Tag Archives: benefits of positive mental habits

Gratitude

This post will do what it says on the tin: I simply want to say a huge ‘thank you’ to everyone who contacted me – and there were lots of you – to say ‘congratulations’ after my announcement last week that I was successful in gaining a book deal.

Photo Credit: gregwake via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: gregwake via Compfight cc

As soon as the word was out, every social media account I have went crazy with notifications. People from my home town, old school friends, friends of my parents, people who sort-of vaguely know me through family members, and (quite possibly) a few people who don’t know me at all but got caught up in the excitement of it all, sent me so many messages that I couldn’t keep up. I had Tweets galore (and I even gained a few new followers! True, I lost a whack of ’em shortly afterwards, but as they come, so they go), and I had some lovely email messages from a writers’ group I’m part of (to which I shall respond!) In short, I had so many messages that I couldn’t reply to them all, though I did try my best. I wanted to say, though, that I appreciated every single message and that I’m massively pleased (not to mention slightly blown away and even a little embarrassed) by all the support and positivity, but most of all I’m extremely grateful. Thank you, everyone.

But, do you know something? It’s an overwhelming thing, getting a book deal. My anxiety demons have been awake and roaring for the past while – particularly during those weeks I spent knowing, behind the scenes, that the announcement was coming, but being unable to share it with anyone besides a very select and carefully chosen few – and for a person who, like me, isn’t comfortable with being in the spotlight, now that the announcement’s been made, it’s a weird mix of feelings. I’m very glad and grateful, to you all as well as to my steadfast family, but I’m also terrified. Nauseated with fear, in fact. That’s not something I expected. I read the most amazing blog post over the weekend, which – somehow – I managed to find on Twitter amid the tumult, and here‘s a link to it. You know how, sometimes, you read something and you think: That was meant for me? Even if the person who wrote it doesn’t know you, and will never know you, and certainly didn’t write anything with you in mind, it still speaks directly to your heart and your experience. That blog post is one of those things. I’ve never read anything which comforted me so much, and I think it’s important to talk about things like this – how it can be a terrifying thing to achieve a dream. How it can make you feel things you never expected to feel. How, sometimes, you get to where you wanted to go and you still feel lost, and how frightening that is.

In saying that I’m feeling things I didn’t expect, I’m not trying to take away from my gratitude. I am so glad that so many people were pleased for me, and wanted to share their congratulations, and that so many of my friends and family took the time to get in touch. It was wonderful to have good news to share, and I’m hugely glad to be part of such a supportive, positive and loving community.

But still.

I feel weird.

And, what’s more, I’m allowing myself to feel weird. I’ve been trying to suppress it and work through it and ignore it for months now, but from today, I’m going to own it. I’m going to climb the mountain of Weird and take a deep breath once I get to the top, and hopefully I won’t ever have to climb it again. The only way to deal with your feelings is to acknowledge they’re there, I’ve learned; suppression only serves to compact them in the base of your psyche, turning them over time into a hard layer of bad thinking which becomes difficult to shift. If I can look my weird feelings in the eye and say: ‘Hey. I know you’re there. You and me, we’re going to talk later, okay?’, I think it will help me hugely. And if more of us spoke up about the fact that sometimes, especially at the most unexpected moments, feelings of awkwardness and discomfort and fear and anxiety can come out of nowhere and overwhelm us – even when it seems like we should be at our strongest, or our happiest – I think it would make things easier for others who are also going through it, feeling like they’re totally alone.

Nobody is ever alone. I have learned this lesson in the last few days. I am part of a huge network of people, all connected by time and friendship and family and community, and I’m extraordinarily grateful for that. But I’ve also learned that no matter what you’re feeling, you’re never alone, either. It’s incredibly hard to share and be vulnerable (and I’m grateful, also, to Annabel Pitcher, the author of the blog post I linked to above, for being so open and candid about her own struggles), but if we all had the courage to share our fears, and let the people around us know that we’re all in this together, it could have a massively positive effect on our community.

I’m a weirdo. So, quite possibly, are you. And that’s perfectly okay.

Thank you for reading, for supporting, for being with me throughout this journey. Thank you for being part of my story. I’m grateful, too, to be part of yours.

