About Me

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I still feel like a teenager on the inside, unfortunately my children do remind me how old I am!! I have lived for 20+ years as an Irish expat in The Netherlands. My favourite city here has to be Amsterdam.

Writing, reading, authentic living. It's all here at The Writing Process


Welcome to my blog. Let me start by telling you that I love writing. I love the sense of vitality it gives me. I love that it helps me to make sense of the world and to the people in it. I love that it helps me become wiser, more intuitive, empathic, and most of all autonomous.

All aspects - reading, writing and observing - are what make the process complete. The essence is storytelling, and learning about
life and yourself.


Monday, December 6, 2010

The Solitude of Prime Numbers

Since taking the course in Adaptation at the University of Amsterdam, I have learned to appreciate the whole process of dissecting, analyzing, and re-inventing particular books for filming or dramatization of another form. When it comes to the adaptation book to film, I have come to regard the film as an extraction of the original piece of work. In the best case sticking to the original narrative, in the worst, deviating so drastically it bears little resemblance to the source material, perhaps not even aimed at affecting the reader (observer) consumer in the same way.

A book to film adaptation that best illustrates the latter is A Beautiful Mind, a big budget Hollywood movie on the life of Mathematical genius, John Nash. The film in no shape or form resembles the movie (or vice versa, I should say) apart from the fact that both have John Nash as the central character. The film is a dramatic one, with elements of a love story, and a personal struggle. The book is a biography, and written with very little poetic licence. It is a factual chronicle of a schizophrenic genius. It can be appreciated on an entirely different level than the film. It is devoid of drama or even sympathy. It is a factual, clinical work, and is so far removed from the tone and narrative of the film to have little bearing on the appreciation for either or both.

However, when choosing to watch a film that has been adapted from a novel or other book, I have come to the conclusion that it is better to be familiar with the source material before watching a film, or as is the case with the works of Annie Proulx, be interested in the dramatized version only and skip the novel completely (a personal opinion). The stories of Annie Proulx are perfectly suited for screening, the narrative and characterization are always wonderful, I just have a problem getting into her style an sticking it out to the last page. Thus, I enjoy her stories after adaptation.

In The Solitude of Prime Numbers, I am less sure of the film’s relationship to the novel. Do they stand apart, do they concur, or do they meet somewhere in between? I am not sure.
I saw the film The Solitude of Prime Numbers without being familiar with the novel. It was a wonderful piece of artistic cinema, with characters that had depth and honesty. Reality was harsh at times, and the two main characters, Alice and Mattia had more than their fair share of troubles as children; troubles that left them scarred and lonely and almost unable to reach out across the abyss and so heal their damaged spirits.

I loved the film; I was enthralled by the narrative itself and the manner in which it was depicted. The director chose for a stark style, yet managed to subdue the tone, play down certain elements, and emphasise others. It was definitely a ‘show don’t tell’ atmosphere, playing up to the critical abilities and intelligence of the observer. The story flowed smoothly; the progression was logical, understandable, even when it was shocking and painful. We understand what motivates Alice and Mattia, yet we are relieved in the end that they reach a place of peace and forgiveness and are finally open to allow themselves to hope for a better future.

Not so the novel. The narrative here is less smooth, less homogenous. It chops and changes, reverts quite significantly to ‘telling instead of showing’ and lays certain incidents on too thickly, while under-describing others. It is at times abrupt and illogical in its progression, and at times has sidelines that could easily be erased without detracting from the main narrative.

But, it is the conclusion that disappoints most. Having seen the film (unfortunately), I did not expect the desolate, hopeless, futile rounding off that the author dished up. Utterly unpalatable.

Perhaps if I had not previously been served the semi-happy ending of the film this desolation would have hit less hard. I might have been more accepting of the ‘no happily ever after’ for these two.

Having said all of that, I would still recommend the novel, purely because of the writing style and the fresh voice of the writer. The story line is of itself innovative, original, thought provoking and starkly realistic.
I would recommend the film too, but as a separate creation.

Novel lovers, read the book first to avoid disappointment.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Root of One Squared

Once in a while I am honoured to read and discuss the work of an up and coming writer. This one, Joanne Hall, has allowed me to be her writing mentor, and for that I am grateful. She has a wonderfully original voice, and says it straight from the heart. She has given me permission to share this personal piece with you. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and let´s hope we hear more from her in future.


The Root of One Squared

So I should be a teacher. Or an advisor. That's hilarious. Not in the sense; '"Me? A teacher? That's hilarious!" But the more cynical; "That's hilarious". Undertone included. Although a bloody or a fucking in there would be more to the truth. I mean, I'm discontented, there's a general malaise about many things. Some in my control and some not so much.

Career wise I'm realising what I may have studied for all those years may not be what I want at all for the rest of my life. Well, it's in my control to examine this. Nobody is holding a gun to my head. Not yet at least but that's another story altogether. No one is forcing me to make a split decision so I have plenty of time to explore this one.

I decided to do something I usually try to avoid since having an office job. I turned my computer on to surf the net. That's after working hours! Initially I meant to check if this time I may have been listed for a new apartment. Bugger. No chance. 97th? That's the closest I got to the three places I applied for? Another, not entirely unexpected, setback. Well, actually a not entirely unexpected lack of progress. One of the many. Again.

But I digress. The long and the short of it is that I decided to visit a website of a friend of mine. I always promise to check the blogs and mean it, intend to but there's never any time it seems. I'm so crowded with, well, God only knows. Except me of course but seeing he's got all-knowing down too, and I have trouble with understanding at the best of times, I think that statement still stands. Anyway, the promise I make is never a duty bound one. I want to read these blogs, I know somewhere, or maybe I just hope it, that I may stumble across the path I ought to take. Or ought to have taken maybe.

My friend the writer. I've always liked the idea myself but it's always been wishful thinking as the truth is I wouldn't know what the hell to say. Well, write anyway. Who'd be interested in my ramblings? That's all I have. I'm no storyteller. Which is a bloody shame actually as you wouldn’t believe the crazy extremes my life had been lifted to at times. And that for such a 'normal' person. But I got to thinking during some of our long talks. Everything can be a start she said. There's no measuring point zero I thought. So why not. At least, why shut myself of to ideas and this is just one of them maybe.

