Next Monday evening is the last of our current sessions at the Bingham Riverhouse, Richmond. I feel very lucky that my first outside-world coaching post-Lockdowns has been somewhere so welcoming and friendly, and will miss my weekly view onto the Thames, not to mention the lovely group of enthusiastic and thoughtful new writers.
Friendly, safe and welcoming as we feel every moment we’re inside, I’ve also looked with fascination at a particular image I see outside in the darkening evening, overlooking the river along with me. When you look at the tree below, as I have every Monday, do you see someone bent and overwhelmed by the sheer weight of open sky, as I did in Week 1? Or do you see a different, calmer story? Or something else entirely?
My favourite tree looking over the Thames by the grounds of Bingham Riverhouse. To join our final session this Monday, just email the venue.
Though I never tire of looking, I see that tree very differently from week to week. Like any writing prompt, there is no wrong answer. But equally true is that there is no obvious answer. What one person immediately sees will not occur to the next, and visa versa.
While creativity coaching ‘obviously’ (ha!) relies on that principle, I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how work and life do just as much as art – and how we’re often even more in need of that reminder. With my clients and with myself, I often notice how sharing a question or process aloud can often streamline, simplify or solve it. Not because it takes someone else to show us how to make a molehill out of an apparent mountain, but because what we mos want is often the last thing we’re conditioned to take notice of – even though our solutions will often lie in that territory.
Last month I mentioned my favourite 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!). The coach’s job is to help the client explore their own thinking in a confidential, dedicated space and time to think and feel, fully and freely.
On Saturday 26 March, 2pm GMT on Zoom, my very lovely friend and colleagueKate Shenton is running a screenwriting workshop for Green Ink Writers’ Gym. Whether you’re totally new to screenwriting (or to writing at all!), or if looking to build confidence in your voice and concept, this will be a lovely place to explore your potential. Sign up via Green Ink Writers’ Gym’s meetup group page here. For anyone curious about coaching and what the experience could do for you, I’m currently 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”.
If you would like more information on anything in this newsletter, please do get in touch.
In 2015/2016, my self-esteem through the floor and the relationship and job I thought were lifelong both over, I met one of the writers in this pile.
She became my editor for one anthology, introduced me to my next editor who included me in two further anthologies so making me a colleague of another of the writers in this pile (and later published my first collection).
Remembering the passions and strengths I had, thanks in a very large part to the warmth and regard of a writing community who genuinely celebrate and support each other, was a life lesson that brought me to the next step in my career: coaching training with the company of, yep, another of the writers in this pile.
Everyone here, those I know and those I don’t, brought me back to myself and to how I pay that forward.
Happy #internationalwomensday everybody, I’m proud to be in a pile with all of you.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/greeninksponsoredwite2021
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: youtu.be/HpRrYgLWyLg
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.
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.