Archive for the ‘life lessons’ Tag

Kicking the Arse of Self Sabotage

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

We all have a gremlin living inside us. This gremlin’s name is Self Sabotage. It’s the voice that tells you that you can’t do it. You will fail.

This gremlin could be some kind of primitive self-preservation mechanism. If you don’t try, you don’t risk heartbreak and failure. But it also seems to want to see us miserable. It doesn’t want us venture out and risk new things. It doesn’t want us to venture from the status quo. It keeps us in a rut, because the rut is safe and familiar, and even if we’re not happy in the rut, we have got used to being in it.

Some people let this gremlin rule their lives. They are also the same people who fuel other people’s gremlins. We all have people in our lives who tell us we will fail.  Whenever we hear that, our own gremlin gets a bit stronger. Hear it enough times, we might even start to believe it.

If you’re a writer, this gremlin is the voice that is telling you you’re no good. You will never succeed. You can’t really write very well at all. And it fuels the fear. You are afraid of rejection. But if you repeatedly tell yourself you’re a rubbish writer, you will never finish that novel, which means you will never get around to submitting it, which means you save yourself from the heartbreak of repeated rejection letters.

But it’s not good to listen to that gremlin, no matter how loudly it speaks to you. Plenty of songs have been written about how it’s better to have loved and lost than never loved at all, and so on. Some of them are pretty corny, but the sentiment is true. Sometimes you have to take chances. Sometimes the risk you take doesn’t work out, but sometimes it does, and you won’t know either way unless you give it a go. There’s another corny old adage that seems highly appropriate here. The things you most regret on your death bed will be the things you didn’t do – not the things you did. Even if some of those things proved to be mistakes in retrospect, at least you lived to tell about them.

So the next time you hear that Self Sabotage gremlin whispering to you that you’re going to fail – whether it be referring to your writing, or something else in your life – be sure to give that critter a good kick up the backside. That doesn’t mean it won’t come back – it invariably will. But the further away and more frequently you kick it, the longer it will take to come back. And when it does, at least you’ll be ready for it.

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Changes

WP_000104This is the desk I sit at when I am working the day job.

In a couple of months, we shall be moving offices. We’ll all have desks half the size of our current ones, in the new building, and there is very little storage space. This means we have to cull the paperwork.

I like pieces of paper. They serve as a physical reminder to do something. As long as the bit of paper is sitting there, every time I see it, it reminds me I have to do something with it. My current method of dealing with emails is to print off the email and put it in my ‘in’ tray. When I’ve dealt with the email, I throw the bit of paper away. Otherwise, the email is likely to get lost in midst of the hundreds of other emails in my in box, and not dealt with.

But I will have to develop new methods of working. All of this paperwork will have to go, since there will be no room for it in the new building. I am not a fan of change. I am comfortable with routine. But routines will have to change. Everything will be different in the new building. I am going to have to cull all the paperwork, and get used to keeping track of files and reminders electronically.

This is a metaphor for life. I carry around a lot of unnecessary baggage in my psyche. Not because this is good for me, but because I’m used to having it there, and familiarity and routine are reassuring.

Change of any kind I find terrifying. But sometimes change has to happen. We have to throw away the superfluous pieces of paper, and rearrange our lives. And sometimes this only gets done if something or someone forces us to do it.

This is the real reason things need to change – because I fear it. After all, the best way of dealing with one’s fears is to face them head on.

It’s time to make some changes.

A Post About Responsibility and Choices

As a precursor to this blog, I am issuing a warning that it might get political.

I don’t read newspapers anymore. They all have a political bias and I just get cross. I get most of my news from the BBC news channel (or its website) these days, which seems to have at least some semblance of objectivity. Newspapers all seem too keen to point the finger of blame at whose fault it is the world’s in a global recession. Corrupt politicians. Unscrupulous wealthy people. Or it’s all the fault of single mothers and people on benefits – depending on which paper it is.

