Advice for the new person

Sitting at my desk this morning, while herding two crazy dogs and trying to type up an important email, I accidentally upended a very necessary cup of coffee right down my front. I giggled at the memory of someone telling me that my chosen career was, and I quote, “glamorous”.

This is what people think — that I sit down at this desk every day and conjure up some eloquent muse who directs my fingers to “put this word here”, “write about the stars” or some other fart-busting, yet angelic, thing to do. The romanticisation of writing as a career is, I’m sorry, hilarious. This is it, right here:

A deadline is a deadline is a deadline
That means that, no matter what, you need to meet it. This is why the “surprise teas because you work from home” aggravate us. This is why we can’t “just pop out for a quick lunch with the gals” and, honey, our deadlines are — for 99% of the time — not set by us. While we may work from home, set our schedules and the like, we don’t have a boss to answer to. Yay! Except we do have to answer to ourselves, and to our clients. Think of it this way — you have one boss or manager to answer to, and on any given month, I may have ten clients who need my answers. This creates the unique situation whereby — I have ten bosses. You’ll probably pull — at least a few — all-nighters and, if you don’t, well, you’ll never know the beauty of watching sunrise happen while you’re still trying to find a really useful synonym for “obtuse”.

Just add creativity and stir
You are required to be instantaneously creative, all the time, every day. You will need to ferret out a hook, a line but hopefully, no sinker. Those things that sink you will be self-doubt and a lack of curiosity — more on that, later. Now, every single person has a bad day — a drudge day — whatever you want to call it. Your bad days can’t count, and they can’t affect the work you do. It is also exceedingly difficult to be creative over something you either know nothing about, or don’t really care for, but you will have to be.

Curiosity cannot kill you
Your sense of curiosity needs to be piqued 24/7. Yes, all the time. Here’s what always shocks people when they choose to “become a writer” — a lot of the time, you don’t get to choose what you write about. This can be disheartening to a newbie, but it’s part and parcel of the job. It’s the path you need to travel to become good at what you do. But, it’s for this reason that I like niches, although… we also have to go way beyond our niches. With the right kind of push, great clients and good mentorship, you can and do stretch beyond your niche. I started out thinking I was a “parenting” and “health” writer, but nowadays I’m more “technology” and “finance” because they’re actually something I really enjoy and have learnt a lot about. You will never, ever, ever stop learning, because you have to do it all the time.

Consumed by subject
But you’re not just learning about something when you write about it. No, you’ll need to be consumed by it. My friend and a magnificent mentor once called it akin to “creating artisan bacon”. You’ll need to be consumed by the subject, obsessed with the words you create around it and dedicated to a polished outcome. If you’re not those three things, trust me, it will show. Oh, and you’ll research a topic until it is absolutely the only thing you can think about. Page 25 of Google Search Results? That’s where you live.

This is the thing about creative industries — from performing arts to wordsmithery — you will be criticised. And, while it may take you a while to get there — you’ll need to learn the difference between criticism and feedback. Divvying up the two is really hard at first, because everything feels personal. Remember how I told you that you would need to be consumed by the subject? Well, guess what? Now you need to detach from it and look at the work you’ve created, from an objective standpoint, just so you can understand where and how you could’ve done better. That’s feedback. When it comes to criticism though, you’ll learn to choose which ones you listen to, and which ones you don’t. Here’s a tip — nobody who likes you, loves you or calls you a friend will ever be your biggest, most appropriate or useful critic. Sorry. Also, Facebook likes or positive comments are very sweet, but they are also just pandering to your ego. You’ll need to keep that in check though, because…

You are only as good as the last thing you wrote
Some people sing a hit pop song; have it rock the Christmas charts and everyone buys their album and discovers that everything on that album — barring the one hit wonder — is complete trash. No matter though because, chances are, they can live comfortably off the royalties of their one hit for the rest of their lives. This is not your future, sorry. You are only as good as the last thing you wrote and, in a world where instant publishing, immediate reading and time-dependent creation are a must… you’re probably going to bomb quite a few times. And you’ll bomb hard.