I decided to soak up what I could in the time I have. Observing. Gathering. Then nothing. Overload of reality or more to the point real life not so much knocking on your door but battering the thing to shards instead. No time to fantasize if your having enough trouble focussing on the tasks at hand. But back on track in a better place I surfed my way to the website and after reading a while I stumbled onto this test. A stronger me. A better me. Something like that. Discover what my role in life is. Don't be a sceptic all the time. All right, sounds interesting. Useful maybe. Don't get ahead of yourself. Let's give it a go though. I mean, isn't that exactly what I want to know? Can't do any harm after all. I'm feeling a bloody failure at what I’m doing at the moment. So what's the worst that can happen? If I do nothing at all I sentence myself to doing the job I dread for the rest of my life, or I could take action. Start at least and what better way to start than find out my true role in life, if only for a laugh as they say.

So I fill in an unexpected array of questions. And taaadaaahhh! Bingo. Couldn't have been anything else really. In this case not terms describing an epiphany of some sort unfortunately. More of a under the breath muttering almost sighing of : "Course", accompanied by a bored looking away in distain almost. "Couldn't have been anything else really."

My lead role is a teacher. My support role an advisor.

At 17 I was set for the Marnix Academy. A prestigious school that trains teachers for junior schools. I decided, for good reasons, one being the idea of being in front of a class room terrified me, that it was definitely not for me. Even contemplated studying English to teach middle school but the same reason terrified me just as much with an older age group of teens. Also I felt I was living up to the expected. The main advantage I always had growing up in a Dutch school was that I scored excellently n English class. No brownie points, it is my mother tongue. How easy I could become an English teacher? No, I should choose regardless of expectations. Back on point, there's advisor. I could become an advisor. Do you feel this one coming? At 17 I decided to drastically alter my study plans. I went to law school. Always work in law. Never going to run out of arguments in this world I would always joke but in fact I've always been a idealist at heart. Became a legal executive, I believe this is the most correct and descriptive translated term to my Dutch legal exec. slash// rep. slash// advisors job in the legal department of the largest Dutch Construction workers Union.

So there you have it. I am for the most part an advisor. That’s my day job. Don't feel back to square 1 so much as being back to the root of 1 squared. You see, it sounds a difficult formula at first but it's a deceptively simple answer conveying the right sentiment. And that's that I have to accept that I am, unfortunately, evaluating all, for the moment at least, right and royally screwed.

But then maybe that's the point. Everything having been knocked down you can start to build it all again from the bottom up but you're better of in the long run tackling the root. The root of your personal square 1. Me, I may at least revisit the idea of my former aspirations of becoming a teacher to see if the old objections still stand now I am no longer the seventeen year old that radically altered course. You never know, I might even turn out to be a 30 year old that radically changes course back again!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Speed dating for the small businessperson, in my hometown!



If anyone were to ask me to name one good thing to come of the current economic crisis, my answer would be, that it ´encouraged´ many of us to take matters into our own hands career wise. Company after company has been forced to downsize, declare bankruptcy or restart, sending many talented people home, jobless, and with little prospect of finding another position.

What do you do in an economy with limited opportunity and where, if you manage to find a job, in a buyer’s market, you never quite feel comfortable and at ease? You are, after all, only one of countless potential employees and if you do not meet the mark there’s a queue of people out there, some younger, some cheaper, some, though less experienced are more flexible ready to take your place, so be eternally grateful that you were chosen. Well, it’s hard to be grateful, spontaneous, and productive when you are constantly looking over your shoulder. It’s hard to be up beat when you are riddled with insecurity.

Take matters into your own hands. Create your own opportunities. Take the time to evaluate your skills, experience, personality, and just what it is that makes you unique and special. Think about your inherent strengths, too. List all the things you do and that make you feel good about yourself. And when you’ve done that, take the plunge, and set up a business.

And that’s what countless people have done. It’s the trend, the way of the future. Offering your services as a ‘freelancer’ or independent entrepreneur is good for you: as long as you deliver the service you promise, you are free to complete the project in a way that best suits you. It is also good for the client/company who hires your services: no extra ballast on the payroll, and no contract of employment, just billing for services rendered.

Easy, you say. And it is, once you have acquired the knack of finding and keeping a steady flow of clients, have learned to maintain a simple bookkeeping system, have learned how to deal with overdue invoices, tax returns and time management, to name but a few issues that might arise.

Yesterday in Alphen aan den Rijn a group of experts in the field offered their services to newly established small businesses to discuss just such issues, and offer information on how to deal with them.

Organized and sponsored by BuildaSite, Patoir vd Vlugt & Verkade, Primo Boekhouden, Stichting Ondernemersklankbord, Kamer van Koophandel (C of C) and Communicatiebureau Vet-Gedrukt, this team of professionals made time to support the up and coming ZZP (Independent Sole Proprietors) community in Alphen aan den Rijn, free of charge, I might add!

It is a rare thing these days, to receive and invitation to an event of this type, free of charge. When I mentioned it to a colleague ZZPer, she, not unexpectedly said, ‘what’s the catch?’ And who can blame her? Phrases like, ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’ come to mind. But, I was there, and I can honestly say, I didn’t pay a cent. But more than that, I was given a top quality evening, with an opportunity to talk to more experienced business people, to exchange ideas with other up and coming independents.

And the meal was great, too!

After an introduction by each sponsor, the ZZPers split up into groups. In a period of ten minutes, each group member had to introduce himself, his company and the services he offered. There was also opportunity to talk about the difficulties encountered; the group could then offer solutions, or where appropriate suggest the expertise available in that particular area. Short, to the point and very useful.

Ten minutes later, a sort of musical chairs took place, and the ZZPers shuffled about and formed new groups and again each was given the opportunity to introduce him or herself and talk about their business and services.

One ZZPer might have difficulty setting up and maintaining a simple bookkeeping system, another, like me, may be less able to sell themselves or network efficiently. One ZZPer might just offer a service another needs. And so, like with speed dating matches were made and meetings set up.

Basically, what happened was exactly the principle Marcus Buckingham and others describe in their textbooks on developing strengths and minimising weaknesses. By pairing up with others, we are able to ‘delegate’ our weakness to someone else, whose strength it is, and thus minimise stress and make time free to perform the tasks we are good at, and that we offer through our businesses.

As a business graduate, I don’t have a problem maintaining a simple bookkeeping system: I do not have a shoebox full of receipts and my invoicing system is no more complicated than it needs to be. As a writer and designer, I communicate through my blog and my website. But, when it comes to physically ‘being there’ and presenting my business, it’s another story. But thanks to the generosity of the group who organized last evening’s event, even I am learning to network and be proud of what I do.

They lowered the bar a little and showed me that, should I need it, I have a group of experts to fall back on, should I need their support.

