How to Write a Book (for those who want to, but have a hundred excuses not to).

Consider this post both a gentle, supportive hug, and also a loving butt kick. I’ve had too many conversations in the past month with beautiful, talented, creative women that go something like this:

  • “Yeah, I’d love to write a book but I don’t want to do it and have it be bad.”
  • “I don’t want to write a book and have people criticise it.”
  • “I’d love to write a book but I know it’s so hard to get anything published [and therefore why would I bother].”
  • “I really want to write a book but I know hardly anyone makes money out of it and I need to be able to support myself… I can’t give up my day job.”

Look, to be blunt, none of this is new. All of this has been said before, by me and every other person with a creative wish. As Elizabeth Gilbert says, “your fears are boring”. (Ouch! Hurts just a bit, doesn’t it?)

People get so messed up in their heads thinking about the outcome of their creative project that they fail to even start it.

And in my experience, what happens to your book  after it is finished is largely out of your hands. You have very little control over it after it leaves your laptop and flies off into the world.

Maybe it will sell, maybe it won’t. Maybe it will start a revolution across the world, or maybe it will change a single person’s life and help them through a difficult time. Maybe it will make you really rich, or maybe it will pay a phone bill, or maybe you’ll end up in debt.

Like bringing a child into the world, there is only so much you can do to protect, shepherd and guide her where you want her to go. She has her own journey.

Is this poking at your deepest fears? Can you feel your stomach knotting and your breathing constrict?

Here is something terrifying.

That fear never goes away.

I emailed my lovely fairy godmother, Monica McInerney, not long after getting my contract for The Tea Chest and The Chocolate Promise and asked her how to deal with the paralysing fear that was stopping me writing. She laughed (lovingly) and told me it wouldn’t ever go away and she was going through it right then too, on her tenth novel.

Julia Cameron, master of living a creative life (and famed author of The Artist’s Way) confesses in her book, The Creative Life, that as time goes on, the mind’s tricks, which it plays to stop us from writing, only get trickier.

Please, beautiful people with creative dreams, don’t be a slave to the ego’s fear.

You are stronger than that. You are wiser.

Accept it.

Name it, if you like. (My creative monster, my ever present fear, is called Maureen. Julia Cameron’s is called Nigel.) It is like an unwanted relative. You can’t get rid of it. It will always be at the table, eating your food.

Give it a job if you like. Many years ago, I listened to my saboteur tell me that everything I wrote was crap, turned to the corner of the room and said, ‘Really? Thanks for that feedback. Now go do something useful and find me a book contract.’

But please, write.

Please write.

Write.

Write for the sake of writing. Write because you want to. Write because in this hour, this day, that is what your soul calls you do to. Write because you love it. Write because you have something to say.

What happens to it after that?

It’s irrelevant. The important thing is that you wrote.

Much love,

Jo x

 

 

Getting published: There’s no reason it can’t be you

In February 2009, QWC published an article I wrote called ‘The Power of the Positive’ in their WQ magazine, and I’m betting more than a few people thought I was a little nutty and ‘woo woo’. 

I started off by saying, “It seems to me that there can be a tendency in writing circles to dramatise the negatives… the main message is all about how difficult writing is, how it’s nearly impossible for a first-time writer to get published, how the annual salary for full-time writers in Australia is ridiculously low, how you ‘shouldn’t give up the day job’, how you ‘shouldn’t get your hopes up’, how everything is so competitive and how the slush pile is so high and the editor’s time is so short.”

 
Sound familiar?
 
An excerpt from my article, 'The Power of the Positive'

An excerpt from my article, ‘The Power of the Positive’

The rest of the article goes on to talk about the importance of believing the positive, visualising success, and channeling all that creative energy you have into something useful, rather than something that’s going to tear you down and bring others down with you–incorporating some sports psychology and some new age theory too.

But most importantly, it poses the question, ‘Why can’t it be you?’
 
Now, my first novel, The Tea Chest, has finally made it out into the world. And I am living proof that you can rise above all that negativity out there that will shoot down your dreams before they’ve even started. I’m not saying it’s easy to face more than a decade of writing books (10 manuscripts in 12 years for me before I got a publishing deal) and literally hundreds of rejections. It’s emotionally hard going when you’ve put your soul into a piece of art that other people criticise. And then it just sits silently and invisibly on your laptop with no where to go (which is why I’ve turned some of my manuscripts into books via http://www.lulu.com, just so I could see the completion of the project). 
 
And just for the record, The Tea Chest was submitted to every mentorship program and manuscript development program out there and not picked up.
 
You’ve got to do the work. Of course you do. I guarantee your book won’t get published if you don’t write it. But there is no predetermined expiration date or outcome on this. The sky truly is the limit (or maybe not even then).
 
Having said that, I do actually want to ‘ground’ this notion in a larger philosophy: that of art for art’s sake. Because I’m not saying you WILL achieve all those things you dream of. Sometimes, good work just won’t get published. This is not about bulldozing your way into perceived success via milestones and paycheques. The most important thing of all is to write. Just WRITE. 
 
