken away from these quotes? Be brave, be honest, be creative – and do so for all our sakes. Be thoughtful. Wave your little flag with kindness and empathy, rather than anger and offence. Let the winds of creativity and passion fly it high. Believe in yourself and go for it.

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This week ‘The Prompt’ is ‘believe’ which fits with the overall feeling of self-belief I got from Blogfest.

mumturnedmom
Also linking with Victoria’s last ever #PoCoLo. Thanks for being such a great host all these years, Vic and good luck with your blog’s new direction.
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five things I loved about #blogfest15

Last Saturday I went to Mumsnet Blogfest. It was the first time I’d ever been to a blogging conference but it won’t be my last – I had a great time and returned inspired. The whole day felt like a huge “Yes!” and “Hooray!” for creativity and creative people. Here are my highlights:

Margaret Atwood Blogfest

Margaret Atwood (in Toronto at 4am!), Meera Syal, Bridget Christie, Bryony Gordon, Polly Vernon and Catherine Mann.

The five things I loved most about Blogfest:

1. Meeting other bloggers

I sometimes think blogging must seem, well, plain weird to non-bloggers: what sort of person would put their life online and share their innermost thoughts with whoever happens to read them? Bloggers understand all this though – the drive, the point, the benefits and the downsides… and it’s so good to get together and just talk. I met a couple of my online friends at the conference and made a few new friends too. I’m no social butterfly, so can’t pretend to have flitted around chatting to everyone but the conversations I had were good ones and the connections I made, real.

2. The Inspirational “Think Bombs”

I saw these in the programme and was intrigued – Sandi Toksvig OBE, Val McDermid and David Baddiel (I know – a non-too-shabby line-up!) would each be giving us a: “five minute idea-blast to inspire and entertain”. They did that and then some! Sandi Toksvig talked passionately about her political party – the Women’s Equality Party – in a way that really resonated with me (I’m writing another post in which I’ll say more), Val McDermid made my brain fizz with excitement when she talked about the power and importance of creativity and David Baddiel was hilarious while making some very important points about the nature of social media and our sense of self. Just, WOW. Five minutes each was nowhere near enough.

3. Fantastic panel sessions

The day started with a talk about ‘Motherhood and Creativity’ with a panel that included Meera Syal CBE and Margaret Atwood. Unfortunately the live link that was supposed to transmit the words (and no doubt great wisdom) of the latter was barely functional which was far from ideal but even seeing Margaret Atwood on a big screen beaming down at us was a thrill. Later in the day, Tim Dowling and Esther Freud were amongst a fantastic panel talking about Brevity in Writing (keep articles and posts to 800 words tops folks!) and the final session on ‘Public Stories of our Private Lives’ chaired by Fi Glover pretty much blew me away. The humour and honesty of the panel was totally inspiring!

4. Laughter

I hadn’t expected it to be a particularly humorous day although in hindsight, with that much talent and creativity in the building, I probably should have seen it coming a mile off. David Baddiel, Meera Syal, and Bridget Christie all made me laugh but it was the fabulous Shappi Khorsandi who stole the show – brilliantly witty and touchingly personal, she had the audience eating out of her hands. I’ll definitely be seeking out her stand-up show.

5. The opportunity to hear from, and interact with, inspirational people

I’ve already thrown a few big names into this post – I really was impressed with the calibre of the talent that Mumsnet had gathered for us. A great part of it was that plenty of them stayed to chat too. I had a lovely talk with Esther Freud (author of Hideous Kinky) and was completely unable to cover up my excitement at meeting Guardian writer Tim Dowling. He has three sons like I do, has been making me laugh on a weekly basis for years and, it turns out, is rather more handsome than I was anticipating. “Oooh, I love your column!” I squeaked “But you don’t always come across very well in it”, managing to accidentally insult him while also throwing in a bit of carry-on-style innuendo. I should probably work on my technique.

***

Those were the highlights for me. I’m well aware there was plenty more I could have got from the day – there were blog clinic sessions that I was too busy talking to sign up for, ’round-table’ discussions and ‘how to’ seminars that sounded great but clashed with other things I was seeing, and lots of sponsor activities that looked fun. You can’t do it all though and I guess there’s always next year!

