The Gritty Truth About Writing

It was a Saturday night.

My head was thumping and my eyes were sore.

My entire body ached – especially my shoulders, which were knotted tight.

How much longer will this go on for? I wailed into the darkness.

I thought of the rest of the world all out enjoying their Saturday night – dancing, laughing, drinking cocktails with fun names like Tequila Facelift and Vodka Orgasm – and it made me want to weep into my glass of water.

But I wasn’t ill that Saturday night.

I wasn’t stricken down by the flu or in the grips of a migraine.

I was writing my first novel.

And I was wracked with exhaustion and despair.

I had no idea if what I was writing was any good.

I had no idea if I’d ever get the plot to work.

I had no idea if my characters were likeable or even believable.

Basically, I had no idea.

I felt like giving up practically every single day but somehow – thankfully – I kept going.

And I kept going because I had grit.

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Writing a book takes creativity and imagination … but it also takes a huge amount of determination.

It’s easy to dream of writing … but quite another thing to keep on showing up at the page, day after day after day after day.

Or, in my case back then, as the mother of a young son, night after night after night after night.

So, how do you find the grit to get the words down on the page?

How do you overcome the nagging doubts that sit on your knotted shoulders as you type, telling you you’re not good enough?

The answer is, you have to want it really bad.

And you have to get crystal clear on why you want it so bad.

It could be that you’re desperate to share the message of your book with the world…

Get crystal clear on why that is. Who or how would you be helping?

It could be that writing is as essential to you as breathing…

Get crystal clear on why writing makes you so happy. Make your writing all about enjoying the journey, stop obsessing about the destination.

It could be that you love the idea of entertaining or inspiring or thrilling or scaring readers with your words…

Get crystal clear on how happy this would make you feel. Picture your words lighting up others all across the world.

If it helps, free-write your answers to the following prompts:

  • I have to write because…
  • My dream life as a writer would involve…
  • If I don’t follow through on my writing dreams I’m afraid that…

 

Back when I was writing my first novel my main motivation was the financial freedom a book deal would give me.

When I had moments of doubt and despair like on that Saturday night I’d remind myself of exactly how badly I needed to make it as a writer.

Making it as a writer would put me back in control of my own destiny again, doing something that I loved, and really, who doesn’t want that?

So, I kept on showing up at the page, learning my craft from my many mistakes as I went.

And a couple of years later, my first novel was published.

I’ve since had ten other books published under my own name, plus several more as a ghostwriter.

And one thing I’ve learned more than anything else is that it’s grit, fuelled by desire, that makes writing dreams come true.

 

For more writerly inspiration please visit the Dare to Write section of this website.


Be Proud of Where You Come From

‘How come I never get invited round to your house for tea?’ my friend Jane asked one day as we embarked upon another epic game of French skipping in the school playground.

It was a question the ten-year-old me had been dreading. I’d been round to Jane’s house many times. It was beautiful and huge and so different from mine it was like visiting an enchanted palace. There was a swimming pool in the back garden and a kitten-soft, leather three-piece suite in the living room and a phone on the wall in the kitchen (back then, having more than one phone in your house was a very big deal and having one mounted to the wall was the height of extravagance). They even had an entire store room devoted to food. Jane’s parents travelled a lot and they always brought back exotic edibles from their adventures. Delicate, wafer-thin biscuits from Belgium, brightly packaged breakfast cereals from America and squeezy candy in tubes from France. All of this overseas food was stored in a small room next to the kitchen – a room Jane and I would raid regularly for midnight feasts.

In contrast, my terraced house was small and two-adults-plus-four-kids-messy and, even worse to ten-year-old me, it was on a council estate (think the projects, US readers).

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The council estate I lived on was called James Bedford Close. I never did find out who James Bedford was but I’m not sure he’d have been all that happy with this tribute to him.

Although the estate was pristine and cheery when it was first built and we moved in – with playgrounds for the kids and brightly painted front doors (ours was canary yellow) and even had it’s own on-site caretaker – things soon went downhill.

