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. 
All Rights Reserved. 
Downloading of and/or copying text or images from this website is strictly prohibited.

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. 
All Rights Reserved. 
Downloading of and/or copying text or images from this website is strictly prohibited.