Find Encouragement Fast!

Inspired by work on by inner Artist’s strength, I have been writing letters to my encouragers

There are many exercises in The Artist’s Way programme to uncover what holds you back. In week 8, the chapter on finding your strength, Cameron writes about using your jealousy as a map. As much as I found this useful to identify the desires that I hide even from myself, I also find it quite a negative mindset.

Envy is a difficult emotion, in an ideal world we could pursue every dream, but berating ourselves for feeling like this at times is very deflating. Particularly, as I am fond of thinking, if life gets in the way. It certainly feels like we can’t always act on our dreams, even if those dreams are mapped out by our feelings of envy of others.

I decided then to consider the other more positive way of looking at things from her programme and from the week on finding connection by considering those “encouragers” in my life. Early on she asked us to gather compliments we had received on our work. I drew a blank. A couple of comments from my writing class aside, until recently few people have ever read my creative work. Julia Cameron (the programme’s author) actually advises against getting your first draft review. Your inner artist, like a child, must be looked after. Discouragement at an early stage of work is very detrimental.

So, with these wise words in mind, knowing too that I am sensitive in criticism, I decided to start using my morning pages time to write to my encouragers.

The structure of each letter is to first thank them for what they did for me:
“You saw my passion and allowed me to take time on the project” or “You taught me the skills I needed to improve my work.”

I then think about what that help showed me about my work, in the examples given they were teachers from various stages of my education so I thought about what they taught me. For me, I need to take time and develop a sense of depth in my knowledge to feel like I am doing good work. Not everyone advises that spending a long time on backstory is worthwhile and I read this really interesting blog post about this issue recently. Certainly Brenda Hill advises knowing the motivation behind using details from a backstory saying, “If…it’s not very important and isn’t relevant to the story. When you’re writing tight, it should not be included. “

Dear Encourager…

But for me, whilst I agree not to spend all your time on back story, I have to weigh this idea up with how I best develop my writing. By remembering my encouragers dedication to my work, giving me time to research in depth and explore the subject around the novel I was studying, I can see what has worked well for me in the past. It reminded me how powerful research can be for me.


Finally, in my letters, I use my imagination to think how they might encourage me now. This has been harder so I use the basis of the lesson I learnt from reflecting on the help they gave me to construct the advice. The person who enjoyed the amusing details about the run down cottage that I described in a chapter she read might suggest I consider where I could add more colour to certain scenes, for example.

Write a letter to your encourager:


So, if you want to construct some advice and complements from past encouragers follow these easy steps

  1. Choose someone who has helped you with some written work, a teacher may be a good place to start
  2. Think of a few things to thank them for
  3. Review how their action has helped you
  4. Imagine what they might say about what you are working on
  5. Reflect on any advice this letter is giving you and implement it!

Gratitude is a great practice to cultivate and I hope you might find this idea encouraging too.

Finding the right way to unwind…

So this was the year I stopped drinking and forgot to tell anyone

It struck me after a supremely stressful week that quite a few people around me suggested I treat myself to a large glass of wine. Not unusual advice. How many memes, tshirts and mugs are there about mothers needing wine or gin? But what they don’t know: this was the year I stopped drinking. Well, I had two drinks in total and may have a tipple or not at Christmas…

Giving up was not a big deal for me. I am lucky that I don’t have an issue with addiction though I have been around it. Saying no up was just a case of stopping when I didn’t fancy the side effects anymore. I know it was the right thing because earlier this week I had a two day hangover from having one small drink. Somehow though kind friends, who haven’t noticed my lifestyle change, thought I had really earned a drink this weekend after a tough week. But I am happy that I decided against it though I really needed to unwind.

You see, this time last year I had a few social occassions (this is rare, I have little opportunity and very few childcare options). Being the fun mum I am I took it way too far and drank too much on those nights out. I got migraine level hangovers (bad), flushed skin like hives (awful) and a debilitating bout of anxiety (the worst.) So, with actually very little soul-searching, I decided to stop drinking.

It bothered very few people. Afterall, I don’t go out that much anyway. A few older relatives were a little put out. I can’t decide if it’s because they were hopeful I was pregnant (ha) or they just felt judged. Most friends who do know though haven’t given a hoot. Apparently I am not alone, Millenials (I’m almost that young!) are also give up drinking or “Dragged down alcohol sales” as Business Insider put it in an article earlier this year.

According to them, this is a side effect of a surveillance culture because any indiscretion is immediately online. As I say, I don’t go out enough to really humiliate myself but I still realised this year I needed a change. For me, living with the consequences of a drink has been too much. Because the “hang-xiety” isn’t the only reason it takes me to a dark place. I think we often ignore the depressant factor in alcohol in order to enjoy being less inhibited. I am writing about a protagonist at the moment who is really not good at parties. Her awkwardness like many around her is only overcome by drinking copious glasses of wine. I mean, I may have given it up but I can still imagine myself in this position. But weighing it up, I can cope better this way.

