31 December 2012

Hello 2013 – looking forward to seeing you!

Lots of things did, and didn’t, happen in 2012. We in England hosted the Olympics, and shock/horror, did well. A Brit won a tennis grand slam, and a gold medal. Didn’t see that coming when watching his tears at Wimbledon. The Queen celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, and became popular again. William and Kate are having a baby and the Royal succession is guaranteed, irrespective of whether it is a boy or a girl. That’s a first. 

We were engrossed in the third series of Downton Abbey and the Grantham succession was secured too – with a son for cousin Matthew and Lady Mary. Cut to a dubious shot of Matthew driving himself home – have we seen him drive a car before? It didn’t bode well, and the succession is going to have to skip a generation. How will baby Matthew manage from his nursery? We’ll find out in 2013 – so there is much to look forward to.

I started 2012 hardly being able to walk. I’ve come a long way – and I can see that despite the disasters that have fallen on my personal 2012. I was therefore extremely grateful, if not surprised, that the Apocalypse didn’t happen on 21 December when the Mayan calendar ended. My Christmas shopping wasn’t wasted, and I think my luck is turning in time for 2013 – maybe it’s my lucky number. Or I intend to make it so.

I made my resolutions months ago and have already laid much groundwork for 2013. Little things like not being able to walk, or my laptop dying a couple of days after Christmas Day aren’t going to slow down my journey. Mere blips. No hurdle is insurmountable with the right mindset. Our Paralympians will testify to that.  My laptop had the good manners to give up the ghost when the boxing day deals were on - it was my trusty friend even in that. Although I did recover all my data from my old hard drive, please learn from my lesson. If you are a writer – back all up your writing – every day. All hard drives will eventually fail, it is as inevitable as, well, I would say the X factor winner having the Christmas number one, but that didn’t happen either this year...

So my journey is looking good for 2013. I have motivation, and a shiny new red laptop from which my blog posts are now being written. What’s not to like for 2013?

What are your plans for 2013? Are you going to make it as memorable as 2012? Why not share your dreams for 2013 by leaving a comment below?

Happy New Year to you all and I hope it brings you all the joy you could wish for. I’m toasting you with cyber champagne as you read this. Keep well.

Copyright © 2012 C. S. Wimsey. 
All Rights Reserved. 
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16 December 2012

Determination; Belief; Attitude

These words alone will not get you to where you want to go, but when you can get them working together there is no limit to what you can do. How do you find your determination and belief? How do you sustain them, and how do you make them work for you?

Those of you who read this blog regularly, know that I found my determination through Henry. I was never again going to be in a situation where I had to give up something I loved so much. That determination was initially blind – I had to focus it – work out how I was going to regain control of my life. As I worked out my plan and started to implement it, I began to believe. I started to see results – small steps adding to each other into something meaningful. I knew then that I had the power to change my life; I am not unique – we all have that power. The tricky bit is harnessing that power and using it to propel us on our journey.

Henry - whom I loved and lost
If you want something enough and are prepared to take positive action, then that is the start of your journey. Completing that journey depends on you sustaining that determination. I’ve found that if used properly determination will sustain itself. Seeing results and receiving positive feedback creates more determination, and also belief. As Muhammad Ali said “It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.”

The reason belief can make things happen is because of the change in attitude that it produces. We step out of our comfort zones because we believe we can. We explore the unknown with an infectious enthusiasm which is contagious to others so that we are welcomed there. It is the positive people we are more likely to take notice of – so be that person. That attitude can also help you through the hard times. If you believe in yourself and you receive a rejection, your belief can be the difference between giving up, and completing your journey to success. If you believe, you know that there is a place for your work, and you are determined to find that place – to carve out your own niche. Look at the list of authors who were rejected in a previous post here. You will see authors who are now household names – in fact some of the best-selling authors ever. It wasn’t their talent which was the difference between failure and success – it was their determination, their belief, and their attitude. They saw a way forward long after others may have given up. They saw the doors and gates that may open after others closed – because they believed. As John Stuart Mill once said - “One person with a belief is equal to ninety-nine who only have interests.”

If you take nothing else from this article - always remember the words of William James, “Belief creates the actual fact.”

Do you believe? Are you determined enough to make it happen? If so my readers and I would love to hear from you in the comments section below – go on – inspire us!

Copyright © 2012 C. S. Wimsey. All Rights Reserved. 
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21 November 2012

Defence Against the Dark Arts – Tips for Your Writer’s Toolbox Part 3

This is part 3 of a series. I recommend that if you haven’t read the previous two articles that you read them first by clicking here for part 1, and here for part 2 .

In part 1, I explained how a writer’s life isn’t easy and that we need to be prepared for when the “Dark Arts” start to pull us down. I spoke about self doubt in part 1, and rejection and bad reviews on part 2. We must defend ourselves against these dark arts and protect our writing gift so that we and others may enjoy it. It is all part of keeping my journey as a writer – and yours – on track.


Have you ever noticed how a student house becomes tidier than it has ever been when exams are looming? I know mine did. I didn’t suddenly become house-proud and virtuous, and neither did my peers. You can’t justify going out to enjoy yourself when you need to revise, but for some reason housework is an acceptable chore which must take precedence. We’re constantly finding excuses not to do that unpleasant task, make that scary telephone call to an editor, start/continue writing that novel. The more we put things off, the bigger hurdle they become in our minds. We spend hours worrying about that telephone call as if that editor is a big green monster looking to eat you up as soon as you draw breath. We spend weeks worrying about that novel; is the idea good enough; we haven’t done enough research for that section we can’t possibly start it now; it’ll never get published anyway. The more excuses we make the bigger the mountain in our head becomes, and we become fearful of climbing.

The funny thing is that often, in the time we take putting off that task, we could have completed the task several times over – and felt better about ourselves in the process. The time we spend finding excuses to put things off is not a healthy or constructive use of our time. I recall an old lawyer colleague of mine started to put a dot on every letter in his in tray each time he looked at it and prioritised something else. When a letter had 15 dots on it, it was clear he had spent more time avoiding answering that letter than it would have taken him to deal with it. Nevertheless, we still persist in this kind of avoidance behaviour – every day.

Apart from being a huge drain on our time and productivity, procrastination can prevent perfectly good ideas ever being written. Don’t become a victim of it. What if your favourite author had succumbed to their procrastination? Think of the books you would never have been able to read.

