Tag Archives: hidden self

What is your purpose? Try this experiment and see!

When I read Tzivia Gover’s blog post a few days ago about asking a dream symbol, ‘What is your purpose?’ it felt timely for me because I had just dreamt about an image that recurs fairly frequently in my dreams, so I had an obvious one to try the technique on.

In the dream, I was walking along a cliff path, looking out across the clear blue water. I felt happy and full of energy. As I came down towards the bay, I saw a woman in a bright floral summer’s dress  lying languidly in a wide shallow boat, gently rocking.

I noticed an enormous fish, almost as big as the boat, swimming around in the water  nearby. There was no sense of danger. It was, as I recorded in my dream diary, simply ‘extraordinary and remarkable.’

I walked on, and saw several more of these huge colourful fish, as I came down onto the beach and crossed a wide rushing stream.

2013-06-08 18.35.09

These days, I don’t usually try to interpret individual symbols in my dreams, I just enjoy them, but today I asked the enormous fish, ‘What is your purpose?’

Nothing came to me immediately, so while I was waiting for a reply I pondered, ‘What is it about this enormous fish? It’s not scary, it’s just swimming around in its natural element of water. Yet it is a remarkable fish.’

Then I realised, ‘What is the purpose of this remarkable fish? To be remarkable!’

I feel my life is remarkable, as anyone who has close contact with their dreams and imaginary worlds will feel. I seek the remarkable in my work, always trying to break new ground.

My book Bullies, Bigmouths and So-called Friendswas identified by the Independent critic as the first real self-help book for children; Writing in the House of Dreams and the book I’m working on at the moment, When a Writer Isn’t Writing: How to beat your blocks and find your flow, both mix themes to make unusual hybrids.

My fish is an ordinary fish in its ordinary element and yet it feels remarkable. My life is an ordinary life but my purpose is to find the extra-ordinary within it. That’s what brings me pleasure, the same as  when these enormous fishes swim into my dreams.

You can find your symbol too; you don’t have to wait for a dream. Simply sit quietly for a few moments and take a few slow breaths. Still your mind.

Lower or close your eyes, and move into your inner space. Ask, ‘What is my life’s purpose?’ and let the question float away, as you take a few more slow easy breaths.

Now think of an object, and accept the very first thing that drops into your mind. Don’t judge or rationalise it away.

Examine your object from every angle, noticing its particular characteristics. I notice that my huge fish is always brightly coloured, always swimming in clear water and always on its own.

Ask your object, ‘What is your purpose?’

Again, don’t censor or rationalise; go with the first answer that pops into your head.

If you try this, because my purpose is to find and celebrate remarkable things, please share! What was your symbol, and what insight did it bring?




The gifts of writing – 2

In this, the second of my pre-Christmas posts on the three gifts of writing, I’m thinking about the gift of awareness.

In ordinary life, a lot of what we experience is subliminal. We engage with the world through our senses, but barely notice what we are feeling. For example, sitting here at my computer I’m only really seeing the keyboard and screen, unless I take a moment to deliberately notice the four different colours of gel pen right in front of me, one of them a very vibrant green, the particular blue of the walls, the dark grain of the old table, the torn or crumpled bits of paper in the basket beside my chair.


When we write, we picture the scene. We use all our senses to fully imagine it. We notice the detail of our protagonist’s clothing, the colour of their eyes, the quality of their voice. We notice the smell of the air, sharp and clear on a winter’s morning, close and musty in an old drawing-room, or wafting from a warm kitchen carrying cinnamon, or cabbage, or toast.

Our senses are the gateway to the world of our story, and describing what we can see, touch, hear, taste and smell there is how we bring our readers in too.

In writing, in imagination, we can experience life more fully and intensely, and that vibrancy spills over into our experience of real life.

Another thing that we do in writing, which is part of show-don’t-tell, is to notice and describe our characters’ emotions through their bodily sensations. When they are angry, we imagine where they might feel that in their body, and so experience it in our own. Again, this habit in imagination spills over into real life, and we become more aware of how emotion is expressed in the body.


Writing non-fiction also brings an increased awareness, not of what we experience through the body but of what we know, the life of the mind. When you write non-fiction, you become aware of knowledge you don’t normally notice or think about – it’s just there, part of the scenery, like the background details I never notice when I’m working in my study.

How to look after a rabbit; how to write a biography; how to grow plants from pips – these are some of the subjects I’ve written about. Others include the skills you learn just by being alive for a long time, such as cultivating happiness, building self-esteem and handling bullying. I’ve never done much research because I write the things I know about through my own experience, and in writing them, I notice what I know.

