Coaching Art, Work and Life

The time I was first conscious of wanting a coaching qualification was shortly before Lockdown, when I was telling a client what coaching was not.

This is a pretty common experience partly because coaching, like mental health or creative writing, is a young enough profession that the benefits and vocabulary aren’t as familiar or established in most people’s minds as other professional areas. But it’s also because the lines between coaching, mentoring (at one end) and psychotherapy (at the other) aren’t always immediately clear.

A key definition of coaching is “witnessing and supporting a client’s thinking process: challenging limiting beliefs, identifying goals and supporting development in life and work.” The coach does not need to be more experienced than the client in their line of work, or in their life (that would be impossible!). Nor does the client need to come with a problem requiring “treatment” as such (if a coach thinks a new or existing client would be better served by a psychotherapist, we’re bound by ICF regulations to refer them and not to take the work). As a coach, my job is to explore what the client wants, how their thinking process plays out and – in life, work or art – any blocks that might be holding them back. 

At the end of March, I’ll be completing Barefoot Coaching’s accredited training course in Business and Personal Coaching. Studying to become a coach means receiving as well as giving a lot of coaching from tutors and peers, and I can’t begin to do justice to how much respect I have for how well they understand how people think, feel and learn. It’s truly been both the safest and most exhilarating educational experience of my life.

Until I reach my 100 hours that allow me to qualify as a PCC (Professionally Certified Coach), I’ll be offering half-price chemistry sessions where coach and client explore whether they want to work with each other. If you or someone you know would like to explore their goals, blocks and dreams for work, art or life, just quote “newsletter discount”.

One Way Out (of Writer’s Block)

For many of us, it’s been harder than ever to find our way back down that rabbit hole.

It isn’t a lack of ideas. That’s the one thing it categorically isn’t. Ever. Selecting a starting point from among every memory, every emotion and every question we’ve ever had about the world, and then for that small voice to stay louder and clearer than the self-doubt, stress and overwhelm long enough to follow, was never as simple as ‘just write a sentence’…

…until it is. When you do it because you’re curious. Not because you’re sure where it’s going, or sure you’re worthy, or aren’t feeling overwhelmed and overshadowed. Just because you’re curious. You write a sentence, to find out what happens next.

It’s been harder for a lot of writers these last two years, and different for all. But when the time comes, when the rabbit hole calls, listen. There’s one way out of writer’s block: curiosity.

From Enhance Your Edit course material, 2022

This is a ‘This Is Why I Do What I Do’ moment

This is a ‘This Is Why I Do What I Do’ moment. 

In 2020 I ran #WriteThroughLockdown, a series of (free) daily writing prompts and (also free) weekly writing and drawing socials for whoever wanted creativity and community in their lives. 

Diana Thompson joined those sessions to paint and draw in the company of new friends of all ages, industries and levels of experience. At 79, she’s just sent me a copy of her memoir collection. Having joined the group as a painter, and not considering herself a writer, she has not only become a @greeninkwritersgym student and created and shared this unique and lasting gift for her family and friends but, for 2022, has accepted my challenge of sending off her short stories for competitions ans publications. 

To anyone who has ever said ‘you can’t teach creative writing’: you can coach courage, curiosity, empathy and resilience. Writing better and better is just one of the things that happens on the other side of that.

#writingcoach#transformationalcoaching#writer#coach#writinggroups#writing#writer#creativity#community#experience#firsttimeauthors#writersgym @greeninkwritersgym

Uncovering Richmond’s Hidden History: Jewish Renaissance

I don’t make it on to the #seargentpepperslonelyheartsclubband anniversary cover, which for a #beatles fan feels like letting the side down — but I do get to explore my own stomping ground of southwest London with new eyes on the JTrails tour of Richmond and its hidden Jewish history.

On similar geographical territory in this issue, you’ll also meet #virginiawoolf’s Richmond retreat, Clapham’s long-ignored pioneering feminist author #AmyLevy and the West Indian community’s Brixton-based photographer of choice for 40 years, Harry Jacobs.

Many thanks to Jewish Renaissance’s editor Rebecca Taylor for inviting me to be part of the anniversary edition of this ever-growing, always-fascinating magazine.