Make that call to that editor as soon as it comes into your mind. Then the call is made, and you have no need to spend that time worrying and finding excuses. You haven’t built the call up in your mind to be as difficult as scaling Everest; and the chances are that editor was a perfectly pleasant individual. The call was wrapped up in five minutes, and you can now move on, and get on with your writing, pitches, and submissions. If the call had a positive outcome then that is great; if it didn’t, you don’t have to worry about it anymore, and you can learn from it and move on – with a positive focus on moving forward. You’ve lost nothing, you’ve gained time.

I’ve been skirting about my novel ideas for a long time now – very fitting that the working title to my novel is “Eternity”. I have many plot ideas, and no words written, and at risk of stating the obvious, unless I write any words, my novel will never be finished – I won’t even have a working draft to play with. Some of that time I’ve spent playing with those ideas is essential. I need to know my characters, I need to know my basic plot and sub plots. I’m writing historic fiction, so I need to do research. All those things need doing or whatever I write isn’t going to work. But if I hold my hands up and be completely honest with myself, I was also holding onto fear. A fear which made me use every excuse I could find not to start typing those words. Is my idea good enough? Will it work? Are my characters right? I would wager that I’m not alone.

I knew I’d hit a brick wall in my head, so I talked over my ideas and concerns with some fellow novelists in my writing group. The result? “Your ideas are perfectly sound, we’d like to read it, so get on with it!” I’m paraphrasing of course, but that is pretty much what it boiled down to – I’d been procrastinating. I was lucky enough to have the input of a several times published author in that group, and I will be following her advice. I’m never going to know entirely whether my ideas and characters are going to work until I start writing them. Sometimes you’ve got to just press on and write regardless of your research – get that momentum flowing. As you write it will highlight the holes in your research and you can do it later – make a list as you go on of things you need to check on. Getting on with this process will focus where you need to do your research, so that you don’t waste time getting lost in learning everything there is to be learned – regardless of its relevance to your novel. That in itself is a form of procrastination.

Basically – if you are finding you are doing everything except moving forward with your writing you are probably procrastinating. Stop right there and be honest with yourself. Would your time be better served just getting on with doing the task, or doing that piece of writing you are avoiding there and then? After all when it’s done you can go for that drink without any guilt gnawing at your conscience, and enjoy yourself.

How do you deal with procrastination? Why not leave a comment and help our community of writers with theirs? You don’t have to be a writer to be familiar with this dark art – it affects us all, so why not tell us about it and stop the virus spreading?

Copyright © 2012 C. S. Wimsey. All Rights Reserved. 
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11 November 2012


I don’t know how it happened - 11.11.12, and I am so much older than I feel. We had 11.11.11 last year, then 10.11.12 yesterday. Just numbers to reflect upon, seemingly insignificant dates, but is any date insignificant? I’ve been delving into history and the meaning of historic fiction. In a previous post I wrote of the intimate connection between history and stories; history teaches us – stories help us to really understand. History was born out of stories and stories are born out of history.

Image in Public Domain
Today I think of my character Sam in my “Dream of Christmas”. Sam never existed, but many Sams did exist, from whom Sam was born. They fought in the trenches of World War One long after Sam’s short story ended - as Sam would have done after the Christmas Truce ended, war resumed and real horrors repeated. Sam faced a temporary hope as hostilities ceased along the front lines on Christmas Day 1914. England felt the familiar loss to Germany at football in no man’s land; makeshift balls being fired instead of guns. Sam would have to wait another four years to shake hands with another German – if he even survived to November 1918.

I look at my history classes in school, which taught me about the horrors those brave men suffered so that we could have the lives we live today. After those lessons I knew, but my understanding was sparse. I wasn’t there to witness those horrors. My understanding came from behind a safe school desk; fed into my limited experience as a child. My experience didn’t equip me to imagine the implications of what was being taught. Much has been added to those teachings in my later years. I’ve read stories retold through characters that we can all connect with – stories told through their eyes, not by a list of facts printed onto a grubby school text book.

Image in Public Domain
I connected with these stories, and they along with my schooling have led to a much better understanding and appreciation of 11am on 11 November. I think of Sebastian Fawkes’ Birdsong, Michael Morpurgo’s Warhorse, and Sebastian Barry’s A Long Long Way which I’m currently reading. Having the story told through the eyes of a character you care about brings tangible understanding and empathy for what it was really like for those men. An empathy that a list of facts and dates can never bring. It’s just stories we’re reading here – but they bring a new respect. For me they are more than stories. They re-tell the truths that really did happen to men on a daily basis, so that we may understand, respect and never forget.

I think of Sam and his new German friend Dieter. I realise the horrors were no less great for Dieter than they were for Sam. Today I remember all the brave men who fought in a war which should never have been necessary. I’m a mere story-teller, who used to be a lawyer – but in my memory you will always live.

Copyright © 2012 C. S. Wimsey. All Rights Reserved. 
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26 October 2012

Overcoming Adversity

I’ve been struggling with what life has thrown at me lately and I remembered a quote; and how it penetrated my thoughts the first time I heard it. “A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him” – David Brinkley. Life throws bricks at all of us, and it is our reaction which makes us, or destroys us – not the bricks.

We can shoot a green glance at a fellow human being – “they’ve had it so easy – why can’t it be that easy for me?” We don’t see that our green glance is tinted with rose. It may appear to us that our fellow human beings are having a much easier journey – but if we bother to find out the truth behind their success it is likely we will uncover an entirely different account. Worrying or dwelling about our plight brings me to another quote I tweeted recently “worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere”.

Image in the Public Domain
I can almost guarantee that the subjects of your green glances have had plenty of adversity and bricks thrown at them throughout their journey. Their reaction was not to sit in their rocking chair and worry - at least if they did they didn’t stay there. At first glance Dame Kelly Holmes made her two gold medals in Athens seem so easy, as if they where a formality. I recently saw an emotional interview with Dame Kelly by Piers Morgan. I was amazed that she even made it to Athens after learning the amount of and weight of some of the bricks life threw in her direction:

Image by Russell Garner
  • Dame Kelly’s mother was faced with the choice of getting rid of her baby, or leaving her parent’s home to make her way all on her own. The father didn’t stay around to help her. Her mother chose Kelly and hardship. One can’t help but admire her mother for that.
  • Dame Kelly was in and out of a children’s home as her mother struggled. 
  • Dame Kelly battled injury after injury until it seemed that her dreams had slipped away. Athens was her last chance to make it happen, and it could have gone horribly wrong. 
  • Dame Kelly did not get through her hardships without mental scars – adding to her pile of bricks. 
Despite all this Dame Kelly Holmes took those bricks, built a fire and used it to spur her on. This was not before she had already lost many medals to adversity.