If you are going to become attached to anything, become attached to being a writer, not to your manuscript. Then you will be able to move on from the wonderful manuscript you’ve worked so hard on for so many years and write a new one, or indeed something else entirely.
 
And just for once, I won’t quote Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way (I do not work for Julia Cameron or get commission  though the amount I plug her I probably should…), but instead I will quote Australian author, Torre de Roche

Forget the stats, the numbers, the wealth, the prestige, the popularity, the things you imagine to be waiting for you on the other side of ‘success.’ They’re not there, and if they are, they won’t stay long. Instead, work tirelessly to make your soul happy. Keep going until you’re standing before a big, glorious creation made by you, for you. Your baby—made of cells, or paper, or clay, or words. That’s yours.

Be proud. You did it for the simple joy of creating. There is nothing more to life than that.

So don’t quit.” 

What I’m saying here is that we write because we must. We write because it makes us happy. That is why we do it. So do it.

But there is no harm in expecting the best along the way. There is no harm in valuing a financial reward for your art. Imagine your biggest, scariest possibility of whatever you deem to be ‘success’. Got it? Good. File it away somewhere in your heart and mind to revisit at a later date, shrug of the criticisms and the crazy looks you get when you say you’re working on a book (to which someone will instantly say, ‘oh, do you have a publisher?’ and you’ll squirm inside and say, ‘no, not yet’), and go write. It doesn’t matter what anyone else has to say about your ‘chances’ of being published. That’s their reality, not yours. Feel free to invent your own.

A Writer’s New Year’s Resolutions

Happy new year! Have you made any resolutions yet? I’ve set my three writer’s resolutions. But before I get onto that, let’s check out how I went with 2013’s writing resolutions.

2013 Resolutions: How did I go?

  1. I’m not going to read anything I’m not loving. Okay, I give myself points for thinking about this a lot. Alas, I did read quite a few things that I didn’t absolutely love. This is still a work in progress for me.
  2. I’m going to put my writing first. I think I did a pretty good job at this. It didn’t work every day but on the whole I set boundaries and was pretty strong about keeping them. Well done me!
  3. I’m going to decorate my writing room. Sigh. We moved house in September so (a) I didn’t see any point in putting lots of effort into my last writing room, and (b) I’ve been so flat out since we moved that not a lot of prettying has gone into my new room. I’m calling this a ‘let’s try again’ for 2014.

So, okay, not perfect, but not too bad. Now, to 2014.

  1. Stay calm, and have a cup of tea. I’m a bit of a Nervous Nelly at the best of times, but with my first book coming out in April, there’s a lot going on to push my buttons. Last weekend, The Courier-Mail published a very lovely article, ‘Pick of Books with Success Written All Over Them’, about upcoming books and included little-old-me in their picks for 2014. Whoa, Nelly! Some people would get a lot of confidence from an article like that. Me? I think, Holy Cats, What if I Fail?!?!? So, that brings me back to the staying calm and drinking tea–breathe, Joey, breathe. I need to remember that it’s not just me out there. I have an exceptional, proven publishing team behind me that have made countless good choices in their careers so I need to trust, trust, trust. 1533928_256008861229448_473962003_n1545544_256008901229444_56344808_n
  2. Turn guilt to gratitude. Like most mums out there, I want to believe that I can do it all. Of course, I can’t. I need to ask for help and be grateful when it arrives. When the nanny turns up to look after Flynn for four hours so I can do some work, I’m going to practise being excited about that and not guilty. When the invoice comes to pay that nanny, I’m going to practise feeling blessed, not guilty. And when the cleaner turns up to organise the house back to a level of workable sanity, I’m going to practise feeling thankful that I get to prioritise quality time with my toddler rather than the vacuuming. 1528547_256008884562779_1775505474_n
  3. Protect the creative process. There’s a lot of advice out there to tell aspiring writers to treat your job like any other day job. And there’s something to be said for that. Hours at the keyboard count. It is the only way a book will be written. But, at the same time, writing isn’t a normal job. And as Julia Cameron constantly tells us, we need to stock the well before we can take from it to create something new. I am a workhorse. I am built to work. What I find hard to do is play. But it is only by playing that I can stock the well in order to produce fresh, inspiring content. I might be naturally a Clydesdale in nature, but I need to let my unicorn out to play much more than I do if I want to find the magical moments.

So there are my three resolutions for this year. (Plus, I’ll throw in some room decorating too.) Help keep me honest, please! What are your resolutions for the year? I’d love to hear them 🙂

Delighting in Sensual Joys to Nourish the Brain

I had a full body creative light bulb moment yesterday.

small thingsI found the most heavenly store on the weekend, Simple Things Small Joys in Cabarlah in Qld. This was most definitely MY kind of store, which I proved by walking out with French linen cushions with feather inserts, hand-made olive soap balls, French country quilts and a few other cute knick knacks. Simple Things Small Joys is in the loft space above Black Forest Hill, boasting Australia’s largest display of German cuckoo clocks and grandfather clocks. Black Forest Hill is easily spotted from the New England Highway, around 20 minutes outside Toowoomba, and is a great little spot to visit anyway.

