Tag Archives: writer’s journey

A Writer’s Journey – And Finding Courage to Write From the Heart

Young funny man in glasses writing on typewriter

I dreamed of being a writer from almost the time I was old enough to pick up a book. As a child, my head was always brimming with stories, adventures, far off lands and an assortment of characters that were almost like invisible friends to me. I would spend hours in the garden playing by myself, letting these stories unfold as I roamed about, engaged in mortal combat with fearsome enemies and endeavouring to save the universe as we know it! I still think there’s nothing in the universe quite as magical as a little kid’s imagination.

As I grew up I knew I wanted to find ways to share my stories. Just about every medium of storytelling fascinated and inspired me—whether novels, comic books, films or television. It was very much an innate love—not something that was instilled in me, or something I consciously developed, but something that was as natural to me as breathing. Having said that, although the urge to create may be a natural one, the journey of a writer is rarely an easy one. It can be, I suppose. All one technically needs to do is find an idea, sit down and start scrawling words on paper. But it was never quite that easy for me.

My apprenticeship as a writer was a long and arduous one. My new novel, The Key of Alanar, is a story I began developing when I was quite young. I can’t even remember where the initial idea came from. I do remember that I was compelled by a deep desire to create a book that I hoped would eventually become a film or TV series. My style of writing is quite visual, and many who have read my books have remarked what wonderful movies they would make. I began actively working on the ideas when I was about fifteen years old. At a time when I should have been working hard at school, going to parties and chasing girls, or boys, I spent much of my time dreaming up the world of Alanar and envisaging the characters and plot that would eventually become the framework for The Key of Alanar. I had a vision and I was committed! Those are two of the most important steps in any creative endeavour.

Perhaps if I’d chosen a less ambitious concept for my first novel I’d have finished it a whole lot sooner. But I didn’t. I wanted to tell the best story I could possibly tell; a story that captivated and enthralled me. I wanted it to be a story about life; about the human journey from loss, pain and lack to some kind of peace, redemption and wholeness. I admit, even as a kid, I was always a bit of a deep thinker—a natural born philosopher and mystic. I set out to tell a story that meant something; a story that would hopefully inspire and challenge the way people see themselves and life. I wanted to write a book into which I’d put so much love, attention and effort that even if I were never to write again, I would be satisfied.

I had nothing if not ambition! I spent many years working on the initial drafts of The Key of Alanar, and eventually brought it to completion in 2007. I was delighted to have finally completed a project that had been with me for so long. Looking back, however, I’m not surprised I didn’t find a publisher for it. It was a good book, but I was as yet unskilled as a writer and hadn’t really done it justice. It takes significant time and practise to become a good writer. It doesn’t happen overnight; as nice as that would be. A writer’s apprenticeship is beset with frustration, self-doubt, failure and rejection. The obstacles, both inner and outer, are many and often overwhelming. Although I was committed to being a writer, I experienced enormous self-doubt and there were times when I simply wanted to give it all up. But I found that I couldn’t. The desire to create is like an itch that, unless scratched, has the potential to drive one insane!

The Key of Alanar is more than just another fantasy adventure about goblins and dwarves. It’s a story about a boy learning to deal with the painful things life throws his way, heal his past, discover who he is and realise the gifts he can bring to a world in desperate need. It’s a human story; a story about the journey we must all take through life. With some subtly woven metaphysical elements it’s also an inquiry into the very nature of reality, consciousness, life and death. While ensuring I was still writing an accessible, action-packed novel, I wanted to delve deep and incorporate my love of philosophy and metaphysics. I wanted to push the boundaries of storytelling and see how far I could take it. I knew I had to write from my heart and tell the story I always wanted to tell, the way I wanted to tell it.

I rewote The Key of Alanar from scratch following the publication of my first novel, Eladria. In retrospect, I can see that in order to write a book about life, I first had to experience life. I had to experience pain and loss; to lose people extremely close to me; to fall in love and be heartbroken; to feel lost and alone; and to ultimately find my place in life, and to begin to understand the nature of reality. My journey through life as a person is paralleled in the characters, particularly the protagonist, David. Similarly, the metaphysical aspects of the book are not simply an arbitrary afterthought but are based upon in-depth study of many spiritual and philosophical texts; and my own experiences after twenty years of meditation and exploration of consciousness.

With this book, I found the courage to write from my heart, to share my journey and experiences, as well as ideas and knowledge that I hope will stay with the reader and benefit their life in some way. The journey of a writer is not an easy one (we just make it look easy as we sit sipping our latte, fingers elegantly dancing across the laptop keyboard!). But it is a worthwhile one, so long as we have the courage to write from a place of love and integrity. The world doesn’t need more mindless distraction and diversion; the world needs stories that challenge and provoke, stories that explore the way we live our lives and the problems we face along our way; and stories that offer the promise of hope, inspiration, healing and wholeness.


Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00050]This blog post was originally written for The Key of Alanar book tour. The Key of Alanar is now available in both paperback and ebook format! Click here for more details, including a synopsis, video trailer and free sample chapters!

The Creative Life: How to Overcome Self-doubt

I’m excited to be relaunching my Dreamlight Fugitive blog in addition to my main blog, Beyond the Dream! My first new post is about something that affects everyone in any creative field: the arch-enemy of creative expression…self doubt!

Illustration by Jack Spellman (jackspellmanart.com)

Yesterday, having finally finished my new novel after a year and a half of work (and the rest! But that’s another story!), I was clobbered over the head by an attack of self doubt. I’d just ordered proofing copies yet I found myself going back and picking away at random sentences, trying to find better ways of stringing the words together in order to reach that most elusive of writerly goals: the ‘perfect sentence’!

One thing led to another and I soon started to question the entire book. What if it wasn’t ready to be put out into the world? Feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction quickly turned to feelings of anxiety and dread. What if I was in fact one of the worst writers ever to pick up a pen or hammer away at a keyboard? I’m safe at the moment, but the moment the book is published it’s a target and as the one-stars reviews come flooding in, I’ll be revealed as the terrible hack I am! I even very briefly considered binning the entire book and starting again from scratch.

That’s how self-doubt works! It’s a vicious, pernicious and potentially crippling little monster. It hides away in the darkest recesses of the mind and is prone to jumping out at inopportune moments and letting rip with its penchant for woeful catastrophising. It’s something that every artist and writer must learn to live with and it does get easier with time.

Most of the time I have it under control. But coming to the end of a project, when you are actually taking the steps to releasing that work into the world, makes the self-doubt monster terribly antsy. Stirring from its slumber like a cat that was only really half-asleep the whole time, you know the meltdown is inevitable.

crazy

“You’re thinking of publishing THAT? Are you crazy?! It needs at least another year of work. The critics are gonna tear it to shreds!”

Now, a little self-doubt is healthy. It gives us a certain objectivity about our work, which is useful in the editing stage (and throughout, really). It becomes harmful however when it degenerates into an overwrought, mud-slinging, anxiety-ridden neurotic monster, determined to convince us that nothing we do is good enough and that we’d be better off setting it aside and slumping onto the sofa and firing up Netflix. So pervasive and persuasive is the self-doubt monster, it’s almost certainly destroyed countless artists’ careers before they’ve even had the chance to get in the game. Left unchecked, this inner censor will not only hinder your creativity, it will completely destroy it and leave you a blubbering and, above all, blocked wreck!

The self-doubt monster is actually pretty easy to deal with it however. And here’s how.

First of all, take the ‘self’ out of self-doubt. It has nothing to do with who you are. It’s simply a thought and that thought’s corresponding emotion. It’s actually completely impersonal. We all get it — everyone, in every walk of life! It’s certainly not unique to us. Self-doubt is basically fear. It’s a defence mechanism designed to somehow keep us safe, even if it is a little misinformed and ultimately wholly counterproductive. Depersonalising it immediately takes the sting out of it.

Secondly, once I’ve depersonalised it, I personify it. This might make me sound utterly crazy, but I find it helpful to give it a name and form. I call my self-doubt monster Fred. Fearful Fred. He looks like a big, fat and slightly ungainly grey caterpillar. Most the time he just wiggles about in the recesses of my mind, doing whatever it is caterpillars do. Occasionally however, something gets Fred riled and he gets all worked out and inflates in size, becoming a gargantuan blob full of his own hot air. This happened last night when I somehow convinced myself I was the worst writer in human history.

I isolated the emotion in my body (it seemed to be around my belly, or solar plexus) and I decided to have a chat with Fred (as the personification of my self-doubt). He was beside himself with fear, anxiety and dread. So I made him a cup of tea, sat him down and explained that I’m grateful he’s so diligent in looking out for me, but there was no need for such stress and worry. Yeah, it’s always a little scary releasing a new piece of work into the world, as it probably is for a baby bird being pushed out of its nest in the hopes it will fly for the first time. But I reminded myself the importance of keeping everything in perspective.