The flats on the estate became a dumping ground for troubled people, the caretaker was axed and the brightly painted doors began to chip and peel.

Our childhood games reflected the changes. As well as playing hide and seek and knock down ginger we also started playing ‘spot the junkie’ – spying through the grimy windows of the local druggies’ flats. It was terrifying and exciting in equal measure. You got bonus points every time you spotted a prone body sprawled amongst the carnage inside.

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One family on the estate owned four dogs, named Tyson, Rocky, Rambo and Teddy, who they let roam free, day and night, providing a regular source of terror throughout my childhood and teenage years. My dad became my lifelong hero when he kicked Teddy after it went for me on the way to Brownies one night. Such bravery!

How could I invite my friend Jane from her enchanted palace, with its wall-mounted phones and rooms devoted to food into this world?

The answer was, I couldn’t and I didn’t. I was too embarrassed.

So I came up with ever more elaborate excuses as to why she couldn’t come round. ‘My dad has lots of work to do.’ ‘My mum isn’t very well.’ ‘I’m being punished for not feeding the goldfish. My parents ended up being over-worked and sick and punishing me for most of my childhood.

Fast forward to a few years ago and I’m at a lunch with a group of publishing folk. 

In my experience, publishing folk are very nice folk but they’re also very white and middle class folk and I’ve yet to meet one who grew up on a council estate.

At some point during our lunch the conversation turned to council estates and more specifically, the type of people who live on them.

The conversation became patronising and sneery and ‘ho-ho-ho aren’t working class people so frightfully gross‘.

I felt a rage in my belly, ‘fuck you’ thought-bubbles over my head.

These privately educated, privileged people had no idea of the hardships endured by those living on a council estate. To them, the poor were just peasants, there to be mocked over a nice glass of prosecco.

They knew nothing about the decent, hard-working people who live on estates. The people who are forced to live in the bleakest of conditions, often in property that ought to be condemned.

They knew nothing about the stress this can cause.

They knew nothing about what it’s like to be so poor you have to choose between feeding your kids or yourself.

They knew nothing about the way poverty and powerlessness can sap your will and kill your dreams. But I did.

One night, when I was about sixteen, a local gang set fire to a car outside my bedroom window. It was to prove a turning point for me.

I’d spent the previous two years skiving off school, drinking and taking drugs. I’d begun giving up hope that things could get better.

But as I watched that car burn, I realised I had a choice: I either carried on down that path and ended up condemned to an eternity of living in fear … or I worked my butt off to get to university so I’d be able to leave.

The next two years were like the training montage in a Rocky movie. I stopped drinking and getting stoned and started studying and running, all the while listening to a soundtrack of angry rock music and hip-hop to motivate me.

I made it to uni … and two years later I dropped out of uni as I couldn’t stand being so in debt.

But something inside of me had shifted. I believed in the power of dreams. I had proof of the power of determination and grit.

I kept working and dreaming until I’d achieved my dream of becoming a writer … and ended up at the publishing lunch.

And when the publishing folk at that lunch started mocking the people who live on council estates I didn’t feel embarrassed, like I did back when I was a kid, I felt proud.

Proud that no silver spoon or private education or networking or nepotism had bought me a place at that table – hard graft and dreams had.

And so I told them in no uncertain terms that they were talking crap. That most people who live on council estates are decent and hard-working and have just been dealt a worse hand in life than them.

I told them that I grew up on an estate and I was proud of that fact.

I told them that they ought to think more before they sneered and mocked.

And then there was silence – of the tumbleweed kind.

I went home that day feeling really upset. I liked everyone at that table – it was just their incorrect preconceived ideas that I hated. What if they didn’t want to work with me any more? What if, having worked so hard to get a place at their table, they turned their backs on me?

But that night I got an email from one of the woman present at the lunch, apologising profusely. ‘My parents didn’t bring me up to talk like that,’ she told me. ‘They would have been ashamed to hear what I said. I’ll never talk like that again.’