Shintie -sweet source of all the know-how in my little book, 'Rabbittalk - How to make friends with your Rabbit'
Shintie -sweet source of all the know-how in my little book, ‘Rabbittalk – How to make friends with your Rabbit’

This increased awareness of the knowledge and experience we normally take for granted and stop noticing is my second great gift of writing. Next week, I’ll close this little series with Gift Number Three.

Our stories, our selves

My work is emotionally autobiographical. It has no relationship to the actual events of my life, but it reflects the emotional currents of my life ~Tennessee Williams

This quotation from Tenessee Williams seems to me to encapsulate where dreams and creative writing are the same.

Being literal-minded, if we try to relate the writing to the author we only do it in a direct way, wondering whether the people in the story are based on real people or the events are things the author has actually experienced.

We do the same with dreams, especially if we focus only on the symbols and not the emotions.

But even where we don’t find any obvious connection between the story and the author, the dream and the dreamer, it is powerfully there because dreams, like fiction, are simply story-versions of the dreamer’s or author’s emotional experiences.

Have you ever written a story that seemed to have nothing to do with your own life, only to realise later that it was ’emotionally autobiographical’?

My top five rules for writers

It’s eighteen years since my first few books were published and I’ve had a very varied and productive writing career ever since. I’ve also got to know lots of other authors, at various stages in their careers; I’ve been on many workshops and read many books about the art and craft of writing.

Books, poems, magazine articles... my varied writing life
Books, poems, magazine articles… my varied writing life

Although I’ve experienced occasional bouts of frustration, stress and despondency over the years in relation to the business side of things, I’ve always felt happy and confident in my writing, and I think that’s largely down to finding and following my five golden rules:

Focus on the big picture

The real work-in-progress is yourself as a writer – every word, draft and manuscript you produce contributes to that. Therefore even if a piece of work is turned down by publishers or agents, that doesn’t mean it’s been a waste of time, because it’s added to the sum of your writing experience. (In fact, rejected MSS will often go on to have their day – they’re eminently recyclable)

Don’t push the river

Creative work has its own rhythm, requiring fallow time as well as pondering, planning, drafting and redrafting. If you try to write a book before it’s ready, you’ll come up against blocks and difficulties; if you learn to be patient, and allow the ideas to fully form up in your mind before you begin, the writing will flow.

Go with the flow
Go with the flow

Don’t expect to please everyone

We’re all different, so we all enjoy different themes and voices in our reading, and that includes publishers and agents. If you get rejections, take notice of constructive criticism but don’t take it personally. Ditto if you get bad reviews.

Understand your soul’s needs

Some people want to write because they have a burning desire to tell their own personal story, or to achieve celebrity, or to become a public speaker. Some people hope to earn a lot of money. Others may simply want to be able to create objects that please them. Identifying what you want from being a writer will help you to create achievable goals and lasting satisfaction. I’ve written about this on the blog, in What kind of writer do you want to be?

Life-coaching techniques could help you to identify your writing goals
Life-coaching techniques could help you to identify your writing goals

Be grateful

As soon as you start to write, whether you are published or not, you begin to see life through a writer’s eyes. You notice everything. Snippets of overheard conversations; the story in a stranger’s face; the movement of light in leaves. You uncover the unconscious narrative streams that flow in your own psyche, and so magnify your experience of everyday life.

The story in a stranger's face
The story in a stranger’s face

These are the rules which have underpinned the whole of my writing life. What are your writing rules?

Sigmund Freud and the writer’s gift

The creative writer does the same as the child at play. He creates a world of phantasy which he takes very seriously — that is, which he invests with large amounts of emotion — while separating it sharply from reality ~ Sigmund Freud

Over the years, several people coming new to writing workshops have remarked that they feel like they’re in playschool, when they had been expecting something much more difficult and demanding. ‘It’s very enjoyable,’ they say, ‘but when are we going to get to the nitty gritty?’

The ability to be playful is the nitty gritty – it’s the key to creating the dreamlike fantasies of fiction, and it’s an ability that many of us lose as part of the natural process of growing up and engaging with the ‘real’ world.

Freud says we actually distance ourselves from the fantasies of our inner lives to the extent of feeling fearful and ashamed. The writer’s gift may be that in being able to sustain the playful attention and emotional attachment that children do to their dreams and fantasies, he or she provides an acceptable way for readers to indulge in the same activity vicariously.

And there’s more.

…our actual enjoyment of an imaginative work proceeds from a liberation of tensions in our minds. It may even be that not a little of this effect is due to the writer’s enabling us thenceforward to enjoy our own day-dreams without self-reproach or shame ~ Sigmund Freud

In overcoming their ‘grown-up’ rejection of the dreams and fantasies of their inner world, writers may also be giving a kind of permission for readers to explore and engage with their own.