I wonder whether Dame Kelly Holmes would have found the glory she did in Athens if it hadn’t been for the foundations she built through adversity? We will never know that, but what I do know from experience is that every adversity you overcome makes you stronger. You learn from your experiences mentally and emotionally. You gain confidence because you know you are capable of overcoming adversity. Your end goal begins to mean more to you and you become more determined. You no longer take anything for granted so you become a better person inside and out.

Next time you face adversity start by taking a look at the pile of bricks you have already amassed – you may have to look hard, but you’ll be surprised. You’ve done it before and survived, more than you may think. Have you been rejected by a life partner and survived? Now there’s a big brick. Any rejection is a brick thrown in your direction – big or small. Look at the difficulties you have got through in your schooling; your relationships; your career. Your bricks will be many, and your foundation sizeable.

I was recently given a lecture on this very subject. I was slapped around my face with the wet octupus of my achievements in the last 12 months. I paraphrase - “You’re beating yourself up for not having your career travelling at 100 miles an hour yet, but hang on... You could barely even walk 9 months ago! You’ve just come through hell with your father’s illness! Look how far you’ve come!” Basically, I’ve overcome a lot of adversity already.

In some respects with the size of those brick foundations, getting my career back on track should be a breeze. It doesn’t feel like it, but I’ve scaled larger mountains, it’s true. I’ve learned much from my illness and that of my father. I learned and developed in the time I was forced to take off work. So much so I’m a different person, with skills and understanding I would not have had, but for my adversity. I didn’t waste my bricks rocking back and forth worrying – I used them to make me stronger. I’ve had a lot of bricks thrown in my direction, caught them, and survived. They are now mine to use as I see fit. I could sit on them and rock – but that would be out of character. I will use them to build, and I hope that I can inspire you to do the same.

What adversity have you suffered in life? Upon reflection, did it make you stronger? Why not share your experiences below to help to inspire others?

Copyright © 2012 C. S. Wimsey. All Rights Reserved. 
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20 October 2012

Stories, and the History of History

I found myself sitting back behind a desk at university this week. If you’d asked me when I left university the first time if I thought I’d ever return, I can’t guarantee I could publish my reply here ad verbatim without causing offence. But nonetheless there I was, older, hopefully wiser, and feeling like I belonged like I never did before.

This time was different. My lecturer didn’t explain the English legal ramifications of finding a decomposing snail in a bottle of ginger beer – a bottle which you hadn’t bought yourself. This of course would give rise to a fascinating question – how can the manufacturer be liable without a contract of sale? Did I grab your attention? I thought not. I digress.

Armada Portrait: Picture in the Public Domain
This time I found out why my favourite subject at school was history. Well; I did already know that – but my understanding was not a deep one. I knew it was about the stories – the human stories devoid of legal disputes over rotting snails and ginger beer. I far preferred listening to stories about the antics of Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester, than I did reading an Elizabethan statute on the Poor Law of the 1590’s. And there it is; stories. There are stories to tell about the Elizabethan Poor Law, but you won’t find them in a statute; and those are the stories which would interest me. The statute will hint at those stories, provide clues, but not answers. What was life like for the Elizabethan poor man who couldn’t write his own story down? What happened to him after he found he could no longer feed his family? Did he turn to crime? Did he turn his life around, and how did he do that through all the struggles of the time? Those are the stories I want to tell. Not the first thing you think of when you pick up a text book at school perhaps – all those dry facts and memorising of dates. For me history is about so much more than that. History is what made us who we are; and I want to make that history come alive. We understand ourselves from understanding who and what went before; the lives of our ancestors. Not a set of meaningless facts – their actual lives.

At my university desk, I was starting a short course on writing historic fiction – but you probably guessed that already. I wanted some like minded camaraderie while I write my novel “Eternity”, a quirky story set in the 1920’s. I felt at home at my new desk – I belonged. And to my astonishment I was taught some hard facts which fascinated me:

history noun. Known before 1393 as historie: story, legend, biography... borrowed from old French histoire, and old Latin historia meaning narrative, account, tale, story...” - Chamber’s Dictionary of Etymology.

So it seems the word history evolved from the words for stories. The first historians were story tellers – history began with story-telling. History is the subject of the story teller.

In the same way Chamber’s Dictionary of Etymology cites the same Latin word “historia” in the history of the word “story”, and also cites “probably before 1200—storie historical narrative or writing”.

I now have a much clearer understanding of who I am and why. I love history, and I love stories – both reading and telling. I loved history because of my love for stories. I’m attracted to feature article writing because I love telling stories – true stories in that instance. This blog is in a sense a story – the story of life’s journey. My love for history doesn’t belong in academia, dissecting the facts and interpreting the “witness statements” in the same way as I would have done when a reluctant lawyer. I’m more than capable of doing that, but it will never make me happy. My love for history belongs in the stories, taking that interpretation one stage further, and making it live again. Had I lived in a by – gone age, I would have been one of those early story tellers of history. In a sense when we write the news and feature articles today, we are creating historical documents – telling stories which will become the history of the future. A love of history and a love of story-telling share the same roots, and those roots are inside of me – with many stems.

My own character drew me to all the separate disciplines necessary for telling good stories – the English language, history and psychology. Following my loves led me to the thing I was born to do. For the first time ever I relished completing my homework – a Victorian short story involving a cellar, a fife and a dead housemaid... a Victorian story based on real reported facts.

What were you born to do? Have your own instincts led you there? Why not leave a comment and share your story? My readers and I would love to hear from you – you know we love stories!

