Tag Archives: Writing

Don’t be afraid of being a wanker

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Swearing like a trooper is one of my guilty pleasures, and since it’s now scientifically proven that people who swear are more honest than average, I can see no reason to stop.

You might think that swearing is a lack of manners but what I like about it (ok, apart that it’s funny) is that it allows you to cut the crap when you need to get an important point across, and be heard in a way you might not otherwise. A little rudeness can go a long way.

That’s why you come across sensible people who run F*ck It retreats (best-selling author John C Parkin and his wife), or write articles about the Elegant Art of Not Giving a Shit (David Cain on Raptitude).

So it should be no surprise that a great piece of advice I received recently includes rude content. I was talking to someone obviously wiser about work, and voicing concern about the impossibility of being a full-time writer:

“Your problem she said, it that you’re afraid of being a wanker.”

By which she meant: “You’re so worried that calling yourself a writer might turn you into a pretentious twat, that you’re not even trying. Instead you pretend you don’t really want it, to make sure no one ever calls you that (because let’s face it, it’s not nice).”

The problem is that by playing it nice and safe all the time, you can manage to fool people that you’re not even there. (With time you might even fool yourself).

Which isn’t good. You can’t succeed at anything by being invisible.

If you’ve ever fallen prey to thinking “Ooh I could do this, but… who am I to try? why should anyone be interested? people will think this or that…” then you’re probably afraid of being a wanker too (great by the way, there is no reason why it should just be me!).

You shouldn’t worry too much – wankers are so busy being great, talking down at others and believing their own spin, that they’re unlikely to care what other people think.

So you being worried about being a wanker almost definitely means you’re not.

I’ll also let you in on a little secret: one of the people I respect most professionally is on occasions a bit of a wanker. It’s not pretty to look at (and not nice for those around), but there can be a thin line between having enough self-belief to not compromise your vision, and coming across as an idiot.

On the plus side: some might call you an idiot, but you have enough self-belief to see your vision through.

So go on, do your thing! You have the world’s blessing to do whatever makes you heart sing, and tell us about it until the cows come home.

Because hey, you matter.

February: No Imaginary Conversations

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I tend to live in my head a lot (you don’t say!) so in February I picked a challenge that I felt would make a big difference in terms of stress and general wellbeing/sanity: limiting imaginary conversations.

If that sounds crazy, let me clarify that I don’t hear voices or anything – I just daydream lots.

In fact, I go by entire hours paying only remote attention to what is going on around me, because I’m too busy fantasizing about things that have happened, may happen, or I wish would happen, and as I’m not a visual-type person, I get a lot of internal dialogue.

While some are pleasantly entertaining, others are downright toxic.

Remembering a good moment or planning future holidays probably doesn’t do much harm, but unproductive conversations typically include:

  • decision making: arguing my case endlessly about a real life decision
  • doubt: going over past or future situations wondering if I could have done it better
  • venting anger: usually things I would never dare say in real life to whoever annoys me
  • justification: if I feel guilty about something that happened; entirely pointless and usually unnecessary
  • worst case scenarios: need I explain? I bet you get them too

The Buddhist tradition calls our endless train of thought the “monkey mind” – it goes from one thing  to the next without concentrating on anything, being at best distracting, at worst unproductive and frustrating. I tend to think of it as a washing machine, because whatever the idea, it never comes just once – it just goes round and round, over and over again.

The plan:

The rules for February were simple: if I caught myself having an imaginary conversation of any sort, I was to snap out of it immediately and focus on the present moment.
This was never going to be an easy one…

What actually happened:

I mentioned this challenge to my colleague William, who is also bit of a dreamer, and I loved his candid response:

“Why would you ever want to do that? it’d be 90% of my life gone!”

Indeed.

While refocusing on the present wasn’t actually hard in itself (in fact, it was surprisingly easy) I found that the present wasn’t necessarily always as appealing as it sounds. There is nothing glamorous about being stuck in a public transport, or in line at the post, or in a dreary conversation.

What I’ve learnt:

I’ve learnt several things

  1. It is tremendously helpful to be able to stop toxic worrying, panic attacks and guilt trips when you spot them. Not only does it dissolve the nasty thought literally into thin air, but also it helps you realise HOW MUCH unnecessary anger/ guilt/ worry you have in a day – and how much time you could save by avoiding them altogether.
  2. On the other hand, I would agree with my colleague that daydreaming actually DOES improve your life. As any dreamer knows, thinking about something is pretty much tricking your brain into feeling you’re actually there – so between packed public transport and Benedict Cumberbatch…
  3. Lastly, this is something I keep finding over and over again:We all have, as we say in French, “the flaws of our virtues” – what makes us great most of the time is also what makes us not so great in other respects (the way self confident people might sometimes be too proud, or caring people too overbearing). And so I strongly suspect that the time I spend in my head, while allowing for needless worry/ doubt, is also where I get all my creative ideas; in fact, some of my happiest moments when I actually ENJOY life to the full are moment spent thinking and daydreaming. Eventually, like it or not, I might have to accept that I need to spend a lot time up there, even if it makes me a little neurotic. 

    Perhaps it’s just about training my monkey to behave.

Top tip for those who might give it a go:

Go for it – you may not be able to stop over thinking, but you’re guaranteed to learn a lot about yourself. Good luck & let me know how you get on!

 

Books that will change your life: “Writing Down the Bones – Freeing the Writer Within”

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Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg is one book I can honestly credit for helping me start this blog.

Packed with advice for new writers, it inspired me to write from the heart, and its simple but powerful lessons are still with me today.

The book

The book is a collection of very short essays on writing, which the author wrote during her years of teaching creative writing to children and adults of all sorts of backgrounds. It is pleasantly informal and non-theoretical – each chapter is illustrated by stories from her own lifeor students she’s come across.

Subjects range from how to chose a good pen and paper, to how to write something new every day, or look at things differently to find inspiration everywhere. Chapters have charming titles like “Writing is not a McDonald’s hamburger” or “A large field to wander in”. The tone is poetic, intimate and often funny, so that you end up learning a great deal without even trying.

The big idea

What makes the difference between this book and many others on writing, is that the author is a dedicated student of zen. She approaches writing like a meditation, and as well as telling you what or how to write, her focus is very much on your state of mind as you are writing.

Like Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Wayshe encourages you to free-write every day as a practice, writing whatever comes to your head without stopping to re-read or correct anything, to help you find your flow. This teaches you to write before you have any chance to think, and it is a powerful method to help you distinguish between what comes from your head and what comes from your heart. It teaches you to “watch the thinker” within you and realise when you say something meaningful, and when you are just waffling on.

Why it will change your life 

One of the challenges we face as new writers is finding our own voice – overthinking and self-criticizing are common pitfalls, and as a beginner you are likely to get discouraged when you see how far you have to go to get as good as your favourite writer. Many of us might also worry that what we want to say is not what we should be saying. We edit as we go, and as a result what we see on the page is often a watered-down version of what we meant to write.

By learning to write down the “bones” – the strong ideas that come from your heart and will remain the solid foundations for your stories (even when you do go to editing stage) you become more creative and more free. You become able to say what you really want to say deep down. This makes you a happier person, but also it makes your writing much more powerful and convincing.

This book is worth a read not only if you want to improve your writing, but also if you are curious to explore your creativity, as well as excellent meditation methods that don’t involve sitting still on a cushion until your bum hurts.