Turn your ‘should’s to ‘could’s: and see results in your motivation

Lifestyle

Research for my latest novel has me delving into therapies, recovery activities and exercises for motivation. One particular activity I was introduced to yesterday was, “Write down your rules for life.”

Your rules for life, so to speak, are not necessarily rules that you stick to all the time. Your rules can be things that you feel you should be doing, or maybe things you feel guilty if you don’t do. Here are some examples:

  1. I should go for a run every day.
  2. I must not be selfish
  3. I should always text back straight away
  4. I must never be late for work
  5. I should always put make-up on before leaving the house

In my research environment, we were then told to change these negative, authoritarian words like ‘should’ to something that was kinder to ourselves. I thought this was a really interesting phrase to use, and noticed that many of the others in the environment were changing their rules to more tentative words: I could, I can, I might…

After speaking to my housemate later that evening, she pulled up an article she’d read about the impacts of using the word ‘should’. As the article says, although should’ may occasionally give good guidance, more often than not it “induces guilt, and decreases the desire to do something you might otherwise want to do.”

In this article, psychologist Susan Heitler suggests to use the words ‘could’ and ‘I would like to’, rather than ‘should’ – and the more thought I put into it, the more it made sense. Even from a simple, stripped-back perspective: if you tell yourself you would like to do something, rather than you should do something, you’re surely more likely to do it, right? It just makes more sense.

Similarly, if you use the word should when addressing others, you’re very likely to make them feel guilty for not already doing said thing. Therefore, they’re less likely to feel motivated to do said thing because, let’s face it, nobody likes being told what to do. Telling others that they should be doing something is appealing to that little bit of rebel we all have inside of us: the voice saying, “If I should, then I ain’t gonna. Don’t tell me what to do.”

For example, if I said to my housemate (which would never happen, by the way, because she is far cleaner than I am): “You should have done the washing up today. You should really help out more.”

(God, it felt weird even writing that.)

She’s not going to do it. Actually, she’ll probably be pissed off that I’m telling her to do something. But if I said, “Could you do the washing up today?” I reckon she’d be more likely to pick up the sponge.

Using the word could implies that you have an option. You could do the washing up, but there’s no pressure. You could also not do the washing up, no biggie. Similarly, if I’m speaking to myself (happens a lot), I can change I should go for a run every day, to I could go for a run every day, if I feel like it. Hey, no pressure. If I don’t feel like going for a run, I’m not going to bother, but I have the potential. I totally could, if I wanted to. But I don’t need to feel like I should be going for a run, even when I don’t want to. I tried this technique out on myself this morning, because I have a whole host of things to do and very little time to do them in. I wrote myself a little list of things that I should be doing / have already done, but used the phrase would like to instead.

Things I would like to get done today:

  • Finish off my publishing portfolio
  • Edit my manuscript submission
  • Write another synopsis & query letter

Things I could also do, if I want to:

  • Email various people waiting for work and thank them for sticking with me while I’m busy
  • Call a lady about renting a tent pitch

Just seeing these little lists already makes me feel like I’ve no pressure to complete any of my tasks – but that makes me want to do them even more! Not because I should, but because I could – and why waste that potential?

Susan Heitler’s article Should You Use This Word? on Psychology Today explains this concept far better than I can, so go and give it a read. Also thank you to my housemate, Beth, for pointing this out to me! It was too helpful of a concept not to share.

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Interviews with Aspiring Writers: Naomi Louise Jenkins

Aspiring Writers Series, Writing

Aspiring author Naomi Louise Jenkins (teatimewithnaomi) talks mental health, writing essentials, and how she’s finding the process of writing her first full manuscript.

Tell us a bit about your current work in progress.

It’s about a young woman in her mid-twenties, rebuilding her life after a failed suicide attempt. The novel is set in Wales, where my protagonist tries to reintegrate herself into family life and resolve conflicts that have been years in the making. Through a series of flashbacks, the reader learns about what pushed her over the edge, and why she so desperately ran away from who she used to be, and where she came from. I’m really enjoying the process of getting to know these characters; it’s a novel about relationships, mental health, and more than anything – new beginnings. There’s always time to start again – to chase the life you really want to lead.

