Sunday, 14 January 2018

Inspiring mothers: are you buried in motherhood?

Let’s face it, we get buried in motherhood. Little people’s needs and our instinctive responses are overwhelming. For a season, we lose ourselves. Baby cries, we leak milk. Child wails, we make it better. 

And if anyone thinks these responses are an over-reaction – think again. The human race would die out without them.

The weight of responsibility – not to mention the drudgery – can be crushing for a woman.

Of all the mothers in my novel, Unspeakable Things, Deb is the buried one. Previously a high-flying nurse, she now has a toddler who won’t go to Daddy. We meet her trying to throw together a dinner party for her best friend, Sarah.

Now that her days were filled with the mind-numbing chatter of the nursery run, it lifted her spirits to be with people who had known her before.

When Sarah gazes at her jumble of family memorabilia, Deb calls it her ‘dusty old mess.’

‘It’s not a mess. It’s lovely. Like a museum of you.’
‘Museum’s about right. I think I’m becoming extinct…’

Is there a you inside that rarely sees the light of day? Is some essential spark of who you are being snuffed out by the burden of being Mum?

Do you blame yourself for losing it but also feel guilty because you yearn for it?

This weekend I went to a party and met a young mother. She was singing in a wonderful band and her talent just shone. You could tell that she was both gifted and well trained, and I wasn’t surprised to hear she had been to drama school. She was fitting in singing with bringing up children of three and six.

Preparation for a gig, she told me, involved vintage costume and make-up, and took hours. But how do you explain to small children that mummy is unavailable? ‘And then there’s the marketing,’ she said. ‘I know I should be doing more – there’s Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and everything, and I just can’t seem to get round to it…’

I had a powerful sense that she felt she was failing, and yet what I’d seen onstage was someone radiant and inspiring.

We hear that Serena Williams is struggling with the demands of motherhood. Serena is a world-beater, brought up to give her all and reign supreme. The woman won the Australian Open when she was four months pregnant! And yet four months into motherhood, she has withdrawn from the tournament. Why?

Because Serena does not enter a tournament unless she knows she can win it.

Mothers, don’t be so hard on yourselves! You’re finding it hard because it IS hard. But it won’t always be like this.

You will resurface, and when you do, take stock. Is there a part of you that’s buried? A dream? A talent? An idea for a business? Something that connects you with the you inside, who has curled up and gone quiet in the noise of family life?

Do something for that essential you, the one from before. It might be an hour spent crafting or writing. It might be jotting down plans. It could be teaching or studying, or just talking about politics. Whatever you achieve is a victory.

If you have the drive of a world-beater like Serena, you might need to give yourself time. Being realistic does not mean letting go of your dreams.

Sometimes being a mother reconnects you with your childhood, and who knows what yearnings you’ll find there? Perhaps not the same ones that launched your career. Motherhood can prompt you to reinvent yourself.

And if you do unleash that inner you and take to the stage, don’t tell yourself you’re second-best! You’re a wonder, an inspiration, like the singer who lit up that venue last night.

You won’t be ‘having it all’ in this season of your life, you’ll be muddling through. But in years to come, as the impact of motherhood eases, your time will come.

I hope you flourish.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Feel the Fear and Self-Publish Anyway

I have just self-published my first novel, Unspeakable Things. It's a psychological suspense mystery about motherhood and madness – thank you for asking. 

Now I am like a hermit with a megaphone – I have to shout about it – all the self-marketing check-lists say so – but with every shout/post/tweet I want to apologise for being so noisy and go back to hiding in my cave.

Everything about self-publishing means breaking out of your comfort zone and doing something frightening.

Show someone

First you have to show your writing to someone. In my day job, I’m a book editor. I recently received the first chapter and synopsis of an 800-page novel. The writer has also written an 800-page sequel, but had never before dared to show the works to anyone. Imagine having that dedication to writing, but being afraid to reveal it to the world – and I think you’ve had a glimpse into the mind of most writers.

Showing you work makes you deeply vulnerable, like tearing out a lump of your soul and letting someone judge it. They might crush your dreams. Your outpourings might be unworthy of the world’s attention.

Being an aspiring writer is like being an out-of-work actor or a bathroom singer: you have an urge to express yourself, but no one is listening. What if you’re the hapless singer in those early auditions for the X Factor – talentless and deluded?

But if you don’t show anyone your writing, you’ll write your way into a dead end. You’re so familiar with your work that you can’t see it as a reader  – you have no idea what’s good or bad about it.

I remember my fear and trembling as I sat waiting to meet my literary consultant, Lorna Fergusson. Everything I cared about might be shot down in flames.

But afterwards, I knew I’d done the right thing. I had a project with real potential. I had a clear way forward and hope again.

Show someone professional

Friends and family are too kind or too hurtful. Editors and literary consultants are encouraging, honest, unbiased and clear.

Lorna showed me what was working and what I needed to change. This, and my relentless re-editing in the light of her comments helped me make Unspeakable Things good enough to publish.

The beast at the gate

The next hurdle was my phobia of online forms. They fill me with self-loathing, because I shouldn’t be frightened – but every glitch, time-out or error message panics me so much that I can’t remember a sensible thing.

Even paper forms do this to me if they relate to finance, and don’t even say ‘tax’ to me – it’s a horrible swearword.

Yet I was going to self-publish through Createspace and Kindle Direct Publishing. I had to upload my files and fill in my details on two huge online forms which are notoriously difficult to conquer.

I had wanted to publish a novel since I was five years old. Now my lifelong dream was like a beautiful garden guarded by a monster.

When two fears fight

I put it off and put it off. The files weren’t ready. It wasn’t the right time of year. I’d do it when someone was there to help me. In the end, my fear of never getting published was as powerful as my fear of the forms. I was riven by anxiety. I had to do something.

And so one day I just did it. I sat down and tackled Createspace. It took a couple of hours, a lot of research, a foray into forums about US tax exemption and a lot of keeping calm under pressure. But I did it.

You know why they say ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’? Because that’s how we overcome phobias. After Createspace, I felt invincible. I had learned that mistakes and glitches are not the end of the world, and once you’ve worked through a few error messages, you get skilled at overcoming them. Panic subsides, your brain restarts, and everything is easier with it working.

I was barely even anxious about Kindle Direct Publishing. It took a while and there were glitches, but I got through it, and at the end there was a button that said, ‘PUBLISH’.

Reader, I published it.

I suspect that most things worth achieving are guarded by monsters of our own making. We are brilliant at finding reasons to stay within our comfort zones. But with every beast we slay, we grow and thrive.

Do you have a lifelong dream you haven’t achieved yet? Are you afraid you’ll never make it, but also afraid to try? I’ve been there and would love to hear from you!