Thanks for their generosity.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Widow for one Year



It took a while to get through this one! But I didn't want to give up. It's like that with John Iriving, he is, unfortunately, long winded. However, his wonderful prose make this forgivable. I think the story really came to life for me when Ruth, the main character, hit the streets of Amsterdam. John Irving said in a lecture that his research kept him in Amsterdam for a while, and it was obvious by the revitalised prose, that the visit did him good. The writing and the story stepped up a notch and where I had trouble keeping going for the first half of the book, I found myself staying in bed on saturday and sunday mornings, just so I could read some more! However, where Ruth's story had me captivated, the other story line built around Eddie was harder to believe.
Clearly John Irving and Ruth were one and the same, though writing himself as a woman kept the prose light. Also, where he usually has a wrestler in his storied, Ruth was a strong squash player. Being Ruth, and yet not being Ruth gave Irving permission to push the envelop on female sexuality, and other feminine preconceptions, and reevaluate them.
Fascinating piece of work!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Awareness - Strongest life, why not?

I had a wonderful meeting with Manon, from UMAI centre in Alphen where I live. We both feel driven and inspired to create workshops for women to rediscover their strengths, desires and dare I say it, calling in life.

The key word is AWARENESS. Becoming aware, and choosing to face every day with an openness and willingness to truly absorb and experience each situation to its fullest is one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself.

AWARENESS implies having the courage to see your dark side, to integrate that, and thus allow it to become another bridge to your authentic self and a fulfilling life.

Being aware will help us tranform painful experiences into learning experiences. AWARENESS makes the pain endurable.

What follows is an article I wrote last year, but one I feel merits republishing in light of my meeting this morning.

Strongest life

In the spring, I heard I was being made redundant. My company was downsizing and I was superfluous to needs. At that time I did the Marcus Buckingham workshop on line, and filled in the questionnaire on Strengthsfinder.com. An eye opener, a turning point, a revelation. It led to my reading the articles on Work-life balance on Business Exchange and even to contributing my tuppence ha’penny’s worth of commentary.

Later, when I had thought more seriously about the subject, in particular in relation to the premise that women at mid life, though seemingly more successful are sadder and sicker than ever, I was prompted to write my own article on the subject, ‘Let’s Get Personal’. I published it on my blog, found Marcus Buckingham on twitter just to keep up.

All the while I’m thinking, there’s a book in here somewhere.
And of course, there was. Marcus Buckingham has just written it. Find Your Strongest Life is all about the choices women make and how and why we make them. His motivation for writing it stemmed from the Oprah workshop and the subsequent response on the discussion boards.

He is a great analyst, an intuitive observer, and intelligent enough to step aside and process all the information impartially. But he is not a woman.
In the last couple of months I have been working on these issues myself and getting excited about my life all over again. And excited about my friends’ lives too. Since learning to live to my strengths and being manifestly happier I am also a better friend.

The biggest wake up call for me was realising that I had always instinctively known what my strengths were and that using them would be to my and possibly everyone else’s advantage. Unfortunately my working environment was not conducive to employing these strengths. In fact, though it is hard to believe, what were in fact my strengths were the very traits that my bosses wanted me to minimise and hide. As a Creator and a Pioneer I was always coming up with new ideas, new ways of doing things. But when I voiced these in meetings, I was repeatedly overruled more or less told to get back into my box/ Frustration grew. I became resentful, recalcitrant and de-motivated. But before Marcus Buckingham and learning to live to your strengths I spent a lot of time feeling weakened and uninspired at work. Why not go for another job? You might ask. Because somewhere deep down, I almost believed the bosses were right. I believed they knew better than I. I believed that I was a difficult, dissatisfied employee, and that there was no point in moving on because I would antagonise the next boss just as much.

When the redundancy notice came, and I coincidentally came across the Oprah workshop, my life turned around. Learning to respect who I am, and learning to nurture my natural talents has given me a new lease of life. I have more energy than ever. My ability to learn new things, and my curiosity and determination to learn them, has returned in abundance. My mind is again filled with new ideas and despite still being ‘officially’ unemployed I am more contented than I have been in a decade. It is also much easier to be around me.

But, I want to get away from only discussing my own evolution because there is much more to this subject than that. In my previous strengths article ‘Let’s Get Personal’ I investigated the reasons why I turned out the way I did. I asked myself why it was so hard for me to find and live to my strengths, why I would I take on a bosses view of me above my own view of who I am.

Now, a couple of months later it is not just about me reading a book, and applying what I learn to myself. Everywhere I go, whomever I meet, friends, acquaintances, online contacts via social networks, I am walking the walk, and talking the talk. And that is what I want to go into here. I want to discuss what it is to share this with friends, to learn from them and more importantly to give back to them a little of what I am experiencing.

It is amazing.

I know a woman, a mother and career woman. She likes to achieve. Lately she and I have been talking a lot about character, and strengths and stumbling blocks. She is at a crossroads career wise and has been doing some self study and getting advice from others too. Yet she said something to me recently that made my jaw drop. Ok, she said. So I’ve been shown who I am, what my characteristics are. I am being given new insight into my personality. But, where are my strengths? Tell me more about my strengths. More importantly, what are my weaknesses, so that I can work on them?

And that’s the thing. Aren’t our strengths related to who we are? Marcus Buckingham tells us that our strengths are those talents that were always present and that they are inherent to who we are. Unfortunately we have been programmed to think that strengths and weaknesses lie outside of our core, and that we can learn new strengths and that we should focus on weaknesses, work on minimising them, or if we are lucky, turn them into strengths. That just isn’t true. Core strengths and weaknesses will always be just that.
We might say that our strength might be that we are quick to learn, but it will only be a strength if it is applied to learning things that fit us. If we put our energies into learning skills that we don’t like performing then our strength becomes a weakness. So, let’s define the strength more accurately and in Marcus’ own terms. I feel strong when I apply myself to learning new skills in areas that stimulate and please me. I know in my case, being a quick learner soon became a noose around my neck, and actually made it harder to find my real strengths, those activities that thrilled me, that made time stand still. Now, when I puzzle over new ways of designing a web page, or when I am writing an essay for my film studies, or thinking up the plot of my next book, then being a quick learner is a strength.

So during my talks with the mother and career woman, I said that her greatest gifts lie in those character traits that were defined in the test. The fact that she is searching and feeling weakened is because she may be utilising them wrongly, and so turning her strengths into weaknesses. Is the job she is doing the right one for her? Does the company ethic suit her own high standards? She has a need for excellence and always produces top quality work. She is good at taking on new projects, especially in areas where structure and clarity is needed. When she achieves that, she is happy. However, if others do not share her need for excellence, and she is drawn into dead end discussions, she feels weakened. In summary, she feels strong when she takes on a new project and brings structure and clarity. She feels weak when she is unable to convince others to do it her way. So, instead of thinking she can work on that weakness and be more accepting of less than top quality input from others, which in turn will eat away at her strength – producing excellence, maybe she needs to look for a company that operates to the same standards as she. I feel honoured that I can go through this process with her. I already see how great she is. I will be there to celebrate when she is ready to see it herself.