When I was 18 I was a rampant socialist – bordering on communist, in fact. I thought it was grossly unfair that some people had money and some people did not. Then I finished high school in Canada and moved back to England. I had a plan to go to university here. I discovered that I was not entitled to any kind of financial assistance to aid with fees, as I had been out of the country for too long. Nor could I claim unemployment benefit, I discovered when I went to do so. Instead, I went out to find a job. Having no particular skills or experience, I went after any sort of job that was available. I ended up working in a book shop for a few years.

When I was 21 I qualified as a ‘mature student’ and could do a university degree part time in evening classes. So this is what I did. It took me six years, instead of the usual three. By that point I had a local office job, for a software distribution company, so after working all day I ended up taking a train and hauling all the way over to North London to attend my lectures. I got home late, and often nodded off during them. I spent most of my weekends doing course work – doing the reading, or working on essays. Several TV shows I’d previously been addicted to I stopped watching when I realised I had six weeks’ worth of episodes recorded and never had time to catch up. And at the beginning of each term I paid the fees out of my own hard-earned cash. When I finally got my degree – a 2:1 in English Literature – I felt like I’d earned it.

I was also 21 when Hubby and I, having decided we were in this relationship for the duration (though we weren’t married at that point), bought our first place together. It was 1991, and property prices in London were on a downward spiral. We bought a tiny one-bedroom flat on a brand new estate. It was all we could afford at the time. Developers were keen to sell, given the market crash. By the time we moved into the place, it was worth about half what it had been when they had started to build.

Five years later, we moved to a two-bedroom split level maisonette. We recruited friends and family and a mini van to move all our stuff. It took seven trips to move everything out, and we wondered how we managed to fit so much stuff into such a tiny place. We also ended up being in negative equity, since the flat was worth less when we sold it than it was when we bought it.

The negative equity was gone by the time we sold the maisonette in 2003, because by that point property prices had skyrocketed, and they’ve never really fallen in the same way since. Our most recent move last year took us to a four-bedroom house. I don’t apologise for that. It’s taken us 20 years to get to a house that size. We have more stuff, and more income, and can now afford a bigger mortgage. And we could also afford a removal company, to take away the stress of having to pack up and move everything ourselves.

I have been part of the British workforce for 25 years now. In all that time, I have paid my taxes and claimed maybe two months’ worth of unemployment benefit. I have never walked out of one job without having another one lined up, no matter how much I hated it (and believe me, I’ve had some jobs I really hated) and in spite of being made redundant several times, I soon discovered that as long as you can type and have some organisation skills and office experience, there are always temp jobs available while you look for permanent employment – just as long as you don’t mind where you work, or for whom.

I don’t believe that the majority of the rich are out to screw over the poor, like I don’t believe that the majority of the poor are benefit cheats. There are, of course, always bad apples in every barrel, and these are the ones the media focuses on. But it’s dangerous to make sweeping generalisations. Human nature makes people criticise those they envy, and cry, ‘not fair’ because someone else has something they don’t.

But you know what? Life isn’t fair. That’s a lesson that should be learned by everyone early in life. My politics have shifted in the 25 years I’ve been part of the working world. Everything I have in my life – including the house, the holidays and the English degree – I’ve worked for without assistance or subsidies from anywhere (well OK, apart from the mortgage, but to qualify for one of those these days you have to have a good track record of paying it back, and it gets paid every month).

We all make choices in life. And we have to live with the consequences of those decisions. I chose not to have children. Maybe I’ll be alone when I get old if Hubby goes first and I have no other relatives, but that’s the choice I’ve decided to make. I have chosen not to take the plunge and give up the day job to write full time. If I were to do that, maybe I’d have more time to write, get more done and hence make more money from the writing, but I’m not really a risk taker, and I’m not willing to take that chance. So my choice, instead, is to continue to juggle the day job with the writing, even if it means having to keep getting up at 5:30 am to find time to write.

Sometimes we are dealt a bad hand in life, through no fault of our own. These are difficult times we live in, and a lot of very well qualified people have found themselves unemployed because their companies have gone bust or have had to downsize. Some of these people have mortgages to pay and children to provide for, and life is hard. And they might think that’s unfair. I thought it was unfair all the times when I got laid off. Sometimes it was a struggle for us to pay the mortgage on one salary. But we got by. We had to cut back for a while, on everything. And we got through it.