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ten motivational posts to kickstart your writing – #WhatImWriting

We’re approaching the end of the summer holidays and autumn beckons… and I’m actually quite excited about it! Although summer has been lovely and I’ve had some great times with my boys (hours of playing french cricket and some fab days out) I’ve missed the term-time routine. I’ve missed having more time to write and our weekly writerly check-in on our #WhatImWriting linky.

I’ve been meaning to do a roundup for June/July but got sidetracked by boys and icecream and snails and beaches. So, I’ve decided to do the roundup in a different way: out of all the posts shared on the linky this (early) summer I’m going to pick the ten that I think will best motivate us with our writing as we go into the new season. So here goes:

balance-865816_1280

The #WhatImWriting ten top motivational posts:

1) Sometimes the mundanity of day to day life can start to suffocate creativity – don’t let it! As a way to keep her creative muse healthy, Tara Borin writes ‘morning pages’. The idea of journalling every morning does appeal to me but I like sleep too much and have to be dragged kicking and screaming from my bed most days. The way Tara writes this post is so beautiful though it almost had me setting my alarm early to get some writing done before the kids wake up. (Almost). If you’re even slightly less of a bed addict than me I bet it will get you motivated!

2) Ever felt like you can’t call yourself an ‘author’… or even a writer? Chrissie can identify – in this hilarious post she labels herself a ‘dabbler’ and has all sorts of advice for us fellow dabbling types. (Clue – it’s useful advice regardless of how you label yourself).

3) When you’re struggling with writer’s block you can sometimes question why you write at all. If this is familiar then this post from Iona might strike a chord, particularly if you’re female. Don’t give up! We need lots of force to crash through the glass ceiling that unfortunately still seems to exist in the world of publishing.

4) Lost your mojo this autumn? Sophie had, but then she found a “bolt of pure inspiring awesomeness” in the form of some powerful performance poetry which she urges us to watch. I (finally!) just got round to it and totally agree with Sophie! They’re still available on BBC iplayer so go on, have a listen.

5) Ideas still not flowing? How about looking at your own life for inspiration? In Is your story the stuff of Fairytales? Rachael inspires us to consider how we might write our past as a fairy-story (complete with wicked witches and trails of breadcrumbs!). When I read the post’s title I thought ‘nope –  my life is too boring’ but Rachael got me convinced that actually, even things that seem mundane to us can be re-written into something exciting and magical. So go on, use your own history and get storytelling!

6) But if you’re writing your own ‘story’, how much could or should you share? Reneé tells us why she puts her life online in a post that shows the benefits of writing from the heart.

7) Do you have an idea for a novel but you you’re not sure how to develop it? Nicola has some great ideas about story structure and character development in this post.

8) Maybe you’ve spent your summer writing, editing and polishing your work and now you want to send it out… except, ARGH! SCARY! My post on building confidence might help give you the extra shove. Go on – make some submissions (I’ve entered a writing competition and am gearing up to submit to agents – eek!)

9) Submitting is great and feedback is fantastic but as writers we will all meet our fair share of criticism along the way. In fact we NEED criticism – of a constructive type at least – in order to develop and improve. And yet, no matter how helpful, criticism can still hurt our delicate writerly souls. But help is at hand! In this post Becky talks about various ways of dealing with it – onwards and upwards!

10) Self promotion is something that tends to make writers cringe – but we need to get better at it in order to succeed. Aimee feels our pain and I found this post about how she really feels when she’s tweeting about her book inspirational – she’s achieved so much!

10… because I can’t count) As writers it’s lovely to be able to rejoice in others’ successes (even if we might be feeling a teensy bit envious too). I’ve been following Emily for nearly a year now and in that time she’s published her second novel and gone from strength to strength. This post made me smile and I found it massively motivating too.

So there you have it – get inspired, get writing, get promoting, get going! #WhatImWriting will be back next Tuesday so you can link up and tell us all about how it’s going. Woo hoo!

my latest crush

I tend to get crushes – literary crushes  – where I read a book and I think Oooh and I think Ohhhh and I think, I have to read more by this author!

And I read more and I think Mmm, what a delicious turn of phrase, and I need to get me some more of those concepts! and, oh, when you write like that it makes me feel…

And then… Oh yes, oh yes! This is fantastic, I want to be able to write like this! THIS IS IT! 