Other women in my circle of friends struggle with other issues. But the essence is the same for all of us. We have all been forcing ourselves to perform tasks that don’t build on our natural strengths. We think that all we have to do is put our minds to a task or activity and just get on with it.
One woman in my circle, a painter and wonderfully creative woman, spent twelve years as an administrative assistant. She told me time and again that she just didn’t understand why she was so tired all the time. She didn’t understand why her output was so below standard and why she was constantly being put under pressure to work harder, and make better results. The simple truth is that she was spending all day in her weak moments. There were weeks when she honestly couldn’t remember one moment when she felt strong, and energised. There were whole months when she was so drained she didn’t have the energy to paint. Now, she too is unemployed, and all she knows is what she doesn’t ever want to do again. She has spent many hours writing and painting, and rediscovering who she really is. We talk about authenticity; we are ready to talk about our darker sides. Our friendship allows us to be honest with each other. We trust each other.

That is the whole point of Marcus Buckingham’s Strongest Life book. To finally get us to wake up and see that we don’t have to do anything and everything. The successful amongst us, and by successful I also mean, happy and contented, are the women who at some stage listened to what the inner voice was telling them. These women, whether consciously or unconsciously, decided to build on those moments that made them feel good and fulfilled instead of ‘working on’ those areas that left them feeling bad.

I have a friend, someone I have always admired. Her mother and father raised her and her siblings to believe in their talents. All of them were gifted musicians, and no one was telling them that music was not the way to make a living. No one told them to learn a trade, or study engineering just because they were clever enough to do so. No, in their family you could be who you wanted to be, who you were born to be. Their mother in particular encouraged them to follow those strong moments. She knew all too well what could happen if you didn’t listen to your own inner voice. She had been an actor and was passionate about theatre and literature and the stage. But for reasons she never spoke about she abandoned her dreams and spends a lot of her life in clinical depression.

What was first, the chicken or the egg? Who knows? What I do know is that my friend never doubted for a moment that her life belonged to music and music belonged in her life. Money or lack of it never stopped her pursuing excellence in her chosen field, never drove her to a career or a job that would have taken away that passion. Initially her music earned her very little, money wise. But she continued to improve and refine her skills. Today she is a vocal director for musical societies for youth theatre groups. Her choirs have won international and national prizes. She has raised three boys through university. Her passion for music has carried her through many hard and difficult moments over the years. But the thread that has run through everything, for her and her siblings, is the truth and authenticity they have. Both her brothers are well known composers, arrangers and orchestra leaders. Her sister teaches at the Royal Academy. All are highly respected, as musicians and human beings. Money and status were never their motivators.
I count myself blessed that I know her. She is the proof I need that living to your strengths will enrich your life. She found it early, I didn’t. But I know I am not too late. You can never be too late. If I ever start to think I am too old, or that I’ve gone past the sell-by-date, then I remind myself of how it was, how I was, and I know I will never lie to myself again. I ask the question Robin Sharma asks of us “Who will cry when I die?” and I know for sure it won’t be me. I won’t cry for a wasted life or chances not taken.

According to the strong life test, my core characteristics are Creator and Pioneer. I always knew it, deep down. They popped up in so many ways. Over the years I have written several novels, even published one. For the last twenty years I have read a vast amount of literature on self realisation. Everything from The Artist’s Way to Now, Discover your strengths and numerous others in between. I have taken courses in Body Work, Transactional Analysis and others. I have been a member of several writing groups. Yet, when it came to earning a living, I locked all of that away in a box and hid it in some dark place.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Th Fifth Mountain, Paulo Coelho

As a firm Paulo Coelho fan I am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. As ever this was a great read and a page turner. However, and I don´t know if this was due to my own expectations, this was a less inspiring story than say, Veronika Decides to Die. It lacked originality and unabashedly imitated the bible. The bible is full of parables, symbolic stories told so that we may be guided to better ourselves, choose the right path. Perhaps since everyone else says so, Paulo Coelho now sees himself as a prophet or apostle and feels it is his calling to write a more modern day parable. If so, then I would ask him to go all the way, as he did in Veronika, and not waiver between biblical and modern day.
So we spend the first half of the book observing Elijah as he encounters one misfortune after another, up to and including the loss of a loved one, despite his belief that he is truly open to the messages of the oracles and more than willing to follow their guidance.
However, it is only when he surrenders his human interpretation and allows himself to become an instrument of the true word, that everything flourishes.
A fine tale indeed, but I found Coelho´s handling of it, especially the latter part, to be too superficial and thus lacking the energy and ´WOW´ factor he so magnificently achieves in other books.
Briefly then, a good read, a fine story, yet hardly as dynamic or mysterious as his other works. Ultimately a bland, disappointing conclusion.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Renewed inspiration

I am blessed to have done this trip last month. If I ever worried about writer´s block this place, mystical and magical, is my inspiration. Since coming back home I have been writing, and painting, with Doolin and the cliffs as the centre of my creativity.

If you are not in a position to come to the cliffs, find a place close to where you live, that will lift you out of the daily grind, and tap into your heart and creative self.

Nature is truly wonderful

Sunday, May 23, 2010

On The Train - another excerpt from Trash Fire


People were staring, she realised. From the next compartment a little boy, tugging at his mother’s sleeve with one hand and pointing at Julie with the other, had brought attention to her. The boy giggled; the mother smiled, though there was no trace of malice in the gently curved mouth. Julie gave the mother a watery smile in return then fumbled in her pocket for a tissue to wipe her wet face.


The man in the seat opposite, as in all the best movies, handed her a large, white handkerchief.

“Keep it,” he told her. “I have plenty more.”

She felt the colour rise to her cheeks. How could she have made such a spectacle of herself? She wiped her face with the hanky, then again like in all the best movies, she blew her nose loudly.

“Thank you,” she said to the man sitting across from her. “Thank you.”

The train rattled along. She leaned her elbow on the window ledge, rested her head on her hand. Her breath was still coming in uneven gasps, and she could feel her eyes burning, and she just knew her nose was like a bright red tomato.

