Tag Archives: self-worth

My new novel, Perfect Responses, has a controversial character in it, in the the shape of Corrinne Walker, a self-help author. Corrinne's theories in her book Staying in Neutral, Responses to Change Your Life, form the backbone of the book as three different women are encouraged to deal with significant life challenges by using her advice.

Corrinne believes in straight-talking, and isn't bothered if she offends people along the way to get her message across. I expect you've come across people like this in your life. They might have rubbed you up the wrong way, or perhaps you grudgingly admire them. Either way, they aren't people who often get ignored.

Here's an extract from Corrinne's (fictional) self-help book.

Extract from: Staying in Neutral, Responses to Change Your Life by Corrinne Walker.

You’re late for work because someone has thrown themselves onto the railway line. You feel sympathetic, glad it wasn’t you up there, finding the courage to leap.

But then it happens again, the next day. And the next. They’re like lemmings up there, with their shitty lives, waiting to jump. And always in the rush hour. Never at 10 a.m., or 11 a.m., when it’s just the tourists en route for the London Dungeon, or their free trip up the Cheese Grater to see the view of the Tower of London like a model far below them.

No, they’ve got to make the most possible impact with their final gesture, and they couldn’t care less about your blood pressure, sat there helpless on that train, somewhere between Colchester and bloody Kelvedon.

They couldn’t give a monkey’s that you could lose your job because you’re consistently late. That you’ll no longer be able to afford the au pair, and you’ll have to bake cakes and do voluntary work and pretend to the world you’re happy being an earth-mother-stay-at-home-mum. And all while your husband’s at large in the world with his immaculate suit and Creed aftershave, and never so much as a whiff of baby sick or mustard-bum poo.

He’ll return home after a day of exciting deals and flirtatious banter, expecting a tasty, well-presented meal and willing sex, and it will be as much as you can do to growl something primeval at him before you head for the bath tub in a vain attempt to scrub away your frustration and resentment. You’re so suffused with them both, the bath water fairly fizzes, and much of the steam on the expensive floor to ceiling mirror has come out of your own ears.

And all because of a string of suicides by some selfish, down-on-their-luck losers. The injustice of it all makes you want to scream. Either that, or grab your coat, put it on over your bath-wet body and clomp down to that sodding railway bridge yourself.

Sisters, stop.

We’ve all been there, with that spiral of self-destructiveness. We’ve all blamed others for our misfortunes, and slumped with despair and self-pity. But unless you want to be a martini-quaffing martyr or a hatred-haggled harridan, flailing at the injustice of the world and watching your former friends cross the road to avoid you and your negativity, you need to take action. You need to do something about your reactions to the bad, the irritating, the stressful and the downright disappointing happenings of life. To understand that, if you’re alive, shit happens.

Because this is life we’re living, not some happy-ever-after movie. Your car will break down on your way to the airport for your dream holiday. You’ll be the only one at your Weight Watchers group to put on weight. Your boyfriend will always be busy when you call him. You’ll get gout. You’ll be first in the queue for the Liberty’s sale and a security alert will force you to vacate the area.

Shit. Happens.

Let me tell you, the day I realised that – truly embraced the fact and decided I would no longer let it affect me – was the day I really started living.

When shit happens, we have two choices. We can let shit have power over us and our emotions and responses. But who wants shit to have power over them? Not me. Alternatively, we can keep hold of our power and choose our own reactions. Because all those shitty things that happen to us are events, just as all the good things that happen to us are events.

You find your daughter’s lost hamster alive and well under the fridge. That’s an event. You give an amazing presentation and win your company a lucrative contract. An event. You get the flu and miss a music concert you bought the tickets for a year ago. An event. Your mother dies. An event.

Yes, I know what you’re saying. That missing a pop concert and your mother dying are hardly in the same league. Well, I guess that depends to some extent on the quality of your relationship with your mother.

Only kidding! Of course one outweighs the other. But they are both still events, and I put it to you that we can – and should – choose how we wish to react to events.