Life is unfair. We can’t always get what we want.

Human beings have a tendency to blame their problems on someone else. Blame the rich, for exploiting the poor. Blame the poor, for cheating the benefits system. Blame the immigrants, for coming over here and taking all our jobs (and incidentally I have heard this line from locals in every single country I’ve visited). Blame the corrupt politicians for taking cash away from services to line their own pockets. I’m not saying there aren’t unscrupulous rich, or benefit cheats, or corrupt politicians, because obviously there are. But they don’t all fall in this category, and we shouldn’t be so quick to allocate blame to a particular group of people.

People I knew who were in this world a few years ago are no longer with us. Life may not be quite the way you want it to be, but every birthday you pass still breathing, is an achievement. No matter how many excuses you make, you still have control of every decision you make in your life. If you want things to change, you have to make the first move. But change is difficult – and sometimes it seems insurmountable. So it’s easier to keep on the well trodden path and come up with excuses why you can’t get off it.

I am not pulling these meaningless phrases out of the air. I am the first person to resist change. When my parents divorced I was six years old, and not only did that change shake my life up, I spent the next 25 years blaming them for everything that went wrong in my life. But I did in the end learn to forgive them and move on. Perhaps I should have been able to let go of this earlier than I did, but I was slow to learn the lesson that the experience presented to me. I’m also still learning the lesson that change is generally a good thing, even if it doesn’t seem that way at the time.

I am now getting off the soap box. I’ve had my say. You don’t have to agree with me, and that’s OK.

Political broadcast now over. Normal service will be resumed with the next post.

Another Year Older

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

Today is my birthday. I am 43. I am slightly bummed about this – I rather enjoyed being able to say I was the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything when I was 42. 43 just doesn’t seem to be a very interesting number. Though it is a prime number, and I guess there aren’t too many of those.

However, looking back on the past year it does seem I have cause to celebrate. The last 12 months have seen the release of my third published book. Maybe I’m not making loads of money from the writing, but I’m getting published, and that’s something to cheer about.

It seems a lot of our friends have lost one or both parents recently. Mine are still around. Some people have been dealing with losing their jobs, or debilitating illness. I still have the day job, which lets me pay the mortgage, and I’m still alive and kicking. So it seems there’s a lot to celebrate.

I’m off to raise a glass to being another year older. Bring on 43.

Stressed

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

Generally I don’t post when I’m stressed. When I’m stressed I get grumpy, and I don’t want my blog posts to turn into long whinges. However, I am doing so today for reasons I hope will become clear later.

I’ve had a couple of holidays this summer, which were not stressful in themselves, but coming back to work after time away always makes me regret going away in the first place – the work piles up when I’m gone, and suddenly there isn’t enough time to do everything.

I seem to have been struck by a series of ailments over the last few weeks – nothing serious or long lasting, but it has meant I’ve spent altogether too much time sitting in hospital waiting rooms.

We are in the process of buying and selling property, which is a long, drawn out and stressful process. I’m not going to say too much about this at this stage, because English property law being what it is, nothing is set before exchange, anything can go wrong – and frequently does – before that stage, and so it’s best not to assume it’s actually going to happen until the keys are in your hand. However, the process involves dealing with estate agents and solicitors, which is stressful enough without all the other stuff going on.

Most crucially, though, I am still wrestling with the WIP. I am mired in the “my writing is rubbish” stage, believing the whole thing needs dismantling and putting back together, and I am not sure where to start.

However, I am starting to think that life stress is connected to writing stress and vice versa. When the writing is going well I am in a much better frame of mind and can pretty much handle whatever life throws at me. When it’s not going well, suddenly all kinds of other hassle creeps in – notably, things that wouldn’t be bothering me quite so much if the writing was going well. I started today with an early morning writing session that didn’t go at all well – I spent much of that hour staring at the page thinking what I had written was complete rubbish. Hence, I didn’t have a good day at work, either. When I start the day with a good writing session, the day job is much easier to handle.

So the only stress in my life I should actually be focusing on is my troublesome WIP. If I can kick that into submission, everything else should be a breeze. Even the house move…

Jealousy

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I’m going to ask a very personal question. Do you ever get jealous of other writers? Writers who are published and getting rich, and you’re not? Writers who suddenly decide it’s time to write a book, and then land a three-book publishing contract within a year of finishing their first book, when you’ve been collecting rejection slips for years?

I’m going to be honest here and say that sometimes I do. Jealousy is a human emotion but it’s not a good one to dwell on. It can fester and make us feel bitter and miserable. One of the ways to combat it is to quit comparing ourselves to other people. There will always be people out there we perceive to be doing better than us, in whatever way. There will also always be people out there who are worse off. People try to diminish the success of others by belittling it. It’s a hugely destructive thing to do, but it’s human, and that’s why the celebrity gossip magazines are so popular.

My yoga teacher runs monthly meditation circles, which I try to attend because I find them good for my state of mind. One of the exercises she gets us to do is to go around the circle and everyone has to state aloud something they are grateful for. We keep going on this until people run out of things to say. This exercise makes you focus inwards. Even if you’re in a really bad place, at the end of a terrible day, you will find things that you are thankful for.

Being jealous is one of those things we are reluctant to admit to – to admit to jealousy is to admit to being a Bad Person. I actually debated with myself long and hard about publishing this post at all. But in the end I took a chance that I’m not the only writer in the world who gets jealous, and, like the post I did recently about writer highs and lows, maybe it would help others to know they’re not the only ones who feel this way.

There are a lot things in my life I should be grateful for, and I need to remind myself of this occasionally. Sometimes I resent the day job because it gets in the way of writing tme. But if I didn’t have it, I wouldn’t be able to afford all the wonderful holidays I take. So what if there are people out there who are making more money from their writing than me? It doesn’t diminish my own achievements. Nor does it make me a bad writer if someone else is perceived to be a better one.

We all have our own path to follow. Sometimes we have to remember to keep watching it, instead of coveting someone else’s.

I want to finish this post with a song from the irrepressibly cheerful Dolly Parton, whose “Better Get to Livin'” offers a better lesson in overcoming jealousy than I can offer. I can’t embed the video, so you need to click on the link to see it.

Better Get to Livin’ – Dolly Parton

My Life in Books: The Very Hungry Caterpillar

I’ve blogged about this book before, but it deserves to be the first book I talk about in this series because it’s the first one I remember reading. I actually discovered it when I was three years old – there was a copy in the library of my nursery school. So initially someone must have read it to me – even I couldn’t read at that age.

I think we must have borrowed it – repeatedly – from the library. I remember my mother reading it to me, probably on many occasions. It’s such a wonderful book for children. The repetitive nature of every page, listing what the caterpillar eats and finishing with “And he was still hungry”. My mother used to draw out the word ‘still’, which made me smile. I liked the hole on each page as the caterpillar eats his way through the book – a hole just the right size for a small finger.

And of course the lesson at the end of the story is a wonderfully positive one. The hungry caterpillar emerges from his cocoon a beautiful butterfly, thus demonstrating that no matter what flaws and insecurities you may possess in childhood, you will find your beauty and place in life when you grow up.

When my nephew was born, this was the first book that I bought for him. Its timeless charm continues to enchant children of today just as well as it did forty years ago.

The Angst Of The Writer

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I was re-reading some of my old short stories the other day.  During the 1990s, I had reasonable success in getting some of them published.  The small press was booming in the UK in those days, and there were a lot of markets for short horror fiction.  Most of them were ‘semi pro’ magazines – paying half a pence a word if you were lucky, and a free copy of the magazine if you weren’t.  But still, if you were a horror writer there were a lot of places to submit your work.

A lot of the stories I had published were early works – things I wrote in my late teens and early twenties. Only when I look back in retrospect do I realise how horribly depressing they were.

The thing is, though, I’ve always used writing as a way of working through my issues. And I guess I’ve had a lot of issues. Certain themes recurred frequently in my writing: betrayal; loss; loneliness; isolation; a fatalistic outlook that we’re all doomed to die miserable and alone. A lot of my early horror is more about psychological despair than a Big Bad – and it almost always ends with someone dying in pain and alone.