Ahem.

hearts

A recent crush of mine was Rachel Joyce. I loved ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’, I thought ‘Perfect’ was beautiful and as for ‘The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy’, well, it had me crying so hard I could barely read the words. The author has a way of seeing beauty in the mundane and giving you faith in the human spirit even in the face of the heartbreak and hardship that her characters face. I highly recommend her books.

My latest crush is Liane Moriarty, an author who’s grown on me over the past few years. I didn’t fall for her as fast as I fell for Rachel Joyce but now I’m every bit as enthralled. She’s a different sort of writer and I guess you’d find her in the ‘chick lit’ section of a book shop, but that label, to me (without wishing to diss chick lit authors), belies the depth of her writing.

I read ‘The Husband’s Secret’ last year which I found gripping, then later read ‘What Alice Forgot’ which I loved, but it’s ‘Big Little Lies’ (which I’ve just finished reading) that has sent me in to full-on crush territory. It’s a wonderful book which manages to be funny and lighthearted at the same time as serious and touching. It’s warm and frothy while being deep and meaningful. Actually, I think this is a skill the author displays in all of her books – they’re so easy to read but can still make you think, not to mention laugh and cry.

Big Little Lies is set in a small coastal community and the action revolves around a school. When the book begins we find out that a death (could it be murder?) has occurred at a school trivia night (murder at a school trivia night – see what I mean about gravity and lightness?) and then the story leaps back six months to allow us to see the events leading up to it.  Relationships are forged and broken and heart-breaking secrets and lies are revealed, all against the backdrop of hilariously bitchy school gates and yet with a heartwarming core of friendship.

I loved the three central characters – all (very different) mothers of kids just starting school – and the minor characters (who we met largely through tiny interview snippets between chapters) were fantastic too. The author has created a wonderfully vivid community that I could empathise with, which gives the hard-hitting elements of the story even more impact. I loved it. One of my favourite books this year.

Now, if I could just learn to write like that… *sighs dreamily*

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Nikki Young Writes

building confidence – #WhatImWriting

Confidence can be a slippery beast. As a writer, I find it can ebb and flow like the tide, rushing in to joyfully knock me off my feet when I’m in the zone (‘Yes! this is going brilliantly!’) and then retreating to the horizon when it comes to showing my work to anyone else (‘Argh! They might think it’s rubbish!’).

waves darkAdmittedly, I’m getting better at keeping my feet wet these days. When I first set up this blog two and a half years ago I published two posts, didn’t mention to anyone that I’d written them (I’m not sure I’d even joined Twitter at that point) then within 24 hours I took them down and ran away from the blog for a whole year… and all because I was too scared of people reading ANYTHING I’d written. Even when I finally plucked up the courage to start writing and publishing posts, it took me a while longer to start posting any of my poetry or fiction because, well… what if people hated it? What if they confirmed my darkest fears and said, “Think you can write?! Ha! You’ll never get anywhere!”?

But I finally took the leap and did post my creative writing and people weren’t like that at all; they were lovely. And that’s one of the things I’ve found in the blogging world over the last eighteen months, in general, people are just that: lovely. They leave lovely comments and send lovely tweets. They support you and appreciate the support you offer them. They become your friends. Oh what a lot of time and worry I could have saved myself if I’d assumed that from the start!

I was thinking about this last week when I was lucky enough to find myself at a confidence building/media training workshop run by Jon Hammond. Now, you might be thinking ‘confidence workshop? Is that the sort of thing where you’re forced to do horrible exercises that make you really uncomfortable in order to overcome your fears?’ And I did have an awful thought en-route to the workshop that maybe I would be made to stand on a rooftop shouting “I’m a strong, confident woman!” to passers-by. Eeep. But thankfully my fears were unfounded and no rooftop declarations were necessary to ensure the sense of confidence I came out of the session with.

statue in paris

NOT me making an announcement from the top of a building (although the likeness is uncanny).

Jon spoke about human beings’ natural fear of new situations (which makes sense from an evolutionary perspective) and how such situations can send us into ‘fight or flight’ mode. Just as our ancestors would have reacted to the approach of a woolly mammoth with fear, we now view the prospect of public speaking – or often any other event that involves a crowd of unknown people – with the same fear. We spoke about how counter-productive this is – you’re never going to give the best presentation or make the best impression on people when you’re viewing them as a hoard of marauding beasts that need to be escaped from or jabbed with a spear!