This is not to say, of course, that anyone out there who uses wine to unwind is an alcoholic nor that anyone doesn’t have a right to use whatever they like in the name of self-care. Afterall, I have the book Hurrah for Gin in my kitchen to turn to after a hard day of motherhood. However, for me, this year has been giving self-care a bit of a makeover.

It is all about finding what works for you, for me, escaping to books is great. I have on a number occassions this year camped out in my bedroom whilst my husband entertains my son. And it is an escape that sometimes you need. I have also done much more swimming. So reminding myself of this, after a stressful week, I have turned to these two things over alcohol to unwind.

All this is to say, handling anxiety is more important than if I feel awkward at parties or don’t have an easy way to unwind. So for me, I’ll pass on the continuous memes and the wine for now.

Update your vision

If you are feeling a little out of sorts, is it time to update your vision board?

The first time I tried to do a vision board, I was a little sceptical. As I suggested in my posted envision your life, it was hard for me to complete the task on a practical level because things have moved on since The Artist’s Way programme was written by Julia Cameron and like many people I have fewer magazines hanging about to cut up.

I think the words the images gave me: relax, rest, nurture, nature, beauty were all inspiring. They also speak to how I can improve my life. Cameron asks that you update the vision board three months later. This time I decided to use a Pinterest board. As it happens, I have started MumWriteNow.Com board on there because there are already so many great lists of quotes about writing I have saved. You can find it here if you also use Pinterest.

It was an interesting exercise, I think that I could see a change in what I wanted. I did have to make some initial searches about creativity which I think probably meant I self-selected my vision from the start. But even this is informative.

A sample of the vision board I created on Pinterest

The words that come to mind when reviewing this new board are: opening doors to new worlds, creativity, reading and finding inspiration. Maybe because I was directing the initial searches, it does feel this new board is more about the work rather than rest. That reflects both the changes that I have made by completing The Artist’s Way programme, but also what I need at the moment. In previous months I have had more time to write but craved relaxation, recently I have struggled to do anything but feel more inspired to work.

Somewhere in this visioning thing is a need to find a balance. I had to attend some productivity training at work recently. The tips were not completely new to me but they were a good reminder. The book on How to Be A Productivity Ninja that inspired the training encourages you to find your best time of day to pay full attention. When you have done so, limit distractions at that time. It was an alarming exercise in many ways because I realised there were often only a few hours in a morning when I was at my most productive. This is product of circumstances, – tiredness brought on by often alarmingly early mornings and overbusy days – give me little headspace for much productive time. But it does help me identify where I need to target working times so I can act on my desire to write more, read more and make my life more creative.

I think using vision boards can be illuminating. I think they can uncover your internal desires quite quickly and succinctly. I also think if you are going to do this Pinterest is one of the best tools out there because there is such a huge library of photos and quotes ready for you. I would say though that this activity needs to be joined up with goal-planning. Boring I know, but I use an Excel Spreadsheet to plan my work (though it often feels haphazard!). And then the intention to work also needs to be thought about in terms of when you can pay attention to it.

Now I just need to get on and open the doors to new adventure…

REVIEW: The Mermaid and the Bear by Ailish Sinclair

I have followed the author Ailish Sinclair for while and know we share some interest in Folklore and ancient places in Britain so I was excited to finally read The Mermaid and The Bear . It did not disappoint.

Set around a  Scottish castle in the 16th Century, this historical romance starts with an escape from a horrible betrothal. The book is told from the perspective of the rather naive Isobel. She is full of romantic ideas and fairy stories and is quickly at home in the delightful setting of glades and stone circles. The stories she tells become intertwined with the Old Ways taught to her by the affable Bessie Thom. The relationships that build in the castle, and the beautiful historical details especially around the Twelfth Night celebrations are very captivating.

The only criticism I might level was I was hardly surprised by the events in the second part of the novel. But that might be that the mixing of religion, both the Old Ways and Catholicism through the Christen Michell character was never going to end well in that era of Scottish history. With James VI mania for catching witches, we always feel that these strong-minded independent women may be in danger in this world. However whilst some of the things that go wrong for dear Isobel and Bessie and Christen are unsurprising, the way Isobel draws her own conclusions about how all the women’s beliefs sit side-by-side is done very well.

Overall the characters are lovable, I found it interesting that their lives intertwined slightly with Shakespeare and also touched on LGBT culture and attitudes at that time. It really felt that there was a depth of historical knowledge informing the narrative which I always enjoy. My only lament was that I wished I could learn more about Jasper who equally had a fascinating tale to tell.

I really enjoyed the historical detail in the novel even though at times it is a hard novel to read. I appreciated how the author cut away from the most violent acts. I think it will appeal to historical fiction fans including those who enjoyed Stacey Hall’s The Familiars.