Events – and this is very important – are neutral things. Like a closet full of beige clothes. The trouble is, many of us have such chaotic closets – colours all jumbled up, red next to lime green, summer dresses next to winter coats, jeans we’ll never fit into again next to shorts that make us look like geriatric ramblers. And when shit comes calling, we reach into the mess of a closet to snatch up something red or purple or angry orange, and we wrap it closely around us until it feels like a part of our skin. When actually, what we need to do is to stand back, and give ourselves a little space. Keep hold of our dignity and our emotional control. Recognise that shit for what it is. A stinky, unwanted interruption in our lives.

Note from Margaret K Johnson:

I hope you enjoyed the above extract from Corrinne's book! Corrinne has more advice in my upcoming novel Perfect Responses. Here's the blurb:

Three women are about to face the biggest challenges of their lives. Janet has been mistaken for a sex tourist after being abandoned by her fiancé in Africa. Debbie is hell-bent on a hopeless affair with Adam, her married boss. Pregnant Kate has just married the love of her life only for him to turn into a distant stranger overnight.

The three don’t know it, but self-help author Corrinne Walker is depending on them to use her advice to sort themselves out. In fact, her whole future depends on them making perfect responses. But will they be able to do it?

Perfect Responses is coming very soon!

Cheers!

Margaret

This week I've been trying to explain to my creative writing students the concept of head-hopping and why it isn't usually  a good idea.

Usually, it isn't something they've thought about before, although its use may well have played a part at some stage in their not enjoying a book without them even being aware of the fact.

So what is head-hopping? And why is it such a no-no?

Put simply, it's when from we move quickly from one character's view of the world and events to another character's view of the world and events within a scene.

It's probably best to illustrate it with an example. Here's an extract from my novel The Goddess Workshop, rewritten to include head-hopping.

‘He’s got no clothes on!’ Janet hissed to Estelle and Kate as the man continued to pose and smile, obviously under the impression that he was giving her a treat.

Reenie puffed to her side. Didn’t Janet know anything about the area? ‘This part of the beach is for nudists, love,’ she said.

‘Goodness!’ said Janet, still not moving.

‘Come on,’ said Kate, giving her a little shove. She was getting impatient with them, standing around the way they were. ‘Let’s get away from here before I lose my lunch.’

Janet responded to the shove, and they wandered on towards the sea. When Estelle and Reenie began to giggle, it was difficult not to smile.

Reenie smiled. Janet was starting to get some colour back into her cheeks, thank goodness. ‘Feeling better now, love?’ she asked, and Janet nodded.

‘A bit, yes thanks,’ she said, and it was true, she was. She had only known these three women for a short time, but they were all so dear to her. In a funny kind of a way, they were almost like a second family.

‘Well,’ Estelle was saying, grinning at them all, ‘I can think of something to cheer us all up,’ she said. ‘Not to mention Droopy over there!’ and with that she threw her bag down onto the sand, kicked off her shoes and began to strip. To hell with it! Life was for living.

Phew! In all, we get to discover the thoughts and feelings of FOUR different characters in this extract, and that's a lot to take in.

While the scene might still entertain the reader, it makes us feel a bit jittery and on edge. Let's face it, in real life we just can't know exactly what anyone else is thinking or feeling. To do so, we might need to wear something a bit like this:

The Goddess Workshop is told from all four women's viewpoints, but at different times, not all at the same time. Each time I wrote a scene, I deliberately decided whose viewpoint it would be best for it to told in. Sometimes this was just a question of balance for the story - maybe I hadn't had Kate's viewpoint for a while, for example. But usually, it was because the scene would work best from a particular character's viewpoint to advance the story or to show that character's development. In this case, I chose to tell the scene from Janet's point of view, because it's an important moment for her - the moment she fully commits to making a change in her life and to shedding inhibitions and old habits that are draining her self-confidence.

Nude on beach self-confidence confidence

Here's the scene as I originally wrote it.

‘He’s got no clothes on!’ Janet hissed to Estelle and Kate as the man continued to pose and smile, obviously under the impression that he was giving her a treat.

‘This part of the beach is for nudists, love,’ Reenie told her, puffing up to her side.

‘Goodness!’ said Janet, still not moving.

‘Come on,’ said Kate, giving her a little shove. ‘Let’s get away from here before I lose my lunch.’

Janet responded to the shove, and they wandered on towards the sea. When Estelle and Reenie began to giggle, it was difficult not to smile.

‘Feeling better now, love?’ Reenie asked her kindly, and Janet nodded.

‘A bit, yes thanks,’ she said, and it was true, she was. She had only known these three women for a short time, but they were all so dear to her. In a funny kind of a way, they were almost like a second family.

‘Well,’ Estelle was saying, grinning at them all, ‘I can think of something to cheer us all up,’ she said. ‘Not to mention Droopy over there!’ and with that she threw her bag down onto the sand, kicked off her shoes and began to strip.

If you don't tell your story from one viewpoint at a time, the writing becomes clunky, and the reader doesn't truly have the chance to engage with your characters. And I don't know about you, but I really want my readers to do that. I want the reader to care about my characters and to root for them. Maybe even to feel as if they are them, or at least to be able to empathisize with them.

It's all a part of the glorious experience of an absorbing read.

The Goddess Workshop - four women on a quest to become sensual.

1 Comment

Hello, everyone

I hope you've had a great week. Last time, I told you I was going to be plunging into my new novel this week. Well, I put my diving gear on, and I jumped over the side of the boat. I can hear voices inside my head as my characters speak to each other. I am in the writing zone.

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But I'm just emerging for a while to share my thoughts about first drafts with you. Hint - they're the gloop in this message title!

 

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When I first started to write, I didn't know about first drafts. I thought you just sat down to write - and write - until you typed those magical words THE END, and then that was that. You sent your book off to a publisher and you then you waited with baited breath to hear from them.

 

writing fiction, typing the end

 

After receiving the inevitable rejection, I learnt that typically, writers write several drafts of their novel before they submit in anywhere. I was dismayed. What? Do that, all over again? Surely not!

But gradually, I came to realise the freedom of working in this way. Once you accept that your first draft is your raw material - your modelling clay, if you like - it takes the pressure off writing. If your first draft is your raw material that you will lovingly model and carve into something, it doesn't have to be perfect straight away. It just has to be out there.

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I'm writing quickly at the moment, because I want to get my ideas out there as they come to me. I have a loose plan, but past experience tells me that when I read back over what I've written, my characters are likely to be speaking to each other in a kind of a vacuum, and the reader won't be able to fully imagine where things are happening, or what characters are doing. But that's fine, because I can go back and add action, description and details that show character and set the mood of my scenes. I can engage my readers' emotions more fully. I can restructure my book, chop it about, add clues and create suspense. What's more, I will enjoy doing these things.

So, if you're writing a first draft at the moment, take the pressure off yourself. Decide not to worry about it being perfect, and enjoy the process of writing and the sheer pleasure of getting your story out there.

Go for it!

Until the next time, and wishing you joy in your creativity,

Margaret

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Today I want to talk to you about how Joan of Arc destroyed my self-confidence. Actually, that’s not right - my apologies to Joan. It’s not fair to blame her. It was all entirely my fault.

Or maybe the teacher’s for putting me under so much stress.

 

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But whoever was to blame, those few unhappy seconds in a French lesson when I was eleven years old had a dramatic effect on my self-confidence – an effect that lasted for almost twenty years.

Let me set the scene for you. I was newly transferred to the class, and painfully shy, so it was unfortunate that one of the first things I had to do was to give a talk in a French lesson. My allotted subject was Joan of Arc (for those of you who don’t know, Joan – otherwise known as Jeanne d’Arc – is a Fifteenth Century French saint). I duly did my preparation and went to stand nervously at the front of the class when it was my turn to speak.

