How to harness the audacious magic of saying no

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For some of us, saying no is hard, even anathema. I’ve been a people-pleaser for over five decades, but the seeds of saying no were sown when I left a vocation. Not only was I assaulted three times at work, but those I worked for were anything but sympathetic and it was time to say ‘no more’.

But as a publisher and editor I soon slid back into my old people-pleasing ways. This may not sound like much of a problem, but it is.

Why always saying yes isn’t healthy

1. If you always say yes, what’s it’s worth?

When we agree to give time or skills or resources to something it should be of some import.

If you say yes to everything then nothing is more important or valuable in your life than anything else. The creative project that is your dream and passion, quality time with your family and friends — are these of no more weight than random requests or unreasonable calls to work more hours than a week contains?

2. If you always say yes you’ll end up in difficult situations…

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14 excellent reasons that compel writers to write

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Why do we do it? The reasons for writing are as various as writers, but among them are common threads that unite us.

1. For the trance

I can lose a whole day writing. I forget to eat or drink. I come round hours after beginning and discover I’m cold. Writing takes us into an inner world that is endless and extraordinary.

In Our Faces, Our Hearts, Brief as Photos, John Berger describes one of those luminous moments when an ordinary place takes on luminous, otherworldly quality:

Everything was shifting. The three pear trees, their hillock, the other side of the valley, the harvested fields, the forests. The mountains were higher, every tree and field nearer. Everything visible approached me. Rather, everything approached the place where I had been, for I was no longer in that place. I was everywhere, as much in the forest across the valley as in the dead pear tree, as much on the face of the mountain as in the field where I was raking hay.

When we write, we’re opening ourselves up. Writing takes us into another space. As Virginia Woolf described it:

I walk making up phrases; sit, contriving scenes; am in short in the thick of the greatest rapture known to me.

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8 ways to replace overwhelm with positive growth

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The best advice we give is usually the advice we most need to listen to. This is the case for me when it comes to getting overwhelmed. I’m far too good at saying yes. My to do list usually contains at least 5 miracles to perform before breakfast. And every time I eliminate a task that isn’t important or essential, I have a tendency to think of two things I should do in its place.

Recently I’ve been making a much more concerted effort to stop this cycle of wild optimism followed by overwhelm. It’s so easy to overestimate what we can do in a short period but the converse is also true: we can underestimate the amount of change we can accomplish in a longer time. Getting the flow right is the trick.

How?

I hope you’d like to read on here

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How to be a giver, not a sacrificer

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Being someone who makes sacrifices is often held up as a virtue. But whether we’re trying to form creative, autonomy-respecting relationships with your children or relating to adults in different areas of life, ‘giving in’ is not a solution. Giving and ‘giving in’ are not the same thing.

This year in my journalling, each week I’ve been focussing on a different quality that I’d like to encourage in myself. I’ve got thirteen to think about over the year, so each quality will get four weeks of attention.

But the quality I return to most often and which seems to me to be the most fundamental is generosity. I’m not talking about having pots of money to give away, though that might be a factor for some, but something deeper. We can be generous whether we are wealthy or in financial poverty. The point is that giving, whether it’s of time, skills or resources is a key virtue.

But if we’re always giving, doesn’t this lead to always self-sacrificing? …

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How to choose meaningful words: why language matters

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One of the functions of art is to give people the words to know their own experience… Storytelling is a tool for knowing who we are and what we want.

Ursula K Le Guin

Narrative and meaning go hand in hand. We all need stories that make sense of experience, particular and universal. But if the language functions to exclude our experience then how do we find this meaning?

Language is an urgent question not only for writers, but for anyone who engages in any kind of meaningful exchange — take a look at the rest of the post on Medium and please clap there if you’d like to support the writing. Thank you.

 

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How to keep a vision alive

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Change is hard. When we are striving towards big goals, whether personal or creative, it can feel like an uphill struggle. In the short term, it can be difficult to see change taking place. And even when we do see the difference, the results can be fragile. There are several reasons why making big shifts in life can come to a halt or even slip backwards.

Despite the adage that habits take only 60–70 days to establish, we all know that that they can disappear in a much shorter time. We can wipe out the habit of good nutrition in one holiday or the ritual of daily yoga during a minor illness. Moreover, the fact of having been successful can make us complacent. After the initial euphoria we find ourselves on a plateau, feeling stuck.

How do we keep the vision alive? What is it that allows passion to thrive and grow rather than wither?

Part of the answer lies in knowing how the vision has become dimmed in the first place and there are plenty of possible reasons.