There are times when I sink into what feels like a deep dark pit, often for no apparent reason, and I wallow there a while. Sometimes it’s days, sometimes it’s weeks. During these times I get out of bed and carry on with my life but I often feel like I’m just going through the motions. And I try to avoid blogging at these times, because no one likes a whinger and it’s not fair to inflict my misery on everyone else. The thing is, though, these feelings always pass, usually disappearing as quickly as they come. So I just ride it out and listen to Muse very loudly on my MP3 player until I feel like I’ve crawled out of the pit.

Sometimes I think writing is my salvation, because I’ve always used it to try and deal with these feelings. My grandmother, disapproving of what I wrote, used to ask me why I couldn’t write any “happy” stories. I replied that there was no point. Happy feelings I want to hold onto. It’s the feelings of misery and despair I try to exorcise, and that’s why they end up in my stories.

The writing has kept me sane. If I didn’t have it to help me work through these feelings of despair, I probably would have thrown myself under a bus years ago. On the other hand, if I didn’t have these angsty periods I probably wouldn’t be a writer, since just about all writers I know also experience these feelings, to a greater or lesser degree.

Is it better to have the angst and be a writer, or be completely sane and not be? That’s an impossible question to answer, because I’ve never known life as anything other than an angsty writer.

On a slightly more positive note, I think I’ve worked through many of my issues, and that might be why I don’t write such depressing short stories anymore. There’s still plenty of death and despair in my writing, but my recently-published novels have at least featured some semblance of a happy ending in the sense that the main characters work through their issues and move on. It’s one thing to be angsty when you’re 18. It’s another to still be angsty at 40. There are some lessons about life that should have been learned by the time you enter your fourth decade, and one of them is that there are some things you just have to let go.

Body Image

I’ve been battling with my weight all my adult life. Over the last 20 years, I’ve been varying from size 12 to size 18. It goes round in a cycle. I put on weight, I go on a diet, I lose the weight and feel good, but the weight always finds me again.

However, over the last couple of years I’ve come to terms with my body and all of its imperfections. Confidence has made a huge difference to my life recently. I believe confidence comes through maturity and wisdom, and there’s no short cut to finding it.

This picture was taken by my dad on the day before my 41st birthday, and I am including it because I think it’s a good contrast to the picture in my last post. There’s over 35 years between this picture and the previous one. When I think about that, it makes me realise just what a long journey it’s been between my being the little girl in that picture and the woman in this one.

The skirt in this picture is a recent purchase. I used to have several similar ones in my wardrobe, that my stylist made me get rid of during my wardrobe detox. So I know that she wouldn’t approve, but I bought it anyway. Part of this confidence in the contemporary me is the conviction that if I like the way something looks, that’s a good enough reason to wear it.

It’s been over 18 months now since I had my styling session, and I’m a size larger now than I was then. So much of what the stylist picked out for me no longer fits. But I am comfortable with who I am, and I can say with confidence that right now, in my 40s, I’m at a good place in my life. I can probably count myself lucky because not everyone gets this far.

Life is short. You have to make what you can of it, and in the grand scheme of things, many of the trivialities we worry about – like putting on a few pounds – are really not important. The recent natural catastrophes in various parts of the world over the last few months have made me think about this quite a lot of late. None of us knows how many tomorrows we have left – so why waste today worrying about them?

Perspective

SUFFER THE CHILDREN is available on the Kindle on Amazon’s site in both the UK and the US. As such, it has a ‘Kindle listing’ rating its popularity.

It’s currently listed number 15,244 on the UK site. This seemed like a rather depressing number to me, and I was grumbling about it to a work colleague recently. “At least it’s got a rating,” she said. “You’ve had a book published and it’s listed on Amazon – not everyone can say that.”

She’s right, of course. I have a tendency to be a ‘glass half-empty’ sort of person sometimes. So thank you, Anna, for pointing out my skewed perspective. My book is published. It has an Amazon listing. This is no reason to complain – this should be a “yay!” sort of moment.

And it reminds me that I’m a published author. That awesome fact has not yet worn thin, and it deserves more than a “yay”. Perspective restored. Off I go for a little happy dance….