Copyright © 2012 C. S. Wimsey. All Rights Reserved. 
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14 October 2012

Loved Ones

Life’s Journey isn’t all about work, and my journey isn’t all about writing. Nor should it be. I’ve found many a cliché to be true throughout my life. You’ll never find an epitaph on a gravestone which reads “I wish I’d spent more time in the office”. Instead you’ll find epitaphs about loved ones and noble deeds. This serves as an eternal signpost towards what is important in life, and I’m ashamed to admit I learned that the hard way. I’ve been that workaholic, stuck in the office on my hamster wheel of erroneous priorities.

Ironically serious illness did me a favor  stopping me in my tracks, and teaching me who my true friends were. Those friends who stood by me will be my friends until the day I die – a bond was formed then which can never be severed – they are truly valued by me. The importance of a loving family has been burned into my soul.

I haven’t been able to carry my writing journey forward of late, because a more important area of my life needed my full attention – my father. I wrote about my father’s transfer to a care home because of his Alzheimer’s back in July. I described that care home as being like a hotel. Since then I have learned to truth of another cliché – “all that glitters isn’t gold”. That care home wasn’t right for my father, and last week we moved him to a different home – a move which has been distressing for him, and we are doing all we can to help him settle. I’m not going to go into what went wrong here; all that is relevant is dad is in a more suitable home, and he is being given love and attention.

There are many issues to consider if you find yourself in the painful position of finding appropriate care for a loved one:
  • Look around the care home first. How many staff are allocated per floor? Look into the eyes of the care staff; how do they look at the residents, and are they tactile with the residents? Do they have an eye on the residents observing them and their safety while they are talking to you? Are they putting the residents first before everything else, or are they chatting amongst themselves about last night at the Dog and Duck? 
  • Ask questions of the manager. What is their philosophy about looking after their residents? What activities are planned on a daily basis for the residents, or are they left to their own devices? Would those activities be suitable for your loved one? How much assistance will be provided with basic hygiene requirements, dressing etc.? Are pictorial clues provided for the more confused residents who may have difficulty with the written word? 
  • Does the care home require chapter and verse from you concerning your loved one’s daily routine and their specific care requirements? Routine is important – breaking a routine can cause distress and confusion. 
  • Does the care home require a history/biography of your loved one? Memories are vital. Alzheimer’s patients especially will remember past events better than recent ones – and a biography can be an important way to reach them and engage with them. A care home which doesn’t recognise this could be a problem. You want the care staff to be able to take time out and speak to your loved one about their specific past – to keep their mind working, and care about their mental welfare. 
  • Does the care home want to know about your loved one’s likes/dislikes and hobbies? Are the care home going to try and keep up your loved ones hobbies, and preferred activities? You don’t want your loved one to feel in a completely alien environment – familiarity and continuity are important. Care needs to be specific and not generalised – as far as is possible. 
I hope that you never find yourself in this position, but at least if you do, you have some information to help you decide. If you have found yourself in this situation, do you have any additional advice which may help others?  If so please leave a comment below.

Copyright © 2012 C. S. Wimsey. All Rights Reserved. 
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6 October 2012

Defence Against the Dark Arts – Tips for Your Writer’s Toolbox Part 2

Image from www.get-free-wallpapers.com 
This is part 2 of a series. I recommend that if you haven’t read part 1, that you read it first by clicking here.

In part one I explained how a writer’s life isn’t easy and that we need to be prepared for when the “Dark Arts” start to pull us down. This is particularly important for writers, because for many of us writing isn’t a choice – it’s a calling. This is a special distinction, and is worthy of nurture and protection. I spoke about self doubt in part one, which is the Dark Art that has the biggest pull on me at the moment. It is all part of keeping my journey as a writer – and yours – on track. Here goes, part 2:

Rejection and Bad Reviews

The chairman of my writing group said to me the other day “no one is a real writer until they have had their first rejection letter.” Rejection is part of being a writer, along with old cliché – “you are only as good as your last piece of work.” Nobody is immune from this – just look at the mixed reviews J.K. Rowling has just received for her latest book “The Casual Vacancy”. Writers are under pressure to produce a constant stream of their best quality work. Of what other job do we expect the best 100% of the time without a bad day? Rejections and bad reviews/feedback, which fail to be constructive, can eat up a writer - annihilating their creativity.

We must remember that a lot of writing is subjective. What will suit one publisher, won’t suit another; what one agent likes, another may hate. I’ve just had a pitch rejected from a national newspaper “it’s a moving piece, but it just isn’t right for our pages. I hope you place it.” It’s a rejection, and every rejection stings – chipping away at our self belief. I take the view however that it was my fault for not researching more carefully whether my article was correct for that publication. After all, they never said that it wasn’t any good – to the contrary, they acknowledged it was moving. I’ve learned from that rejection – to do better research before my pitch.

So, rejection doesn’t necessarily mean that your writing is bad; it can mean that your work isn’t right for that publisher at that time. The trick is to do your research and find the publisher that your work is right for. You will sometimes find that you've done your research well and submitted the perfect story/manuscript/article and you are still rejected. If a publisher has recently accepted something similar to your work, it stands to reason that it is merely your timing which is wrong for that publisher.  Your writing and instincts were spot on and you will place your work somewhere else.  Be prepared – I didn’t say that task was easy, but it is worthwhile.

If you still aren’t convinced, this is a list of novels which have been rejected, and subsequently rose to the heady heights of success. Like the men and women who rejected these works, the people who are rejecting your work could end up with massive regrets; make it their loss - not yours.
  • Carrie – Stephen King: This novel was rejected so many times King threw it away. His wife rescued it and the rest is... well pretty well known.
  • The Diary of Anne Frank: Rejected 16 times. 
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s / Sorcerer’s Stone - J. K. Rowling: Rejected 12 times. 
  • Twilight – Stephanie Meyer: Rejected by 14 literary agents before it was taken on. 
  • Lord of the Flies – William Golding: Rejected by 20 publishers. 
  • A Time to Kill – John Grisham: Rejected by 12 publishes and 16 agents 
  • Judy Blume: Received rejections for 2 years before achieving success. 
  • The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkein: This novel took 14 years to complete only to be initially rejected by his publisher. It was eventually taken on despite expected losses. 
  • Dubliners – James Joyce: Received 22 rejections. 
I could go on as this list has only just started, but I think you can see what I’m trying to say. No, being a writer isn’t easy; but if you have the writing bug inside of you it can be so rewarding. You were born to write – nurture that gift and don’t give up. After all; if the writers listed above had given up, their lives (and ours) would be much poorer.