She wasn’t even sure why she cried any more. It had become as natural to her as breathing, or eating. Throughout the day, at unexpected moments, when she was sitting still, the tears would come. Silently at first they trickled down her face, then, as they gathered momentum, her breathing would become uneven, and a sob would escape her. Before long her shoulders would heave and panic would set in. Would it ever end, this grief?

And now the ultimate shame – she had cried in public. On a train to be exact. With a little boy pointing and giggling while his mother looked on sympathetically. And a man, an unknown stranger had given her his crisp, cotton handkerchief.

The train rattled further its rhythm soothing like the rocking of a baby’s cradle. Her breathing steadied; the urge to gulp dissipated. She was able to drag herself back into reality, and thoughts of what lay ahead. She leaned her elbow on the small, silver ashtray next to the window, rested her chin in her hand, the side of her head pressed against the glass. The countryside, with a bright, September sun shining down upon it a green so sharp it hurt the eyes, darted past.

The little boy who had watched her so intently, and pointed when her sobbing had become too extreme, soon lost interest and began to groan in boredom at his mother, and to tug at her sleeve and whinge about not having anything to do. Julie smiled as she heard the mother say in a pinched, tight voice: we’re nearly there, darling. Just be patient. Oh, the lie. They had at least another hour to go. Julie expected that the mother secretly longed to give the little sod a clip or at least yell at him at the top of her lungs. That’s what mothers did when no one was around to catch them. Only in public did they talk in that awful, frustrated voice and pretend they were infinitely gentle. Julie could sigh in relief that she had left her two at home. She was free to close her eyes and speed up the journey by taking a nap. The luxury of it.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Dreaded Block

When it comes to the writing process there are particular subjects that continue to intrigue me. The most intriguing being the phenomenon “Writer’s Block”. It can happen to anyone, at any time. You can be right in the middle of a novel, and suddenly, despite all the meticulous preparation, and despite being highly motivated, your mind goes blank, and there you sit, in front of your computer screen, scrolling back and forth over what you’ve written, and not one single syllable comes to mind to kick start you into the next phase. Then again it can happen right at the beginning of your novel when you’ve completed your synopsis, plot line and chapter breakdown, and you simply cannot find that suitable opening sentence.

It might even happen that you’ve completed your novel, and want to improve on that rough first draft. You know it needs improvement, you know it could be better, you feel it dragging. And yet, you can’t do a thing. You are stumped!
I have encountered the block at all the above mentioned phases and have come to the conclusion that all stem from the same problem – fear. That deep rooted fear that you just don’t have it in you. It can crop up at any time. Whether you have just started writing, or are putting that novel to bed, fear can return and paralyse you creatively.

I know I have touched on this subject before but it is such a fundamental issue I still feel I need to unravel it some more.

To move on from mediocre to marvellous fiction writing, all our fears must be faced, acknowledged and ultimately, overcome. And I suspect there’s not a single writer who hasn’t faced the fear. Of course by the time authors appear on television or are seen at lectures and signings, they have managed to move on from their fear and insecurity and appear to us perhaps to be brimming with confidence, but don’t be fooled. These authors too, have known that fear, that ‘break out in a cold sweat’ moment when they have thought they had written their last sentence and that the bubble had burst.

Seeing early interviews with J.K. Rowling you can see her fear, her insecurity and her disbelief that her books are selling like hotcakes and this kind of fear might have even prevented her from writing the next Harry Potter. See her in later interviews and she is a lot calmer, a lot more confident. She has overcome her fear and in its place she has found a true belief in her own abilities as a writer. She has the confidence to acknowledge her talent.

So how do we go from fear to self-belief? How do we jump that hurdle successfully at whatever stage it confronts us?

The first step to overcoming fear, and not only in relation to our writing, but in life too, is to recognise it. No use trying to pretend it’s not there, or disguise it as something else, this will only make it’s debilitating effect on us even worse. When fear is denied it transforms into all sorts of crippling alternatives. Those alternatives range from anger, irritation, obstinacy to depression if it is allowed to continue till it reaches chronic proportions. Ignoring fear or over-compensating will not have lasting effective results on ourselves or our writing.

So you’re blocked, and you know fear has reared its ugly head and stolen the words from you. Face it. Say it aloud, or write it down in capital letters. I AM AFRAID. Next, get specific. What are you afraid of, why are you afraid, and what has caused the fear to rise to the surface now?

Fear can be of many things. Fear of failure, of success, of criticism. Which of these is it in your case? Or is it all of these?

Fear of failure – giving in to this will certainly create failure, and will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Do nothing and your worst fear is reality. You will have failed. You will not have completed your novel to the best it could be.

Fear of success – giving in to this one is an enormous act of self-sabotage. It is nothing more than a fear of the unknown. And just think about how awful you feel right now with that half-finished novel and know that success can never feel this bad!

Fear of criticism – is the criticism of others any more painful than the amount of self-criticism you are dishing out when you sit at that incomplete work and knock yourself on the head about it? I don’t think so.

In the three situations the first step to overcoming the fear is to get back to just writing for the hell of it, totally and utterly for yourself, and because you wanted to. If you can do this you allow yourself to write any old rubbish for a while until your body and mind are retrained into the practice of writing. You will recover the Writing Process in the pure form it had when you set out on this undertaking. Know you may be writing rubbish initially, and give yourself permission to laugh at your efforts later. If you are feeling really courageous you might even allow some discerning person close to you to read these efforts. That way you will disempower your fears.

If you crash into the wall of writer´s block half way through your novel then it is particularly important to stop and examine how you are feeling, and recognise your fear. Usually at this stage the fear stems from the ensuing dive into the unknown. This is a particularly menacing fear, encompassing not only the fear of success (actually moving on and completing the novel) but also the stomach churning fear that all your careful preparation has been to no avail and that you are ultimately going to fail – fail to complete the novel, or worse still, complete it and discover it is not worthy of the time and effort that went into it.

Have faith, and give yourself permission to turn the unknown corner. Toss aside the notion of the imaginary public, and go on the journey of discovery that your story wants you to undertake, just for you.

It takes courage to write a novel, so be courageous.

Courageous people are not those who do not feel fear, they are those who feel fear and do what they have to do anyway.


