inspiration, motivation, On writing, Personal

A tale of persistence and joy.

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Persistence. Ugh. Sometimes it’s TOO HARD. In fact, it’s often always hard because if it was easy we wouldn’t call it persistence, we’d call it something else, like, idk, ENJOYMENT.


But it’s necessary.


And so very rewarding.


If you don’t trust me, trust Cap.

Cap do this all day


You may know if you saw my post from earlier this year that 2018 was a difficult year, to put it mildly. Poor health was followed by a bad episode of depression and struggles with anxiety. Although depression affected pretty much every area of my life there was one bit it targeted with particular cruelty – my writing.


2018 was going to be the year I really took action to make my writing dreams a reality. I paid more attention to craft, I not only finished a book but REVISED it (a fate I’d previously circumvented because ugh), and I engaged in the writing community on Twitter.


So it seemed particularly unfair that it also became the year that I would weep for hours in front of my computer because I believed deep, deep down that everything I wrote was trash. Not the jokey ‘here, have my garbage fire of a draft! lol!’ but a genuine deep belief that this thing I wanted more than I’ve wanted anything for a really, really long time, was out of reach because I simply wasn’t good enough. That I was, and would remain, a failure because of my own incompetence.


I was also weeping in the shower because I’d forgotten to bring a dry towel into the bathroom, to be fair, but the usual self-doubt and cycle of rejection that comes with writing and putting your work out there was amplified a MILLION-fold by the depression. I couldn’t see any of the positive comments from beta readers, only the critical ones. And I mean that almost literally – they became nearly invisible. I know this because once I was well I went back and reread some comments and SAW all these amazing positive things I hadn’t seen before.


HOWEVER! 2018 was also the year that I finished revisions, queried, got full requests, dealt with rejections, queried again, and again, sent to competitions, wrote another book, started writing three other books, came 12th in a writing competition and was awarded a Judge’s Favorite.


For so much of 2018, I was on the verge of quitting.


I was going to give my book away as a PDF to people who were silly enough to want to read it.


I was going to stop querying.


I was going to stop calling myself a writer.


But I didn’t.


Even in the worst moments there was a little corner of my soul that wouldn’t give up

I kept pushing ‘send’ on the queries, even though my heart raced with anxiety every time.


I queried that manuscript 84 times. I moved on to another one. And another one.


I would love to tell you how I did it. But I don’t really know. I know I didn’t do it alone. My writing friends had my back the whole way through – they let me freak out and panic in the DMs, encouraged me, lifted me up, cheered me on.


Treatment helped a TON.


But sadly there’s still no handy medicine for self-doubt and that rears its ugly little head ALL the TIME.


Ultimately, I did it because I kept going. I persisted (see, I told you it was necessary). Even when I loathed every word I put on the paper, I kept writing. I kept revising.


And it does pay off.


This year I entered the same manuscript I spent so much time hating last year into the Wisconsin Romance Writers of America Fabulous Five Contest.


It won its category.

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Talk about validation!


It’s had more full requests.


My son said after looking at my query spreadsheet and I’d explained all the red was rejections and the scattered green was the requests: “Wow. If you’d let all the red stop you, you’d never have got to the green!”


So simple, so true, and yes, so hard.


But so worth it.


For some reason the heavy wooden rectangle that came in the mail today gave more weight to my achievement.


It made it more real.


I’ve propped it up next to my computer, near my index cards shouting positive and encouraging things, reminders like RUN YOUR RACE.


Because persistence is draining, we need the reminders of the good things on the journey.


It’s very much a journey – I’m still waking up to rejections from agents, still don’t have that publishing deal – but it’s a journey worth taking.


And I know I can do it.

On writing, Personal

Of drawings and ‘I can’ts’ and maybe I could haves.

I’ve been trawling through old writings I did when I was 14, inspired by a #WriteFightGifClub post on Twitter. I found some real doozies, but I also found some old sketches I made when I was convinced I would be an author someday.


Somewhere along the way I lost both the belief that I would be a writer, and the belief that I could draw.


I’ve reconnected with my writing soul, but my drawing soul is still very much under the debris of adult skepticism.


When you’re a child, you don’t question your ability to create. You just do it. I love watching kids draw and then be overtly and happily proud of the result. It broke my heart when my son stopped drawing because what was on the page didn’t match what was in his head because the same thing happened to me.


