“You were born an original. Don’t die a copy.” (John Mason)
This exact phrase is why my friend, Chris Kent & I wrote a book together! You see, I don’t just play with words. I play with dogs too.
In my other life, I run a social enterprise called Canine Perspective CIC. It was created as a direct result of the success of my first book, Reggie & Me. Our signature programme, Canine Hope, works with survivors of sexual violence and rescue dogs. I love it, I’m proud of it and the fact it combines words and dogs is quite literally me living my dream.
Chris is someone I have admired for a long time, she also runs an awesome social business working with dogs to change the lives of humans. She’s also an author. She’s fabulous!
So, Chris and I were chatting over a cuppa and discussing the number of phone calls we get from people who say ‘I want to do what you do.’
We’d chat with them, talk through their business ideas and never hear from them again. Well, Chris would often get more than one call but she’s much nicer than me! You see, people saw us when we were delivering a workshop or a talk. We were, essentially, spending the day playing with dogs. Brilliant, right?!
They didn’t see the hours upon hours we spent designing the sessions, applying for funding, working in the business, approaching potential clients… you know, the stuff that doesn’t involve talking about and playing with dogs but takes up 95% of the time. They didn’t really want to do what we do.
‘We should write a book, then they can at least give us a couple of quid before deciding it’s too much like hard work.’ I joked.
So, we wrote a book.
It’s a short guide to setting up a social business with the important addition of everything you need to factor in when including dogs in your grand master plan. I trained as a behaviourist so that I could run my social enterprise effectively and Chris has the most incredible background in working with people. We’re proud of our little book and we know that by following the steps, the reader can make an informed decision about their business idea.
We both hear the same phase when people learn that we’re authors. ‘Dogs AND books, you’re so lucky.’
We’re not lucky. We work hard and we create our own luck.
The 95% of time that’s spent planning your book, writing, deleting, editing, rewriting and wondering what the point is (we all have those moments) are absolutely worth it for the 5% of time that’s spent enjoying the author visits, the speaking and the thing that I love the most, the letters from readers (ok, emails… but letters sounds better!) saying that your book helped them.
You don’t have to do what I do, or what anyone else does. Nobody can do what YOU are going to do. Nobody can write what YOU are going to write.
We found inspiration from this one phrase and created a book… what’s going to give you the nudge you need?
“Make it a rule never to give a child a book you would not read yourself.” (George Bernard Shaw)
Today is International Book Giving Day. It’s February 14th. I’m sure that date is significant for other reasons too, but what could be more important than the giving of books? You’re right. Nothing!
With that in mind, I have sent five Dani Moore Trilogy collections to charities in the UK working with young survivors. They were posted on Monday and I hope that they’ll be arriving today. The aim of International Book Giving Day is to get as many books into the hands of young people as possible. For me, there’s always the added goal with the Trilogy that a young (or not-so-young) person will learn that whatever they’re going through right now, life can be awesome and they’re more resilient than they think they are.
I know that you love words, I know that you understand the power of sharing stories and the comfort that could be found from getting lost in a book. Today, find a book that you know will inspire a young person. Find a book that will share a message that you know they need to read. If you can’t give it to them directly, leave it somewhere they’ll find it, with a note explaining this random act of kindness.
Books are game-changers and you could absolutely change someone’s life by taking this action today.
If you’d like to share the book you have chosen, I’d love to see it. You can tweet a picture & share the reasons why you’ve decided on ‘this’ book.
Go forth and share the power of words!
“It’s not always enough to be brave, I realized years later. You have to be brave and contribute something positive, too. Brave on its own is just a party trick.” (B.J. Novak, One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories)
It won’t come as a surprise to read that I love personal stories. I love that people share their stories and nothing will change my mind about the importance of this.
Can you sense there’s a ‘but’ coming?
We do not have to focus on the crap we’ve been through in order to feel we’ve earned the right to share our story.
I was (almost) speechless earlier this week when my friend said that she didn’t feel she could relate to the young people she’s working with because she hadn’t had to deal with the things they’re going through.