AND REMEMBER, NOTHING IS WRITTEN IN BLOOD. IT CAN ALL BE ERASED AND RE-WRITTEN. IT IS ALL YOURS.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Renewal

For a while there, I thought things were never going to get better. I had resigned myself to becoming a grumpy old woman. At fifty-one I believed I was too old to realize the dreams of my youth and early adulthood; dreams that I had put on the back burner because they seemed unfitting to my role as single mother, breadwinner and average person. But, now I need to add one word to all of the above – ALMOST.
And thank goodness there is such a word, such a concept. Because it was only ALMOST and not definite.
I am now fascinated by how quickly and completely such a believe can change. It is as though the limitations I had set for myself, the tight boundaries I had drawn, and within which I chose to live, though seeming to be concrete solid, dissolved, and melted, as though they were no more than ice, melting in the heat of the summer sun.
It took just one thought, one wonderful, inspirational thought, one phrase first formed in the mind, then spoken out loud and my faith was restored.
And what was that phrase, that kick start into a different future? What was the sun that melted away the icy boundaries?
Simple – IT IS NOT TRUE
It is not true that I am too old, not true that things would never get better, not true that I am doomed to become a grumpy old woman. It is only true for as long as I believe it to be so. For believing it, feeds it, and creates the mindset that makes it so.
It was while reading an interview by Wayne Dwyer that the shift in mindset began. He says, quite simply: ‘Change your thoughts - change your life’. And so my life change has begun, I choose to think new thoughts. I choose to look beyond the self made boundaries, I choose to challenge my limiting ideas about who I am and what I may become.
I choose renewal.
In my late twenties and thirties I wrote several novels. I even published one, The Cloths of Heaven, though had no idea how to market it adequately. Imagining I was not meant to earn my living as a novelist, and after I had completed my set of articles for Suite101, I stopped writing in 2004. I found myself an office job, and brick my mental brick and year by year I walled up the writer in me.
But the writer in me, the fundamental core of who I am, would not be silenced. It made itself heard in many peculiar ways. When I didn’t listen, it was the cause of my dissatisfaction with what I did on a daily basis. When I pushed it away it became the plethora of thoughts that crammed my consciousness.
It was the voice that nagged at me, gnawed at the structure of my mediocre life, like a rat on a trash heap, scavenging for something beneath the surface that will nourish and sustain. It was the unexplainable sadness, the melancholy that almost became my permanent frame of mind.
What can I say? It only takes a minute to think a new thought. An instant to recapture the essence of who you really are, who you were born to be!
And in an instant generic memory reminds you of who you really are.
Change your thoughts, change your life. One thought, I am a writer – it is who I am an who I choose to be. That thought brought me back from the half-light, the half-life. That thought encouraged me to sing along to the radio, to laugh out loud, to wake up grateful for a new day.
I haven’t quite figured out what the next novel will be. That doesn’t worry me, at all. I am in the mode, I have crept back into my true skin, so I know the novel will be written.
Besides, I have three other novels that need dusting down. Three valid pieces of work that ought to find their way to new readers. I have a responsibility to take them seriously, to respect them, and me for having written them.
And I will – starting today.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Dan Fogelberg - Lost In The Sun (Live '82)

"Every time I try to put
This puzzle into place
There always seems to be
A piece that's missing
And through the eyes of someone else
I look into my face
And can't believe the sorrow
There I see
I can't believe this lonely man
Is me...

The faster we run
The further away the dreams
That we chase become
And lost in the sun
Spinning and turning
Blind in the burning
Light of day -
We have to turn away."

Dan Fogelberg: Lost in the Sun

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Dan Fogelberg Tribute

I can´t believe it! Dan Fogelberg was a musical hero of mine, getting me through the teen years with his lyrics. He died and I didn´t even know. It just goes to show - live today, because you never know when your last arrives.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Arts: A Conversation With John Irving - nytimes.com/video

I saw John Irving on Friday night in Amsterdam. This interview is basically what he told us then. I find him a fascinating, inspiring writer. He believes in novel writing in the traditional sense, and it is a relief to know that he keeps the true craft alive.
Enjoy

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Moving On


In the last few posts I have been commenting on the books I have read that have inspired my life, as much as my writing, after having written a lot on my own writing process. The process was written mostly around the birth and growth of my novel, The Cloths of Heaven.
Another novel that I loved writing, and one that was an even more intense emotional journey (if that is possible) is Trash Fire. I hope you enjoy the excerpt included here. It is also one that was written after I had analysed the process and written about it in my previous posts. So, it was also a case of practising what I preached!


MOVING ON

Madeline led her out to the car. Have you ever been in the heart of Connemara before? She asked.
Julie shook her head. Only to Clifden, but then everybody has been to Clifden.
You’ll love our farm. Utterly isolated, but with the advantage of electricity, and good sanitation. We grow our own vegetables, of course, and never eat meat. Bread we bake, though we do buy the flour from the health food store in town.
And Julie did love it. She loved the smell of the peat and the dew in the early morning, fresh and vitalising. She loved the sight of the mauve mist over the black velvet mountains. She loved the feel of the damp, cold grass beneath her naked feet. And when she listened carefully she could hear the bleating sheep on a distant valley and the trickle of the mountain stream. Peace at last.
She helped in the vegetable garden, plucking the weeds from between the onion shoots. She hoed the thick, compacted soil loose so new crops could be planted. She harvested the beans and carrots, the food they would eat in the evenings.
She thought of her own garden, back home. Hers and only hers. The only gardening Dick did was mowing the lawn and then only on the sunniest of days. And because the mowing was his task he had purchased a motor mower for himself. He had wanted to buy one that he could sit on, and steer, so that all he had to do was take care that he drove in a straight line, and gulp beer from a can.
He didn’t. He feared he might look a fool for the neighbours who still pushed their hand mowers and raked the grass into neat piles afterwards. Instead he bought a Flymo with a grass collector and generally took no longer than fifteen minutes to trim their suburban patch of grass. When he was finished he lounged under the parasol in his cushioned recliner and read the paper while drops of perspiration dribbled down his neck and under his white cotton shirt.
And while Dick recovered from his exertion, Julie weeded and thinned and fertilised her vegetable patch at the back of the garden where the sun shone its finest and the hedgerows gave protection from the west wind. She planned to replace the hedgerows next season with some gooseberry bushes that would serve the same purpose but be much more practical. She fancied cultivating a strawberry patch too, and eventually a small vine to creep along the fence that separated her garden from the one next door, on the sunny side of course.
A shadow fell over her. Julie looked up to see Madeline blocking out the sun. She smiled.
You seem to know what you’re doing, Madeline remarked.
I learned it from my mother, Julie said. It’s still a hobby of mine.
The garden, its produce, her grubby hands and nails blackened with soil, all transported her back to when her mother lived, and chattered and tended her vegetables. Past mingled with present. Mother returned to Julie’s mind and heart."
(C) Geraldine Nesbitt 2010

