We ALL Have the Right to Write

Yesterday, someone posted this message on my Facebook wall:

Hi Siobhan,

I’ve read your book and I want to take that next step and do this properly. I’ve been writing this book for 22 years and my busy working life has got in the way. I don’t want to feel frustrated any more. And being dyslexic doesn’t help either. Writing is all I think about and I want to learn…

I replied to the message on my wall but I couldn’t stop thinking about it because it struck a chord deep within me and I’m sure it will resonate with a lot of people reading this too.

Because expressing yourself through the written word can be so bloody hard.

And it can seem like so many obstacles are stacked up against us.

Lack of time.

Lack of money.

Not coming from ‘the right’ background.

Not having any contacts in the ultra middle class publishing world.

Not knowing exactly where to put speech marks or commas, or semi-colons.

Not knowing what a semi-colon is!

Not knowing how to spell.

But NONE of these things mean you’re not entitled to express yourself through the written word.

In fact, often, these things will mean that you have far more inspiring and powerful stories to tell.

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Let me give you an example…

For many years I worked as a freelance editorial consultant for a publishing company. I was the only person working for that company who’d grown up on a council estate – a fact that initially made me feel slightly awkward but would ultimately make me incredibly proud.

Every so often, the bosses at the company would announce that we’d have a young person coming to do some work experience for us.

Every time, without exception, these young people would be the son or daughter of a friend of the bosses. Privately educated, hyper privileged and with very little interest in publishing. They were there simply to tick the work experience box.

I’d watch them wasting the hours away, surfing the net or updating their Facebook and I’d feel so angry. It’s so hard to get a toe in the door of publishing. It’s almost impossible for most people to land a work experience role. It made my blood boil to see such a rare opportunity being wasted on people who didn’t want it.

Then I did some work for a charity that supports homeless teens. One of the girls I worked with was passionate about writing – and incredibly talented. Life had dealt her a crappy hand leaving her homeless at age 16 and she desperately needed a break. So I asked my bosses if she could do a week of work experience with us.

To my surprise and delight, they agreed.

Seeing her sit down at her desk on the first day of her work experience was the proudest moment of my writing career.

She was working class, homeless and black. Three things you hardly ever see in the publishing world.

And she worked her butt off for that week; happily doing all the admin jobs we gave her, asking intelligent questions, soaking up the experience like a sponge.

She even brought in biscuits to share with us – despite having next to no money.

Watching her work ethic and her desire to learn everything she could about writing was humbling and awe-inspiring.

But this is the one true advantage of being dealt a crappy hand in life … such as homelessness or racism or poverty or dyslexia … it puts a fire in your belly. A burning desire to overcome the odds and prove the doubters wrong.

I felt that same fire, growing up on a council estate and then again later, as a single mum.

I took the anger and fear I felt at my situation and I turned it into determination – to learn, to grow, and to share my stories with the world through writing.

And I urge you all to do the same.

If life has dealt you what at first appears to be a crappy hand, use the resulting anger and fear as fuel to propel you into better days.

Turn your frustration into inspiration.

Don’t listen to anyone who tells you you haven’t got what it takes to achieve your dream – especially if that person is you.

Remind yourself that all the very best writers and musicians and artists and creators went through hard times and they all turned their pain into gold.

Don’t waste any more time making excuses and giving in to doubt.

Know that you have a right to write.

Believe in yourself and your creative abilities and share your creations with the world.

It will be a much richer place for the inspiration you’ll bring.


When the News Gives You the Blues

I was once in an abusive relationship that left me so traumatised I even contemplated suicide.

It was a long, long time ago and I thought I was totally over it, until a recent news story involving a certain misogynist started ‘grabbing’ the headlines.

As I watched news coverage of this man trying to intimidate a woman he was supposed to be debating with I could feel an ancient fear deep inside of me spark back into life.

When you’ve lived with a man who needs to demean and terrorise women to make himself feel less small you recognise the signs.

And it made me feel sick to my stomach when I saw people defending this man on social media.

Just as it makes me feel sick to my stomach when I see people saying hateful things about refugees and other innocent people in dire need of help.

I can’t remember a time when the world was so full of hate and fear.

I can’t believe that bullying and racism are being legitimised by certain political leaders.

And, due to our 24 / 7 connection to the world’s news outlets via the internet, it’s impossible to ignore.

At first I thought that the answer was to argue back every time I saw a post on social media that encouraged hate.

But all that did was make me feel even more angry and fearful, getting sucked into pointless debates.

So, I took a few days out from the news and I came up with a plan.