What kind of writer do you want to be?

I’ve always thought of myself as a very happy writer. I used to put it down purely to the fact that I was a dreamer first, and therefore completely used to coming and going across the threshold of consciousness, which meant I never experienced any kind of writing angst about getting blocked or running out of ideas.

But at the recent Scattered Authors conference in Peterborough, my friend and fellow-writer Penny Dolan recommended a book she thought I might like, called ‘Coach yourself to writing success,’ by Bekki Hill, and it has extended my thinking.

life coaching book

Penny was right – I love this kind of book. I enjoy doing practical exercises that help me to arrive at different ways of looking at things. I’m a great fan of life coaching too, having had some life-changing sessions with astrological life coach, Pat Neill, a few years ago and more recently a brilliant group session with a writing coach at a Lapidus networking day.

What has become clearer for me through reading this book is that another reason I’m very happy in my writing is that my goals are perfectly attuned to my core values.

We commonly measure writing success in terms of sales and celebrity, but I have never felt any of that is important; I haven’t felt jealous, anxious or disheartened about having less of a public profile than many of my writing friends.

My core values, it turns out, are in order of importance:

  1. Beauty/ creativity. I’ve blogged about the elegant harmonies of structure that please me in my work on the children’s blog, girlsheartbooks http://girlsheartbooks.com/2012/12/18/does-this-make-me-weird/
  2. Nature/health. I love the writing life because it means I can live somewhere remote and go walking in nature every day
  3. Loving/caring/sociability. I enjoy the connection with readers, for example here on my blog, although it’s medium-profile and profit-free. One of my main drives in writing for children is to suggest ideas which might help them create positive experiences and deal with difficult ones
  4. Originality/self-expression. The parable of the talents has always informed my life, and it feels very important to me that we explore, uncover and develop our God-given gifts, whatever they might be
  5. Spirituality/solitariness. This was the surprising one, because I’d have thought it would rank higher, but when I did the next exercise, expanding upon these core values, I discovered that all of the first four boil down to ways of celebrating the divine, in myself, the world and other people

You are more likely to achieve your writing goals if they fit with your core values in life. Should you manage to achieve goals that don’t, your success is less likely to make you feel happy.

That is not to say you are limited forever to where you are today, because core values can change and evolve. Like you yourself, they are a work-in-progress.

But for this moment and this step, understanding how your current writing goals relate to what your soul wants is empowering and may be a revelation. Like Penny, I can totally recommend this book.

Have you ever thought about how well your writing goals tie in with your core values?

Is it easier to write for children?

When I decided to try and make a career of writing in my early forties my first stumbling block was that I had no idea what kind of writer I wanted to be. I’d written a number of adult novels in my teens and early twenties, and sent a sample of the last one to six big publishers, four of whom had asked to see the whole MS. They all went on to send me encouraging letters of rejection, the concensus being that my book was too ‘experimental.’

Royal Jelly - too experimental!
Royal Jelly – too experimental!

Like lots of writers dipping their toe in the market for the first time, I didn’t notice the encouragement, or indeed clock what a good sign it was that four out of six major publishers wanted to read my whole manuscript. I took the fact that they’d all rejected it as a sign that I wasn’t good enough.

In the long gap between those early novels and my decision to try and be an author, I’d also discovered a great enthusiasm for children’s books through reading billions of them to my own children. So I wrote an adult novel, a whodunnit and several children’s stories and sent them to several agents.


The agent who took me on said she thought I could be published as both an adults’ and a children’s author, but advised me to start with children’s stories. She stressed that it wasn’t easier to write for children but, purely because of the much shorter length, it was quicker. I might spend five years writing an adult book and then not find a publisher, which would be crushing, whereas I could do a lot of children’s stories in that time and, even if I got rejections, I might well still hit the market quicker.

I was happy with that. Writing shorter pieces was easier to fit into my daily routine of grabbing a few hours to write in the mornings when all the children were at school or playgroup. I enjoyed it hugely, but I assumed it was a phase – I thought the reason I could write children’s stories was because I had children at home, so I was kind of in the zone. When they grew up, my writing would surely grow up too.

But since my children have flown the nest, I’ve discovered that there’s this lively ten-year-old in me, and she’s the one I’ve been writing for all along. She’s both my reader and my protagonist, and she loves funny stories, with lots of action and chaos.

I don’t think it’s outer circumstances that make a children’s writer, but what’s inside. If you haven’t got that vocal, living inner child demanding and driving your story, you’ll get the voice wrong, you’ll speak down as your adult self and your readers won’t connect with what you’ve written.

In that case, I’d say personally that it would be easier to write for adults.