Green Ink Sponsored Write 2021

A week from yesterday, a theme will be drawn from a hat. A month after that, Green Ink Writers’ Gymstudents will join published authors across the country for Green Ink Sponsored Write 2021, for Macmillan Cancer Support.

The fallout from 2020 means charities need things like this more than ever. Please, please consider sticking the price of a coffee on our page, to sponsor a writer. Every little bit is, genuinely, a huge bit. To receive your world-exclusive digital anthology of work from Sponsored Write 2021 designed by Steve J. Shaw, please support Team 2021, Nick Baines, Charlotte Bond, Penny Jones, Roz Kaveney, Rachel Knightley, Peter Laws, Stephen Laws, Laura Mauro, John McCullough, Lisa Morton, Jackie Naffah, Katharine Orton, JJ Shippen, Jennifer Steil, Paul Tremblay and Kelly White, here:


The E.I. of Sci-fi Ep.5: The X-Files

I’ve only ever postponed two Green Ink Writers’ Gym workshops. One was for my second vaccination. The first was to take my oldest friend to see our beloved David Duchonvy.

Research, I tell you. Extremely early research for this latest episode of my series for Starburst Magazine, The E. I. of Sci-fi exploring the lessons in emotional intelligence we didn’t notice ourselves learning.

Here’s one lesson I don’t mention. Despite being the most grippingly atmospheric and sleekly produced series going, it never took itself too seriously. It knew how to laugh at itself as well as how to scream and cry. Sometimes it wa about clients. It was also about how to be fully, and wonderfully, human:

Great Teaching Is Not About The Subject.

Last week, one of my most influential teachers died. Mrs Mason was my Year Eight form tutor. I’d been in regular contact with her and her son for many years, calling her Pat far longer than the few years for which she was Mrs Mason. But it was as Mrs Mason she gave me a definitive example of how – and why – to be a real teacher. 

Mrs Mason once told my mother the reason she liked having Year Eight classes was “That’s when they realise life isn’t fair.” Yet, with Mrs Mason as my form tutor, it was. A benign, sensible power greater than myself was on my side in everything I did. I knew it wouldn’t let me get away with laziness or murder, but I also knew I was seen: recognised and supported for who I was. Like everyone who understands the practical applications of kindness, Mrs Mason created though her own behaviour the world she believed should be, making it a reality as far as her power stretched. 

Years later, during my LAMDA Exams teaching diploma, the senior colleague observing my lesson commented I treated pupils “with respect”, recognised their individuality and spoke to that. Mrs Mason is the reason it would never occur to me to do anything else. Respect for my individuality was a given. She recognised how my dyspraxia affected my coordination and socialisation, and how consistency, respect and empathy created a solid ground beneath me, letting me be, and explore, my full self. That is what I try to offer every person I work with now.

The best bit? Mrs Mason taught my worst subject. Maths was never something I was talented or interested enough in to excel, which is why her taking the trouble to consider how I thought and who I was, helping me become myself on my own terms, made her such an important ally and example. I got the C I needed in GCSE Maths, moved on with my own interests, but most of all I learned from Mrs Mason that our greatest and most significant connections won’t just be those with the same experiences, abilities, talents or tastes. If they were, perhaps we wouldn’t need them so much.