And, if you’re also feeling sick and tired of all the hate, you’re very welcome to join me…

 

ONE: Sift through fear’s lies for love’s truth

First, I reminded myself that our press and media have an agenda. In a nutshell it’s FEAR SELLS.

So we’re fed story after story designed to scare and divide.

I don’t want the likes of Rupert Murdoch controlling my world view. So I’m going to seek out my news from other outlets, like the wonderful Positive News.

And in future these are the only kinds of news stories I’m going to share on my Facebook page.

Stories that educate and uplift and inspire rather than encourage hate.

I’m going to make it my intention every day to sift through fear’s lies for love’s truth.

 

TWO: Keep on hoping and dreaming

In the light of so much negativity it’s easy to give up hope.

Last week I found myself thinking things like, what’s the point of dreaming about new books and business ideas when so many people are suffering?

It’s hard to feel enthusiastic about anything much when you see children being bombed and turned away.

But now I’m thinking that maybe more positive and hopeful dreamers are EXACTLY what the world needs now.

Especially if our hopes and dreams involve doing good.

Which brings me to my next point…

 

THREE: Be a beacon of kindness

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,‘ Gandhi once said.

The only way we can ultimately defeat hate is with love.

Martin Luther King Jr knew that.

And so did Jesus when he told us to ‘love your enemy‘ and ‘turn the other cheek‘.

It can be really, really hard to come from a place of love when faced with hate, but we need to break the cycle or we’ll just keep on spiralling down.

Last week I set myself the challenge of doing at least three random acts of kindness every day.

This has changed everything for me.

It’s snapped me out of my angry, bitter thinking and given me something far more constructive and fun to focus on.

By actively seeking out ways in which I can bring more love to the world it’s helped me feel a lot less powerless.

I’ve signed up for charities I believe in, I’ve given away books to people who need them, I’ve donated clothes to refugees.

We’re not helpless.

We all have the ability to bring love.

So let’s start bringing it like never before.

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Don’t Give Up Too Soon

 

TRUE STORY: Once upon a time, I wrote a book. I was very happy with what I’d written – excited by it, even. I handed it into my publisher feeling elated.

Then I got my editor’s letter.

In summary: she didn’t like what I’d written.

She liked the way I’d written it but not the key storyline, which she asked me to take out.

I was gutted.

But I took out the storyline and delivered Draft Two.

I handed it into my publisher feeling relieved to have completed the rewrite but slightly dejected. It didn’t feel like it was mine any more. It felt flat and uninspired.

Then I got my editor’s second letter.

In summary: she didn’t like what I’d written.

She felt it was lacking in drama.

I agreed.

But by this time I was so disheartened.

I was about to move house. I had another book to deliver. I didn’t have time to do another major rewrite. I didn’t have the energy.

I cried.

I got into a major ‘woe is me‘ strop.

I comfort ate my way through the Cadburys catalogue.

I wondered if I ought to just quit.

Sometimes giving up can seem like such an inviting option.

Especially when you’re wrung out and feel stretched to breaking point.

Quitting = an end to the stress

Quitting = an emotional fire exit

But giving up too soon can lead to a lifetime of ‘what if‘s and disappointment.

Sometimes, when you’re close to giving up, that’s the very time you need to dig in and double down and graft your way through to the other side.

You don’t need to quit, you need shedfuls of grit.

Once I’d taken a couple of days to wallow in self pity I reminded myself that having a book deal – especially nowadays – is a privilege and an honour.

I reminded myself of how hard I’d worked to get to this point.

I reminded myself that sometimes life isn’t easy but it’s the hard times that make you appreciate the good.

I told myself that I’d rather be a grafter than a quitter any day of the week.

And then a very good friend of mine gave me this invaluable piece of advice:

‘You sound as if you’re not coming from your heart any more. You’re too caught up in your head. Forget what’s happened and tune into your heart. Write from your heart. Forget all the rest.’

So I got back into my heart and I got stuck in.

And I approached the story with fresh, rather than jaded eyes.

And I wrote for from the heart and for the love of it – and for the love of my characters and the reader too.

And this time round, the writing experience was an absolute joy.

Everything fell into place.

I laughed and I cried and I hoped and I dreamed along with the characters.

And when I typed THE END I knew that this third version of the book was the best by far.

But if I’d given up after the second version it never would have seen the light of day.

Sometimes we need to push ourselves to the limit to discover what we’re capable of.

We need to push ourselves past the fire exit marked QUIT to find our way to the prize.

Athletes know this.

They train themselves to break through the wall. To keep going no matter what.

Creatives need to do this too.

We need to train ourselves to overcome criticism and rejection and the desire to quit and to keep on creating anyway.

I delivered the third version of the book to my publisher feeling happy and light.

