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Find time to write in February

Dear Writer,

I do hope that your writing is progressing well and that January was a creatively fulfilling month for you. Here at The Writing Coach things are changing rapidly, so I have to remember to plan my writing in advance if I'm to have a chance of fitting it into my schedule. If you're busy like me, you might enjoy the archive post I recently added to the Writing Coach blog on Ten ways of finding time to write when you have no time.  Why not use a few of these techniques this February to ensure a productive month ahead? I hope that you enjoy the new format of The Writing Coach website too - the blog is now situated on the home page to make it easier to find the latest posts and news updates. 

In January, I was thinking a lot about the idea of success and how we can sabotage ourselves if we focus too much on some external definition of success. So when Chris Brogan's fantastic newsletter touched upon this subject, it inspired me to share my thoughts on the subject below - I do hope that you enjoy the questions that follow.

Wishing you an inspired February,


All change at The Writing Coach

My personal news for those who missed my Annual Review post (Part Two coming soon...) is that from September 2012 I will be taking on a new challenge by undergoing teacher training (I've been teaching adults for years of course, but want to work with teenagers in secondary schools.)  I'll be training to become a Drama and English teacher at the Institute of Education in London.  I will, of course, continue to write and have begun writing a Young Adult novel. But this does mean that I will no longer be coaching from mid-July this year.  

As a result, I've decided to set up my Ultimate Literary Coaching Package as a very last opportunity for clients to work intensively with me over the next six months. Clients on this programme will be my priority for this period and I'm looking forward to the work we'll do together.

From mid-July onwards, the Writing Coach site will continue to offer advice, guidance and products to encourage and inspire you to write. In addition, The Completion Club only remains open for the next six months, so if you're interested in joining our hugely inspiring, intelligent and positive online community which offers a forum, downloadable modules, audio interviews and regular accountability, why not join today as membership is only available until 15th February, after which the club will close to new members. (It's possible there will be a new membership option after July but the details are not yet formalised.)

My aim is to continue to offer ideas and encouragement on a regular basis - but via the site only - during my teacher training. I'm excited about the opportunity to work with young people and to return to my first love, drama.  But I also look forward to the next six months as I continue to coach, to write and to take The Writing Coach in a new direction.

A different definition of success

What does success mean to you?
We live in a success-driven society, where 'celebrities' are at the forefront of the media and even literary writers need to play the game if they're to get their share of the audience. (See this poster for Martin Amis's latest offering if you don't believe me.) It's all too easy however, to think that this treasured ideal of 'success' is the thing that will make us happy. Yet in my business I see many writers eat themselves up with feelings of envy, disappointment, a sense of injustice and fear of being a failure. Why? When we feel this way, it may be frustration - because we haven't finished a book yet. Or because we haven't got an agent yet. Or we haven't got a publisher yet.  Or we haven't sold enough copies to pay the bills. Or it's not a bestseller. Or it's a bestseller but it didn't win a literary prize. Or it won the Booker but has been slammed by the critics.  Or it won the Booker but the sales were the worst ever for a Booker winner. Or we've won the Nobel Prize for Literature but still somehow, life just didn't pan out the way we'd hoped...  

You get my drift. I'm not suggesting that you would fall prey to such thinking. But I am saying that 'success' is not a precursor to happiness. I have met many 'successful' writers who are not happy. Why then, do so many of us still long for that elusive idea of external success? Because we want validation of our talent? Because we think that if we 'make it' we will finally relax? Because we don't want to write in a vacuum, we want readers?

Ambition can be a wonderful thing and I'm not suggesting it's wrong to want to share our work with the world. The experience of having a book published is fantastic and is something to aspire to. But given that publishing today is often very commercially driven, it is worth asking ourselves why we write and what we gain from being a writer. How do we define success for ourselves? Might it be, instead, by the pleasure we get in the process of creating? Might we find success in the feedback a writing colleague gives us about our work?  

In this age of epublishing, we are lucky that we can create 'external' success for ourselves too, whether or not agents and publishers are involved.  We can create our own readership. My two friends Stephanie Zia and Louise Voss (together with Mark Edwards) have done just that, Stephanie by becoming a publisher and creating Blackbird Digital Books (books include her own excellent 10 Good Reasons to Lie about your Age) and Louise and Mark by publishing their thrillers direct to Kindle and going on to sell 100,000 copies. This year I plan to publish my own latest novel whether traditionally or digitally. I'm excited that both options remain possible. 

How do I define success? I've learned a lot from Eckhart Tolle; there's much to be said for shutting off the incessant chattering that goes on in one's mind and finding pleasure in simply being. But on a more worldly note, I feel successful when I watch my children achieve truly remarkable things. I feel successful when I take a good photograph (I had fun with the Kindle shoot above!) I feel successful too in relation to my new career direction, though some people have been almost shocked to hear my enthusiasm for taking my skills into secondary schools and working with young people.  In fact, it's not such a surprise, I've been a comprehensive school governor for three years and resisting my love of drama for over twenty.  If I were to point to an influential moment, for me, it was when I read this article about author Steph Swainston's decision to negotiate her way out of a book deal to train as a secondary school teacher - it gave me the courage to do what I knew was right but had tried to ignore.

But that's the point, isn't it? It's great when we surprise other people and do something that nobody ever expected of us.  If success means anything it has to be by your definition and nobody else's.  Whoever said you should live someone else's life?

Inspired by Chris Brogan's list of questions, here's the list I'd suggest:

  • My definition of success is ____  (that's one of Chris's)
  • How I might define success differently is ____
  • How I am already successful...
  • How my life would look different if I found a different definition for success ...  
  • What makes me feel happy?  Can I feel happy now?  ____
  • The daily manifestation (the practice) of my path is ____ (again, Chris B's)
Wishing you a successful February - on your terms.

The Ultimate Literary Coaching Package

A intensive six-month coaching and literary consultancy programme. 

A final opportunity to work with Jacqui Lofthouse and take your writing life to a new level.
Find out more here.

Join The Completion Club

The Completion Club
our online members-only community remains open to new members until 15th February only.  We offer a friendly forum, regular accountability, downloadable 'modules' and monthly expert interviews.  Do join us here.  

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