Hineini and Hello! Writing and Speaking June 2021

Every part of my job – writing, speaking, acting – is about connecting with an audience. Sometimes that’s through the page, sometimes it’s in one-to-one coaching or group workshops, other times it’s a large room of total strangers. That’s one of the reasons for the word I wear around my neck. 
Hineini literally translates as ‘here I am’, or ‘I am here’, less literally as ‘bring it on’. It turns up when characters are invited out of their comfort zone. For me, it’s a reminder of the key to a successful audience relationship. Focus on your objective of connection and communication, not on your worries about how you’re coming across, and welcome the audience into your space. That’s what being ‘in the moment’ is all about, whether you’re on a stage, podium, or the end of a phone. A good performer or presenter is a ‘present’ one. 
The idea of Hineini featured in my Limmud North America workshop on 13 June – but even more so in my preparation for it! The session was based on my series The E.I. of Sci-fi (Starburst Magazine, Episode 5 dropping 9 July). I was presenting Jewish Ethics in Science Fiction, ideas that conceived the series. But I was still out of my comfort zone. It was my first Limmud session, and I’d watched others I admire do it wonderfully over the decades! It took a lot of reminding myself to move away from comparing myself and share what I prepared, thought and loved. That authenticity was reciprocated: even over Zoom, you see your story resonate in people’s smiles. Several even asked for a reading list at the end – a big compliment to a speaker! But even then, my brain harnessed what ifs: would they be disappointed it was mostly internet links, that there weren’t books out there doing what I was doing? So when I emailed the list I thanked them for making me realise just that – as now I plan to write one!  
Your audience doesn’t want perfect. Your audience wants you. Impostor syndrome is entirely natural – and is a better alternative to overconfidence, which can mean forgetting the audience is the reason you’re up there in the first place.  Hineini is a reminder we can’t control or predict what anyone else might think. What we can do is share our stories authentically. 
This month in Writing
It’s nearly a month since the launch of my debut short story collection Beyond Glass, which includes my prize-winning 2016 story Wolf in the Mirror. You can order from your local bookshop, or directly from the publisher. If you enjoy it, I’d be thrilled if you’d post a review on Amazon! You can also catch me this month in the current issue of The Dark Side magazine, talking about how I upped my game as a writer through engaging with horror, and in Jewish Renaissance talking more about how Jewish stories and ethics influence my writing, coaching and presenting. 

This month in Coaching
1:1 writing/life coaching continues over the summer (although LAMDA Exams and 11+/GCSE English and Drama take a break for school holidays).
On Saturdays from 3 July, I’m running a new memoir and fiction course,  Write From Life. Explore techniques for turning the everyday – and the extraordinary – into strong, unique material. Everyone who writes or wants to write is very welcome. Book here!
Communication and performance are the world’s most transferable skills. There’s no job or conversation where they don’t apply. If you’d like to develop your voice, on the page or out loud, I’d love to hear from you. 

Passive Voices, Thinner Skins: Our Language, Power and Personal Safety

“The ball was kicked by me” takes longer to say (or write, or think) than “I kicked the ball”. In straightforward grammatical terms, that’s why the passive voice gives us such a “bad deal”: it takes up more space, and gives far less pay-off in terms of information, meaning and mood. 

But here’s the other reason to watch out for the passive voice: it makes a subject into an object. Not much harm done when I’m kicking a ball but a whole other level of problematic when we’re talking about “violence against women”. Philippa Perry’s recent tweet drew my attention to Dr Jackson Katz’s TED Talk:

‘We talk about how many women were raped last year, not about how many men raped women… Even the term violence against women is problematic. It’s a passive construction. There’s no active agent in the sentence… It’s a bad thing that happens to women, but nobody is doing it to them. It just happens.’

Changing your use of language from passive to active won’t bring back Sarah Everard, or alter the reality for those of us who survived our assaults and even secured convictions (#metoo, along with pretty much every other woman you’ve interacted with today) that we calculate even the shortest journey weighing safely – our lives – against the expense of cabs, but it will matter. It will be an active step towards a society that doesn’t blame the “bad decisions” of the victim but the bad decisions of the perpetrator. 

Societal changes are thoughts and feelings before they are choices and policies. We need to imagine, and model, the behaviour we want to see. I was reminded of this by Andria Vidler’s wonderful talk for Olympic Studios this morning, that success in any industry is not about getting a “thicker skin” in terms of accepting you will be bullied, but in focusing on the objective, not the objectification: the changes you want to make. Here’s a recent tweet from financial journalist Nina Flitman after the news of Sarah Everard’s death hit the news:

‘About six months ago, I noted to a friend that I was sad that I couldn’t run after work anymore because the clocks changing meant it would be dark. He asked: “why can’t you run in the dark? Are you scared of the boogeyman.” No. I am scared of this.”

So please, please, litter-pick your prose. Whether telling me you kicked that ball or you walked that friend to her door, remember that language shapes thoughts, and thoughts shape choices. Each of us has agency. We are the subject, not the object. We are not all part of the problem but we can all be part of the solution. Use your active voice:

  1. Please read the article below.
  2. Please accept we are living on the same planet but in different worlds.
  3. Please ask for, accept and offer help and support.

#notallmenbutallwomen #saraheverard #allwomen #bethechange #languageispower #activevoice #communication #performance #communicationcoach #writingcoach #publicspeaking #publicspeakingcoach #eloquence