I wrote an article last year about the power of karma yoga. Karma yoga isn’t a sequence of physical postures as you might expect, but a mindset with which we approach life. As it says in the Bhagavad Gita, we have the right to act, but the fruit of those actions is not up to us. So the karma yoga attitude — which is the greatest antidote to stress that I know — is simply to do our best and let go of the results. Once an arrow has been fired it’s no longer up to us whether it hits the intended target. Chances are we’ve done our best to ensure that it does, but it’s now under the control of a set of natural laws and dynamics that are completely outwith our sphere of influence. All we can do is relax, take it easy and endeavour to take whatever comes with good grace.

The self-doubt monster can be an implacable and relentless foe to any creative person. It’s probably cost me years of my life. I’m certain I’d have more than one novel published by now if I hadn’t spent years under the sway of Fred, bless his heart. Now I’ve learned to master my mind and emotions a little bit more. This doesn’t mean that self-doubt and other self-limiting thoughts vanish forever. But it does mean that when they come up I can put them in their place and simply get on with things. As the Tao Te Ching says:

Mastering others is strength; mastering ourselves is true power.

Self-doubt and anxiety are defence mechanisms generated by the unconscious mind to keep us safe. But we are safe! As artists we follow our calling, we write the stories and paint the pictures that our muse is kind enough to share with us. We learn and grow and improve our skills all the time. We make mistakes, but mistakes are an essential part of the learning curve. Never be afraid to make mistakes! And never allow yourself to be held prisoner to the tyranny of other people’s opinions. Some people will love what you do, and some people won’t. Some people are fair in their criticism and some people are jerks with clear psychological deficiencies (I now refrain from reading comments sections on youtube and other websites because of this!).

Learn to wrestle with your self-doubt monster. Or make it a cup of tea as I do. Usually once I’ve had a firm but loving chat with Fred, I imagine sending him off on an all-expenses paid vacation to Tenerife where he can just relax in the sun all day drinking Pina Colada while I get on with what I have to do.

Self-doubt is ignorance masquerading as truth. Don’t let it cripple you. Take charge of it and educate it. You’re doing fine, let it know that and these lagging parts of the mind will eventually catch up. When we no longer give fear or doubt power over us, when we educate them and put them into perspective, we give ourselves the greatest gift of all. Freedom! And freedom is the ultimate goal of all creative — and moreover, all human — endeavour! So dance with your doubts and allow yourself to be free.

This fantastic song and video by one of my favourite artists, Bat For Lashes, is about just that. This was the song that Natasha Khan wrote after a long spell of creative block, and it’s very much about learning to tame and dance with the monsters of self-doubt, despair and fear. Enjoy.

Waiting and ruminating…

I’m still in the waiting zone right now, with regard to my novels. Last month I sent off a batch of submissions to various literary agencies and the responses are gradually trickling in…sadly thus far in the form of standardised rejection slips! At this point I’m quite familiar with them. But I have received some encouraging words as well, including one agent who told me my work was imaginative and well-written, just not what they were looking for. Another agent scrawled the word ‘promising’ after she signed the rejection slip, which definitely lessened the blow. I appreciate the encouragement so much, especially when it’s such a long, hard and discouraging slog. I don’t think there’s ever been a time when it’s as hard to get an agent and/or publisher.

When I was younger, I had a great many romanticised notions of what it was to be a writer. The reality of it is as far removed from those rose-tinted preconceptions as can be. In reality, it’s a long, hard, solitary endeavour, with little in the way of external support, and it calls for a great deal of courage, conviction and discipline (perhaps even obsession!) on the part of the writer. The courage is necessary to surmount your insecurities and self-doubts in order to externalise your inner world, dreams and most cherished imaginings into a tangible body of work that will then be shared with other people.

The moment you attempt to get the ‘Industry’ involved (here, read my work! Like my work! Publish my work!), you immediately open yourself to being shot down. The Industry is cutthroat and cruel. Even writers that are successfully published are chewed up and spat out, ten a penny. The Industry doesn’t care about your feelings, or how much of your heart and soul you’ve invested in that pile of printed pages. All it cares about is its marketability and monetary potential. To say the odds are stacked against you is the understatement of the century.

Yet we persevere. Writers delve within and endeavour to share something of themselves with the world: something they feel for whatever reason needs to be shared. They endure the hardships and the brutal knocks and in the end, they get there. In some respects it’s becoming easier than ever for writers to get their words out into the world now that ebooks and Kindle are taking over the publishing world. This is an avenue I’m certainly considering, although like many new writers, I first want to try going the traditional route. We’ll see how it goes. I’m endeavouring to embody the karma yoga mindset: the action is up to me, but the results are not up to me. I remain optimistic and hopeful, yet detached. I know I’ll get my books out there into the world and it’ll be in the perfect way, at the perfect time…