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

An abundant supply is a dangerous thing

In my last post I wrote about my thinking process. Well, one important issue that has been on my mind a lot is abundance and supply. Bear with me, I know this diverges from creative writing. But this sort of thing can also block creativity. I know it frustrates me at times.
As you all know by now, as well as being a novelist, I also have my own company, which was set up to facilitate companies who have an increasing need for professional bilingual correspondence and publications. Although I have a couple of regular clients I still scour the net for ad hoc projects and/or new openings. What I come across disappoints me.
I am having difficulty getting my head around the state of the freelance writers market at the moment.
From what I can ascertain the market must be completely saturated. It´s as though all of us who have, for whatever reason, stopped working for someone else, and have created some romantic notion of what it would be like to be our own boss, are offering our services on the freelance writers’ market. Oh, I am not saying we´re not talented, or efficient, or creative, but we are flooding the market and this is having significant consequences.
Before I was a writer, I was (and of course I still am) a business graduate. I studied macro and micro economics, accounting and business policy. Naturally I am familiar with the concepts of Supply and Demand. This concept has a significant influence on market conditions and pricing. It is supply and demand that I will be looking at in this article. Supply and demand in relation to the freelance writing market, and how this effects remuneration. When demand exceeds supply then conditions are favourable for the supplier and vice versa.
Looking at it from my own point of view: I have signed up for several freelance sites, hoping that way to spread the word about my writing and translating abilities. However, for every project I bid on, I am but one on an enormous list of possible candidates. So, supply is abundant. There is a flux of supply. There we all are, offering our services, and the demand is scarce relative to the supply. So it becomes a buyers’ market. And what happens then? Prices fall, and we as freelancers are almost the underdog. I have been stunned at the number of writing projects offering no more than $1,00 for a 350 – 400 word article. I am stunned too, that this is the criterion used by the ‘demandor’ rather than quality of writing when choosing their freelancer. I am stunned too, at the number of writers who bid on such projects, allowing the value of their labours to sink so low. In one case a contract was for 5 articles per day, at the royal rate of $3,00 per article. Come on people, that’s $15,00 a day! You can’t tell me that’s the dream job you had in mind when you became a freelancer. Come on companies, do you honestly believe that quality, professional texts will cost so little?
In an ideal situation, quantity of supply should be critically measured against the quality of this excess. Or is the quality still relatively high but the freelancer’s purse so empty he is prepared to work for a pittance? Perhaps the economic crisis and a general lack of funds has caused everyone to lower their quality standards and look at everything in purely financial terms. The potential client has limited funds, the freelancer is willing to take ridiculous cuts in earnings just to win the client over. I used to work for a company that had as its slogan “Price-quality ratio”, which to me was a good business motto to live by. However, we seem to have replaced it with “always the cheapest” and I wonder if this is the right trend to follow.
Then there’s the translation market. For years the going rate for translations was on average $0,10 per word, sometimes more. On occasion when the project was large a project price would be negotiated, usually based on the estimated number of hours to be spent on the project and at an hourly rate of $ 40,00 or thereabouts. These days you´re lucky to be offered half of that!!! And who says the translators who use CAT systems will deliver better work than those who don´t?
And what can we do about it? As long as there are enough freelancers out there prepared to work for sub-standard earnings, those of us who put value on our services are going to suffer. Quality writers and translators should want their earnings to reflect their level of expertise and those who are prepared to work for ‘a dollar a day’ are lowering the standards of the writing and translation industry. It seems only writers and translators who marry their services to web design and/or content are reaping the benefits right now. Anyone who can put ‘web’ into his/her profile can apparently create his own demand. Demand for high remuneration. Designers are the elite of the freelance world at the moment and I take my hat off to everyone who earns his real market value. But that shouldn’t automatically decrease the value of the other professionals such as writers and translators.
We read The Secret and are told that we live in a universe of abundance. That does not mean we become victim to the apparent abundance and that we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the seemingly endless supply of freelancers such as ourselves. The Secret also reminds us that out of that abundance we should receive our fair share. And a ‘dollar a day’ is only our fair share if we don’t believe we are worth more.
So, going back to the law of Supply and Demand. If enough of us refuse to respond to requests that are little above an insult to our professionalism, then supply will become more scarce and the clients will have more difficulty fulfilling their demands. We as a professional group need to create some demand of our own. Demand for a respectful remuneration for quality services rendered. We have to remove ourselves from the websites and forums where these rates are the norm. Boycott the ‘dollar a day’ clients.
We need to create an industry minimum and all of us need to stick to it. All other sectors have them. We have the minimum wage laws, minimum youth wage laws and other protective legislation. Why then, as freelancers, are we prepared to accept wage conditions that we would have refused to work for when in regular employment?
It is up to us to have some self respect, and to demand the same respect from prospective clients.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Take time to think and you take time to live

I haven’t done much writing lately. I have done a lot of thinking. I have been thinking, and observing and analyzing. We live in a world of over-stimulation and sometimes you need to slow down and let everything sink in; permeate your consciousness so that you can make sense of it all.
It has been a long time since I had the opportunity to take a dynamic retreat. I had forgotten how meaningful it can be.
Prolonged periods of apparent aimlessness are unfortunately frowned upon for the most part and seen as having no value. Yet these are probably the most effective ointments for the soul and for the creative spirit.
The world today is extremely fast-paced and its people rush about barely keeping up. We all run around chasing our tails, being busy, filling our schedules and thinking that somehow these are all signs of a successful life. The one sure result of all this tail chasing is an overwhelming fatigue which we fight off, forever avoiding the crucial question: are we satisfied? Heaven forbid we should slow down and take the time to smell the roses!
It is usually due to illness or some personal crisis that forces a change of pace. And I have to admit that in my case it was no different. A knee operation brought me to a physical stand (sit) still and stopped me in my tracks. This involuntary slow down changed me on several levels. No one was more surprised than I at the effect it had on me.
After the initial fear and restlessness subsided I began to appreciate the time spent by myself. A temporary return to work only further underlined the value of the time out and I had to face up to the fact that my old life just didn’t fit any more.
So, I have been on a prolonged retreat for the last couple of months and allowing my thoughts and my feelings to catch up with each other. The connection between these two is the one that comes under the most strain when we live lives fraught with stress and activity. It feels good to be reconnected. It is certainly intense. Ideas spring to mind unexpectedly and spontaneously. There is room for intuition to guide my choices and my interactions with others.
More importantly I am experiencing my true feelings again and I know that I am in the midst of an important process, one that will enrich my life.
Enduring the process and not running away from it, is certainly going to improve the writing that is as yet still in the pipeline. It will bring a new level of courage and authenticity to anything I have to say. There will be clarity and conviction because I have taken the time to figure stuff out and the writing will be worthy and genuine.
So, I may not have been writing much lately, my schedule is much less filled than it has been in years, solitude is a daily companion. I even have a pair of slippers and have the time to actually wear them around the house!
It has been and continues to be a fruitful, fertile period in my life. One that is helping me grow and as a person and as a writer.
Stay tuned, who knows what is in store for us!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Cloths of Heaven

A synopsis and purchasing information on the novel that inspired this blog

Digging Deep

It’s all too easy to want to hasten the process and just get on with the actual novel, and I am sure there are plenty of novelists who are capable of doing so, but I would strongly recommend that a novice novelist take the time to do a chapter breakdown. The chapter breakdown will serve more than one purpose. Not only will it give more clarity to your initial inspiration, but it will also be a valuable aid in letting your characters evolve. And even more importantly, by going through the mechanics of a chapter breakdown, you will be able to see if there’s enough ‘meat on the bones’ of your plot. If at this stage the plot cannot be padded out into about fifteen chapters, then there’s not enough story to grow into a novel.
Given that you do have a fifteen-chapter story, then the breakdown will be an invaluable aid in your writing of the novel-in-progress. On those dull days when you feel overwhelmed by this project the chapter breakdown will do just that – break it down into manageable parts. It will also be your guide, and keep your mind clear and your thoughts directed. It will serve as a map and hold your focus. If you have chosen a less traditional novel form, one without the constraints of chronology, geography or historical context, then using the chapter breakdown will be your structure. I don’t know whether Michael Ondaatje used a chapter breakdown when writing "The English Patient," but I do know that were I to write such a complex novel, then I would definitely take the time to map out the story in this form.
There are novelists who shy away from a chapter breakdown, believing it will take the spontaneity out of their writing, and prevent the plot from developing and the characters to unfold naturally. And certainly I would agree with this opinion, if you choose to stick to the initial chapter breakdown as though it was written in blood. But if you give yourself the freedom to change and adapt, or swap chapters around, or re-write a whole section, then no, this need not be the case. Then the advantages then outweigh the disadvantages.
And now, with the chapter breakdown completed the first hurdle to your novel presents itself in the form of the OPENING SENTENCE. I have a rather simplistic solution to this – just write whatever comes into your head in order to get the story going. You can always change it at a later stage, even when the first draft is completed. At that stage the story will have grown into its own style and tone and chances are that even if you’d struggled for weeks on that elusive first sentence, you’d want to change it now, anyway! So spare yourself the headache.
I mentioned the word momentum earlier in the article. Now that you’ve written that first word, put that first, virgin idea onto paper (or your word processor), make an appointment with yourself in the same way you would with a colleague, friend or family member, that you will sit in your writing chair at a certain time every day or week. Inspired or not, you will write something. By making this appointment you are creating momentum.
Eventually writing will become as much a part of your daily routine as brushing your teeth. The novel will inhabit your thoughts. The plot will unfold; the characters will talk to you. The novel will live, become real, tangible almost. And who cares if you fail to get it word perfect first time. Just go with the flow. Enjoy the ride. Remember that this is a first draft, and it can always be adapted and improved. A blank page is just a blank page!
When you reach a point where you miss the writing if you break that appointment, when you feel restless when not writing, when you don’t break that appointment because ‘something else’ comes up, you know you are a true writer. You know you have committed to this project.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Let it go

Letting go!

Just as editing can be a painful process, so too, is the following step. If you thought all the other steps that go into the creation of a novel were difficult, then don’t underestimate the emotional strain involved in letting go of the novel once it has been written.

It’s funny, you know, but true in almost all cases, that when you undertake the writing of a work of fiction, you go through various levels of confidence and self-belief, counterbalanced by deep periods of lack of confidence and a conviction that you’re useless. None the less, if you have reached this stage, you have obviously plodded along, using the memory of the high points to carry you over the times when the novel in progress has threatened to overwhelm you and drive you to give up.

You didn’t give up. You reached The End, and now you’ve edited, keeping any particularly wonderful passages that didn’t fit the story, but were too beautiful to toss onto a garbage heap. So what now? Straight into an envelop with a letter to a publisher waxing lyrical on your talents? I don’t think so!

I haven’t talked about writing groups here as I was more concerned with you, the writer, building healthy writing habits. The process as I developed it is relevant regardless of whether you write the novel without ever sharing your work in progress with others or alternatively, while participating in a group where your work is read, or at least discussed with other like minded people. The merits or otherwise of such groups will be discussed in another article.

Right now, you’re sitting with a manuscript that you have edited to the best of your ability, using your skills as both reader and writer. But never underestimate the power of your emotional attachment to this work; never underestimate the subconscious powers within your own spirit that might prevent you from honing in on the best and worst aspects of this work of fiction. Don’t imagine that one more read, one more skim over the text will bring to light the weaknesses in the text, or plot or character development. You do not have the detachment necessary to assess this work impartially and that is no slur on your abilities. It is a simple fact. You have put heart and soul and a lot of hours into this work. Following the process as described within this topic, you have come jumped psychological and emotional hurdles to achieve this end, so don’t expect to sanguinely trim it down and perfect it all on your own.

Sit back, relax, and let yourself take one or two mental steps back from your work. Allow yourself to let go. Experience the insecurity, own it, and integrate it, so that you clear the way for ‘going public’ with your work. Just as the voices in your head whispered in your ear that you were not capable of even getting this far, so they will scream at you now to hide this novel in a drawer somewhere, because it’s all rubbish. Use the same techniques now as you employed then to overcome this tidal wave of nerves and prepare to hand this manuscript over. Imagine it being read by someone else and then visualise who that someone else is. Preferably two or three someone elses. Then ask these other people, readers you know have the courage to criticise as well as praise, to read your work, and give you the necessary feedback. Be emphatic about needing ‘negative’ as well as ‘positive’ feedback. Insist that you want to hear it all, because you know this is the only way to trim this story into shape and make it the best it can be.

When I was writing The Cloths of Heaven I was involved in a writing group, and had presented the chapters on a regular basis to my group (a small one consisting of three members, including myself), so grammatically I had done the necessary editing en route. When the first draft was completed, I did my own fine tuning and then asked my group to read the entire manuscript again. But, in order to get an overall view, I asked others to read it too, not writers, just readers, and readers who were prepared to criticise. That way I would receive a well-rounded idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the novel.

Then I busied myself with all those tasks that had piled up, waiting to be done, while my novel was being written. Do anything that takes your mind off the novel for a while, and be patient while your trusted readers do their job.