This is my favourite time of year. The best of the summer is still ahead and with it the suggestion that anything is possible. Strolling through Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens last Monday evening on my way to the salon, picnickers sunbathed, couples canoodled and children ambled home with parents after playing in the park. Hanging baskets, heavy with petunias, lined the path to the cafe. What a lovely evening for the last of our first year of salons. I'd been thinking about the languid days looming and how there might be some time at last to do lots of writing. I arrived at the Tea House keen to meet our guest, novelist and professional life coach, Jaqui Lofthouse, and to hear what she might say about how to get going and keep going!
As the audience began to arrive in droves, Harry TeaHouse managed to conjure chairs from secret places and made space for everyone. With everybody seated, drinks & cake dispatched, Emma & Jacqui waited to start while I evicted a mildly displeased Maggie, the cafe cat, from the comfy chair for our guest.
Jacqui's background is in acting, but after an MA at the University of East Anglia, studying with Malcolm Bradbury and Rose Tremain, she found early success as a published novelist. While writing and researching her first novel, with it’s theme of suicide, Jacqui became intrigued by the idea of the tortured artist. Conscious that writing is a solitary activity and interested in creating a community, Jacquie eventually founded The Writing Coach, a mentoring and development organisation for writers.
So what does a life coach do for a writer? Making the distinction between a writer’s need for support, as opposed to a counselling or therapy issue which requires appropriate professional help, a life coach offers a way to look at your life with a view to taking action. Change is the operative word; taking the time to reflect on your life and to explore how that impacts on your work. Jacqui sees a spectrum of writers at various stages of their careers, from beginners to writers who've had two book deals and facing problems with the difficult second novel. She also has clients at the top end of the spectrum, established prize-winning authors. Confidence, or rather lack of it is a common problem. So when even winning prizes doesn't help a writer’s confidence, what can?
When a writer has hit a wall, it cane be helpfull to create a space for reflection in order to unravel what’s holding them up. What if you're in the position of having a chunk of time set aside for writing and yet somehow there’s a resistance to get going? It’s that thing when you attend to a thousand small jobs before you settle down to write. Procrastination leads to a sense of failure and before you know it, time has slipped away. Jacqui’s advice: Recognise that the fear (of failure) never goes away - even when you're winning prestigious literary awards! The most important thing is diving in. Make yourself sit down at the desk. Take that decision! There are three writing speeds; first is the super fast variety such as free writing. The third is where you sit at the desk staring at a blank wall or possibly moving commas about. The ideal is the second sort, a happy place usually achieved by spending ten minutes thinking & planning the scene. Planning your scene before writing is key! Live it, experience it, write it at the pace that feels natural.
What if you don’t have the luxury of time? Work, children and the general demands of our lives can trample on our best intentions. Take that decision to shift your mind set. Think ahead. Look at the diary for pockets of time you can use. Plan to use them. The vital thing is to maintain a connection to the work. Write forward. Put a time limit on reading the previous day’s work. Emma’s mantra: Don’t Fiddle! Never open a file unless you know what you want to do with it! Set targets and create a structure for yourself. How to avoid becoming overwhelmed? Ask yourself what’s possible today, in a week, in a month? Just as we feel better when we exercise (even if we didn't feel like it beforehand), we feel better when we write regularly.
Accountability can help. To go the distance employ your own productivity ninja, whether that’s joining a writing group, an online forum or something else. Strategise: find what suits you. Persistence is key. Have a plan in place. Put dates in the diary, look forward at your week and mark writing time in the diary.
Fear is a common problem - the inner critic steps in and whispers in your ear, ‘you're not good enough, why bother you’ll never be published anyway’. Go back to the work and find what it is that you compelled you to write in the first place. What was it that intrigued you? Identify what you were so passionate about. Ask, what in the past has worked for you or try asking yourself a different set of questions. Find the right questions to spark your creative fire. It’s a process. After all the only way to really fail is to not a write a book.
It was a productive evening and good to be able to linger after for a drink and chat. With special thanks to Jacqui for all her wisdom. I’ve loved setting up Words Away and am delighted we'll be returning after the summer with four new salons in the Autumn. Emma Darwin and I will be back on Monday 11th September at the Tea House Theatre Cafe with the award winning, best selling writer, Monica Ali discussing, Imagining and Developing Characters. Other treats include salons with writers, Jill Dawson, Tessa Hadley and the poet Maura Dooley. Keep an eye on the website and social media. for more details very soon and to book online. Meanwhile have a lovely and restful summer.
Other stuff mentioned:
How To Tame Your Novel: Itch of Writing blog: Emma Darwin
Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande
Best Self Journal- this is an actual thing. I don't have one. Just saying :-)
Your Elusive Creative Genius. A Ted Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert