Category Archives: Uncategorized

What Does ‘Enough’ Mean To You? A Writer Interviews Their Own Sense Of Guilt

Today in Brainz Magazine I’m conducting a very special interview with a prolific figure in all our writing lives, based on a question from a Writers’ Gym member: ‘How do you talk to the guilty feeling when it feels like you haven’t done enough?’. You can read the full article here.

This is a voice many of us listen to every day. But are we hearing what it’s saying, or something worse?

Let me know if you take up the writing (or life) challenge and book in your own interview with Writers’ Guilt. When you hear what they’re really saying, what surprises you?

Write What You Know: A Discussion: Writers’ Gym Podcast Episode 7

In this edition of the Writers’ Gym Podcast with Dr Rachel Knightley and Emily Inkpen we take a look at one of the most common pieces of advice offered to writers: “Write what you know”.  We examine this advice to consider what it means for our writing and consider how it works in the worlds of science fiction and fantasy as well as in general fiction.

“I Want Does Get”

and why it’s on us, not the ghosts we walk with, to decide who we are and who we can become.

One of the Wednesday Questions in the Writers’ Gym last week (a weekly ritual where writers ask anything on their minds about creativity, confidence, careers, work-in-progress or anything else about writing and life) came from a member who’s been thinking about what it means to be nourished, mentally and spiritually. They asked what’s worked for me, and for other members.

The question flashed me right back to school in the late Nineties, and to a stock phrase (polite, more specific term for ‘cliché’) we heard a lot from a member of staff I respected enormously:

“I Want Don’t Get”

What’s that got to do with nourishment, mental, spiritual or otherwise?  

It’s the simplest recipe for how to not get it.

For me, this quote is inseparable from who I heard say it: someone who taught me a huge amount about things I grew to love, and encouraged me in them, but who also (long after I’d been at school) shared with me that when, as an adult, they told their own parent (who’d said that stock phrase to them throughout childhood and beyond) that they wished they’d carried on in higher education was shocked to hear  ‘Then why didn’t you say so?’

The truths we internalise and spend years if not lifetimes daring ourselves into quiet rebellions against, we can – sometimes – eventually – discover were never intended to be taken that way in the first place.

Which means it’s on us, and not on the ghosts we walk with, to decide what we believe and who we can become.

Attack of the ‘should’ fairies

Wherever we dare sense a discomfort, a swallowed truth we’re just realising is there, there’s a ‘should’ fairy flapping around somewhere at the other end of it. In this case, perhaps, ‘we shouldn’t be greedy’, and/or ‘it’s greedy to want’. Or, indeed, in society as many of us have experienced it directly or historically, ‘women’s primary purpose is the nurture of others’. Keep doing that without acknowledging the should fairies flapping around, and we might end up with very successful, obedient caeers and personal lives but something will have been left behind. Some nourishment to the soul and mind that is not necessarily better than the other choices, but didn’t necessarily have to be neglected in order to follow them either.

Our creative side makes us fully who we are. It’s the beginning of a benign circle. When we nourish it, it nourishes others.

The courage to look in the emotional mirror is much more nurturing than it is scary: the more of ourselves available to us, the more authentically we can be available to others in turn. Answering ‘what do I want?’ is hard. To do it well often goes against years of conditioning. But the answers are there.

For me, nourishment in all aspects of life come easier and more freely when I’m taking regular check-ins with:

A) What I want


B) What I fear.

The things we want, the deeper we want them, can get covered by attacks from the ‘Should’ Fairies: I shouldn’t want that, that shouldn’t be a priority, things like that aren’t for people like me etc.

Here are three ways to check in with what you want spiritually, mentally, socially, physically…whatever is relevant to you, at any given time.

Candle time

I’ve talked about the candle recently so won’t go back over that now but one development since then is that candle time can happen without the candle. If the light isn’t right, or I don’t have enough time before the next event for it to burn to reach the sides, I look at the unlit candle before I start journaling and it does exactly the same job as if it were lit. I journal, which includes a to-do list and a reigniting of the whys behind the whats. It sets me up for the day by reconnecting me with who I am.

Monthly ‘I want’s

In that same journal, I check in with the things I’ve caught myself missing or wanting, and I start to look at the ‘I fear’ that is behind every neglected ‘I want’. This month’s include travel (something unpleasant happened to me when I first travelled alone and I’m still having symptoms around that). Having expressed to myself it was something I wanted to tackle, a conversation with an old friend sparked an agreement to do a trip together. That wouldn’tt have happened without the ground work of what nourishes me: what I want – and what’s stopping me (what I fear).

‘If I wave my magic wand… what is the connection I want to reach out for?’

Looking myself in the mirror (emotionally rather than literally) and telling myself on the page or aloud what I want allows me to spot how what I fear (the ways it might not work, perceived failure by myself or others, perceived rejection in whatever form that would take, perceived personality for wanting it in the first place).

It might be checking in with a person already in your life who’s been on your mind, it might be more community, either existing or branching out from the networks you already have. It might be learning something new, or trying something you previously thought you weren’t (here comes one of the greatest self-poisoning phrases) “the sort of person who” liked or did or spent time on that.

Once we’ve done this groundwork, we put the boundaries around our own time and channel our what-ifs into creativity instead of anxiety – how do I want to make this my reality? – the reaching-out in the world we need to get and keep that nourishment.

The next step is making it a habit…coming back to ourselves, checking in again. Because the small answers may change week to week but the big answers beneath them get clearer every single time.

Grab a workout at the Writers’ Gym here or find out more on the website.

Catch the latest episode of The Writers’ Gym podcast landing today on Apple, Spotify or any of your favourite platforms.

Layout and Formatting: Writers’ Gym Podcast Episode 5

In this episode we look at the art and science of laying out and formatting your writing.  We ask when you should begin to format your work, how you should go about doing it and explore a few good reasons for starting the process early …or indeed later.  We look at some of the formatting skills and techniques you’ll need for getting your manuscript ready if you’re self-publishing including some thoughts on cover design and format. 

What’s so great about failure?

Early yesterday morning, the fourth episode of the current podcast series dropped on AppleSpotify and all the other places you’d expect to find podcasts (do let me know what you’ve thought so far). Emily and I explore the literary worlds that have mapped our lives and techniques for building worlds that serve the story without overwhelming it.

But keeping an eye on the world not overwhelming the character isn’t just an issue for fiction. It’s one that can trip us up in every area, not just of writing, but of being a writer.

Q. What’s the difference between rejection and failure?

One of yesterday’s Wednesday Questions in the Writers’ Gym members’ chat was about rejection and tips for dealing with it (“of the writing kind, that is!”). Every Wednesday, members are invited to ask me something, either in the group chat or by private message – and that question can be anything about writing or life around it. One of the reasons I champion it is I’ve found it works as intrinsic permission. It gives a reason not to judge the question; not to find worthy/unworthy whatever might be on your mind (important writing training in itself). When you’re dared to write something and press send, those ‘what the hell’ muscles kick in and words take shape around a thought that might not otherwise have formed so clearly.

I’ll share my answer in a bit, but first here are the details I didn’t go into yesterday, because I didn’t to hijack the question.

A. What happens next.

It’s never been failure that’s hurt me in my writing life. It’s the assumption of failure in people I love.

No, actually, it’s not been the assumptions of others. It’s been my assumption that their beliefs, their assumptions matter. That they know me, as I am and as I can be, better than I do. That their thoughts are facts in the world where mine are only feelings. That others’ feelings are more significant, more important, more real, than mine.

Anyone thinking ‘who does s/he think s/he is?” is really wondering that about themselves.

In other words, it’s never been the rejection of a piece either by a potential publisher or a potential champion of my work – i.e. the external world – that’s hurt me. It was me, and my reaction, every time. My belief that feedback was instructions. And that, over the years, is what I got to a point where I could recognise what was going on and so promise myself “That’s not going to happen again.”

All of that is what I didn’t say. Here’s what I said:

Rejection is always, ALWAYS directing the writing (and the writer) towards a truer, better home.