So these are to remind me that maybe, like the melodramatic and half baked pieces of writing that I unearthed and smiled over, these too are a part of my creative side that could be fostered and dusted off and maybe, just maybe, I can believe again.


old sketch commander
This was titled Commander Shereen. I can’t remember what story she was attached to.


Old sketch lying down

I was quite influenced by Larry Elmore’s drawings.


Old sketch wise warrior

This ‘wise warrior’ kind of looks like my dad.


old sketch portrait

I’ve never been great with portraits. They all look the same.


old sketch punk witch

This is a very 80s looking witch i believe.


old sketch princess

and my princess about to rescue herself.


I had fun looking at these old pictures and wondering about the girl I had been, who believed so strongly that she could write, and draw, and do well at both.


I think I’m going to try and recapture that.


How about you? what did you love doing when you were young that you just stopped doing?

inspiration, life, motivation

Life is better when you find your cheerleaders

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Life is often tough, in many different ways. Self-doubt, economic struggle, confusion, emotional pain, lack of motivation. They all suck. They all help to convince you that whatever your goal is it is unobtainable.


That’s where cheerleaders come in. Not quite the ones with the pompoms although, you know, each to their own, but the ones who are there on the sidelines, giving their all to help you move onwards to where you want to be.


I was literally writing this post and chatting at the same time (because we love to multitask) to writing friends on Twitter. We were talking about trying to get lots of different tasks done and how its always such a balancing act. What happened next is an example of why I love this community and how important the cheerleading squad is:


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The writing community on Twitter is a vibrant and wonderful place! The @WriteFightGifClub is a group of amazing people who have fun and go crazy but at the same time they help with writing questions, beta read for each other, and give both emotional and practical encouragement on a regular basis. I am a happier person and a better, and braver, writer because of them. There are many amazing writing communities and groups on Twitter and finding your tribe, your group of people, or collecting them all (like pokemon) makes for a wonderful extended family of cheerleaders. Writers understand self doubt. They’ve experienced rejection and setbacks. They want to learn, they want to get better, and they want to help others get better. I’m sure it’s the same for many other likeminded communities on Twitter, but I do have to say that writers, in my experience, are particularly kind and welcoming.


It doesn’t have to come from someone who is doing the same as you either. I have a friend at school who knows I’m writing. I’ve been trying to get up at 5am every morning to get writing done before school and this hasn’t been easy for me as I’m much more of an owl than a lark. Whenever I see him he asks if I did any writing that morning; he high fives me when I do well, he listens with interest to my ramblings about my story, he makes it clear that he thinks what I’m doing is worthwhile and that I’m doing it well. He’s not a writer, but because he’s cheering me on he makes me feel like I can do it, like I want to do it.


Encouragement gives us a reason to keep going.

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Cheerleaders are like gold. There are always people who will tell you that you can’t do it, or helpfully point out all the obstacles in the way. The ones who lift you over the obstacles or pick you up out of the mud when you fall off them and cheer you on as you try again (or let you cry on their shoulder for a bit when you really just can’t, and then cheer you on) are the ones you want to surround yourself with. I have written before about facing vulnerability and fear and the importance of letting other people help you when you are faced with difficulties you don’t think you could overcome.


The great thing about having a cheer squad is that you become a cheerleader too. There is something wonderful about being able to support and help someone else. As a teacher we do it all the time with our students, and there is a wonderful Ted Talk by Rita Pierson – Every Child Needs a Champion that outlines the benefit to children of this cheerleading, this championing. But we need it too as adults. And we need to make sure we give it to other adults, whoever they are and whatever stage they are at.


Imagine a world where every person had a champion.


We can’t make that happen for everyone, but we can at least do it for the people around us. Take the time to find out what your friends, family, workmates are wanting to achieve, what they love, what they are anxious about. Make the effort to ask how they’re going and to cheer them on from the sidelines.


Find your cheerleaders. Be a cheerleader. Be a champion.



inspiration, life

Dealing with Ch-ch-ch-changes

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Lots of us don’t like change, even as we wish for it.


‘Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.’,

– Fyodor Dostoyevsky



One of my sons has always struggled a bit with change, whether it is a new swim teacher, a switch in daily routines, or going to a new school. I think it is often linked to a feeling of having no control – when plans change and you can’t do anything about it, it can be very unsettling.  No-one likes to feel out of control of the big things, and sometimes losing perceived control of the small things makes us think the big things are all changing too. Forced change is probably the hardest to deal with because we didn’t decide to do it. In this instance, the best way to cope with it is to focus on the positive things that can come from change. Find the silver linings.