Then I got my editor’s third letter.

In summary: she loved it.

She thanked me for not giving up.

I thanked her for pushing me to do my very best.

Don’t give up too soon. Dig in. Double down. Keep on creating from the heart. Keep on pushing yourself to do your best work.

 

Need help with your writing…?

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If you enjoyed this post you might like my book DARE TO WRITE A NOVEL, available from Amazon here.

You can find out more and download it as a PDF here.

And you can follow my writing-related posts on Instagram here.

 

 

 

 

 


Question Everything

‘We’d like you to become a school prefect,’ my Head of Year told me as we stood in the middle of the windswept playground.

He’d just shown me a register of my attendance – or non-attendance. I hadn’t attended school for a full week for most of the term.

It was an unusual choice of punishment.

I’d been skipping school to hang out in my older friends’ flat, listening to The Clash and Linton Kwesi Johnson and talking ’bout a revolution. It was the 1980s – people still believed real change was possible back then.

My Year Head had seen me slip from an A grade student to A grade skiver and his offer of a prefect’s position was meant to entice me back into the fold.

‘Becoming a prefect is an honour,’ he told me. ‘It would look great on your CV.’

Part of becoming a prefect meant standing on duty on the school doors at break time, stopping other students from coming into the school.

I didn’t see this as an honour, I saw it as slave labour – students giving up their breaks to do a job that surely should be the responsibility of the staff.

So I told my Year Head that I wasn’t willing to become a prefect as I didn’t believe in the prefect system. I outlined my reasons why.

Silence.

Then he nodded and smiled. Instead of bollocking me I saw a flicker of respect in his eyes.

Looking back now I see that I was lucky – another teacher might not have been nearly as understanding.

But I’m so grateful he was because it taught me an important lesson at an early age: Don’t be afraid to question everything.

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From the moment we’re born we’re told that we have to accept certain things – the norm, the status quo, our parents’ and society’s rules.

But…

But so often this involves massive compromise – we have to shrink ourselves and our beliefs and passions to fit these rules.

And a shrunken life is a miserable life. Trust me, I know.

In the years since my playground encounter I’ve questioned the norm over and over and over again. And as a result my life has been immeasurably more fulfilling.

When I found myself unhappy and broke at the end of my second year at uni I questioned the commonly held belief that a university education is the golden ticket to life. I left and I got a job and I paid off my debts and I blagged my way into a graduate job and I achieved my dream of becoming a writer … all degree-free.

When I found myself a single mum I questioned society’s belief that single mums are a scourge on society; a bunch of benefit-scroungers bringing up packs of feral kids. I started my own coaching business and I created a happy, vibrant home for my son and my family of friends. I wore my indie mum badge with honour and took an extra portion of pride in my son’s successes.

When I found myself dropped by my publisher seven years ago I questioned the commonly held belief that writers need a traditional book deal to find success. I self-published and achieved more success than I ever could have dreamed of.

When I found myself single again a few years ago I questioned the belief that we all need a partner to make us whole. I decided to swear off dating and men and romance for a while in order to focus on my dreams and goals. This turned out to be one of the best ‘questions’ of my entire life – filling me with a fearless, feisty sense of freedom that I’d always been lacking before. A freedom that led to some of my best adventures.

When I’ve felt stuck in a rut I’ve questioned the belief that we all need to settle down, mortgaged up to the hilt. And I’ve moved to brand new places to keep things fresh and fun. Once I even stuck a pin in a map (or hovered the cursor over a Google map), found a town called Berkhamsted and moved there three weeks later!

When I found myself home alone on Saturday night (I’ve just moved to another new town and don’t know many people here yet)  I questioned the belief that women shouldn’t go out on their own on a Saturday night and I took myself to a local benefit gig. I had a great time – chatting to new people and listening to live music and accidentally getting caught up in a bidding war in an art auction! I also met a couple of local writers who I’ve planned to see again.

FULL DISCLAIMER: Questioning things is not the easy route. It comes with a big old side-helping of fear and doubt and some very dark nights of the soul. All of the times I chose to question above I had to overcome huge amounts of fear and I had moments where I thought I was effing mad to have done what I did. But I hung on in there through the scary times and lived to reap the massive rewards.

Because questioning things leads to a life fully and imaginatively lived.

It blasts your life wide open to exciting possibilities.

Possibilities you would never have believed possible before.

Some questions for you…

What do you need to question in your life right now?

How are you shrinking yourself and your dreams to fit in?

What – if you scratch beneath the responsible, acceptable surface – makes you feel uncomfortable and restricted?

If you want to live a truly happy life, question everything.

And only trust the answer that makes you feel excited to be alive.