We have two choices with rejection:

✨ make the disappointment the main event. We can fight the reality, dwell on what they may or may not be thinking when they made their decision or had their response; create our imagined version of that character, so get voluntarily stuck by changing our focus from ourselves to the person (sometimes/often faceless to us where it’s a publisher, journal, magazine or other platform) who did the rejecting, or we can stop focusing on that irrelevant, dark corner and grow in the direction of the sun.

sit with the feelings, allow ourselves to be sad and disappointed and all of the things, notice what we care about in the material, and look for homes that are looking for that. Instead of forcing the feelings into a box so we pour sweat into keeping the lid on, having listened to the feelings and discovered we can coexist with them, without them having to change or go away, we can put that sweat into researching the markets that what what every rejection has helped us distil: what we really have, and who it’s really for.

So, Writers’ Gym member who asked this excellent question: I know you said this was about ‘rejection of the writing kind’ but I’d suggest it’s the same as any other kind: sit with the feelings, use the feedback, move on and forward towards what works for who you and the contents of your head and heart are really for.

Grab a workout at the Writers’ Gym here or find out more on the website.

Subscribe to the Writers’ Gym podcast on Apple, Spotify or any of your favourite platforms.

What’s your emotional seatbelt?

One of my favourite things in the Writers’ Gym week is Wednesday Questions. Everyone is invited to ask me something, either in the group chat or by private message – and that question can be anything about writing or life around it. One of the reasons I champion it is I’ve found it works as intrinsic permission. It gives a reason not to judge the question; not to find worthy/unworthy whatever might be on your mind (important writing training in itself). When you’re dared to write something and press send, those ‘what the hell’ muscles kick in and words take shape around a thought that might not otherwise have formed so clearly.

One Wednesday Question I received yesterday is about confidence. Not that it feels like that when I experience what this writer was talking about. When it’s happening, it feels like loss of motivation. Or ability. Or the right to call yourself a writer. I remember so well how strong those feelings are that get you driving your life away from your own creativity, from the time to extract it from yourself:

‘I find that I am so much less distracted when I’m in the Writing Room or Coffee & Creativity because seeing everyone working around me spurs me on. Do you have any advice for holding yourself more accountable when you’re working on your own?’

In two ways, it’s lovely reading this. One: I invented both Coffee and Creativity (15 mins optional chat, an hour or writing, 15 mins optional chat and me answering private coaching questions in the chat box whenever anyone wants) and the Writing Room (our silent Zoom room running a minimum of twice a week for members, Monday mornings for my whole mailing list) precisely because I know how well this works. Because, two: at the hardest times in my life, the emotional seatbelt of other people writing when I was as the difference between writing and not writing.

Yes, ideally, these are luxury items and not necessities. Sadly, knowing that can have the side effect of writers not showing up for the spaces that are designed for and available to them because they “shouldn’t” need them. I’ve certainly been self-destructive like that too, often when I needed it the most, and try to catch myself when I’m too binary about what does and doesn’t work for me, rather than discovering through the experiential. But this question came from a writer who is open to exploring. So the question really is; how can we not feel alone on our own? What’s the emotional seatbelt that keeps us on the journey?

Little But Big Ways Not To Be Alone When You Are Alone:

1.        Text your writing coach! Say ‘I’m starting now, I’m carrying on until at least X’. that way I’m with you even when I’m not.

Every member of the writers’ gym has weekday access to be my Voxer 9am-5pm. If I’m not free, it might be a bit before you hear back but you always do hear back.

2.        Candles. If I light a candle, I have to babysit it. With my notebook. The way I tell myself new stories is richer for it, and my back thanks for for the productive, non-desk-based time too.

3.       External time. Whether it’s Spotify or the washing machine, framing the time I spend within a Pink Floyd playlist or a load on thirty degrees lets me feel time isn’t empty; there’s structure containing and supporting me.

4. Know that it was never ‘meant’ to be easy. That however easy it looks for other people, or however much success you see on your social media page, ‘everybody else’ is not just one person. Everyone’s struggles happen beneath the surface.

It’s not about the feelings going away. It’s about knowing they’re part of us and that’s okay. You’re okay. We’re a community, we writers. You’re not alone, even if it feels like it. You never really are.

What’s Your Wessex? Writers’ Gym Podcast Episode 3

In this episode Rachel Knightley and Emily Inkpen look at the role and influence of place in creative writing.  We look at the ways in which setting can influence you as writers and affect your characters. As usual, we offer creative writing challenges to help you consider the influence of place in your own work.