Then I opened my mouth, and, with all eyes upon me, I said: “Joan of Arc was brought up as a pheasant.”

pheasant

 

I had, of course meant to say peasant – a country dwelling agricultural worker, not a large, colourful game bird – but nerves got the better of me, and I’m sure you can imagine the reaction that followed my slip up. There was general hilarity in the class, pretty much drowning out the rest of my faltering words.

 

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I expect my classmates soon forgot about it, entertaining as it was, but I certainly did not forget about it, and the incident affected me drastically. I clammed up almost completely after that – never saying anything at all in class unless I was forced to, and unfortunately this silence and terror extended to my life post-school. My extreme phobia about public speaking limited the courses I could take, and the jobs I could apply for.

Until finally, with my thirtieth birthday looming, I decided enough was enough. It was time to do something about this fear.

So, I did. Very gradually, until I proved to myself that I’d made a complete recovery by performing stand-up comedy to a crowd of two hundred people in a London comedy club. (I put my experiences into a novel!).

 

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So, how did I do it? By taking baby steps, and celebrating each and every one.

First of all, I joined an adult education class – I don’t even remember what it was about now – and then I challenged myself to make one statement, or to ask one question at every session. Then two statements or questions. Then three. (You can’t imagine how my heart pounded and my hands sweated as I willed myself to speak).

I did it just a little bit at a time, until I was ready (yikes!) to join a public speaking course. There, I made people laugh. Deliberately, this time. It felt fantastic. After that, I felt ready to take a teaching qualification. And I discovered that I loved the performance side of teaching. Everything about teaching, in fact. Then, eventually, came that three-minute stand-up routine at the Up The Creek Comedy Club in Greenwich, which was one of the greatest moments of my life so far, and the pinnacle of getting over my public speaking phobia, I’m sure you’ll agree. Every time I feel my self-confidence ebb a little bit, I just watch myself on YouTube and remember that I did it. I actually did it. The sense of achievement that night was incredible. On a par with holding my first published book in my hand…

 

me-doing-standup
Performing stand-up comedy at The Up The Creek Comedy Club in Greenwich, London

So, if you want to write, but something’s holding you back, find out what that something is. Be kind to yourself. Take baby steps to deal with it, and celebrate each and every one. Think in terms of asking a question in an adult education class, rather that a full-blown stand-up comedy performance straight away. Get support on your crusade. (Although maybe not from Joan!). Your efforts will be worth it, because all those little steps can add up to something bigger.

Like a novel!

Want to learn more about how fear can affect writers and what to do about it? Join my Feel The Fear Webinar on 20th October. If you can’t make it live, a recording will be available to those who register.

Oh, and just a reminder that the early bird price of my course Feel The Fear and Write Anyway ends on Sunday 24th October.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Margaret

 

 

 

When my son was younger, I used to read picture books from the That’s Not My… series to him.

If you’re not familiar with them, there are hundreds of books in the series – That’s Not My Truck, That’s Not My Robot, That’s Not My Monster, even That’s Not My Cow! The format is always the same – they start off with several pages of, That’s not my… for example, That’s not my monster, it’s eyebrows are too hairy. Then they finish on a triumphant That’s my… That’s my monster, his spines are so prickly. (Or whatever it is).

thats-not-my-monster

With my new course Feel The Fear and Write Anyway coming out soon, I’ve been thinking about author fears a lot lately, and in particular, about how people might not always think they have any fears about writing.

But if you’re:

  • procrastinating, and rarely getting any writing done,
  • constantly putting other people’s demands before your desire to write, or
  • you never finish anything, and you’ve got a drawer full of unfinished stories,

Then fear is probably at work somewhere, whether it’s a fear about what people will think of what you write, or an insecurity about everything you feel you don’t know about writing, or, quite simply, the strongest fear of all, a fear of failure.

Sometimes, recognising our monster – in this case, what lies behind our self-limiting fear – can help us to deal with it and move on.