The Smaller they Are…

…the harder they can be to write. Don’t you think?

But seriously - how cool is this? Image: themarysue.com

But seriously – how cool is this?
Image: themarysue.com

I’m not talking about the physical act of using tiny writing or minuscule* print, of course. But you knew that. I’m talking about short stories, and – firstly – how hard they are to write, just in general, but also how hard it can be to switch your brain between different types of work.

A while back I wrote a piece about my brain ‘switching gear’ and beginning to think in terms of short stories, having been programmed up to that point to think only in terms of book-length projects. I thought, in my naïvety, that this was a huge breakthrough. I was under the impression that my brain would now find it easy to hop between the two, and I could happily change gear whenever it liked.

Nothing’s ever as easy as that, though. You’d think I’d have worked that out by now, wouldn’t you?

Anyway. I’ve been writing short stories for the last few days (I wrote three yesterday, so editing will be needed today), and it’s been a very strange experience. The first story had to be 500 words long, and for whatever reason I managed that reasonably well. Writing it was a bit like watching a gas in an enclosed vessel – it expanded to fit the the space available to it, settling into the nooks and crannies without a problem. The idea for the story (as with a lot of the flash pieces that I write) was centred around a particularly emotional, dramatic event in a person’s life, and I felt like the 500 word limit was tight enough to focus the story on what was important, and long enough to hint at the character’s history and future. So, that was fine.

Then, I moved on to another story, also flash (just about) at 1,000 words. The story, in this case, had to be prompted by an image, and as the idea began to grow in my mind, I sat down to start writing it. And, completely without warning, I started to feel dwarfed by the immensity of the 1,000 word limit. It was like I was standing in the centre of a huge, frozen field, so large that I couldn’t see the ditches on any side – the white, hard land just rolled away out of my eyeshot in all directions. I felt marooned, and a bit scared. And I’m a person for whom finding words has never been a problem. Normally, I run to the verbose. I’ve written novels! I’m used to the long form.

But 1,000 words scared the living daylights out of me, yesterday.

I couldn’t understand this. I’d never felt anything like it before. I mean, think about it. Being afraid of a word count? Completely unsure of how you were going to structure a story in order to fill the word count adequately? It sounds ridiculous, because it is. But there you are. That’s how I reacted yesterday to the task of writing a piece of long flash fiction. I did write the story in the end, and I’m going to revisit it today to see how I can improve it; then, I think I’m going to have to write another, just to get my brain to limber up. Perhaps it’s not so much the differing word counts that bamboozle me, but the rapid swapping from one to the other. I guess, just as your muscles start to seize up as you get older, so does your brain.

Do you think it’s possible that some writers are naturally better at short stories than novels? Or, even, that some people who write short stories are better at certain types of short story than others? Logically, there’s not a lot of difference between short stories and longer pieces. You need character, plot, motivation, drama, crisis and resolution in a written piece, no matter how long it is. So, it shouldn’t really matter. But I think it does.

The important lesson I learned yesterday, anyway, was this: don’t assume that because you’ve done something once that you can do it again, effortlessly, whenever the mood takes you. Writing, like everything else, needs practice. You need to switch it up – change genres, change styles, change narrative voice, change authorial perspective – to avoid over-developing a particular writing muscle. I tend to get stuck in first-person narration, so it takes a huge effort for me to use third-person. I tend to use present tense, so I need to work on that. And, I’ve learned, I tend to get comfortable in a particular length of short story; getting out of that comfort zone can leave me very disoriented. So, to avoid that, there’s only one thing to do.

Write more.

 

Image: oxbridgeessays.com

Image: oxbridgeessays.com

Happy Thursday! I hope, wherever you are, that life is treating you well.

 

 

*Not in the palaeographical sense, either! I just mean ‘really, really small.’ There was a style of handwriting known as minuscule in the Middle Ages – click here to read about it. I’m too much of a nerd to write this post without mentioning it, and making the distinction. And, yes, in case you’re wondering, sometimes it *does* hurt to be this pedantic.