You focus a lot on mental health issues in your current novel. Why do you think it’s important for readers to engage with literature that tackles tough subjects?

You know, I think mental health is so stigmatised. It’s getting better, but it’s still not something that people openly talk about, so I think literature is our way of having a silent conversation with ourselves. When you think of reading books, you think of going on these wild adventures, but sometimes a character’s adventure is more introspective and emotional. And sometimes – that’s the adventure we need to read.

So many people suffer from mental health issues these days – my main hope is that people will come away from the novel with a sense of understanding, and maybe even a sense of belonging. One of the worst things about mental health is how lonely it makes you feel, but that can change. I want readers to know that it will get better. It will. And maybe the novel will be able to help the friends and families of sufferers – these people are the support systems, and sometimes it can be hard for them to truly understand how their loved ones feel.

Where do you feel most inspired?

I love writing in cafes. I love watching people interact, listening to conversations – I especially love sitting near a window with natural light, and just really connecting with the world around me. Although my eyes tend to be glued to my laptop, I am, essentially, writing about life, so I like to be somewhere where life is bustling on around me.

Do you have any writing essentials?

Without a doubt, I have to have a cup of tea. Always. I have to have a notebook with me, even if I’m writing with my laptop. It’s kind of my anchor, in a way. If I get stuck on what I’m writing, I’ll turn to my notebook. I’ve always found it easier to write when I’m putting pen to paper – the traditional way.

I used to listen to lyrical music, but now I prefer classical or ambient mixer. I like to find ambient sounds that match the scene I’m writing – it’s a great way to connect to your fictional surroundings and really immerse yourself in what you’re writing.

Who is your favourite author at the minute?

Louise O’ Neill. Her honesty is just beautiful. Her courage to write about important, and sometimes difficult, topics is hugely admirable. She’s the author I take most inspiration from, and I aim to have the same kind of honest, raw emotion in my own work.

How do you find the process of switching between writing your blog, and writing your manuscript, a much longer piece of work?

At times it can be difficult, especially times when I’m deep in my manuscript and know I need to write a blog post. There have definitely been times when I’ve neglected to write a blog post because I’m just too committed to the novel and the path it’s taking. However, the break is nice, and sometimes it’s good to write something shorter and grounded in my world, and then flit back to writing about these fictional characters. Often, my blog posts will inspire certain elements of the manuscript as well, or prompt me to think more deeply about an element of my plot. So they kind of go hand in hand!

Finally, do you have any advice for young aspiring writers?

Always have a notebook with you. Always. Don’t compare yourself to other writers because the work you’re reading has been edited a million times, and you’re only just beginning. Write the story you would love to stumble upon in a bookshop because, chances are, there’s someone else who wants to read that book, too.

 

You can keep up to date with Naomi’s writing journey on her blog.

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♡ Productive days (and why they’re fun) ♡

Lifestyle, Writing

First off, let me just say that I am probably the least productive person on the planet. So, when I actually have productive days, it’s something of a surprise. A miracle, some might say.

This morning, I started my day by blasting Taylor Swift’s new tune and cleaning my kitchen. Laugh if you will, but dancing around gets me moving and wakes me up – and the only way I can suffer through cleaning is by making it (semi) fun. Call it what you want (get it?), but I’m calling it productive.

I cleaned, I got dressed, I made breakfast – all huge achievements. While I was relaxing with my green tea, my good friend Callen was on his way over to my house, and we spent the day manuscript editing (because my deadline is Friday, in case you’d forgotten. I most certainly have not). My novel is split into Part One and Part Two, and today we smashed the edits on Part Two. I have lots of revisions to type up, and a final chapter that needs reworking completely – but I’m going to tackle all of that tonight.