As I read her words I cried – and I learned another important lesson: we should always be proud of where we come from … and never be afraid to voice that pride.

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Last week, I went back to James Bedford Close.

I walked through the flats where we used to play ‘spot the junkie’.

I saw the ghost of my childhood past clambering over the remnants of the climbing frames.

I looked up at the bedroom window I used to gaze from and dream of better.

And I felt incredibly grateful.

Grateful for the start in life growing up on a council estate gave me.

Grateful for the street-smarts and the savvy and the endless adventures.

Grateful for the lesson that anything is possible with the right amount of grit and the determination to dream.


Notes on Not Giving Up

Every so often our life is rudely interrupted.

By a shock diagnosis…

An unexpected redundancy…

A brutal break-up…

The death of a loved one…

These landmines along life’s path have the power to destroy our happiness, equilibrium, even our sanity.

I hit a landmine recently and here are some notes I wrote in the depths of despair to try and cheer myself up. They helped me. I hope they help you…

 

This too shall pass

There’s a reason why this phrase has been so widely quoted ever since its first use in the early nineteenth century – it’s true. Everything passes. Nothing stays the same. Even the very worst of times. It just feels as if they’ll never end. But they will and do. Hold on tightly to that thought.

 

These are the uphill steps to happiness

Remind yourself that you’re still on the path to happiness – it’s just that you’ve hit an uphill stretch (and quite possibly a stormy one too). The trick is to keep walking. Eventually you’ll get to the top and the view from up there will be breath-taking.

 

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Count your blessings every day

Even on the worst of days – especially on the worst of days – remember to take time to be grateful. Each night, write a list of the things you’ve been grateful for that day. Even if you have to do this to the accompanying sound of a barrel being scraped, scrape away. You’ll find something.

 

Seek out pockets of joy

Joy is always available – it’s just that sometimes you have to seek it out. And sometimes it can be very well hidden. Seek out pockets of joy amongst the sadness and stress. They are there.

 

Ask for help

Help wants to be given. Don’t let pride or some insane desire to be super-human get in the way. You’re not super-human, you’re all-too-human – we all are – and sometimes we need help. There are loads of people out there who love to be of service – let them help you now.

 

Seek comfort in hindsight

Remind yourself of other dark times you’ve been through – and got through. You can do this. Ask yourself what helped you back then. Apply the wisdom of hindsight to your current situation.

 

Visualise a happy future

Visualise it so hard you almost believe it’s happened already. Carve out time to daydream. Write down your dreams. Create a dream board. Compose a list of all the cool things you’re going to do once the storm has passed.

 

When self-pity strikes ask ‘Who can I help?’

It’s all too easy to sink into a pit of self-pity when the going gets tough. But all that does is make you feel worse. A great way to snap yourself out of a pity party is to help someone else. Perform a random act of kindness. Do something nice for a friend. Shift the emphasis from you for a while.

 

Be kind to yourself

Don’t beat yourself up, build yourself up. Buy yourself treats. Don’t burn yourself out. Prioritise. Focus solely on what really matters – like getting through the day. Put non-essentials on the back-burner. You can come back to them when things are better and you are stronger.

 

Immerse yourself in nature

It you’re able to, get out into nature, whatever the weather. When I was at my lowest ebb recently I went for a hike in gale force wind and driving rain. It felt great battling against the elements, symbolic of my struggle somehow, and the wind blowing my doubts and fear free. There’s a wisdom to be found in nature. Tap into it. Tell your problems to a tree.

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Hold on to hope

Even when it seems like there’s none to be found. Hold on to the hope of better, brighter days. I’ve found mine – and you will too. Sometimes faith is all we have left, but faith is a powerful thing. I’ve known it work miracles…


Reclaim their Insults … and Wear them with Pride

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the power of words.

More specifically, the power of words to hurt.

There’s a saying from my childhood that has always annoyed the hell out of me:

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.”

Anyone who has ever been bullied will be able to tell you that this saying is a load of crap.

Words can harm … a great deal.