Yesterday, a student emailed me to ask if she could change into my history class. It was a sweet and funny email and she said that she needed to change because my teaching was what had helped her to do well. It was very flattering, but what she’s really afraid of is that if she changes to a different teacher she might not do what she needs to do to pass well. This is unlikely to happen but this discussion happens every year with different students – and with different teachers. When we form a connection with someone and we attach our own achievements to them, we want to keep that going, not change to an unknown. The unknown is scary in its uncertainty. We worry that if we lose that tether to the person we think is responsible for our success we might not be successful. This is generally not the case. Certainly in this instance the student is capable of doing just as well (if not better) with a new teacher. There are some students I love but whom I think will actually thrive under someone else’s teaching. Change in this instance is positive – you get to see many different perspectives and styles of thinking.


Teaching is all about change. The curriculum changes, the course shifts, your classes sometimes change from what you were first timetabled, and the biggest change of all is that every year you get 120 new students to get to know, to help shape, and to motivate. Each student is unique and the way they respond to the content, and your teaching, is different from other students. The dynamic in a class also changes how you approach the material. This is why I never get bored even if I’m teaching the same content year after year.  I might get stressed, but never bored!  It has also taught me that despite the constant change, the basic system and structure and experience remains largely the same – safety and familiarity encircle a multitude of changes.


Change can be difficult to deal with if it feels like there are too many options, too many possible directions, and we don’t know which one to take. Like the train tracks above and the switching tracks – we worry we might make a change and hurtle down an unintended and unpleasant path. The thing to remember is that you can always change back. Sure, it might mean a bit of a detour, but the thing about detours is that you can still learn from them. You can enjoy the detour, hate it, wonder why on earth you followed the car in front as if it knew where it was going and it turns out you followed it home instead of to the detour route (ahem). But in the end, you can circle back to where you want to be and you might even have learned some stuff on the way.


Sometimes we fear change because we know it’s going to be hard. No-one really loves doing hard stuff, especially when things might already be tough. I say no-one but I’m sure there are some who do. I don’t understand those people. This is particularly the case when we are trying something new or making adjustments to our lifestyle.   The thing to remember is that change is vital for things to be different. If we want that difference, that improvement, we need to do the change. When you fear change it’s a good idea to surround yourself with some cheerleaders who help keep you accountable while you do the hard stuff, or some people who will give you guidance and help you through the hard bits. We don’t always have to do the changes by ourselves.


shutterstock_128236091 change cartoon


We also fear change because change might bring negative consequences, it might bring failure, it might bring ridicule. Usually it doesn’t. But even if it does – failure is an important part of learning, of getting to that improvement or difference that you want. Society is not big on failure but everybody fails, that’s how we get better.


It’s a bit cliche but cliches work because they’re true – butterflies are the ultimate example of change. I like them especially because they don’t just wake up one morning switched from caterpillar to floating fluttering fanciness. They go into a chrysalis and WORK on changing. It’s an extraordinary process. And, even better, this is not their first change. Caterpillars go through 4-5 stages of shedding their skins and becoming larger and physically different before they enter the chrysalis stage. So they demonstrate not just significant change, and beneficial change, but staged change.  They remind us that it’s okay to take small steps when we make changes, and small steps aren’t as scary as giant leaps across massive chasms. But one day, if we embrace change, learn from it, adapt, we might be able to fly.

boris-smokrovic-117239 change butterfly






inspiration, life

Don’t let your past have power over you – Lessons from the Lion King

shutterstock_573237151 Lion King

As a historian I’m pretty happy dwelling in the past. But, as a historian I also know that the narrative that you construct about the past determines the power that it has over you.


The Lion King is a good example of this. Simba runs away when his uncle convinces him he is responsible for his father’s death. He lives in the jungle with Timon and Pumba, eating grubs, learning to swim in pools, all very non-lion activities. While he is away, his uncle Scar takes over the Pridelands and destroys them. Years later, when Simba is grown, Rafiki the wise baboon confronts him about returning to the Pridelands. Continue reading “Don’t let your past have power over you – Lessons from the Lion King”