Positivity Will Catch You – Honest

In conversation with my husband last night – after a long, long day for both of us – the topic of positivity and optimism came up. I described to him how hard it is, at times, to keep my thoughts positive and focused, and how easy it feels sometimes to let myself sink under the burden of ‘Why bother? This whole stupid writing dream is never going to happen, anyway.’ My husband, as he is wont, made a statement of such profound wisdom that I felt the need to share it with you all this morning.

Being positive is a safety net, he said. Think about that for a while.

Image: tayaradio.net

Image: tayaradio.net

Isn’t that a brilliant thought? Positivity will catch you, like a safety net. What he means is, of course, if you keep a positive outlook, little setbacks (like rejections, failed story-ideas, missed deadlines) will somehow not seem so bad. Being positive helps you to take things like that in your stride, and every time you choose to be positive in the face of a setback, it gets easier. There’s an added benefit, too – every time you choose to be positive when something relatively minor goes wrong, the easier it gets to stay positive when something more serious goes wrong.

Having said that, nothing serious (thankfully) has yet gone wrong for me, really. Things are, more or less, going to plan. But as anyone who’s been alive for longer than a few months is aware, nothing ever goes to plan for long.

Image: awaypoint.wordpress.com

Image: awaypoint.wordpress.com

Habits, like plans, are easy to form, and hard to break. This is not news. For example, I’m a person who’s notorious for chewing the inside of my mouth; I’ve done it all my life. Even though I know it hurts, it can lead to lacerations, and all that, it’s a habit I can’t break. I do it without even thinking about it. Heck, I’m probably doing it right now. Of course, this is a bad habit, and one I could easily do without, but because people are complicated little things, it’s always easier to form bad habits than good ones. They do have something in common, though – the more often you repeat an action (whether good or bad), the more habitual it becomes. The same thing applies to mental habits, and particularly to positivity. I do believe positivity is a mental habit, and I believe it can be practised and learned and encouraged to become habitual. It just takes a huge amount of effort, particularly for a person who isn’t naturally positive – i.e. me.

My mother spent my entire childhood telling me to develop PMA, as she called it – Positive Mental Attitude. I knew she was right, and what she was saying made sense, but for some reason I could just never do it. I allowed myself to be beaten by pessimism time after time, making silly choice after silly choice, giving up on dream after dream. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m older, or more secure in my life and myself, or because I’m doing something I really, truly love and want to devote my life to, but being positive now seems like the only logical thing to do in a situation like mine. Mam, if you’re reading this: I finally learned what you were trying to teach me all those years. And – you were right.

As well as the benefits of trying to think positive, and taking the optimistic view in every situation, there’s also this to think about: the more often you succumb to negative thinking, and pessimistic choices, the easier that becomes, too. Every knock-back you get, if you’re in a negative frame of mind, puts you down so much that you just don’t have the time or energy to fully recover from it before the next one hits you. Then, you get put down again, and you sink even lower than you were before. And so on, and so on, until you reach rock bottom, and you’ve no further to sink. Negative thinking, like positive thinking, is a cumulative thing; every choice builds on the one before it, and forms the foundation for the one after it.

This is easy to understand in an abstract sense. It probably sounds quite logical (hopefully) when divorced from a context. When you’re going through something crushing or complicated or upsetting, of course, it’s not so easy to keep your thoughts positive. But, if you’re anything like me, once you start trying to do it, and you let the light in just a little, it begins to get easier and easier, until eventually – I hope – it will become effortless. Imagine what you could achieve if you just believed that you could do anything that came your way, and that you’d give it the very best shot you could. If you were enthusiastic about challenges, and met them with a smile on your face, instead of fear in your heart.

I hope it helps to remember my clever husband’s phrase – positivity is a safety net. He’s right, of course. Start small with positive thinking, and see if it doesn’t bloom throughout your whole life. It’s worth a try! I’m by no means there yet – positive thinking is still a conscious choice for me, a conscious turning away from the downward-pulling power of the negative. I hope eventually it will be instinctual.

When the knocks really start rolling in, and the challenges start mounting up, we’ll see how much progress I’ve made. I’m going to practise as much as I can in the meantime! And, of course, if I can do it, so can you.