Writers often talk about how, no matter how many positive reviews their work might get, one nasty review will haunt them for weeks or months to come.

Adults often talk about how an insult made by the playground bully years ago still has the power to take them down.

Said in spite, words have the power to etch their way on to our psyches, leaving a deep scar.

A word that I’ve seen said in spite a lot lately is SNOWFLAKE.

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According to Urban Dictionary a snowflake is someone who is ‘overly-sensitive’.

And according to Wikipedia, today’s young adults are known as Generation Snowflake because they’re more prone to ‘taking offence’ than previous generations.

And according to my social media feeds these so-called snowflakes tend to be overly sensitive to and take offence at trivial little issues like racism and bigotry and inequality and climate change and pussy-grabbing and conversion therapy. You know … nothing major.

The other day, I saw a post on Twitter mocking a group of so-called snowflakes and initially it made my blood boil.

How dare they insult young people for daring to care, I ranted. How dare they call people like us (for I too, care about these issues) snowflakes?

But then I had a light-bulb moment.

Being a snowflake isn’t an insult at all.

How can it possibly be a bad thing to care about things like injustice and intolerance and hatred and greed?

Have we seriously become so bitter and jaded as a society that it’s now acceptable to mock people for having feelings?!!

The snowflake haters seriously need to get a grip of themselves.

But in the mean-time, us snowflakes need to take their insults and wear them with pride as badges of honour.

And this really isn’t hard at all.

Not only is it easy to feel proud about caring, the snowflake also provides a beautiful metaphor.

A snowflake (in the true meaning of the word) is beautiful in its design and completely unique … no  matter how many of them fall, no two snowflakes will ever be identical.

Snowflakes might be small and delicate individually but when enough of them come together, they can bring entire cities to a standstill.

A bit like what happened on the Women’s March on Washington (and around the world) the other day.

So, to snowflakes the world over … keep being sensitive, keep caring about the things that matter, and keep coming together to bring about much-needed change.

 

Speak Out

Are you a young adult who cares passionately about what’s going on in the world?

Would you like a platform to share your views?

I’m currently looking for guest writers to feature over on the Moonlight Dreamers website.

If you’d like to be featured or find out more please get in touch via the CONTACT page on this site.

Thank you!

 


Achieving Your Resolutions the One-a-Day Way

Is it raining where you are?

Is January doing her worst?

Is it gloomy and dark and cold and uninspiring?

Is Donald Trump about to become ‘leader of the free world’?

Same here.

But … I have a tiny glimmer of light to offer you in the gloom.

A tale to tell that will lift your spirits and encourage you to pursue your dreams.

This year I have one main focus – to keep things simple.

Simplicity = clarity = space = freedom.

So, I began by applying the rule of simplicity to my new year’s resolutions.

This year I would have just three resolutions, as short and sweet as can be.

And they are:

  1. To have FUN
  2. To make LOVE my mission statement
  3. To WRITE books for adults again

 

Simple.

And, to make the pursuing of these dreams as simple as possible, I vowed to do one thing a day towards achieving at least one of these things.

Now, the one-a-day way to achieving your dreams isn’t loud and brash.

It isn’t all ‘in your face‘ and ‘on the case‘ … it’s more ‘slow and steady wins the race‘.

Sometimes, the one thing you do will achieve next to nothing.

But it will achieve something.

And every so often that something will turn out to be a big thing.

Like the one small thing I did the week before last.

It all started here…

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I’d gone for a walk in the hills near my home and I was thinking about my dream to write for adults again and the novel I’ve just started writing.

The novel is set around a pub – about someone who works in a pub.

But – although I’ve spent plenty of time in pubs – I’ve never experienced them from behind the bar.

I need to chat to someone who has worked in a pub, I thought to myself as I walked. Or, even better, I need to experience working in one myself.

I hiked on.

Maybe I could contact my local pubMaybe that could be the one thing I do towards achieving my 3 dreams today. I could send them a message asking if I could come in and have a chat.

Almost immediately my inner voice of doom sprung into life.