She’s a support staff member at an inner-city school with a high percentage of students who speak English as a second language and live in what is classed by some as ‘deprived’ areas but where she has seen the sort of community spirit many of us can only dream of. She asked me to speak at the school but not in my usual author-visit-type-way, she wanted me to talk about resilience and as she put it, ‘reach them in a way that I can’t.’
I have not studied at an inner-city school. My secondary school was in Bath where the biggest challenge most of us faced on a daily basis was walking past the neighbouring school’s students who called us ‘turds’ because our uniform was brown and gold.
English is not my second language. I don’t have a second language because GCSE French doesn’t count. I couldn’t even begin to imagine trying to live in another country, learn the language and not only be able to function in that country but be educated within that country too.
I spent my secondary school years living on the outskirts of Bath. I don’t have experience of deprivation or community spirit. I don’t count the gaggle of curtain twitchers as being community spirited at all.
I went to the school, I shared my story and talked about resilience in the only way I know how. My friend does exactly the same thing every single day and the students adore her. Part of the session included talking about what we admire in other people. We created the opportunity to share snippets our own stories and also share what inspired us about other people’s stories.
The day before this school visit, I was speaking to a group of adults. I facilitated the same exercise. In a group of nine women, the discussion was predominantly negative. Every woman in that room had experienced trauma. Every woman focused on that experience as their ‘story’. When one woman was talking about her experience, another chipped in and actually said the words ‘oh, at least you were only with him for three years, I had fifteen years of it and it was much worse, if you want ‘inspiration’ then there’s much worse out there than what you’ve been through.’ While that comment did allow me to step in and work on reframing our narratives, it was an insight into the world we live in. Is that really the message we’re receiving? If we haven’t been through ‘enough’ then our stories aren’t valid? We’re seeing a huge increase in people sharing their stories and experiences in books, blogs, videos and every other medium that’s available to us. We can see what humans are forced to endure on a daily basis in this world of 24/7 information sharing. How has that become something we’re turning into a competition? We all have a story. We don’t have to have had ‘the worst’ experience in order to feel the need to share it. We certainly don’t need to undermine someone else’s story to validate our own.
Not one of these young people turned their experience into a competition. Not one had a trauma-off.
There were 34 young people in that room. Their stories blew my mind but what impressed me the most was the fact that everyone was heard. As one person spoke, there was silence from everyone else. As we went around the room sharing the ways in which we have been inspired by the stories of the other group members, every single person was named as having inspired another.
My friend was named a number of times. She told her story. She shared that she had enjoyed what could be considered a privileged upbringing. Her parents showered her with love and she’s thankful every day that they’re still around to see her children, their grandchildren, grow up. She shared that she married her childhood sweetheart and they’re happy. She told us that she loves her job and couldn’t imagine working with more inspirational young people. She cried. I cried. The young people did not cry!
Not one of those young people said ‘well, aren’t you lucky’ or words to that effect, which is what she had been afraid of.
One of the young men stood up and towered over us both. He said, ‘you know what, you need to write a book. All we get, day in day out, is the shit stuff. I love that you’re happy. If I just think about how much my family loves me, I’m fucking lucky too. I’m not saying I’d read your book, but nobody believes you can just be happy anymore.’
THAT is why YOUR STORY COUNTS. We find inspiration in so many different places. Only you can share your story and who knows who you’ll inspire along the way.
“They say in every library there is a single book that can answer the question that burns like a fire in the mind.” (Lemony Snicket)
I have a list of some of the questions that Dr. Google has been asked recently. These have been taken from a much longer list and directly relate to conversations I have had with writers over the past month or so.
Each writer has not only experienced these circumstances themselves but now has the expertise and experience to help other people going through this.
In six months, their book could be appearing as the answer to the question. Their book will show that they can help, they have a personal story to share and they have tried and tested tools to help someone else get through this.
- How Do I Deal With Depression Without Medication?
- How Do I Cope Without My Mum?