It was really helpful to talk through all of Callen’s notes, and to decide which characters I can afford to lose, and which one’s need to be developed further. We have our Master’s course on Wednesday’s, and I’m heading to London on Friday… So, I only have three solid days in total to finish the rest of the revisions. Which is fine. Totally fiiiine. *Inserts Ross Geller’s overreaction GIF*

We’ve drawn up a timetable for the chapters that need the most work, so I’m feeling confident about what needs to be looked at. I have five chapters to do tomorrow, eight to smash on Tuesday, and, uh, the rest of the novel on Thursday. (I’m fiiiiine.)

Overall, I think today was super productive, and I’m thankful I have such a wonderful writing buddy to rock up at my door with co-op meal deals and endless words of support and encouragement (and sometimes firm, “Nope, cut it” ‘s that are equally important and appreciated).

Anyway – I’m procrastinating now. Lots to write / edit / cut out completely. Enjoy Bonfire Night everyone! Be safe!

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Editing your manuscript: how to start and what to look out for

Writing

So you finished your manuscript! Congratulations! Now comes the hard part… editing that bad boy to high heavens. *Taylor Swift voice* Are you ready for it?

The first thing to do when you’ve finished your manuscript – when you’re sitting in front of that final page wondering how the hell you managed to do it – is make yourself a brew and revel in your achievement. You’d probably benefit from leaving your manuscript for a week or two and just enjoying that life you weren’t able to have whilst writing it… But, if you’re like me and you just want to leave it a few hours and get cracking – here’s what you want to do.

Identify the elements you need to look for. Good ones to start with are the broader elements: plot, characterisation, setting and voice.

  • Plot – When you’re rinsing through your manuscript looking at the plot, you’re focusing on plot holes and inconsistencies. Sometimes it helps me to write a timeline as I’m reading through, so I can see exactly what I wanted to happen to the characters, and what actually ended up happening.
  • Characterisation – Time to whack out those character profiles – you know, the ones you drew up six months ago…? Get them out, pin them up, and make sure that you’ve been consistent with each character throughout the novel. This is not just about your protagonist! Every little walk-on or secondary character needs their own individual plot-line and motivations. (Top tip: look at your protagonist in the first and last chapters — have they developed enough? Or not at all?)
  • Setting – Setting is something that you don’t need to get too caught up on, but you still need to give a significant amount of thought to. Have a rinse through the novel and see how frequently the setting changes, and when it does – have you been consistent in your descriptions? If you’ve described an empty church at night-time, make sure it isn’t sunrise five minutes later – that kind of thing.
  • Voice – This is a big one. There are some incredible novels that use the voice of their protagonists to show character development (see: How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff). Does the voice of your protagonist employ this technique? Do they start off with an accent that slips a few chapters in? Is there a certain phrase you wanted them to use throughout the story? …You get the gist.

When you’ve had a look through and narrowed down the broader aspects of the plot (and bear in mind, this might take anywhere from a week to several months…), you can move on to looking at the smaller elements. I say ‘smaller’, but these things are equally important. Grammar, syntax, layout… Allll the boring stuff that is actually ridiculously vital if you want a publisher to even pick up the manuscript.

There are standard formats and layouts that most publishers or literary agents will be comfortable with (clear fonts like Arial or Times New Roman, double spacing…) – but it is 100% worth checking the website of who you are likely to submit your work to. Its almost a guarantee that the few agents you pick out will be asking for the same kind of thing, but it’s always worth checking. Always.

If grammar isn’t really your thing, this is where you want to get your beta readers involved. These are a few people that you trust – and nah, this doesn’t mean your mum. Often, you can just drop a tweet into the inter-webs and see if anyone is up for reading your work. If you’re writing YA, for example, you’re going to want someone who likes to read YA and might be a potential reader in the future – these are the kind of readers who know what they’re looking for in a character or plot. You want to choose a few people (I’d suggest 3-5) who have an impartial opinion (aka not your mum or granny) and might actually know what they’re on about.