How do you cope with rejection? Let us know by leaving a comment below. You never know – you may be helping to salvage the next Stephen King from the waste bin! Leave us your tips, and keep an eye on this blog for the rest of this series.  If you don't want to miss out, why not sign up to email updates by clicking here?

Copyright © 2012 C. S. Wimsey. All Rights Reserved. 
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28 September 2012

Defence Against the Dark Arts – Tips for Your Writer’s Toolbox Part 1

What is it like to be a writer? How do we keep coming up with ideas? How do we maintain our passion, our drive, our will to sit in front of a computer screen and type until our fingers become sore? How do we prevent ourselves going mad? (Actually, a few people would question whether some degree of madness is a pre-requisite).

There is no easy answer to these questions, because being a writer isn’t easy – whether you are successful and published, or whether you are aspiring to be. It doesn’t matter what kind of writing you do – you will come up against the same problems – the Dark Arts.

I write because I have to. Something inside of me makes me write. When that something in me woke up there was no going back. It is that I have to remember every time the Dark Arts start to take hold of me. I need to keep direction in my writing journey – I must not give up, and I must keep hold of my desire.

I am not alone. I am lucky to be a member of a great writing group, where fellow writers support each other. It was this writing group which ran a seminar which they named “Defence Against the Dark Arts” in homage to the success of Harry Potter, and I recognised all the issues which arose that night. Every single affliction which can gnaw at a writer – yes, I knew them all. I give particular credit to Nick David who ran our Defence Against the Dark Arts Class. I have drawn on some of his ideas in writing this article, although my own experience is self evident.

So how do I deal with the Dark Arts? These aren’t the kind of Dark Arts you will find at J. K. Rowling’s Hogwarts, but they can be equally as destructive to a writer.

Self Doubt

If I am ever going to succumb to one of the Dark Arts it is this one.

Recently I was going through a particularly bad stage of self doubt. I mentioned my worries over whether my work was good enough to a published author whom I admire. I’ll paraphrase her answer - “Your work is good enough, but you are not alone. Whenever the phone rings I think it is my publisher ringing to tell me my contract is over.” So, successful published authors suffer from self doubt too.

I soon realised that if friends and family liked my work, it didn’t mean I was any good – I had to show my work to those who would be more critical – but constructively critical. I took writing courses, was professionally critiqued, I mixed with my peers, and am now an active member of a writing group. Believe me; a writing group erupting in spontaneous loud applause after you have read a piece of your work does a lot to persuade yourself you have at least some talent. It may interest you to know with that particular piece I read out, I had no idea if it was any good or how it would be received. I trusted, and let my audience be the judge. You must do the same.

Self doubt will continue to gnaw at you, whoever you are; it has no respect for your level of experience. The trick is to remember the good feedback – and I am receiving some very detailed feedback from my writing group, which is essential. Don’t shut yourself away - stick with kindred spirits; keep getting that feedback, keep improving your work, and keep remembering your successful work. Be humble as well – remember there is room for improvement within every writer – we are all on one big learning curve. The only question is; where you are on that curve? If you enjoy writing and you have the ability to learn and improve, then carry on. You’ll get there.

Lastly when your self-criticism starts to take over think about this – would you be this cruel to someone else? Take yourself out of your body – what would you say to you? Self abuse really is a journey to the dark side – don’t stay there. You don’t have to be the best to succeed – many people are successful without being the best writers, or even singers. You know who they are. The question is – do you have that spark? Chances are; if you have taken the trouble to read this, your spark has ignited.

I’ll explore a writer’s defences against more “Dark Arts” in Part 2 of this article at a later date. We’ve only just scratched the surface. Keep an eye on this blog, or you’ll miss it!

Copyright © 2012 C. S. Wimsey. 
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21 September 2012

The Garland Approach

Judy Garland c1940 - Image in the Public Domain
Judy Garland once said, “Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second –rate version of somebody else.” This provides us all with the key to our internal happiness, if only we could find the right door to unlock. Some of us never open that door in our journey through life, and that is a tragedy.

Society teaches and influences us from the day we take our first breath, until the day we take our last. We are constantly learning from our environment – observing and emulating others. We absorb society’s values as our own. We must be thin; we must aim to succeed; doctors, lawyers, and pilots are to be respected. We crave acceptance and the adulation of others, so we try to be what society respects.

The early values which were instilled into us are reinforced by our schooling and our peers. We are pushed to do well. If we are not good at Maths or English, we feel de-valued. I’m not saying that these subjects aren’t important, but is our education system missing something? It will preach, it will teach, but it has no time or resources to get to know the individual it is preaching to. One size can never fit all, and this approach can push individuals in the wrong direction. Journeying in a direction which isn’t your own is your route to misery, whether you are aware of it or not. You are conditioned into believing you are going in the right direction, so you will carry on blindly.

Many of us look back at our lives, and wonder how we got to where we are. We have a job that pays the bills; 2.4 children; life has overtaken us. Do we enjoy our job? That doesn’t really matter does it? We’re lucky to have a job at all aren’t we? We’ve done well? Society approves of us; we’re paying our own way and our taxes; we’re contributing; we’re leaving a legacy for our children to carry on. But do we ever ask ourselves whether we are truly fulfilled by the life society expected of us? Is our job doing for us what we are doing for it? Does it allow us to pursue the life we crave?

Judy Garland c1939 - Image in the Public Domain 
Judy Garland hit on our key to happiness, which isn’t taught in our schools. At least it wasn’t taught in my school. Did you ever notice that there were some subjects at school which came easily? You got good grades but never really had to try? Did you have a hobby which took up all your spare time – you were always getting told off for not doing your homework, because homework was more important wasn’t it? These are our clues to who we really are; those subjects which came naturally and those hobbies which drew you in did so for a reason, whether those around you valued them or not.

For me those subjects at school were English and History; but how could I make a career of English and History; pay the bills; become that pillar of society that everybody expected me to be? The hobbies I enjoy, aside from Belgian beer and red wine are my guitar and my camera, dropping clues that I have a creative streak. Naturally I became a lawyer, because that was what was expected of me. I became a second rate version of someone else. How could I excel? My heart wasn’t in it; I wasn’t motivated; it wasn’t me. I was driven in that career, but that wasn’t enough. I could never have that spark which made me excel above the rest. Many of us will stay that way; plodding through life, our dreams forgotten as childish musings – reality as we see it taking over. We’re paying the bills, we’re doing alright?