New things beckon
You will never stop looking for new things to do though, and that’s a great source of redemption. While you feel you might’ve failed at X job, you get the chance (if you work hard enough and haven’t given up by now), to give it your all on Y job. Once you’ve created and curated that sense of curiosity, you will never stop looking for new things. Thank goodness, because you’d be bored otherwise. And if there’s one thing a creative person should not be — it’s uninterested. Why? Because you will spiral, very quickly, downwards, from there. Your work quality will bottom out, your passion will wither and, suddenly, doing the crossword will seem like a gargantuan task you can’t be bothered with.

You don’t have to write a book
If I had a Rand for every time someone told me “you should write a book!” I would not have to work ever again. Here’s the thing — (1) Book deals don’t just plop past your desk on their way to the spa for a manicure; (2) Book deals are not a guarantee of wealth, never mind income and 3) Not everybody who writes, wants to write a book. Some of us have zero desire to write a book, and that’s somewhat underpinned by the existence of reasons (1) and (2).

Knowing your worth and your place
Starting out, you will write about anything and everything people will trust you with. You’ll be grateful for this, and enjoy it because it is experience and income. Eventually though, you’ll realise that you are good at some things, not so good at other things and downright terrible at even more other things. Like, I can’t write radio scripts (which is embarrassing as all hell for me because, guess what? My dad had a career as a scriptwriter once). The only way you’ll figure this stuff out though is if you try it. I wish for you a really good mentor and an abundance of opportunities to fail, because you’ll learn more from failures than you will from being congratulated on creating a “good” piece of writing. You will come to the point where you know your worth, and your place. And once you do, you’ll work even harder to expand that place. Just a warning though — this will make you feel like you want to shrivel up and disappear, often. That’s okay. But it is hard.

So, while I sit here in my coffee stained top, writing this out, I giggle again at the ‘glamorous’ appearance this chosen career seems to have. Anyone for coffee?

Also published here.

Not just a black dog.

People call it The Black Dog, but I don’t see it that way. Well, not anymore. I see it more as a day that didn’t go so well. A groundhog day I relive now and then.

I was diagnosed with severe depression in 2007, and ended up incapable of working, breathing even, at one point.

If you (were ever allowed to – you’re not, sorry) look at my files, three terms will stick out for you: 1) Post-natal depression; 2) Aggressive episodes and 3) Repressed grief.

Now, 8 years later on, I can look at those terms and not feel guilt over them. They were hallmarks of the things I was going through, and still deal with every day. But being able to name and treat them was the start of being able to deal with them.

For an inordinately long time, I actually believed I was crazy. Like, full on mental. That I had an actual disorder and that I would be institutionalised if I ever actually told someone the things that went on within me. Instead, I would deal with it by getting furiously angry, to the point where I would alienate everyone, throw away people (yes, really) and blame anything or everyone else for what was actually a chemical imbalance.

When my (beloved and adored) GP suggested to me that, perhaps, my feelings of not being able to cope were, in fact, depression, I shouted at her. I told her I was perfectly capable of dealing with my life and that I didn’t need her medication, therapy or anything. I was totally okay. How I ended up in her consulting rooms is another story altogether, that perhaps I’ll share one day.

Which is when (heaven and stars, I love this woman), she opened up her file and showed me my medical history, which highlighted how, in 2002, I had actually had a breakdown, but had dealt with it under the care of my parents’ GP. I had forgotten that I had told her that. Then she gave me a choice: Try my recommendation of therapy and anti-depressants for three months. If you hate it and think I’m silly, we’ll taper you off and stop it. But, if after three months, you feel differently, we’ll keep going.

So I did. I started seeing a therapist weekly (at first, I saw her every day for a few weeks), and started taking medication for depression. I felt dirty, ashamed and like a drama queen. I was booked off work for the first three weeks, and felt like a failure all round.

Except then, a funny thing happened. In the midsts of therapy, I began to unravel my life story – something I had never really done before, or encapsulated with intent. And it was there that I began to notice two things: (1) I had, for a lot of my life, even as a child, felt like a visitor and saddened by it and (2) I had internally accepted a feeling of incapability as my own trademark move. I actively used number (2) as an excuse, for anything and everything. In some respects of my life, I still do, but I’m working on those – I am aware of them. I also confronted a lot of guilt that I felt over things I should never have felt that about. Ever. Not even for a second. I learnt to process guilt (which is an instant response mechanism for me) and move on from it.