Simple Things Small Joys is filled with all the things I love but so rarely ever invest in because I am ‘too sensible’. Why would I buy a French country styled quilt when I don’t actually need one? The answer, as I am slowly coming to accept, is because I love it and it brings me joy.

We are currently working through a massive renovation of a 100-year-old Queensland workers cottage on the Sunshine Coast and, truly, it would almost have been easier to build a new one from scratch. But what it means is that we get to start again, find a new style we love, a consistent, nurturing, beautiful style. French country. It’s what makes our hearts sing.

I recently started meditating again (and realised the last time I did so was the night before my baby was born and therefore more than 10 months ago!). And I started with a small (sixteen minutes) daily themed meditation program put together by Oprah and Deepak Chopra. Well, one of the themes for the day focused on your external environment. Yes, I think we all know by now that clutter has a negative impact on our psyche, but what I really got out of that meditation was Deepak’s explanation that surrounding ourselves with the sights, sounds, smells and textures of things that bring us joy actually nourishes our brains. And your brain can’t work very well if you don’t nurture it.

small things2Big. Lightbulb. Moment. I could instantly see the metaphor of beauty as food for our brain. We all know we need to eat well in order to function at our best and what our brain is crying out for is its own version of food. You couldn’t expect your car to run without petrol. You couldn’t expect to live without eating. Yet so often we expect our brains to work doing the millions of things it does every hour of the day without giving it what it needs. Joy. Love. Stimulation. Sensory input. And of course, if you’re familiar with Julia Cameron (I know, I know, I bang on about her all the time, but seriously, she’s brilliant) you’ll know that your inner artist needs these things too.

I’m also coming to accept that I’m a bona fide artist now. You know, with a paid writing gig. So it’s actually imperative that I stock the well with creative goodness if I expect my brain to expel some of that onto the page.

So when I found the gorgeous Simple Things Small Joys on the weekend, I faffed around thinking, oh I’ll just buy a soap, for about half an hour before coming to the realisation. Why am I buying soap when what my heart and brain really want is the linen? It’s a bit like craving a chocolate, and you think, oh but I don’t need the chocolate. I’ll just go and eat a banana, and a biscuit, and a pizza, and a glass of wine… and a million calories later you still want the chocolate so you eat it too. Just eat the chocolate! Or in my case, buy the linen. So I did. And I love it 🙂small things charms

If you get a chance (and you’re into this kind of thing), I can’t recommend highly enough a visit to Angela Oament at Simple Things Small Joys. You won’t be disappointed!

(And no, I didn’t get paid to say that. I just like to share the joy!)

Nurturing the Artist Child Within

This weekend, my inner child was horribly disappointed. We’d planned our first party for our eight-month-old baby — a ‘bush welcoming’ under the enormous fig trees on our new property for over forty people. I’d planned a time capsule, face painting, bubbles, rope swings in the trees, a barbecue, play equipment, icy poles and more. My sister had baked cupcakes with wee frog pictures on top and made lanterns for the trees. I’d ordered a helium balloon in the shape of a frog prince.

Children at 'work'

Children at ‘work’

And then it rained. And rained, and rained and rained. Large parts of Queensland are flooded right now. Our new property (still a virtual construction site while we’re renovating) was running rivers of water and mud. We had to cancel. And I was somewhat heartbroken. Wondering why I was teary, it suddenly struck me that my inner child was heartbroken.

If you follow my writing, you’ll know how much I adore Julia Cameron’s wise words from her internationally bestselling book, The Artist’s Way. And you’ll know that her sage observation of we creative types is that our inner artist is a child, and to get the most out of our inner artist child we need to let her play. ‘Our artist child can best be enticed to work by treating work at play,’ she says (The Artist’s Way). Turning up to ‘work’ has ‘more to do with a child’s love of secret adventure than with ironclad discipline’.

So my inner artist was very sad to not have my face painted like a fairy, or to swing from the trees, or blow bubbles through the air.

But the only compensation for an injured heart is to offer more love and fun. So hubby and I packed up our lovely bubba man and drove to an even tinier town than ours (Moore) to visit an art show in the local hall with entry by gold donation. We wandered the many aisles marvelling at people’s creativity (the way someone could get so much expression into a tiger’s face, or the many uses of teabag tags), allowing our brains to stretch and grow while bubba man crawled and shuffled on the timber floor and tried to pull down the temporary display stands. Then we had ice cream. All while the rain drummed and drummed on the roof.

My inner artist was mollified. I’d had fun. I’d had a small adventure. I’d seen totally new things and thought of totally new ideas.

It’s what we must do as artists, to always seek a new adventure.