Tag Archives: self-help

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?

How I tamed my black dog

I’ve had so much interesting feedback after last week’s post about depression, dreams and the creative life that I’ve decided to make a diversion from my usual themes of dreaming and writing, and talk about my own black dog.

Children can have depression too

He first showed up when I was a child and, by the time I was eight, I had a secret collection of things I could use to kill myself with. I couldn’t, of course, keep my depression secret. It involved whole days of crying, hiding or refusing to get out of bed.

The doctor decided the problem must be hormonal, so at the age of eleven I was put on the pill, to try and regulate my hormones. It didn’t help. I graduated to antidepressants in my mid teens, and a psychiatrist I saw briefly at nineteen added sleeping pills to the mix.

Nothing helped, and I didn’t doubt for one moment that sooner or later my black dog was going to kill me. Maybe he would have, if my big sister’s black dog hadn’t killed her first.

When someone close to you commits suicide, suddenly it isn’t abstract any more. You can’t tell yourself that nobody will care, or that they’d be better off without you. You properly understand the concept of never coming back.

My sister killed herself with prescription drugs washed down by wine – a fact that seemed proof positive of what I already suspected – the drugs were not the cure. I stopped taking them.

Then things got really scary.

Hiding in the dead planet – how I pictured my depression as a young adult

I was in therapy with a psychiatrist for three years. It was a holding-space. The black dog hadn’t killed me, but he might as well have, because all that time focusing hard on every bad thing that had ever happened in my life, mysteriously failed to lift the darkness.

So there I was, clear of chemicals and all talked out with the talking cure; just me, all on my own, with this big black dog.

What happened next might surprise you – it surprised me. I discovered American self-help. It was all American in those days – here in Britain, the idea of self-help was eyed with suspicion as flakey, self-indulgent and unscientific.

But actually, these books drew on ideas you could find in various religious traditions; they were timeless wisdom repackaged for a secular age. The suggestions I came across in books such as Love is letting go of fear, You can heal your life and Feel the fear and do it anyway were life-changing for me.

What it boiled down to was observing your mind, understanding its behaviour and modifying it. And taming the mind turned out to be taming the black dog.

Now that science has caught up, these ideas have become mainstream, wrapped up in shiny new Cognitive Behavioural Therapy packaging. I’ve written a number of children’s self-help books based on CBT, because there’s nothing complicated about it; it’s mostly a question of awareness.

My black dog still shows up from time to time, but not very often and never for very long. I think that’s what happens with any dark thing in the soul – when you embrace the darkness, it becomes less dark.

I wish I’d been kinder and more patient with my black dog from the start but then maybe I simply wasn’t able to be – patience may be one of the gifts he has brought me.

This is just my story, of course. Other people will find prescription drugs and psychotherapy more helpful than I did, although both can have serious side-effects. I would add that, although my years in therapy didn’t help me handle the black dog, they did bring me benefits and insights for which I am grateful.

Does every writer have a dream book?

An early version was called 'The pink jacket'
An early version of my dream book was called 'The Pink Jacket'

When I came to writing after my last child started school, I experienced a sense of homecoming, as if this was the thing I had been born to do.

My first goal was to be a jobbing writer, someone who could turn their hand to anything, and I found the ideal place to learn that in educational writing, because there the brand was the publisher rather than the author, which meant I was free to try my hand at lots of different kinds of writing, both fiction and non fiction.

The two or three years I spent writing full-time for various educational publishers felt like a brilliant apprenticeship, and I carried the things I had learnt there into the next stage of my writing career, moving back into the high street as a children’s self-help author.

My 8 children’s self-help books were a mix of stories, jokes, quizzes, activities and ideas. They have all received 5-star reviews and enthusiastic reader-feedback. However, I soon learnt that earning your living from non fiction was even harder than from fiction.

So I wrote two children’s fiction series, the 6-book ‘Car-mad Jack’ and my new series, ‘By Peony Pinker.’ I feel very lucky to have had such a long, happy and varied writing career.

But underneath it all, from way back before I was ever published, I’ve always known I wanted to write an adult book about dreams, and for a couple of months in every year, before the latest advance runs out, I have returned to this labour-of-love book, experimenting with it at different times as a novel, workbook, memoir and non-fiction.

This year, I decided to finally put everything else on hold, and actually commit to finishing my dream book. I am experiencing even more of a sense of homecoming than when I first began to write. Not only, ‘Writing is what I was born to do,’ but also, ‘This is the book I was born to write.’

I wonder, does every author have a dream book – the special one they feel they were born to write?