Although the workshop was based around public speaking I think this idea applies equally well to confidence about writing. Ok, the actual writing bit doesn’t usually have us running scared but what’s the point of being writer if no one ever reads anything we write? And it’s the ‘being read’ that normally provokes those flight or flight responses. Sometimes we give up before we’ve even tried, view our potential readers as those scary beasts and don’t even put our work out there.

He's coming to get you! RUN!

He’s coming to get you! RUN!

To overcome some of this, rather than seeing an audience as a threat, Jon suggested that when meeting new people – or putting ourselves in front of an audience of any sort  – we think of them as friends. That we approach them as ourselves and not put up a false-front based on how we think we should be behaving. That we don’t wind ourselves up beforehand about how awful it’s going to be but instead tell ourselves ‘oh, this is going to be enjoyable, I’m going to have some lovely chats.’ or something of the sort.

Obviously this is easier said than done for those of us who tend to lurk by the snack table at the back. But thinking both positively and logically, the chances are, when you approach people in a friendly way (rather than avoiding conversation and hoping to be mistaken for a pot plant) they will reciprocate. As I discovered with blogging, despite my fear of looking like a talentless idiot, most people don’t remotely treat you this way. If you’re friendly, they’ll be friendly back. And before you know it you’re just talking to friends and, well, what’s scary about that?

Let's be friends (but maybe not lick each other).

Let’s be friends! (But maybe not lick each other.)

Still, when Jon first encouraged us to take this approach I think there was a certain amount of ‘yeah, great, but that’s easy for you to say, you’re all confident and stuff – this comes naturally to you’. And who could blame us? But nope. Turns out Jon’s shy. You’d never believe it because he doesn’t act like it. He doesn’t act like it because he’s realised this approach works and he’s used it… and in using it, it’s become second nature. You know that whole thing about ‘when you act a part for long enough then it stops being acting’? That. Only all you need to do is act like the natural self you are with family and friends. You’re just having the confidence to be that you with people you don’t know.

Another thing that helped me here was Jon’s message to ‘be your audience.’ Whether you’re doing a presentation to a room full of people, going before a small interview panel, or submitting a book to an agent, think of things from their point of view. Put yourself in their shoes. Empathise. It’s much easier to make a connection with people that way and the idea of them as friends immediately feels more genuine.

There was masses more involved in the workshop (and Jon has written a book about his methods if you’re interested) but a final message that resonated for me was if you’re nervous about a situation or a decision, to challenge yourself with, ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’. Many of us live our lives held back by various fears, imagining somehow that if we say this or do that then someone might laugh at us, or be mean, or that we’ll feel stupid etc. etc. ad infinitum. The reality is often far from this and we could be missing out on all sorts of positive possibilities: that someone might find us funny (in a good way) or be kind to us or make us feel really clever or appreciated. We miss out on so much because we’re scared. I know I have done.

But not anymore!

Well… at least let’s say it’s the start of my journey to that destination anyway. I was certainly on a bit of a high after the session. I felt really inspired and imbued with a sense of, ‘Yes! I can do this! I WILL get published!’ Half way through the drive home I almost pulled into a layby to record the awesome ideas of awesomeness I was convinced would take me to my own book signings within the year.

Of course I calmed down and reality set in. Book signings are still a distant dream and my ideas now seem only tinged with a glint of awesomeness rather than being being the all-out dazzling awesome I considered at the time. But, BUT, that little tinge is enough. The fire has been lit under the idea and it’s now flickering away enticingly. A plan has begun to form in my mind. It involves limericks and illustrations and self-publishing. It involves educating, developing and promoting myself. It involves ‘becoming my audience’, working out what they need and how to give it to them. And most of all it involves not being scared.

What’s the worst that could happen? The worst that could happen is that I never have the confidence to try.

And that, my friends, is quite simply not an option.

***

***I just wanted to share this stuff with you. This is not in any sense a sponsored post (although Jon, If you’re reading, I do like After Eights ;) )***

Muddled Manuscript

 

Linking to #ThePrompt which, this week is “To be a… “. Confidence is all about the ability to be whoever or whatever you want to be! (this post also could have fitted with either of the prompts for the last two weeks too but I didn’t get it written in time… )
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