After all, nobody wants to keep a monster for a pet, do they? Even if it does have a very fetching pair of horns!

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If you'd like to know more about Feel The Fear and Write Anyway, you can check out the course website or sign up to my FREE WEBINAR on Thursday 20th October, at 2pm GMT.

Cheers!

Margaret

 

2 Comments

Let me introduce you to Emma. She’s fun to be around, enthusiastic about writing and very talented. These days she has established a writing routine that works for her, and she writes regularly, despite having four young children and a tendency to drop everything to go to music festivals.

emma-cropped

But it wasn’t always like that. Emma’s enthusiasm and talent for writing were always there, but the writing routine was non-existent, and whenever she thought about writing, she felt fed up and blocked.

This was all because of a bad experience she had at a writing class, where she received very unhelpful feedback on her work. Far from highlighting Emma’s achievements and constructively suggesting areas for further development, the tutor for this (somehow) sought-after course, slated Emma’s work. He pulled it apart so thoroughly that her self-esteem – and virtually her will to live – were in tatters.

I might never have met Emma at all. She might have decided to give up on her writing dreams at that point. But a few years later two of her friends told her about my courses, AND she had a link to the enrolment page pop up on her Facebook timeline. Fortunately for me, Emma decided to view this as fate at work, because Emma came along to one of my courses, and she’s a joy to have in a class. Not only is she talented, but she’s so helpful to other group members.

When Emma first told me about her ordeal, and how it had stopped her from writing for several years, I was furious. How dare that tutor treat Emma’s precious writing dreams like that?

Emma explained to me that she was writing science fiction, which was far removed from the literary fiction the tutor had published, but this was no excuse at all, as far as I was concerned. Published writers – no matter how successful – should never forget how vulnerable people can feel when they first start sharing their words. I know I certainly haven’t.

When I first started writing, I was ridiculously sensitive! I remember the first time I read out a story at a writer’s circle, and I described a woman’s face ‘turning a colour somewhere between green and purple’ (with embarrassment and horror). OK, I realise now that it’s not a sentence from a great work of literature, but at the time I was pleased with it, and was quite taken aback when one of the group members stated quite abruptly that it wasn’t possible to have a colour between green and purple, and that I should use the word puce. Puce. I wasn’t even sure what the colour was, and I had to go home and look it up. And it was such a horrid word, sounding as it did, remarkably like…well, sick. My story was light-hearted and fun, with no pretensions to be anything else. Puce just didn’t fit. I felt discouraged, and never returned to the writer’s circle. (I told you I was sensitive in those days!)

As I’ve gained in experience and had many novels published, my self-confidence has grown to the point where I’m able to sift through feedback and make a judgement about whether it’s relevant and helpful or not. (If it’s from an editor, I’ve also learnt to be tactful if I don’t think so!) I always make a point in my writing classes of helping my students to develop the highly useful skill of giving and receiving constructive feedback. It’s such an important part of a writer’s development, because you can learn so much from it.

When I began teaching my creative writing classes, I encountered that vulnerability and that fear of exposure over and over again, and decided that my classes had to include an element of confidence-building in order to be of use to people.

As for Emma, she very kindly took part in the pilot version of my course Feel The Fear and Write Anyway – Self-Confidence For Authors, which opens for enrolment very soon. I asked Emma and other recent students to try it out and to give me feedback, so that I could make it as useful as possible. The power of feedback, see? I’m happy to say that all their suggestions were really helpful – and constructive!

I’m so excited that by creating an online course designed to boost writers’ self-confidence while they’re developing essential writing skills and habits, I’m going to be able to help people I might not otherwise have been able to reach. People who want to take that first step towards realising their writing dreams. Or, if they’re like Emma, people who want to recover from a set-back to move on towards their goal of completing a novel.

I can’t wait!

Enrolling soon!
Enrolling soon!
Sign up for the FREE Fear-Busting Challenge for Authors here.
Sign up for the FREE Fear-Busting Challenge for Authors here.