Fast forward eight years, where I am now. I remained in therapy for two years, and on anti-depressants for about five years. They were good for me in a way I did not expect. When I reached a point in my life where I wanted to be free of medication, and felt more capable of being able to recognise the ‘signs’ of an episode, or able to communicate my needs when a fix of ‘the sads’ hit. I learnt to write the things I needed to, and to talk even when I did not want to. I had learnt how to name my feelings, even when I did not want to. I still sometimes fail at this, but I try my best to do it. I have also, always committed to being open to returning to medication and therapy whenever I feel I may require it, and I have the full support of my doctor in doing so.

The biggest thing I learnt? Was not that I was depressed or that there was ‘something wrong’ with me. I learnt that the way to live life is not to be unaffected (which was something I wanted to be, it seemed easier) but to live affected, and to choose when to be affected by it. This is a tough one, because I don’t think you can choose circumstances, but you can learn to master your reactions. For me, the most powerful thing I learnt, for myself, was that my anger and aggression were actually just extensions of sadness. And that’s why, when I get angry, I automatically try to figure out what I feel hurt by. In 2007, I felt alone, abandoned, useless and absolutely incapable, but was far too afraid to admit it. In 2015, I feel very differently about myself, and know that if I had not been able to face up and deal with all of that stuff back then, I’d probably still be stuck feeling like I want to set the world on fire, every day.

I will always – ALWAYS – be grateful for that journey and I have zero shame attached to it. Why? Because I have survived, and I continue to survive. Nope, I thrive. And I thrive on my own terms.


honesty…it’s not just a policy.

I’m reminded today of why honesty is the way forward. Fact is, I got lied to…Now, anyone who knows me, knows what a stickler I am for the truth. Even if you think the truth is going to hurt, tell it anyway. It’s better to live with the actual consequences of truth, than let a lie fester. The truth always outs, anyway.

Moving beyond a lie? It’s not so easy. But, thing is, back in 2008, I resolved to try and be more forgiving. More understanding. Mostly of myself. That’s the hardest. I’m going to forgive myself for taking something that I thought was the truth and running with it. Defending it. It was all I had to work on. I forgive the untruth too. I seperate the behaviour from the person, and forgive. Let’s move on.



So, my Monday gratitude?

My Monday gratitude is simple.

My Monday gratitude is my ultimate thanks for Shmooshy. Always honest, to the intricate point. He gives me no reason to ever doubt him, and he trusts me. Moreover, he lets me trust him.

Note: I have gigantic trust issues. These are because I’ve been lied to alot in my life. This wonderful man accepted them, understood them, and won straight past them.

I trust him with my heart, I trust him with my daughter’s love.

I was watching them last night. Their little club of two, to which I am only sometimes invited. Sometimes, I am spurned and sent to the kitchen to do something other than ‘disturbing’ their inner circle.

They talk, they laugh, he lets Cam love him. The exact way she wants to love people – without boundary. He loves her straight back. In that way, that way where she gets to trust him. Lean on him.

A conversation he doesn’t know about happened yesterday. Someone very close to Cam and I remarked on their mutual open love for each other and smiled. How she ran off into the garden with Shmooshy when she got home from her dad. The person who remarked on their little inner circle of Cam-Shmoo-ness? Twas the one person on the planet who loves his daughter the most. Yep, her very own dad.

That was possibly one of the most powerful things he has ever done or said. Considering that I’ve known him since I was a foetus (yes, really), for him to turn around and tell me that…that it makes him smile to know that our daughter has another safe soul to come home to…

Not even if he had handed me a winning lottery ticket, could my heart have sung any higher.

My soul at rest watching the Cam-Shmoo duo playing Angry Birds together. And in my heart, I feel full circle. 360 kick-flipped, full circle.

In a world beleaguered by lies, deception and backstabbing, I have a circle of love that is founded on trust and littered with glitter.

All I am is gratitude.  Thank you my love. Big big up to the sky.