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In an insane world, write fantastic fiction

windmillsAt any given moment, life is a mess of contradiction. It seems to be true that it’s always the best of times and the worst times. A new baby is born and a good friend is facing appalling illness. A loved one is celebrating, yet the political landscape looks grim.

In the midst of joy and loss, I’m also in the midst of a trilogy of novels. finished a novel. The first book in the sequence has been simmering in me for over 30 years. The actual writing was more recent, but some of the events that informed it and later became reshaped and fictionalised have very deep roots.

In a world crying out for global solutions, what business have we writing stories and poems? There are so many reasons why writing, or any art, is vital, no matter how uncertain the times. It has many functions, including:

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12 powerful ways to have more time

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The (wo)man who has lived the most is not )s)he who has counted the most years but (s)he who has felt the most life.

Jean Jacques Rouseau

Einstein tells us that time is not as linear as we imagine. The separation of past, present and future is illusory, if compelling in an everyday sense. If, like me, you’re not a physicist, this timeless view of the universe might tie your brain in knots.

What I experience, however illusory, are 24 hours each day and sometimes what appears to be an overwhelming scarcity of time. To make it more complicated, the physicist Julian Barbour tells us:

If you try to get your hands on time, it’s always slipping through your fingers. People are sure time is there, but they can’t get hold of it. My feeling is that they can’t get hold of it because it isn’t there at all.

What Barbour argues is that it’s not time that is a measure of change, but that it is change that creates the illusion we call time. In his view, we live a succession of whole, complete moments called ‘Nows’, all of which exist simultaneously.

As Josh Richardson sums up:

We generate time’s flow by thinking that the same self that ate breakfast this morning also started reading this sentence.

So how does this apply to creative people trying to carve out time for their most passionate quests?

1. Live by kairos, not chronos

The most important feature for everyday life seems to be that time, like so many things, is not an absolute. Time, like other experiences, is as qualitative as it it quantitative, if not more so.

In a former incarnation as a theologian, I’d have explained this as the Greek concepts of kairos and chronos. Chronos is the ticking of seconds on a clock, chronological. But kairos is ‘the right time’, it is ripeness, the moment of truth.

Kairos time FEELS different — those experiences when time seems to slow down or stop. Having a perfect life is unrealistic and perfectionism can be toxic. But having perfect moments is possible and time-expanding.

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14 reasons why writers need to read

It’s depressing as both an editor and a writer when I hear writers (or more usually aspiring writers) saying they don’t read. Getting books out into the world is difficult. It’s a huge amount of work for both publishers and writers and the only way it’s possible is if there are people out there who read. If you are a writer who doesn’t read the work of others, what would make you imagine that others would want to read your book?

Writers have to read:

1. Because reading is your world

Imagine a chef who hates to eat, an artist who’s never been to a gallery. It’s not credible — neither is a writer who doesn’t read.

2. Influence is good

Sometimes writers tell me they don’t read because they don’t want to influence their work. This is the height of arrogance and flawed thinking. No one creates ex nihilo. No one is that original. Of course you shouldn’t be copying others or never finding your own voice, but what has gone before you is a treasure trove. Tradition and inspiration are all around you in books. You can learn structure, technique and so much more by reading. We become innovative by building on the past, not by writing it off.

3. For the love of language

Great writers are those who have found wonderful ways to use language Their language might be supple or taut and honed. It might be rich or lyrical. It might be rhythmic or urgent. You will discover an infinite kaleidoscope of vocabulary and style in the pages of books written by others.

4. To encourage imagination

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Why you should front the essential facts

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…

Henry David Thoreau says it so well. But what are the essential facts?

The theological concept of the apophatic way, also known as the via negativa, is a good place to start. In simple terms the theological idea was that it’s hard to sum up what God is, but easier to define what is not divine. We develop a picture that is like negative space, arrived at by considering what we cannot say.

The essential facts are more graspable than notions of divinity, but thinking about what they don’t include is a good starting point. What is essential to life that is dear, will not accept resignation and aims to suck the marrow out, is not likely to include:

  • social media
  • obsessive phone checking
  • answering emails as they arrive all through the day
  • being reactive so that you let others’ demands always control you time
  • being ‘too busy’ to eat well, sleep enough, take a walk or read a book
  • settling for mediocrity
  • colluding with the mindless consumerism sleep-walking our world into disaster
  • accepting the pessimistic political rhetoric of ‘there is no alternative’

In book, Essentialism, Greg McKeown talks about:

the disciplined pursuit of less

and adds

you cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.

He points out that life is finite and we may be able to do anything, but we cannot do everything. McKeown’s approach begins with defining the essence. Like Thoreau he wants to front the essential facts and to this you need to:

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