I look at people who have truly succeeded in life. They all seem to have one thing in common; passion for what they do. They believe in what they do, because it is a part of them – an extension of their inner selves. They are what they do – they are a first rate version of themselves. They have a strong mind and had the courage to follow their own true path, not the path which society expected of them. The lucky ones may have had family behind them – nurturing their talents and believing in them. They found the right door to unlock, and their spark ignited. That door may be nuclear physics, or looking after their children – we all have a different door, the trick is in finding the right one.

If we’re passionate about what we do, work takes less out of us – it doesn’t feel like work; after all who hasn’t got lost in something they love, and been mystified where the time went? Perhaps there should be more time in the school curriculum for nurture, to help students find their own true path. Could this lead to less workplace stress, and a more productive workforce? According to the American Psychological Association/American Institute of Stress, NY, 77% of people regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress. In the United Kingdom, according to ACAS; in 2004/5, 12.8 million working days were lost to stress; each new stress absence averaging 29 days off work. I’m not saying I have the answer to such a widespread problem – we are in a climate of cuts and under-staffing – but surely a happy and fulfilled workforce is likely to be less susceptible to stress?

If you found your door early in life I salute you. You know it doesn’t matter what ignites your spark – just that it has ignited. It doesn’t matter whether you are a millionaire, or Jo Bloggs down the High Street. You are fulfilled – you are true to yourself and free to be you; you’ve made the best of yourself by following your own unique path.

We don’t look up to Judy Garland in the same way we look up to Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking, but she was a wise woman indeed - and deserves our respect. After all, aren’t Einstien and Hawking perfect examples of individuals becoming a first rate version of themselves? I could think of many others who fit that description – and you will have met them too in your everyday life. You know who they are; I aim to join them.

Do you agree this argument has merit? Did Judy Garland hit on the key to happiness, or is if all a lot of fluffy pipe dreams?  Why not leave a comment and join the debate.

Copyright © 2012 C. S. Wimsey. 
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15 September 2012

Tips for Putting Together Your Own Website: Part 1

I've often been asked how I put this website together. This site is part of my journey so it is only proper that I explain in more detail how the site came to be; so that you can take hints which may help you on your own journeys. A website is not just about design, but design helps. There is much to consider, even before you arrive at the appropriate design to suit you.

A Writer Platform

Any artist (or business) - whether writer, painter, actor, or musician – needs a platform. Your platform is your way to connect with others. Without a platform an artist would have no outlet for their creativity. A musician’s creations would be confined to his garage forever – no one else would ever hear him. My platform is, so far, my websites/blog accompanied by my email list, my Twitter account, and my Facebook account. Through these I can communicate with the outside world, and I love it.

This Website/Blog

I have been developing this website/blog since 2010 and I hope I can prevent you making the same mistakes I did, if you are on the same or a similar journey.

When I started out I had no unique brand, and no direction. I just felt the need to write and have an outlet – the writer inside of me needed to break out. That is all well and good, but who would want to read it, and why? After I let Henry go I regained my drive and wanted to move forward with purpose. I read texts about Writer Platforms by the likes of Jeff Goins, and Michael Hyatt (the latter I still need to finish!). I needed a focus and a brand.

Focus and Brand

I may change and develop these further, but I can only comment on the now. My writing and my blog need to be true and honest, otherwise I could never keep it up, or hold your interest. If I wrote about politics, for example, my heart would not be in it and my writing would be flat. You need to find a focus that is true to you if you would like to develop a website/blog. This focus should be different for everyone, as far as possible – there would be nothing to gain from copying my focus, or anyone else’s – it would not come from your heart and would lack passion. Maybe politics would work for you? Maybe film reviews? Write down interests you are drawn to and brain storm. Your focus will be in that list. Conversely; the narrower your focus, the bigger your potential audience will be.

My greatest goal recently has been to defeat my illness, drag myself out of my rut, and make something of myself. I was on a journey, which I hoped could inspire others not to give up. It is never too late to follow your dreams, and I wanted to follow mine – so I decided to write about my journey and try to inspire others to follow their own dreams.

My focus became my journey, personal development, and inspiration. My particular dream is towards writing, and that will be included. It is all part of my journey. “Journey to the Limit of Your Imagination”, became my strap line. The limit of where you can go in life is your own imagination; we dream, we make it happen. How could I not be passionate about that?

My brand is me; the writer me. I therefore needed to find the parts of me that make me unique, and I needed to work on my unique way of delivering my message – my voice. All this has been incorporated into my website/blog. You in turn will have to decide what makes you unique and develop your own voice if you are to differentiate your blog from the rest of the internet noise.  You need to connect honestly with readers. Readers will spot a fraud, you can only write with passion if you are honest to yourself.  Writing only shines if your honesty shines through it.

Brand and Design

My design needed to reflect my brand. I love history so I wanted a vintage feel to the design. That reflects my desire to write historic fiction. I also wanted to reflect me at a more basic level – I’m a writer, and won’t always be writing about history – I want to develop my freelance writing, and blog about my journey as I go along.

When I write without a keyboard I like to use a fountain pen; there; a vintage fountain pen... a quill... a pot of ink... And so the idea for the logo, pen and ink, was born; fitting for a writer. But there was something missing – it didn’t reflect my blog focus. I was thinking about this with my friend @ellephantasticity over a game of pool. The best creativity comes out of doing other things while brainstorming. I stood up from taking my next shot and exclaimed – "a compass – I’m on a journey, and need to maintain direction." A vintage compass straight out of the Pirates of the Caribbean. And so my logo and blog header came to be. Vintage; writing; journey – and we added a map. It just so happens that this reflects my passion for travel, but I need not go there today.  [Since I originally wrote this some code stopped working on the website - and it has meant losing the vintage map which shone through the header - I will try and get this back].

My blog is now my blank page, my vintage, browned, unique blank page – for me to fill with my writing. Everything in the design reflects my brand in some way. I’ve kept it simple – 3 main colours, with only one bright colour. It isn’t too busy and you don’t need sunglasses to view it. You will find many main-stream websites follow this pattern, or similar.