I, personally, wouldn’t bother paying a professional editor if you have people in your life that are decent with grammar and punctuation that could help you out. Don’t waste your cash. If you can get your formatting and syntax sorted for agent submission and manage to bag an agent on the quality of your plot and characters, an editor is something that they will sort out for you further down the line.

I hope all of this makes a decent amount of sense… good luck, guys! Happy editing – and if you have any questions about editing, manuscripts, or the whole process of finding beta readers for your novel, drop them below.

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Interviews with Aspiring Writers: Soothing Sense

Aspiring Writers Series, Writing

The author of soothingsense.com talks Nanowrimo, favourite writing places, and the importance of seeking out a writing community to feed your inspiration.

So, first of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself as a writer?

The first time I really learned about the craft of writing was at university, where I began to find my writing voice through my undergraduate essays. I then stayed to complete postgraduate studies, including a PhD. Writing my thesis gave me a taste of the challenges and rewards of completing long writing projects, with the final piece totalling around 70000 words. There were so many times I thought I wouldn’t complete it but I’m glad I stuck with it now!

It was just as I was finishing my PhD that someone sent me a link about NaNoWriMo. The aim of NaNoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month, is to write 50000 words in the month of November. Having just finished my PhD, the last thing I wanted to do was to embark on another long writing project and so the email sat in my inbox for the next eight years or so! Happily, I completed my first NaNoWriMo in 2016 and I’m just preparing now to have another attempt at it. Taking part in NaNoWriMo has helped me to rediscover my love of writing and, although it’s difficult to fit in around work, getting in touch with this creative side of myself again has been life-changing. It gave me a sense of purpose at a time when I was feeling quite lost.

Tell us about your novel! How are you finding the process of writing and editing a longer piece of fiction?

The novel I wrote last year was a young adult fiction with a working title of Imperfect. It’s about a girl called Ella who is struggling to deal with the pressures of school and exams. Food is her only comfort but even that isn’t straightforward and, as the year progresses, Ella’s feeling of inadequacy grows stronger. The book explores Ella’s struggle with confidence and the conflict between wanting help and the fear of letting people into her inner world. I am editing Imperfect at the moment and hope to have it completed in the spring. NaNoWriMo was a great way of getting a basic outline and it really helps to be able to participate in sprints online. The editing process is feeling brutal in comparison! However, I am working with a writing mentor and her support makes such a difference! It keeps me focussed and is teaching me a lot about how to improve my writing too.
This year for NaNoWriMo, I am aiming to complete the first part of a story that examines a client’s journey through therapy told from the perspective of both the counsellor and client. The working title for this is Stupid Clocks because I always hated it in counselling sessions when we ran out of time!

What is your favourite age range / genre to write for?

I like writing for lots of different age ranges and this can sometimes make it hard to stay focused! Generally, everything I write has a strong emotional component to it and I love to write things that can perhaps inspire self-care and make it less scary for people to seek support from others. Even my PhD had a lot to do with emotions so this is a theme that has been there from the start and I continue to explore it in my blog, Soothing Sense. Although all my work has been for adults so far, I would love to write something for children one day.

Do you have any favourite places to write? Where do you feel most inspired?

I tend to write at home but I’m most productive when I’m on holiday and don’t have to juggle writing with work. One of my favourite places to go is Brighton. I’ll sit on the beach, find a lovely cafe in the Lanes or go to the local library. This is my idea of heaven!

Finally, do you have any advice to share with other aspiring authors?

My main advice would be to think about getting support in your writing journey. That could come from a process like NaNoWriMo, which can connect you to other writers online or in your local community, a writing group or from a mentor. It really helps when your confidence is low to have other people to support you! The other thing would be to think carefully about the software you use because it can make a real difference to the ease of the writing process. For most of my writing now, I use Scrivener but OmmWriter is a beautiful piece of software, which I use on days when I feel I need something a little more gentle. Finally, don’t be afraid to say no to things in order to create time to write. If you’re like me, creativity is perhaps an important part of your self-care so it’s worth an investment of your time!