- How Do I Deal With Toddler Tantrums?
- How Do I Cope With My Son Going To Prison?
- How Do I Cope With Terminal Cancer?
- Why Can’t I Improve My Life?
It makes me sad that people are turning to a computer at these times in their life, but if they could find a book, written by someone who speaks their language, who relates to what they’re going through and who can tell them that they’re not alone, they will have a message of hope as they turn the pages.
I was chatting with a friend this week who is recovering from cancer and she turned to Dr. Google when she received her initial diagnosis. She couldn’t find any information on the specific treatment she would be receiving apart from medical guidance. Under instruction (from me!) she took a notebook with her to all of the appointments, when she went into the hospital for her operations and when she was undergoing chemotherapy.
She has just finished the first draft of her book and has received the first round of feedback from people she met along the way, both patients and medical staff. The resounding feedback is ‘I wish I’d had this when I was first diagnosed.’ The medical staff has promised to recommend it to their patients. We can safely say that it’s a niche market that she is writing for but for every single reader, it will be ‘raw, real, authentic and surprisingly funny’ as one fellow survivor has written.
If you can change the world for just one person, your book is a success.
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” (Anne Lamott)
How many times in your life have you felt alone? How many times have you thought, ‘I wish someone had told me that?’ How many times have you wondered if it’s just you; if you’re the only one who feels this way?
The majority of people I work with are writing their books because they don’t want other people, who find themselves in a similar situation, to feel alone.
Without exception, the writers I’m currently working with are sharing their stories because, in the midst of their experiences, they felt alone.
Because we’re talking about personal experiences, there are inevitably some ‘characters’ involved. The questions around how to include them, discuss them, leave them out or eradicate them from the literary face of the earth come up frequently.
My advice is to turn your story into fiction and kill off their character! One writer who has joined my six-month programme is doing this and her book is comedy gold.
Seriously though, isn’t this exactly why your story needs to be written? You know how it feels to be lost and alone.
If you have felt silenced. If you have felt that your story can’t be told. If you have felt lost in your story and not in control of it. You are able to speak with authority to the people who need you.
It’s time to own your story.
Shout it from the rooftops that you have been there, experienced that and got the t-shirt. You’ve come out the other side and you know that you have words of wisdom that will be valuable to someone else.
Let’s talk and get that book out into the world, you know that there are people waiting for it.
Sitting down to write is not an easy thing to do. There’s usually quite a serious amount of procrastination that needs to take place before the first word appears. At least one cup of tea needs to go cold, another one made and then an internal debate about whether or not a biscuit is deserved at this early stage. The answer to that is always, ‘yes’.
I experienced this myself today. I had a deadline for a book I’m working on and not only did I need to write the words, I wanted to write the words. The more they matter, the harder it becomes.
Writing a personal story is never easy. Writing anything that’s based on personal experience brings with it a wave of emotions and that rush of chemicals through the body is not conducive to sitting still and typing.
This is my solution.
First of all, you’ll have your plan for the part of your book you’re focusing on for the day – or the chunk of time within the day that you have set aside. At least, if you’re working with me you’ll have your plan!
Then, you need to shut your computer down.
This stage is important!
I bet that as soon as you shut your computer down, you have the urge to write. It’s not time to power up yet. Patience, my friend.
You need a blank piece of paper and a pen. If you would like a selection of pens, that’s fine too!
Now, you’re going to experience a Gratitude Flood.
Write down every single thing that you are grateful for. Everything. Absolutely Everything.
This is part of your story and it’s getting you in the zone. Whether any of it features in the book doesn’t matter one bit, you’re making your story count by this exercise alone.
Keep going, you’re not done yet.
How do you feel now? Pretty damn good, I imagine?
You have burst the writing bubble, you are pumped full of happy-juice and you are in your flow. Now, you can power up, go through your notes and start the next stage of your book.
If the planning stage isn’t going the way you’d imagined, there’s still time to sign up for my six-month programme. You can reply to this email if you’d like to book in a time to talk about whether it’s the right programme for you.