Your brand and design will need to reflect you; to be your own unique blank page. Your brand needs to be unique to differentiate you from the rest. As soon as a reader sees your blog (if you have made it unique) they will get to know what to expect from you – you will be building your brand, not someone else’s. If you are a film reviewer for example my design would not work – you will need to think about the films and genres you want to review, and reflect them. If you are a writer of thrillers or fantasy – you will need to reflect those genres.


My blog design did not materialise by magic. It took a lot of work after the ideas were born to make it into something tangible. I could not have done this without the help of my friend @ellephabtasticity, who runs a crafting business and also creates digital images. She is a creative inspiration who brings ideas into my head which wouldn’t have come otherwise. She transformed the ideas for my logo into the digital image which appears on this website. Click on the image to the left to go to her website.

I will write about the technicalities of transforming my ideas into something tangible in Part 2 of this article at a later date.

Copyright © 2012 C. S. Wimsey. 
All Rights Reserved. 
Downloading of and/or copying text or images from this website is strictly prohibited.

8 September 2012

Small Changes; Small Steps; New Life

Those small changes are catching up with me. I don’t know how it happened, but I’m a different person, with a different outlook and future. I guess a lot of small changes add up to a big change over time. I’m not where I want to be yet, but I see this time – the now - as significant. I tweeted a quote by Andy Rooney recently - “I’ve learned that everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while climbing it”. I must not forget to enjoy this stage of my journey, while I am climbing.

I’m no longer standing on a platform in hell, waiting for my train to arrive and take me where I want to go. I know that train will never come, and I am making my own way. I’m no longer spending Christmas 2011 housebound and hardly able to walk, with even my thinking impaired by illness. I stood up, put one unsteady foot in front of the other, increasing the distance I could walk gradually, and broke through the barriers keeping me inside. I’m not pretending it was easy. There was a time I was attempting to walk out on my street and a passer-by thought I was trying to stalk a cat that was in front of me; I was so slow, and my steps were so hesitant and short. Bless her; she was mortified when I had to explain I couldn’t really walk properly – and I felt bad for telling her.

I was not “pacing” myself, which is a therapy often served out to sufferers of ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I was in the early stages of implementing Reverse Therapy, and conquering my fears. I wanted to do so many things, but to do them I had to be able to walk. Starting the process of getting to my goals, according to Reverse Therapy, should lessen my symptoms. I thought it was far-fetched at the time, but I was desperate. It worked.

I did not notice the progress as it happened; but it did happen. I look back to then from now, I can see the distance I have travelled, and I am astonished. There are things in life trying to pull me back to the way I was then, but I am fighting them. I am fighting them as the person I am now – stronger from my experience, and knowing it is possible to be well, not merely hoping for a miracle.

I’ve been working towards other goals too. I look back to where I was in 2010 when I started my blog. How naive I was to writing styles, how isolated I was from other writers because of my health. I posted only once to this blog during 2011, promising a re-vitalised site on the way – and then nothing; the illness took over. Or did it? I look back and I suspect not entirely. Although fogged, and not working to anything like capacity, my brain was still there. I observed, I learned, and I processed. I had an extreme experience, which makes me appreciate the smallest things now. It slowed me down, made me look at the world around me and re-evaluate. It made me a better person, and potentially a better writer.

I’m now an active member of a writing group, and am physically meeting and befriending my peers. I have taken in texts and courses about writing well, and I have a blog with momentum. I’m making connections and friends via social networks linked to my writing. I’m getting feedback. I’m looking into freelance writing which would be a dream come true – my peers tell me my writing is good enough to pitch. My peers have done it themselves, and they are now my unintended mentors. I hope they are right, but I’m not expecting success over-night, or for it to be easy. I’ve learned never to “expect” anything.

I’ve made this happen, one very small change at a time. I’ll probably have to take more steps than most on my journey, but all my steps are in the right direction, and they have brought me here. Had I taken no steps, I would still be housebound, and struggling to walk. Small steps work.

I’m looking forward now, not back. I’m on an exciting journey – so why would I want to look back?

I’m hoping to inspire others to make things happen for them on this blog, and I will be providing some tips in the future to help you along the way. In the meantime I’d love to hear about your experiences – your journeys. No matter how insignificant you may think them – remember - it is the small steps that count.

Copyright © 2012 C. S. Wimsey. 
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31 August 2012

The Lady Who Survived a Train Crash, and the Man who Saved a Runaway Train

My Grandfather - Edward William "Billie"
Funny how the past keeps hold of our futures. I think of all the people I know and once knew. I am the sum of all of them, added to myself. I carry them around with me every day – even the ones I didn’t know well. Some influence me a little, some a lot. I have been touched by so many extraordinary lives – in good ways, and bad, but all have had their influence; made me stronger; made me who I am. They have all influenced me in my journey through life.

There are two people who are always with me; my guardian angels – if you believe they can exist. Maybe they are merely a strong memory embedded into my soul and welded with love. I didn’t know them well but their influence stays with me moulding my future, as it moulded my past. Who are these people? Nobel prize winners? History changers? Olympic gold medallists?

I remember their smiles, their love, and their kind hearts. I was only 11. They were my grandparents on my father’s side – I know - it doesn’t sound grand, or romantic. How can an 11 year old bond so profoundly with the older, wrinkling generation; find them interesting, let alone fascinating? That I cannot explain – there was just something special about them. The more I find out about them posthumously, the more I see why I had that feeling that they were special and why they remain with me; smiling at me and shaping my future.

My Grandmother - Ada
Ada Wimsey was a strong, yet kind lady with a wicked sense of humour. As an old lady you wouldn’t know she was any different from the rest – but she carried an aura with her which let me know that she was. I knew she’d lived, and I was always asking her what it was like to have lived through World War Two. Strange that I would ask her that – a woman staying at home, looking after her children. What interesting stories could she possibly have to tell? She fascinated me every time – there was so much more to her; she had been asked to return to her work as a teacher to fill the empty posts of those fighting. At one stage she taught a class of 96 boys.

Ada Wimsey just doesn’t make sense. Descended from an Irishman, who probably jumped ship at an English port – she was not rich – she was poor working class. By all accounts she had a horrible start in life. She had more siblings than I could count, and apparently a drunken father who was not kindly. Her father wanted her to stay at home to look after her siblings, and help raise the family. Her school had to fight for her and as a result she went to Leeds University 1918-1921, from where she constantly travelled back home to help with her parents and siblings. A woman; a poor woman; at university at the end of the First World War. That still strikes me as odd, but what do I know?