You can follow Soothing Sense’s writing journey next month at https://nanowrimo.org/participants/soothing-sense, or visit their blog at soothingsense.com. A big shout out to Soothing Sense for their honest and thoughtful responses!

If you’re an aspiring writer and you’d like to be interviewed on Quills and Coffee, drop me an email at quillsandcoffeeblog@gmail.com. And if you’ve felt inspired by, or have a response to this interview – leave a comment below!

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Calling all unpublished / aspiring writers

Writing

Are you a writer currently working on your first novel, second novel, collection of poetry, script, blog, or, like, any other project? I want to interview you!

One of my favourite things about the online writing community is, a lot of the time, I can pick up advice and support from people who are in the same boat as me. Many of us writers are just starting out on our journey – and there are many writers out there who have been writing for decades and have still yet to be picked up by a mainstream publisher. Whether or not your work has been published or widely distributed to the world – if you write, you are a writer.

I’d like to start a new series on Quills & Coffee where I publish one interview a week with an aspiring writer, novelist, poet, etc. I think it’d be great for us to hear more about other writers’ processes, favourite writing places, most helpful bits of advice… And it would be a great way to promote your writing if it’s out there on the internet for us all to see!

If you’d like to be featured, please send an enquiry to quillsandcoffeeblog@gmail.com or comment on this post. Send me a few lines about you – what you’re currently writing, where you’re from, and if there’s anything you’d like me to promote on the post. When I hear from you, I’ll email you back and let you know if I’d like to feature you, and then I can send you over some interview questions!

I’m really excited to hear from you! Writing is a solitary activity, this is something that all of us know, so it’s always good to have a great online support network to root for you and keep cheering you on.♡

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Favourite writing places: part one

Writing

Sometimes, I feel like I arrive at a place and immediately feel as though I’m home. These are the places that I feel I can properly write; it isn’t just that the words flow freely, it’s as though my creativity takes hold and it’s almost effort to reign it in. For me, Edinburgh is one of those places.

I’ve titled this post ‘part one’ because I’m lucky enough to have felt this magical connection with more than one place. For now, though, I want to tell you about Edinburgh – the last time I went there, anyway – and the relationship it has with my writing.

Before I booked my tickets in January, the city had been calling out to me for a while. I kept telling my friends and family that something wanted me to go there, whatever that was. I’d walk through a bookshop and knock something off a shelf, pick it up… and it’d be an Edinburgh Travel Guide. When I went travelling Italy, I (cleverly) didn’t book a return flight, and when I went to find a flight home, the cheapest one by far… was Edinburgh.

I went there with my family when I was around sixteen, and I remember wandering off by myself to sit in a cafe and study for my A Levels. This time, I was wandering around the city, alone, stopping off in cafes and writing and feeling like a real writer. Everywhere I stopped to write or edit my novel, people were asking me what I was writing, where I’d come from, whether I wanted another coffee (maybe that one was them doing their jobs… but still). I’ve never felt more inspired than walking around this beautiful place in early February, when there was still a chill in the air and snow always threatening to fall; with the voices of authors echoing around every bookshop, and stories of ghosts lurking on every street corner.

Its hard to describe how at home I felt: how at one with myself I was. One evening, I booked a late-night ghost tour and explored the hidden tunnels underneath the city, and the famous graveyard where J.K. Rowling found the inspiration for many of her character names. I managed to finish the first round of edits for my first YA novel there, on the top floor of the Waterstones on Princes Street, on a table overlooking the beautiful Edinburgh Castle, shrouded in fog.

I’ve thought so much about moving to Edinburgh, or at least going on another writing retreat where I can commit all of my time to focusing on the beauty of the city, the culture, the history – and the people. Maybe when I’ve more money, and more time (probably after I’ve finished my Masters), I’ll finally be able to go there again. It will always feel like returning, rather than visiting.

What is your favourite writing place? A room, a city, a particular cafe, or park? Let me know!♡

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