Making Friends with Failure

We need to talk about failure.

Or rather, we need to talk differently about failure.

Failure is something we’re conditioned to dread and not really talk about … and yet failing is an inevitable part of life.

As long as we dream and strive and try to move forwards in our lives we are sometimes going to fail.

So, it makes sense to me to try to reframe failure in a more positive way – as a stepping stone rather than a dead end.

A while ago, I wrote an article on the subject for The Guardian. You can read it here.

Off the back of that article, I was invited to give a talk on overcoming failure at the BBC.

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With Ros Atile, Head of Development at CBeebies

As part of that talk I shared the following 6 steps for dealing with failure positively. 

If you’ve recently failed at something – personally, professionally or creatively – I hope they help you move forward…

Step One

When failure happens, allow yourself to feel sad. Don’t try and block your negative feelings. Acknowledge what happened and that you feel like crap. Throw yourself a pity party.

Step Two

But know when to leave the pity party. Don’t be that annoying guest who stays too long. Don’t wallow in your sadness or anger or fear. Don’t let your failure come to define you. Make the conscious decision to let go and move on.

Step Three

Let go and move on by turning your so-called failure into a positive. Turn it into a positive by asking yourself the question: What is the lesson here? Or, How is what has happened also for the good?

Step Four

Another great question to help you move on is: What does this failure now leave me free to achieve? For example, when I was dropped by my first publisher – a devastating failure for me at the time – it left me free to take my career in a brand new direction and start writing for young adults. This in turn, led to some of my greatest career successes.

Step Five

Let go of the old failure and refocus your attention on a fresh new dream. See this dream as a light at the end of the tunnel, something to aim for to lead you out of the dark.

Step Six

When you’re still reeling from a failure it can be hard to start working towards a new dream. Counteract any inner doubts or fears by adopting a one-a-day strategy. Set yourself the simple task of doing one thing a day towards achieving your new dream, no matter how small. The one-a-day way will build momentum and soon lead you to fresh adventure.

And finally…

It’s not failure that plots our path in life but how we react when things go wrong.

Don’t let your failures imprison or define you, let them educate you and motivate you to move on.


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.

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.


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

 


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.

 

 

 

 


The Sweet Creativity of Doing Nothing

This is my bed.

I spent most of last Sunday here, doing nothing.

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Doing nothing but drinking ginger tea and eating fruit cake and DAYDREAMING.

For so long I thought that doing nothing was a waste of time.

In all honesty, doing nothing made me feel afraid.

Afraid of not earning enough money … every self-employed person knows that TIME IS MONEY.

Afraid of missing out … who knows what world shattering hashtag might be trending on Twitter.

Afraid of feeling lonely or bored … surely it would be way more fun to see who wants to come out to play.

But here’s what happens if you never do nothing; if you never let go of all the crutches and succumb to sweet solitude.

Your brain goes into overload, so full of ‘should‘s and ‘have to‘s that there’s no room for the fresh and the new. There’s no room for inspiration. And there’s every chance you’re going to short circuit.

As I lay on my bed, listening to music and watching the tree outside bobbing in the breeze, all the thoughts that had been cluttering my mind for the past week – about the unfinished projects, and the imminent house move, and the frickin’ cupboard that I still haven’t cleared – began filing themselves away.

I felt light and summer breezy.

The only questions that troubled me were which album to listen to next and which side to lie on.

It was blissful.

And then, completely unexpectedly, some brand new dreams began budding into life.

Instead of being plagued by ‘I should‘s I entertained myself with ‘I could‘s.

I could write this. I could create that. I could travel here. I could have an adventure there. 

It was as if inspiration had been waiting patiently for all the din to die down.

When’s the last time you intentionally and deliberately did nothing?

When’s the last time you carved a serious chunk of time out for some serious daydreaming?

When’s the last time you disconnected from the outer world so that you could reconnect with the inner?

Take out your diary now and make an urgent appointment with NOTHING.

Underline it for emphasis.

Don’t break your appointment with nothing for anything.

You’ll thank me for it, I promise.

And so will your dreams.

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If you’re in need of some dream-spiration my new novel, The Moonlight Dreamers is available 

on Amazon here.

A beautiful book about friendship, standing up for what you believe in and finding the courage to be yourself and find your own unique place in the world.’ Lamont Books
.
Sensational and unforgettable, falling in love with this book came as naturally as breathing. The best book I’ve read all year.Blog of a Bookaholic