I recall a hardback copy of The Lord of the Rings being passed around in my grandmother’s living room, and a question being asked – “he was your tutor wasn’t he?” I knew that the book was being read to my brother, but I didn’t know what a famous book it was at the time – or even that it was a significant book. I knew my grandmother was special, but I never truly understood in her lifetime. At university my grandmother was taught by J.R.R. Tolkein, and we still have his reference for her. That I didn’t understand enough to ask more questions, I will regret forever – but that visceral feeling was a constant presence. There was something about my grandmother, and I always knew it, even if I didn't know what “it” was.

A press clipping of the crash Ada Wimsey survived.
The picture above is from the same story.
My Grandmother survived a train crash in 1929. I thank the Lord for that, or I would not be here writing this for you to read. I look back at the press cuttings in awe. I never saw these cuttings as a child, but I saw something in her eyes which told me these cuttings spoke the truth.

I look at the telegram sent to my grandfather telling him his beloved Ada was safe. He was a railway signalman, and had his own stories to tell. He was a hero – the man who saved a runaway train, and always had a twinkle in his eyes. A twinkle which stays with me even today.

I carry my grandparents with me, as I carry everyone who’s touched me. I think they influence me more than any other. They are my strength through bad times, and aid my joy in the good. They look over my shoulder and encourage me to battle on, to never give up, and to be happy. I hope I can live up to their legacy. Somehow I doubt it, but I’ll give it one heck of a try.

Who influenced you most in life? Was it someone you knew, or was it a character who you admire from history? Is it someone who is still here who you can talk to? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.

Copyright © 2012 C. S. Wimsey. 
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19 August 2012

Do You Monitor or Explode?

It is said that without pressure there would be no diamonds [Thomas Carlyle]. Pressure is good - nothing can be achieved without pressure. After all; a tyre can't function without pressure; it was pressure which drove the pistons of the industrial revolution; we need pressure to pump the blood around our bodies. Pressure is necessary, and who can argue with that?

I thought I’d resolved all when I decided to stop spinning in circles trying to solve everyone else’s problems, regardless of whether they were in my power to solve. I still cared (probably too much), but I decided to channel my efforts more carefully, and towards that which was within my control. I stepped off my hamster wheel having shaken the weight of the world from my shoulders; my journey would be so much simpler from now on. So I thought.

Instead I found that everything I tried to do was an effort. My insides felt like they were turning inside out, constricted and tight.  This wasn't me; things that I was finding hard were normally simple tasks for me, but my body was crippled. I wasn't functioning properly. Why?

Greater truths are buried underneath the polished philosophy I have described above. Indeed there would be no diamonds without pressure, but is it really that simple? Diamonds do not materialise like they did in one of the superman movies where superman picked up a piece of coal and squeezed it into a beautifully cut and polished diamond. It takes the right amount of pressure and heat to transform carbon into a diamond. If you put a tyre under too much pressure it will burst; a piston put under too much pressure could explode; it was the pressure of the ice against the unsinkable Titanic's hull that caused it to sink at the cost of 1,517 lives. Too much pressure can cause disaster; ill health; it can be dangerous; and how can that be efficient? For pressure to produce efficiency; it must be closely monitored; it must be the right amount of pressure.

Excessive pressure stops things functioning as they should - and that was what was happening to me. I’d been putting pressure on myself to do everything at once, do it perfectly, and succeed as dictated by my dreams - immediately. You cannot achieve to your dreams while putting this much pressure on yourself, because you can’t be effective. I was lucky to recognise this so quickly, but then I have form in this area. I know what professional burn out feels like, and I wouldn't recommend it as a sensible way to reach your goals. It doesn't work. It achieves nothing.

A human body under too much stress – mental or physical - will break. Too much mental stress can impair memory and ability to learn; increase risk of heart disease and diabetes; impair the immune system and the digestive system; cause significant fatigue and headaches. This is just the tip of the stress iceberg.

According to the American Psychological Association/American Institute of Stress, NY, 77% of people regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress. In the United Kingdom, according to ACAS; in 2004/5, 12.8 million working days were lost to stress; each new stress absence averaging 29 days off work.

So what was my solution? Should I give up on my dreams because they are putting me under too much pressure and I was a stress risk? For me that was no solution. I do not have to remove both the pressure and my dreams from the equation. I had to find a way to remove the unhealthy pressure from the equation, while keeping sight of my dreams. I have to be the tortoise and not the hare. The hare can get to places quicker – but he can’t keep it up long-term. The tortoise may get there slower – but he will get there - his speed causes less pressure on his body.

To relieve pressure we need to know our goals well. We need to break them down into small chunks, and tackle them like tapas – a nibble at a time. If we set ourselves to big a task at one time, we’ll become disheartened when we don’t see immediate results. If we put less pressure on ourselves with a small task to complete, we will see results quickly, and feel achievement without excessive pressure. We know we’ve planned out the rest of the tasks – they are in the diary and we don’t have to worry about them now, because they are for later. If we put ourselves under a little pressure at a time; a healthy and manageable pressure; we're likely to get more done, be more efficient, and achieve the little, and consequently the big goals more quickly.

Think about the total force the Flying Scotsman needed to put it’s pistons through to achieve a journey from London to Edinburgh. If you apply all that pressure at once, that beautiful marvel of engineering would have exploded. When applied bit by bit, we have an unforgettable achievement in rail engineering. I was about to explode, but now I’m feeling fine. I still have the same mountain in front of me, but I’m no longer overwhelmed.

It is so easy to forget when we are working 9-5, but we all have an internal pressure gage, and for many of us it is screaming. We must take positive action when it rises to the red, or even the orange. Positive action will mean stopping; and taking stock of the situation first to work out the appropriate action to relieve the pressure. If we neglect to do this we are in danger of breaking, and becoming one of the above mentioned statistics. Nothing is worth becoming that, especially when taking stock in good time could lead you to become an unforgettable achievement of your own.

How do you manage your stress? I’d love to hear from you – why not join the discussion and comment below?

Copyright © 2012 C. S. Wimsey. 
All Rights Reserved. 
Downloading of and/or copying text or images from this website is strictly prohibited.