Don’t be stupid. They won’t want to help you. You’ll just be annoying and get in their way. Etc. Etc.

But, as I made my way back home, I couldn’t help thinking, yeah but what have you got to lose?

Realising I didn’t have that much to lose at all, I sent the pub a message.

Within an hour I’d got the loveliest message back from one of the pub’s owners – he’d be delighted to meet and chat with me.

So, a few days later, we met and chatted. And chatted. I got loads of information and it was so much fun.

Just as I was about to go, he asked me if I’d ever run a writing group before.

This question is my personal version of ‘Is the Pope Catholic?

I LOVE running writing groups and have run loads over the years. Since moving here a few months ago I’d started running a mini group in my living room but had run out of chair space.

It turns out that the pub owner had been wanting to host a writing group in his pub for a while but didn’t know who to ask to lead it.

Hello, serendipity!

Long story short, from that one simple act of sending the message to the pub, I’ve found out loads of great pub details for my book, done a spot of work experience behind the bar, and been asked to run a weekly writing group in the room upstairs.

I enjoyed it so much it’s also made me want to find a part-time job as a bartender! And who knows where that might lead…

All from sending that one simple message.

It doesn’t matter how small the steps you take towards achieving your dreams are – what matters is that you take them.

One by one. Slowly. Steadily.

Simply.

You never know where it might lead…

(For daily inspiration achieving your dreams, follow my DAILY DREAMSPIRATION posts on Facebook here.)

 

Do you need help with your writing resolutions?

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I love helping other people achieve their writing dreams.

Find out more about my one-to-one Finding the Plot sessions here.

Alternatively, you can find out more about my book, Dare to Write a Novel, here.

 

 

 


When Life Knocks You Down – Keep Saying YES

The other day I was thinking back to a rock-bottom time in my life.

A time when I seriously couldn’t see how things could get any worse … and I seriously couldn’t see how they could get any better.

But, with the gift of hindsight, I’ve realised that this rock bottom ended up being the catalyst for much needed change.

And it led to unimaginable happiness.

It wasn’t that someone waved a magic wand over me and the issues disappeared in a puff of glitter.

But, if I had to condense the reason for my transformation in fortunes into one little word, it would be this one…

YES.

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In spite of my heartbreak and fear and despair I kept on saying yes at a time when all I really wanted to say was no.

I stayed open to the possibility that life could get better … and I said yes to every little chance to make things better.

And as I look back on those dark days from my current happy place, I can see the string of ‘yes’s that led me here.

In saying yes to the notion that I could train as a coach and mentor other people as well as write I pulled myself and my son out of poverty.

In saying yes to my very first public speaking engagement – even though it scared the hell out of me and I was a quivering, stammering mess – I took the first step on a path that would lead to me travelling the world giving talks. And, more importantly, it would massively repair my self-confidence.

In saying yes to an appeal in a magazine for entries for a book award, a novel that I’d self-published ended up winning and my career as a writer was transformed. I’ve subsequently received publishing deals for eleven different books off the back of that one yes!

Are you starting to see how important your own choices can be?

How one simple ‘yes’ today could lead to happiness and success tomorrow?

You could say yes to a party invite and end up meeting the love of your life.

You could say yes to a fitness challenge and end up healthier than you ever imagined.

You could say yes to a random job opportunity and finally discover your true calling.

And, if you find yourself in the deep dark depths of rock bottom, when all you want to say is ‘why?’ or ‘no‘, try saying ‘yes’ instead to life and to hope.

I know it’s hard, but use what happened to me to inspire you.

Say yes to every opportunity to make things better.

And have faith that your own string of ‘yes’s will lead you back home to happiness.

 

Do you need help writing a book or starting a business or achieving another life dream?

Check out my coaching page here to find out how I could help you.

‘Siobhan is a caring, empathetic and insightful life coach with the ability to really understand where you’re coming from, whether in your business or personal life. She possesses the ability to enable you to see your own solutions without prejudice, which is an invaluable talent.’ Suzanne Burgess

 


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.